With his red ragtop Jeep weighted down by chain saws and other tools, Altoona chain saw artist Tim Klock was not surprised when border officers at Niagara stopped him in September to search his vehicle as he was crossing into Canada.
"I would have been surprised if they didn't search me," he said, adding that he'd traveled to Canada several times before without problems.
During the search, Klock said he was told to enter the border patrol building for a few interviews, and that he could retrieve his passport at the end. He told them he was there to visit some friends, perhaps conduct a carving seminar and enjoy a few days among fellow artists. He then asked the last officer inside where his passport was.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Tim Klock, a local chain saw artist, was detained by Canadian officials for 13 days in September after a misunderstanding at the Canadian/U.S. border near Niagara.
"I don't have it. ... It's in your vehicle," said the officer, according to Klock.
He went back to his Jeep, found his passport and drove off to a friend's house.
Within 24 hours, Klock found himself behind bars.
Arrest and charges
"I don't think [Canadian Border Services Agency officers] wanted him to go into Canada," said Richard Kurland, a national immigration attorney in Vancouver. "His car was full of chain saws."
Kurland said Klock probably assumed he was allowed to enter the country because officers didn't hold onto his passport. He said no explicit statement from officers - and especially no "Welcome to Canada" greeting - means no entry for a visitor.
However, Kurland said there are procedures border officers have to follow, and leaving Klock's passport in the vehicle was wrong. He said it should have remained with the officer in charge of Klock's case and returned only once they told him he was OK to enter or had to turn back.
"I don't think it's sufficient to leave a passport on the car seat with no decision either way," he said. "I see problems on both sides of this thing."
Klock's attorney, who did not wish to be identified by name, confirmed there weren't any drugs, weapons or other contraband in the car when Klock entered Canada.
He said the main point of contention is that Klock believed he entered legally, while border services agents said he was not granted entry, but was supposed to return to the border building in Niagara for another round of questioning.
Kurland said that of the 200 million people who visit Canada each year, more pass through Niagara than anywhere else, meaning officers there deal with more illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and weapons dealers.
Tossed in jail
Klock said he was unaware of any problem until the following morning, when he and some friends gathered to discuss carving.
Before they could finish breakfast, five armed men appeared outside the house looking for Klock. He said they told him he was under arrest for running the border, leaving the port without permission and disobeying an officer.
They drove him back to Niagara to St. Catharines Jail. He said they told him he was never granted entry to Canada, but despite his protests, he was told charges had already been filed.
"I thought, 'What am I doing here?'" he said, but then theorized that it would be over soon. "I'm an American. They're our allies. There's no guns, no drugs ... "
In the courtroom
Before he entered the courtroom on day two, Klock said he was told not to speak before the tribunal. He also said his court-appointed duty counsel, who was to represent him, "couldn't have been familiar with my case. He had never talked to me."
Kurland said at that point, Klock's counsel should have discussed the other options available to him, including asking to leave the country.
"There's wiggle room," he said.
If Klock had asked to leave the country and explained his circumstances, Kurland said, the tribunal or immigration officials may have decided that it was in everyone's best interests to grant his request.
Klock said he was able to speak with a U.S. consulate official before the end of the week after his Tuesday arrest, but since no one could help him with the criminal charges, he told them not to waste resources on what he thought would be a swift resolution and end to his plight.
Klock said that first weekend in F block, he was in a 50-by-30-foot room that was supposed to house 26 prisoners but actually housed 36. The extra men slept on 1-inch mats on the floor.
"Everything's steel and bolted to the floor," he said, including two picnic tables, two toilets, a urinal and a sink the men had to share.
Despite the grimy conditions and being punched in the face by another inmate, the worst part was being locked in a box, he said.
"I live outside. I drive a ragtop Jeep. I'm not made for this," he said.
Klock called the consulate again on the eighth day and was transferred to a two-person cell, where he was given clean clothes, blankets and towels. But with new cases given preference, his was bumped to the end of the docket.
By this point his longtime girlfriend, Tracy Reilly, and a friend had hired an attorney and arranged the $5,000 bail. But Klock still had to wait until the end of the second week to get "his day in court."
He said he was cross-examined by the prosecuting attorney and was told that because of the steps he took to secure bail and a lawyer, they believed he would work to have the case resolved.
Reilly said she found out about Klock's arrest through a Facebook message the day after.
She said she was unable to contact him, so she called the consulate and various other organizations that assist Americans who are jailed in other countries. Because Klock wasn't being mistreated, they all told her they couldn't help.
"I lost 10 pounds in 13 days," she said. "I had no control. There was nothing I could do."
Twelve days after his arrest, Klock was released and allowed to drive home. He said he was eager to fire up his chain saw to make up the money he lost from missing two lucrative fair appearances while in jail.
His friends and fellow carvers also stepped up to help.
As Klock sat in his sawdust-littered studio last week, tears welled up in his eyes. He pointed to carvings in a corner that his friends have bought, some of them at double their value; others have made sizable down payments in advance for pieces they want him to create.
"Thank God for my friends," he said. "Contributions came from all over the ... world."
So far, Klock has spent more than $8,000 and, should the case move to a full trial, he said he can expect to pay between $8,000 to $10,000 more.
Canadian Border Services Agency officials declined to comment on Klock's case because it is still open. The next hearing date is scheduled for Thursday.
Klock doesn't have to be present, but will have to return to Canada should the prosecutor decide to move to a full trial, which his attorney said is possible.
Klock said he would like to travel back to Canada some time for happier reasons but can't imagine what would happen if he is found guilty and has to return to prison.
"I'm not built for that stuff. I'm not a criminal. ... I'm just looking forward to it being over."