Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 05.02.04
Stanstead, Quebec


Lying gets you nowhere - fast

I'm a little skittish about crossing the U.S. border these days.

No, I don't have a bumper sticker that reads "Free Iraq (with the purchase of any six Haliburton contracts)." Nor am I in the habit of smuggling mad-cow beef inside bundles of soft-wood lumber.

It's because I was recently caught lying.

Let me back up a bit. I've told this story in print before so it isn't likely to shock anyone (hi, Mom).

When I was 23, I was arrested in Toronto for stealing a fire extinguisher from a subway station. I would have got away with it, too, if I hadn't started spraying my friend just as a cop car drove by.

Long story short: the judge took pity on me and gave me an unconditional discharge. I've been a good boy ever since. Or at least I haven't been caught.

It takes a while to tell this story at U.S. Customs whenever they ask, "Have you ever been arrested?" The last time was while we were on our way to go camping in Vermont.

When I told my story, the response was "Will you pull over please?" We weren't stopped very long and the officer didn't tear apart our tents looking for Cuban cigars and Howard Dean. But it did delay us and cause me to squirm in front of the children.

So when I was recently in a hurry to get to an appointment stateside, I decided I didn't need the aggravation. I decided to lie.

In case you haven't heard, things have changed on the border since 9/11.

For starters, there's more hardware. Crossing the big border at Derby Line, Vt., for instance, you must pass through a series of scanners that a more paranoid person might imagine are used to read minds for unpatriotic thoughts. A smart person would simply realize that these folks are pretty serious. I am a stupid person.

"What is your citizenship," said the serious woman in the booth.

"Canadian," I said.

"Have you ever been refused entry to the United States?"


"Have you ever been arrested?"


"Can I see some ID please?"

Gulp. I handed the officer my driver's license. She started tapping information into her terminal. She paused. She tapped some more. I tried to act casual. Look at that truck over there! Goodness, isn't my windshield dirty! Oh my, I think I'm going to throw up.

More time passed and, as images of rubber gloves danced in my head, the officer turned to me again.

"You say you've never been arrested."

In for a penny, in for a pound. "No."

"Are you sure?" she asked, looking me in the eye.

There are times when a charming smile can work miracles. This wasn't one of those times.

"Oh yeah," I said, verbally slapping my forehead. "But I thought that was all taken care of."

"You still have to tell the truth," she scowled and handed back my license. "Have a good day."

"Thank you," I replied. Thank you thank you thank you!

I dodged that bullet - perhaps quite literally; U.S. Customs officers carry guns, as opposed to their Canadian counterparts who are armed with a stern look.

As I drove off, certain questions came to mind? Was all that information gleaned from my driver's license? Or could the officer just tell I was lying? And is she related to my wife? I now imagine that the next time I travel to the U.S., the word "fibber" will appear in my file. Will this bar me from entry? Perhaps Americans don't want liars entering their country (though apparently, they have no problem electing them president).

Rest assured, American authorities, I have learned my lesson. I will tell the truth from now on. If an officer asks me "Are you transporting any weapons of mass destruction?" I will answer clearly and honestly, "Just my kids."