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Punjabi drivers face the heat at US border

india Updated: Sep 12, 2012 19:49 IST
Gurinder Gill
Gurinder Gill
Hindustan Times
Punjabi drivers

The world breathed a sigh of relief when US President Barack Obama announced Osama bin Laden's death last year. But for Punjabi drivers, especially Sikhs, crossing over from Canada to the US, the relief was shortlived as they are being allegedly stopped for extra security checks and harassed due to the 9/11 anniversary.

Canadian businesses rely on trade with their American counterparts and the trucking industry is the backbone of this trade. As this industry in Toronto and Vancouver is largely dominated by Punjabis, the nightmare represented by Bin Laden continues while crossing the border.

A Sikh driver, Gurmail Singh, who is with GHL trucking company, alleged that he was stopped by the US border authorities for a special security check during every trip he made to the US during the past couple of weeks, while white drivers were allowed to pass. He alleged that he was made to sit at the border without giving any reason and harassed by the authorities with vague questions and hateful remarks. Gurmail alleged that he wasn't even allowed to drink water or eat in the waiting room, while his truck was taken away for a security check.

Other Punjabi, especially Sikh, drivers have the same story to tell and many of them informed that they had stopped going on US routes till the 9/11 anniversary is over.

A transporter, Sarabjeet Brar, said they were not booking loads to the US due to the 9/11 anniversary. He said many of their loads were getting cancelled or they were facing penalties due to the harassment meted out to their drivers and delays caused by stopping Sikh drivers at border crossings.

Despite Bin Laden's death, there is little chance that the increased security measures and "thickening" of the Canada-US border following the 9/11 attacks is going to end. The hardships for Canadian businesses resulting from the "border thickening" have worsened since 9/11.

US-bound exports, which previously accounted for more than 80% of all Canadian exports, have fallen below 70%. Part of this shortfall is attributable to economic circumstances. However, a significant part of the decline in Canada's US-bound exports is a result of logistical challenges characteristic of the post-9/11 border.

The negative impact of post-9/11 security arrangements has also taken a toll on the flow of tourists crossing the 5,500-km shared border.

According to a Canadian Tourism Commission report, the number of Americans taking leisure visits to Canada has fallen steadily from about 18 million since 2001.

Prior to the September 11 terror attacks, the term "border security" was rarely used. Today, however, it is both a fundamental goal of US domestic security and the defining paradigm for border operations.

Despite the border security buildups and $100 billion spent along the southwestern border, no terrorists or terrorist weapons have been seized. Instead, visitors as well as truckers going to the US face harassment.