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December 6, 2005 - Edmonton Sun (CN AB)

Old Drug Charge Haunts Traveller

By Kristen Vernon

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

A city man says his vacation with his wife was ruined after he was detained at the Los Angeles airport because of a 25-year-old drug charge and treated like a suspected terrorist.

"They basically stole my vacation," said R.M. Singh, a 45-year-old bookkeeper. "Nobody should be treated like that. Even if they have the worst record, they should not be treated like scum. They should be treated with dignity and respect."

Singh and his common-law wife Darlene Loupret were transferring planes at Los Angeles International Airport Saturday when he was hauled out of the United States customs line into a detention area.

Loupret was told she could take their luggage and leave.

The couple was on vacation in Australia for four weeks visiting Loupret's daughter and then in Singapore for one week before heading home Saturday.

"The whole process was very, very demoralizing," Loupret, 47, said. "We were both trying to speak to the different officers and find out what the problem was and why they were doing this, and they would not answer us."

And while she said she can't prove it, she suspects her husband's last name and his Indian heritage figured into how he was treated. "They were basically treating him like he was a terrorist,"she said.

Singh said he doesn't blame customs officials for pulling him over to ask questions about the 25-year-old conviction for possession of a quarter-gram of hashish. He pleaded guilty and was fined $100.

But he said there was no need to treat him like dirt and common sense should have prevailed once they realized the drug charge was decades old.

From the moment Singh was taken into the detention area, he said he wasn't allowed to sit with his wife and he had to ask permission to go to the washroom or for a cigarette.

During a brief encounter with Loupret, who was near tears as she waited for him, Singh said a customs officer prevented him from hugging her.

Singh said a customs officer took his passport and citizenship card. He immigrated to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago in 1970 and has been a Canadian citizen since 1979.

He said officers repeatedly asked him the questions about where he was born, his purpose for visiting the U.S. and whether he'd be making a claim to stay in the country.

Singh said he thought they were trying to catch him in a lie.

He said he was also subjected to an invasive body search and he thought they were looking for wires or weapons.

After nearly nine hours in the detention centre -- the couple had long since missed their flight home -- a customs officer wrote "ordered removed" on Singh's passport.

Officials then rushed Singh and Loupret onto the next flight to Canada. The couple was flown to Vancouver and had to arrange their own flight back to Edmonton. Fortunately, Singh said, Air Canada got them a flight home.

Singh said he has travelled to the U.S. about 8 to 10 times since his drug conviction and never before had a problem. He said he's now not allowed to set foot in the U.S. and will have to apply for a waiver to travel through the U.S.

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