Friday, July 20, 2012

What GOES On In Canada...

Being the sort who travels by air on a semi-regular basis, I’m always looking for ways to make such experiences as expeditious and painless as possible. Over the years, I’ve discovered a few secrets of travel success and plan to share then soon in upcoming posts.

One opportunity for making travel a mite easier is the US Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program. It’s one of their Trusted Traveler programs and allows you to enter the country by using a kiosk instead of standing in the immigration line with the rest of the hoi polloi. When you’re coming home after a long international trip, it’s nice to be able to get out the door that much sooner. And when you have a connecting flight, the time saved in immigration and customs can be the difference making or missing your next flight. So there are tangible benefits to be realized from it.

In order to be part of that you need to apply through GOES (Global Online Entry System) and pay a non-refundable application fee of one hundred clams. While I was interested in Global Entry from the time I first heard of it, the fee kept me from really following up on it.

Then, the company that employs me said they’d pick up the tab for regular international travelers who wanted to apply for Global Entry. Let’s see here: no cost to me with an obvious travel benefit. Sounds like a win-win. We were warned not to apply if we had a felony on our records or a DWI, DUI, BWI or any other kind of operating something mechanical while intoxicated or under the influence conviction in our history. Thankfully, my slate is clean in both areas and so I proceeded with my application.

After getting preliminary approval on-line, I was instructed to arrange a face-to-face interview at which I time I would receive the final approval and join the Global Entry program. That interview was conducted on Wednesday at the MSP airport’s Humphrey Terminal. I arrived a bit early and after a short wait was escorted back into a surprisingly large and rather Spartan (in a good way) warren of desks and work stations.

I was interviewed by an female officer still in training, so a more senior colleague sat nearby to help out if needed. The interview started off fine and was going along swimmingly as she asked me questions and then entered my responses in the system. Until she came to one question in particular.

“Have you ever been arrested?,” she asked in a matter of fact manner.

Thoughts began careening around my brain. Hmmm...That’s a good question. Have I ever been arrested? Have I ever been arrested? Have I ever been arrested? So many different ways that one might approach the question and so many different answers that one might choose to answer. Let’s see, we are talking about a United States Custom and Border Protection program here, aren’t we? And since I haven’t ever been arrested in the United States…

“No,” I answered firmly.

Tap, tap, tap. Her fingers moved across the keyboard as she updated the form. Suddenly, a worrisome frown appeared on her face. She motioned for her colleague to come over and view what she was seeing at on the screen. He looked at the screen, then at me, and then back at the screen again. A spark of anxiety was ignited within and rapidly spread from my toes to the hairs on my head.

“Sir, are you SURE you’ve never been arrested?,” she inquired.

“Oh, yeah there was that time in Canada...,” I responded weakly.

“In 1987?,” her colleague probed further.

Yes, in 1987. In Canada, Winnipeg to be precise. I went on to relate to the officers a much abbreviated version of what actually has become a rather entertaining yarn of how some college friends and I ended up on the wrong side of the law in the Great White North. Perhaps this fall, when the 25th anniversary of the event rolls around, I will relate the entire story in all its lurid detail here. For now, I’ll just summarize by saying it involved drinking, a Ronald McDonald statue, Winnipeg’s finest, a night in solitary confinement, appearing before a bailiff, significant monetary reparations, and one of the worst hangovers you can ever imagine.

At this point, I believe the rather unique nature of the crime actually worked in my favor. The most hardened law and order type can’t help chuckle at the sheer ridiculousness of the transgression as both officers did on Wednesday upon hearing what it involved. After checking what we were originally charged with under Canadian law (which have been the equivalent of a felony in the US) and what we eventually plead to (something called “mischief” which he determined was the same as a misdemeanor), he decided that I could still qualify for Global Entry.

Whew. That was a close one. He then advised me that if I did blemish my record with another misdemeanor offense in the future, I would be booted out of the program forthright. Fair enough, I think I can live with that.

The female officer then reminded me, “This is called the Trusted Traveler program, so it would be best if you told us the truth.”

What could I do then by hang my head and nod in shame? It felt like being back in the principal’s office again and instead of forty-four, I felt like I was fourteen.

The rest of the interview went off without a hitch. I was fingerprinted, photographed, and am now officially part of Global Entry.

At first, the idea that they could so easily access the details of this incident which took place nearly twenty-five years ago was a little unsettling. I had assumed that such a relatively trivial offense would have been scrubbed from the records by now, especially since it happened in Canada and the methods for tracking such incidents was still pretty rudimentary back then. I guess the cops in the Winnipeg PD at the time did find time for their paperwork after all.

Upon reflection however, I realized that these folks having such visibility was probably a good thing. If they know what I did in Winnipeg twenty-five years ago, they certainly should know about far more serious offences committed by far more sinister people than me. At least I would hope they do.