A recent trip to the U.S. turned into a harrowing experience
for a Lakehead University student, who claims he was detained
for more than 12 hours and interrogated like a suspected terrorist.
And because his computer laptop was also seized, which had
most of his school material and assignments on it, the incident
might have cost him his school semester and future career.
“I felt insulted. I felt frightened. I felt very, very
weak,” said 22-year-old Mahmoud Zeitoun. “That depression
was the highest amount of depression of my life.”
The Lebanese-born man, who always held Canadian citizenship
through his parents, was headed to Denver with local dentist
Jennifer Lee and an assistant on Thursday. Zeitoun was supposed
to act as Lee’s patient while she performed an exam to
practise in her field in the U.S.
While enroute at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport
at 8:30 in the morning, Zeitoun says they were initially questioned
normally as to why they were entering the U.S. and about Zeitoun’s
planned return on Tuesday.
But Zeitoun claims U.S. officials told him he could only enter
the U.S. on the condition that he departs the U.S. through major
ports between 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. — a restriction
which conflicted with his planned return time on Tuesday.
He asked to speak with a supervisor, and after a deeper look
into his case, was apparently told that he needed a visa to
enter the country. Canadians travelling to the U.S. are not
normally required to possess visas, unless they are visiting
for work purposes.
Lee and the other companion left on their next flight, and
it is not known if the dentist found a replacement patient for
But instead of letting Zeitoun, who holds a Canadian passport,
return to Canada, they apparently detained him for a 12 1/2-hour
ordeal that felt to him like “straight torture.”
Zeitoun, a Muslim, was made to sit in an interrogation room
all day, facing questions about whether he has ties to the Lebanese
group Hezbollah, or knows anyone who has hatred towards the
“‘What do you think of suicide bombers?’”
Zeitoun said, recalling the interrogators’ questions.
“‘You think it’s right, right? If you tell
us anything, we’ll let you in.’
“I’m like, ‘Please. I am a citizen here in
Canada. Then you are coming to talk to me about people I don’t
know,’” Zeitoun recalled.
He claims the officials at the airport also checked his luggage
and seized his $3,000 laptop with no guarantee of its return.
It had everything he needed to complete his semester courses
in science and engineering at Lakehead University this semester.
“This will bring me to an F,” said Zeitoun, who
is also the president the Lakehead University Muslim Student
Association, which has about 40 members.
He claims U.S. interrogators also asked him to show his Hotmail
e-mail account, and allegedly made threats that they would put
him in a “cell,” Zeitoun said.
Zeitoun says two years ago he was held for about five hours
at the U.S. border crossing at Sault Ste. Marie, which he claims
was due to nothing more than his Lebanese birthplace.
He claims he told the border agents there that he really wanted
to turn around rather then enter, changing his mind mid-way
because he realized it would take longer to drive through to
Thunder Bay. But they detained him anyways, and later apologized
for the “inconvenience.” Zeitoun says they marked
him as rejected from entering the U.S. — a detail he only
learned of during his detention in Minneapolis.
Zeitoun says he was not given food in Minneapolis until much
later in the afternoon, and says he was allowed to call his
brother Adnan in Windsor early in the evening. The brother contacted
LU sociology professor Walid Chahal. Chahal contacted a Canadian
national security investigator, who after a short call to a
“friend” in the U.S., called back to Chahal to tell
him Zeitoun would be released by 9 p.m. on Thursday.
Zeitoun and Chahal suspect the Canadian investigator, who they
did not identify but both claim to know, helped speed up Zeitoun’s
Chahal once taught Zeitoun at Lakehead University and says
he is a “good person” who “likes to help.”
He said Zeitoun is a victim of racial profiling.
“(The U.S. border agents) didn’t find anything
on (Zeitoun) the first time or the second time,” Chahal
He blames Zeitoun’s alleged ordeal on U.S. border security
policies, which he claims leads “innocent civilians”
into the kind of treatment Zeitoun says he received.
Chahal claims people are susceptible of being treated as if
they are “guilty without being tried” at U.S. border
crossings if their name or appearance stereotypically resembles
an Arab or Muslim.
“So this is a problem, with racial profiling, anyone can
be a target,” he said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in Minneapolis
were contacted by The Chronicle-Journal on Saturday, and were
told by “Officer Jackson” to call back Monday to
speak to press representatives. Jackson said he “can’t
speak on behalf of this case.”
He said detentions of Canadians lasting as long as Zeitoun’s
are “not normal.”