Update: see previous posts – May 20, 2014 Ontario: Police Records Destroy Lives: No Criminal Charges, No Trial.
TORONTO – All of a sudden, Uncle Sam doesn’t want him anywhere near their country and their ridiculous lack of hospitality has cost him his career.
Is Terry Potvin a terrorist? A convicted killer, rapist, robber or drug dealer? Not at all. The 48-year-old Wasaga Beach auto parts executive and father of two is so squeaky clean that he had no idea why he was pulled over for secondary screening by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
All he knew was that being grilled for six hours about his past was going to make him late for his business trip to Nashville as part of the new job he’d started just two weeks before as lead quality engineer.
But after being photographed and fingerprinted, he was told he wasn’t going anywhere but home. Not only has Potvin been barred entry to the U.S., but that decision has cost him his job and livelihood.
And his “crime?”
According to Canada, he never committed one. When he was 19 — a whopping 29 years ago — he was arrested with a small amount of “crappy hash oil” while he and his pals were searched outside a pool hall. For what he acknowledges was “being young and dumb,” he got a conditional discharge, two years probation — but no criminal record.
He forgot all about it. He married, had a family, has been a hard-working, contributing member of society. His career has required him to travel to the U.S. — which he has done without incident more than 50 times, until that day in May.
“I was absolutely in shock,” Potvin recalls. “I’m a grown man but this brought me almost to tears.”
He had to call his new boss and tell him that he wasn’t being allowed into the U.S. because of a three-decade old pot charge. Potvin understood when his employer had to let him go because of his travel problems. Another position with an auto parts company also fell through when he told them he couldn’t go into the States.
“The Canadian and United States governments have ruined my life,” he says.
Potvin’s story is one that immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann hears increasingly from clients who, until recently, never had problems entering the U.S. He blames Canada’s increasingly generous “information dump” about its citizens that it sends to its American counterparts. Even Canadian police incident reports — any interaction you may have with law enforcement whether it results in a charge of not — are now being handed over freely to the Americans, he says, all in the name of homeland security.
“This is very sinister,” Mamann says.
Big Brother, it seems, knows everything. The lawyer had an anorexic client barred from returning to her U.S. treatment program after they accessed her medical records and found that she’d used recreational drugs. Another woman was stopped at the border because police were once called to her home when she attempted suicide many years before.
“I don’t think we should be giving up that kind of information,” argues Mamann. “We didn’t agree to sacrifice our privacy. We agreed to share information that would enhance security and these are not cases that pose security risks.
“It’s time we rethought this. It’s been 13 years since 9/11.”
After all Potvin’s years of American travel, even post 9/11, why has this become a problem now? Mamann believes U.S. customs’ increasing access to our databases probably turned up the conditional discharge — and while our justice system treated the possession charge as a misdemeanour not even worthy of a criminal record, the Americans view it as a drug crime.
Ironically, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said they couldn’t comment on the case because of privacy issues.
Now Potvin has a U.S. document that says he’s been denied entry into the U.S because he has a criminal record and a Canadian document telling him he doesn’t need a pardon because he has no criminal record.
He must wait up to a year and spend about $1500 to get a U.S. waiver that will hopefully let him back into their country and allow him to reapply for positions in his industry that require American travel.
It all seems ridiculous.
“The information we’re releasing to the U.S. should be about truly bad people — drug dealers, sex offenders, murderers. Don’t throw Terry Potvin in there,” he says. “That’s insane.