I've been wanting to do this post for about two weeks. Trouble is, each time I thought I could get it started, a new situation in the world of puzzling bureaucracy, brought another unexpected twist in an already twisted tale of torment. Yes, to be precise, unfathomable bureaucracy, courtesy of the Canadian Immigration Department. In this bizarre case, bureaucracy equals misinformation overload.
By my standards, this is going to be a rather lengthy post. Please Grizzly bear with me.
When I think about it, it all started the day I made that phone call back in May and booked a flight to Vancouver. I booked a flight to Vancouver for September 19, 2016, returning, October 8, 2016. When I phoned the travel company I always use, no mention was made of needing an extra layer of security electronically placed onto my British passport.
To clear things up, in case you were wondering. I'm not a Canadian citizen. In a rather irrational moment, my then wife and I left Canada without getting citizenship. I am a British citizen. My ex wife is a Belgian citizen.
The tickets arrived in the post a couple of days later. In the notes that came with my airline tickets, was a mention of it being my responsibility to have an "Electronic Travel Authorisation aka "eTA", sorted out. Not being even remotely aware of such a thing, I checked the Canadian government's website about this eTA requirement. On the site, it declared that I should get an eTA before
I book my flight to Canada.
What?!! As stated, I was not aware and I was not told when I booked my tickets about needing an eTA. After all, they had my money for the flight.
Around August 10, I had a quick look over some of my checklist for the upcoming trip to Canada. Passport, yep. Travel insurance, yep. Greyhound bus tickets, yep. Electronic Travel Authorisation, nope. Better do something about that, I thought.
Back to the Canadian government website in regards to applying for the eTA. Here's where the irony kicks in on a massive scale. The Canadian government has a leniency period in regards to the eTA. It was supposed to be in force as of March,15 2016. I'm flying to Vancouver within the leniency period because the eTA becomes officially enforced as of September 29, 2016, ten days after my flight. In other words, I didn't need to apply for it. Despite this, I thought, what the hell, after all, the website assured that most people would be approved within minutes. I considered it would be the right thing to do by getting that extra layer of security being electronically stamped onto my British passport. A mere formality? Excuse me for the following. How fucking wrong I was!
Here's the gist of the email reply I received after applying for the eTA and paying the $7 that was promptly charged to my credit card.
"Your application for an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) has been received. A review of your file is underway. You will be advised within 72 hours of the next steps regarding your application."
So much for getting approval within minutes. I checked and found out that, evidently, 99.5% of those applying do get approved within minutes. Negative speculation went into overdrive. Waves of panic and anxiety washed over me.
Two days later, August 12, I received the follow-up email.
"A review of your Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) application is underway. To continue processing your application, we need documents from you. If your documents are not received by the prescribed deadline, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will have to assess your application with the information that is currently available. This may result in the refusal of your eTA.! "
The email went onto to state that I needed to set up a special account with the Canadian government so I could see what documents they required and by what prescribed deadline. I did this, after much messing about. Once set up, I eagerly checked to see what documents they wanted by their prescribed deadline. The section that was supposed to show me what was needed, was blank. Day after day of, "No data available." For the next ten days, I went through the, "No data available", routine. Ten days of sending them urgent requests the only way I could via the technical issues section. The account was so ridiculous that, for example, when I'd click onto the section to confirm my passport was British, it decided that, "GB British Citizen", from its own list of places, was, in actuality, an invalid place! I sent them several screenshots of all the technical problems I'd encountered. I might of well of been typing to myself.
Then came the next email, dated August 22, 2016.
"A review of your Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) application has revealed that you are a Canadian permanent resident.
By law, Canadian permanent residents, including those who are also citizens of a visa-exempt country, cannot apply for an eTA. As a result, your application for an eTA has been withdrawn.
Your application is now closed. You do not hold a valid eTA.
Appropriate travel documents for Canadian permanent residents
As a Canadian permanent resident, you will need to present a valid Permanent Resident Card or a Permanent Resident Travel Document when travelling to Canada. It is recommended that you also present your valid foreign passport. Otherwise, you may experience delays or be prevented from boarding your flight and/or entering Canada.
As a Canadian permanent resident, it is your responsibility to make sure that your Permanent Resident Card is still valid, and to apply for a new card when your current one expires.
Oh yeah, now I really was freaking out. A Permanent Resident Card? Never heard of such a thing and never needed one on all my other flights to Canada. I have not lived in Canada for nearly 29 years! I needed to take action and fast!
I went to the Canadian High Commission's website in London. I phoned their number only to be informed it was an invalid number. There was, however, a message. I was told to check out the Canadian High Commission's website in London! I thought I'd just done that. So, no working phone number but an email address I could inform them of my situation. Oh, they gave me a response about how to get a Permanent Resident Card. A card, that on average, takes 41 days to process. My flight is, as of this writing, in less than 3 weeks time.
Out of ongoing desperation, I phoned other numbers in the UK, such as the Canadian Embassy in London. Once again, I was stifled by calling non-existent phone numbers. Okay, I did get a message on one of those numbers that told me to phone a certain number and I could find out the number I wanted. The cost? £28 a minute, or about $48, Canadian. Yeah, right, like I would do that.
Then, finally, I noticed the number for the Consulate of Canada in Edinburgh. That was on Tuesday, August 23. I phoned the number and went through to an answer phone, where I got to leave a message. I informed them of my situation. An hour later, a Scottish gentleman phoned me back. I told him what had happened and despite the leniency period, I'd applied for the eTA. I read him out the above email.
He assured me that I should be just fine when I go to Manchester airport to check-in for my flight. I told him I was concerned that because I was refused an eTA that it would get flagged up on the system. Once again, he said I should be okay and just make sure I get the process started in regards to actually proving I don't live in Canada.
Which brings me to nearly the final part in this still ongoing, stressful saga. I now have this form to fill in from the Canadian government that wants me to send a photocopy of my British passport, two photos that have to be taken by a professional photographer, which the photographer then has to stamp with an official mark on the back of one of the photos, when I first lived in Canada and where I'm living now.
Yes, by doing what I thought was the right thing almost seems to have been the wrong thing. I didn't have to apply for that eTA, just yet. Now I've put myself though weeks of anxiety that I didn't have to have. The way I've been treated, I almost feel unwelcome in a country I lived, worked and paid taxes.
You might now realise why its been very difficult to concentrate and interact on your sites. My fragile mental health has been severely tested. What has happened to me and to others who I've contacted in similar plights, is very cruel and inhumane.
I use positive visualisation techniques where I see my elderly parents waiting for me as I go through Customs at Vancouver International airport. My visit to Canada will now be with a sense of relief. From Maple Grief to Maple Relief.
At this point and to conclude, I shall let Penny take over. Rather surprisingly, if you travel to Canada by land or sea, that darned eTA is not a requirement.
"Human dad, Gary. Please don't worry about your trip to Canada. You will be fine. You've done nothing wrong because you did what you thought was the right thing. Heck, even if I have to doggy paddle you over the Atlantic in a canoe, you will get to see your friends and family."