Security on a whim

(I’m back in town and my skin is slowly hydrating. I always forget how dry Calgary & BC can be)

First, a little background as to why I was talking to homeland security in Canada – Calgary has a full service (as far as I can tell) US customs and immigration office in the airport. On US bound flights, you have to go through them before you get to US departure gates. It has always seemed a bit odd to me that Canada would give up that much sovereignty. At the same time it would really suck to get to the US and be turned back for whatever reason.

I had my multi-entry parole for an alien papers on hand (gained by filling out an I-131 and paying a couple hundred bucks), and based on my Mexico/US border experiences, expected a swipe of my passport, a glance at the papers, and a wave. This was not the case in Calgary. They had me fill out a new I-94, which I thought my multi-entry parole make obsolete, then proceeded to run 15 minutes worth of background checks on me. I still must be Canada, the Esquire in the waiting room had nipples showing. After being called up from the empty waiting room they slapped some stamps on my new I-94 and parole (first time it had been stamped) and I was done. I’m not sure what to think. Is the US/Mex border protocol that much more slack? Or is it just that the guys in Canada are so bored that they like to do everything possible?

On the airport security end of things they didn�t seem to give a damn about my shoes, which is all the rage at SAN right now (regardless of whether or not they set off the metal detector). No mechanized chemical sniffers here either – though security had us walk around them in San Diego anyway. They did plance a squinty eye on electronics, inspecting laptops and asking about cameras. My bag was flagged and I was waved over. �You have folding scissors in your bag sir.� I replied that I was pretty sure I didn�t. She showed me the x-ray screen that showed my microtool. �Ah�, I said, and showed that the key chain tool had no knife blade. It makes itself useful by with a couple of small screwdriver heads and some very small pliers. Full sized tools are not allowed of flights of course, because of their clubbing/stabbing potential. Small tools, like eyeglass repair kits, are supposed to be allowed according to the TSA. I had specifically bought the microtool so that I could carry it on (I never check my bag), and had been doing so for about 10 flights over this last year.

�No tools�, she said, and dropped it into a box of knives and lighters. Bugger. I briefly tried to reason with her on TSA regulations, but quickly thought better of that as as it was pretty clear it wasn’t going to happen. Of course, she told me I could have it shipped for the same price I bought it for. Maybe she gets commission. I want to see the financials of the shipping company at the airport. That�s got to be the sickest profit margin around. So anyway, I guess a screwdriver an inch long is a deadly weapon. Maybe they are afraid of me MacGyvering my seat console to show porn on the TV screens. I can see the 24 hour news headline: Moral Terrorist cripples aircraft, 36 offended.

It seems to me that these two events have two possible lessons. One – you are at the mercy of the security person’s interpretation of regulations. Or Two – the system is so broken that it takes a while before someone does the correct action, surprising you. Either way, it doesn’t give one much confidence in the system.

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