3 Canadians accuse U.S. border guards of 'molestation'
WARNING: This story contains disturbing details
Three Canadian women filed lawsuits Tuesday alleging "sexual molestation" by U.S. female border guards at the Canada-U.S. border near Windsor, Ont.
Two separate lawsuits were filed — one by two women travelling together and the other by a woman on her own — alleging incidents at the Ambassador Bridge and the Windsor-Detroit tunnel.
With a similar lawsuit filed by a Stratford, Ont., woman in February 2011, it means at least four Canadian women are now accusing border agents of sexual assault at the Canada-U.S. crossing, according to the lawyer for all three cases, Tom Wienner.
"These were not pat-downs or limited personal searches, these were clearly in the nature of sexual molestation," the Rochester, Mich.-based lawyer told CBC News.
'Very degrading and humiliating'
Leslie Ingratta of Windsor told CBC News she was heading into Detroit for a shopping trip in January 2011 when she was taken aside for further questioning by U.S. border guards.
The female guards ordered her into a back room and closed the door, and one searched her body so aggressively she felt violated, Ingratta said.
"They went under my bra, fondled my breasts and then began to go down," she said.
Between searches, Ingratta went back into the waiting area, she said.
"At one point, I was crying," Ingratta told CBC News. "I had people turning around and looking and, you know, making faces like 'Oh my God, what did she do?' So very degrading and humiliating, it was a horrible experience."
Stratford, Ont.-woman files $500K lawsuit
In February 2011, Loretta Van Beek of Stratford filed a $500,000 lawsuit against two female border guards in Detroit. She was travelling to Savannah, Ga., where she owns a small vacation home, when she was pulled over by customs agents at the Ambassador Bridge.
Van Beek, 46, told CBC News she was sent to secondary inspection when customs officers discovered a few raspberries she had forgotten to declare.
She was questioned for more than an hour, then she was marched into a holding cell by two female agents. She was ordered to remove her shirt and stand spread-eagled against the wall.
"She was squeezing my nipples, etc., for a very long time, unnecessary attention," Van Beek told CBC News in February last year. "It was sexual — using her fingertips, not back of hand like you would expect."
Van Beek also claims the guard shoved her hand inside her genital area.
"It was deviant behaviour by the officer, no other explanation," Van Beek said.
The third case also involves U.S. border agents at the Ambassador Bridge just three days before Van Beek was stopped and searched there.
Two Canadian women with visas allowing them to work and study in the U.S. say they were subjected to an invasive and unnecessary body search while crossing to attend a concert in Detroit. One of the two women was eight months pregnant at the time.
Their joint lawsuit claims a female border agent thrust her finger inside each plaintiff's anus and vagina. The lawsuit also claims that a female border agent fondled each plaintiff's bare breasts in a prolonged and deliberate manner.
The two women did not want to be interviewed by CBC News.
Constitutional rights violated: lawyer
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has refused to comment.
Wienner said the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects anyone — regardless of citizenship — from unreasonable personal searches.
"In the case of the four women who have now filed lawsuits, we believe all of them have had their constitutional rights violated," he said.
The number of allegations suggests more than a handful of rogue officers were involved, he added.
There is a clear difference between a pat-down, and a limited personal search, and the experiences these women are describing, Wienner added.
"These were not searches, these were essentially assaults … unnecessary, completely inappropriate and outrageous searches these women say they were subjected to at the border."
With files from the CBC's Steven Bull and Ron Charles