Friday, October 02, 2009

We Stand on Guard for Thee. Not you! Thee!

Short sides 'n back types from down in pistol country must be delighted to know, if they do, that Canada is taking the national security 'skeer' up a couple of notches. What they might not realize is that all the black uniforms, baseball caps and glocks are in reality a fund-raiser for the customs and revenue agency. They may have gleaned that from the new 'smartass' approach to the 'welcome to Canada' spiel once offered by pimply-faced summer students, but now in the arena are a generation of police foundations grads and superannuated cops. Our boys, and girls, on the 45th parallel must be receiving lessons in "I don't give a fuck" from somebody.

I had occasion to visit the land of the free home of the brave etc recently. Driving past US customs - notorious sticklers for having things right - was a breeze compared to the coming home again reception. The US border officer was interested in where we were going and what we'd be doing there. She asked about the standard stuff that we weren't supposed to be bringing into the country and examined our documents. She was pleasant, but serious and wished us a good day when she released us. Would to Gord the Canucks could do that. But then I never got to see the 'inside' of the US operation.

The return trip to the Canadian side started off the same way - with a passport check. Then an innocuous 'where have you been and when did you leave the country'? She wanted to get a look at passenger number three which involved tangling with the child-proof lock that kept a door from opening. Questions followed about what we had been doing, what we had, or didn't have with us and then returned to some math quiz - so how many days have you been gone? A muffed answer got a snotty wisecrack - and a heads down, fill-in-a-form thing. The form led to a vehicle check. Which in turn led to the discovery that we were returning to Canada with slightly over a litre of 'illicit' Crown Royal - 4 for $75 at Canadian duty-free on the way out.

That led to a close encounter with the 'inside operation'. If the outside was annoying, the inside was there to put you in your place. A bank of agents -armed, flak jacketed, black ball-capped serious young guys - lined a counter on one side. All assiduously scanning computer screens. If they weren't playing solitaire they were looking at something far more interesting. At last one of them looked up, but he looked like he was about to pass a massive turd as he took my ticket. "Driver's license" he keyed in some info, waited, keyed in some more. He asked how much liquor I had, and was surprised to hear that the three of us had 5 litres. The gal outside, who'd wanted to see passenger three, only checked two occupants. A 'friendly' agent next to him thought to ask about ages lest one of us didn't count for booze importation. The other agent keyed in some more and told me I owed $74 in duties. I remarked that it was a lot of duty compared to the price of the booze. He told me he'd done me favour because it should have been more. He sent me over to pay the cashier.

The cashier was more personable and I asked her if she would tell me why I owed more in duties for a litre of booze than I would regularly pay with all the duties and taxes imposed in a liquor store. She told me some stuff about taxes on the duties, but I still couldn't understand how the booze had almost doubled in regular price. She was telling me that because I was 'over' the duties were now payable on all the booze. I replied that had I known this, I would have left the bottle at the last rest stop. A civilian employee said something quietly to her and she offered that I could 'abandon' the bottle in lieu of paying the duty. At $74 I thought that a good idea. I was directed, with a printout, back to the agent from which I'd come.

"The agent at the cashier's desk tells me I can abandon that bottle, I think $74 bucks duty is a bit too high."
"Yeah, but you've already paid it." he said.
"No, I haven't." I replied.
"Well where did you get this receipt?", he asked.
"The gal at the cashier's wicket gave it to me, to give to you." This last induced another bimmie face.
"You're going to abandon the liquor?"
"Yep! Can I go get it?"

When I returned, I thought the agent really had needed a dump for he was nowhere to be seen. The others either didn't know where he'd gone, or didn't think I needed to know where he'd gone. So I stood in front of his empty station holding a bottle of CR and looking more stupid than usual. Eventually he returned a supervisor in tow. Like 'unringing' a supermarket sale, he had to 'unring' the duty impost. It was then that he discovered the duty was really only $21. I asked him if there was any other information I could provide that might him lower the duty even more.

I paid the $21 and kept my hooch.

On the way out I passed a body-builder in Tshirt and jeans with a gold badge on his belt and a pistol under his arm. A sheaf of paper in hand. Parked beside our car was an unremarkable white van with 'Government of the USA' stencilled unobtrusively on the door. A larger version of the first guy was lowering a set of steps at the rear door of the van. Then he took a look around Canada while he waited.
We didn't wait to see who their passenger was to be, my buddies wanted to leave before a wisecrack about booze and national security got us arrested.

$75 bucks, $21 bucks - 10 cars at a time raking in $2,000-$3,000 an hour in duties and imposts. With the odd chance of finding a load of dope or catching a sneaky 'enterer'. Or maybe even having somebody drop an imported pistol on the ground. Jobs the border service has always done but with less service now and and a lot more negativity.

Somehow I don't think that a pick-up truck full of patriots from down south would get the same attention, unless they were of a coloured persuasion. I'd love to see what they'd do to their head honcho 'BIG Jim' VanLoan - an Estonian refugee with a Dutch name who looks like an Indian. But they'd probably recognize an asshole as 'one of their own'. I think they've all been transferred from EI - cutbacks in that ministry to fill a burgeoning 'war on terror' - and everybody else.

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