Joe Kelly, 64, a Wenatchee fish biologist, found himself banned from Canada because of 40-year-old anti-war arrests — he was one of the Seattle Seven charged with conspiracy in 1970 to damage the Seattle Federal Courthouse.
WENATCHEE — Banned from Canada.
Not quite what you’d expect from a 64-year-old fish biologist based here with the Bureau of Land Management.
But if he happens to be Joe Kelly — indicted anti-war activist better known in 1970 as one of the Seattle Seven — high-tech databases have caught up with his past.
One evening this summer, Kelly says, he was told to turn around at the border, after nearly four decades of being waved through into Canada.
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Nothing personal, but the Canadian government doesn’t mess around about turning away people who’ve been convicted of a crime, even really old crimes.
The Canadian Consulate in Seattle says it doesn’t comment on specific cases. It says that if an offense committed outside of Canada would be considered a criminal offense in Canada, then that person is likely inadmissible.
Since 9/11, both the U.S. and Canada have used ever-expanding criminal databases that they share with each other. For Americans crossing into Canada, the databases have snared not only Joe Kelly, but plenty of guys (and it’s mostly guys) who got themselves a DUI in their younger days and now are turned back at the border in front of their wives and kids.
In 2008, the Canadians turned back more than 18,000 travelers out of 66 million trying to cross their border by land.
In Kelly’s case, it didn’t matter that these days, his demonstrations have more to do with PowerPoint than politics.
“What possible harm could I do to Canada?” he asks. “This is my 40-year-old anti-war record. What does it have to do with national security today?”
Ah, those heady Vietnam protest days.
The Seattle Seven had been charged with conspiracy to damage the Federal Courthouse in Seattle in a demonstration, that, ironically, was protesting the trial of the Chicago Seven (protesters accused of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention).
The Seattle Seven case ended in a mistrial, with the original conspiracy charges never reinstated. After courtroom incidents that news reports said included “screaming, kicking and brawling,” Kelly and the others were found in contempt of court.
Kelly ended up serving five months at an Olympic Peninsula prison honor camp.
Earlier in 1970, he had pleaded no contest to misdemeanors stemming from mob action, disorderly conduct and resisting-arrest charges at the Chicago Seven Conspiracy Trial the previous September. He was sentenced to 90 days work release at the Cook County Jail.
Setting off alarms
The Seattle Seven group also included Jeff Dowd, now better known as the inspiration for “The Dude” in the cult movie “The Big Lebowski.”
Dowd lives in Santa Monica, Calif., and is a regular at “Big Lebowski” festivals. He hasn’t been previously stopped when traveling to Canada.
Dowd says about setting off alarms at the Canadian border, “If Joe Kelly pops up, my guess is I’d pop up.”
He says that sometimes he does go to Canada on film business, maybe to help shoot a movie or representing a movie.
If he’s stopped at the border, says Dowd, the people on his team or with whom he’s doing business pay a price.
Before his next trip to Canada, Dowd says, “I think I’ll call the Canadian Embassy. I’ve got resources.”
Someone like Kelly, he says, doesn’t have that kind of movie-industry connection.
Since those protest days, Kelly’s life made a distinct turn to middle class.
He worked in construction, was a lab assistant and stacked lumber at a mill. He eventually put his Cornell University degree in wildlife management to use, and in 1992 was hired by the BLM. He told the agency about his anti-war past, he says, and there were no problems.
Kelly got married in 1976, and he and his wife, Karen, have two grown daughters.
These days, Kelly fits in fine with his Eastern Washington neighbors. He and his wife live on 40 acres, own three horses and a hunting dog.
The dog helps when Kelly hunts with bow and arrow for deer and moose. He uses a shotgun to hunt pheasants. The family home is decorated with mounted heads of his hunting trophies.
“That surprises people. They can’t conceive of a liberal redneck with a bow and arrow in his hands,” he says. “I grew up in the country and started hunting with my dad when I was a kid. People don’t recognize that the conservation movement in this country was started by hunters like Teddy Roosevelt.”
For 35 years, Kelly says, he has driven to Canada with his family for camping and the usual tourism stuff, and, after joining the BLM, annually to meet with Canadian fisheries representatives.
But on July 1, Kelly and another biologist were working on a fish project maintaining a windmill that pumps oxygen into a lake.
The job was near Oroville in Northeastern Washington. The biologists decided to drive seven miles north to have dinner at the British Columbia town of Osoyoos.
Kelly showed his Washington state enhanced driver’s license, which carries a radio chip that shows his ID and U.S. citizenship, and can take the place of a passport when crossing by land or sea into Canada.
“The immigration officer scans my license and I see that he starts taking notes on a little yellow piece of paper,” Kelly remembers.
He says he was told to go inside the office.
“After half an hour, another immigration officer comes, very pleasant, and he has this printout of my prior arrest record. He won’t show it to me,” says Kelly.
“Then he says that under Rule A36(1)(b), any foreign national with an arrest record can be kept out of Canada.”
If Kelly ever does want to visit Canada, he’s going to have get “criminal rehabilitation” for his anti-war arrests in the U.S.
That means accounting for his life since age 18, including “a state certificate (or a letter from a police authority) for each state in which you have lived for six consecutive months or longer … “
Kelly’s giving it a shot. He filled out the paperwork to get the file the FBI has on him, presuming that was what the Canadian border officer was looking at.
“It’s difficult remembering an address where I lived my sophomore year in college,” says Kelly. “I’ve been calling a lot of old friends. Luckily, they remember better than me.”
Kelly says he knows there are those who wouldn’t find much sympathy for his plight.
“I’m not whining about this, but demanding my rights to travel,” he says. “Who else is our government sharing this information with? What about traveling to countries other than Canada?”
Kelly says he’s never tried to hide his past. “I’m not ashamed of it. We were right to have opposed the war.”
Well, there is one incident, way back on April Fool’s Day of 1969 that he’s a little ashamed of. And it has nothing to do with the war.
He was 24, and arrested for indecent exposure and vagrancy in Brownsville, Texas, by the Gulf of Mexico. He served two days in jail and paid a $100 fine.
“We were coming back from an SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) convention in Austin, and we decided to go skinny dippin’ in the ocean on a remote beach,” says Kelly. “Somebody must have seen us and called the cops.
“That one I’m maybe a little embarrassed about.”
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org