Thinking Out Loud

April 19, 2016

Security Concerns Keep The Newsboys out of Canada

If you were charged with guarding your country's border, would you let these guys in?

If you were charged with guarding your country’s border, would you let these guys in?

This article is about the April, 2016 cancellation. For information on the September, 2016 cancellation, please refer to our post on Saturday, September 24th.

Our friend Randy was standing in line at Subway getting some food for the two hour road trip to the sold-out Friday concert when his cell phone indicated there was a message.

We have an unfortunate announcement. The Newsboys show tonight at Church on the Queensway has been postponed. This show will now take place on September 22, 2016. Please watch for an email in the coming week with an updated ticket for you, as your ticket purchase will automatically transfer to this date. Please see below for the official statement from Newsboys:

To our great fans in Canada,

We regret to announce that tonight’s show in Toronto has been postponed due to circumstances beyond our control.  While we made every attempt to complete all the necessary paperwork required by the Canadian government to cross the border, and with the increased security measures put in place due to the heightened international response to past incidents in Paris, Belgium, and San Bernardino, we were ultimately denied entrance for today.  As such, we have already worked with the great staff at Church on the Queensway to re-schedule tonight’s concert to Thursday, September 22nd.  We are so sorry that we cannot be with you tonight, but we are thankful for the men and women of the Canadian, and American, border security teams, and we look forward to being with you in the fall.

As someone who worked alongside Christian concert promoters in the 1980s, border concerns centered on a single issue: Would Canada Customs allow the band to bring their CDs and T-shirts in? Some tours actually lose money, on paper at least, knowing that the merchandising — the insider term is merch or the merch table — will more than make up the difference.

Once the apparel and music were properly documented, usually a letter from the sponsoring organization was sufficient to get the band members themselves into the country and knowing these were Christian rockers often meant the guards would skip searching the tour bus for drugs.

That was then.

If you’re getting paid to do something, the equation changes. Back in the day, Canadian artists traveling in the other direction were let in on what was called an H1, a recognition that as name artists they weren’t necessarily putting other people with the same name out of work; rather, it was a type of superstar designation that even Christian musicians could use.

But there weren’t then, and there isn’t now the same number of Canadian Christian artists touring the United States as there are American artists Canadians want to hear. In the Christian media industry — be it films, books, or CDs — the U.S. market is the market, and Canada simply is caught up in the spillover from what happens Stateside. (However, it must be said the number of Canadians working in Christian music in the U.S. has grown substantially over the years.)

So whenever you cross the Canada/US border in either direction, be it as a tourist or a professional artist, you are actually having to pass two different clearances at once; (a) Customs and (b) Immigration. The former is concerned with what you’re bringing in, and the latter is concerned with who you are, the area that is now charged with the all important security detail in the wake of increased terrorist activity.

Apparently there was a change in the required paperwork that didn’t get taken care of. Whether or not the concert promoter or the band was responsible doesn’t really matter at this point. But it serves as a reminder to anyone crossing the border on account of their vocation; whether they are going to act, sing or even preach: Make sure your paperwork meets current requirements.

A couple of postscripts:

First, I really like the attitude the band expressed toward the people whose job it was to shut them out. We have to remember that the members of The Newsboys and their support team are, to a great extent, in youth ministry, and here they set a great example for their fans.

Second, I just want to share a true story: When I visited California the second time, I was set up on a blind date with my friend’s neighbor and we dined on the ocean. Part way through the meal she asked me, “I know you flew here this time, but when you came to California the first time, how did you get to the United States?” I explained that we drove from Toronto*, but she wasn’t getting it. Turns out, she thought that the two countries were separated by a great gulf of water. Or a deep crater. Or something. Or now that I look back on it, maybe a big wall.

*The route was something like Toronto to Buffalo to St. Louis to Tulsa to El Paso to San Diego, and I tried several times to explain all that, but I lost her after Toronto. It does really grate on Canadians that we know so much about the U.S., but many of our American cousins are oblivious to all things Canadian.

Musicians: Your CDs and T-shirts are subject to import duties, so it helps to have lots of cash on hand. To pay the duty. Not to bribe the customs officer; that sort of thing is frowned upon.

Preachers: Going the other way, into the U.S., I baffled a U.S. immigration officer who couldn’t fathom why I would be driving from Detroit to Chicago just for a church service. “Are you the one preaching at the service?” And then, “Are you getting paid to be at the service?” No and no. I’m just a church geek.

No Subway® sandwiches were harmed in the making of this report.

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