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article imageOp-Ed: Border agents stop Canadian journalist from entering U.S.

By Karen Graham     Dec 1, 2016 in Politics
The recent abusive and unlawful treatment by U.S. border guards of an award-winning Canadian photojournalist on assignment to cover the DAPL protests in North Dakota should serve as a warning that freedom of the press is questionable in the U.S.
Award-winning Canadian photojournalist, filmmaker and TED senior fellow Ed Ou who has covered the Middle East for over a decade, was detained for six hours at the U.S.-Canadian border in October. His three mobile phones, documents and notebooks were confiscated, and he was denied entry into the country.
On October 1, 2016, according to the National Post, while on assignment for the Canadian Broadcasting Company to cover the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests in North Dakota, Mr. Ou was detained at the U.S.-Canadian border and eventually denied entry.
Ou is a Canadian citizen and travels to the U.S. frequently because he has friends and family here. He also regularly vacations and attends work events and conferences. The Oct. 1 trip was supposed to be just another routine trip, with Ou being on assignment.
Ed Ou/Twitter
But once he prepared to cross the border at Vancouver International Airport, according to Common Dreams, he was stopped in his tracks. Ou says when he put his Nexus card into the reader (Nexus is the Canadian equivalent of Global Entry, so he can go through security lines faster; it means he had already been vetted by customs officials), “I got an immediate flag to go to secondary screening and I got the SSSS on my boarding pass."
The SSSS means he is on the dreaded "watch list." Ou immediately told the border agents he was a journalist for the CBC and on assignment. The border control agent didn't ask, but Ou also works for Getty Images. His photography has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, Time, The Guardian and countless other publications.
"I had offered to show them press accreditation or put them in contact with my editor,” he said. “There was no doubt that they knew I was a journalist.” Instead, the first question agents asked him was, "When was the last time you were in Iraq?" Ou told them it had been over a year.
“At this point in time, it’s still pretty routine, since I get this all the time," says Ou. "My first thought was ‘I’m back in the U.S. so I don’t have to hide that I’m a journalist. I don’t need to be ashamed of that fact.’ So I was completely straightforward and honest.”
Ou was then taken into a room, given a list of countries and told to write down all the countries he had visited in the last five years and his reason for going to the country. “Then they asked me why I was going to Standing Rock and why I was so interested in that. They wanted to know the people I was going to meet, what I was going to cover.”
Border agents also wanted Ou to consent to a search of his mobile phones. “I thought, ‘Oh my god.’ The first thing that came to my mind was [journalist] Jim Foley—my colleague and my friend—who was killed in Syria. So I started to put the pieces [together] in my head. Maybe they think I’m a militant who went to fight for ISIS and came back?”
Ou said he really could not give them permission to search his phones because of sources he had to protect, as do all journalists. He refused, saying, “I’m a journalist and have sources to protect. I’m not going to open my phone for you, or anyone for that matter — not the cops, not the U.S. border patrol, or the Russian or Chinese or Iranians. It’s just something I don’t do.”
Ed Ou/Twitter
Regardless of Ou's response, the phones were taken into another room and when he got them back, the SIMS cards had been tampered with. All his documents and notebooks were photocopied. When his things were returned, he was told, “You or someone that sounds like you is on a persons of interest list.”
While Mr. Ou willingly offered to help clear the mistake up, he was told their information was "classified." He was then denied entry into the country.
The National Post is reporting that Mark Harrison, the head of CBC News’s health, science and technology unit, said the news agency has never faced this kind of problem before and it concerns him. “This has the potential to expose and compromise confidential sources,” Harrison said. “It goes against the very principles of a free and independent media.”
The American Civil Liberties Union got wind of the story and is officially protesting to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, claiming Mr. Ou's treatment at the border was unlawful and unjustified.
In its blog, the ACLU says Ou's treatment at the border is "yet another indication that the government is treating the border as an all-purpose dragnet for intelligence gathering — an approach that is at odds with the Constitution, federal law and CBP policies on border searches."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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