Canadian Border Security Sucks
I recently went on exchange to study abroad in Canada. If you’re intending on studying for less than six months, you don’t need a visa before stepping foot into the land of the maple. I landed at Toronto Pearson Airport, and experienced no difficulties upon entering the country. Officers welcomed me in with broad waistlines and smiles to match. I settled in quickly, immersing myself in the culture. I swapped my bikinis for a heavy coat and vegemite for peanut butter. But soon enough, bouncers kicked me out of the local bars and clubs. And then, the Canadians tried to deny me entry back into their country! Even my friends and mum – whom I was travelling with – were targeted. These were some of the strategies used by customs officers at the time.
1. Three exchange friends and I had sporadically gone to Chicago for a long weekend. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to reality. It was already dark and we were all keen on getting home after a long day of driving. I had an exam the next day that I hadn’t prepared for. But more importantly, we wanted to get back in time to head to Phil’s (our local nightclub) with the rest of the exchange crew. Sundays are “video request night”, and $2.25 can get you any drink or shot on the menu! After waiting for what seemed like forever, we were finally the next vehicle to approach the boom gate for questioning.
“Why’d you come to Chicago?” asked the officer.
“Tourism,” we replied in synchrony.
“What’d you see?” he questioned further.
“The bean!” I said in an enthusiastic manner, as if to show my approval.
“The what?” he said confused, as if he’d never heard of it in his entire life.
This is the equivalent of a Frenchman asking what the Eiffel Tower is. And the worst part – someone allowed this guy to carry a gun. God help America and US. We got told to park our car and head into the office. It took us over half an hour of being interrogated before officials decided to let us across the border and back into Canada.
2. The following weekend, the same three friends and I decided to check out Boston. We were happy to leave our university town at 5am in the morning in order to catch two buses and a taxi and sit through 24 hours of travel time if it meant we’d save $40 in comparison to flying. That’s plenty of additional cash for Four Lokos. (Rookie error; I nearly died). By early morning, we’d arrived at the USA/Canadian border at Niagara Falls. All passengers had to get off the bus, collect their belongings to go through the security-scanning checkpoint and then re board the bus once they had walked over the border. Not as easy as it sounds.
The four of us walked up to the counter upon being called. We nailed the first question, “Purpose of visit?” and then became unstuck on the second, “Address of stay in America?” We didn’t have the address. Standard hobo style – we’d worry about that when we got to the next destination. It was too early in the morning for this shit. On an average day, as exchange students, we wouldn’t even get out of bed until 12pm. They didn’t believe us. We tried to explain: technically we did have the address, somewhere in our hotmail inbox. But of course, none of us had internet on our phones and therefore couldn’t access it. I was reppin’ a Samsung flip phone circa the 1980s for god’s sake! As a result, they proceeded to drill us with an array of questions. I’m surprised they didn’t ask about my first sexual encounter or what colour underwear I was wearing at the time. 20 questions and 15 minutes later, our passports were stamped and we were allowed to reboard the bus in the U.S.A.
Admittedly, I was too inebriated to even remember the flight home from Boston to Canada, but somehow my belongings and I managed to arrive across the border without any trouble (I think). Which is ironic, given security and Customs actually had plausible grounds to deny my drunken self entry into the country on this occasion.
3. The last time I came back into Canada was on New Year’s Day. I’d already had a hard enough journey just getting to the airport. That morning (well, around lunchtime) I awoke horrifically hung-over (standard). I was still shoving possessions in my overweight suitcase and saying goodbye to my best friends in NYC as I made my way to the street and attempted to hail a cab. I spent the entire afternoon in the airport toilet cubicle vomiting up my sandwich, last night’s alcohol and what felt like my appendix. After surviving the flight, all I wanted to do was get through customs so I could meet my mum, who I hadn’t seen in six months, on the other side of the airport. I walked up to the customers officer when my turn came around.
“What brings you to Canada?” he asked.
“I’m studying a semester at university,” I replied.
“I’m sorry, you’ve come here because of what?” he said, shocked.
“I’m an exchange student.”
“Oh, ok. I thought you said you’ve come here because you’d stuffed up! I was gonna’ say – well that’s the most interesting thing anyone’s ever said to me as a customs officer before!”
Now, I realise I’m no Miranda Kerr (even on the best of days), and instead of Chanel I was wearing my own vomit. But did I really look like a crack addict? Surely the amount of back fat and saddlebags I possessed at the time was enough to prove this impossible. We laughed together, and then he let me into his country.
4. My Mum arrived from Australia three hours after me. She had an even better encounter. My Mum is easily one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She’s an extremely hard worker and rarely ever says a bad word about anyone. Naturally, she got chatting to a man in the line as they were waiting. She’d never met the guy in her life, but he’d asked her a question and so she spent the next few minutes exchanging small talk before it was her turn to approach the counter.
“What is the purpose of your visit, Ma’am?” the officer asked, following standard protocol.
“I’m here to visit my daughter,” she replied, excitedly.
“Ok. Are you married?”
“Are you with that man?” he pointed, referring to the guy who she had just spoken to.
“No. I’ve never met him in my life before now,” Mum replied truthfully, bewildered as to why he had probed on the subject.
The officer was unconvinced, sternly informing my mother, “We don’t accept that kind of behaviour in our country.” He accused her of adultery, but let her through.
I’ve recently received a cheque in the mail for 99 Canadian dollars. Someone bought my secondhand textbook that I left on consignment at my Host University. Being a hobo, I was stoked at the thought of inheriting a small fortune until my Dad told me I could only bank it in Canada. Well, let’s see how the officers like my response next time I fill out the immigration landing card.
Purpose of visit: “Show me the money!”