Blaine homeowner pepper sprayed at border

Published on Fri, Mar 13, 2009 by Jack Kintner

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A Coquitlam man with a second home in Blaine was pepper sprayed, handcuffed and held for three hours before being denied entry last week after asking for more courteous treatment from a border inspector at the Lynden/Aldergrove crossing.

It was the second time that Desiderio Fortunato, 54, had his request for a more mannerly approach from border guards answered with detention. A year and a half ago at the same crossing he was given a verbal warning, sent in for a secondary inspection and held for three hours before being allowed into the U.S. after he insisted on more courteous treatment.

Mike Milne, spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), said that the use of force at a border crossing is very rare and when incidents like this happen they are subject to immediate review.
“Someone’s refusal to comply with a direct order is justification to use capsicum (pepper) spray or other ‘soft techniques’ such as physical holds,” Milne said.

Both were used in Fortunato’s case.

Fortunato, his wife and three children often visit their Georgia street home in Blaine and have crossed the border, he said, hundreds of times. His son plays soccer locally.

“I just got the wrong guy this time. The guy was quite rude and ordered me to turn off my car. I asked him to say please and he repeated himself, then stood about two feet from me and threatened to spray me, then he did, and a bunch of guys wrestled me to the ground, cuffed me and threw me in a cell for three hours just because I said ‘Please? Please?’ It was terrible. For a half hour or so I couldn’t see anything.”

Fortunato, a native of Portugal, has lived in Canada for 30 years. He is a competitive dance instructor and currently runs a website called 5678 Showtime.

He attends and judges competitions “all over the place. I travel a lot internationally, and believe me so has this story. It’s gone everywhere, Europe, Asia. What Americans don’t know is that a lot of people avoid coming here now because of the attitude,” he said, adding that “in my world, decency should come with power. You can’t just start to pepper spray people. I wasn’t threatening anyone, just asking him to say please. If we just blindly obey then pretty soon we’ll be in a dictatorship. Freedom doesn’t come for free.”

Milne said that officers order border passengers to turn off their vehicles when they want to take somebody from a car for further questioning that would be conducted inside the building.

“A person crossing the border must comply with direct orders or commands from a border inspector. In other words, failure to comply with a lawful order is itself a violation,” Milne said, adding that “A U.S. citizen must be allowed into the country but may still be detained. Since the crossing is on U.S. turf, U.S. laws apply regardless of the nationality of the person being inspected.”

Fortunato said that to cross again he must provide documentation to prove that he actually lives in Coquitlam. “I may have some kind of red flag in my file now, but I like Blaine and we’ll be back. I know that not everyone’s like that,” he said.

He said he spoke to a supervisor since the incident who said the best idea is to “comply now and complain later.”

He said he told the supervisor that he “can still do his job but he doesn’t have to [do it] that way. Don’t forget that people come here to spend money. Tourism is a big industry, but if that’s the way you treat people it will dry up.”

Fortunato said that he was told the tapes of the incident were immediately sent to Washington, D.C., for review but that as yet he has not been contacted or asked to come in by CBP officials.