B.C. Super Bowl winner barred from entering U.S. over decades-old pot charge
Published Sunday, February 3, 2013 4:28PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, February 3, 2013 10:49PM EST
Despite winning an all-expenses paid trip to this year’s Super Bowl, a Canadian man will be watching the big game from Vancouver today after U.S. border guards denied him entry to the States due to a decades-old pot charge.
When Myles Wilkinson, 51, was notified in early January that he had won an all-expenses paid trip for two to New Orleans to catch the Super Bowl, he was beside himself.
“I was over the top, ecstatic,” Wilkinson said during an interview with CTVNews.ca. “For me this was one of my lifelong dreams, essentially.”
In order to win the trip -- which was sponsored by the NFL and Bud Light -- Wilkinson had to select a fantasy football team at the start of the season that would beat the teams of millions of other entrants.
“It’s something that’s actually very hard to do,” said the father of three. “It’s an unbelievable thing to win.”
The prize pack included a private charter plane from Toronto to New Orleans, four nights hotel accommodation and tickets to a host of events, parties and, of course, the big game itself.
But Wilkinson’s dream came crashing down last Thursday when he was stopped at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport by U.S. customs agents.
The reason? Wilkinson had been arrested in 1981 for possession of two grams of cannabis. He was 19 years old at the time and, as punishment, had to pay a $50 fine.
“I said ‘I didn’t really realize that this would be that big of a deal,’ ” Wilkinson said. “He (the border guard) said to me, ‘Well it is a big deal.’ ”
At Pearson, Wilkinson’s passport was flagged by U.S. customs and he said he was brought into a separate room for secondary screening. After some delays and a call by customs agents to a superior, Wilkinson was told he wouldn’t be allowed to enter the U.S.
“At first I obviously was in shock that they were taking this as far as they were,” he said. “I knew that a reaction of any kind that wasn’t calm wouldn’t do my any good at all, so I remained calm throughout the whole process.”
Wilkinson said he didn’t think he’d have problems entering the U.S., as he has visited the country many times since the charge, including for holidays, concerts and sporting events.
After being returned to the main portion of the airport, the heart-broken Wilkinson contacted the trip organizers to tell them the news.
“When they asked me what I wanted, I said ‘Quite frankly, I just wanted to be out of Toronto 15 minutes ago,’” he said.
Instead, Wilkinson will be taking in the game from a NFL- and Bud Light-sponsored party in Vancouver’s Commodore ballroom.
“They really stepped up to the plate,” he said of the contest organizers. “They’ve been fantastic. They’re beside themselves that this has been stolen from me.”
And though Wilkinson will still get to take part in some of the Super Bowl fun – as a life-long Seattle Seahawks fan, he told CTVNews.ca that he can’t cheer for the 49ers -- the ordeal has left him reeling.
He’s since contacted Sensible BC, a Vancouver-based group that is campaigning for a referendum on cannabis decriminalization.
Sensible BC director Dana Larsen said Wilkinson’s story is not unique.
"This is all too common of a story," Larsen said in a statement. "Any kind of possession conviction means a lifetime ban on crossing the US border, as well as a permanent stigma. For most people, just being charged without ever actually being convicted can still prevent them from ever entering the USA."
Wilkinson said he will work with the group to make his case known and to stop this from happening to anyone else.
“I was essentially handed a 32-year sentence for something that happened when I was 19 years old.”