Dual citizens flying to Canada for the holidays could hit a snag

By Oliver Lazenby

A new Government of Canada rule that requires more identification from Visa-exempt foreigners flying to or through Canada could cause problems for dual citizens flying to Canada.

As part of the rule, which went into effect on November 10, the Canadian government started requiring dual citizens to have their Canadian passports when flying to Canada. Canadian-American dual citizens, however, are exempt from the rule and shouldn’t be affected. But that doesn’t mean they
won’t be.

The day before Thanksgiving, British Airways security kept Blaine City Council member Mary Lou Steward off her flight from London to Vancouver, B.C., citing the new rule. Steward, a Canadian-American dual citizen, had tried to board the flight with just her U.S. passport, she said. Security asked for her Canadian passport as well, which she didn’t have.

She doesn’t typically travel with her Canadian passport because it’s just one more thing to keep track of, she said.

“I was just absolutely stunned that I couldn’t fly into the country of my birth when a lady in line behind me had just a U.S. passport and she could get on the flight to Vancouver,” Steward said.

Lisa Filipps, an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson, confirmed that the rule shouldn’t affect U.S. citizens or Canadian-American dual citizens. Her agency isn’t aware of any instances in which dual Canadian-American citizens were prevented from boarding flights because they didn’t have Canadian passports, she said.

Steward suspects British Airways didn’t realize U.S. citizens were exempt and didn’t want to pay to fly her back to London if Canadian customs wouldn’t let her in the country.

“Somebody at some point did say if you’re not allowed in the country we have to fly you back,” Steward said. Steward boarded a plane the next day and flew to Seattle, rather than Vancouver, and had to rent a car on Thanksgiving Day to get back to Blaine.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Alex Stojicevic said ticket agents and security guards may be erring on the side of caution and may not be thoroughly trained on the new regulation.

“This is not within the regular scope of work for these people,” he said. “The problem is that because there are financial penalties at stake, the default is to say no and keep people off their flights.”

Canadian customs could fine airlines for allowing someone to fly to Canada without the right documents.

After hearing of Steward’s experience, Blaine immigration lawyer Len Saunders said he’s advising his clients who are dual citizens to renew their Canadian passports and bring both passports when traveling.

“Most of my Canadian clients who live in Blaine, Birch Bay and Semiahmoo – they don’t renew their passports when they become naturalized U.S. citizens,” he said.

Stojicevic said the same is true of his clients. Many UK-Canadian dual citizens, for example, have kept only their UK passports current. Those dual citizens are not exempt from the new rule and actually do need both passports when flying to or through Canada. Many of them don’t even know about the new rule, he said.

“The reality is that this isn’t terribly well known and the fact is there has been lots of people getting stranded who weren’t aware of this new rule,” Stojicevik said.

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