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Performers barred entry at Gatwick

Two Salt Spring musicians accompanying singer-songwriter Allison Crowe on tour in Britain faced a harrowing experience last Tuesday at the hands of the United Kingdom Border Authority.

Crowe’s Salt Spring-based manager Adrian du Plessis reported that band members Billie Woods and Laurent Boucher were held with Crowe for close to 11 hours when customs officials found the group didn’t have the required “certificate of sponsorship” documents.

Band member Dave Baird was granted entry to the UK because he holds dual Canadian and British citizenship.

Crowe and friends were unaware of new regulations that came into effect on November 27, 2008 — rules that were put in place just six weeks after Crowe had last visited the UK.

The new legislation requires that visiting artists obtain a Certificate of Sponsorship from each participating venue, which costs the sponsor a minimum of 400 British pounds. Visitors must also prove having 800 pounds in savings for the past three months.

In addition, visitors from non-EU countries are required to have biometric scans and legally accepted fingerprints on their passports.

Du Plessis said that Crowe was finally able to call him after five hours in a private interrogation cell when she was moved to a communal area with a pay phone. The manager spent hours calling the officials and trying to work out the misunderstanding which posed the musicians as potential terrorists or illegal immigrants.

“Ultimately it’s all just a colossal mess,” du Plessis said. “No one seems to know about how this works or how the rules are actually applied.”

In Crowe’s case, not having the Certificate of Sponsorship was enough to get her deported back to Canada.

“They said they wouldn’t let them in because there was no evidence they were going to leave,” du Plessis said, even though the group had rail tickets to Germany, the next stop on their European tour. Officials said that was a security risk because the train would pass through Belgium and France.

Du Plessis then offered to buy Crowe, Woods and Boucher tickets directly from Gatwick airport to Germany, but the Border Authority opted instead to send them back to Toronto, their exit point from Canada.

Du Plessis said the situation initially appeared much worse because officials said other EU countries would respect the UK’s “barred from entry” stamp. The manager immediately called the German embassy in Vancouver, who said they were surprised that visiting artists would be treated so poorly. While embassy staff said Germany has no similar regulations, they advised du Plessis to check with German federal border guards.

Salt Spring resident Axel Dollheiser, who joins the band later this week as their European tour manager, called the German authorities and was assured the group would be welcomed into the country.

“The other countries not only don’t have these policies, they offer concessions and make it easier for artists and academics to come in because they want the cultural exchange,” du Plessis noted.

Having arrived safely in Frankfurt, the band was recovering at their upcoming jazz venue with conversation and good local beer, du Plessis said Monday.

Despite the traumatic experience, he feels some good will come to the musicians and the world community.

“This law is clearly wrong and unjust. People who are innocent of any wrong are being denied entry just because border officials don’t believe they’ll leave again.”

Du Plessis said with public figures like Crowe, Globe and Mail columnist Leah McLaren, and Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov affected, media coverage and political leverage from other European Union countries could help overturn a law he says can make the UK appear as a police state acting out of step with other western nations.


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