Oh Canada: my 24 hours of border hell

I bought a nonrefundable plane ticket for a flight from New York to Montreal on a short trip this week. Because what could possibly go wrong?

   Plenty, as it turned out. Thanks to Canada’s visa waiver system which now applies to British citizens and those from the EU, I was turned back at La Guardia airport and find myself in a Catch 22 situation which couldn’t be resolved on the spot.

   As soon as I received the email from Air Canada to check in for the flight the next morning, I jumped on it. But when I saw the question about my visa number I realised that as a Brit, I’d need to apply for a visa waiver. Never mind, it only cost seven Canadian dollars and the website said it took only a few minutes to come through.

   Late that evening, with my flight now only hours away, I received an email saying the Canadian Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship service needed additional documentation to approve the eTA as the Electronic Travel Authorisation is known. For this, I had to sign onto a secure website and then link my application for the eTA to the site. Unfortunately though, once I’d managed to log on (this took time because the site kept throwing me off) it proved impossible to link my application. By this time it was 1 a.m

During the day, friends had sympathised with the delay, pointing out that it was Victoria Day, a public holiday in Canada. Surely everything would be fine before my flight at 10.45 a.m. Just to be on the safe side, as Immigration hadn’t specified which documents to provide,  I sent a copy of my passport to the site, in case I’d made a mistake in my eTA application.

The next morning I decided that as the decision was still pending, I would go to the airport in the hope that the visa waiver would come through in time. While on my way, I checked the status update tool and saw that my application said “the criteria do not match.” The Air Canada agent at the departure desk made a lengthy phone call to Canadian customs office and was told that they had my application and I just had to wait. Seven minutes later, the flight closed and I’d missed my plane. With Memorial Day weekend coming up in the States, it would be impossible to fly on another day in the week.

I discussed the situation with my friend in Montreal and we agreed that I would apply a second time for an eTA (another $7) and if successful, would take the overnight bus there from New York.

I filled out the form while at the airport and after about an hour, the answer came through via the secure Immigration site. They informed me that – 40 years after I worked on the Montreal Gazette – I still had permanent residence status! But while this sounded like fabulous news, I couldn’t cross the border without a residence card. And as a permanent resident I couldn’t apply for an eTA. I now understood what the message meant about the criteria not matching. It was Catch 22. But at no point in this 24 hour nightmare did anyone from Canadian immigration call me about this contradictory situation.

If in future I do wish to apply for an eTA, I must fill out a form asking to voluntarily renounce my residency status and mail it to Canadian authorities. Had they never introduced this waiver in 2016, I’d still be in blissful ignorance about my residency status, because until then we Brits had free entry into the country where King Charles is also their head of state.

Basically, Canada loves me so much that they have allowed me to conserve my permanent residency for more than 40 years, but not enough to let me into the country!

Oh Canada. All I wanted to do was to spend three nights with a good friend in Montreal. I only hope that immigrants fleeing terror and economic misery have better luck with the Algorithm than I did.


Is political correctness behind the police’s failure?

 As each day passed with the trial of police officer Wayne Couzens, jailed for a whole life term for the horrific kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard, it has become increasingly apparent that the Met and the UK police more broadly have a problem with institutional prejudice. Are the police in denial, and if so, why? Could it be that as a society we have become so politically correct that we can’t see what’s staring us in the face? My latest novel, Murder in the Manor, touches on the issue of homophobia in a remote part of Norfolk and also suggests that the police themselves may be homophobic. Not only some friends with whom I shared the first draft felt this couldn’t be stated in blanket terms, but also I had discussions about the issue with my publisher’s editors. People are tempted to believe the “one bad apple” theory. After all, aren’t there plenty safeguards within police procedures to keep us safe? Yet now it’s known that Couzens was part of a WhatsApp group which exchanged overtly abusive content, including jokes about violence against women, racist messages and information about Couzens’ prosecution. One of the officers now under investigation for gross misconduct is from Norfolk, where my crime novels are set. This is not just a London problem. My own research for Murder in the Manor threw up plenty anecdotal reports about racism, homophobia and misogyny in constabularies across the country. So how come the police authorities have been so slow to act against what is now being described as institutional prejudice? I suspect that it could it be the same political correctness that delayed the investigations into the sex trafficking of white girls in Rochdale and Rotherham because the perpetrators were overwhelmingly of Pakistani origin. So far the Met’s reaction has been far from satisfactory in the wake of the Sarah Everard killing. The Met chief, Cressida Dick, was right to say that Couzens has “brought shame” on the force. But her apologies are not enough. Couzens was clearly not a “rogue” officer. She must resign to allow a root and branch reform of the police force whose practices have left all women wary of the very people who are supposed to protect us.

I’m a crime writer – and you couldn’t make this up

Why did I choose a place to live just two minutes walk from a tube station, and across the street from a bus stop?

As any woman would tell you, safety has been inculcated into us since we were young. You never know when you might have to make a dash for the front door. Not for me, a long trek home at night in an ill-lit street. The last few days since the shocking death of Sarah Everard have seen an outpouring of stories from women who have been harmed in some way by men. Their stories range from rape and sexual harassment to tales of everyday street abuse as described by Marine Hyde in her column yesterday.

But what is particularly distressing about Sarah Everard’s case was not just that the 33 year old marketing executive was abducted while walking home by a complete stranger who then murdered her. The man accused of her kidnap and murder is a serving police officer – one of the very people who are supposed to keep us safe. I’m a crime writer, and you couldn’t make this up.

Women all over the land are incensed. We want to mark Sarah’s death and focus minds on the much bigger picture so that women can #Reclaimthestreets. If something like this doesn’t galvanise opinion, whatever will? Yet how did the Metropolitan police react after the High Court declined to rule on the holding of 6pm vigils today? By telling women to stay at home rather than attend. The reason evoked was that a vigil would breach the Covid lockdown rules. This is deeply wrong. The police should be making amends at this point, given that one of their own is the prime suspect in this murder. Why didn’t they facilitate Covid-compliant vigils? Aren’t we familiar with the necessary social distancing and mask wearing by now? And as plenty people have pointed out today, how come the police have tolerated crowds on recent sunny days on Clapham Common, near where Sarah Everard disappeared, yet threatened the organisers of the #Reclaimthestreets vigil with massive fines, forcing them to propose an online tribute instead.

So what could I do with my sadness and rage? I decided to go to Clapham Common just before the witching hour of 6pm. I found about a hundred people, and a mountain of flowers, at the bandstand which has become an informal shrine to Sarah’s memory. One placard in big orange letters said #I AM SARAH, another #RECLAIMTHESTREETS. There were people of all ages standing there, some in silence while others talked to their companions about what had happened. Hundreds of others, including lots of young women, continued to arrive with more flowers while I stood there in the bitter cold. There had been a steady stream of people to the bandstand today, including the Duchess of Cambridge. After 6, the police were booed by the crowd for trying to shut down the protest.

How could they have got public sentiment so wrong? Did nobody tell the head of the Metropolitan Police (a woman) that old joke: Q: What’s the worst thing that a woman can do to a man? A: Laugh at him.

Q; What’s the worst thing that a man can do to a woman? A: Kill her.

Nobody’s laughing now.