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definition of internationl "secure" area with international airports

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I thought I understood that when one was in transit internationally, landed/connected at an intervening airport and remained in the "international area" of this airport(if it has one) and did NOT enter the country by clearing customs/passport control one is technically not "in" that country. Since I am applying my own definition to this I will hear/listen to corrections to that definition. I am leading to this--and specifically Canada, and specifically the Toronto airport. Recently my wife was booked on a flight from dfw to Istanbul via Toronto. It is a given that she is on a Canadian "list" of nationalities which "require" what is apparently called a transit visa. My question is, if she was not scheduled nor had any intent to actually enter the country of Canada(and she didn't)(i.e., stay in the "international area") why was ANY kind of visa required? We have encountered visa "situations" before but it was only when actually entering the country in question. If someone could clarify this for me I would appreciate it. Thanks

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