Re-think passport proposal: Onichuk

It’s not every day a Canadian mayor or reeve earns an audience with some of the top government officials in the United States, but that’s exactly the opportunity Fort Frances Mayor Dan Onichuk had over the weekend.
And he made the most of it.
Sharing the table Saturday in International Falls with Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman and Ann Barrett, the director of passport services for the U.S. State Department, among others, Mayor Onichuk spoke against a proposal that will require anyone entering the U.S. to show a passport at the port-of-entry, including Americans themselves.
“It’s going to put a barrier on all aspects of our lives,” he stressed. “Because some politicians drew a line down the middle of Rainy River or Rainy Lake and said you’re Canada and you’re the United States, that doesn’t change the fact that our economics are identical, we share families, we fight together, we grow together, everything else.”
Mayor Onichuk, who has more extended family in International Falls than he does here in Fort Frances, said Washington can’t underestimate the impact such a proposal would have on the lives on people in the Borderland region.
“Decisions quite often are made in Ottawa and Washington and there is not a lot of consideration when it gets to the border, the areas where it actually affects the people,” he said, adding businesses and families both will suffer if the legislation moves forward.
The mayor suggested that instead of requiring all citizens to carry passports (a great one-time cost to families), the government explore the possibility of putting an individual’s citizenship information on other pieces of identification so those could be used to cross the border.
“I don’t think we need to re-invent the wheel to establish the security that we’re looking for,” Mayor Onichuk remarked. “I think we can co-ordinate what we have now, in terms of birth certificates and driver’s licences.”
Sen. Coleman, who chairs the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, also visited Baudette and Warroad on Saturday and said he would be taking all the concerns expressed by residents in this region back to his colleagues in Washington.
“I want to make sure that before the policy goes in effect that we really understand the impacts,” he said. “What are the consequences of setting in place this system? What are the practical implications?”
“We are trying to look at ways of doing this better,” added Barrett, whose office is tasked with pouring over the millions of passport applications submitted each year.
“We do know this impacts greatly on communities such as your own on both sides of the border.”
Other speakers at Saturday’s meeting at Rainy River Community College included Kim Butler, the Canadian Consul General in Minneapolis, and a handful of International Falls business owners.
The new passport regulations are set to take effect Jan. 1, 2008.