After Walk To Canada, Vermont Local Dubbed Hero For more than a century, the residents of Derby Line, Vt., have been taking shortcuts into and out of Canada — on narrow, ungated streets in the center of town. On the U.S. side, they've been walking about 100 yards to report at the official checkpoint. But two months ago, an American pharmacist took a walk like that and got arrested. He insists he did nothing wrong — and he's become a local hero.
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After Walk To Canada, Vermont Local Dubbed Hero

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After Walk To Canada, Vermont Local Dubbed Hero

After Walk To Canada, Vermont Local Dubbed Hero

After Walk To Canada, Vermont Local Dubbed Hero

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For more than a century, the residents of Derby Line, Vt., have been taking shortcuts into and out of Canada — on narrow, ungated streets in the center of town. On the U.S. side, they've been walking about 100 yards to report at the official checkpoint. But two months ago, an American pharmacist took a walk like that and got arrested. He insists he did nothing wrong — and he's become a local hero.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

For over a century, villagers in Derby Line, Vermont, have been taking shortcuts into and out of Canada along narrow, ungated streets in the center of town. On the American side, they've been walking about 100 yards to report at the official checkpoint.

But two months ago, an American pharmacist took a walk like that and got arrested. He insists he did nothing wrong, and he's become a local hero. Charlotte Albright reports from Vermont Public Radio.

CHARLOTTE ALBRIGHT: Derby Liners are proud of the stately Victorian library deliberately built right on the Canadian border as a symbol of international friendship. Old-timers see the border as an invisible line, not a wall between French and American neighbors.

The small back street that runs alongside the library into Canada is the route 67-year-old Roland "Buzzy" Roy often takes to buy a pizza in Quebec. One night last February, though, he got nabbed on his way back into Derby Line. He's been telling that story a lot in his pharmacy.

Mr. ROLAND ROY (Pharmacist): I was stopped by the Vermont State Police, and he was very aggressive. He threatened to arrest me if I said one more word, and he repeated that twice.

ALBRIGHT: Roy says the officer refused to hold his pizza while he found his ID and explained he was on his way to the American checkpoint a block away. The officer grudgingly allowed him to proceed, but Roy was so angry and so certain that he'd crossed legally that he took his customary roundtrip two more times that night.

Mr. ROY: I would like to prove that people can cross the border on Church Street as they have for hundreds of years.

ALBRIGHT: That brazen test came with a price. The third time Roy crossed the border, a border patrol agent handcuffed him, detained him for three hours and slapped him with a $500 fine.

Since then, hundreds of Roy's supporters, both American and Canadian, have rallied behind him at public meetings and a peaceful protest.

Ms. ERICA SUE TAYLOR(ph): It took a little action by Buzzy to escalate it to a state that it needed to be escalated into.

ALBRIGHT: Erica Sue Taylor works a few doors away from Roy's pharmacy. Like 750 others in this tiny town, she wears a Free Buzzy Roy button.

Ms. TAYLOR: Because there's just way too much authority in this neighborhood at the moment. I don't find that there necessarily needs to be a sheriff, a border patrol, a state cop, game warden, all of them sitting on one street corner.

ALBRIGHT: The extra surveillance is part of a new, federally funded program called Operation Stonegarden, which pays local law enforcers to work overtime so that U.S. border agents can patrol more remote sections of the boundary. Locals in Vermont say the supplementary guards, still in training, are sometimes overzealous and rude.

At a recent meeting of the village trustees, they complained that their town is beginning to feel like a police state. But Border Patrol Agent Fernando Beltran(ph) defended the extra help.

Mr. FERNANDO BELTRAN (Agent, Border Patrol): We're having some, you know, very good success because these guys are here, my guys can be someplace else.

ALBRIGHT: Beltran says DHS policy prevents releasing statistics about people caught crossing the Derby Line border illegally. But if you ask Buzzy Roy's supporters, they'll say they live in a safe place, and they don't like the way they're being treated when they pop across the border for pizza or a library book.

A new sign on Church Street does order border crossers to turn back and take the main route into the United States, through the official checkpoint. But Buzzy Roy is not backing down. He's hired a lawyer to challenge his fine, but he's saying no thanks to a defense fund.

For NPR News, I'm Charlotte Albright.

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