'Lesson learned' says permanent resident who had to walk into Canada

Border guards fired guns 18 times in a decade — accidentally in most cases

A Canadian permanent resident learned a hard lesson that when travelling between the United States and Canada, there is no room for error. 

David Thomas, of Nova Scotia, has a British passport and has been a Canadian permanent resident for 45 years. He and his spouse, Livia Anthes, booked a flight to Las Vegas Feb. 3 to celebrate Thomas's 50th birthday. Anthes is also a permanent resident with a valid card.

The problem was Thomas's permanent residency card expired in December. He applied for new documentation and tried to get an expedited card in time but couldn't. He and Anthes decided to travel anyway. 

"David and I of course probably could have been a little bit more stringent to get official information to see if he would be allowed over the border and we certainly take responsibility for that," Anthes told the CBC's Maritime Noon.

"But we thought, 'They'll give you a little bit of leniency.' He's been living here his entire life for 45 years, no criminal record, nothing of that sort."

Had to walk into Canada

Getting to Las Vegas was not a problem. However when the couple tried to return home Feb. 6, Thomas was told there was no way he was getting on the Air Canada cross-border flight.

"They just kind of flat out refused. Said, 'Nope, we can't let you on the plane. The only way you're going to get into Canada is if you drive across or walk across,'" said Thomas.

"I really thought they were kind of pulling my leg at first. I had a bag full of documentation there ready to dump on the table." 

He had a copy of his permanent residency application, his expired permanent resident card, two years worth of income tax documents, his driver's licence and his British passport. 

"I wasn't anticipating walking into the country," he said.

But that is what Thomas had to do.

Rules are clear, says Air Canada

In an emailed statement, Air Canada said it "cannot accept transport passengers if their cards are not valid, which would be the case of an expired card."

The airline said the directive from the Canada Border Services Agency is very clear. 

"We outreached to the CBSA who reconfirmed and provided us clear instructions not to accept travellers with expired permanent resident cards, even with a document indicating that have asked for the renewal of their status, because the person may not have a permanent resident status anymore," said Isabelle Arthur, an Air Canada spokesperson.    

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada echoed that statement.

The long trip home

The next morning Thomas flew from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, then on to Chicago before finally reaching Buffalo, N.Y., at around 10 p.m.

From the Buffalo airport he was able to take transit to the centre of the city. From there, he caught another bus that took him to the crossing at Niagara Falls.

"There I was dropped off on the bus in what felt like the middle of nowhere at 1:30 or 2 o'clock in the morning," said Thomas.

Then he walked across the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge into Canada.

"I put my passport there, explained to him [Canadian border agent] a bit of the story and he just kind of waved me through — looked at me a little oddly and let me go through," said Thomas.

After being on the go for well over 24 hours, Thomas then haggled with a cab driver to take him to Toronto Pearson International Airport, 120 kilometres away, for $130.

'Lesson learned, I guess'

He was then finally able to catch a flight back to Nova Scotia. 

"Lesson learned, I guess," said Thomas.

Anthes said the couple's experience should serve as a warning to other travellers.

"I think the moral is to do your homework, as much as you can, and don't take for granted what you believe your rights or your abilities are because they're really cracking down on travel regulations and policies now," said Anthes.

Seven days before travel, Thomas could have applied for a permanent resident travel document however Anthes said by the time they realized that was an option, it was too late. 

Maritime Noon asked Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada why it's OK to cross the border on foot without a valid permanent residency card but did not receive a response to that question.