Welcome to Canada. May I see your toothbrush, please?

“Wow, that was fast,” I thought as the bus pulled away from the terminal destined for central Dublin.

It was October 2008, and I had just arrived in Ireland, an island with a difficult history, where I would have understood completely if I had been greeted by sniffer dogs (as in Australia), required to have my belongings x-rayed (as in New Zealand), and forced to wait in line for an hour or two in such a heavily secured environment that you’d think we were all waiting in line to see the President (as at U.S. Customs and Immigration in Los Angeles).

Alas, Ireland actually welcomed me as a visitor than as a suspect.

Off the plane. Pick up my suitcase at baggage claim. Clear immigration after a short wait in line and a few questions from a courteous officer. Take a minute to decipher Ireland’s customs clearance procedure — go through the green channel if you have nothing to declare, the red channel if you do, and the blue channel if you’re travelling within the European Union. Walk through the green channel. Buy a ticket and board the shuttle bus into town.

All in the space of about 15 minutes.

Within an hour of the seatbelt sign being turned off at Dublin Airport, I was checking in at my accommodations in the centre of town.

Fortunately, clearing both Canadian and U.S. customs formalities at Winnipeg Airport is usually just as straightforward as it is when entering Ireland.

It undoubtedly helps that most of our international flights in Winnipeg are on regional jets typically carrying fewer than 100 passengers.

Going through customs at a major port of entry such as Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver could become even more of an irritation, though, if the Canadian and U.S. Chambers of Commerce have their way.

“In a joint submission, the Canadian Chamber of the Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are asking Ottawa to grant front-line customs officials the authority to search cross-border shipments and travellers for products that imitate brand-name goods or steal their copyrighted material,” the Globe and Mail reported on Tuesday.

“There’s obviously a lot of counterfeit handbags or contraband cigarettes and so on that cross the border,” the Globe quoted Chris Gray of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce as saying.

“Those are the things that everyone thinks about. But what people aren’t thinking about are the counterfeit toothpaste and toothbrushes and brake parts” flowing into Canada, he said.

It’s important to note that this isn’t government policy — it’s merely part of a private organization’s wish list, one of thousands of such wish lists that get thrust in Ottawa’s face every year, along with the usual exaggerated tales of impending hardship and doom if Ottawa doesn’t act right now.

The Canadian Chamber’s wish list begs one question: How much consultation has really been done with the front-line officers who would be expected to take on an additional workload to enforce this policy?

For the record, the article notes that Ron Moran, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, has heard complaints from union members who are “frustrated they can’t take direct action when dealing with obviously fraudulent goods.”

The CIU, however, is hardly a disinterested party, as the additional workload that more intensive traveler checks would bring could be used to justify the need for more CIU-represented staff.

Furthermore, there is no indication of how widespread these complaints are or how much of a priority this matter is in comparison to, say, preventing illegal immigration or stopping people from bringing non-native pests and diseases into the country.

Millions of people, Canadians and foreigners alike, enter this country every year, the vast majority of whom are both law-abiding and of no harm to the country. On entry, they are interviewed by a trained professional, their travel documents are inspected, and they can be held back for further examination until customs officers are either satisfied that they can be safely cleared to enter Canada or have established just cause to deny entry or to prosecute.

That’s already a substantial safeguard.

More can be done to safeguard our borders — such as better detection of ships carrying human cargo toward Canadian shores and better inspection of cargo entering the country.

This does not necessarily have to involve further afflicting the afflicted, a category into which just about every Economy Class passenger arriving in Canada after a trans-oceanic flight falls into.

It’s up to the Canadian and U.S. Chambers of Commerce and the Customs and Immigration Union to make a truthful declaration of their own interests in this matter and put whatever evidence they have, if any, that more rigourous inspection of passengers would be in the broader public interest on the table for inspection.

It’s also up to them to declare how the changes they would like to see would impact travelers, including those who are bringing perfectly legitimate goods into the country.

Otherwise, how ironic would it be if the same government that favoured eliminating the long-form census in order to get government off people’s backs were to be the same government responsible for subjecting jet-lagged travelers — who’ve already been through the U.S. TSA Shoe Carnival or its overseas equivalents — to additional grief from a Toothbrush Inspection Brigade.


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

One Response to Welcome to Canada. May I see your toothbrush, please?

  1. Fat Arse says:

    I shall not abide, they’ll have to pry my toothbrush from my cold dead hands!

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