Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Welcome to Canada
The plane descended through clouds so thick we could not see the ground until we were practically on it. The pilot came over the radio saying “Welcome to Canada.” There was a pause and then, his voice full orfirony, he said “Nice weather”. That about summed it up. It was grey, snowing, blowy and cold.
We disembarked from the plane and began the long walk through Terminal 3 at Toronto’s Lester B Pearson airport. I was feeling more than a little low. Every time we arrive at Toronto, I miss my parents more. They are not in arrivals waiting to greet us as they used to be, although I always search the crowd for ghostly figures (silly , but I do) and every step we take underscores the fact that they are gone.
We were lucky that when we arrived at Customs and Immigration yesterday in that there was no queue. The Canadian officials are very efficient at handling the large volume of visitors but I have to say, they can be really unfriendly. We’ve come into Canada umpteen times and only once or twice have we had a friendly official. Today was no exception. He rapid fired questions at us, trying to catch us out. Where we were staying? Did we have family anywhere we were visiting? And on and on and on. He didn’t smile once. The cracker was when, looking at the 21st Century Husband’s passport which has three entry stamps for Canada on the page right opposite the photo page, he asked, “Have you been to Canada before?” He had already looked at my passport, which of course says that my birthplace is Kitchener. Good grief! All this is after you have had your passport checked at the foot of the gangway coming off the plane by an armed customs official.
Then, once we had finally got through clutching our customs declaration with a big red ‘3’ circled on it, the 21st Century Teenager was accosted as we walked through the next desk to baggage reclaim with a very aggressive “Who are you with?”. He was practically walking up my heels he was so close to me.
Actually, we were lucky yesterday. On previous occasions I have been accused of trying to kidnap my 8 month old son (the 21st Century Husband was unable to travel with us as he was working), and once the 21st Century Husband got hauled out and taken to the separate area for questioning. My Dad had been rushed to hospital and as the 21st Century husband was in Dallas on business he flew up to see him and help him. The officials could not understand why he would fly up from Dallas for a couple days, despite the urgent nature of the situation. Luckily they believed him in the end.
Now I know that lots of people want to come and live in Canada and also you cannot be too careful in these days of international troubles, but it frustrates me that nearly every time we come through customs I’m made to feel almost like a criminal. Canada is a lovely country, but I do not want to live here, I only want to visit. By the way, while I am here, I, like many other visitors, will be spending money and stimulating the economy.
We travel all over the world and nowhere is it so upsetting to go through customs. Going through customs in the United States and into countries in Europe is so much more pleasant. Even when I was an immigrant to England twenty years ago, the guards in the UK were friendly and welcoming.
All was redeemed yesterday at the end though by a wonderful person who made me proud I was born in Canada. As we walked through the last desk with our luggage, ready to hand in our declaration form, the guard smiled and said, “There you go, all set”, and as I walked past him he looked me straight in the eye and said “Welcome to Canada”. He made my day.