(This column was published in the North Shore News on April 18, 2001)

 

Talking cat lady welcomed in to Canada

By Leo Knight

THE trial of Ahmed Ressam in Seattle is now over and the associate of Osama Bin Laden has been convicted of terrorist-related crimes.  

 

Given he was smuggling explosives into the U.S. from Canada and, when the contraband was discovered, he ran from U.S. Customs agents, the conviction was a foregone conclusion.  

 

In the court of public opinion, it was this country that joined Ressam in the dock. For it was Canada's weak immigration laws and weaker still government policies which allowed Ressam to be in a position to attempt to mount his planned attack against the United States.  

 

Ressam's case has been much discussed in the media across this continent. The intrinsic problem is that his is not an isolated incident. Annually over 20,000 failed refugee claimants go missing in Canada. How many more Ressams are in that number?

 

But it is the inherent weakness in the Immigration Department's policies and practices which allow all manner of people into this country daily. Often, people who should not be here are admitted even after Canada Customs officials have flagged the individual for refusal.  

 

One customs officer outlined the lunacy, showing me documentation on what he termed a "fairly typical" example.  

 

A little more than a month before Christmas, a young, unemployed female from California was being questioned by a customs point-of-entry officer. She had very little money and the officer felt she had taken a little trip on the dis-Orient-ed Express. She was sent for a "secondary," a further inspection and interview.  

 

In secondary inspection she explained why she had cat food with her, but no cat. She said it would be the first talking cat in the world. Some used pipes were found among her things. Yet, she adamantly denied using drugs, saying drugs made people crazy. Uh-huh.  

 

As is her right, even though she is not Canadian and had not been yet allowed into the country, she called a lawyer who dutifully told her not to say anything.  

 

Customs officers completed the examination of her bags. She was told a personal search would be conducted by female officers. Oh no, she said. A superintendent was then called into the room to explain the process.  

 

The superintendent, an experienced female officer, tried in vain to explain why the woman had to allow the procedure. The girl responded by covering her mouth and speaking through her fingers.  

 

And why was she doing that, she was asked. Well, you see, it was because the lawyer had told her not to say anything.  

 

But, said the bemused superintendent, I can still hear you. She solved the problem by speaking without moving her lips.  

 

Following several more unsuccessful attempts to convince her to cooperate, she was arrested for obstruction. The Mounties were advised and two female members answered the call.  

 

The subsequent search revealed four bags of marijuana taped to the woman's body. Apparently drugs do make you crazy.  

 

It was decided not to charge the woman due to the relatively small amount and her mental state. Same thing for the obstruction charge. Now the customs officers had to free her to see an immigration officer.  

 

One of the customs staff involved in the situation went ahead and outlined the circumstances and their concerns to the immigration staff. But, alas, to no one's surprise at customs, to no avail.  

 

The document says this: "Despite the fact that the subject was unemployed, had little money, excessive baggage, no hotel reservation, no friends or family in Canada, appeared mentally challenged and had marijuana in her possession, she was admitted."  

 

Where she is now is anyone's guess. Perhaps a check of the welfare database might reveal she is happily residing in our fair city, raising talking cats while honing her mental agility sucking happily on a bong. And darn it, wouldn't you be happy to pay for the privilege?  

 

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