** Buzz Roy, a pharmacist from Derby Line, Vt., which abuts the border with Stanstead, Que., stands on the road where he was arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol after his own personal protest of border measures he says have torn the two communities apart.
Andrew Chung/TORONTO STAR
Andrew Chung Quebec Bureau
DERBY LINE, VT.—Feeling like pizza for a late-evening dinner, Buzz Roy called up Steve’s, just a few steps across the border in Stanstead, Que., and ordered a large, smoked meat special for pick up.
A mundane act, on the surface. But this takeout order eventually led Roy, a 69-year-old pharmacist, to be turned around, placed in handcuffs and thrown in a cell that also sometimes holds illegal immigrants and drug smugglers.
Granted, Roy, a rather stubborn man with strong convictions, pushed his luck.
But what’s important, he insists, isn’t what he did. Rather, it’s what governments have done to inexorably thicken a Canada-U.S. borderline that in the past was all but invisible to residents of these two small towns.
“I was brought up in this village,” Roy says, sitting on the sun-drenched sidewalk outside his shop, Brown’s Drug Store, a couple dozen metres from the Main St. U.S. customs post here. “Until 9/11, it was a non-border. As kids we went back and forth walking, riding our bikes. We didn’t think of it as another town — ever.
“Now,” he says, gesturing with his hands, “this is the U.S.
“And that is Canada.”
It’s a common refrain among people in Stanstead and Derby Line, which has historically exemplified the special Canada-U.S. cross-border relationship — but now demonstrates how the 2001 terrorist attacks frayed it.
“Around the world borders are coming down,” says Kim Prangley, a dual citizen who lives on the Canadian side just down the hill from Roy’s store. “But here they’re making it harder than ever. The people are really demoralized.”
On the U.S. side, more border patrol and customs agents arrived — out-of-towners who depersonalized the small-town closeness between residents and authorities. Interrogations and detentions became more frequent. Law enforcement figures were everywhere.
Then they put up gates to block two side roads that cut through both towns. Residents on both sides managed to stop a gate from going up on Church St., which runs along the famed Haskell Free Library and Opera House, an edifice purposely built straddling the international boundary to symbolize the two countries’ friendship.
People assumed they could do what they’d been doing for generations — walk from one side to the other and then go report to customs.
Roy got his pizza, and instead of returning home via Main St., which has a steep incline, he took the more gradual Church. A police officer stopped him a stone’s throw from his store, above which he lives. “You can’t come through here,” the officer admonished. He had to take Main St.
“I’m a U.S. citizen. — I’m coming into my own country,” Roy replied.
After a while the officer let him go. But Roy was not content to let the issue slide. He was also a village trustee. Things were not supposed to be this way.
So he went back down the hill into Canada, simply to cross back into the U.S. again on Church St.
He was stopped again. This time he argued with several officers. And was allowed to check in and go home.
Still fuming, Roy did it again. This time, the Border Patrol had had enough. They threw him in the slammer and gave him a $500 fine. (It could have been $5,000, they warned.)
**Nowhere have the **changes implemented since 9/11 been more keenly felt than in Derby Line and Stanstead. Roy’s plight became a touchstone for people’s growing frustration. Not long after Roy’s February 2010 incident, a demonstration was organized.
After all, these two towns had always acted as one. Like the library, there are several buildings that are partly in both countries. Derby Line gets its water and sewage services from Canada. On one stretch of bungalow-dotted Canusa Ave., the yellow line down the middle marks the border.
Former U.S. customs officer and village trustee chairman Keith Beadle, 63, attended the rally to support Roy.
Disallowing someone from using Church St. to enter the U.S. was an “arbitrary change of something that’s been going on for 100 years,” Beadle says.
“People could see it was going to divide the community.”
As an administrative sanction for improperly entering the United States, Roy had no choice but to pay the fine. But he hired Vermont lawyer David Sleigh, and they have appealed it twice to no avail.
Sleigh and Roy recently gave notice they intend to sue the government at the U.S. Court of Claims in New York, which typically deals with international trade disputes.
For Roy it’s the principle of the thing.
A local magazine asked the question: is he a freedom fighter or rabble rouser?
“I’m a freedom fighter,” he says, smiling. “I despise control just for control sake. The Homeland Security budget is huge, and most of it is for garbage like this. Meanwhile, the 9/11 terrorists entered the country legally.”
No one from U.S. Customs and Border Protection responded to repeated requests for comment.
Miguel Begin, the chief of operations for the Canada Border Services Agency’s Stanstead sector, recognizes that residents might perceive changes to the border negatively. “But the more effort we make in trying to stop people from doing smuggling or illegal entries or criminal activities, it can only be positive,” he says.
The blocking of the side roads was the result of a long process of negotiation with residents, he adds, explaining that few locals recognize the problems created by the roads, and that’s why the fences were necessary.
Still, Beadle insists that “we’re losing a lot. We’re growing further apart from our neighbours.”
One measure of that can be found at the majestic stone and brick library and opera house at the top of Church St.
They call it the only library without books and the only theatre without a stage in the U.S. That’s because the border line runs right through the building, and both the books and the stage are in Canada.
The border tightening has led to less tourism, says the theatre’s manager, Lynn Leimer, particularly among Canadians. Many don’t know that though you’re allowed to walk on the sidewalk from Canada to the building entrance, which is on the U.S. side, you cannot drive to the parking lot, also on the U.S. side, without reporting to customs.
“It’s not as easy to come across, and it’s confusing for visitors,” Leimer says.
For a while, so many people were getting picked up and interrogated by the U.S. Border Patrol that Stanstead Mayor Philippe Dutil put up a temporary fence across the road. He says the border patrol has agreed to not automatically detain people, so the fence has been removed.
But Leimer recalls how a performer from Montreal arrived one day at the opera house, only to be taken away by agents. “He vowed never to come back,” she says.
Since 2009, the U.S. has also required travellers to have a passport to cross. Canadian customs agents in the area have acquired new technology and are now systematically entering all travellers’ information, like at airports.
New issues keep cropping up. Prangley, who ran the Haskell Free Library for 24 years, was furious last May when she tried to walk into the U.S. as a pedestrian — ironically to attend a “dance for universal peace” — and was told by the customs agent to “get in line and advance with the cars.”
She refused. “I could not believe what he told me,” she recalls. “That was the end of any sense of community here. The way we’re treated is really insulting lots of the time. The questions are degrading, they insinuate you have an ulterior motive even if you’re going to go get gas.
“But this is our community for God’s sake, founded on goodwill, intimately woven together.
“It’s just not fun anymore.”