D'Arcy from Winnipeg
Solution Architecture, Business & Entrepreneurship, Microsoft, and Adoption

Done With US Travel for a While

Tuesday, April 7, 2009 1:50 PM

Today was my final time trying to enter the US to do what many other people have done in my industry before: go and speak at a conference.

The reason I was given this time was that although I had forfeit the speaking fee they were going to pay me, I was still going to be speaking at a conference where other speakers were getting paid, and that there was no reason an American couldn’t fill that spot. When I asked if there would have been any issue if the conference was a free one and nobody was getting paid, I didn’t get an answer.

This all started of course when I was up-front and honest about the speaking engagement the first time I went through, which flagged me in their system. This became very obvious this past weekend when I attended the Twin Cities Code Camp and was at the border for an hour. On that entry I specified that I was going for a shopping weekend, which I was; I was also planning on going to the Twin Cities Code Camp, a free event and one that I was volunteering at. I didn’t mention that because why confuse the issue trying to explain what a code camp was, that it was free, and why I would consider speaking for free. This was a mistake for two reasons…

For one, they do have internet at CBP offices. So if you’re flagged, and you have to go for secondary interviewing, realize that you may be Googled. And as such, blog posts talking about said code camp or eating a Chipotle Burrito may appear as well (“So how was the burrito?” was a question I was asked).

But there’s a bigger reason why that was a mistake, and it bleeds into a much larger issue that has no good or bad guys, right or wrong.

Canadians have long taken for granted our border with the USA. If there’s one thing this experience has taught me, its that there is an air of entitlement that we’ve had in regards to being able to cross over and do whatever we want in the US. We assume that we’ll be as welcome as we were in the past, and that there really isn’t that much difference between us: we drive the same cars, watch the same television and movies, listen to the same music, read the same books.

But we are different. We are separate, independent entities with different history, values, and morals. So to the second reason why that was a mistake: I, as a Canadian, have no right to make a call as to whether I’m of a benefit to a neighbouring country. I can rationalize all I want that the event is free, and that I’m actually trying to help other Americans by sharing my knowledge, but that’s not my call to make.

The US is in a state of protectionism right now whether they admit it or not. When you continue to hear about the vast number of jobs being lost, it makes sense that they want to ensure their people are being protected first and foremost. Many of those people include friends of mine whose companies are laying off people.

So after thinking things through, I’ve decided to put a moratorium on trying to travel to the US in the near future.

For one, there really isn’t a huge benefit right now: I can still speak in Canada, do webcasts that American developers can view and take advantage of, and the benefit of exposure from within the US doesn’t mean much when most companies are cutting staff and reducing their projects

For another, I’m just sick of the hassle. For the type of activities my industry engages in (code camps, conferences, etc.) I’d rather not have to try and play games and work around the protectionist policies that have been put in place (and which, again, the US is in every right to implement). I’d rather be up front and honest, but with a country that isn’t trying to find reasons not to allow someone to enter.

My hope is that at some point the US and Canada will be able to get back to where our countries were before 9/11. At the same time though, I hope that Canada realizes during this time that it has its own identity; that we are more than just who we border against. Maybe locking down the border will become a good thing after all.

D




Feedback

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

this is all because you REALLY told them you were coming down here to play Dungeons & Dragons isn't it?? 4/7/2009 2:16 PM | Chris G. Williams

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

Mr. Lussier,

It is my duty as an American to inform you that you must immediately relocate your blog to a server hosted in the state of Canada, since you are taking up precious hard drive space that could be used by an American Blogger. Failure to comply will result in more notices.
4/7/2009 2:37 PM | Chris G. Williams

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

LOL...the "state" of Canada eh? ;)

D 4/7/2009 2:43 PM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

I wish we, as Americans, were not so stupid. I wish we could look past our own fears and stop sh!tting on our friends cause we're afraid to come out of our house. On behalf of my countrymen, I apologize. Maybe someday, we'll stop letting the terrorists win, by being so terrified. Our conferences are the worse for not having you to speak.

~Lee 4/7/2009 6:17 PM | Lee Brandt

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

Thanks for the kind words Lee, I appreciate it. 4/7/2009 7:38 PM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

I think you'll be a better person for it, actually, by staying where you are. There are more opportunities to be gained from taken the road less-traveled, so to speak. Focus locally with the personal appearances and globally via technology. Pump out some screencasts (which I think you'd be awesome at!), offer to remote pair with someone one evening a week, speak at virtual conferences that don't require travel (e.g. msfttechdays.com last week). 4/7/2009 9:10 PM | Kyle Baley

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

That sucks, D'Arcy. But I really respect your attitude. The US is hurting right now. I think Canadians (esp. in Manitoba) have been pretty shielded to the economy turmoil (so far); we don't really get the depth of what's going on in the rest of the world. Seeing it on TV and the newspaper does not bring it home like watching your friends lose their houses (or losing your own house). 4/7/2009 10:27 PM | Paul Spratt

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

Darcy, I am so embarrassed! Hope your life is blessed in innumerable ways to make up for this!
M. Lussier, California 4/7/2009 10:32 PM | M. Lussier

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

Wow man. I hope you are not serious. This smells like a trade war - no US people at DevTeach, no Canadians at TechEd. WTF is the world coming to. 4/8/2009 12:40 AM | Aaron Erickson

# re: Done With US Travel for a While


@Chris

While you might have thought that was funny, think about it, the US has some of the cheapest hosting in the world, what if the US Gov decided to not allow US hosting companies to host sites that take business away from American sites or host sites from “hostile countries”.

While as crazy as it sounds it seems pretty plausible with the way the US Gov is moving in with it's whole "buy American" drive

4/8/2009 9:09 AM | William

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

@Will - Chris and I had bantered about this on MSN, so yeah he was kidding...he shares the sentiments of others, and his comment was more a satire of that. However, you're absolutely right: there's no real telling how far the protectionism is going to reach. We've already heard for how long now that the telecom companies in the US would like a two-tiered internet instead of the free networks existing today. The day the internet starts acting like countries is the day it dies.

@Aaron - Sorry man, totally serious. 4/8/2009 9:48 AM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

I would say this is a temporary situation. The unwashed masses (seeing jobs reports in the dumps) and locality (are you trying to enter close to Michigan, who's had a single state recession for the last 15 years?) you may be experiencing some push back.

However, the US and Canada have a very long history of working together and we will continue that history indefinitely.

We're going through some political tormoil right now, we've essentially elected a fellow with less experience than the last one, and this time he's surrounded himself with people that dont share US ideals.

That being said, we'll get through this, and I'd say do what you have to do to succeed.

I wish you luck. 4/8/2009 11:44 AM | E.Newton

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

makes sense, as far as I know, Americans don't let people who aren't real MVPs in to the country to speak :P

4/8/2009 12:01 PM | Juan

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

No offense, but let's all get hold of ourselves for a moment. Lee, we're stupid and we're not stabbing Canada in the back. There's no need to apologize to anyone or to be embarrassed, as I'll explain below. What you experienced, D'Arcy isn't related to 9/11 or the economy. In fact, it's not new at all, and it's not temporary. It's par for the course, and it has been for many years.

Several years back, 1999 I believe, one of my company's clients was a Canadian electrical utility. My boss always cautioned me to answer the "why are you here" question very carefully when traveling to Canada. "I'm here to attend meetings," was the safe answer. I was warned NEVER EVER to use the word "work". (And I never did!)

Sure enough, one of my co-workers slipped up once. "Why are you visiting Canada?" asked the Canadian immigration official. "I'm here for work," he answered innocently enough. He was detained for several hours, and was very nearly sent home. Both my company and our client had to get involved in order for him to be allowed in. Remember, this was before 9/11 or the tech crash or the credit crisis. And, you will note, Canada played the heavy in this instance. No need to feed bad, Americans. We both do this.

So, let's not lose our heads. Canada and the US have been playing this little game for a long time. It's annoying, yes, absolutely. But we both do it, we've both done it for many years, we'll both do it for the foreseeable future. Please don't take it personally, and please don't overreact. It's just one of the games that we, as professionals, have to learn and adapt to. 4/8/2009 6:52 PM | Matt

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

"we're NOT stupid" I mean to say! :) 4/8/2009 7:11 PM | Matt

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

Matt: I think there's a difference here. You're talking about someone going up to actually "work" in Canada...probably as a software developer? In that situation, going from Canada to the US, or the US to Canada, a specific work visa would be required. I know many companies, including ones in Canada, that use the "going for meetings" angle to sneak across instead of getting the proper visas. That's just not taking the proper steps and ensuring you have the right documents, and it puts their employees in a horrible position if they're ever caught as well as the company and the client.

In my situation, I was open and honest about why I was going down and was fully expecting that I would qualify for TN status (different from requiring a visa). I was asked in the initial attempt to cross "why an American couldn't fill this role". I was denied due to a combination of things, but mainly that I was getting paid to do something that an American could have been picked for. The interesting thing is that if I would have just said up front that I wasn't going to be getting paid to speak, I most likely would have been let in (I had gone through this before where I was speaking, wasn't getting paid, and was up front...I was let in without an issue). However, having TN status available (which *should* cover these type of engagements) should remove any necessity to lie and present falsely.

In my second attempt, even after waiving the honorarium they were going to give me, I was still denied for the same reason: just because I wasn't getting paid, an American *could* have been paid to speak in that slot so I was still taking away an opportunity. They also had issue with the event charging people to attend, and for some reason the American company making money off of a Canadian's volunteer effort (didn't make sense to me but whatever). Ironically, if I would have waived the honorarium the first time, I more than likely would have been let in.

It's this area that has become the issue: small trysts to the US that should be covered under TN status that are under higher scrutiny due to protectionist policy. Based on what the CBP guards explained to me, NO CANADIAN should be allowed to speak at a conference where they either receive an honorarium and/or where the conference is charging attendees.

I was slated to speak at a conference in the southern US this summer, but I canceled because they fell into that latter group. Why would I go to the trouble of booking airline tickets and a hotel room if I'm just going to be turned away from being allowed to speak, for free, because I *want* to, where Americans would benefit from the presented material, for the sole reason that an American could have potentially spoken in my place?

Canada and the US have had visa programs in place for years, true, and companies have tried to bypass having to get proper visas and sneak through the border for years as well. But what we're seeing now is legitimate, honest reasons for doing business over the border being squashed due to protectionism. For another example, see my post about a recent incident in BC:

http://geekswithblogs.net/dlussier/archive/2009/03/17/130160.aspx

D

4/8/2009 8:13 PM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

LOL...I figured you meant "not", but then I was like "hmm...maybe he meant 'we're stupid because we're *not* stabbing Canada in the back'?" ;)

D 4/8/2009 8:16 PM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

What we really need is D'ArcyFest. Hold your own virtual conference inviting people from all over the world. Dedicated to the hard-working folk protecting our borders. 4/8/2009 10:14 PM | Kyle Baley

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

Kyle, that is a fantastic idea! 4/8/2009 10:21 PM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

I'm sorry to hear about your experience but I take issue with a couple of points.

First, you provide no evidence that Canadians have taken the border for granted. Perhaps _you_ have taken the border for granted, but that is no reason to paint all of us with the same brush. Now, Ted Neward and others have this impression. Nice job.

Second, you barely articulate the differences between the US and Canada. I agree that the 'forest' looks the similar but the 'trees' look very different. To say that we listen to the same music and read the same books is an outrage.

Lastly, you suggest that we are in search of our own identity. It is definitely true that the Canadian media constantly asks "what does it mean to be Canadian?" but if you travel from the Maritimes through the Prairies to the west coast, you will see identity everywhere. Last year, Quebec City celebrated its 400th birthday. I can assure you that the people there weren't lazing around watching American Idol on TV, hoping for their big break in the States and wishing they had an identity.

I will say that I love the US and I think that it is a great country. But you are representing us when you post something like this, and not in fair light. It really angers me and I hope you'll post a follow up.

4/10/2009 7:21 PM | MEaster

# re: Done With US Travel for a While

MEaster - Thank you for your comment! I applaud your passion and understand your frustration. I'm working on a post to reply to your comments because I think you raise some good points but also some examples of misconceptions Canadians may have of themselves. Stay tuned!

D 4/12/2009 8:32 AM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

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