March 7, 2017 8:07 pm
Updated: March 7, 2017 9:27 pm

What are Canadians’ rights at the US border? Slim to none

WATCH ABOVE: A Calgary man was denied entry to the U.S. because of a criminal conviction over 40 years ago - which Canada pardoned. It has many questioning whether Canadians are being more closely interrogated at the border. Lisa MacGregor reports.

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When Canadians enter the United States they should be ready to answer any question asked by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials — and be prepared to be turned away.

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“Every person who applies for admission to the U.S. — meaning who crosses the border to be a visitor — is subject to inspection and no one is entitled to enter the U.S., except a U.S. citizen,” said Cassandra Fultz, who works as a regulated Canadian immigration consultant in Toronto.

READ MORE: U.S. can search Canadians’ mobile phones at the border: Ralph Goodale spokesman

“For everyone else who’s not American, it’s a privilege, not a right to enter the country.”

Border officials have the right to ask any question they deem relevant to entry.

“Any question can be asked. Any information is subject to scrutiny,” said Fultz.

While there is no reason for border officials to ask about your religion or sexual orientation, there’s nothing to stop them from doing so.

READ MORE: Muhammad Ali’s son detained by US immigration officials: ‘Are you Muslim?’

Just because you have the proper documentation doesn’t mean you will be allowed into the U.S.

The case of Manpreet Kooner, born and raised in Montreal to Indian parents, has raised concerns about Canadians’ rights at the border. Last weekend Kooner was driving to a Vermont spa with two friends when she was held at the border for hours before being told she needed a visa to enter the U.S. and turned around.

Kooner, a chemistry lab technician at Marianopolis College in Montreal, said the agents did not raise any issue with her caucasian friends.

“I feel like I’m a criminal, like I’ve done something wrong, but I haven’t,” Kooner said.

WATCH: Montreal woman denied entry to U.S., told she needs immigration visa

U.S. Customs and Border Protection told Global News it cannot discuss individual cases, but noted “that possession of a valid travel document does not guarantee entry to the United States.”

Fultz said it does seem like “that CBP officer made a mistake.”

“A natural-born Canadian does not need a visa to enter the United States,” said Fultz.

READ MORE: Canadian border officials can search your cellphone, confiscate your device

Just because you’ve been crossing the border for years without a hitch doesn’t mean you won’t suddenly run into problems

Calgary resident Bill McLevin said he was made to feel like a “criminal” after he was photographed, fingerprinted and denied entry to the U.S. last weekend. The reason? A drug trafficking charge from 43 years ago, which he has a pardon for in Canada.

“(CBP) do have absolute discretion to turn you around,” said Kate Duncan, regional manager for the National Pardon Centre.

“They don’t care if you’ve been pardoned, how long ago it was. Anything to do with drugs they’re really strict about that.”

The National Pardon Centre helps people who have been deemed inadmissible to enter the U.S. acquire an entry waiver, an official document from the Department of Homeland Security that allows passage into the U.S. The process can take up to a year and be costly.

READ MORE: Crossing the Canada-U.S. border with a criminal record

Duncan said travelers often have no trouble crossing the border for years before an officer decides to deny entry.

“It’s just the certain border guard that you get on a certain day and whether or not they run your information or question you,” said Duncan.

WATCH: Calgary man warning others after ‘humiliating’ experience at U.S. border crossing

It’s nothing new, Duncan said, adding there has not been a recent spike in need for waivers.

“It’s always been the case, I don’t think it’s any more frequent now,” said Duncan.

“I think it’s just more publicized in the news so these cases are just getting more visibility but it’s not really more prevalent. We don’t see hundreds more people calling us under the new [Trump] administration. That’s just not the case.”

If a traveler feels they’ve been treated unfairly they can make a complaint online or in person and should receive a response within 24 hours.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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