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Vigilant border screening a

Tourists with criminal records turned back at border

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By Clare Ogilvie

Some U.S. visitors are choosing not to book vacations to Whistler out of fear of being turned around at the border for old criminal convictions.

“Within the last three weeks I know of four people who have decided not to go to Whistler and that is a big deal,” said San Francisco criminal lawyer Chris Cannon.

“It’s very bad news. If there is uncertainty about whether you are going to get into Whistler are you going to take your wife and kids there or are you going to take them to Vail?

“I think this is really going to be a problem and particularly a problem for Whistler. The kind of clientele that goes to Whistler, the clientele that goes heli-skiing, I would bet that there is a substantial amount of those people who have problems.”

Some of Cannon’s clients own property in Whistler and are now wondering what to do, he said.

At the root of the problem is the increase in access to personal information now available to border officials. New Canadian programs have made it possible for Canadian border guards to get airline manifestos before the plane lands so that checks can be done ahead of time.

In days gone by background checks were done on a more ad hoc basis.

So while the laws that govern who may or may not enter Canada have not changed, the access to information about travellers is far more extensive now than it was pre-9/11. Decades-old convictions for offences such as marijuana possession or petty theft have in some cases led to Americans being turned back at the border.

An article recently ran in the San Francisco Chronicle on the issue and Cannon said he has been inundated with calls from people who are now so worried they are not travelling.

But U.S. travel industry experts, the Canadian Border Services Agency, and B.C. tourism officials, while concerned, say there is nothing to suggest closer scrutiny of travellers is putting a damper on the 95 million people who come to Canada each year.

Said Tourism Whistler’s Michele Comeau-Thompson, in an e-mailed response: “Tourism Whistler does not have any concerns regarding the federal regulations that are enforced by the Canada Border Services Agency.”

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