Crossing the Canadian Border

EDMONTON — I’d heard so many horror stories about crossing the border into Canada that I triple checked everything before even approaching the guard.

Last look at Montana’s mountains (Photos by Sarah Abruzzese)

Think what you want about my neurosis but I’ve read that Daryl Hannah said that an arrest at a protest was responsible for her being denied Canada access, which lost her a role in a movie being filmed here, even though no charges were filed. I figure if that can happen to the girl from “Splash” it could easily happen to me even though I have never been arrested.

When the time came though to enter Canada, I was happily surprised. Our border crossing; although, a lengthy process went without incident.

But let me tell you some of the horror stories that I’d heard just so you know I’m not a complete nutter.

In Canada, individual border guards are empowered to deny entry or a work permit to the person before them if they deem it appropriate.

First, one US citizen we know was denied a multi-year work permit. Apparently the guy’s project wasn’t at the stage where the border guard deemed a longer work permit was appropriate.  The border guard had been reading the newspaper and watching the news and was fully informed about an upcoming parliamentary vote that might have canceled the project. The border guard said our friend could remain in the country until the vote and if the project was approved he could get an extended work permit.

(I found this incredibly impressive and a bit frightening at the same time. Impressive because how wonderful to have an educated and impassioned staff protecting your borders. And on the other hand frightening for obvious reasons.)

Another friend was nearly denied access to Canada and spent several hours convincing authorities that he was actually a responsible citizen. He was trying to drive a car that he’d bought in Alaska down to the lower 48. Our friend had been charged with driving under the influence when he was much much younger and the Canadians weren’t sure if they wanted him on their roads even briefly. (Again, I can’t find fault with that attitude.)

Then another guy we know of was held at the border because his car didn’t meet environmental standards.

And finally a Canadian we know was held at the border for a bit because he was driving his wife’s car without her. She happens to be an American and had a US registered vehicle. Apparently the law forbids Canadian citizens from driving an American’s car in to the country.

I’m sure you probably know of someone who has suffered the same or a similar fate.

But that wasn’t to be ours.

We were asked to park our car and bring all of our paperwork to the office. There we were checked, a work permit was created for me and we paid taxes on all of that amazing California wine we’d brought with us.

The patient traveler checks out Montana.

The guards were exceptionally kind and courteous explaining the entire process to us and then wishing us a great stay.

And it isn’t that we lucked out and found ourselves in front of easygoing border guards. A man, who came to the office after us, was extensively questioned and his car searched even though he said he was just planning on driving around Canada. (Based on his answers, I think I would have questions him as well and I probably would have taken it one step farther and denied him entry.)

Here are some of the questions and his cringeworthy answers:

Q: How much money did he have in his wallet? 

A: Less than $10.

Q: How did he intend to access his money? 

A: His credit card.

Q: How much money did he have in his bank account?

A: No idea. 

Q: How long did he want to stay? 

A: No idea.

Q: Why was he coming to Canada?

A: Missed the turn at the national park and figured he would just head up that way.

Welcome to Canada!

It was awkward just listening to him.

We left as one of the officers was beginning the arduous task of searching his car.

I let out a huge sigh of relief as we drove away. We then avoided an almost immediate run in with the law by slowing the car down as we realized that the speed limit was posted in Kilometers per Hour instead of Miles per Hour.