OTTAWA – A Montreal woman who was ordered to strip by border agents looking for a pink tattoo has lost her legal bid for compensation — and hope for changes to vetting procedures.
It’s the latest, and possibly final, twist in Sylvie Ménard’s three-year fight.
In a recent judgment, the Quebec Superior Court dismissed her challenge, saying authorities had reasonable justification to act as they did.
The saga began in the night of April 11-12, 2009 when Ménard, who had never run afoul of the law, flew home from a Mexico vacation to an unsettling encounter at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.
After being questioned by airport customs personnel she was pulled aside. Her luggage was tested for drug residue and her name put through a computer. A border officer read out Ménard’s rights, handcuffed her and placed her in a cell.
The computer said her name matched that of a suspected criminal with the same birth date, and police were called.
Things got worse for the “really stressed” woman when a female border officer asked her to disrobe to see if she had a pink tattoo on her buttocks. The officer would later check again to see if an inky design — apparently a distinguishing mark of her wanted namesake — had been erased with a laser.
A subsequent police check of photographic records revealed that the actual suspect looked rather different.
A shaken Ménard felt there must be an easier way to carry out an identity check, given that she was carrying a passport, driver’s licence and health card. She filed complaints with the police watchdog and the border agency, and ended up taking her case to the Quebec courts.
In her April ruling, Justice Chantal Masse said while frustration over the inability to instantaneously check photos was understandable, it was an issue beyond the purview of the courts.
As a result, the same sort of mistaken identity cases are likely to occur for other travellers and possibly even herself, Ménard said in an interview.
“I was hoping that maybe I can create a change, but that was not happening.”
She still travels abroad three or four times a year, and carries a 2009 news clipping about her case in case she runs into the same sort of problems at the border.
Ménard is looking for a more permanent solution “to avoid the situation again in the future.”
She doesn’t plan to appeal the court ruling. “I don’t have the money. I can’t go further.”
A spokesman for the Canada Border Services Agency told The Canadian Press shortly after the original incident that he could not discuss the case, but said false matches occur and such checks are necessary.
“We can’t let someone enter the country unless we’re absolutely certain about their identity.”