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The US Homeland Security Secretary causes a ruckus up north.
TORONTO — Desidero Fortunato is a Canadian citizen who regularly visits his second home in Blaine, Wash., crossing the border by car two or three times a week.
Last month, a U.S. border guard — who apparently had no cause for suspicion — ordered him to shut off his engine and get out of the car.
The Canadian penchant for politeness can, admittedly, be irritating. But the 54-year-old competitive dancer got more than he bargained for when he asked the guard to say, "please." First came a blast of pepper spray in the face. Then a handful of guards threw him to the ground, pinned him with their knees and slapped on handcuffs.
Fortunato says the tense interrogation that followed eased only when the guards learned he was born in Portugal.
“Their shields dropped slightly down. It was like you know: ‘OK, he's a westerner, OK, he's not a Muslim, okay, he's a Christian — he's one of us.’ That's what I read,” he told a newspaper.
Fortunato was let go, and the latest reports had U.S. officials investigating the use of force against him.
The thought of U.S. border guards on the lookout for politeness-wielding terrorists sounds like fodder for "Saturday Night Live." But with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano as the guards' boss, Canadians are beginning to think anything is possible.
Napolitano, after all, managed to outrage even the most staidly of Canadian diplomats last week by suggesting that every terrorist the U.S. has confronted on its soil — including the perpetrators of 9/11 — entered through Canada.
The kerfuffle began when the CBC’s Washington correspondent, Neil Macdonald, asked her to clarify her position that the Candian and Mexican borders must be treated equally.
“Yes, Canada is not Mexico. It doesn't have a drug war going on; it didn't have 6,000 homicides that were drug-related last year,” Napolitano said. “Nonetheless, to the extent that terrorists have come into our country or suspected or known terrorists have entered our country across a border, it's been across the Canadian border. There are real issues there.”
Macdonald asked if she was referring to the 9/11 attackers and Napolitano replied: “Not just those but others as well.”
The statement is flatly wrong. Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Wilson, publicly corrected Napolitano during a Washington speech the next day.
“Unfortunately, misconceptions arise on something as fundamental as where the 9/11 terrorists came from,” he said.
“As the 9/11 commission reported in 2004, all of the 9/11 terrorists arrived in the United States from outside North America. They flew to major U.S. airports. They entered the U.S. with documents issued by the United States government, and no 9/11 terrorists came from Canada,” Wilson added.