By Clare Ogilvie
One of the most influential skiers in the world was turned back at the border this week as he tried to make his way to the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival.
Glen Plake, voted Powder magazine’s most influential skier in 35 years, and instantly recognizable by his signature Mohawk, was on his way to Whistler to appear at Words and Stories.
This is just the latest in a number of reports of U.S. citizens hitting a road block as they try to come to Canada — a country that all have visited many times before.
“We knew that he had been in and out of Canada quite frequently over the last several years and from what we understand whatever the situation was it happened a very long time ago,” said TWSSF festival director Sue Eckersley.
“He is certainly a person I would consider an upstanding citizen; he helps kids with disabilities, and in this case he was giving freely of his time to come up and present at our event at no cost to us.”
While Eckersley is not critical of the decision by border officials to refuse entry to Plake she is concerned about how this issue is going to affect the festival in the future, and indeed tourism in the resort.
“I am not critical, I am concerned,” she said, adding that she is not aware of all the circumstances surrounding the decision to keep Plake out of Canada.
She believes it was based on a conviction around pot use several years ago. Plake has not been reachable since the border event on Saturday.
“…If we are going to become a society that is going to allow a person’s mistakes that they made a long time ago in the past (affect them forever) it is certainly going to have an impact on events such as ours,” said Eckersely.
Having performers stopped at the border is not new to the festival — in previous years bands have been held until the last possible second. The difference seems to be that it is spreading to other visitors, including those involved in the literary world.
At the root of the issue is not the rules and regulations which govern border crossing, but rather the introduction of new technology linked to U.S. Homeland Security measures, which allow Canadian customs officials to get a detailed background report on people entering the country.
Recently the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article warning people to deal with their past if coming to Whistler after readers complained that they were now being stopped on their way to their vacations because of historical criminal records and misdemeanors.
Following the publication of that article Tourism Whistler began to get letters from individuals and those handling group sales about how this might affect travel plans.
This has prompted Tourism Whistler to bring up the touchy subject with the federal government. This month both the Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism, Gerry Ritz, and the Secretary of State Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity, Jason Kenney, were alerted to the organization’s concerns during scheduled meetings.
“…Any opportunity we have with any federal or provincial ministers we certainly will continue to communicate our concerns and we hope there is a voice of reason when setting guidelines and policy for the future,” said Tourism Whistler President Barrett Fisher.
“…Ensuring that safety is first is paramount, but not to the detriment of growing our tourism business.”
Fisher said TW would also continue to talk with the Council of Tourist Associations of B.C. and the Canadian Tourism Industry Association of Canada as part of the lobbying efforts.
“From our perspective if it is something within the last five years and is something considered a serious offence we completely understand (that people should be stopped at the border),” said Fisher.
“But if it is more along the lines of a misdemeanor, potentially drunk driving 25 years ago, or something that is a historical offence, I think what we would like to see is some tolerance for an old offence.”
Stockwell Day, the Minister of Public Safety, was unable to return calls to Pique Newsmagazine on the issue . But a spokeswoman said he would, in any case, be unable to discuss the Plake case for privacy reasons and that customs officials are bound by the criteria set out for allowing access to Canada.
Glen Plake is one of the most distinctive figures in extreme sports today. He is known for his appearance in ski films such as The Blizzard of Aahs.
In recent years he has served as host for the RSN Cable Network's program Reel Thrills.