Stopped at the Border

Crossing the border on a Saturday can look like this
Crossing the border on a Saturday can look like this

Recently, Tom and I were stopped at the border.  Tom and I go regularly to Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.  We have been heading up there every other week to do our grocery shopping at The Real Canadian Superstore.  We also needed to get the truck serviced and chose to do it in Thunder Bay as opposed to driving the six hours to Minneapolis / St. Paul (“the Cities” as everyone here says).

So a couple of weeks ago we headed to Thunder Bay to Tractor Trailer Service to get some scheduled service done on the truck:  oil changed and filters replaced.  Afterward we went shopping and then headed back to Grand Portage.  When we got to the border we did what we usually do:  handed them our passports and our receipts.  But after answering the standard questions, we did not get the standard response.  Instead, the border officer told us to pull over and wait for an inspection.

We were surprised because we have crossed the border several times back and forth now without incident.  Usually they ask us why we went to Canada, where we are heading, if we have any guns or alcohol, and if we have anything to declare.  We have been pretty careful to avoid getting citrus fruits and mutton (the only things listed as prohibited on the border website).  We had not been stopped at the border before.

Another agent came over and we told him we got groceries and tried to hand him the receipts as usual.  But he told us to open the back door of the truck and started going through our grocery bags.  He pulled out leeks and tomatoes and Tom made his standard (sure to get him in trouble one of these days) joke about officers doing their own grocery shopping based on what we had.  The border officer never even acknowledged the joke.  Then he left.

Tom and I weren’t sure what to think but we weren’t going anywhere until the officer released us.  After a short time he came back with a paper that listed about 40 things that you aren’t allowed to bring over the border.  That would have been good to have previously.  I asked him where I could find the information online and he replied that the online information was bad.  He said the only thing he could rely on were the papers he handed out and e-mails that had updates.  He also mentioned that the list could change tomorrow and sounded a little frustrated by it.  Then he told us we could go.

Since then I have read the list of prohibited items carefully and we reread it before we went back to Thunder Bay on Tuesday.  Citrus and tropical fruits are prohibited.  Fruits grown outside Canada or the US are prohibited.  Bananas labeled from Central or South America are allowed.  Avocados, mangos, and plantains are prohibited.

Vegetables grown in Canada or the US are usually allowed.  Chives, green onions, leeks are prohibited.  Peppers and tomatoes are prohibited.  Corn on the cob is prohibited.  If there is any doubt about the origin of vegetables, they will be prohibited.  Potatoes are allowed but only if they are free of soil and you have less than 50 pounds.

Canadian beef is currently allowed but lamb and goat are prohibited.  Pork, poultry, eggs, milk, and cheese are allowed as long as there is less than 50 pounds of it.  Pet food manufactured outside the US or Canada is prohibited and allowed pet food must be in its original container.  Firewood is prohibited.  Peanuts must be roasted or boiled to be allowed.  Lentils must be split.

These are not unreasonable restrictions and I’m sure there are good reasons for all of them.  But it has made me nervous about buying any of the fresh produce at the grocery store.  We have been getting lettuce and other greens but making sure they have a label saying they are grown in the US or Canada.  I skipped the bananas this week because the labels didn’t say where they were grown.  Even though the oranges looked great I did not get any and I decided not to chance the grapes grown in Guatemala.

Crossing the border usually looks like this
Crossing the border usually looks like this

When we came back from Thunder Bay this last time, the officer kept us at the gate for a while.  He asked us the standard questions:  Where are you from, what were you doing in Canada, where are you headed?  But then he also asked us how long we had been volunteers in the National Parks and how we got started doing that.  He even asked how we found out about jobs.  We decided he was bored and just wanted someone to talk to.  There wasn’t anyone behind us and he obviously wasn’t in a hurry.  So we stayed and talked until he waved us through.

I appreciate that the border officers are taking their job seriously.  We try to be law-abiding citizens so we will be careful when we do our grocery shopping in Thunder Bay.  We don’t want to get stopped at the border again.