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Ann Wright, North American police databases, and the criminalization of dissent

Photo by Kim Elliott, Rabble.ca

Ann Wright speaks to US war resisters at the Resistance Across Borders event in Toronto, March 2. Photo by Kim Elliott, Rabble.ca.

On March 2 this year, the Council of Canadians and Code Pink Toronto brought retired US army colonel Ann Wright to Canada to speak at an event called “Resistance Across Borders.” Part of the thrill was that we weren’t sure Ann would be allowed into the country! Canadian border agents had denied her entry twice before because her arrests for peaceful protest were filed on shared border databases. Some of you might remember that Ann was allowed into Canada in 2007 for the anti-SPP rally at Montebello, Quebec, but only after  paying a fee. This time she (and we) got lucky. After a two-hour interview and waiting game, border agents in Windsor let her in and she made it to our event on time, joining US war resister Patrick Hart and I at the University of Toronto for a discussion on how war and anti-war activism is intertwined with security and border policy. The podcast of that event is available on Rabble.ca here: http://www.rabble.ca/podcasts/shows/needs-no-introduction/2010/04/resistance-across-borders.

An article this week in USA Today asked whether the databases used to ban people like Wright cross the line. It also made the links between US citizens denied entry to Canada during the Olympics, and plans to limit entry for the G8/G20 summits in June.

“Thousands of times each day, Canadian authorities tap into sensitive U.S. government databases to check the criminal histories of U.S. citizens who are crossing the border or have been entangled in the Canadian criminal justice system, FBI records show,” wrote USA Today.

“The databases are an integral part of security operations for Canadian officials, who are preparing for June meetings of the Group of Eight summit of the world’s leading economic powers and the G-20 leaders of developed and developing countries. The summit meetings have drawn thousands of protesters in the past, including at last year’s G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh.”

During the Olympics, Canadian officials ran 10,000 criminal history checks a day, says the article. In total this year, Canada has conducted 400,000 queries and the U.S. has done 1.4 million using each others’ criminal databases. This is worrying because “The U.S. has no independent authority to audit Canada’s use, Weise says, and Canada has no authority to police U.S. queries of its system.”

The American Civil Liberties Union is worried about this practice because of how outdated the criminal records can be. USA Today writes that of the hundreds of people questioned, detained or denied entry during the Winter Olympics were protesters and three California travelers.

“One of the California men, Tim Fallman, a 29-year-old Mission Viejo salesman, said he was ‘stunned’ – and a bit embarrassed – when Canadian border authorities grilled him about a trespass violation from 1999. Fallman, wearing only a beanie and goggles, was caught streaking at an Orange County, Calif., high school football game. He and his two companions, who also were questioned about past run-ins with the law, eventually were allowed to enter Canada.”