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Denver Clogger Gets Locked Out

Why were a group of Denver 'cloggers' prevented from attending the annual Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo in Calgary this summer? investigates.

A group of men driving from Denver to Calgary on Wednesday, June 28th of this year were detained by Canadian officials for five hours at the border between Sweetgrass, Montana, and Coutts, Alberta.  After being questioned they were allegedly told a quick search of their vehicle would be required before they could 'get on their way.'  Following the discovery of a suitcase containing women's clothing and wigs the men were individually interrogated in a room and then told they were 'inadmissible to Canada.'  They turned around and drove back to Denver.

What went wrong?

A trip to the rodeo

Charlie Tuholski lives in Denver, Colorado and is the co-director of a small not-for-profit dance group called Charlie's Cowboy Cloggers.  Mr. Tuholski and his group travel to various cities throughout the year to attend events.  At times they perform during these events, and often - but not necessarily - a cup or hat is passed around to collect donations.  If so, these monies collected are later donated to other not-for-profit groups in the Denver area.

Mr. Tuholski and his colleagues receive no compensation from either event organizers or the administration of their group should they perform.  The Cloggers are volunteers.

After attending the Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo in 1999 - an event to which they traveled by air - the Cloggers were invited back for the 2000 one.  Mr. Tuholski explained what was involved.

"As invited guests, extended promotion was provided by not only ARGRA [the Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo Association] but also by local respected sponsors, including the Coors [Brewing] Company ... We appreciated the request to repeat the attendance of their rodeo and anticipated the reunion due to the response and appreciation received from residents and reputable businesses in Calgary," Mr. Tuholski told

The Alberta organizers are a member of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA).  Their annual rodeo has been held outside Calgary at Symon Valley Ranch since the early 90s.

Continued Mr. Tuholski, "The [border] encounter hindered not only supportive, responsive, and concerned individuals but also affected the entire event, as it was advertised extensively.  The explanation [provided] was regarded as inappropriate interaction and does not support our perceived expectations of acceptance of the Gay and Lesbian Community within the province of Alberta.  Our sponsors - ARGRA, IGRA - and our group have been adversely affected, both financially and emotionally, by the 'homophobic' treatment received at the Sweetgrass border."

Two of the Cloggers are also female impersonators.  Although some group members traveled to Calgary by plane, Mr. Tuholski and three others decided to make the trip in a motor home.  They carried one of the female impersonator's luggage with them as a favour.

At the border

Upon arrival at the Canadian Port of Entry in the small town of Coutts, Alberta, Mr. Tuholski and his passengers were subjected to routine questioning.  The Canadian government was represented by a young man wearing a label describing him as a 'Student.'  The official asked the Americans, among other things, to "state the purpose of their trip."

Mr. Tuholski answered "for pleasure."  The response was based on the options he had been given the previous year while traveling by air:  "Business or pleasure."

Mr. Tuholski does not consider himself a businessman.  In fact, he is employed in the Denver medical community.

Following the questioning the vehicle was flagged for an inspection to be performed by a second official.  According to the Denver man, that official made further inquiries about their trip and was told that it involved attending the rodeo and that the group were 'cloggers.'  He asked if they would be paid.

The group answered "No."

Then the student official discovered the suitcase containing the women's clothing and wigs.  A third official was called to the scene.

"After a brief discussion with the 'student' the third official angrily approached us and demanded a full explanation of the purpose of our trip," continued Mr. Tuholski.  "We told him that we were a volunteer dance team that planned on attending the rodeo at Symon Valley Ranch and potentially would perform.  He asked the 'student' if that was what he was told at the gate and the 'student' responded 'No'."

That's when Mr. Tuholski and his party were escorted to the Canadian immigration office, asked to surrender identification, and individually interrogated about their intentions and any history of criminal activity.

"After a long delay, we were all informed of the reasons," declared the American.  "The immigration officer stated that we were accused of fraudulent application for admission to Canada.  The fact that we did not [divulge] that we may voluntarily perform was the reason for this."

Mr. Tuholski asserts that there were only two instances of questioning where the responses would involve the Cloggers' possible performance.  One was the early "Purpose of your trip?" question asked by the student official.  The other was the second official's request for details during the vehicle inspection.  The interrogations involved only criminal history, the Denver man said.

"We feel that the claim of fraudulence was initiated by biased and bigoted beliefs of the third official as well as the 'student'," stated Mr. Tuholski.  "We believe the wigs and dresses were the reason for our rejection more than any other claim made.

"I am concerned about the record of charges made against myself and the other members in the vehicle.  We were in no way guilty of attempting to fraud the Canadian government," he insisted.

Questions and conclusions

The Canadian government does not deny the allegations Mr. Tuholski claims it made.

Richard Anderson is the manger of the Canada Immigration Centre at Coutts, Alberta.  In a statement provided to through Citizenship and Immigration Canada's prairie region communications office, he explained the assessment made by officials that day.

"Mr. Tuholski informed the officer that he was coming to Canada to visit as a tourist when in fact he was coming into Canada as a Performing Artist," wrote Mr. Anderson.  "Performing Artists require an employment authorization to perform in Canada.  Section 2 of the Canadian Immigration Act gives us the definition of employment and it is defined as 'Any activity for which a person receives or might reasonably be expected to receive valuable consideration'.

"It was our understanding that Mr. Tuholski would not receive any direct payment for his performance but that any monies given to him directly from those watching were his to keep ... In this case it appeared that they were receiving remuneration."

The manager also verified that Mr. Tuholski's record with the Canadian government includes wording to the effect that "He had misrepresented the main purpose of his entry to Canada to the Immigration Officer on the Primary Inspection Line."

Given Mr. Tuholski's description of the questioning used to make that determination, spoke to the Canada Immigration Centre manager on the telephone.

Mr. Anderson explained that persons who desire entry to Canada must disclose the purpose - the whole purpose - of their trip.  It is not necessary for officials to ask particular questions in order to evoke particular answers.

"If a person is coming in to perform, and their main purpose is to perform, it needs to be declared," he told

At issue on the subject seems to have been the question of professional versus voluntary dancing.  Somewhere along the way, the assessment was made that Mr. Tuholski and his party were Performing Artists as defined by the Immigration Act.

The student official is an employee of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency.  He and others like him, and their actions, are what are referred to as the 'Primary Inspection Line.'  Their task, explained Mr. Anderson, is to ask questions representing areas of concern to all government ministries - Revenue, Immigration, Agriculture, etc.  Should any reply provided be deemed to require further details be disclosed, another official is called and the person is questioned further.

The second official that day - the one who inspected the vehicle - was also from the revenue ministry.  His concern regarding the Cloggers performing was passed on to the third official - from the immigration ministry - who interrogated the visitors.

Somewhere, it seems, through those interfaces, the assessment of 'Performing Artists' was assumed to have been properly made.

Was it because officials experienced sufficient discomfort with a party of gay men - some of which perform in drag - and were inhibited from questioning further?

The Canada Immigration Centre manager said that no training or briefing of any sort is given to officials regarding the annual Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo or that gay and lesbian people may be coming through the border in the days prior to the Canada Day long week-end event.

"It's never been an issue," declared Mr. Anderson.  "This is the first time I've heard of it."

Notwithstanding, he acknowledged that it was the student official who determined that "the whole truth had not been disclosed" by the party.  He also told that paper notes from the incident indicate that the 'Performing' issue would have been pursued further had Mr. Tuholski and his group attempted re-entry later.

"Maybe it wasn't questioned as closely as possible, maybe because the officer felt that he'd have to deal with the criminality first," said Mr. Anderson.

Criminally inadmissible

During the interrogation of Mr. Tuholski and his party it was determined that some of them had criminal records.  Due to the nature of those offences and the absence of rehabilitation verification, the people in question could not be admitted to Canada.

This assessment was verified and stood on its own.  Once made, it essentially caused the 'Performing' question to be moot - for the purpose of entry at that time, anyway.

"Mr. Tuholski admitted to being convicted of Driving While Ability to do so was Impaired in Colorado in 1990," wrote Mr. Anderson in his statement.  "If he had been convicted of this in Canada he could have received up to five years imprisonment under Paragraph 255(1)(b) of the Canadian Criminal Code."

Mr. Anderson told that all people with convictions of driving under the influence are 'Criminally Inadmissible' to Canada.  However, persons desiring entry may be granted such if the conviction is more than five years old and they complete a process intended to verify that they have been rehabilitated.

"Rehabilitation approval is the authority from the Minister or delegated authority to overcome the inadmissibility of persons who have committed or have been convicted outside Canada of criminal acts," states the Citizenship and Immigration Port of Entry operations manual.  A successful result requires factors other than the passing of five years since the conviction, and the Ministry levies a $200 fee for the service.

Mr. Tuholski admits that he and his party were informed of this inadmissibility following the interrogation.

"We were handed a sheet explaining the procedure of allowing access to Canada and dismissal of the old alcohol related charges," he declared.  "This application required $200 each and was not guaranteed approval," he continued.  "This made it impossible for us to attend the rodeo."

Set the record straight

While acknowledging the 'criminally inadmissible' barrier to entry, Mr. Tuholski remains concerned about the misrepresentation allegation made by the Canadian government.

"We were not given instructions to dispute the claims of fraudulence ... Maybe if we had only 'boy clothes' we would not have been sent to Immigration - [but that's] just a speculation," he said.

The manager of the Canada Immigration Centre at Coutts verified that both allegations remain on Mr. Tuholski's record and stated that they cannot be removed.  When asked if it would be possible to address Mr. Tuholski's concern, he offered to clarify the record.

Mr. Anderson said that he could amend the record to indicate "it would appear that there may not be sufficient information obtained" with respect to the allegation of Mr. Tuholski misrepresenting the main purpose of his entry to Canada.

All that would be required is a letter of request to that effect from Mr. Tuholski, he stated.