Scheidler: “There was a KGB quality to the situation.”

Pro-life supporters have criticized Canadian customs officials for “totalitarian” measures taken against two speakers invited to the November 10 – 12 Human Life International (HLI) conference in Calgary.

Pro-life Action League executive director Joseph Scheidler of Chicago, and abortion vaccine authority Lawrence Roberge of Springfield, Massachusetts, were detained for 90 minutes by Canada Custom’s staff after arriving at the Calgary airport November 9.

The HLI conderence generated protests at least 27 pro-abortion groups, particularly the Planned Parenthood Association. The conference which was organized with the theme “The Gospel of Life,” attracted 300 people.

Scheidler has been arrested at least 16 times for pro-life activities in the U.S. Anticipating problems at the border, Scheidler flew to Detroit at this own expense to meet with Canadian consulate officials, before flying on to Calgary. A consulate worker in Detroit assured him that his U.S. arrist record would be no hindrance to his entering Canada.

“I was told that I wouldn’t need a special permit to enter the country, so I was quite surprised that it took so long to get through in Calgary,” Scheidler told The Interim. “I think Larry Roberge was even more surprised.”

Theresa Bell, executive director of HLI Canada, called the customs” and immigration action “totalitarian,” especially in light of earlier assurances from consulate officials in Detroit that Scheidler would have no problem entering the country.

She suggested conference opponents, most notably Planned Parenthood, somehow prevailed on border officials to harass Scheidler.

“Joe was the only one they targeted,” she said. “If there’s one consolation, it’s that if an individual pro-lifer is important enough to harass in this way then he must be doing something right.”

The incident was reminiscent of April’s HLI conference in Montreal where pro-abortion groups attempted to prevent Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry from entering Canada to participate in the conference.

Scheidler said he was detained for about 90 minutes as customs and immigration officials asked questions and sorted through his luggage. He was particularly upset when an official examined a personal appointment book and diary and only returned it to him after a 20-minute delay.

“I was concerned that the official was photocoyying my diary, although she denied it” Scheidlersaid. “There was a KGB quality to the situation.”

Before being cleared to pass through the Calgary airport, Scheidler was given a form which listed a number of conditions for his entry into Canada. Among these was a requirement that he leave the country by November 13.

Scheidler, the banquet speaker at the HLI conference, downplayed the experience.

“The incident made me a minor hero at the conference,” he said, “But it raises the concern about my being harassed every time I try to enter Canada.”

He added that he had no problem crossing the U.S Canada border at Niagara Falls only two weeks earlier.

Scheidler said the incident, while unpleasant, indicates that pro-lifers are having an impact.

“It says to me that we’re being effective,” Scheidler said.