True story about Canadian Customs

Discussion in 'Canada' started by Comrade, Jul 23, 2004.

  1. Comrade
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    Comrade Senior Member

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    I will tell the story of my very recent experience passing through Canadian customs. As some of you might know, I live in Seattle.

    A few weekends ago I took the Victoria clipper with my Mother and her husband to spend time at their time share along Victoria's Inner Harbour. It's a beautiful area and tourist friendly. It's also an image of Canada only American dollars could make possible.

    But I'm puzzled by the bizzare custom policy I witnessed, almost as if there is some kind of Brazilian retribution at hand in what should be a smooth and resonable proceedure at this particular entry point.

    Our departure from the morning clipper from Seattle ensured all travellers were either leaving or returning as US or Canadian tourists... in fact, of the hundreds onboard our ship, almost 100% were white and at least middle class.

    So it surprised me in the customs line when they brought out a drug sniffing dog. It walked up and down a part of the line, including my Mom and stepfather, and not one single young male was among them.


    And it walked only that small part of the line, mind you, 3 times back and forth. Old couples and a few families but not one long haired male travelling alone, like I appeared to be. See I lost my parents in the rush and didn't want to be rude to cut ahead and join them. So first I'm thinking, thank god I didn't take any oregano with me! And then I realized this must be some part of timed, random selection, making a point of not canvassing any particular group but rather picking out a time slot and section for a truly random search.

    So after 45 minutes I was near the tables... I noticed the contents of two bags already unpacked and laid out among the three tables available, and understood why this was taking so long.

    And my Mom and stepfather were through customs while I was next to be sent.

    So right near the tables, hovered five custom officials, all packed in a doorway on the side and just talking among themselves. Basically fucking off like government workers do.

    One looked up and in return I gave him the generic nod and smile which I've used when passing through scores of countries in over 100 border crossings, including Vietnam, the USSR, China... a trained and failproof look saying "Howdy, sir, just passing through.".

    For the first time in all these more tense situations, I was approached.

    My hair is longer than before, ... but this was the first time I have been taken into questioning by a custom official.

    And I only realized he was an Arab after I paid attention to him as he approached.

    I mention this only because it seems rather ironic. I can't say I conveyed any "reaction" before I realized this, but who knows? I thought this same 100% effective casual look was always good, but this time it didn't work and I can't explain why.

    So he walked over and asked me if was American.

    "Yes."

    Are you staying in Canada?

    "Yes."

    Now the next question is usually "Are you here for business or pleasure?"

    But I was not on business, with my long hair and casual dress...

    "Where are you staying?"

    Damn, this is also the usual question. Yet my parents planned the whole thing and here I just tagged along. I've been to Canada via I-5, in some beat up car, in my mid-20's, and they never asked me that before. So I actually didn't expect to know this in advance.

    Kind of surprised about the third degree I say truthfully and somewhat embarrassed:

    "I'm with my Mom and her husband, and they know...."

    I look ahead in line and thankfully see my Mom, who just passed customs and is watching and waiting for me behind the line.

    So I asked loudly: "Mom, where are we staying?"

    She walks back to where she is 10 feet from both of us, and says loudly:

    "We're staying at the Worldmark, honey."

    Which happened to be a time share she owns around 300 feet away from the custom exit itself.

    So there was my precious old mum and my very innocent looking stepfather in their senior years looking expectantly for me to join them.

    I mean you look at the two and "parties to drug smuggling" is the last thing you would think.

    But I was taken by surprise, when he then asked me to step into the side door and wait in an office to be interrogated.

    I wondered whether this is about either drugs or terrorism. Or did I convey some kind of subconcious signal at this man using "the look". Or am I personally being fucked with, for his own reasons.

    I started thinking about how a drug smuggler couldn't possibly fuck up worse than this

    It was better to be with the supposed "mom" when passing through, or at least know what hotel to mention, and not mention one 300 feet away.

    Beyond that thought came the rational fact that having drugs in America already means the best sale price. Or else smuggling to Canada would be by car or private boat?

    I thought this far in the small office I waited in, before a very casual middle-aged white woman came in and took my passport and, without a word, began typing on the computer across from the desk, not asking a question or even looking at me at all.

    After a few minutes she asked me why I was entering Canada.

    "I came on vacation with my Mother and Stepfather."

    And how long will you be in Canada?

    "Just for the weekend... uh, actually, three days."

    And what do you do?

    "I'm an actuary."

    What's an actuary?

    Sigh... every damn time, I have to explain this to every single custom agent I meet, even though there are more than 10,000 actuaries in America.

    She seems satisfied and continues to page through the passport, typing away on the computer.

    After another minute, she finds an entry for China...

    I see here you were in China?

    "Yes, I was in Hong Kong and visited China for a day."

    Fortunately my Hong Kong stamp is all over the passport, six places:

    Was that for business?

    "No, I was with my girlfriend, who spoke Chinese. It was just for a day. But I was in Hong Kong for business for months and over several years, if that is what you mean."

    At this point, she lightens up a bit and realizes I'm no drug smuggler or terrorist. I'm a well traveled anglo-Saxon in his mid-30's, and even though she didn't witness my Mom vouching for me I'm at my most calm and collected stage of the interview, ready to explain most of the details if I have to. BTW, it's hard to rememer details when one is under the third degree.

    She then asks me if I have any other ID.

    So I take out my drivers license and put it on the desk. She only glances at it for less than one second, and is satisfied completely that it looks like a license from 3 feet away. It stays on the far end of the desk next to me until I put it back in my wallet later.

    So then she goes back to her computer and continues to page through my passport, breezes past Korea and Taiwan and finally puts it down before reaching the end. I

    wonder if the Vietnam visa in the final page would have been important, but whatever, we're almost done.

    So finally she asks me when I was in Canada before. Which is kind of test, I guess, because whatever date she's been pulling up, the most accurate is Canada's own records.


    And I actually flubbed the test. The visit before the last, 4 years ago, I forgot about completely, and didn't mention it. She didn't even blink.

    And I am told to go out the door in the back, and lo and behold my dear Mother is looking panicked and obviously got some official to show here exactly where I would come out after the intensive treatment. My poor Mom was traumatized by Canada, and but I still can't tell exactly how my being singled out made much sense to Canadian national security.

    The whole process was just bizzare, but I thought it would make an interesting read to the board.
     
  2. Annie
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    Annie Diamond Member

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    Wow! That was truly odd. Retribution does seem to be happening now with Canada. Softwaremama was stating difficulties in traveling there, though I believe it had to do with Canadians in general. Their loss, if Americans choose not to holiday there!
     
  3. Doomer
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    Doomer Member

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    I fail to see the big deal here. Canadians, including myself, have had to deal with the same B.S. going into the U.S. It's a border. Don't expect to just be waved through every time you cross.
     
  4. freeandfun1
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    freeandfun1 VIP Member

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    (I agree - that is why I am staying out of this one. At least they didn't ask for a bribe like they do in Indonesia).
     
  5. MrMarbles
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    MrMarbles Member

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    Every experience is different, i'm sure there are plenty of times you just strolled through with only a simple questioning.
     
  6. Isaac Brock
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    Isaac Brock Active Member

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    Whoh, whoh, whoh. Let me see if I understand some of your opinions here. Canada customs gave Comrade a strict security screening because there were some possible irregularities with his application and answers to his questions. He was brought aside for further questioning. It seems to me like customs was just being thorough. Canadian Customs post 9/11 runs a pretty tight ship.

    To be honest, I'm very suprised I'm hearing these opinions! More often than not I hear Americans saying that our security system is not strict enough. Now, an American gets screened at Canada Customs after having passport entries in Vietnam and China (which both have huge crime operations in Canada) as well as forgetting a few questions and this is somehow anti-American instead of increased security?

    Please tell me you guys aren't being serious?
     
  7. Comrade
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    Comrade Senior Member

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    I simply want to know the rational for singling me out for interrogation while exempting me from a search via drug sniffing dog, for starters.

    Then we can delve into the drug smuggling rationale based upon the points I've already made:

    1. Huge market in America. Why risk a crossing to Canada?

    2. Obviously travelling with a senior couple.

    3. No dog sniffed me in line.
     
  8. NightTrain
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    NightTrain VIP Member

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    Interesting, Comrade.

    My wife's grandfather had a similar experience last summer at the border, coming up through Montana into Canada.

    He's about 85 years old and acts like he's 50, and brought his 'spring chicken' girlfriend (79) with him to visit us. He's got a farm in Arkansas.

    He pulled up to the border in his Dodge pickup and he was greeted by a "disrespectful whippersnapper" who began questioning him as to the particulars of his intended journey through Canada to Alaska.

    I know from personal experience with my own Grandfather as a young lad that you never asked anyone from that generation about personal finances, but that's one of the questions that is always asked.

    "How much cash money do you have with you?"

    "Enough to take me and my girlfriend here to Alaska and back twice over." he snapped back.

    "How much?"

    "3500, give or take!" he answered, whipping out his wallet and showing him.

    The Customs guy was looking around the cab of the truck as they did the 20 questions routine. Suddenly the Canuck straightened like he'd been slapped.

    "Do you have any firearms with you?"

    "Nope."

    "Then why do you have ammunition with you?" he asked, pointing to the floorboard.

    On the floor was a 9mm shell that must have been under the seat that had rolled out into view.

    "Pull over there, sir." The Customs guy said, indicating the vehicle inspection area.

    Then a few other Customs guys came out and began going through their vehicle, unpacking everything & going through it. They came up empty after 2 hours. Then they started in on the truck itself, even going as far as breaking down the spare tire and removing the seat. Of course they didn't find anything, the 9mm shell was dropped over a year back & he didn't even own the 9mm pistol anymore.

    When they were finally finished, they did bolt the bench seat back in. But they didn't fix the spare tire they'd broken down or put anything back into the truck. They left all that to the 85 year old man and his 79 year old girlfriend.

    He relayed all this to me while we were sitting on my back deck sipping some Jack Daniels, and he confided to me that he probably shouldn't have gotten irritated at the "little prick" in the first place.

    I've never had problems personally at the border, but I treat them exactly how I treat a cop... the old safe "Yes Sir" and "No Sir".
     
  9. Annie
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    Annie Diamond Member

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    I can't speak for Comrade, but this reminds me of our own airline screening, picking those who are least likely to be terrorists, though your points on his stamps has validity, so do his on the dogs, traveling companions, etc.

    At the same time, the Canadians have been pretty difficult about how they are vetting Muslims and allowing them to cross over here. THAT has been the criticism. As far as what I said regarding Softwaremama, if you check my earlier posting, you would find it different than my take!
     
  10. Isaac Brock
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    Isaac Brock Active Member

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    Drug smuggling in Canada is prevalent as it much safer for criminals in US traffic to more lax user-possession laws. However, I don't think they stopped you because you looked like you were carrying drugs.

    You did have passports stamps with at least two nations that aren't exactly magnanamous with Canada. You did arrive by boat which is not a normal port of entry for visitors and comes at a time where Maritime security threats have by publicized in the last few years. Your answers to the questions customs officials were imprecise.

    If I was a customs agent, this would at least peak my interest into what you were doing in Canada. If we singled out every American on our border, crossing times would be quite exessive and that simply does not happen.

    In a day when both Terrorism and other national securities are heightened, it should be expected that customs should be more thorough. Would you not expect the same if situation was reversed? It is mere dilegence, nothing more. Customs and Canada has nothing to gain by taking an anti-american stance.

    If the agents, however, abused verbally or physically then you should complain to your local representative, embassy representative or Canada Customs Public Relations (1-800-OCANADA).
     

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