Canadians riled over arrest of hunter along U.S. border

By Sarah Schweitzer
Boston Globe
Nov. 28, 2002

ESTCOURT STATION, Maine - Michel Jalbert, a 32-year-old Canadian forestry worker, dipped into this speck of an outpost last month to fuel up with cheap American gas at Oulett's Gaz Bar before setting off to hunt moose.

He stumbled into an international controversy, instead.

Jalbert was arrested and jailed for crossing the border without notifying U.S. officials, and worse, traveling into the country with a rifle in his truck. Canadians reacted with outrage, fuming that a citizen could be incarcerated for more than a month for a practice that had long carried on, with no consequences for the lawbreakers.

It was, Canadians said, yet another sign of heavy-handedness in plugging holes along the 4,000-mile border, reaching into a highly symbolic pocket of friendship between the two countries, an oddity of a place where some residents sleep with heads in the United States and feet in Canada.

The incident has caused such a diplomatic pique, Secretary of State Colin Powell waded into the issue two weeks ago at a meeting with Canada's minister of foreign affairs, Bill Graham, in Ottawa.

"It is not any kind of pattern, and I don't expect it to be any kind of recurring problem," he said when pressed.

But Canadians have continued to lob criticism at the United States, even after Jalbert was released from jail on $5,000 bail Nov. 14, the same day Powell visited Ottawa. They have been particularly outspoken about the U.S. attorney's decision to prosecute Jalbert on three charges that could result in more jail time after a trial scheduled for January. Jalbert has pleaded not guilty.

The U.S. attorney's "small-time mean-spiritedness sends a louder message to Canadians than Powell's vague assurance," editorialized the Montreal Gazette. "Powell might be sensitive to the damage done to U.S.-Canada relations, but the U.S. officials on the ground, it's painfully obvious, are not."

Jim Michie, spokesman for the U.S. Customs Service in Washington, acknowledged that Americans and Canadians once danced across the border but that enforcement is now tougher, and Jalbert was forewarned by a sign near the gas station saying anyone coming into the United States should report to a customs station.

But for some Canadians, the Jalbert case is an example of the United States' growing infringement upon Canadian sovereignty in the name of antiterrorism vigilance.

Recent months have seen a spate of controversial incidents, including the United States' deportation to Syria of a Syrian-born Canadian suspected of terrorism links and U.S. officials' refusal to allow Canada to interview one of its citizens at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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