U.S. Border Guards Refuse Entry To Canadian Comics Artist Headed for C2E2

Gisele Lagace, a Canadian webcomic artist who also has worked on Archie, Betty Boop and Jem and the Holograms comics, told Facebook readers she was turned back from the U.S. border on her way to appear in Artists Alley at C2E2, a ReedPOP show being held at McCormick Place in Chicago this weekend.

They kept pressing about the comics I had and the sketches, and well, I had to be honest and said that I did get paid for commissions but before hand, but since they weren’t complete, it was considered work in the us. Comics wise, I had maybe $700 in value if I had sold everything. Honestly, it’s not a lot.

Was asked if I was the only one doing this as I looked surprised to be refused entry. I said no, many artists from around the world attend these to promote themselves. I don’t think they cared.

Lagace’s person and car were searched:

My car was searched and is a mess. And to top it off, I was body searched and finger printed too (they do that when you get refused entry apparently.) It was an awful experience.

Things then went worse when they searched me throughout and found 2 white pills in my wallet. There was no identification on them and I wasn’t sure what they were. Once I calmed down after being touched all over, I remembered they were generic acetaminophen from the dollar store that I carry around in case Marc gets a headache as it sometimes happen. I forgot they were even in there.

Anyway, I wasn’t turned around for the 2 acetaminophen, as they found those after I was refused entry for the comics in my car and the unfinished sketches but they kept us longer there until they were convinced they weren’t narcotics. I never took drugs in my life!

Lagace, whose Twitter page says she’s from New Brunswick, wrote that she and another person has driven two days to reach the Windsor border crossing.

And she’s concerned that she now has a record of being refused entry to the U.S.

Don’t expect to see me at a US con until I can figure out a way to get in and being absolutely certain this won’t happen.

People are outraged on her behalf — 20 hours after being posted on Facebook her story has 561 shares.

On the other hand, work visa laws have been in effect for a very long time, in the U.S. and many other countries. Lagace’s truthfulness that she was likely going to work despite attempting to enter as a visitor is admirable but unless a person is prepared to tell a lie in that situation the guards will enforce the law.

This news story has reminded people of Peter Watts’ far worse experience at the US/Canadian border in 2009 when he ended up being arrested after a physical altercation during a search of his car.

[Thanks to JJ for the story.]

26 thoughts on “U.S. Border Guards Refuse Entry To Canadian Comics Artist Headed for C2E2

  1. My car was once searched at Niagara Falls back in the ’70s. We had a long haired white guy, a short haired nervous white guy and a black woman plus the tiny sticker on my door that said ‘Hump & Money Enterprises Staff Car’. What a fun time we had! They found my 5′ bladed knife under my seat, next to the orange peel that I’d used it on, and my girlfriend pointed out that if they liked that so much that hers was in her purse. We went around with the keystone kop crap for about 20 minutes, and I kept mentioning my cousin Louis not liking this when I talked to him. This was a veiled reference to a guy who might have been a distant relation named Louis Wyman who had for the moment had just won an election to be a US Senator from New Hampshire. It would have really pissed me off if Krissy and I didn’t have so much fun playing with the 2-3 people who were rummaging through my car.

    A couple of years later, I had a similar crossing adventure at nearby Buffalo, where my dog really, really liked the aroma of the liquor that the crossing guard had on her breath; the woman was completely shit faced. The dog kept pushing my head to the right so she could get closer and closer to the woman’s face, before the woman saw the dog for the first time and asked if I had papers for the dog (I did), and she sent us on our way.

    Needless to say, I like it better when the borders were protected by humorous drunks and idiots and not the hopelessly paranoid buffoons like they are now.

  2. It was the correct decision, wasn’t it? I had a colleague who was travelling to New York with his girlfriend who had a gotten a job there for three months or so. It was decided that he could work from our NY office. But as he had checked the wrong box on his VISA, he wasn’t allowed to work, unless he first left the country and reentered.

    I think that was in 2006 or so.

  3. “They found my 5′ bladed knife under my seat…”

    That is not a knife. That’s a sword.

  4. I saw a twitter thread on this earlier, with what seems to be sensible advice on the situation. The tldr is to only bring in display items or free giveaways, and be clear that you’re traveling for personal promotion not to undertake anything resembling work. (Not that promoting yourself at a con isn’t hard work, but it apparently isn’t legally work)

    https://twitter.com/stacyking/status/855410283942117376

  5. I was turned away from the border by US customs guards when I was the artist guest at Confurence 3 … that was 1993, and the artist guest was more or less the big wheel, since the con didn’t have *writters*. But I was accused of being paid a professional fee for my appearance at the con, and very nearly had to cancel out, literally moments before flight! As it was, the con chairman managed to talk custom some sense into them by long distance about fan conventions, and I was able to catch a flight out of Toronto about six hours later.

  6. The problem from what I understand is that you fall between two stools: it’s impossible to get a work visa for occasional, freelance work, but you can’t travel on a tourist visa.

    And all sort of things could be considered “work” if the definition is stretched enough – for example when I go to cons in the US, seeing as I am an aspiring writer, and I talk about writing with other writers and editors – is that work? Should I get a work visa? (Not that I am overly tempted to cross the US border anyway of late). When I went to Clarion I went without a visa because the consulate took two months to tell me I needed a special photo showing my left ear, but should I have tried to get a work visa? a student visa?

  7. Anna Feruglio Dal Dan: The question I don’t know the answer to, but you or others will, is when you DO work in the US, what is done about income and social security taxes. (I have a good idea what the employers have to pay, but not how the administration looks from the worker’s side.) Is a visa needed then, or can that also be finessed? It’s apparent getting in and out of the country, and even staying awhile, as a visitor is easy if you stick to that story.

  8. The older I get the more the question of free movement of people seems to me like the key defining question of liberty for our age – that is, while there are still many questions & debates about freedom of religion and freedom of speech, they are mature debates with a common default assumptions*, whereas our default assumption is that we must erect petty tyrannies on ourselves around geographic boundaries and grant extraordinary powers or arrest and incarceration and lack of due process at these borders.

    In this case, the artist didn’t quite follow the rules and the border agents were just doing their jobs etc etc, yet the situation is genuinely absurd. No common good was served, no anti-social outcome was prevented, no collective benefit was supported and yet the arbitrary force of the state was employed, an individual detained for no obvious gain. This is hardly the worst enaction of border rules we see these days but it does highlight the absurdity of them.

    *[it may not feel that way but at a minimum people seem to accept that they themselves should have freedom to worship in their own way and say what they want without arbitrary hindarence]

  9. Mike Glyer on April 21, 2017 at 4:09 pm said:

    Anna Feruglio Dal Dan: The question I don’t know the answer to, but you or others will, is when you DO work in the US, what is done about income and social security taxes. (I have a good idea what the employers have to pay, but not how the administration looks from the worker’s side.) Is a visa needed then, or can that also be finessed? It’s apparent getting in and out of the country, and even staying awhile, as a visitor is easy if you stick to that story.

    I don’t know about the US, but travelling on business (which implies that you are working) is not an uncommon visa status. That sounds much closer to what Lagace was doing than coming to the US for employment. In the first case, the assumption is that you are doing the work that you do in your own country but in a temporarily different location.

  10. I remember when the Canadian border was very low-key. Once I crossed into Canada (on foot) where they only thing I got was the following:
    “Where were you born?”
    “New York.”
    “Have a nice time.”

    Admittedly, the way back was a little harder.
    “Where were you born?”
    “New York.”
    “Did you buy anything?”
    “Nope.”
    “Hope you enjoyed your trip.”

    I guess it’s not quite that any more.

  11. Last time I crossed the US/Canada border, both ways were very concerned about whether I had any fruit or not. The Canadians asked if I had guns (nope), the Americans ran a dog around the car once to see if I had any drugs, which made sense as we were coming from Vancouver. But they were very insistent about bananas and apples.

  12. @Camestros Felapton

    The older I get the more the question of free movement of people seems to me like the key defining question of liberty for our age – that is, while there are still many questions & debates about freedom of religion and freedom of speech, they are mature debates with a common default assumptions*, whereas our default assumption is that we must erect petty tyrannies on ourselves around geographic boundaries and grant extraordinary powers or arrest and incarceration and lack of due process at these borders.

    In this case, the artist didn’t quite follow the rules and the border agents were just doing their jobs etc etc, yet the situation is genuinely absurd. No common good was served, no anti-social outcome was prevented, no collective benefit was supported and yet the arbitrary force of the state was employed, an individual detained for no obvious gain. This is hardly the worst enaction of border rules we see these days but it does highlight the absurdity of them.

    *[it may not feel that way but at a minimum people seem to accept that they themselves should have freedom to worship in their own way and say what they want without arbitrary hindarence]

    I agree that freedom of movement of people is one of the key questions of liberty in our time, which is depressing, because it shouldn’t be that way.

    I am lucky enough to live in the European Union and the European Economic Area where free movement of people, goods, services and capital is everyday reality. When I go to Helsinki for WorldCon, I don’t have to worry about getting a visa or about getting turned back at the border, because I might try to hawk some books or participate in the programming, while there. I don’t even have to pass through immigration, because Finland and Germany have both signed the Schengen Agreement guaranteeing border crossings without passport controls. And should I decide to take the ferry to Talinn in Estonia, I can do so without requiring a visa or even a passport (though I still have to take my passport, because I’m flying to Helsinki). For land borders, if I want to go on a day trip to the Netherlands, I simply have to drive westwards for approx. one and a half hour, until I hit the Dutch border. I do this several times per year. There is no customs office or passport control, there is only a sign proclaiming “Welcome to the Netherlands”. The old border station has been converted to a coffee shop (one that sells coffee, for those that sell stronger substances, you have to drive a bit further to the first town behind the border). And should I ever feel like it, I can pack up my things and move to any other EU member state for as long as I like and work there without any limitations, though I may have to provide proof that I have health insurance coverage in my country of origin.

    This state of affairs is absolutely wonderful, especially if like me you’re old enough to remember when things used to be different, when you had to stop at every border and show your passport. I remember the horrible hassle of crossing the border between East and West Germany, the endless waiting times and the rude border guards. And I was lucky enough to live on the side of that border that was permeable. Trying to cross from the other side without authorisation would quickly get you arrested, if you were lucky, or shot if you weren’t.

    This is also the reason why I’m horrified that this freedom of movement of people is apparently worth nothing to a significant number of people or even viewed as a threat. Maybe these people don’t remember what things were like pre-1999, let alone pre-1989. Or maybe they just don’t travel and have never desired to work in or move to a country other than the one they were born in. Just take a look at the awful way EU citizens who have been living and working legally in the UK for years or decades and are often married to British partners and have British children are treated in the wake of the Brexit referendum.

    Regarding travelling to the US, crossing the US border was always an awful experience (and my conscious experience of that goes back to the Reagan era – I also made one US border crossing during the Carter era, but was too young to remember what it was like) that was only marginally less awful than travelling to an Eastern bloc country. And I am a white women from a visa waiver country, i.e. pretty privileged. I don’t even want to imagine what it’s like for others.

    What is more, there are lots of stories of people getting turned back at the US border going back at least to the Bush, if not the Clinton administration (i.e. it’s not Trump’s fault for once), because some US immigration official decides that something these people might do in the US constitutes work. Quite often, the targets are artists, writers and musicians, for whom the definition of what is or isn’t work is less clear than for others. Artists, writers and musicians also often aren’t eligible for a business visa, because they fall between the cracks. They also generally aren’t likely to take jobs away from US citizens.

  13. @lurkertype

    Last time I crossed the US/Canada border, both ways were very concerned about whether I had any fruit or not. The Canadians asked if I had guns (nope), the Americans ran a dog around the car once to see if I had any drugs, which made sense as we were coming from Vancouver. But they were very insistent about bananas and apples.

    I have some sympathy for concerns regarding agricultural products, because these can carry pests and diseases. However, Canadian border officials usually aren’t rude about it, unlike Americans.

    I also have sympathy for concerns regarding drugs, though I’m still pissed about getting targeted at the Dutch-German border as a young woman travelling all alone in an old car, whereas I was waved through while travelling in the same old car with my Mom and had been waved through all the time, when I was with my parents only a few years before. My Dad used to work in the Netherlands, so we crossed the border all the time. And the only time I was stopped was while I was driving alone.

    Coincidentally, when you crossed the Luxembourg or Swiss border in the pre-Schengen days (or even today, cause they still have the right to do spot checks), the people likeliest to be stopped and have their cars searched were business person types with big and expensive cars. Luxembourg and Switzerland are/used to be tax havens, so the border guards were searching for evidence of illegal money.

  14. Jason, if you ever give the world a jillionth of the enjoyment and delight I’ve gotten from Gisele Laglace’s work, you can call her stupid again, but you’ll still be wrong. I’m looking to my side right now at the only comic book I have left after fifty years of collecting, and if it can’t be Kirby’s work, I’m glad it’s hers.

  15. Jon Del Arroz: She’s gotta go back.

    So you do agree that, should you wish to go to another country to promote your books, you should have to get a work visa for that country?

  16. I have some sympathy for concerns regarding agricultural products, because these can carry pests and diseases.

    It’s kind of silly when people are coming in from the country next door, so to speak. (Most of the illegal agricultural products seem to come via packages, especially from southeast Asia, from the stories I’ve seen in the news.)

  17. Cora on April 21, 2017 at 6:25 pm said:

    I have some sympathy for concerns regarding agricultural products, because these can carry pests and diseases. However, Canadian border officials usually aren’t rude about it, unlike Americans.

    In Australia, there is even a degree of internal border security on that issue http://www.interstatequarantine.org.au/
    I assume the US has something similar? (the UK doesn’t obviously)

  18. The UK was very concerned about rabies getting imported and used to impose a strict quarantine on all imported animals including pets. Well, we SFF folks know what havoc rabid puppies can wreck.

    As for agricultural products, a land border like the one between Canada and the US is less of a problem, though if there is e.g. bird flu or swine fever raging in one country, but not in another it makes sense. Produce imported from overseas is a much bigger problem (and anybody who’s ever flown into the US has seen the sniffing beagles in the international terminals). But since the US and Canada only have one or two (albeit long) land borders, they probably don’t have special regulations for those.

    For inner European land borders, you don’t get hassled about agricultural products (and also didn’t in the pre-Schengen era), though there are occasional import stops for commercial shipments in case of swine fever, bird flu, e-coli or other significant problems. Pre-1991, you did get hassled at the Soviet border about carrying bananas, oranges and the like, though personally I suspect the reason was more that the Soviet border guards were keen on acquiring hard to get products (tropical fruit like bananas or oranges were notoriously hard to get in Communist era Eastern Europe) than concern about imported pests.

  19. I thought Canada and US had some kind of agreement on this. That there’s some kind of requirements that have to be reached before a work visa is required. Anyone know more?

  20. California has agricultural inspection stations at state border crossings to attempt to keep agricultural pests out of the state. I don’t know of any other state that has such things.

  21. @P J Evans: It’s kind of silly when people are coming in from the country next door, so to speak. (Most of the illegal agricultural products seem to come via packages, especially from southeast Asia, from the stories I’ve seen in the news.)

    Not silly when you think about a moment more. Countries A and B are adjacent, and both on the eastern side of the Pacific. Both get a lot of their fruit from parts of southeast Asia where infestations are common. Someone in A picked up some fruit at the market, then headed over to B for a visit, or vice versa.

    If that person made no particular effort to avoid this, the odds are quite good that if they bought one of the kinds of fruit where infestations are currently an issue, they get something grown in SE Asia and shipped to their country. Getting the fruit from elsewhere would probably involve more expensive outcomes, too. So the border people are being quite sensible in not wanting to risk it.

  22. Australia and the US had more unfriendly regulations 30 years ago; my flights to (and IIRC from) Aussiecon 2 had to be fumigated (from spray cans) before the doors could be opened. Fortunately they don’t do that any longer, although they do ask whether you’re carrying produce.

    I have read about exceptions to the work-visa rules for artists on the grounds of uniqueness — as in, somebody who was looking for a Lagace original (even a sketch-to-order) wouldn’t necessarily buy something else, where most forms of work are more fungible. But I don’t know how established an artist has to be for this exception if it exists; it would allow a lot of room for … judgment, as would this-person-isn’t-going-to-covertly-immigrate arguments. The fact that front-line border control is not seen as a job demanding thought (or worse, is seen as a place for petty tyrants and control freaks, judging by some of the reports of job applications since last November) doesn’t help.

  23. I can tell you that traveling _to_ Canada on business is no picnic either.

    I’ve worked for a couple of employers that did business in Canada. In one case, the place that serviced our gear was in Canada. We were paying Canadians to work for us. Due to time constraints, our company owner preferred to take the gear to the repair shop in their car.

    Canadian customs took a severely dim view of that practice.

    Later on, another employer worked with distributors in Canada. Taking our gear to Canada to help determine the solution needed for a given problem also created lots of headaches. Again, our efforts were designed to help a Canadian business solve a problem while another Canadian business made a percentage off of that solution.

    Canadian customs/border officers were less than helpful.

    We had far less trouble working in Mexico with our distributors there.

    None of which excuses rude treatment at a border crossing when coming to the U.S.

    Regards,
    Dann

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