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Canadian Border Patrol Takes A Coffee Break?

I’m sitting in Boston at the moment, after a full day of meetings, and reflecting on a disturbing incident this morning.   Here’s what happened. 

Howard and I grabbed a 6:25 AM flight from Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport in Montreal down to Boston.  We camped at the Rodeway Inn (a desparate place, if I ever saw one) last night, across the street from the airport, got up at 4:15 AM, and made it to the airport at about 5:15 AM.

Everything was going great until we realized in the security line (after having passed through US customs and immigration) that I had taken the wrong bag from the car.  We have two identical bags.  One was packed with the computers for our presentations and demos in Boston, and the other was packed with Howard’s dirty laundry.  I had Howard’s clothes… not the computers.

Security would not let me leave the zone as I was now technically on American soil; an artifact of the relationships that Canadian airports have with US airlines.  They informed me I would have to clear the security line, find an Air Canada agent in the secure zone, and have that agent escort me to Canadian customs and immigration, whereupon I could “re-enter” Canada, collect my bag, and then re-clear US customs and immigration, and security again.

After a 15 minute search for an Air Canada agent in Dorval’s secure zone I finally found someone who buzzed me through the security door to Canadian customs and immigration.  Because she was also boarding passengers she was unable to escort me, so I entered the immigration zone alone.  In fact, she didn’t even check my boarding pass to see if my story checked out.  She radioed her superiors that I was on my way, and buzzed me into the immigration zone. 

When I reached passport control a few minutes later, there were probably 25 stations, and not an agent in sight.

The janitor, sweeping the floor, advised me to take the stairs down, and speak with customs. I walked unchallenged through passport control, and downstairs to the customs area. It was a ghost town as well. 

I continued to walk unchallenged.  I walked through the baggage claim. I walked through the customs area.  I walked through the baggage inspection area.  I walked past the empty desk of the guard who collects your declaration form.  Finally, I walked out into the arrivals area, where I met a security guard and explained what I had done and asked if she would please call customs for me. Ten minutes later, a border agent appeared, checked my passport and escorted me out.

So, let’s review.  The Canadian border at Montreal was completely devoid of officials.  I walked right on through and could likely have walked past the security guard, and out of the airport.  What if I had been really trying to enter the country illegally?  Would I have been tracked down from security camera images?  Could I have left the airport?

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Jason November 17, 2006, 8:09 pm

    It was ~5:30 AM. I think you'll find that the first flights aren't allowed to land until at least 6AM for noise reasons. If a flight hasn't landed, there is no reason to have someone sitting at the desk looking bored. Much better to have your team meetings before the first rush of the day. The only people allowed in the area were authorized and did not need to be monitored. The Air Canada person essentially broke the rules by not escorting you around. I expect that they got in trouble for it after.

    As for trying to enter illegally. Heh, you were just in Canada. If they had wanted you out, you would have been escorted onto the plane. :)

  • Alec November 18, 2006, 2:25 am

    Good point Jason. I don't know when the first flights land in Montreal, and if that's the case then it makes sense that there might not have been anyone there. It was surprising, nonetheless.

  • Jason November 18, 2006, 9:15 pm

    Yeah, I can imagine how it must have felt.

    "Are they going to come after me with guns? A kid just spent 6 hours being interrogated for flushing his iPod, what are they going to do to me?!"

  • Alec November 19, 2006, 4:40 am

    Well, this IS Canada where there's a big debate going on right now about whether or not border agents should be allowed to carry guns. Currently they don't, although the security guard had a pretty effective looking billy stick. I wondered afterward what would have happened if I had just nonchalently strolled PAST the security guard in the arrivals area, instead of asking her to call customs. Would she have known that I had not spoken to anyone inside?

  • Zachary Houle December 1, 2006, 11:16 am

    Well, there's not much debate on the guns issue — they *are* coming, as this was allocated in the 2006 Federal Budget.

  • Mike February 18, 2008, 11:48 pm

    Government is trying to rid the Border Patrols so it can become one nation with Mexico and Canada. It is the goal of the government to get rid of the border. Check out the new DVD that explains why congress is refusing to protect our borders even 6 years after the devastating impact of 9/11 movie is "Endgame: Blueprint for Global Enslavement" available at netflix

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