In the Media Narrative, US-Canada Border Stories Stay Quaint and Small-Town

If there is a clear example of the media bias towards the “quaintness” of Northern border stories between the United States and Canada, today’s front page of The Boston Globe sports section is Exhibit A.

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Titled, “Border Clash,” writer/photographer Stan Grossfeld travels to the border town of Derby Line, VT. The article focuses on how the loyalties in Derby Line are split between fans of the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens. The two Original Six teams are in the middle of an exciting NHL Stanley Cup playoff series, so why not write a piece about fans?

So we get this type of copy:

The lines are clearly drawn in this small, quiet town, starting with the border between the United States and Canada that runs through the town’s library and even through the home of Derek and Jaime Wells. In the Wells house, the kitchen and bathroom are in Quebec and the living room and bedrooms are in Vermont.

The dividing lines don’t end there, however.

Derek is a wicked Bruins fan. Jaime and her stepson are diehard Canadiens fans. On this day, Derek is wearing a green Bruins t-shirt with a shamrock on it; Jaime is wearing a red “Canadiens Hockey’’ T-shirt. Therein is the biggest divide, especially during Bruins-Canadiens playoff games.

“Yeah, I scream,’’ says Jaime. “Oh yeah, we wear our shirts and we scream.’’

We also learn about the town’s library and the town’s culture:

In the library, a strip of black tape runs through the middle of the International Reading Room, and visitors can sit in Vermont, Quebec, or both.

The library’s only entrance is in Vermont, but Canadians can walk across the border from Stanstead and use it without showing a passport to the US Border Patrol, which monitors the front of the building.

According to Rumery, who has lived on the Vermont side since the 1970s, generations of people grew up in this area with limited access to TV channels.

“They all grew up watching ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ and Montreal hockey,” she says. “The kids who grew up in this area for years crossed the border to play hockey with Canadian kids. The American high school kids would have to play their home games up until a few years ago in Canada.”

On the bookshelves, which are all on the Quebec side, is an autographed copy of “Orr on Ice,” a 1970 book about the Bruin legend’s hockey feats. It has not been checked out since Aug. 4, 2007. The new Bobby Orr autobiography is unavailable. Funds are limited.

Outside the library, US Border Patrol agent John Barney is parked in an SUV. He sees a lot of Quebec cars entering Vermont to buy gas and milk at substantially cheaper prices, then return to Canada.

In the end, the story presents a small-town feel to the Northern border, a place where cultures and hockey loyalties mix in peace and harmony.

Now we completely understand that Grossfeld is just writing a sports story but the latest story is just another example of how mainstream media tends to depict life on the US-Canada border in a positive folsky manner as opposed to the, well, you know, the “other” border to the south.

Sure thing, it is just a sports story about “family fun,” but let’s not overlook the fact that the quaintness of the Northern border is not so quaint. As one story about Derby Line and Stanstead, Quebec says:

Not surprisingly, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is tightening the noose. The old hello-and-a-wave across the border is long gone. New agents have gradually replaced many of the regulars who had lived here for years and weren’t prepared to treat Jim the plumber or their grade-three teacher as if they were potential terrorists. Now, anyone can be searched or taken aside for secondary questioning — or harassed by armed guys shouting at them out of choppers with bullhorns. The U.S. government has blocked off virtually all of the side roads running across the international boundary line within the twin towns. That really enraged the locals. And the people of Stanstead and Derby Line, many of them dual citizens, resent the new passport requirement. They may just decide to cross the line elsewhere, whenever and wherever they damn well feel like it.

I ask Mark Henry, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Border Patrol’s Swanton Sector, for the official view. He admits that Stanstead/Derby Line presents a “unique challenge.”

“Our goal is to gain operational control of our nation’s borders,” he says, and in Stanstead, “that has necessitated closing a couple of the unguarded roads there. [Security gates were installed in September 2009.] But we did that only after long discussion with the community.”

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That very same piece even wrote this:

In the attached opera house, the performances take place in Canada, while most of the audience sits in the United States. During the Vietnam War, men who had fled to Canada to avoid the draft would come to the library to visit their families. As long as they stayed on the Canadian side of the black line, their sanctuary was intact.

The back door of the opera house was a fire escape that could be opened into Canada. But drug mules were taking advantage of the building as a transfer point, switching backpacks or briefcases inside and slipping out the back door into Canada. Now, the back door is kept locked.

Such news rarely (if at all) makes the US media, just like this one, which was published just yesterday:

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — A British Columbia man who American authorities allege is the kingpin of a cross-border drug-smuggling ring has been ordered extradited to the United States to face conspiracy charges.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge in Kamloops, B.C., committed Colin Martin for extradition to Seattle, where prosecutors have charged him with conspiracy to traffic in marijuana, cocaine and MDMA, also known as ecstasy.

Martin was taken into custody following Justice William Ehrcke’s decision, but he is eligible to apply for bail. There is a mandatory 30-day waiting period before his surrender.

U.S. prosecutors allege Martin was involved in large-scale drug-trafficking that saw marijuana and ecstasy shipped by helicopter to remote locations in northern Idaho and Washington state in exchange for cocaine, money and firearms.

Let’s not pretend that there is no “border problem” in the north as well. In fact, there is plenty of data to confirm the existence of northern “drug war” as well. We wonder when US outlets will start focusing more on that and less on hockey stories.

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