Secondary Inspection at YYZ, or “Only in Toronto” you say


Only in Toronto, can a woman who appears to only speak Mandarin experience such an unexpected saviour.

But let me take you back about an hour.  I had decided to take a food treats from around the world for our White Elephant exchange in Milwaukee.  I have a Nexus card which at YYZ directs you to a iris-scanner with questions such as,  “Do you have any ….,food,….”.  Of course, I answered yes.

Answering “yes” to any of the 4 questions routes you into secondary US inspection, which normally wouldn’t be that bad, about 15 minutes or so to explain what you have, and then be cleared. No problem, I was 2 hours early for my flight.

You can imagine my shock to walk in and see the room full.   Conversations with others around indicated the wait was over an hour for Nexus and most people were missing flights.

So, I sat down, paying attention to the sign that no electronics are allowed, and watching people walk through the door, go into shock, and then, sadly take a seat.

After a while it becomes apparent there are at least two queues:  Nexus/Global/Customs, versus Immigration type.   Individuals who were concerned about their flight would go up, attempt to beg their way into jumping the queue; however, all it did was consume the agents time as they explained multiple times “We have nothing to do with your airline, it is up to you to get here early enough to catch your flight, no, we won’t move you up in the queue, no, that is up to you & your airline” and so on.

In the midst of this hubbub, an elderly woman who appeared to be Chinese approached the desk.  Each time she approached, she was more agitated.  Each and every time, the agent at the primary desk was abrupt with her, and increasingly rude, making comments to the entire room “I don’t speak no Chinese”.    The woman would look around in hope, then head back to her chair, where other people around her would try to calm her.

Now, being in that room is as close as most North Americans will get to the experience of a totalitarian state.  Whether it is true or not, the fear is that if you open your mouth or speak anything you will be punished for doing so.  People are refused entry for answering questions incorrectly or showing up with the wrong reports.  Most people sit and keep their mouth shut. It was unlikely anyone would risk interceding unless there became a concern for her health.

At one point, the woman tried to leave the room; however, the agent took her by the arm and told her to sit down.  This increased her fear & concern.  She then approached the primary desk where she could see the yellow envelopes where the passports and paperwork are kept. She was wanting hers back, thinking if she had it, she could leave.

The agent at the immigration desk was extremely rude.  He was speaking to everyone but her.  Another agent came out, who appeared to be a supervisor.  The desk agent said “She is threatening me, I do not have to interview her” (or some such language), and made asides such as “This woman should have a translator”.  At no time did he attempt to solve the issue. He was advising he wasn’t going to allow her entry.

The woman was again taken back to her seat.

About this time, a young man arrived who was clearly ticked that he had arrived at customs and was  sent to secondary inspection.  Why was he upset?  He had come to the airport the day before to have all his paperwork reviewed and actions taken; however, the agent doing the work had neglected to sign one form…..so today when he arrived, he was rejected.

As this man was being processed in an expedited fashion, the elderly woman noticed that a young Asian man had arrived who appeared to be of Chinese ancestry.  Her face lit up and she walked over to him and started chatting in Mandarin.  He looked at us with a shrug and uncomfortable grimace……and tried to explain to her that he didn’t understand.  He was an English-speaking Canadian from Toronto, though, yes, he was “Asian” in appearance.

The poor woman finally understood the situation and turned away, dejected and muttering, when a miracle occurred.

That tall blonde “hockey-player” looking guy started to speak to her in Mandarin.

Her face lit up like she had met her long-lost grandson, and she started to speak quickly and non-stop.

He, in turn, tried to have her slow down, and listened to her, and they spoke together in Mandarin, he not near as fluent, but with hand gestures was getting by.

The customs agent looked like a solution had been found, had him translate where she was going and how long she was staying, and within 5 minutes, she was released to go.

It was a Canadian/Toronto moment:  hung up in YYZ’s secondary US inspection, a blue-eyed blonde-haired hockey player saves the day by speaking Mandarin to the elderly Chinese woman, whilst the Asian-heritage fellow looks on, and the US agents stood by.

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