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Possible delay in stricter entry rules along U.S-Canada border
Toronto Globe and Mail


September 27, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Millions of border-crossing but passport-less Canadians and Americans can relax until mid-2009 if, as now seems likely, Congress delays imposing tough new entry rules for land and sea borders.

"If it is delayed, it's a victory for diplomacy," Canadian Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said in Ottawa, crediting Prime Minister Stephen Harper for pushing the issue with President Bush.




"Mayors on both sides of the border, governors and premiers and elected people at all levels have been trying to impress upon the Americans to take another look at this and to delay it," Day said.

Last week, Harper railed at the original timetable, saying "this initiative threatens to divide" Canadians and Americans.

But in Washington, the most effective pressure for delay came from business lobbying groups, not the Canadian government. And it was Congress, not the Bush administration, that had to change the law.

A vote this week would push back to June 2009 a deadline requiring Canadian visitors and returning Americans to have passports. Bush has said he won't veto the delay.

At least one lobbyist working to have the delay included said there were fears the House Republican leadership might strip that clause out of proposed legislation before a vote.

If the delay provision survives, it will buy both governments time to sort out an issue that threatens to create chaos at land crossings and has the potential to turn into a nasty bilateral spat.

"It's a positive first step," said Scotty Greenwood, executive director of the Canadian-American Business Council, which has played a pivotal role in lobbying Congress to reconsider the deadlines contained in its 2004 law setting out a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. "But we shouldn't mistake that the issue has been solved," even if there is a delay, she said.

The original law - passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and in response to a widespread perception that U.S. border security was too lax - seemingly ended decades of casual crossing of the border by Americans and Canadians who often flashed nothing more than a driver's licence.

That era may not be entirely dead.

This week, with uncertainty about the delay still unresolved, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff offered another glimmer of hope to groups on both sides of the border who want an upgraded driver's license that would establish citizenship. He told a House committee that he was willing to discuss a pilot project with Washington state and British Columbia.

"Our intent is not to insist on a passport, but ... something that's equivalent to a passport in terms of verifying citizenship," he said. "We're obviously open to different solutions."


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