I flew off to Greece not long ago – my first holiday in some years, and my first time ever going to Greece. Why I chose Greece is another story – but it was for a very good reason!
Not having flown in some years, I was a bit stressed about getting ready for the direct flight to Athens from Toronto. Air Transat by the way, is a great airline and it’s a pity that they don’t do direct flights to Athens during the winter months. I plan on returning very soon. But sadly, there do not appear to many direct flights until Air Transat resumes them in May.
I arrived at the airport quite early because I needed to get a ride, and the schedule of my driver meant that I would be there for quite a number of hours before I could even check my baggage. I was prepared for that, but at the same time, I was quite tired, having had practically no sleep in the previous two days due to excitement of looking forward to the trip.
It was a big relief to me when the time came that I could check my luggage bag and because it was still early, there was no line up. Luggage was checked quickly, the Air Transat staff were friendly and courteous, and I was back outside for coffee and some drags on more than a few cigarettes before the time came to go through security.
It had been awhile since I’d been through security at an airport, but again, with much thanks, the lineup was short and I was through in a very short time. I wandered around the departures level with much time to go before I had to arrive at the gate for boarding. Excited, but also tired, and wishing I had already landed in Athens as I was not looking forward to the 8 hours in the air.
When it came time to board, I noticed one or two Peel Regional police officers walking up to the gate and entering the walkway to the aircraft door. I was mildly curious but didn’t pay it much attention. Then, a few moments later, I observed others in uniform also in the area and walking past the gate onto the walkway or whatever they call them. My curiosity was piqued a bit more – “was there some problem with the crew of the aircraft? Was there some special inspection needed of the aircraft?” But I didn’t give it much more thought when the announcement was made that it was time to board the plane.
I stood in line, got past the ticket checker who peered at my passport and boarding pass, and started to walk towards the entrance of the plane. That is when I noticed the uniformed people, standing on either side of the walkway in a sort of zig zag fashion, questioning passengers that were about to board. And that’s also when I realized it was agents of the Canadian Border Services Agency. That struck me as odd – why would they be questioning people leaving the country?
I was waved over to one of the agents who asked me how I was. An odd question I thought. I gave her an honest answer: “I’m feeling exhausted, actually.” She also asked to see my passport, and I fumbled around looking for it as I had put it away after showing it along with my boarding pass to the Air Transat representative.
The rest of the conversation went something like this:
“Why are you feeling so exhausted?” she asked.
“Because I have not had much sleep.”
“You’re flying to Athens today?”
I’m thinking… “Duh… ummm… this is the walkway to the plane that is flying to Athens… are they trying to make sure we’re on the right plane? They don’t trust Air Transat to make sure I’m on the right plane?” Of course, I did not say that…I just wanted to get on the plane and didn’t think it was a great time to fluster someone wearing a uniform that obviously has some ‘authority’ bestowed upon them by virtue of their employment.
“Yes, I’m flying to Athens today,” I said with a smile.
“Is this your first time going to Athens?”
Well… “what a strange question,” I was thinking. “Who cares? Why am I being asked this?” but instead I responded candidly, “Yes. My first time.”
“You should be feeling exited, not exhausted if this is your first time to Greece.”
Hey.. I noticed that! First time to Athens… now it’s first time to Greece…is this a trick?… but whatever. I want to get on that plane and get my seat.
“Yes – I am excited but I’m also really tired,” I tried to say with some cheer in my voice.
I was truly surprised at the next question, for I was not aware of regulations about money you could carry out of the country but the next question was, “How much money are you taking with you?”
I was actually nervous about the question because I was not taking much. I had been concerned about being asked this upon landing in Greece by their Customs & Immigration, as I did not have much cash on me at all. And flying on a Canadian passport instead of a UK or Irish passport, Greece Customs can ask that to determine, in their opinion, if you have enough to support yourself while in Greece.
But I was not flying to Greece as a typical Canadian tourist. I had accommodations looked after
So the next line of questioning did make me a bit nervous:
“I have 200 Euros on my and 600 US dollars.”
“How long are you planning on being away?”
She then said with a bit of suspicion in her voice. “That does not seem like enough money to take on a holiday to Greece.”
Now I’m getting nervous. “Can Canada stop me from leaving the country because they don’t think I have enough money with me?? How absurd is that!” I still had no idea what the real purpose of this questioning was.
I replied, “It is enough for me. I’m not really sure what ‘enough’ is, but I’m going to visit my friend, and I’m told we’ll do just fine with the cash I am taking. If it is not enough, I do have access to a small balance on my credit card, and my credit union has told me that my debit card will work at most bank machines if I need that.” I tried to be as cheery as I could, while feeling tired, and my insides were boiling up at having to answer such questions, while also being nervous about what the whole point of it was.
But that is when the whole purpose of the questioning became evident, for the next thing she asked was,
“Are you aware that it is against the law to travel outside of Canada with more than ten thousand dollars and not declare that?”
I let out a laugh. My mind did a double take on both the fact I had no where close to ten thousand dollars, and the fact that if I did have more, I would have had to declare that. Thank God I did not have more than ten thousand dollars to declare!
“No, I was not aware that it was illegal to take more than ten thousand dollars on a trip, and I don’t even have nine thousand, or even more than two thousand that I have budgeted for this that I could declare!”
“Okay. Have a nice trip.”
Wow… that was an incredible conversation. I really had no clue that any Canadian resident is regulated by how much money that they can take on a trip with them, and the limit is ten thousand dollars. To many of us, that’s a lot of coin, but to others, it’s not much. As I thought about this, I could come up with all sorts of reasons why I might want to take more than $10,000.00 on a holiday, if I had that amount to do so. Perhaps it was a three month adventure, traveling through several different countries. Perhaps it’s a business trip – to pay in cash for some olive oil shipment – Greece for one, is a country where cash is preferred for a variety of reasons including distrust of the banking system.
I later discovered that this regulation was in place to somehow prevent “proceeds of crime” (can we say drug dealing?) from being “laundered” and for whatever reason, the government set an arbitrary figure of $10,000.00. Government bureaucrats, MP’s and MPP’s can jetset around the world at tax payers’ expense – don’t have to account for their spending until the next election – and a person who has saved up some money, turns into cash, is restricted with what he or she does with it.
“Crime fighting,” they say. But, no it’s not. In a truly liberal society, there is no onus on the individual to prove that the money they have did NOT come from the proceeds of crime; it is the onus of the prosecution to prove a crime even took place. And it seems, absurdly, if you DO have money to take out of the country, and you convert it to the destination’s currency, but on the day of departure, the official exchange rate puts that currency you hold above the $10,000.00, your money will be seized and a judge will call you “greedy” for trying to attempt to get to close to the limit of the law.
In my research to understand what the questioning I had to undergo before boarding my flight, I discovered that this has happened.
Robert Docherty of British Columbia apparently carefully did foreign conversion rates to stay under the legal limit for a trip to Costa Rica. But two days later, the official exchange rate pushed the value of his cash to over $10,000.00. His cash was seized. Mr Docherty tried to get his cash back, but in the first court case, a judge wrote: “This is a case of a traveller sailing too close to the legal winds. But for greed, this applicant would not be in court.”
Really?? Greed? Who exactly is greedy here? Mr. Docherty? Or the government? If I wanted to take $9,950.00 with me, say.. $2,000 for my expenses, and 7950.00 cash to close a business deal… I’m greedy for trying to get the exchange right to be under the limit, two days before hand? That’s greed?
You know what? Our law makers and our law enforcement agencies REGULARLY launder money through unaccounted for expenses, for expenses they should never have, and our so-called “over-seers” are often just as corrupt, or do not have the legislative authority to bring those people to justice to the very same laws they create.
Our governments launders money that they have stolen from tax payers.
I have nothing against the Canada Border Services Agent that stopped me – she was just doing her job, and in a way that a lot of people would, having been given certain legislative powers, and with an ego that such people have… why not use those powers for her own entertainment as well, right? That’s only human nature.
Of course, her superior officers likely told her and her unit…”Hey.. today I want you to go question everyone boarding that Air Transat flight to Athens.” But ultimately, it comes down to an absurd idea about how you can infringe on an individuals rights, prevent their commerce, and control it – and that is not freedom.
If that Border Agent actually had discovered someone traveling with $10,005.00, seized it, wrote a big report about it, made sure all the evidence was in place, she would probably get a big fat gold star in her personnel file. Another few of those and she might get made up to be supervisor, with a big fat pay raise, and the ability to buy a house up in Dufferin County, with some land and a bit of a longer commute to the airport every day.
All the better for her too, if a judge agrees that the person she seized the money from was being “greedy” two days before, in trying to make the correct foreign currency calculations, but misjudged how the market might go. That person is the greedy one! Not our hard working government employee, who’s job it is to create stats. To justify their employment and get promoted.
When will both socialists…and right wingers.. wake up to reality? Individual freedom, and persons doing what they like, and freely contracting, is the best for all concerned?
I’m not really sure how many people were on that fight to Athens. But I do know that there were probably six uniformed people, making big money relative to the rest of us, stopping us all… do the numbers yourself. How much tax paid money was spent in that exercise.. and how much “illegal” money was discovered?
Multiply that by 24 hours a day. And then 365 days a year.
Feel safer now? 🙂