CALAIS, Maine — The international border crossing between downtown Calais and St. Stephen, New Brunswick, was closed for about nine hours Sunday night and early Monday morning at the request of the Canada Border Services Agency.
The incident began when five men left a vehicle on the Canadian side of the border, walked across the Ferry Point Bridge and attempted to enter the United States, confirmed Ted Woo, spokesman for the U.S. Office of Homeland Security.
Because of security concerns about the vehicle, Canadian border officials contacted U.S. Homeland Security about 6 p.m. Sunday and asked permission to close the border, Woo said. Permission was granted and the border was reopened about 3 a.m. Monday.
The men were detained by U.S. authorities “only long enough to determine they weren’t going to be let in” to the U.S., Woo said Monday afternoon.
No one was arrested by U.S. authorities, Woo said, and the men were returned to Canada.
Fearing that the vehicle the men parked at the duty-free parking lot in St. Stephen contained explosives, the RCMP bomb squad was called to the scene, Sgt. Claude Tremblay of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police J Division in Fredericton, New Brunswick, said Monday by telephone. The bomb squad remained there as the men were questioned, he said.
Woo said he was scrambling Monday to counteract “wild rumors” and dozens of telephone calls from people who believed that the car contained a bomb and that the men were from Afghanistan.
He said the men were not from Afghanistan, but he said U.S. privacy laws prevented him from providing details about their citizenship status or identification.
The RCMP bomb squad found nothing untoward in the vehicle in the parking lot, Laurie Gillmore, a spokeswoman for Canada Border Services Agency, said Monday.
“Nothing, there was nothing in the car, but at the time there was a concern because the car was abandoned. [Canadian officials] had reasons for concern, so that’s why they called in the bomb squad,” Gillmore said.
Border agencies in neither Canada nor the United States intend to charge the five people with anything, Gillmore and Woo said.
“They were deemed inadmissible to the U.S.,” Gillmore said. However, “from our perspective they were in Canada legally.”
She declined to provide further details on, for example, whether they were citizens, landed immigrants or tourists.
Likewise she declined to say where they lived in Canada, where they went after they were released, or whether they picked up their car before going on their way.
During the incident, police on both sides of the St. Croix River diverted traffic to the Milltown Bridge until the Ferry Point Bridge was reopened at 3 a.m.
Woo could not explain Monday why it took nine hours to reopen the border.
He said that denying entrance to the U.S. is a common event. “This is not something that rarely happens,” he said.
Tremblay said there were no traffic problems on the Canadian side of the border.
“We were very lucky,” he said. “You couldn’t have picked a quieter time. It was raining, it was cold, there was a little snow. The border was closed until 3 a.m. and we had no problems.”
In a news article published Monday in the St. Stephen Telegraph-Journal, Tremblay had been quoted as saying the five men were “not Canadians and are possibly illegal immigrants — possibly from Afghanistan.”
Woo said Monday the men were definitely not from Afghanistan.
Calais Police Chief David Randall said he was contacted Sunday evening by customs officials who told him the border was being closed temporarily, and that the Canadian authorities did not need his department’s assistance.
“There were no problems on our side with traffic,” Randall said.
Writer Derwin Gowan of the Saint John Telegraph-Journal in New Brunswick contributed to this report.