Brings back rather unfond memories to read of a Saturday night adventure granted a young Canadian university student from Ottawa transiting Georgia with her husband, brother-in-law and another friend on their way through to a Florida vacation. This young woman was apprehended on the basis of two relatively minor traffic infractions by Georgia state police officiously protecting their country from the vicious predations of visitors from Canada. The young woman was fingerprinted, mugshot taken, stripped and showered and dressed in a jail outfit to sleep overnight in a prison cell alongside two other female inmates, while observers in other cells jeered and leered their approval of the proceedings.
Cheryl Kuehn, 23 years of age, a student at Carleton University, was admittedly injudicious enough to have driven some 20 mph above the zoned speed limit and failed to stop at a stop sign. All bad decisions, each of which should have garnered her traffic infraction tickets. At the very least, in the interests of good relations and encouraging tourism, her explanation might even have garnered her a stern warning. Instead the Georgia state trooper who confronted her as she parked outside a restaurant informed her she had to post a bond. She was driven in his cruiser to the detention centre where she spent the next 11 hours waiting for release.
It was explained to her that legitimate procedures were being followed when dealing with foreign nationals bringing attention to themselves through law infractions. A procedure which included being held - despite being able to show a valid passport - until such time as clearance was received from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency indicating that presence in the U.S. was considered to be legal. In fact, that clearance, once the Agency was contacted, came through in 11 minutes, a fact not shared with Ms. Kuehn. And the bond money demanded before release was in her husband's hands before an hour was up. Yet the young woman was forced to spend the night in custody.
"I'm not a terrorist. I'm a blond, petite woman from Canada, trying to go to Florida to celebrate graduating my master's in social work," said Ms. Kuehn. "They knew I was a tourist from Canada. They were treating me like an (illegal) immigrant." The wrong exit she took attempting to leave I-95 near Brunswick, Georgia, occasioned the U-turn which in turn brought this young woman to the misery she suffered through the decisions made by the state trooper, along with all the other officials who happily supported his decision. Jail officials offered no explanations to the young woman and she was not permitted to call the Canadian Consulate for assistance.
A truly memorable experience for the young woman celebrating her social work credentials with her husband. An experience which accords well with some that my husband and I were treated to on several occasions while we lived in Atlanta, Georgia. And we weren't mere tourists travelling through the state en route to another destination. We were legal residents of the state, albeit as Canadians attached to a diplomatic mission. But we were not Americans, and as Canadians, regardless of our status, we were obviously thought by policing authorities to be less worthwhile than any Americans, despite their status, despite the circumstances.
One occasion saw us travelling from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia, during our first year of residence in Georgia. We had left Atlanta fairly early in the morning, discovering the highway, on Easter week-end, to be full of like-minded travellers. Halfway to our destination I became aware of a little drama in the traffic lane beside our own, where the driver of a van appeared to be having difficulties slowing down in the heavy traffic. The van kept hitting the compact-sized car in front of it, in the thick of traffic. I pointed this out to my husband who had already noted it, and in a split instant the van veered away from the car it had kept nudging and into our lane, hitting us and sending our own car off the outer lane and into the ditch beside it, the van following after us.
We were in shock, but unhurt, while our newly-acquired vehicle suddenly didn't quite resemble its proudly intact exterior any longer; part of the side and the back crushed, with something sizzling under the hood. The very car that the van kept hitting made its way to the outer lane and came to rest between our vehicle and the van. A woman exited the car and ran over to the van. A witness, was my first thought, seeing the traffic resuming as though nothing untoward had occurred. But we soon realized that the woman was concerned about those in the van, not us. It was her 17-year-old-son who was driving, and the van was full of teen-agers, 9 in all. The young van driver had panicked, unable to control the van, continuing to hit his mother's car, took the only action he could think of to stop hitting that car by swerving into our lane and nailing us.
A traffic cruiser pulled up shortly, two officers pulled out notepads and began questioning everyone. It was obvious that we were physically shaken up. It was even more obvious that we were angry, outraged that such a stupid incident had occurred. That an inexperienced young driver had been encouraged to drive on a busy highway, with the lives of 8 other young people in his hands. That we were made a target in the young driver's desperation to stop hitting his mother's car. That this little scenario occurred at all. That we were left shaken and our property damaged and disabled because of stupid decisions made by stupid people. There was no sympathy extended toward us as innocent victims of this stupidity.
It soon became obvious that the sympathies of the state police were entirely with the mother, the young son, inadequate as their story might have been in endangering a gaggle of young people along with all the other vehicles on the road. There wouldn't be so much as a ticket written along the lines of dangerous driving. We were told, in just so many words, that this represented an unfortunate occurrence; we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, despite our protestations that there should be charges laid against both drivers, mother and son. Didn't happen, wouldn't happen. We were just told we'd have to forget about it and toddle on our way. Canadians, eh?
Several years later, driving along some back country roads on our way to launch a canoe in Georgia we experienced another example of the kind of treatment accorded "foreign nationals" in the Deep South. My husband was driving our car, pulling a trailer with a canoe. I was in our youngest son's car. He was doing a research project for University of Georgia that summer between his master's and doctorate degrees, and we spent week-ends together. Our son's car was in the lead, my husband hauling the trailer behind, as we drove up a hill toward our destination, a put-in for a nearby river. Suddenly, over the top of the hill a car came careening down, partly on the right-hand side, way out of his lane. Some quick maneuvering spared us from a direct head-on hit, but we were broadsided.
The car that hit us just kept going; my husband attempted to turn and speed after the car, forgetting he was hauling a trailer and jack-knifed the trailer. After we ascertained the damage, and there was plenty, although again no one was hurt, we straightened out the trailer and turned around, headed back in the direction we'd come from, to report the incident. At the small nearby town we entered the local police station and gave our account of what had occurred. The officer who took the details of our report was pretty disinterested, gave his opinion that it was people like us, from the "big city" who drove recklessly in those parts, not the residents. Tough, but they weren't taking any responsibility for anything. Canadian, eh?
Although the U.S. South likes to think of itself as a generous-hearted, courteous and polite society, this is a superficial blind, not to be confused with an open and fair consideration of people who don't represent the same political, social, cultural, religious background. So there are some fairly wide differences between what obtains in fair treatment and equality under the law in the United States and in Canada.
Labels: Canada/US Relations