'Say please' at U. S. border nets pepper spray
Canadian traveller says demand for politeness met with use of force
Matthew Coutts, National Post Published: Wednesday, March 04, 2009
A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said officers are trained on how to handle confrontation, and refusal to comply with a direct order is justification to use pepper spray.Dan Janisse/Canwest News ServiceA spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said officers are trained on how to handle confrontation, and refusal to comply with a direct order is justification to use pepper spray.
A Canadian who demanded courtesy from a U.S. border security guard says he was pepper sprayed and held in custody for three hours for asking the disrespectful officer to "say please" when ordering him to turn his car off during a search.
"I refused to turn off the car until he said please. He didn't. And he has the gun, I guess, so he sprayed me," said Desiderio Fortunato, a Coquitlam, B.C., resident who frequently crosses the border to visit his second home in the state of Washington. "Is that illegal in the United States, asking an officer to be polite?"
The incident occurred on Monday at the Aldergrove border crossing, east of Vancouver, shortly after 12 p.m. Mr. Fortunato, a dance studio director, was travelling to his home in Blaine, Wash., to retrieve a wallet his wife had left during their most recent visit.
He said he was questioned by a border officer who demanded he turn off his car and, when asked to make the request more politely, threatened to spray him with his pepper gun if he did not comply.
"I just felt I should stand my ground about it. I should not be treated like that. No matter what kind of position you are in, if you want respect you have to show respect," he said yesterday. "I asked him three times and when I didn't turn the car off, because he didn't say please, he pepper sprayed me.... It was terrible. For half an hour or so I couldn't see anything."
Mr. Fortunato said after he was sprayed he was forcefully taken into custody by several officers. He was held for three hours before he was released without being allowed entry into the United States. Mr. Fortunato says he was dismissed with a warning to be more cooperative in the future.
A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said officers are trained on how to handle confrontation, and refusal to comply with a direct order is justification to use capsicum spray, also known as pepper spray, or other "soft techniques" such as physical holds.
"The combination of training and experience is what our officers use to communicate with passenger on a day-today basis. Our officers will give direct orders or commands to passengers, especially in situations where there may be a safety concern. It is the obligation of the passenger to be compliant with those," said spokesperson Mike Milne.
He added that officers order border passengers to turn of their vehicles when they want to take somebody from a car and, in such cases, further questioning would be conducted inside the building.
While he could not comment on the specific case, Mr. Milne said the use of force at a border crossing is very rare, very serious and subject to immediate review.
By his own admission, Mr. Fortunato is a stickler for courtesy and respect. The Portuguese native, who has lived in B.C. for 25 years and has owned his second home in Washington for three, pulled a similar stunt at the same border crossing about one year ago. In that case, he was ordered to wait hours to be questioned before being allowed to cross.
Once, he said, he asked a Canadian border agent to be more polite when requesting documents, to which the agent responded with a sheepish "please."