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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Routine border check or racial profiling?

Milgo Noor had an appointment at 3:30 p.m. this past Sunday to look at bridesmaid dresses in a Buffalo bridal shop. She never arrived.

When the young bride-to-be tried crossing the border with her three bridesmaids – two sisters and a cousin – the women were detained for more than eight hours and two of them were escorted back into Canada in handcuffs.

"I'm not a terrorist. I didn't have grenades strapped on my stomach," Noor told the Star. "I'm just an ordinary citizen going shopping."

Shortly after Noor, 26, showed her citizenship to a U.S. border guard at the Peace Bridge, more than a dozen customs officers "charged" at her vehicle, starting an ordeal that she said stripped her of her dignity.

All four women are Canadian citizens. The family arrived in Alberta from Somalia 17 years ago and Noor has lived in Toronto for the past five years. The women have all crossed the border before without incident. This time they drove a rented vehicle. All the women are practising Muslims, but none wear the hijab.

For three of the eight hours, Noor and her eldest sister Rukia, 32, were held in solitary holding cells. After asking repeatedly why they had been detained, they were laughed at by U.S. border officials. "You have no rights here," they were told. "You came to us."

Their rooms had a chair bolted to the floor, a wall-mounted surveillance camera and an alarm that sounded every 30 minutes. They were searched by border officials wearing gloves, the women said, as well as being fingerprinted and photographed.

"It's one of those bizarre things that you never think is going to happen to you," Noor said.

They were told it was a random inspection, she said.

Noor said they were held without food or water. Only when Rukia, who is anemic, asked for something to raise her blood-sugar level was she given a Kit-Kat chocolate bar. They sat while border officials ate pizza in front of them. "We asked for water and no one would even look at us. They told us to `Shut up and sit down,'" Noor said.

After eight hours, the four women were told they were being "denied access to U.S. soil." Noor and Rukia were then handcuffed and driven to the Canadian side of the border.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Kevin Corsaro confirmed that Noor was stopped and turned back at the border. But he said he couldn't discuss details of specific cases. He did say the agency does not engage in racial profiling.

Mohamed Elmasry, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said the incident does not surprise him. He says his organization receives about five complaints per week from Canadian Muslims who feel they have been treated unfairly at a U.S. entry point.

"They're brown and they have a Muslim name. There's two strikes against them," Elmasry said, adding that had the women been wearing the hijab it would have been three.

His organization advises Canadian Muslims to avoid travelling to the United States, and issues alerts before the annual Hajj pilgrimage urging Muslims to ensure their flights do not have U.S. stopovers.

On May 5, prominent Muslim scholar Munir El-Kassem was detained during a stopover in Detroit on his way to lecture at a multi-faith conference in Milwaukee.

El-Kassem, a professor and chaplain at the University of Western Ontario, said he was detained for four hours, was asked by U.S. officials if he had ever met Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, photographed and fingerprinted.

He missed his flight and arrived too late to deliver his lecture.

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay met with El-Kassem to discuss Muslim profiling by U.S. border officials. An email to Elmasry from El-Kassem, who couldn't be reached, said MacKay asked "for specific cases of border abuse to strengthen his case with the Americans."

"Peter MacKay should have said one case is too many," Elmasry said.

When Noor was dumped back at the Canadian border, she said she complained to border officials at the Canada Border Services Agency. She said an officer told her this type of thing "happens all the time" and she should research what to do on the Internet.

Noor said her family plans to hire a lawyer. [Link]

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Blogger Blazing Cat Fur [At 4:54 PM]:

Munir El-Kassem defended the Talibans right to destroy the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan and has given a ringing endorsement to Louis Farrakhan- if you carry that kind of baggage around you can expect to be stopped. As for the women I know nothing of their background however the US has every right to detain and question anyone seeking entry to or exit from their country.

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