Does racial profiling exist at the Canada-U.S. border?

Four friends were driving to New York City for a weekend when they were stopped at the U.S. border.

Four men claim they were turned back at border for the colour of their skin

Denied entry

9 years ago
Duration 3:50
Four friends from Toronto tried to go on a trip to NYC, but were denied entry.
Jiyan Dogan, left, and Fesih Kaya experienced racial profiling at the U.S. border, they say.

Four friends were driving to New York City for a weekend when they were stopped at the U.S. border.

The men — three Canadian citizens and one Turkish citizen with a Canadian visa — were questioned for six hours about a range of issues, but mostly their thoughts on the ongoing conflict in Syria.

They were eventually denied entry to the U.S.

The men, all of Turkish descent, claim they were treated like second-class citizens. Not only were they denied entry, but they say they were detained, interrogated and humiliated for no other reason than their backgrounds.

From the beginning, they were making fun of us.- Fesih Kaya

"They held onto our passports, told us to go to this booth and talk to officers. That's how it started," said Jiyan Dogan, pointing to a station at the Peace Bridge border crossing in Fort Erie.

Two of the men work full-time, one owns a business and one is a student. There are several university degrees between them. They all own homes in Toronto.

"The way they are talking to us, from the beginning, they were making fun of us," said Fesih Kaya, a Canadian citizen.

After an hour of waiting, they were asked to fill out forms. Then they had their cell phones confiscated.

"It just got bananas from there," said Dogan. "We individually were asked to go in and got our fingerprints, then they laid us against the wall and took our photos."

The four were questioned in separate rooms for more than six hours.

"[The border agent] said, 'I'm just curious about the war in Syria. We don't know much about it, because we are really busy with Ebola. Tell us how you feel about it.'"

To them, we were guys with dark skin and black hair.- Jiyan Dogan

At one point, Kaya pointed out he had worked for the Canadian government as an interpreter. Yet the questions continued.

"They didn't even care we were Canadian citizens," said Dogan. "To them, we were guys with dark skin and black hair."

Racial profiling at the border is not new, according to former border agent and immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann.

"The idea that immigration officers don't racially profile is nonsense," he said. "No matter how unsettling or intimidating, that type of questioning is perfectly legal."

Ties to Canada

The paperwork doesn't list any official reason why they weren't permitted into the U.S. But the men say they were told the officers didn't believe their ties to Canada were strong enough that they would return.

"I've lived in Canada for close to ten years. I own a house in Canada, for god's sake. How much of a strong tie to Canada do I have?" said Dogan, who is also a Canadian citizen.

Border agents at Fort Erie, N.Y. held four men from Toronto for six hours before denying them entry to the U.S.

The men fear they may never be allowed into the U.S. at all, and are concerned about how the information collected about them will be used.

"It was embarrassing, honestly. In my case, I am sad, because it was a frustrating moment, and even now, when I talk about it, it makes me sad," said Kaya.

Mamann said he wouldn't be surprised if authorities were checking in to their backgrounds, and that the information collected during the border stop will be forever attached to their passports.

"There's really no appeal process for this, where there can be an airing out of this process," said the lawyer. "It doesn't exist."

In a statement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it strictly prohibits profiling on the basis of race or religion.

As for recourse, the men can file a formal complaint online. But Mamann said he could see no human rights violation in the border agent's actions.

"Unfortunately, we do forfeit many of our rights at a border crossing," he said.