A couple of ugly episodes on the Canadian border in the past few weeks prompts questions about whether U.S. inspectors at the Canadian border are properly trained and supervised, and whether the Bush administration is pushing for needlessly harsh measures -- even in emergency situations.
Last week, American inspectors at the Detroit border forced an ambulance with lights flashing and sirens blaring, which was carrying a critically ill man, to pull over. The patient was headed from Windsor, Ont., to a Detroit hospital. Canadians and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., charged that the behavior of the inspectors was a violation of clearly established procedures for emergency situations.
U.S. officers reportedly sent the ambulance to secondary inspection, told the driver to get out and go inside an office and produce identification. Other American officers told the paramedics in the ambulance to get out, open the back door of the ambulance, and make the patient, who was in need of emergency angioplasty, to identify himself. He did, and later underwent surgery in the Detroit hospital where he was listed in serious condition.
A Canadian police escort was with the ambulance when it was stopped.
Thompson reacted angrily last week to the Detroit border incident.
It follows a similar incident the previous week when a Quebec fire truck, responding to an emergency request for assistance in upstate New York, was delayed at the U.S. border despite having lights and sirens activated.
Thompson said he will demand a full explanation for the New York and Detroit incidents from the Department of Homeland Security, which supervises the border inspectors.
In Canada, Stockwell Day, the minister of public safety, voiced concern in a statement that noted that the two countries "have a long-standing tradition of helping one another in times of emergency."
Separately, officials of the Travel Industry Association on Monday questioned why candidates for public office in the U.S. weren't paying more attention to the delays that security arrangements are imposing on travelers.
Politicians, fearful of being crticized for being soft on terrorism, rarely complain about heavy-handed American security procedures. So far only Thompson and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., criticized border procedures in either in these incidents.
--- Douglas Turner