Strip-searched woman sues U.S. border guards

A 46-year-old woman from Stratford, Ont., launches a $500,000 lawsuit in a U.S. federal court against two female U.S. border guards in Detroit.

WARNING: This story contains graphic details

A woman from Stratford, Ont., has launched a $500,000 lawsuit in a U.S. federal court against two female U.S. border guards in Detroit.

In March 2010, Loretta Van Beek was travelling to Savannah, Ga., where she owns a small vacation home, when she was pulled over by customs agents at the Ambassador Bridge, across the river from Windsor, Ont.

Van Beek, 46, told CBC News she was sent to secondary inspection when customs officers found a few raspberries in her car that she'd forgotten to declare. After more than an hour of questions, Van Beek was told she was being denied entry on suspicion that she was living illegally in the U.S.

Van Beek said she was marched into a holding cell by two female agents and 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 said of one of the agents. "It was sexual — using her fingertips, not back of hand like you would expect."

Then she said the search became even more invasive.

"She ran her hands in my lower region," Van Beek said.

Van Beek claims the guard shoved her hand inside her genital area while the other officer watched.

"It was deviant behaviour by the officer, no other explanation," said Van Beek. "Saw a woman on her own — vulnerable."

She said they photographed her and took her fingerprints, then sent her back to Canada.

Strip-searches 'at officer's discretion'

U.S. Customs and Border Protection wouldn't comment on Van Beek's case but said the rules state: "We rely upon the judgment of our individual CBP officers to use their discretion as to the extent of examination necessary. However, CBP officers are expected to conduct their duties in a professional manner and to treat each traveller with dignity and respect."

A spokesperson said a strip-search is allowed when there is reason to believe someone is hiding something on his or her body, and the person has to be told the reason.

Van Beek said she wasn't given a reason.

The lawsuit documents were filed on Feb. 9, 2011.