Emily Nield said she went through "one of the most horrendous moments of [her] life" when she was arrested in the United States last month for driving with a Canadian licence.
The 27-year-old from Kleinburg, Ont. was driving through the state of Georgia on the I-75 highway when she was pulled over for speeding.
She told HuffPost Québec that she believed she was being arrested for a busted tail light. "There was a lot of noise on the side of the highway and I couldn't understand everything the cop was telling me."
But when she handed over her valid Ontario driver's licence to the police officer, things went south.
The arresting officer repeatedly told Nield that "Canadian driver's licences aren't accepted in the United States," which she knew was wrong.
To prove her identity, Nield showed the officer electronic copies of her passport, Nexus card and birth certificate on her smartphone. But since she didn't have the original documents on her, she was arrested and handcuffed through her car's window.
Once at the police station, Nield was accused of speeding and driving without a licence.
She claims that she was not allowed to contact the Canadian consulate in Atlanta, despite asking multiple times.
"The consulate staff later told me that not allowing me to contact them was in breach of the Vienna Convention," she said.
In an email to HuffPost, Global Affairs Canada spokesman Philip Hannan could only reaffirm that "Canadian driver's licences are valid in the United States."
"We expect that local law enforcement should be aware of the applicable laws," he wrote, encouraging citizens to contact the closest Canadian government office should they be arrested or detained abroad.
While she was detained, Nield was only able to speak to one of her friends, who had contacted the Cook County Sheriff's Office after seeing a video Nield posted on Snapchat asking for help.
Nield ended up posting US$880 in bail. She said she was told by police officers that if she refused to pay, she would have to remain in custody until her June 12 court appearance.
A 'cautionary tale'
It is legal to drive in the United States with a valid foreign driver's licence. The Georgia Department of Driver Services website states:
"Non-US citizens holding a valid foreign driver's license are allowed to drive in the state of Georgia for tourism or business purposes. In the case of a driver license issued by the driver's licensing authority of a foreign country, a law officer may consult such person's passport or visa to verify the validity of such license, if available."
Canadian travellers are not required to have their passport with them when they are driving in the U.S.
Some people assumed that I talked back to the officer. They couldn't believe I was arrested just for driving with a Canadian licence.
The charges against Nield were dropped by a Cook County judge, three days after her arrest.
"I would like to emphasize how great the State of Georgia and the judge were in dismissing the case," she told HuffPost.
Nield said many people thought there was more behind the story after she came forward.
"Some people assumed that I talked back to the officer. They couldn't believe I was arrested just for driving with a Canadian licence," she recounted.
They even said in jail that I was living up to every Canadian stereotype.
But she assures she remained polite and complied through the whole process.
"They even said in jail that I was living up to every Canadian stereotype," she laughed.
She said she hopes her story will be a "cautionary tale" for other Canadians travelling to the United States.
Nield has yet to receive an apology by the Cook County Sheriff's Office.
In a statement issued Monday night, the office explained that "approximately one million travelers" use the Georgia portion of the I-75 highway every month.
"With those travellers, law enforcement regularly encounters individuals who are engaged in crimes such as identity theft and will have on their person a license that is not theirs or of those stolen or illegally reproduced", said Capt. Brent Exum.
"That is why we follow Georgia DDS guidelines and request a passport or visa to verify their identity", he added.
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