Ever been kicked out of a country before? Well, it sucks.
I’m in the middle of my Hackers On A Train Workshop Tour, giving my popular Learn-to-Solder and Arduino-For-Total-Newbies workshops at 22 hackerspaces near Amtrak stations, and going to 4 conferences, over a 53 days. All by Amtrak. That was the plan, anyhow.
I was scheduled to give a talk about the hackerspace movement at the WorldFuture 2012 conference this Saturday. While there I was going to stay with my (academy award winning) friend Chris. It was going to be a really wonderful 5 days in Toronto.
To give the workshops, I’m traveling with a rucksack full of clothing and toiletries, my laptop, camera, and two huge suitcases, 50 pounds each, full of workshop stuff, including kits for teaching.
The train to Toronto from Syracuse, NY, stops at the Canadian border for customs and immigration. Everyone has to get out of the train with all their stuff. The line moves rather quickly, and when it was my turn, the Canadian Border Patrol wanted to have a look at my huge bags. After much polite discussion, there was no way that I could assure the CBP that I wasn’t going to sell the kits in Canada.
The CBP folks politely offered a suggestion that I could leave the workshop stuff in the US, and then come back to the border. When I asked where to leave the workshop suitcases, they had no info to offer. When I asked about my train to Toronto, I was told I’d have to call Amtrak. Then they gave me and a Japanese woman a free van ride to the US side of the border in Niagra Falls, NY. As we were getting in the van, one of the CBP people politely told me that in order to get into Canada, I’d need court records for my arrest when I was a young teenager.
Flashback: I’m 13 years old, hanging out with a friend in suburbia. My friend has the idea to grab his remote control for his garage door, and see if it works on any other garage doors in the neighborhood. Wouldn’t you know it — it did! In the hour that we walked around his suburban ‘hood, we came across 5 garage doors that would open. Damn. On the last one, we hid behind a bush, and opened and closed and opened and closed the garage door to see what would happen. The people who lived there came out, scratched their heads, and went back inside. As we were walking home, the police stopped us, assuming we were the people wanting to break into someone’s garage. Oddly (naively), it never even occurred to us that anyone would think we were trying to steal anything.
After meeting with a lawyer friend of my dad’s, he told me that after I did some community service, I should never tell anyone about this, since the record would be expunged.
It turns out, however, that the record was not expunged. After all these decades, it’s the CBP that (politely) told me this. They also (politely) told me that in order to get into Canada, I’ll need the court records for this case, otherwise they’ll assume that the case is still open. Since I was never given any records (from my parents or anyone), and I have no idea how to get any court records, this may mean that I may never be welcome to Canada ever again.
Scratch the WorldFuture 2012 conference in Toronto and the workshop at Vancouver Hack Space.