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|| News Item: Posted 2000-02-23

Oh Canada, We Stand on Guard for Thee
By Chris Covatta

Photo by
There's a war going on along the Canadian border that has working photographers caught in the crossfire. It's been going on for years, but seems to be getting even nastier. It involves deceit, deception, and the protection of the Canadian workforce. So, sit back and listen to my tale of woe.

I was recently assigned by Upper Deck to shoot an NBA game in Vancouver. Sounded simple enough. Fly to Vancouver, arrive about 1:30 p.m., go to the arena, set-up, shoot the game, and fly back to the States the next morning.

I've been to Canada countless times, shooting portraits, hockey, and basketball. I know that customs can be difficult. Some cities are worst than others. Toronto--difficult, Vancouver--easy.

But I've shot numerous games in Vancouver for the NBA and never had any hassle with customs. "Come on in, ya hey there! Shooting the Grizzlies, hey? Have a good time."

So, even though I hadn't been to Canada for a couple of years, this assignment would be a piece of cake.

My flight arrives on time. I take the long walk down the glass-enclosed hallways and descend the stairs to custom. The lines are long but I'm still confident that there won't be a problem.

Photo by
I pause a second and survey the lines. It's important to pick a line that's moving quickly. It's an indication that the custom agent may be more lenient. All the lines appear about the same, so I queue up, and benchmark a man wearing a cowboy hat in a line two-away to see which line is moving faster.

After 15-minutes the cowboy is twice as far as me. I begin to question my decision.

"Should I move?"

"Is there trouble ahead?"

I decide to stay the course. It was a decision that I would soon regret.

Finally, after 45-minutes, I reach the customs agent. "State your business," she barks.

"I'm shooting the Vancouver - Chicago game and will be leaving in the morning." I say with confidence and a smile.

"You're working for money?" she questions, her cold, calculating eyes piercing my skull.

"I'm shooting the Vancouver - Chicago game and will be leaving in the morning," I say again, a little less confidently.

Another hard look, quick, illegible marks on the customs form, and the words I dread hearing: "Go to Immigration."

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin
"Now I'm fucked!" I think as I gather my camera cases and enter another long line at Immigration.

An hour goes by. I'm no nearer picking up my rental and heading to the arena. It's now 3:30 PM.

"Maybe I should just ask, when's the next flight to the States? Is all this bullshit necessary? Maybe they know how I really feel about Canadians: They smile to your face, but turn your back and they'll stick a beaver up you ass!!!"

An agent signals for me to stand before her.

"Why are you coming to Canada?" she asks.

"I'm shooting the game tonight for Upper Deck," I reply.

"Can't a Canadian shoot the game?" she questions.

"Hell no!" I think. "For a Canadian to shoot a sport, it must involve toothless bastards with sticks and little rubber object that hurts like hell when it hits you. They don't have a clue about hoops

I hold my tongue. I say I don't know but I need to get to the arena as soon as possible. And, please, is there anything I could do to shoot the game.

She tells me she has to make some calls. Please take a seat. The clock ticks and I wait.

Another agent deals with a couple from China. He checks papers, ask questions, and than welcomes them to Canada and wishes them a happy life in their new home. I can only think: "Get the hell out of here, go back to China. Communism can't be that bad. Do you really want live in this goddamn country?"

I'm summoned back to the counter. The Grizzlies have verified that I'm working the game that night. "Ah," I think, "the nightmare is coming to an end!" I need to make a few more calls," she says. Off she goes. Back to my seat I go.

It's now 4:45 PM.

Again I'm called to the counter. "Yes, Mr. Covatta you can work tonight. It will cost you $150.00 for a temporary work visa," she informs me.

I pay my money and leave customs three and1/2 hours after landing.

Photo by
I arrive at the arena at 5:30 for a 7:00 tip-off. Frazzled. I set-up for the game, pound a couple cups of coffee, go outside and inhale more than a few cigarettes. I shoot the game, collect my equipment, head to the hotel. I order room service, eat for the first time since
breakfast, and curse ever accepting the assignment in the first place.

So, what's the moral of this tale?

Don't go to Canada on assignment unless you REALLY need the money.

Let the Canadians have hockey. Take away the two NBA teams. Don't let any Canadian products into the U.S. What the hell is Canadian bacon, anyway?

Okay, Neil Young can stay, and so can the guys from Kids in the Hall, but Shania Twain? send her packing. And no more football up there, it's three downs and you punt, what's up with that? But if you just have to go, here's some advice:

* Lie your ass off. If you are not carrying a lot of equipment, tell them you are entering Canada for pleasure. Don't ever tell them you are working.

* If you are carrying more than a few cases, don't tell them it's a pleasure trip. A few years ago, I did just that only to have my equipment impounded. Only a simpatico agent the next morning released my equipment in time for me to shoot the assigned portrait.

* Drive. If you have an assignment in Vancouver, fly to Seattle and drive to Canada. If the assignment is in Toronto, fly to Buffalo, and drive from there. It's easier driving across the boarder with your equipment.

* Remember, you're on "VACATION", not working.

* Broker. You can also hire a broker. They will met you at customs and fill-out the appropriate papers to get you and your equipment into the country. It's an expensive proposition, and is only advisable if your client will foot the bill.

* Carnet. You can also purchase a Carnet. It is accepted by many countries, including Canada. The cost is based on the value of equipment listed plus ancillary fees. The fees start at $150.00. A Carnet would definitely be the way to go if you have a lot of international assignments

(Chris Covatta is a freelance photographer based in Austin, TX. When not on the road for the NBA and Upper Deck teaches a course in" International Diplomacy" at the DeVrey Institute.)

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