How long before they build a wall there?

So I’m supposed to be in Toronto today. Instead I’m back at home, writing from the Berkman Center. That’s because I forgot my passport. Used to be you could go to Canada and come back without a passport, but that hasn’t been the case ever since Canada has become a full-fledged foreign county, and not just one with prettier and more valuable money.

I forget lots of things in my life, but my passport was never one of them, until yesterday. As a result I not only inconvenienced the other folks in Toronto, but had to burn 25,000 miles to buy a ticket back to Boston. In the midst of that, I endured otherwise unhelpful interactions with people behind the counters at both United and Air Canada, on both of whose planes I was due to fly on the current itinerary. That unhelpfulness took the form of conflicting quotes on one-way Boston-Toronto ticket prices ranging from $700-something to $1500-something (U.S.), to list just two of the many prices I was ran out of patience trying to gather. That’s on top of the high ticket price I’d already paid for a trip I didn’t entirely end up taking.

Side question: Why would people behind airline counters at airports send you to “partner” airline counters, and/or their marginally-useful websites, rather than just give you the help you need? Yeah, we know the answer, but I just felt like asking it anyway.

On top of all that, I had to sit in seat 34A of a United 757, which is tied with 34F as the aft-most seat on the plane, as well as the most cramped, since the seat barely reclines at all. The upside was a relatively clear window, meaning I could get some nice photos, if I lucked into seeing anything other than clouds and darkness. Alas, the whole flight was clouded under the plane, except as the dark began to gather east of Lake Michigan. Still, I got a few nice shots in the gathering gloom as the plane began to descend toward Boston. Among those was the photoset linked to above — all featuring the Niagra River, with Niagra Falls marked by white mists. On the left, Canada; on the right, New York. I know they look similar, but sadly those who now traverse it must present their papers at the border.

Bonus link.


  1. Buzz Bruggeman’s avatar

    The passport jerk around happed to me a couple years ago. I asked the nice lady from Delta how often it happened, e.g. no passport no ticket, and she said daily.

    I asked why there wasn’t some mention on the eTicket or the confirmation. She said she had no idea, but that might be a good idea.

    At least Delta got me to Halifax albeit a day late, but with no ticket pricing change or add-ons. So today I have my passport in my billfold. Hence don’t have to look for it…

  2. Pribek’s avatar

    Ouch, that’s gotta hurt Doc.
    All of my forays into the great white north have involved the need to get temporary (and very pricey) work visas.
    Every time I went through customs I was detained. While being detained,
    I have been subject to searches. One co-worker underwent a cavity search. I have been threatened with arrest and deportation. Once I had to put up a cash bond because one of my guys had a past D.U.I. arrest.
    All of these instances were pre-9/11.
    Beware Canada.

  3. jeneane’s avatar

    oh geez doc. i’m sorry to hear that. i would have been demoralized by THAT little experience!

    take a nap. with extra jesus.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Buzz, I had no paperwork, or I would have had some clues. My bad: forgot to print it out.

    Pribek, I’ve been through that too. I’m told the trick is to tell them you’re up there to visit people or to give a free talk or some other non-commercial jive that doesn’t sound like you’re putting Canadians out of work. I hate to lie because I suck at it; but the border dudes provide ample temptation.

  5. Michael O'Connor Clarke’s avatar

    I’m so sorry you were bounced back at our tightened border, Doc. That’s unfortunate – you KNOW how much we all love you up here.

    I once made the same darn fool mistake myself, many years ago, travelling in the other direction. Not only did I already feel like a pillock, but I was then subjected to a 90+ minute grilling in an airless room as a US border guard seemed intent on tricking me into admitting I was trying to enter the US under false pretences. Didn’t seem to matter how many times I repeated the words: “Sorry. I forgot it. I’m an idiot.”

    This was pre-9/11, btw. Heaven knows what kind of mindgames I’d be required to undergo if I did the same thing again today.

  6. Brian Benz’s avatar

    Yeah, that little item has resulted in some huge backlogs at both passport agencies….they actually postponed enforcement for a while because of the backlog.

    Canada – no longer the “”Maple leaf state!” 🙂

  7. John Dumbrille’s avatar

    Well hopefully there will be no wall, it’s just colder here lately.
    Some people seem to think that ratcheting up the harshness will yield a cultural advantage. Hope you come back soon, lots of room here.

  8. Claus’s avatar

    I’m surprised you can get on an airplane without a passport. That has been impossible – flying in the passportless Schengen-area – in Europe for years.

  9. Brent Ashley’s avatar

    “How long before they build a wall there”???

    Wow, Doc, what an Ameri-centric view. Are you really suggesting that it’s Canada who’s to blame for the increased travel restrictions between us and the US?

    Wakey wakey youse guys. It’s only a matter of time before you need an exit visa the way things are going in your patch.

  10. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Brent, since we’re the ones talking (and legislating) about building a wall on the Mexican border, and since we’re the ones hellbent on “security” at all costs (including severe inconvenience to Canadians), and we’re the ones who came up with the passport requirement in the first place, I thought the direction of the finger pointing in the “wall” reference was clear. Sorry if it wasn’t. Wrote it, like most blog posts, in a hurry.

    As for my reply to Pribek, above, the hole into which I fell on one visit (the one during which I met you, I believe), appeared when I made the mistake of telling the passport control officer I was in town to pick up a day’s consulting work. Thus I fell into a long meeting with immigration officials who forced me to pay $150 or something and have a thick Temporary Work Permit stapled into my passport. In fact, I had all but forgotten that episode during my most recent visit, made the mistake of saying I was in town for the board meeting of a Canadian company, and found myself in exactly the same time-consuming hole. Fortunately, I didn’t need to get a permit this time because I didn’t appear to be “taking work from Canadians”. Those were the exact words of the officer who interrogated me on the matter.

    If I’d had more time, I would have made a post suggesting an opposing vector for neighborly relations: a North American Union similar to the one enjoyed by Europeans. That’s something, however, that is probably a political impossibility. So better just to snark about the ickyness of the Whole Thing.

  11. Brent Ashley’s avatar

    Ahh, I understand. It’s lamentable though that the preponderance of your countryfolk are not as well-read as you on current affairs.

    I was in Boston in October speaking at a conference at the World Trade Center on the harbourfront there. I took a photo of the archway at the entrance to the WTC and the security guard came officiously waddling my way waving his arms shouting that I couldn’t take pictures. I politely asked him why and he couldn’t even articulate it – he simply pointed me to a notice he had on the side of his booth that said vague things about national security. It was obvious that no amount of reason was going to fix the situation and that further conversation would just be asking for trouble, so I just gave up. Good thing for me he didn’t have a taser.

  12. Robert Paterson’s avatar

    How awful Doc
    It is very hard going south too – I have a number of TN Visa’s and have had some trying moments with HS. I find it very stressful.

    I find it so odd that we have “Free Trade” that allows a lot of goods to cross the border but Consultants in particular – the yous and the mes – are seen as a major trade threat. Physical good yes – people with some thing inside their skulls – no

    Go figure – how many Doc Searls are there in Canada? How many Rob’s in the US? Ironically the more that you were here in the Frozen North the better – the field would expand

  13. John’s avatar

    Yet another case of what Schneir calls “security theatre”. Doc, you should be careful that you don’t get too snide in your posts or you might earn yourself a place on Canada’s no fly list (!

    I don’t travel so much in my current work, but I used to cross the border semi-regularly, and as I have dual citizenship, I was often tempted to be as overtly and openly rude to the border officials as they are to me, but good sense has so far prevailed. In fairness, the rudeness most often comes from the underemployed village idiots doing the laughably ineffective security screening, or the inquisitors in training masquerading as ‘customer service agents’ for the airlines.

    Take the train next time, Doc. It takes longer, but hopefully there’s wireless and bar service.

  14. Mike’s avatar

    “there. I took a photo of the archway at the entrance to the WTC and the security guard came officiously waddling my way waving his arms shouting that I couldn’t take pictures”

    Interesting. Isn’t that what occurs in China?

    But we have it better over here, or so we are told…

    Let’s face it, we have decended into a police state. Democracy takes a lot of time and money. It’s so much easier just to clamp down and extract confessions as needed. No high-priced lawyers, judges, or courtroom required. Corporations win –no pesky human rights or environmental protestors to worry about, just grease the wheels with the greenback to get it done.

    History will repeat.

  15. Alan Kellogg’s avatar

    What, clouds aint good enough to photograph from above? Just for that, may you have to deal with Louisiana State government on an extended basis.

  16. Russell Nelson’s avatar

    First, you don’t need photo id to travel within the US. They’ll search you extra hard, but you CAN travel.

    Second, you CAN take photos on public property of anything. You may or may not have copyright difficulties depending on the subject of the photograph, but nobody can stop you from taking a photograph. If somebody tries to stop you, just get passive-aggressive all over them. “Thanks for telling me” and then you ignore them. If they push the issue, and they have a badge, make a point of getting their badge number, ask them for their name, and then do what they say, BUT follow up with a complaint, because you’re in the right and they’re in the wrong.

  17. Harry Bishop’s avatar

    Hi Doc – Sorry to hear your travel issues. I’ve experienced the same a number of times going the other way from here in Canada.

    Most of the documentation requirement changes in the last several years were initiated by the US post-9/11. From my Canadian perspective I can understand the concern but it’s been troubling being branded by the US as “others” quite so aggressively. It is calming down a bit recently, the latest changes mean we’ll still needed passports to fly top or through the US, but we’ll be able to use a photo ID and birth certificate to drive to the US. I’m more unhappy with the travel restrictions and contortions we go through (I’d be happy if they were actually effective in keeping out criminal people and materials, but they aren’t).

    Re the posted comment about “Free Trade”, having traveled and had my employees travel cross-border for several years both before and after NAFTA, I can say that all it really did from the perspective of a professional traveling between countries for consulting or speaking engagements, is add extra formality and documents to the existing process, it certainly did not make anything easier. I personally ended up having to get a TN visa for several years to be able to work jointly out of our Canada office and our US head office. Your job title and educational background determined if you could travel under “Free Trade”.

    I’m now out of that industry completely, so am not traveling very much at all these days. I hear that things are much easier for cross-border working travel in Europe, given how much closer our two countries are in everything (culture, economy, etc), I wish we had that arrangement here!

    Thanks as always for the interesting writing.

  18. Sue W.’s avatar

    In my local boat yard, I was once asked by a truck driver from a far southern US state, “Why the heck don’t you guys join up with us?”

    I answered that most Canadians were probably rather too left wing for his taste, “The last thing the U.S. needs is another 30 million Democrats.”

    I was joking, though.

    As someone who’s lived in U.S., Canada and part so Europe, easier borders would be a Good Thing. However in the present climate of FUD, it isn’t likely to happen. Pity.

  19. Las Vegas DUI Lawyer’s avatar

    According to my information, and the above commenter is correct, post 9/11 saw a much tighter border security on the Canadian side. Which, is to be expected, which is what we should have done. They switched to a much tighter border, no longer could you go to canada with criminal charges on your record and you need to present a passport, instead of just a driver’s license, as in the past.

    Also our government criminalied quite a bit of activity, which Canada didn’t want a part of, i.e. prescription medicine, hospital visitation, cosmetic medicines.

    It’s a wonder you got in at all. it’s a wonder we haven’t been over run.

    But, after finding out about the truth about 9/11 I see why we had absolutely no border security change in policy. LOL how transparent Bush was.

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