I was racially profiled at the Montreal airport

Boen Wang
3 min readMar 8, 2020

I arrived at Justin Trudeau’s Dad’s Airport in the evening. I scanned my US passport at a machine. The machine took my photo and gave me a slip of paper. I walked to the bearded uniformed white man seated at a podium and gave him my passport and paper. He asked:

• Why are you coming here?
• Do you have any friends and family here?
• Do you have anyone travelling with you?
• Where are you staying?
• How long are you staying?
• What do you plan on doing?

I responded:

• Vacation.
• No.
• No.
• Le Plateau Mont Royal.
• A week.
• Uh . . . just a vacation?

So you’re just here for a little vacation? he said. He eyed my Chinese face and flipped through my Chinese visas. (I’d last been in China over two years ago.) Go to the gentleman over there, he said.

The bearded uniformed white gentleman over there sat in a glass box. I gave him my passport and paper and he asked me the same questions. You’re here on vacation? You’re alone? What do you plan on doing? I plan on watching a movie at Cinéma Moderne, I said, Montreal’s hip new English-language arthouse theater. I didn’t say the second part. That’s it? That’s all you’ll do the entire week? How do you plan on getting around? he said. The subway, I said. The subway? (I’d forgotten that it’s actually called the Métro.) Go to Immigration 1 behind the glass doors. Someone there will help you.

I went through the glass doors. The bearded uniformed white man who would help me sat behind a desk that was shorter than me. I prepared an answer this time for what I planned on doing. I would visit the cultural and religious landmarks for which La Métropole is renown: the Notre Dame Basilica, the contemporary art museum, the fine art museum, the Biosphere, the Biodome. He seemed unimpressed. Wait at the yellow line, he said, and someone will call you over.

I waited at the yellow line. The bearded uniformed white man who called me over sat behind a desk that was taller than me. Vacation/no friends or family/no one travelling with me/Le Plateau Mont Royal/a week/Redpath Museum near McGill. By saying the Redpath Museum was near McGill, I demonstrated that I’d looked at Google Maps beforehand in preparation for my vacation.

He got out a pad of paper. What do you do? I’m a writing student at the University of Pittsburgh. Let me see your reservation. I showed him my Airbnb reservation email. He scrolled through my inbox. What’s “me, Margaret”? he said, pointing to an email I’d sent to my classmate Margaret. It’s an email I’d sent to my classmate Margaret, I said. He noted this on his pad. What’s “anthropology”? he said, pointing to the word “anthropocene” in the subject line. He scrolled up and looked at my Cinéma Moderne movie ticket. I’m just trying to figure out if you’re going to work or study here, he said. No, I said. Show me your return ticket, he said. I showed him. He flipped through my passport, eyed my Chinese face and visas, and stamped my passport and paper. He used the Canadian maple leaf stamp twice. Show this paper at the exit, he said, pointing to the door. Thank you, I said.

I walked through the door to the last border control agent. Bonjour, said the bespectacled white woman seated at a podium. Hello, I said, handing her my US passport and paper. Thank you, she said. Thank you, I said. I walked into Canada.