I knew I had a problem when the customs officer said, “I remember you.”
After having spent a tiring day on planes and in airports, I was ready to get my vacation started. One last hurdle—would I be hassled by the Customs & Immigration people yet again? After going through the initial customs checkpoint, where my documents were checked, I was instructed to go to immigration. The woman in immigration asked me why I was coming to Canada.
“To visit friends,” I replied.
“How long will you be here?” she asked.
“And you already have a return ticket?”
I showed her my return ticket.
“Do you have a criminal record?”
I told her that I did not.
“Are you sure?” she asked insistently.
Thinking that this was quite possibly the most idiotic thing I’d heard in weeks, I told her that I was quite sure about my lack of a criminal record.
“What will you be doing?”
“Pretty much just hanging around with my friends.” I replied
“And that’s all—nothing else?”
Growing a bit exasperated with this inane questioning, I said that I might go shopping at some point during my stay. At this point, I was sent back to customs for a baggage check. The officer conducting the baggage check was more polite than the woman at immigration. In one of my bags, he found a book containing the text of a ritual which we were going to be performing.
He asked, “You’re doing another ceremony?”
I said, “Yes.” It wasn’t really any of his business, but what could I say, as he was looking at the text of the ceremony? He told me to repack my bag and walked away. A few minutes later, I was sent back to immigration. After waiting a bit, I was called back into the same office and confronted by the same woman.
“You lied to us,” she flatly asserted.
“You came here to perform religious ceremonies,” she said, eyes blazing—a prosecutor who had caught a defendant in deceptive testimony.
I wanted very much to tell her that my religious activities were none of her damned business, but instead, I smiled and firmly stated, “No, I came here to see my friends. Would you expect me to report to you that I might attend a church service in Canada?”
“Well, no.” Her disappointment was clear.
“It’s the same thing,” I affirmed.
“But you are going to be conducting your ceremonies. You should have told us that you were here for that.” She was looking for some leverage.
“I am not here for that,” I countered. “One night out of the nine I will be here will involve that ceremony. My purpose here is to visit my friends.”
She grudgingly acknowledged that I had a point and went on to the inevitable questions about my hosts. I provided the information they requested and informed these officials that my friends would be waiting here at the airport, should they wish to confirm any of this.
“Wait here,” she said.
The plane arrived at the same time we did—7:15 p.m., on time. We watched, patiently, for the first 45 minutes, as passengers from Michael’s flight filed through the Customs/Immigration doors. Half an hour later, out strode the inevitable immigration officers—one female with an agenda and the other male, who held back somewhat closer to the doors.
The prissy looking bitch, clutching a notepad and acting as if she were a doctor calling in a patient who showed up late for their scheduled appointment, shouted “Is Robert and Diane here?”
“Yes,” Robert shouted in retort. “We’re becoming accustomed to this by now!”
She responded, “Are you here for Michael Rose?”
“Yes we are.” We had bridged about half the distance between us by this point. I could see those eyes, the eyelids opened just a bit too far, pupils dilated—the general look of fanaticism.
She pounced on us verbally, “And just where is this Satanic Mass supposed to be taking place?”
The rest of the people in the airport turned around, gawked, and began listening to this public interrogation. Obviously, I thought, there would be no tact or respect of privacy with this one. Both of our tempers beginning to flare.
“Excuse me! What appears to be the problem here?” Robert came back at her. “Why are we interrogated every time he visits us?”
“Do you have an address?”
“Yes, we have an address, and we pay taxes too, which in turn pays your salary,” I added as sarcastically as I dared. We were made to show ID, proving that we were indeed Canadians, and that we had an address. I ventured a query, “Why is it that he is always held up when trying to visit us?”
“Well,” she retorted, “he is not a Canadian citizen and has no right to enter the country. And, besides, he was misleading us, as he told us he was here for a shopping spree!”
“What are you talking about,” I snapped. “He’s here to visit us. Why is it such a problem? Is it because he’s a large and scary looking man?”
“Or is it his religion?” Robert added suavely. At this point she must have realized where we could head with this. Canada does not yet officially endorse the persecution of minority religions.
“Oh no it’s nothing like that,” she said hastily. “Thank you. He’ll be out in just a few minutes.” She and her silent back-up turned and left.
Another 15 minutes later, Michael finally emerged—annoyed, but otherwise unscathed.
When “Miss Immigration” returned, she took my documents, made copies of them and issued me a temporary pass which, she said, I must have with me at all times. Recollections of films wherein Gestapo or KGB agents perennially asked for “your papers” flashed across my mind. She then assured me that my religion had nothing to do with these hassles—it was what they had to do to everyone.
I thought that she protested too much on the question of the religious motivation for these hassles, and I knew that not everyone had gone through this much trouble to get into the country. But, not wanting to be tossed out after having just arrived, I smiled and said, “I ask nothing more than to be treated just as every other American entering Canada.”
She seemed to miss the irony.