Alaskan puzzled after being turned back at Canada border

Confusion stems from disappearing paperwork that might make him admissible

Posted: Sunday, February 13, 2005

PRINCE RUPERT, British Columbia - An Alaska Native man says he's in the middle of a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare after trying to cross into Canada to play in a basketball tournament that began Friday.

David Edenshaw of Hydaburg was turned back by Canadian Border Services Agency officers recently, apparently because of a U.S. drunk-driving conviction 13 years ago.

Edenshaw, who was traveling with his wife, Jolene, was surprised, especially since he'd successfully crossed the border several times before and submitted paperwork required to demonstrate he now is a good citizen.

Movement in both directions across the Canada-U.S. border has been toughened since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

"People with criminal records are not admissible into Canada," said Faith St. John, spokeswoman for border services' Pacific region. "That would include impaired driving."

Aware of the obstacle, Edenshaw applied in 2002 for deemed-rehabilitation, which normally takes about a year. The process aims at clearing people for entry into Canada if they've lived a trouble-free life after a conviction.

The family was pulled aside while crossing the border into Canada in 2003 and informed Edenshaw had been deemed inadmissible. But a border services agent located the rehabilitation paperwork, which had been sent to the wrong address.

"She said, 'You have free passage to our country,' " said Edenshaw. " 'You'll never have a problem again.' "

But when the Edenshaws tried to cross to attend the tournament in Prince Rupert, they were told the agency had no record of such paperwork.

The Edenshaws said they have been traveling back and forth between British Columbia and Alaska without incident for the last 10 years, including five times to visit family on the Queen Charlotte Islands.

After being sent back to Alaska, the Edenshaws began calling around trying to find a way back into Canada.

They claim an immigration official told the family in a roundabout way that perhaps they wouldn't have a problem if they tried again.

As no ferry was running, the family chartered a plane at a cost of $2,400, but border services agents met the plane.

Officials would not discuss individual cases but Immigration spokeswoman Nancy Bray said it's sometimes a case of someone not asking the right questions.

Arnie Bellis, a vice president of the Council of the Haida Nation, wrote to border services on Edenshaw's behalf.

"We're trying to establish that he's been coming here for 10 years without a problem and then all of a sudden he's got a problem," said Bellis. "David Edenshaw hasn't created a problem, the problem is with Customs."

Jolene Edenshaw said the family is ready to take the case as far as they have to.

"I'll talk to the queen herself if it helps," she said. "We don't want to move (to Canada); we just want to play basketball."

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