The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City did not harm only the USA. It did, in fact, alter the way we all live and interact in the western world.
What were once free, open and welcoming societies have become suspicious and paranoid, almost to the point of xenophobia. So many backpackers have come to the hostel with horror stories of encounters with customs officials in Europe, the U.S.A. and right here in Canada.
We’ve been hosting backpackers (thousands upon thousands of them) for over a decade now and we’ve yet to come across and “terrorists”. A few football hooligan types (maybe); our fair share of drunks and the odd less than bright traveler. But the vast majority are just young, adventurous and well-behaved “kid next door” types.
Some are first time backpackers, while others have been badly bitten by the travel bug and often have been globe trotting for years!
Canada and the U.S.A. form the world’s largest trading partnership. And whether we like to admit it or not, share a lot of cultural similarities. Since the 9/11 attack, we’ve begun to share even more.
A lot of the horror stories of border crossing encounters concern customs officers in the United States because that’s where a lot of our backpackers landed first in north America. But we also get tales of a good many nasty run-ins with Canadian border officials.
Canada and the U.S.A. once boasted the world’s longest “undefended” border. Citizens of both countries could cross over very easily and without a passport, to shop, eat, holiday or simply visit friends. After 9/11 that has all changed.
Canadian Customs officials (according to a lot of our visitors) have become suspicious, aggressive and less civil in their dealings with visitors. But I think the most telling example of change is the fact that we are currently in the process of training our Customs Agents to use firearms as a prelude to issuing them guns!
In fairness, it is not the fault of our governments or border officials. Machine gun toting cops at major airports are now a common sight. No country s immune to foreign and domestic terrorism. It is merely a sign of the times.
The job of maintaining security has just become a lot more important and immeasurably more difficult. That is the post 9/11 zeitgeist. And all an innocent traveler can do is to try to understand their position and, above all, co-operate!