Travelling internationally as a family of six isn’t always easy.
There’s the planning, the bookings, the work at the office that has to be wrapped up, the arrangements for the house, the packing.
Then there are the pets -- the dog, the parrots, the fish, and the overgrown turtle. There are snacks for the kids, the passports.
There is the “Did I forget anything?” routine.
I forgot to cancel the newspapers. I’ll do that at the airport.
For once, I’m not so late. I booked my boarding passes online and still have two hours to make the flight. It’s only a 15-minute drive to the airport.
No liquids, no gels -- nothing to get anyone excited about at the airport. After all, I know my way around airports and the Canada/U.S. border.
When we reach U.S. customs at Toronto’s airport, my wife, naturally, let’s me do all the talking. She likes to let me feel like I actually know something about crossing the border.
I tell my four daughters to behave and to act as adorably as humanly possible for just 90 seconds while I navigate us past this humourless-looking customs officer. The girls bicker, but only a little.
I try to impress the officer by having each of our six passports opened at the photo page to demonstrate my efficiency and professionalism.
“Absolutely nothing to worry about,” I figure.
“Are you bringing any fruits or vegetables into the United States?”
For a second, in fact, less than that, I think to myself, “Should I or shouldn’t I?”
Our nanny, Janine, had cut up a yellow pepper for the kids to snack on during the car ride, and even peeled and carved two delicious cactus fruit for me, which would have gone bad in the fridge during our vacation. A potentially contraband apple also remained amongst our belongings.
How could I say no? That would have made a mockery of the advice I have been giving my clients for 23 years. “Don’t lie. Tell the truth. It will always work out better for you in the long run.”
“I have some cut-up fruits and vegetables in one of our bags,” I confess.
This answer gets me, my wife, four daughters, and what seems like half of our earthly belongings sent to U.S. immigration secondary for further examination.
Our flight leaves in 50 minutes and we still have to go through security after this.
We are not the only passengers waiting at secondary -- not by a long shot. My wife is giving me the evil eye, but decides not to say anything just yet. My kids are a different story. “Are we going to miss our flight?”
I am now clearly in trouble.
We wait and wait. My offer to simply dump the goods in exchange for speedy passage falls on deaf ears.
Finally, we are seen by the fruit police who are clearly not in any particular rush. An officer examines our snacks. “What’s that?”
“Cactus fruit,” I tell him.
He pauses for a few moments and says, “It’s called prickly pear”.
He is not sure if I can bring them into the U.S., so he makes a phone call to confirm. What? Prickly pears are on some endangered species list or something?
He eventually lets us through and we soon find ourselves running towards security with our exotic salad bar intact.
When we reach gate 163 we are told our flight has been re-assigned to gate 157. When we reach gate 157 we are told that baggage handlers were just in the process of removing our bags from the plane. I am now being lectured by airline personnel about the importance of being on time and responding to airport announcements. Oy vey!
We make our flight.
Had we missed our flight and missed a much-needed holiday, I doubt my wife, or perhaps others, would have been impressed by my unadulterated candour. But, I simply couldn’t lie. Even about fruit.
Admittedly, telling a small fib has helped some travellers cross the border expeditiously. Nevertheless, I will stick to my own advice. In my view, it’s always better to tell the truth.
Lying to a Canadian border officer or visa officer, and getting caught, can get you a two-year ban from Canada. Lying to U.S. border officers can earn you a lifetime ban.
Even when these bans expire, this information will continue to be stored on government computers and will continue to haunt you for years to come, since your credibility about everything will continue to be in doubt.
I still believe that lying, even about fruit, is simply not worth it.
Guidy Mamann practices law in Toronto at Mamann, Sandaluk and is
certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an immigration
specialist. For more information, visit www.migrationlaw.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org