It was a trip months in the making.
“We had talked to the comp control of the state of Maryland to get our temporary sales tax licence. We had filled out all the manifests. There were hours and hours of time spent with the customs broker,” said Aberdeen’s Wool Company owner Heather Breaden.
“We had everything good to go. All of our paperwork was done. All the t’s were crossed, the i’s were dotted. All of our passports were cleared,” added her employee Amanda Sharpe.
All told, Sharpe and Breaden spent eight weeks and $25,000 preparing for a trip to Maryland, to sell their store’s in-house yarn at a fibre festival.
Everything seemed in order, until they got to the border.
“We were diverted to secondary screening. We had a lot of stock, so I honestly wasn’t too surprised that they wanted to check things out in the vehicle,” Sharpe said.
Initially, neither Sharpe nor Breaden suspected anything was amiss. But then Sharpe said their passports were seized, along with the keys to their vehicles, and they couldn’t use their cellphones.
They were fingerprinted and had their photos taken.
That, Breaden said, is when things started to get worrisome.
“I asked if I was being arrested, and whether or not I actually required a lawyer. And they said you can’t have a lawyer because you have no rights here as a Canadian citizen.”
Sharpe says they were told they were being denied entry because they didn’t have a work visa.
“So I said what kind of visa would we need to do this kind of event? And he said, ‘I don’t know,'” she said.
One customs agent said they needed an E2 visa. According to the U.S. State Department, that’s applicable to those selling something that generates a significant economic impact in America.
Sharpe said she could understand the hesitancy of customs if they were bringing food into the states. But she pointed out that they were travelling to a yarn festival to sell their in-house skeins.
“It was yarn,” she said, throwing her hands into the air in confusion.
Breadner said her first thoughts went to the financial investment she had put into the weekend.
“It was just a wave of panic and nausea, and oh my goodness, what are we going to do? How are we going to salvage the weekend?” she said. “So clearly, I had a small meltdown.”
The pair made dozens of phone calls, then Breadner tried to talk to border agents again. Sharpe said things quickly turned hostile.
“They threatened her with a five-year ban from the U.S.. They threatened her with confiscating her vehicle and all of her stock.”
The pair says they had no choice but to pack up and head back to Lindsay.
But even if the weekend was lost, the business was not. After posting their experience online, the two say they’ve received hundreds of messages of support, and online orders from the U.S.
“Everybody has been ordering online and coming into the store in order to show their support,” Sharpe said.
But that’s not taken all the sting out it. Both say they followed the rules, only to have those rules change on them at the border.
“We’re supposed to be trade partners, we’re supposed to be neighbourly. And unfortunately in this case, that didn’t happen,” Breadner said.