A few weeks ago, I got a vivid comparative look at how far this country has moved towards becoming a police state. The occasion was a brief visit to Montreal, where my wife was to give a harpsichord recital at an early keyboard music conference.
At the Canadian border crossing, just above Lake Champlain, the Canadian official politely asked us our purpose in coming to Canada. Informed it was to perform harpsichord music at a music conference, he actually asked my wife what composers she was playing! (It was Gaspard le Roux) I tried to imagining even being asked such a question by an American border official and simply couldn't. The Canadian officer also asked us if were were bringing anything in with us. Told that we had a keyboard, he asked if we planned to sell it -- a fair question for a customs official. Then, assured we'd be bringing it back home with us, he waved us through with a smile.
On our way back into the US, we found ourselves being questioned by a grim-faced, beefy, cop-like guy, complete with sidearm, about where we'd been and what we'd done in Canada. Now this is getting draconian. We are both US citizens traveling back from home from a visit to a country that is about as close an ally to the US as a country can be. There is no reason why an immigration official, having looked at our passports, should be asking us about our activities while in Canada. Hell, I could have said I was attending a conference on promoting world socialist revolution, or a global meeting of some white supremacist organization. It wouldn't matter. He'd still have to grant us entry. I have every right to attend such political meetings in the US with impunity if I want to, and I have the same right as a US citizen to attend them abroad too.
The stupid thing, of course, about such questions, is that if I actually were doing something illegal -- say passing stolen state secrets so a spy connection in Canada, or meeting with some terrorist organization to plot a bombing in the US -- I certainly wouldn't offer that information to a border patrol officer.
So why would we be asked by a border patrol official to report what we had been doing in Canada?
The only reason I can come up with is intimidation. We were being shown that our behavior as US citizens is being monitored, and that if we do things that the government finds bothersome, we will be questioned and monitored further. It wouldn't surprise me that if I had actually attended a conference on promoting world revolution during my trip and had lied about it by saying all I'd done was attend a music conference with my wife, I could be accused of committing the felony of lying to a federal border official. It is, after all, a felony to lie to an FBI agent -- something that itself is incredibly draconian when you stop and think about it.
There were other differences too, of course (besides the much better roads up north, and the government-funded health care), between Canada and the US. Central Montreal is undergoing a lot of renovation at the moment, and given that it has a grid of one-way streets, with many of them temporarily closed at various points it can be difficult to maneuver one's vehicle to a destination, or in our case, to find our way out of town to the highway back to the US border. But trying to locate a Montreal cop we could ask for directions was a challenge. While driving around for half an hour looking in vain for the way out of town, I didn't see a police patrol car once. And no cops were to be seen patrolling on foot either.