Tag Archives: What will Canadian Border Officer ask me?

Dear Anxiety – A Letter

Dear Anxiety:

I have a hearing in less than two hours. I am writing you to spill my heart and in hopes that I put you to a resting space in the very back of my head. You have occupied a place at the very front for too long. The only reason I have not talked about you is that this profession that I am doing and that I work in doesn’t embrace you, silences you, works through you. I have worked through you for five years now and done well. Why expose you? Well – because I see you in so many others. We’ve been in this together for too long, but talked too little.

By long, I mean probably since I was born. I would not have known it then. No tell tale signs other than a father who was an overworrier but that’s what good fathers do. He probably had anxiety too but never told me and we will never be able to discuss it anymore.

I probably noticed you first when I was in those math for exceptional students realizing how unexceptional I was. Struggling to solve problems, with the tutor and the rest of the class near finished. Heart racing, sweaty, stumbling and mumbling my way through being asked to explain my reasoning.

I noticed you again with piano. I had dreams one day of being a great pianist but one day (and wasn’t half bad), as I was heading to the last grade of my studies, my teacher told my father – he’s got skill, but he’s got an issue handling pressure. Perhaps that comment (or pressure) led me to quit. Escape always on the mind.

I noticed you in high school. Every time I was to recite a poem or perform Shakespeare in front of an audience, you would kick in. Stage fright. Lines, what is the next line. I thought about all the classmates judging me for my failures, my less than stellar grades (a result of exam anxiety) also leading my parents to judge me. Trapped. 

I remember in University, when I was to deliver an important part of a Fraternity ritual, I choked. I forgot my lines, in the darkness, my brothers in the room. I noticed you too when I was taking my driving test (one that took a few times to pass) I would sweat for days on in. In the back of my mind, this hearing, this case.  I avoided you. I took on paper-based classes, courses that allowed me to organize things and work with my hands, because I knew if there was an exam or some sort of ‘test’ I would be hooped. The power of prediction let me somehow pass and move forward.

You kicked in with the LSAT. I have not told people this but the reasons I had to take the exam three times and still only scored a 66th percentile is you were always holding me down. I cancelled my result the first exam. The second time, I left half-way through after a panic attack mid-way through where I ended up mis-aligning my scantron. I remember googling a career in the military that evening, giving up. I am grateful that I never did.

And law school – I put my hands up only a handful of times because of you. My swallowed saliva still hurting from the things I have never said. I almost failed a PLTC assignment because I stuttered introducing my name and lost track of what I was saying while saying it. It’s like an out of body experience I cannot explain.

Everytime I present I have to hold a piece a paper, or some notes, because without the blanket I feel like I’m without a cable suspending me, a seat belt holding me in place. When I speak, I often go too fast, mind whizzing faster than the words can catch up. With the words I have I could be an amazing orator, but the pressure usually failst he performance.

I remember you this morning, telling me again that today’s another big day. Lives are at stake. Don’t fail.

Whatever I do as a parent, in this next life, I will present failure in a different light than I was taught. Failure is beauty waiting to happen. Success’s first step.

It was not easy to put this on paper. I am more public than most about my life because I read each of the emails and messages I get from readers finding a piece of what I am experiencing in what they do. I do overpost accomplishments likely to veil the moments in between where I feel in constant flux.

For example, I have been trying to write and start a novel for a year, but the fear of investing time into something I do not feel accomplished enough to write, holds me back. Reading the work of others and admiring their brilliance has been my coping mechanism. Coping is everything.

You are also a beautiful feeling because you open doors to empathy. I see you in the clients I advise, who struggle with anxiety due to their pending hearings, their lives at the whim of Government decision-makers, the effects of separation. It takes one to no one.

Yes – maybe I have let my guard down. Maybe some future client, employer, political, or judicial hiring committee looks at this tomorrow or twenty years from now and goes – I don’t want to take on the risk and imperfection.

Today I declare my imperfect self. Behind all of that perceived success, happy clients, speeches, and talks there is an anxious kid. The same anxious kid that has occupied this body for 31 years.

He will never be calm. His anxiousness leads to amazing spurts of creativity and brilliance. But he suffers every day for it too.

I accept you.



Port-of-Entry Examination Procedures – Walk Through YVR (via IRCC’s Enforcement Manual 4)


With summer season upon us. the end of the leniency period of the Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA)  regime, and the development of Canada’s Interactive Advanced Passenger Information (IAPI) system, Canadian Border Officers are about to get very busy.

Upon arriving at a Canadian airport, as many traveller’s have experienced, those without Canadian permanent resident status, citizenship, or special travel document (e.g. APEC) are often forced to wait in a long-line of fellow travellers preparing for primary inspection.

At YVR, you enter into a large blue-carpeted, room where you join others in a winding line. Canadians and PRs get a separate automated computer line.

For those nervous about border entry and how to best express themselves to an officer upon entry, I highly recommend ENF 4 – Port of entry examinations, IRCC’s enforcement manual. While this is not the exact training manual provided by Officers nor does it hold legal authority, it is as close to an instruction manual as is publicly accessible.

I found two portions of the manual quite interesting (found on pages 28-29, 31 of ENF 4 and may be of use to many of you.

Primary Immigration Line

First, contrary to public perception, there is some rhyme and reason to CBSA’s line of questioning. As stated in the manual (section 7.5) in primary examination questions will be asked such as:

  1. What is your citizenship? (to gauge citizenship/eTA related issues)
  2. Where do you reside? How long have you been away? (to gain information about residency – A28 residency obligation questions)
  3. What is the purpose of your trip to Canada? (to gain information for control purposes)
  4. Do you intend to take or seek employment while in Canada?  (this triggers enquiries into whether the individual is seeking entry into labour market)
  5. How long do you intend to stay in Canada (this triggers whether an individual is seeking a visitor record for longer than 6 months and perhaps (although not written in manual) whether there is a risk of overstay
  6. What is your name? (this helps clarify any identity related issues – re: declaration card).

According to ENF 4, Border officers are not supposed to canvas criminality issues at Primary and refer these cases to Secondary. In the case of visa-exempt foreign nationals and TRV applicants, much of this will already be in the system (unless misrepresented) usually already triggering the referral.


TELO Coding

The Border Services Officer is to  access four reasons for referral – the time of stay, intent to seek employment, lookout (i.e subject to watch for/flag), or Other (reasons not covered). Lookouts are most common as flags in GCMS, the automated system that the Border Officer will have upon entering your vitals into the system. Everyone should now expect that a GCMS entry has been created for them – this is triggered by any eTA application, any temporary residence or permanent residence application, and even being a listed family member on any existing Canadian temporary or permanent resident’s application.

Consider the above the triggers for secondary.


Immigration Secondary

If you are sent to secondary or you are an individual making or finalizing a temporary resident application or permanent residence landing you will be sent to a separate area. At YVR, this involves gathering your luggage, parking it in a fenced off area, and walking into a very cold room to await an Officer.

On pages 37-38 of ENF 4, the manual canvasses basic questions the border officer should ask at secondary. It is important to note many of these are repeats – as discrepancy in answers can itself trigger follow-up investigation.

The questions (follow by issue triggers) are

  1. What is your name (identity)
  2. What is the country of your citizenship? (citizenship)
  3. Where do you reside? (residency)
  4. What is the purpose of your trip? How long do you intend to stay in Canada? Where in Canada are you planning to go? Do you intend to look for work in Canada? Do you intend to study in Canada? (intentions – whether holding relevant visa/whether will leave at end of stay)
  5. May I see your ticket, please? What sources of funds do you have access to while in Canada? (funds available)
  6. What is your occupation? Do you intend to visit anyone in Canada? Do you have any family or friends in Canada? (personal history – ties to Canada/home country, will they leave at end of stay)
  7. Do you or have you had any health problems? Have you ever been convicted of a crime or of an offence? Have you ever been refused entry into or removed from Canada? (background – in admissibility).

At YVR, several steps usually follow. If it is a simple application (i.e. an approved study permit that needs to be printed), the border officer will print it on the spot and provide it to you. If it is for a family or may take some time, you may be asked to sit down for a few minutes as the Border Services Officer completes the printing. If there are concerns about you or you require further examination, you will be placed into yet another area where the appropriate inquiries will be made as you wait.


Before entry into Canada, especially if the circumstances, may be factually convoluted, it is useful to seek advise (or advise in the case of counsel) on how to truthfully answer CBSA’s questions in a manner that is honest, forthcoming, but does not trigger unwarranted suspicion.

Many times, coming off a flight jetlagged, documents in a scattered pile, it is easy to make very human errors that are not intended as misrepresentations. Unfortunately under Canadian immigration legislation, misrepresentation does not require intent and the statements you make will be recorded and could have severe long-term consequences upon your future entry.

Having myself seen the secondary process a few times both at airports and land borders, I can tell you that the mood is nervous, the uniform’s intimidating, and often times the questions (if English is not your primary language) seem like personal investigations.

Having a plan in mind and responses prepared to concerns is always good practice and one that I review with my clients before any attempted border entry or application.