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'The new way Persians are being questioned': North Vancouver woman held for hours at Canada-U.S. border

Last Updated Jan 6, 2020 at 6:30 am MDT


A North Vancouver woman says she was detained at a B.C.-Washington border for hours without cause Saturday

The woman and her mother were held for five hours, and say they were surrounded by other people of Iranian descent

U.S. Customs and Border Protection says reports of people being detained based on country of origin are false

VANCOUVER (CityNews) – The tensions between Iran and the U.S. now appear to be affecting Canadians.

A North Vancouver woman says she was detained at a B.C.-Washington border for five hours without cause on Saturday.

While there, she says she saw families with children as young as two years old, all of whom she believed to be of Persian descent.

Due to fears of being flagged for future detention or questioning at the border, CityNews has allowed her to remain anonymous.

The young woman and her mother were heading to the U.S. for a shopping trip.

The North Vancouver resident came to Canada as a refugee from Iran when she was 9 years old. She and her mother have lived in B.C. for 20 years.

Both are Canadian citizens and Nexus Card holders, and the prolonged detention at the border came as a shock.

She says she was questioned extensively about her family’s background and history.

“You are answering these questions, but at the same time you want to ask: Why are you asking me these questions?” she tells CityNews, adding one question in particular stood out.

“Have you ever had weapons training?”

“I was taken back and said: ‘What do you mean?'” she explains. “And his words were: ‘It’s a very stupid question, I know, but we have to ask.'”

After questioning and without any answers, the mother and daughter were escorted into a waiting area. Not knowing how long they would be held, they noticed they were surrounded by people of a similar background.

“We just stood there. You look around, and the line up is getting smaller–but you also notice it is less diverse.”

The two Canadians waited five hours before they were told they could leave.

With upcoming plans to get married in Hawaii, she says she is nervous.

“I asked: ‘Will this happen again?’ The officer said: ‘You should plan your trips based on world events.'”

‘Avoid the borders until this sorts itself out’: lawyer

Immigration lawyer Len Saunders was at the border Saturday.

“She was told this is the new way Persians are being questioned at the border,” he says.

He says it’s the first time he’s seen this, adding it seems to be a targeted effort to single out Iranians, whether they are Canadian or American citizens.

“I had to attend the border with a client [Saturday] — it was full of Persians. There must have been at least 50 sitting there being questioned. These were people who were there supposedly for hours,” he explains. “Obviously the Americans in Washington, D.C. have told all the local ports of entry that you need to interrogate these individuals for some sort of possible security risk.”

Saunders recommends people of Iranian descent delay any plans they have of crossing the border — or be prepared to be detained.

U.S. officials weigh in 

Washington state’s Lieutenant Governor took to Facebook Sunday after reports that dozens of people had been detained.

“We are working to help those currently being affected and gathering information,” his post reads.

A congresswoman from California also took to social media to sound the alarm.

“People of Iranian descent — including American citizens and green card holders — are reportedly being detained by CBP officials,” she writes on Twitter. “We can’t let this stand.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol said on Sunday that all reports of detentions based on country of origin are “false.”

“Reports that DHS/CBP has issued a related directive are also false,” the agency said via Twitter.

Reports of detentions at borders come days after Iran’s top general was killed in a U.S. airstrike ordered by President Donald Trump.

‘No involvement’ by Canadian authorities 

The following statement was provided by the office of Canada’s Public Safety Minister Bill Blair

“We can confirm that the Canada Border Services Agency has no involvement in this matter,” it reads. “All Canadian citizens, regardless of their background, are equal before and under the law, and no one will ever be arbitrarily detained at the Canadian border nor refused entry purely because of their ethnicity or religion.”

With files from Lisa Steacy