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Sunday School Teacher Says She Was Strip-Searched at Vancouver Airport

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A former Sunday school teacher was falsely accused of being a drug smuggler at the Vancouver International Airport. She was eventually strip searched and now suffers from anxiety. She went public with her story to CBC in hopes of greater oversight of the Canada Border Services Agency.

Jill Knapp's run-in with CBSA agents took place on Jan. 9, 2016. She was on her way home to Calgary, after visiting her husband in Mexico City. The 39-year-old says she is only now speaking out about her experience because she was diagnosed with anxiety after the ordeal. 

Woman strip searched at Canadian Airport
Jill Knapp shows Erica Johnson at CBC the six-page complaint she filed with the Canada Border Services Agency after an agent accused her of drug-smuggling. Credit: (Nicolas Amaya/CBC)

It was traumatizing,” Knapp told Go Public, explaining that no one told her why she was red-flagged as she attempted to make her connecting flight in Vancouver.

Knapp says she had nothing in her bags that would warrant a search and no criminal record. 

"Within two minutes he called me a drug smuggler, mentioned a strip search, and even said that he was going to send me to the hospital for an X-ray to look for drugs and that was before he even asked me any questions."

After Knapp collected her luggage she was asked to proceed to “secondary inspection” where she says a border guard became aggressive.

Knapp said “Out of nowhere, he actually raised his voice at me and said, ‘I think you're a drug smuggler'

“He said, ‘I deal with people like you every day.‘”

Woman Accuses Border Patrol
Drug sniffing dog like the one above did not detect drugs in Knapp's suitcase or on her body. Credit (Matador Network)

Knapp says she told the border control officer that she had been in Mexico visiting her husband and was applying to bring him to Canada. The officer then asked what her job was but he didn't believe her story. She told him that she worked with law firms as a software instructor. Knapp says the officer said “You don't do that type of work”.

That is when the officer confiscated her phone and gave her no choice but to give him the password. Finding nothing in her phone the officer called in a drug sniffing dog who also didn't find anything. 

Knapp was then placed in detention and was not offered any food, nor was allowed to use the bathroom and couldn't make any phone calls. 

In desperation, Knapp offered to have the strip search the agent had mentioned hours earlier.

"At that point, I was so scared of what they would do if I stayed, it was like … if this is what it takes for me to leave, I'm going to do it."

Knapp says two female officer entered the room and asked her to undress from the waist up. Finding nothing that is when they asked her to remove her clothes from the waist down. 

"They actually made me turn around, open up my butt cheeks and squat. I was just in shock. I didn't quite understand what it involved."

Knapp was then finally released and returned her phone. There were 12 missed text messages from her anxious husband wondering where she had been. 

CBC requested an interview with the CBSA, but the agency declined.

In a statement, it said it couldn't discuss Knapp's case due to privacy concerns.

Under the Access to Information Act, CBC acquired over 1700 documnets which included 821 investigations into border agent misconduct from 2016 to 2018.

Some of the complaints included: 

  • “He called me moron more than once … mocked my … accent.
  • Officer commented “People like you who can't afford to travel always traffic drugs.'”
  • “He attacked me in the baggage claim area … made anti-Semitic remarks.
  • “Threw me on the ground, yelling ‘Don't resist'… other agents loved this and were laughing.
  • “Hauled into the airport jail and treated like trash.”
  • “He was pushing me with his hands … started using foul language.”
  • “I was roughly frisked … detained/held for questioning for seven hours.”

In another internal CBSA memo Knapp obtained through the Privacy Act, an officer wrote that she was detained because her eyes appeared to be bloodshot which could raise the suspicion of drug use. 

Knapp says her eyes were red because she was crying due to missing her husband. 

Knapp says she is speaking out about what happened to her to try to encourage Ottawa to change how complaints are handled with the CBSA.

In 2017 alone, over 60 million border crossings by Canadians were recorded by Stats Canada. 42 Million were trips to the United States and 12.8 million were to other countries. 

The CBSA has a code of conduct that says officers are to act with “professionalism, integrity and respect

This story originally appeared on CBC News

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