Dr Maria Gonzalez, a dermatologist, and her husband arrived in Cork Airport (top) recently, on their way to Kerry for a conference at which Dr Gonzalez was speaking, when her husband was stopped by immigration officials for allegedly smelling of marijuana.
Dr Gonzalez has a British passport while her husband has a French passport. They were the only black people on their flight.
“After I got out of the toilet, I saw him [her husband] standing by, what I didn’t know at the time was an immigration officer. And I came up to my husband and I said, ‘what’s happening?’ And he said, ‘he said to wait here’. So obviously, I don’t think the officer realised I was with my husband, so I stood waiting with him aswell.
“And he said, ‘oh you’re travelling with him?’. I said, ‘yes’. And once he had waved everybody off that flight off and they had gone to get their bags or whatever, then he looked at my husband and said, ‘you, come with me, because you’re smelling of marijuana’, or something to that effect.”
“In other words he accused him of having a smell of marijuana, you know, on him…Then a couple of Customs officers appeared. One was female, one was male, he also called another person on his phone while he was standing there, saying, ‘come along, are you free to come and help us’ because obviously we were terrible criminals, he needed loads of people to help him.”
“They then started saying, ‘Even the passport smells of marijauna’ and so on. So, of course, I’ve never been in Ireland, nor my husband, and it’s a very surreal moment when you’re caught in this kind of exchange and, even though I do a huge amount of travelling, and so we just kept very quiet and just cooperated and went along with our bags and put them wherever they said to and, during the course of the search of our bags – now it was only two small bags because we were only there for two nights – one of the immigration officers, one of the Customs officers actually, handed my my husband’s passport and said, ‘can’t you smell marijuana on this?’ And I said, ‘well I don’t know the smell of marijuana and this smells like a passport to me’. And I gave it back to him.”
“It was a very unusual series of circumstances and when the staff came and joined him and he was now searching my bag, I actually said, ‘this is only, I’ve been in the UK for 23 years and travelling all over the world and nothing like this has ever happened’, so I said, ‘where are the sniffer dogs because, you know, sniffer dogs, they have 10,000 times the sense of smell as humans which is why they are used for this. And I said, ‘this is a very unscientific approach’. That’s all I said. And he said, ‘well I have 30 years’ experience of doing this kind of work’ and I thought, ‘well that’s it then’.”
“…[Later] they kind of mumbled, they didn’t say, you know, ‘you can go because we found nothing, sorry to keep you’ or anything, they kind of mumbled that since they didn’t have sniffer dogs that we could go.”
“So it was almost like, ‘well, we couldn’t really find what was going on so you can go now’. So, I was happy to take that but the immigration officer, obviously wasn’t best pleased that it ended like that. And he then said, started to target my husband and started shouting at him saying that my husband was insulting his intelligence. In other words he was saying that, you know, he didn’t believe any of this.”
“And then he said to him, ‘so I’m going to caution you, I’m going to caution you, I’m going to keep your details on the system and if you come back into Cork, you know, you’ll be arrested and I think at that point my husband probably said, ‘don’t worry, I won’t ever be back to Cork’.”
“I think that incensed him more and then he started shouting at me and saying that I had insulted his intelligence too. So I was concerned this was not going in the right direction…”
Dr Gonzalez has made a formal complaint about the incident.