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New rules that force many travellers to obtain an electronic travel authorization (ETA) before they come to Canada, even if it is for a short stay in transit, went into full effect November 2016. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
New rules that force many travellers to obtain an electronic travel authorization (ETA) before they come to Canada, even if it is for a short stay in transit, went into full effect November 2016. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Being a Canadian turns out to be a curse for some travellers Add to ...

Christelle Roques found out the hard way that being a Canadian citizen can actually make it harder to enter the country.

The 29-year-old native of France was set to spend an hour at the airport in Montreal on Tuesday on her way to New York for a week-long trip. However, she got stuck in an administrative morass at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris, missed her flight and lost a full day in New York.

Her story is a cautionary tale for many travellers to Canada as well as dual-national Canadians – especially those who don’t know they have that status.

“I was born and have always lived in France,” Ms. Roques said in an interview. “I find it to be mind-blowing that I missed a flight to New York because I am Canadian.”

Read also: Can U.S. customs officers legally search my phone when driving across the border?

Ms. Roques said she knew her mother had lived in Canada in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but not that her mother had obtained citizenship and passed it on to her at some point.

“I wasn’t born in Canada, I never lived in Canada,” she said. “I came here as a tourist in the past, but I was never told that I was a citizen.”

Ms. Roques got ensnared in new rules that force many travellers to obtain an electronic travel authorization (ETA) before they come to Canada, even if it is for a short stay in transit. For dual nationals, the rules state they need at least a Canadian passport.

Since the rules went into full effect last November, they have taken many travellers by surprise. According to the federal government, more than 8,400 Canadian citizens have needed an emergency authorization to get on a flight in the past four months.

Ms. Roques said she was one of 12 people on her flight who learned at the last minute that they needed additional documents to go through Montreal on their way to New York.

With the help of officials at Air Canada, whom she described as scrambling to enforce the new rules, Ms. Roques quickly went on her cellphone to obtain an ETA online. However, the process was slow.

When she finally received a response, Ms. Roques learned that she is a Canadian citizen and, as such, didn’t need an ETA to enter Canada.

However, she was also told that since her mother had once registered her for Canadian citizenship, she should have been travelling with a Canadian passport. Without a passport, she needed another authorization that was obtained through a different process – after her initial flight had already left for Montreal.

The irony is that Ms. Roques picked a flight with a connection in Canada because it was cheaper than a direct flight, but she ended up losing hundreds of dollars.

“It was surreal. I was stuck in this mess, there were nearly a dozen other people in this mess. The Canadian government’s response to this situation is pitiful. It’s not like I was the only brainless person not to have followed the proper procedures,” she said from the airport in Toronto on Wednesday, while she waited for her connection to New York.

The new ETA requirement applies to air travellers who do not need a visa to come to Canada. While Americans are exempted, the requirement applies to visitors from a number of other countries, many of them in Europe, to allow the government to “prescreen” travellers to ensure their admissibility to Canada.

The government has simultaneously started to force all dual Canadian citizens to travel with a valid Canadian passport. If their plane leaves within 10 days, they must apply for a special authorization to travel with their passport from a visa-exempt country.

A spokeswoman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said the government has put information on its website to inform dual nationals of the new rules, and has conducted a number of social media “information blitzes” and digital ad campaigns around the world to promote the new measures.

A spokesperson for Air Canada confirmed the new requirements have caused problems, while adding there is an increasing awareness of the need to make an application for an ETA before getting to the airport.

Ms. Roques, who is a sign-language interpreter, said she may eventually appreciate the benefits of being a Canadian, but her immediate concern is heading back to France next week without any administrative problems.

“A lot of my friends said, ‘Congratulations, you have Canadian citizenship.’ It’s something that so many people in France would love to have. But for me, I am not happy at this point, I have lost my flight to New York and €200,” she said.

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