Published On: Sat, Sep 10th, 2016

‘Gallant’ American jailed after floating across border into Canada


His goal was simple, he told authorities. He was hoping to protect his pregnant fiancee from a violent ex-boyfriend.There was just one, rather formidable, obstacle in his way: the Canada-US border.

The solution devised by the 25-year-old American – floating down a river that separates the two countries on an inflatable mattress to illegally enter Canada – was ingenious, but it led this week to a two-month jail sentence.

The American, identified as John Bennett by a crown prosecutor, first tried to legally cross the border between Calais, Maine, and the Canadian province of New Brunswick on Wednesday. He told authorities he wanted to see his girlfriend who lived in Canada, in the small town of St Stephen. He was denied entry after a background check turned up pending mischief charges in the US.

Hours later he headed to his local Walmart, a court in Canada heard on Thursday. He bought an air mattress, inflated it, fashioned a wooden board into a paddle and set sail on the St Croix river, a tidal river 500 yards wide that sits between Maine and New Brunswick.

As he floated along the river, he was spotted by a local resident who called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said Peter Thorn, a lawyer representing the public prosecution service of Canada. The RCMP headed to the area and found him soon after. “He was wet and carrying his boots and matched the description that the witness had given,” said Thorn.

The young man immediately admitted to police that, driven by concerns over his girlfriend’s safety, he had crossed the river after being denied legal entry to Canada. “He, in his mind, thought he needed to do what needed to be done to get over there to see her and ensure that she was OK,” said Thorn. “But there has not been any corroboration on the so-called fiancee’s side of the story, meaning we don’t know the accuracy of what he was saying.”

He was arrested and held in police custody overnight. During a court appearance on Thursday, he pleaded guilty to failing to appear at a border crossing. Bennett, who has no fixed address but is believed to reside in Calais, Maine, was sentenced to two months in jail in Canada, after which he will be returned to the United States.

While this was the first time he had heard of someone making the crossing by air mattress, Thorn had had other cases where people had crossed the border by swimming or crossing the railway bridge. Some were people who refused to recognise land borders, others suffered mental health problems. “And there are other people who are overcome with desire to come across even though they have been rebuffed at the border, for whatever reason,” he said. “I don’t think this is the only case of a so-called love interest that has caused a person to break the law to go over there.”

Still, the reaction to the case has surprised him. Some swooned over the gallantry of the act, with Thorn overhearing one person remark that they wished someone would carry out such an act for them. “I sense that there’s this element of a Romeo-Juliet type of thing. I think that’s part of it.”

Others delighted in the idea of floating along the tidal river, said Thorn, such as the judge who told the accused in court, “Pardon the pun, but it seems to me you wanted to get there, come hell or high water.”

 Courtesy The Guardian

About the Author

Syed Ammar Alavi

- is Lahore (Pakistan) based journalist & writer with 25-year experience in print, wire and broadcast forms of journalism. His major fields of interest are politics, film,tv,sports, climate change and technology

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