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Ontario woman claims she was falsely arrested in Georgia for driving with Canadian licence

Mon, May 7: Emily Nield says an officer in Georgia told her that her Ontario licence was invalid. Officials say it is a misunderstanding. Mark Carcasole reports.

“I’m in the back of a police car,” says the teary-eyed woman in the Snapchat video.

“I’m in cuffs. Help me!”

The woman in question is 27-year-old Emily Nield of Vaughan, Ont. She shot the video on her own phone after being arrested on the I-75 in Cook County, Ga. The arresting officer told her that her Ontario driver’s licence was invalid.

The arrest occurred on April 2, Nield’s 27th birthday. Earlier in her trip, she had been in Tennessee visiting friends from her days in university there, then had gone to visit her aunt in Florida. She says she was on her way back north to Tennessee for one last visit when she was pulled over for speeding.

“I do not deny that I was speeding,” says Nield.

“I was in the wrong there.”

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What she is speaking out against is what followed. Nield says the officer asked her for her licence and registration, and that’s where things took a turn for the worst.

“[The officer] went on to explain to me that my Ontario driver’s licence was not valid in the state of Georgia. At that point, she wanted to make sure that I was indeed a Canadian citizen, so she asked for additional documentation. I do not carry my passport on me during the day… But I do have copies of it on my phone. I have a copy of my birth certificate, a copy of my Nexus card, a copy of my passport and I offered to show her all those. At that point, she said only the original would do.

“She then proceeded to tell me that I could no longer drive my vehicle. My driver’s window was down. As I was talking to her, she reached in and put handcuffs on me and told me that I was now under arrest for driving while unlicensed,” Nield explains while making air quotes with her hands on the last word.

READ MORE: Over 26,000 people have crossed the border illegally since last year, but only 1% have been removed

WATCH: Emily Nield of Vaughan, Ont. shares this Snapchat video as she sits in the back of a police car in Georgia. 

Ontario woman claims she was falsely arrested in Georgia for driving with Canadian licence
Ontario woman claims she was falsely arrested in Georgia for driving with Canadian licence

Nield’s car was impounded and she was held in custody pending payment of an $880 bond and various fees that brought the total to $927. She paid the bond and was released from custody a few hours later. Had she not, she was told she’d have to stay in custody until her court date, scheduled for June 12.

“Within about a day of hearing about it, I dismissed it,” says Cook County Probate Court Solicitor Matthew Bennett.

“It appears to me the problem arose when Ms. Nield told the officer she was a Canadian citizen but was living in Tennessee,” says Bennett through email.

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LISTEN: Emily Nield joins the Exchange with Matt Gurney

Tennessee requires non-U.S. residents who live there for more than a month to get state-issued licences.

But Nield no longer attends the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and showed Global News that she did have a valid Tennessee license while there. She says she told the officer she once lived in Tennessee during her school days and that she was headed that way to visit friends. She wonders if the officer misunderstood her.

“It was very loud at the side of the highway, so it was difficult to hear.”

Another possibility is that Nield was taken into custody in compliance with one of multiple interstate compacts in the U.S. Most states have been merged into the “Driver License Agreement,” signed onto by all states except for Michigan and Wisconsin.

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One of the key features of the agreement is a rule that allows anyone from one of the 48 member states who is charged with a traffic offence or moving violation to continue on their way and pay any fines and fees back in their home state.

“I found out about those when I went to the Canadian consulate in Atlanta the next day [after being arrested],” says Nield.

Canada, obviously, is not a part of that agreement; but Bennett isn’t sure if that’s what led to Nield’s detention. As of writing, he was still investigating that possibility. He urges Canadians, though, to always have physical copies of important documents like their passports on their person when travelling.

Nield is hesitant to do that, feeling they’re less vulnerable to loss or theft while locked in a hotel vault as hers were; however, if it prevents another situation like this one, she says she’ll take Bennett’s advice.

For now, she’s just happy to be free and back at home. She thanks the Canadian consulate in Atlanta and the friends who saw her video message and made calls to help her out from abroad.

Now that her record has been expunged and her money will soon be reimbursed, there’s only one more thing Nield wants: “I want a sincere apology from the arresting officer.”

Global News was unable to contact the Cook County Sherriff’s Office by deadline.

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