New Brunswick

U.S. checks on Canadian fishing vessels concerns Maine civil liberties group

Bay of Fundy fishermen aren't the only group concerned the U.S. Border Patrol is checking the citizenship of crews on Canadian fishing boats.

American Civil Liberties Union keeps close eye on U.S. Border Patrol activities

At least two Canadian fishing vessels were approached by U.S. Border Patrol agents in June. (Brian Kaufman/Detroit Free Press/Associated Press)

Bay of Fundy fishermen aren't the only group concerned the U.S. Border Patrol is checking the citizenship of crews on Canadian fishing boats.

Maine's branch of the American Civil Liberties Union says it is keeping a close eye on what it calls invasive Border Patrol activities.

Emma Bond, a staff attorney with the Maine ACLU, said that considering the methods the Border Patrol has been using on land, it's par for the course that officers would now be pulling alongside fishing boats to check for illegal immigrants.

"It's not surprising that [they] would engage in this area of immigration enforcement without any notice or explanation of why they would need to take these actions, which are very invasive," Bond said.

The Border Patrol has stepped up checks for citizenship papers at courthouses, bus stations and at highway checkpoints, she said.

Although the agency calls it routine enforcement, the activity has included stopping at least two Canadian fishing vessels in disputed waters known as the Grey Zone, something fishermen say hasn't been routine in their memory.

The boats were fishing in the Grey Zone near Machias Seal Island, which is claimed by both Canada and the United States.

ACLU questions methods

Emma Bond, a staff attorney with the Maine ACLU, described the border patrol as being opaque and unwilling to give up information about its methods. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press)

Bond said it's difficult to determine whether the checks are, in fact, routine, because of secrecy surrounding the Border Patrol.

"They haven't provided any records to back that up, despite repeated requests," she said.

"We'd be very happy to look at their records and determine whether these are indeed routine."

Bond described the Border Patrol as opaque and unwilling to give up information about its methods.

Bond said the Maine ACLU has filed two federal lawsuits against U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol.

Much of the Border Patrol activity has happened in areas far from the border with Canada.

But the force, according to Bond, says it has the authority to do checks 100 miles, or about 160 kilometres, on either side of the coastline and on the U.S. mainland, within about 160 kilometres of the border with Canada.

"That would include the entirety of Maine, most of New England and approximately two-thirds of the entire population of the United States," said Bond.

"We believe that's an abuse of the superior laws of the land, which is the constitution."

What to do

Bond said Canadians do have rights when they are in the U.S., and offered advice to those stopped and questioned by the Border Patrol. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Bond said Canadians who travel south and are stopped by the Border Patrol within the U.S. may find it easier to just provide the officers with their passports if they're in order.

But she also said Canadians are guaranteed certain rights under the Bill of Rights when in the U.S. and have options when speaking with the Border Patrol. 

If you're in this position, she said, you can:

  • Say you are invoking your right to remain silent. Make sure you actually remain silent.

  • Say that you do not consent to a search.

  • Repeatedly ask "Am I free to leave?" When the officer says yes, you can leave.

Also, any interaction with the U.S. Border Patrol can be recorded as long as it doesn't interfere with an officer's job.

With files from Information Morning Saint John

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