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.”