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U.S. Lawyer Locked In $1.77 St. Stephen Border Dispute

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A Massachusetts lawyer says an incident at the St. Stephen border crossing over two oversized bottles of Jim Beam bourbon could prevent her from ever visiting Canada again.

Deborah Butler was on her way to a family reunion in Bridgetown, N.S., last July when she declared the liquor at St. Stephen's third bridge.

Border guards told her she'd have to pay $1.74 in duty and fill out the required paperwork.

Butler says she waited about a minute for a duty collector to come to her car, then left, fearing she and her elderly mother would miss the ferry from Saint John to Digby.

The ferry only departs twice a day, and Butler says she would have had to pay $100 if she missed her ferry reservation.

She figured she could deal with the duty paperwork two weeks later on her way back from vacation, she said.

But when she returned — with a toonie in hand — she says the experience was traumatic.

“He screamed at me, threatened me, told me he was searching my car, and proceeded to berate my mother, told her that she was in the country illegally,” said Butler.

Guards slapped her with a $1,000 impound fee, saying she had run the border.

“I feel that this warrants no more than a warning,” said Butler.

“I have no record, my mother certainly has no record, I mean, we satisfy every criteria for getting warnings by border authorities.”

Butler says she appealed the fine, and was refunded.

But now, nearly a year later, she’s still unclear about whether she was formally charged with illegal entry into Canada. If so, the deadline to appeal that is coming up this month.

“I need to know what impact, if any, their enforcement action is going to be on my personal record.”

No one with the Canada Border Services Agency was available for an interview.

In an email, a spokesperson from the Atlantic region said the agency can't comment on specific cases, but entering Canada without completing clearance obligations can result in a fine or imprisonment under the Customs Act.

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