Canada taking action against passport proposal

The federal government released a document last week outlining its official position on the proposed plan by the United States to make document requirements more stringent, and continues to hold discussions with American officials to keep travel at the border both secure and efficient.
“We don’t like the initiative. It’s causing us a lot of trouble and we’re working very closely with border states who are also against it,” said Neil Reeder, director general of the communications bureau at Foreign Affairs Canada.
Reeder was speaking to a group of journalists in Ottawa on a trip with Foreign Affairs’ Media Outreach Program.
Last December, U.S. President George W. Bush signed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) which, among other things, calls on the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to develop and implement a plan to step up document requirements for both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals entering the country.
That plan is the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which states that U.S. citizens and “non-immigrant aliens may enter the United States only with passports or such alternatives as the Secretary of Homeland Security may designate as satisfactorily establishing identity and citizenship.”
There has been concern on both sides of the border that such an initiative will cause a reduction in tourism as well as increased wait times at borders, slowing down trade and having an adverse effect on both economies.
“The implications are not to be underestimated for the country,” said Liberal MP Dan McTeague (Pickering-Scarborough East), who is the parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs minister Pierre Pettigrew.
“We’re very concerned, obviously, for what this will mean for trade,” McTeague noted. “It’s clear that certain border states are very opposed to this.”
According to a study by the Canadian Tourism Commission released in July, forcing travellers to carry passports could result in the cumulative loss of nearly 7.7 million inbound trips by Americans between 2005 and 2008, and an estimated gross shortfall in direct receipts by the Canadian tourism industry of $1.7 billion (Cdn.)
The same report estimates the U.S. tourism industry will lose some $785 million (Cdn.) and about 3.5 million trips by Canadians to the U.S. during that same time period.
According to the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, Canadian visits generated $10.9 billion (U.S.) for the U.S. national economy in 2003 alone.
The impact will not be limited to the tourism sector.
“Border congestion resulting from this initiative could also slow down and congest our key border crossings, leading to increased border crossing time and additional cost for manufacturers, importers, and exporters who move their products across our shared border,” the Canadian government noted in its official comment on the WHTI.
These increased costs likely would be passed on to consumers, making those products and associated industries “less competitive with external competitors,” the report reads.
Large border cities such as Detroit, Mich. and Buffalo, N.Y. also have complained of the initiative, noting large numbers of Canadians cross the border to attend professional sporting events.
It is not the intention of the U.S. government to harm the economy of either country, McTeague noted. “For them, security trumps economics,” he admitted.
Economic considerations aside, delays at the international border can create new security threats.
“Goods at rest can become potential targets for tampering by terrorists or by those involved with contraband, and idling engines can have significant environmental impacts,” Canada’s comment reads.
“The damage may outdo the good it might serve,” McTeague warned.
The U.S. has set two deadlines for the WHTI: Dec. 31, 2006 for air and sea crossings, and Dec. 31, 2007 for land crossings.
Ottawa’s approach so far has been to try to convince the U.S. to push back the second deadline in order to have more time to negotiate an alternative to the passport.
One proposal has included developing a driver’s licence with enhanced security features. The document likely would be more affordable—and more convenient—than a passport.
Currently, only about 23 percent Americans have passports, compared to 37 percent of Canadians.