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It Ain't Easy Getting Through Customs

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I can sympathize with Wardah Khalid's feelings regarding movement between countries, today. She wrote about her horrible experience going through customs and immigration in Israel.

I have had my share of immigration/customs, security stories.

Travelling by air from Toronto, Canada I try to arrive between one and a half and two hours ahead of time. My most recent trip I retrieved my boarding pass from the kiosk and within 20 minutes of my arrival was at customs where I have been known to wait for up to 90 minutes. In Toronto's Pearson Airport, travellers to the U.S. go through customs, here. This time I breezed through after a few questions about the purpose of my trip.

On to the next checkpoint to hand in my declaration form regarding merchandise coming with me, said good morning, a little small talk and made my way to security. Shockingly, security was almost empty. I joined a short line that moved quickly and went to the designated table. And so began the ritual undressing. Jacket, scarf, purse, glasses into the first bin. Carry-on bag on the table. Waiting for my turn to go through the first machine before I remove my shoes. Walked through confidently. I never beep. Ever. As I went through I got called over to the side. Oops. It must be my watch. Well, no.

It was my lucky day. I was the winner of a search, as in body. Randomly chosen, of course. I was directed to the new high-tech X-ray machine. Just walk through, hands over head, turn this way and that way, I said, no way to that machine. Since then I have heard that there is some rethinking regarding that particular machine-too invasive.

So I got the personal touch.

First, the lovely woman has to don her blue latex gloves. She does not appear to be happy. Then comes the wand. So I stand arms akimbo while she checks, for what I don't know. Beeping. Must be the bra. I attempt small talk but to no avail. Comedy is not appreciated, here. Then she tells me that she has to, for want of a better word, molest me. She actually asks my permission. Are you kidding? I gave up any sense of agency when I entered customs. Do I have the opportunity to say no and still make my flight?

After patting down the front of me, spread your legs please, she asks me to turn around so that she can frisk the back. I'm thinking, thank God I no longer have a colostomy bag. That would have been entertaining.

Not done yet. Lift each foot. I am barefoot. What could I possibly be hiding under or on my naked feet? Then I am asked to go to another counter to have my hands checked. Blue wand over hands. Checking for remnants of bomb materials. Passed. Now it is time to get dressed, again and collect my things.

Good thing I came early.

Intellectually I understood the frisking, but it left me uneasy. I'm a Canadian, born and bred, 62 years old and a grandmother. Do I look at all like a terrorist? I don't stand out in a crowd. I'd just walked through customs where I'd smiled and laughed. I'd walked through security without a care in the world. No sweat on my brow. So why choose me?

I have been chosen before for a "random "check. This was after 9/11 but before they came up with all these new machines to invade your privacy. I've been invited into American customs, Part Two. It's a small room. A large counter. No one there. No chairs. Ask for assistance and you're told by a disembodied voice -- no talking. Great.

I've been tapped just prior to entering the walkway to the airplane, pulled aside for a few more questions, just randomly, of course.

The treatment leaving the United States is not much better.

Random or not, being pulled over is an invasion of privacy. It's trespassing on boundaries. And what did I do to be pulled over except that I'm flying. I understand. Anyone can be a terrorist. There's no racial profiling in Canada. But there seems to be a total lack of profiling at all.

I have travelled to Israel three times. Twice with my mother-breezed right through. Most recently with my partner. We're a mixed couple-two different religions-which was established within the first few moments of our interview with the "greeter." The agent asked us politely to step aside to speak to a supervisor. This allowed others to pass through. Something not done on this side of the ocean. Our conversation continued with the supervisor: questions about where we grew up, places of worship that we attended. Stuff.

We flew from Israel to Egypt and back, from north to south in Israel and traveled by bus to Jordan. Each time we arrived in Israel we were greeted by respectful, young people, who always said, politely after the first few questions, please step aside. A few more questions and then we were sent on our way. Not once did I remove clothing; not once was I molested by some stranger. Not once was I trapped in a room, told to stand, wait, and not talk.

Something terrible has happened to us. In the name of security, or the way it is handled here, in Canada. We are losing our freedoms bit by bit. We say nothing. Don't want to rock the boat. Perhaps it is becoming a sin of omission. My grandchildren have grown up post 9/11. They have no idea of how life was lived before we were taught to fear almost everything. I'd like to say that I have a solution. I don't. I only know, or feel, that what is happening is wrong in so many levels.

I know we will not be safe until all people love life more than death but in the meantime we must find ways to be safe without giving up our personal dignity and the basic freedoms we had once upon a time. Perhaps we need to learn from Israel.