Monday, September 15, 2008

Travel woes?

Do you have a hard time flying these on:
Montreal producer changes name after identity theft causes hassle at border
MONTREAL - The head of one of the largest classical music labels in Canada has had to change his name after he couldn't get it off a U.S. customs and immigration terrorism watch list.
Mario Labbe - who now goes by Francois Mario Labbe - had major problems getting into the United States since his identity was stolen after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"Six months after, at the beginning of 2002, I tried to fly to New York and I started having problems," said Labbe, the Montreal-based president of Analekta, which records such artists as violinist Angele Dubeau and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.
"Since then, interrogations every time I fly to the States," he added, noting he usually missed his flights because of the delays. "As soon as they scanned my passport the screen would become red."
He's been grabbed at airport check-ins and grilled for hours by customs agents when his name gets red-flagged as he tries to board a plane.
"When they realize I'm not a terrorist, it's fine, I can go in," said Labbe, who said he has never had a criminal record.
But the hassles proved so daunting that he gave up going to the United States in 2004.
"It was a nightmare. The waiting was between one and six hours."
He sent company staff on the business trips instead.
Oddly, his name was never on a no-fly list.
Labbe said he thinks the security lists were devised by a panicked U.S. government in the wake of Sept. 11.
He agrees security needed to be tightened after the attacks but says the way it was done is anything but foolproof.
"Right now, it's served the opposite purpose because there are too many lists," he said. "They don't target the right person."
Police have often cited identity theft as a problem, particularly relating to fraud. The 2008 report by Criminal Intelligence Service Canada says nine out of 10 Canadians worry about having their identity stolen.
Labbe said he was asked by a hotel clerk during a November 2001 visit to turn over his passport when he checked in late one night. Although he protested, Labbe was told this was a new policy since the Sept. 11 attacks.
When he checked out the next day, another clerk returned the passport to him, saying Labbe had forgotten it at the desk. When he told the clerk he had been ordered to turn it in, he was told there was no such policy.
Labbe said he eventually got a letter from U.S. authorities who said he had been the victim of misidentification. They surmised his identity had been stolen.
The thief had apparently committed a number of crimes.
"I discovered throughout many interrogations and interviews that I had that it was probably related to terrorist acts," Labbe said.
Last spring, a lawyer friend advised him to change his name because "you'll never get out of that. You'll die before you see the end of it."
Labbe did tell a reporter about his problems and he believes questions by the media, as well as his name change, helped him resolve his situation.
He said he has now been granted a Nexus pass, which allows faster entry into the United States. An earlier attempt to get the pass was refused. He also has a new passport.
Labbe said he has started an official process to get himself off the U.S. customs list but he isn't holding his breath.

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