American journalist interrogated at Canadian border

New York, December 2, 2009—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the detention and interrogation of a U.S. journalist crossing the border into Canada. News host Amy Goodman of the syndicated, community-oriented radio and television program “Democracy Now!” was detained on Nov. 25 as she tried to cross the Canadian border south of Vancouver and questioned about her work. Goodman was on a speaking tour to promote her new book, Breaking the Sound Barrier.

Goodman later reported that she was detained for 90 minutes and questioned by Canadian border authorities about what she would be addressing in her public talks, which included topics like U.S. health care and U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan. Goodman also said that the authorities gave her a restricted visa stipulating that she must leave Canada within 48 hours.

Canadian authorities confirmed to CPJ that Goodman was issued a limited, two-day visa, as opposed to Canada’s usual practice of allowing U.S. citizens to visit, according to the U.S. State Department Web site, without a visa for up to 180 days.

Canadian authorities sent a statement to CPJ via e-mail. “While we cannot comment on the specifics of this case, we can say that all persons seeking entry into Canada must report to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and may be subject to a more in-depth examination,” wrote Canadian Embassy spokeswoman Jennie Chen in Washington. “A visitor record facilitates status for a visit to Canada, and is issued to accommodate work or study demands for a specific period of time if deemed appropriate. Ms. Goodman was issued a two-day visitor record, which allows her to be in Canada to participate in the activities she communicated to one of our border services officers.”

Goodman reported on “Democracy Now!” that the Canadian border official who questioned her was most interested in whether she would be discussing the upcoming 2010 Olympic winter games to be held in and around Vancouver. “He was clearly incredulous that I wasn’t going to be talking about the Olympics,” Goodman told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 

Chen declined to answer more questions about the case—including whether Goodman’s journalism may have been in a factor in the authorities’ decision to single her out for a special, restrictive visa. Instead Chen told CPJ in her e-mail: “It is important to understand the customs clearance process. Any traveller coming into Canada could be referred for secondary inspection. Referrals may be made for a number of reasons, such as declaration verification for example, and should not be viewed as an accusation of wrongdoing. A number of risk-based indicators guide CBSA officers in making their decision to refer individuals for further examination or investigation. These indicators could include compliance history, specific information like a criminal record and behaviour of the traveller.”

“Canadian officials should dispense with the bureaucratic gobbledygook and answer a couple of simple questions,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Was Amy Goodman given a restrictive visa because of her work as a critical journalist, and was she questioned by Canadian authorities about her views of the Vancouver Olympic Games? If the answer to either question is yes, then authorities owe Amy Goodman an explanation and an apology.”