Mr Leather Edmonton 2003, Scott Bryen, was detained and questioned for three-and-a-half hours by US Customs officers at a tiny North Dakota border crossing Aug 2.
Bryen says he and his husband, Stan Sontz, were on their way from Edmonton to a gathering of friends in Oklahoma when a routine random search at the US border crossing turned Kafkaesque.
“We filled out the usual declarations,” says Bryen. “They said they were going to do a cursory car search. I watched two of the guards go out. One of them trotted back about five minutes later, and about 10 more [US Customs officers] followed him out to our car. They had only opened one case out of the whole carload. It happened to be the case with our wedding album in it. They didn’t even open up the toy bag.”
Bryen says it was only after he and his husband checked into a hotel after their release that they went through their belongings and realized their wedding album had been inspected and rearranged.
“After they came back in, the situation changed,” Bryen continues. “They turned very curt and businesslike. They pulled us off for separate interviews. I was told to sit there while two guards watched the exits of the room. Their guns were unclipped; still holstered but their hands were on them. It was an intimidation thing. They didn’t seem skittish at all.”
Bryen says none of the guards identified themselves to him and none of them were wearing nametags that he could see. He alleges one officer told him, “You realize if we find anything illegal we’ll seize everything you have.”
Bryen says he was fingerprinted and told to take off some of his clothes so his tattoos could be photographed. He says he was grilled about his past, his friends, his husband and the purpose of his trip.
Finally, Bryen alleges a US Customs officer told him he had been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude and had questionable morals, so he wouldn’t be allowed into the US without a special waiver that would take months or years to get. But, he says, customs officers didn’t make any overt comments about his sexuality.
“The wedding album gave them a reason to look for an excuse to bar entry but they were very, very careful not to say anything,” speculates Bryen. “They gave me the waiver application form and laughed as if I would never get an approval from them.”
Bryen says he and his husband were eventually reunited and escorted back to their car, which was being photographed, and the pair were instructed to drive directly back to the Canadian side of the border.
Bryen freely admits he was convicted of fraud in Canada about 15 years ago, but that it’s since been discharged and it’s never been an issue for him crossing into the US before. He suspects that conviction is what the officer meant by “a crime of moral turpitude,” but wonders why it was only after the guards went through his wedding album that things changed.
Bryen says, like everyone, he gets asked every time he crosses into the US if he has a criminal record.
“It’s part of their opening questions,” he says. “They ask if you’ve ever been charged with a felony and I’ve always been upfront about it. I carry the paperwork with me, which shows the discharge. That was 15 years ago and since then I’ve crossed into the states at least 60 times. Every time it’s the same routine.”
Bryen is adamant he answered the same question honestly this time, and even pointed out that his passport bears several US Customs stamps already, but that the guards didn’t seem phased until they returned from inspecting his wedding pictures.
“I felt violated,” recounts Bryen. “It really brought up images of homophobia that I haven’t dealt with in 20-odd-years. This is just not something we deal with in Canada anymore. I live in Alberta and we don’t even have to deal with this.”
Bryen says he’s going to apply to Corrections Canada for a pardon on his fraud conviction; anyone convicted of an offence in Canada is eligible for a pardon eight years after their file is discharged. He expects that could take up to a year to process. Then he’ll apply for a waiver to enter the US and that should take at least another year.
“The whole process with legal fees will likely cost me between $2,000-3,000,” he says.
Xtra West contacted US Customs and Border Protection in Portal, North Dakota and at their regional office in Seattle, but they didn’t return our calls before press time.