Green Card Surprise


Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D.

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One summer afternoon, more than a decade ago,  I had scheduled  a river diving class dive on a swift water wreck called the Monarch. This wreck lies in about 60 ffw just downstream from the Blue Water Bridge. This was to be the sixth dive (graduation dive) for the class. For decades, this site has been  used for both teaching and recreation. Teaching river diving is very equipment intensive. (See River Equipment   for a photo of the stuff I carry when teaching river diving)

After I crossed the Blue Water Bridge,  the border guard (looking intently at all the equipment in my car), asked me the purpose of my visit to Canada. I replied that I was a scuba instructor from Ann Arbor, Michigan and that I was teaching a river class for 1 student (who was directly behind me in line). The guard asked why I had to teach in Canada and I replied that the Monarch was a unique wreck site. I added that I had been diving this site (both as a diver and instructor) for more than a decade.

He asked me if I had ever done commercial diving in Canada. I said, " No.." I stated I was a recreational diver and that, aside from teaching river diving, the only time I dove in Canada was for pure recreation. He asked if all the equipment in the back of my car was mine. I said, "Yes" and added that as an instructor, I carried extra life support gear and rescue equipment. I pointed out my gear was all labeled with my initials.

He then asked me if I had a Green Card to allow employment in Canada. I said, " No." This question caught me totally by surprise. It had never occurred to me that a green card would be required for diving in Canada with American students.

He then requested that I pull my car over for inspection.

The Canadian authorities removed all my dive gear and inspected it. I was repeatedly asked if I ever did commercial diving in Canada. I was even asked if I had intended to sell the diving gear in my car. Each time I was asked, I answered, "No." I explained my one student was from Ann Arbor (more than 200 miles away). All my teaching was referral from former students and was based in Ann Arbor. I never (because of the swift water turbulence) taught river diving for more than one student at a time. 

It was repeatedly pointed out to me that my teaching in Canadian waters without a green card was illegal.

After the longest 45  minutes of my life, I was informed that I could complete this one class dive on the Monarch, but if I ever returned to Canada to teach without a green card, I could lose all my dive equipment at the border for violating Canadian labor laws.

I repacked the car and my student and I went to the dive site and dove the Monarch. As always, this was a superb dive.

As we emerged from the water post-dive, we were met by a well-dressed gentleman who stated he had been driving by the dive site and saw our dive flag from the road. He added that he had berthed his sailboat in a near-by marina, had lost his glasses over-board, and was near panic because of their loss. He was looking for a diver to search under his boat for these glasses. He added that he was virtually helpless without them. He offered me an advance of $500 Canadian to go with him to the marina and dive for his glasses.

I told him I was a recreational diver and that his best bet would be to talk to the local marina 'cause they most likely had encountered this situation before. He said that he had done this and that the  nearest diver was 400 km away and "was unavailable." He repeated his offer several times. After all, this was an alleged emergency. Finally, he asked me if I ever had done any commercial diving in Canada. I said, "No."  I informed him that I considered  marinas dangerous places to dive because of possible in-water electrical currents from improperly grounded boats, low visibility and much boat traffic, and, as such, that sort of diving was best done by properly equipped professionals. With that, he smiled at me and left.

Note: It is impossible to see the dive flag (even with superb vision) from the road. At that time. the river was 10-15 feet below the parking lot and the flag was anchored  behind a steel curtain break wall.

Cross-Section of the Monarch Dive Site


I thought the whole thing was most bizarre and quite unsettling. It remains the only time in my life I have been hassled at a border crossing.

Although I believe this was an isolated incident (triggered by some one or some action unknown to me and unrelated to me or my personal diving), I have terminated all river teaching activities in Canada. While Canada offers some absolutely wonderful recreational dive sites (which I still visit and highly recommend), especially along the St. Clair River,  the uncertainty of potential conflict with labor laws and the threat of loss of all dive gear at the border was sufficient for me to cease bringing my students across an international border.

The points are:

1  Crossing an international border can lead to surprises.

2. All nations have laws which must be respected.

3. It is in your best interests to understand existing laws prior to traveling to a "foreign" nation.  While it is common for scuba instructors in many nations to travel across international borders for specialty and advanced class dive training, apparently this MAY BE a potential legal problem.  I chose simply to abandon all "foreign-country" teaching (but biochemistry, not diving, pays my rent) ... those who teach away from their homeland should get legal advice on their activities to avoid any "border surprises!"


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About The Author: 

Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D. is a biochemist and Diving Safety Coordinator at the University of Michigan. He has authored more than 100 scuba related articles. His personal dive library (See Alert Diver, Mar/Apr, 1997, p. 54) is considered one of the best recreational sources of information In North America.

  Copyright 2001-2022  by Larry "Harris" Taylor

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