About two months ago, a close friend and fellow blogger left her home in the United States to visit us in Canada. And while it was great to see her, it was also somewhat upsetting, because she’d set out on the trip with her husband, but she arrived alone. He’d been detained at one of those places where the two countries meet, and after several hours of relentless questioning, was turned back and forced to spend the week with relatives in Maine. At her husband’s urging, she made the rest of the journey by herself.
His rejection was the result of a routine criminal background check that turned up an incident from his past. They were both taken by surprise.
I was stunned.
I knew this man, or thought I did. I believed him to be a good person, a law-abiding citizen, a guy who loved his children and was generous to his friends. Hadn’t he stood by his wife when she was diagnosed with a serious disease? Wasn’t he the one who remained at her side through difficult medical treatments, and who worked hard to raise money for a related charity? Didn’t he welcome my family into his home several years ago, when we were total strangers, cooking us a gourmet meal and presenting us with gifts?
How could we have been so foolish, and so blind? I had no idea who this man was on the inside, beneath all that superficial niceness, or what he was capable of doing. It took the trained eyes and ears of those Canadian border officers to pluck this guy out of the line of cars and send him back where he belonged.
In truth, even if I’d been handed the police record, I might have overlooked the facts. The crime, after all, involved not much more than the breaking of a window. He’d been charged with a misdemeanor. There was no trial and he served no time in jail. Yet the vague details were recorded and preserved, and have been following him around all this time, like a ninja: invisible and silent.
The charge was breaking and entering. It sounds ominous, until you realize that it happened when he was eighteen years old. He’s now sixty-three. This window had been shattered nearly a half-century ago, and I suspect it was part of a building that no longer exists. Since then, my friend hadn’t committed a single crime, and had been a caring and responsible citizen who worked hard and paid his bills.
Fortunately, the scrupulous people at the Canada Border Services Agency could see right through all of that. Further, they knew that not only did this man deserve to be banished from the country, but that he also needed to be interrogated, treated with humiliating disdain, and called, among other things, a liar. And why not? Why didn’t his wicked act leap to mind immediately when he was asked about his criminal past? Are we supposed to feel comfortable in the company of such a person, just because his mistake was forty-five years ago, made at a time in life when most of us do some of the dumbest things we can imagine?
Sometimes those dumb things can spill over into insanity. For example, in September 2005, Gregory Allen Despres walked up to the United States border from St. Stephen, New Brunswick – the very same point of entry our friends had found so impenetrable, although in the opposite direction. Despres was twenty-three at the time, an American citizen living in Canada. He was wearing a bullet-proof vest, and claimed he was a government assassin who’d killed more than seven hundred people. He was also carrying a hatchet, a handmade sword, a number of knives, a can of pepper spray, and a chainsaw that appeared to be stained with red droplets the color of blood. Officials took the weapons from Despres, then let him into the country. He was arrested some time later in Massachusetts when it was discovered that he’d failed to show up in court for a sentencing hearing on an assault charge.
The grandfather of the man Despres assaulted was 74-year-old Fred Fulton, who in April had been murdered in his kitchen, along with his common-law wife, Veronica Decarie. Veronica had been stabbed repeatedly with a knife. Fred had been decapitated, probably with a chainsaw.
Despres was found guilty of the murders, but deemed by the judge to be mentally ill and not criminally responsible for his actions. He was sent to a psychiatric healing center in New Brunswick, not far from where Fred and Veronica once lived. During his trial, prosecutors explained that Despres had entered the victims’ home by slicing through a screen and then kicking in the door. Then he butchered the couple, drenching the house with their blood, and placing Fred’s severed head inside a pillowcase.
On the bright side, he didn’t break any windows. And for that, we can all sleep a little better tonight.