Immigration and Customs – Help!

OK, a brief diversion. I mentioned to a friend on Twitter yesterday that I had a chequered history entering Canada. There was the time I was picked up by the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police to you) and driven off in the back of their cruiser, or the time when I was refused entry … What? she demanded. No, it wasn’t that serious. Which is why this year I had broadcast a public “Thank you” to the RCMP for their kindness. It was like this …

Who could think me a dangerous visitor?

Who could think me a dangerous visitor?

The RCMP were delightful. It was like this. I was going to Canada a day or two after my brother was visiting. Rather than muck about with rentals, he suggested that he would rent a car for the period of his stay and mine. Made sense – the rental was cheaper that way. So he hired the thing, and I was to have it after. When he flew out, he parked the car and caught the plane, leaving the keys carefully concealed in the wheel. What could possibly go wrong? What could go wrong was, when I arrived on a delayed flight at half past midnight, the airport was closed. What could go wrong was, I arrived, oddly enough, at “Arrivals”. He left, strangely enough, via “Departures”. And the tunnel connecting the two was, at midnight, locked. So, imagine a tired Jecks standing in a deserted Arrivals with solid Delsey suitcase at the ready, staring at locked gates. I wandered around a bit, thinking somehow there must be a way to get to the other side of the airport – but there wasn’t even a cab to be hired. So, while standing outside the airport staring at the Arrivals section, I was over the moon to see that I was being studied with equal interest by two RCMPs in their cruiser. Soon they were at my side and eyeing me with suspicion. “What are you doing?” “I’m trying to get over there,” I began to gabble (we all feel guilty even when we know we’re innocent, right?) and showed them the photo of the rental. “OK, we’ll give you a lift,” they said, and I was helped into the back of the cruiser. It was very clean and tidy. So, thank you, RCMP! The second was during my first visit to Canada.

I mean, it's not as if I'm scary

I mean, it’s not as if I’m scary

I had been to Hawaii on an achievers’ trip with Wang Laboratories (Hawaii, to me, seemed to be rather like the Costa del Sol but with bigger hotels – wasn’t very impressed, but then I should have seen more of the island, so it was my own silly fault), and coming back I threatened to visit my friend Mike Ramsey for a week or so. I had such a horrible time with him that I had to extend my holiday by another week. Anyway, back to the problem. The UK Passport office was on strike. As a result, I had to get a special visa on a temporary visitor’s passport. This was duly approved by the US Embassy, and I flew off full of the joys of spring. Then, I clambered aboard the cattle truck run by Delta at the end of the Hawaiian break, and landed in Toronto. Which is where things started to go downhill. “Would you step this way, please?” They are very polite. In a small, airless chamber. You can imagine the sort of thing. “This passport is no good.” “What?” I was surprised rather than irritated. “It’s no good.” “It’s a UK passport, though.” “We don’t accept Visitor’s passports.” “But I’m a British subject,” I pointed out, as if that mattered a damn. “We’ve had too many guys from India and Pakistan trying to get in on these passports, so they’re no good.” “But the passport office was on strike.” “We may have to send you back.” “No!” And this was where I made the unforgivable error. The faux pas to end all faux pases: “It must be OK – even the Americans accepted it!” I cringe to remember it. And the look of distaste that passed over the immigration officer’s face. Until then, he had displayed some sympathy, some humanity. However, that flashed past and a look that would have suited a Roman emperor witnessing the ritual slaughter of Christians in his arena – blank, cruel indifference – took its place. “This is not the 51st state.” And that led me to a three hour wait while they decided to see whether I was allowed in or not. Luckily I was!

It's not as if I dress oddly ...

It’s not as if I dress oddly …

Neither of which was as bad as the return from Canada another time. I flew out with a Pentax ME Super camera, but while there it broke, and I replaced it with a new Canon EOS, the first of its kind. A wonderful camera. Landing at Heathrow, I walked through the “Nothing to Declare” alley. As you do. After all, this wasn’t a new purchase, it was a trade-in. As I told the nice female officer at the desk when she stopped me and asked me. “So you bought it in Toronto? Do you have the paperwork?” “Of course, it’s here,” I said, helpfully. That cost me £800. I had apparently been smuggling by walking through that channel, and she was down on her quota for robbing travellers blind that month, so I had to pay tax, VAT and a fine before I could leave the airport. Or leave my camera behind for her or another officer to enjoy, no doubt. So, when it comes to immigration or customs staff, I much, much prefer the invariably polite American and Canadian versions compared with the British. But I never mention the States to Canadian officers. Just in case …


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Oh. Now I see why ... Carlos the Jecks.

Oh. Now I see why … Carlos the Jecks.

2 Responses to “Immigration and Customs – Help!”
  1. There is another side to Canadian officialdom.

    On my first trip to Toronto, possibly a century ago, my wife and I found ourselves in the immigration queue at Lester Pearson. It was moving very slowly, because the stone-faced person at the desk was giving the bloke in front a very hard time. As the interrogation went on, I muttered to Eileen that I would get a smile from her, or be refused entry in the attempt.

    Our turn came.

    Frown, suspicious. ‘Purpose of your visit; business or pleasure?’

    ‘A bit of both really. We’re doing some sight-seeing, and I have some engagements, in Toronto and Vancouver.’

    Deepened frown. ‘What’s your business?’

    ‘I’m an author.’

    Eyebrow raised, slightly sarcastically. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t realise you were famous.’

    ‘No worries. I’m not famous; I’m only notorious for now. I’m still working on famous.’

    The smile! I’ve seen bigger, but I got the smile. ‘Ah, that’s okay then. Some people, you know. Mick Jagger got really annoyed when I didn’t recognise him. Welcome to Canada and enjoy your stay.’


    • I recall travelling to Vegas (yes, that time!) and the immigration officer being distinctly frosty with a tired and emotional agent of our acquaintance. I was only able to get him to grin when I promised I would be taking her home later. “Just don’t leave her here,” he said.


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