Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 01.18.15
Stanstead, Quebec


Ebola at the Canadian border

Question from a border agent as I returned from the U.S.: "About the ebola virus, anything changed for you, Mr. Murray?"

Well, really, it depends on your definition of "change." Change is constant, and in terms of ebola, it's all a question of whether those changes elevate or reduce my risk of being a carrier.

Have I been to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone? I have not. Have I associated with anyone who's been to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone? No, I haven't. Could I locate Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone on a map? That's not particularly relevant.

Yes, I have left the country. That's why I'm here at this border crossing, returning from the United States of America, which, unlike Canada, has not barred visitors from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone (which are in West Africa somewhere, and that's all I'm saying about that).

The World Health Organization pleaded with countries not to bar visitors because it would only compel them to find non-official routes into the country, unmonitored, and next thing you know we have body parts falling off in the streets and only Brad Pitt can save us. But Canada has turned away nearly 180 people so far and is not the compassionate country I grew up in, your polite approach to border security notwithstanding, Mr. Customs Officer.

Yes, I have left the country in the past three months, but I've only been as far as the Dollar Tree in Derby, Vermont, where they sell really cheap Mike & Ikes, which, to be honest, probably pose a greater risk to my health than ebola.

And that's what it's all about: risk.

The other day, I shared a big bag of Humpty Dumpty Party Mix with a five-year-old and a three-year-old. At one point, I reached my hand in and the side of the foil bag was all wet. I had to weigh the risk-benefit of continuing to eat the snacks. Risk: contracting contaminating cooties that would have me lurching lava-like. Benefit: the five-year-old was picking out all the gross pretzels for herself. So of course I kept eating the snacks, though I did take a hard look at my eating habits, not to mention my choice of friends.

I survived, obviously. Consider this, though: perhaps it was mere chance that I avoided the one chip loaded with cheesy goodness and e-coli. Consider this as well, officer: maybe I am that chip. Think about it. Since I've been ebola-free for the past three months, don't the odds increase daily that I'll get ebola?

Imagine someone who drives a lot. Statistically, the more that person drives, the greater his chances of having a car accident. That's why when I see companies with signs that read "447 Days Without An Accident," I head the other way because I know they're due -- probably that guy who drives a lot smashing right into their loading dock.

So, sure, right now I've had no exposure to ebola, only exposure to too many Mike & Ikes and sticky children, but statistically the odds of exposure increase the longer I'm out in public, just like the odds of honking increase the longer I sit here holding up border traffic.

Not to mention that we've let our guard down, now that it appears that the ebola outbreak is confined to unimportant African countries where an unprecedented 8,000 people have so far died of the virus. (And something about Procol Harum? Sorry, forget ...) Here in the west, most people have moved on to new outrages, like the barbaric attack on Charlie Hebdo. I mean, I don't see anyone showing their solidarity with African countries by tweeting #JeSuisEbola, because, let's face it: ewww!

Freedom of the press is the new ebola because they're both simple: freedom of the press is good just like ebola is bad, although satirizing Muslims in a country that's notoriously hostile towards the Muslim minority, maybe that's not so good. It's easy to defend freedom of satire when you're not likely to be the subject of that satire. If terrorists had attacked the publishers of How to Kill White People and Puppies, that would be a tough rally to attend.

So, no, Officer, I'm not an ebola carrier but I am a satirist, and things have changed in that regard; since everyone's all for press freedom right now, satirists can say the most outrageous things and get away with it. Except that I know that, like ebola panic, it won't last.

Oh, and also, I bought gas.