Border crackdown hurting tourism: NWOTA

Members of the North Western Ontario Tourism Association met Friday in Emo and topping the agenda was the issue of people with impaired driving convictions facing difficulty entering Canada.
NWOTA claims stepped up enforcement at the border over the past year has resulted in many American visitors having problems getting into the country to vacation.
NWOTA conducted a survey of its member, with 22 out of the 83 resorts responding. They reported 39 incidents at the border, of which 26 involved impaired driving issues.
Dennis Pella, regional manager for Immigration Canada, told NWOTA members Friday that there had not been any stepped up enforcement prior to Sept. 11 on this issue at any of the crossings from Rainy River to Pigeon River.
After that date, there has been heightened security at the border.
Pella noted Immigration officers only do checks on individuals after it has been recommended at a primary inspection, which is conducted by a Customs officer.
Pella noted Customs officers use a set of routine questions, none of which specifically ask about impaired driving convictions.
He added if a Customs officer suspects the person should be checked out more thoroughly, then he/she is put through a secondary inspection, at which time their driver’s licence or birth certificate will be run through a computer.
Since Criminal Code convictions on a person’s record warrant denial of entry, that is what happens in many cases. But Pella said there are three types of special entries that can be granted.
Often in the case of an impaired driving conviction, the individual can fill out a form and pay $200. Then if the Immigration officer approves, the person is granted admission for a set period of time, up to 30 days.
One of the biggest complaints about that process from NWOTA is that it appears to be a fine, or a cash grab. Pella countered it is a processing fee for the paperwork.
Another complaint is that people who have had clean records other than an impaired driving conviction some 20 years ago are having to face this at the border.
But Pella said Immigration officers take that into account when assessing if the special admission is to be granted or denied.
He also said that once the new Immigration act is implemented, which he thinks will be next summer, Immigration likely won’t worry about convictions 10 years or older.
Pella said that in Bill C-11 there is, at the very least, a 10-year clause.
NWOTA members said they would like to see that dropped to five years, with Pella encouraging them to lobby local MP Robert Nault to get it changed.
But until that time, Pella said, “we can not instruct staff to ignore old offenses. It [DWI] is a criminal offence in federal legislation.”
In many neighbouring states, it is merely a misdemeanor.
Another problem identified by NWOTA is the fact Immigration officers are the only ones who can process the special entries to Canada, and that they tend to work Monday-Friday.
NWOTA president Tom Pearson said most visitors come from Satur-day to Saturday. If they have a problem at the border, no one is there to assess their situation and so they are denied entry.
Pella said if there is sufficient demand for an officer to be on duty at a different time, they would look at it.
But he added camp owners would be wise to tell their clients who think they may have a problem due to a past conviction to notify Immigration of their intended entry date into Canada so they can better accommodate them.
He did, however, note that they cannot be specially cleared in any way other than in person.
NWOTA’s survey estimated all this will cost area resorts that responded to the survey about $127,674 in lost business since many of those who had trouble said they will never come back.
Regionally, NWOTA estimated that figure at about $4.4 million, and across Ontario at $9.4 million.
While it looks like tourists were being targeted, Pella noted that on any given day, the vast majority of people crossing the border are anglers.
“That gives them the highest chance of getting caught,” he said.
NWOTA members said they wish Immigration Canada had let them know ahead of time of the stepped up enforcement. “It is better for us to be upfront with our guests than to be apologizing after the fact,” said one.
Pella agreed to try and supply resorts with brochures later this year or early next year for them to send to prospective guests.