The alleged hounding and 90-minute detention of U.S. broadcaster Amy Goodman by Canadian border guards demanding to know her views on the Olympics is making waves throughout the U.S., and none of it is good for Canada's reputation.
"I could see any country in the world doing this, except Canada," Lucy Dalglish, head of the Washington-based Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press, said yesterday. "I was stunned by what happened."
Commentator Keith Olbermann has given the incident an award for "best paranoid freedom of speech suppression" on his daily, hour-long Countdown show for MSNBC.
And the vast, online social media network south of the border, much of it spawned by the Barack Obama presidential campaign, is feasting on the story.
"Amy Goodman is a big celebrity in that world," said David Beers of B.C.'s web publication The Tyee. "Hundreds of thousands of people go to these sites every day. This can't be good for our [Olympic]brand."
The Canada Border Services Agency continues to stonewall questions about what happened to Ms. Goodman a week ago as she tried to cross the border south of Vancouver for a speech at the city's public library.
"We can't comment about specific cases," said spokeswoman Faith St. John.
"I can't give you the information you're looking for."
Ms. Goodman, host of the widely syndicated radio and TV program Democracy Now , said Canadian border guards pulled her over, asked for notes of her planned speech, what she thought of the 2010 Olympics and whether she would talk about them, and went through her group's computers.
The guards took her picture and stapled a document into her passport, allowing her in Canada for only 48 hours.
Ms. Goodman, 52, said she is still shocked. "To ask basic questions, that's fine. But to ask for my notes, to demand that I tell them what I was going to say, that's very disturbing."
She said she barely knew the Winter Games were being held in Vancouver. "But what if I had said I was going to talk about the Olympics? Would they have let me in? I think this was designed to have a chilling effect on people who might be going to Vancouver for the Olympics. It's bad for democracy and a serious violation of freedom of the press."
She said she is considering laying a formal complaint.
Ms. Dalglish said she's never heard of Canadian border guards harassing a journalist before. "You hear about American border officials doing things like this all the time, but not Canada.It's absolutely ridiculous."
However, the free press advocate said it remains unclear whether Ms. Goodman's treatment was part of a pattern by Canadian security personnel to suppress anti-Olympic activity, or the work of "a couple of buffoons."
RCMP Staff-Sergeant Michael Côté of the Integrated Security Unit said there is no policy to keep Olympics critics or possible protesters out of Canada.
NDP MP Don Davies said he is pressing federal Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan to apologize to Ms. Goodman. "There's absolutely no indication she was a threat to anything."
Olympic critic Chris Shaw, meanwhile, couldn't be happier.
"This is the best pre-Christmas gift I've had in years. The CBSA has taken a non-issue and made it a major one. Millions of Americans now know about this," he said. "There's nothing quite like pissing off a major talk show host. Only if they tasered her could it have been any better."