Friday, November 29, 2013
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford could be denied entry to U.S.
U.S. officials declined to discuss the specifics of Ford’s case, citing privacy laws. But they readily addressed the question of whether a hypothetical Canadian citizen would be welcome in the U.S. after speaking publicly about consuming crack cocaine.
In an email exchange, Customs and Border Protection public affairs officer Mike Milne quoted from the controlled substances section of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, which says someone is “inadmissible” to the U.S. if he has either been “convicted of” or “admits having committed” a violation of drug laws in the U.S. or elsewhere.
When pressed to clarify, Milne highlighted the words “admits having committed” and “inadmissible” in bright yellow. Translation: the admission of crack use is itself grounds for refusing a foreigner entry.
Lawyers specializing in cross-border legal questions say there are workarounds. Among Ford’s options: he can apply in advance for a “waiver of inadmissibility” from the U.S. to ensure safe passage.
Waiver requests are judged case-by-case and often depend on the reasons for travel. The application fee is $585, and the process can take up to a year.
Ford may test his luck as early as December. He told the Toronto Sun he “definitely” wants to attend the NHL’s Jan. 1 Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., when the Toronto Maple Leafs will face off against the Detroit Red Wings in front of 107,000 fans.
Ford’s chief of staff, Dan Jacobs, and lawyer, Dennis Morris, did not respond to a request to say whether the mayor has applied or will apply for a waiver.
“My advice to Rob Ford would be, ‘Don’t leave town.’ The short version of a long story is yes, he has a border problem,” said lawyer Joel Sandaluk of the Toronto firm Mamann, Sandaluk & Kingwell LLP.
“Even people who flippantly mention to a U.S. customs agent that they smoked a bit of weed in their life can have problems,” Sandaluk said. “And I believe in Ford’s case, he said ‘a lot’ of weed. And then (he) spoke about smoking crack.”
The letter of U.S. law isn’t always applied evenly at the border. Take Justin Trudeau, for example, who made headlines in August after admitting that he smoked marijuana as recently as three years ago. Two months later, he had no difficulties when he travelled south for his first visit to Washington.
But the difference here isn’t just pot versus crack. It’s known versus unknown, immigration lawyers say. Trudeau’s family name may be a familiar one in U.S. political circles, but most Americans wouldn’t be able to pick the current Liberal leader out of a lineup. Rob Ford, on the other hand, is now a globally familiar face to watchers of news and late-night comedy shows alike.
“At this point, Rob Ford is a unique individual,” Sandaluk said. “I tell other clients in a similar situation, clients who haven’t been in the news, that their chances are 50-50.
“If you aren’t questioned specifically, if it doesn’t come up, then it’s ‘Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies’ and you’re in. With Ford, my advice — out of an abundance of caution — would be different.”
Ford has been let into the U.S. repeatedly despite his 1999 conviction in Florida for impaired driving. (He had a marijuana joint with him when he was arrested; a possession charge was dropped.) Impaired driving is not one of the offences for which foreigners are denied entry, according to the CBP website.
Ford has spent time at his family’s condo in Florida during his mayoral term. He has also led business missions to Austin and to Chicago, where his family business has an office. A planned mission to Boston was called off in the wake of the crack scandal, and no other official trips are currently planned for the last year of Ford’s term.
Councillor Michael Thompson, the Ford-appointed chair of the economic development committee, said Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly could represent the city on a future trip Ford was not permitted to make. But he said that “it does pose, obviously, a problem” to have a mayor who may not be able to promote the city.
“Look, even if the U.S. had said the mayor would be allowed, the question would be, would other mayors and other folks stand with our mayor?” Thompson said.
Abby Deshman, direct of the public safety program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said it is “really concerning” that U.S. border officials deny entry to Canadians on the basis of non-conviction information about such things as mental illness and 911 calls. Ford, she said, “has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
But given that Ford has himself admitted to crack use, Deshman added, “It definitely would not be the most concerning case I have seen of non-conviction information being used to infer guilt or innocence of a person. We are more concerned about allegations that are levied by other people.”
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