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  • Odd treatment of “naturalized” people (guess who) by Air Canada/Canadian Government at Narita Airport

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on February 7th, 2010

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    Hi Blog.  Writing to you from Calgary, Canada.  As a tangent that might not be all that tangental, let me tell you about an odd experience I had at Narita Airport yesterday.

    It was a breeze for a change getting out of Hokkaido and going overseas (which generally means, if you don’t go through Seoul, that you go through KIX or Narita), as my bags were checked all the way through to Vancouver (meaning I didn’t have to get my bags and go through long-lined Immigration procedures again at Narita).  And no, there were no double-takes at my Japanese passport at any stage of the game.

    That is, until boarding.  I had a ten-hour layover in Narita (!! — it was longer than my actual flight to Canada), so I holed up in the United Airlines lounge (the ANA lounge idiotically won’t take non-members willing to pay 50 bucks at United or Delta) for the duration and got stuff done (free beer and internet, not bad at all).  Then when I was heading back for the gate about fifteen minutes before boarding, I was paged along with about four other people to come to the Air Canada desk at the gate.

    They asked to see my passport.  I obliged.  Then they asked (whole exchange in Japanese):

    “You’re naturalized, right?”  Yes.

    “What was your nationality before?”

    I double-took and told them that was unessential information.

    “So you are unwilling to say?”

    I asked what this information was necessary for.

    “We’re just asking.”

    “No you’re not.  Who needs this information?  You as the airline?”

    “No, the Canadian Government wants it.  They’re an immigration country.  They’re trying to avoid faked passports.”

    Me:  “Erm, I don’t get it.  I’m not on a faked passport, obviously.  And it’s not a Canadian passport anyway.  Why are naturalized people more suspicious?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “Were any of the other four people you paged called up for a passport check?”

    “No, different business.”

    “So you’re only singling out the naturalized people for extra identity checks?”


    “This is, frankly, annoying and insulting.  And unCanadian.  I went over there in 2006 and was not subjected to this.  When did this start?”

    “I don’t know.  I’ve only been working here about a year.”

    “Well, I’m not telling you my birth nationality.  It’s unnecessary.  And I don’t see how knowing that helps you smoke out any faked passports.  Okay?”

    That was fine.  They pursued it no further.

    I got through YVR and other checkpoints just fine, again, with no double takes.

    Any thoughts from people out there?  Anyone with connections to the Canadian government willing to ask around and see if this is actual policy?

    Arudou Debito in Calgary

    15 Responses to “Odd treatment of “naturalized” people (guess who) by Air Canada/Canadian Government at Narita Airport”

    1. Malaya Says:

      The first thing that came to my mind is a story of immigration policies in Germany pertaining African American visiting scholars that was circulated on an H-Net email list a few years ago. I can’t recall the details but I remember thinking it was pretty outrageous, and thought, wow, Japan is not the only country who’s behind — even though such a discourse is usually more prevalent in the conversations and attitudes of especially academics involved with Japan.

      On the other hand, having this incident occurred with Canadian gov, with relatively a more progressive image, I am also reminded of another situation which is US-Canada border crossing which used to be FREE (i.e. no passport) but beginning a couple of years ago they started to require passports. This I know because I’m not summer camping in Canada any more! This of course has to do with ostensible terrorists search with a prompt of its powerful neighbor.

      [irrelevant tangent deleted]

      — I think we’re more sophisticated here than just saying “Japan is behind the West”.

    2. george Says:

      For the record, all Canadian passports clearly state the bearer’s place of birth. It’s often a simple matter to deduce original nationality from that tit bit of information.

      And as a Naturalized Canadian, my personal experience is I am far more likely to be singled out for “extra screening” than any of my fellow passengers. In fact, it’s the exception when I’m not chosen for full body pat down and/or full bag search. (One of the reasons I enjoy my trips to Japan — Narita security never seems to take any notice of me…)

    3. Premster Says:

      I’m naturalized for well over a year now, closer to two I think. I travel quite a lot, pretty much to every region of the world. When I started traveling on my J passport I expected all sorts of questions and looks. So a bit surprised when I got absolutely no questions from either Japanese or other authorities.

      I’m Indian by birth, lived and worked in many countries, Japan is my third and likely final nationality. I should add that just as some people seem to get singled out for checks/questions more often than others, I seem to have the opposite luck – so far never been singled out at airports etc, and actually never faced discriminatory behavior either positive or negative over 10 years in Japan. It’s turning into a real mystery, maybe it’s because I never ride a bicycle about town 😉

      Back to the passport. Got one reaction from a security guard in Shanghai when standing in line, he noticed the unique red color and walked over to me and asked “Japanese?” I said yes, and he smiled and said welcome to China. Didn’t ask to look at the passport, suppose he was confused to see the little red book in my hands. Another time a swiss immigration officer said “Japanese? I thought you were Swiss!” Wtf, dude I’m brown. Apparently my name is a common Swiss name too. Both were just friendly banter, not questioning in any way…

      Well I expected more curiosity at least… but nothing in over 10 international trips on my J passport. I guess it’s not as special as I thought :-)

    4. The Investigator Says:

      George – Japanese passports don’t show place of birth but instead have an entry for ‘registered domicile’; the prefecture where your family registry is.

      So, there is no way to tell from a Japanese passport in which country the holder was born, or whether they were naturalized. Which makes Debito’s experience all the more creepy.

      [unintelligible comment deleted]

    5. Oli Says:

      This reminds me of the situation I was in at Narita many years ago, I’m Hong Kong born but nationalised as a UK citizen, so hence I have a UK passport.

      On different occasions during check-in at Narita the check-in freaked out called a supervisor and ask me if I was a UK citizen even though they were looking at my passport. This happend at the check-in counter as well as the gate, this happened maybe for the 3rd or 4th time, by then I was complaining to their supervisor “are you serious, read my passport what does it say “British Citizen” right?”, the supervisor answered mumbled something about they thought it was a BNO (British Nationals Overseas) passport, so I said “read me what it says on the front passport”.

      As for the security guy at the gate I travelled enough time that he recognised me and stopped asking questions :)

      Another story:

      The other thing they freak out on is that I’m also a Hong Kong ID card holder, hence I exit Japan on my UK passport and enter Hong Kong with my ID card, hence I do not have any HK stamps on my passport.

      Many years ago when I used my UK driving license to get a Japanese license the guys at Samesu keep me waiting for about 40mins, because they couldn’t understand how I got my certificate of eligibilty in Hong Kong without any HK stamps on my passport :)
      Anyway after the long wait they finally called me over and I told them I have a ID card as well, but I was thinking why does it matter considering I already have my Visa stamps and that this was the driving license center, not immigration.

    6. phil adamek Says:

      To quote your translation from the spoken Japanese: “They’re (i.e., Canada is) an immigration country.” This remark presupposes so much, not only about Canada but by implication about Japan, which I imagine the speaker assumes is not one. Does such a rigid distinction truly exist? Or is that just a prejudicial way of talking and thinking?

    7. John Says:

      Suing Canada 2.5m over passport dispute
      plus an apology from the Prime Minister.

      Woman detained in Kenya suing Ottawa for $2.5M

      Updated: Fri Aug. 21 2009 6:09:45 PM News Staff

      A Canadian woman stranded for almost three months in Kenya over false claims that she was an impostor is now suing Ottawa for $2.5 million for her ordeal.

      Lawyers for Suaad Hagi Mohamud are also asking for a public inquiry and apology from the federal government that Mohamud says “let her down.”

      “I don’t care about the money,” Mohamud told a Toronto news conference Friday. “I’m only going to court so this never happen to another Canadian citizen.”

      Mohamud, 31, finally arrived home in Toronto last Saturday after being stranded for three months in Kenya, where she had been visiting her mother. She had been barred from leaving the African nation after authorities there said she did not resemble her four-year-old passport photo.

      Mohamud produced several other forms of identification to prove her identity, including her Ontario driver’s licence, her health card, social insurance card and a Canadian citizenship certificate.

      But the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi agreed she was an impostor, voided her Canadian passport, and handed her over to Kenyan authorities for prosecution on charges of identity theft.

      She spent nine days in jail, which she called “horrible.” She slept on the floor, and children were locked up with their mothers.

      “One lady had blood on her hand. They said it was blood from the person she killed,” she said. “I was afraid. I couldn’t sleep.”

      Only a DNA test that proved she was related to her 12-year-old son in Toronto was finally able to confirm Mohamud was who she said she was. She returned to Toronto Saturday and was reunited with her son, Mohamed Hussein.

      “What would have happened if my son had come with me to Kenya?” Mohamud wondered Friday. “What would have happened if I didn’t have a son, or something that could vouch for who I am?”

      Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has said the Canadian Border Services Agency is working on a report detailing how Mohamud came to be detained in Kenya. On Sunday, he said he would wait to read the report before deciding whether to award Mohamud compensation.

      An inquiry must be called to investigate whether Mohamud’s race and culture played a role in how she was treated, said one of Mohamud’s lawyers, Julian Falconer. Falconer represented Maher Arar in his lawsuit against Ottawa.

      “If a Caucasian person had been in Suaad’s position in Kenya, would she have received the callous and reckless treatment she did?” he said.

      “We don’t know the answer. We need someone to look at it and answer that question, because frankly, I find it hard to believe that a white, Anglo-Saxon person in her position would have been treated the same way.”

      The statement of claim alleged that embassy officials “deliberately and-or negligently” failed to properly conduct an investigation into Mohamud’s identity.

      It also alleges Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Van Loan failed to respond to the situation when they became aware of the case.

    8. DR Says:

      Too weird, but let me give you my two pesetas worth.

      (1) In recent years the Israeli Mossad has used false passports to effect hits, sometimes using Canadian passports, and reportedly, of late in Dubai, using Irish passports. Canada has, in general, despite the fact that a Canadian can look like a member of any conceivable ethic group, looked twice at travel documents in the light of these events. I have a Canadian passport too, and I get looked at weird sometimes too.

      (2) The rules for carriers in Canada were tightened about 10 years ago, making the company responsible for anyone inadmissable to Canada the responsibility of the airline when they landed in Canada. S. Koreans, for example, and I think Taiwanese at one stage, on flights transiting through the US often have their passports held by crew until they leave US airspace for points Asian. They were contained in the aircraft during the stopover. Cases of false documentation also piqued airline desk peoples’interest, as they bore responsibility. (Legal and financial.)

      (3) Like George above, I have been singled out as the only non-Japanese on two or three flights now transiting through US flight-boarding procedures with “SS” (Secondary Screening) printed on the corner of the boarding pass I held. My Japanese wife did not have that printed, and we had adjoining seats, and she ended up waiting in the hall at the other end of the process for up to twenty or thirty minutes each time. The airline decided to print that on the pass, I guess.

      (4) The other time-specific event that might have any “unusual” things flagged, like a Caucasian with a Japanese passport, is the Toyako Summit-style security expected in the run up to the Olympic games. Nobody wants to be seen to be the one to screw up. I’m not on the ground in Vancouver, or dealing with the folks at Narita, but, if things are proceeding as I imagine, instructions have come down from on high for extra vigilance. (Apparently the company contracted for security at the games and YVR is directly related to the company which ran security at Logan the day of 9/11, and in Schipol during the ‘underpants bomber’ event on Christmas day past, and folks are jittery. Maybe you’ll have a better perspective on that version of security there after your trip?)

      My take is that some ass-covering was happening, more than anything else. And we all know how folks don’t like to take personal responsibility….for much of anything!

    9. Chris Says:

      Canada is horrific when it comes to passports- especially in enforcement and renewals.
      I am currently in the process of renewing and they have demanded 4 forms of id, and 4 references.
      When I called and said I had only 3 valid forms of id, the woman told me to send my gaijin card to the embassy in Tokyo(!!!). I told her “I can get arrested or fined if I am caught without it, and you have all my other forms of id” to which she replied “there is no other choice.”
      Luckily I negotiated for a lawyer-signed photocopy that cost me 1man… :(

    10. Steve von Maas Says:

      I just like how you told the guy “it’s un-Canadian!”.

    11. Laura Says:

      It IS un-Canadian….but not un-Canadian federal government. Sorry, they suck. Took me a year to get a citizenship certificate for my daughter and forever to renew my passport too. You need a guarantor as well who has known you personally for 2 years…my baby`s not even 2 yet…no one has known her for 2 years! I had to go and have a notary notarize the whole process.
      Hopefully the Albertans are nicer to you while you`re there!

    12. gary Says:

      Hi Debito ,
      nothing related to your post above but I have just watched a preview of the winter olympics in Vancouver on TBS with two curling teams “Japan” v “Canada “and guess what we have, Japanese gentlemen representing the canadian womens’ curling team with blonde wigs and huge fake plastic noses . To say Im gobsmacked is an understatement , Its like living in a racist timewarp.
      I sometimes despair, In fact I constantly despair…

    13. Ben Says:

      Debito, how were you flagged as naturalized?

      — You know, I don’t know! Good question.

    14. The Shark Says:

      Hi Debito,

      If they say “trying to avoid faked passports” one might also reply:

      “I’ve just passed through Japanese immigration so how could my passport possibly be fake (unless, of course, you believe that gate agents are better than immigration officers)”
      “How could the knowledge of my nationality at birth possibily help you to determine whether or not my passport is fake.”

      — I did raise the second question. The questioner cocked her head at that one too.

    15. maria Says:


      maybe because his name is 有道出人…there’s likely to have been other naturalized persons, but probably none so easy to spot.

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