Hamilton man forced to sell retirement home after being barred from the U.S.

Ken Drake owns a retirement home in Florida. He can't get to it anymore, as he has been barred from the U.S. over a 47-year-old conviction for stealing floral prints.

Ken Drake was denied entry over a 47-year-old conviction for stealing floral prints

Ken Drake and his wife, Darlene, own a retirement home in Florida. Drake says he's selling it, now that he has been denied entry to the U.S. over a decades-old conviction. (Ken Drake)

Ken Drake has a gorgeous waterfront retirement home in Florida, but he can't get within 2,000 kilometres of it.

After decades of travelling back and forth to the U.S. without issue, the Hamilton man says he has been barred from America over a 47-year-old conviction for possession of stolen property that was never an issue before now.

One Canadian security expert says the situation seems like an extreme reaction to uncertainty caused by the Trump administration's rhetoric and ever-shifting border policies, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection maintains that isn't the case.

The stolen property in question, Drake says, is a few floral prints that were taken from an apartment he was renting in Hamilton when he was just 17-years-old. He never bothered to bring them back to the landlord, back in 1969.

Why let me buy a house and then kick me out?- Ken Drake

Now, he's fuming about his treatment at the border — which he says included fingerprinting, photos, and a full body search — and looking to sell his retirement home.

"They took me into the back room, spread eagle, with my head against the wall. I was treated like a frigging criminal," he said. "It was humiliating. Embarrassing.

"Every day I wake up mad. I can't go to my own retirement place in Florida because of this crap?"

A 47-year-old case

The problems started on Jan. 22 when Drake and his wife, Darlene, were trying to cross the border and head into Detroit, on the way to their home in Florida.

It was a familiar trek. Drake says the two of them often travelled to the U.S. over the years to go shopping or to hockey games, or even to NASCAR races in Daytona Beach.

But this time, a guard told him he had been flagged in their system, and he was stopped and searched.

"All this because of a conviction that was a suspended sentence and a year's probation 47 years ago," he said.

Some Canadians have shared stories saying that crossing over into the U.S. has become much more difficult under president Donald Trump. (The Canadian Press)

That conviction, as he describes it, stems from a move out of an apartment near Queenston Road in 1969. Some buddies were helping him, and grabbed some prints that were on the wall that actually belonged to the landlord.

"It was dumb prints of flowers or something. I didn't even want them," he said. But, he didn't return them.

"Hindsight being 20/20, I should have taken them back," Drake said. Instead, a police officer was at his door, and he was arrested.

That conviction wasn't an issue until last month, he says. "I had never heard back about anything ever since."

'Uncertainty' under new administration

Christian Leuprecht, a political science professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen's University, told CBC News that he believes Drake's situation is at least partly related to the new U.S. administration under president Donald Trump.

He says that the rules of just what is permissible in terms of moving across the border have become muddied under Trump, and so he sees this as a "reaction to uncertainty."

"What bureaucracies do when they are unsure, they will apply all the rules and manage them to the Nth degree," Leuprecht said.

Security expert Christian Leuprecht says border guards appear to be operating with a "reaction to uncertainty" in light of President Donald Trump's policies. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Leuprecht says it is possible that because Drake's conviction wasn't violent or overly serious, he had been just waved through in the past, even though a criminal conviction can mean a person is denied entry to the U.S.

Drake is not alone in encountering a different experience at the border. In recent weeks some Canadians have shared stories saying that crossing over into the U.S. has become much more difficult under President Donald Trump.

But Kris Grogan, a public affairs officer with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told CBC News that there has been "absolutely no policy change" under the Trump administration. He confirmed Drake had been denied entry.

"Every inspection is different than the last," Grogan said, noting that just because a person was previously admitted entry to the country, that doesn't mean that will continue to be the case. "Each time is a totally different application," he said. 

'Why let me buy a house and then kick me out?'

Drake says the border guards told him that if he wanted to get back into the country, he would need to go through the process of getting his records from the RCMP (Hamilton police don't have them on file anymore, as they are decades old).

Then, he would have to present those records alongside pages of forms, and pay a $585 U.S. fee, he says — all without the guarantee that he would be allowed entry into the country.

Drake says he was advised that process could take anywhere from 10 to 20 months, given the "extreme volume of applications."

Rather than waiting for that process, Drake says he would rather just sell the house and be done with it. He plans to have family members drive back his boat and other belongings in the coming weeks.

"I'm done with Florida for right now," he said.

"Why let me buy a house and then kick me out?"