- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

TORONTO Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was asked yesterday to intervene in the case of a Canadian man arrested for illegally entering the United States when he gassed up his truck at a service station that straddles the border between Quebec and Maine.

The case, discussed at a meeting in Ottawa yesterday between Mr. Powell and Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham, may mark the end of the days when Canadians and Americans freely cross a border that sometimes runs through the middle of lumber camps, villages, homes and libraries.

Michel Jalbert, a 32-year-old forestry worker, had been hunting birds when he pulled up to the Chez Ouellet Gas Bar near Pohenegamook, Quebec, which has its driveway in Canada but its gas pumps in the United States. His lawyer admits he failed to first register at the U.S. Customs post another mile down the road, a technicality long disregarded by local residents.

But on the morning of Oct. 11, U.S. Border Patrol agents were waiting nearby, poised to nab any Canadian who drove the 50 feet into U.S. territory without permission, according to Mr. Jalbert's U.S. attorney, John Haddow.

When the officers pulled him over, they found the 20-gauge shotgun he had been using to hunt on the seat beside him. A background check revealed he had been convicted of breaking into a school when he was 20, making him inadmissible for entry unto the United States.

As a result, Mr. Jalbert faces as much as 10 years in prison on felony charges of illegally entering the United States and illegal possession of a firearm.

One Canadian official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Mr. Jalbert had been warned twice before by U.S. Border Patrol agents not to return to the gas station. But Mr. Haddow said his client denies having received any warning.

Across the 3,145-mile-long land border between the countries, there are many places where the line is almost invisible. In Derby Line, Vt., the border divides the town library and opera house leaving the stage in Canada and the seats in the United States.

But the shock of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington may put an end to those century-old traditions. Mr. Haddow said Border Patrol agents "want the message to get out that they will not tolerate it anymore. This informal interaction is going to end."

U.S. Border Patrol agents have refused to comment on the case or the policy, and U.S. Attorney Mike Love, the prosecutor assigned to the case, did not return calls.

One U.S. Customs agent, who declined to have his name used, said changes in border procedures have meant that Border Patrol agents are responsible for some remote crossings that once were overseen by Customs agents who knew the local residents on both sides of the line.

Mr. Haddow said Canadian officials have had other complaints about Christopher Cantrell, the senior agent who arrested Mr. Jalbert. He said one man whose border-straddling property has his house in Canada and garden in the United States was told by Mr. Cantrell that he cannot tend his garden after 2 p.m. the hour when the border crossing is closed.

Mr. Jalbert also argued that it would be impossible for a Canadian driver to fully comply with U.S. law when using the Chez Ouellet Gas Bar.

Such a driver would have to go to the official crossing point and be cleared into the United States and then drive back to the gas bar. But he would have to re-enter Canada to use the station's driveway, meaning he was once again in violation when he drove up to the pumps in the United States.

In Ottawa, where Mr. Powell spent four hours discussing Iraq policy and other issues, the secretary found himself having to assure Canadians that the new U.S. border policies "are not directed at Canada."

"We're doing everything we can to respect Canadian citizenship," Mr. Powell said. "I don't expect it to be a problem in the future."

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