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U.S. passport plan draws fire
Toronto Globe and Mail


October 07, 2005

WASHINGTON - Prodded by the Canadian embassy, a growing informal coalition of politicians, including Sen. Hillary Clinton and New York Gov. George Pataki, is pushing for the U.S. government to drop its plan to require passports to cross the Canadian border.

"I think the idea that we're going to secure our border by imposing this burden is ludicrous," Clinton told a business group in upstate New York this week as members of Congress from Maine to North Dakota spoke out against the plan, expected to come into effect in 2008.

"You know as well as I do that you could give a passport to every man, woman, child, dog, cat, deer, fish and you would still be able to get across the border without people detecting you," she said in the border town of Massena.

Pataki, an influential Republican, added his voice to the opposition, insisting after a meeting with Quebec Premier Jean Charest in Albany, N.Y., that there have to be alternatives to the passport plan.

Pataki then held up a copy of his New York state driver's license, saying that it included security safeguards that could be used in place of a passport.

"I think this should constitute a reasonable alternative, and there are others."

The Canadian embassy, worried that the proposal could cost tourism revenue, has begun a major effort at building a coalition of U.S. politicians who would try to delay or substantially modify the proposal, if not halt it.

Last week, the embassy co-sponsored a luncheon with Louise Slaughter, a member of the House of Representatives from New York, that attracted the mayors of Buffalo, Niagara Falls, N.Y., Niagara Falls, Ont., and Fort Erie, Ont., as well as representatives of trucking, tourism and other interests to discuss the issues with staff members of the New York delegation in Washington. Similar meetings with other state representatives are being planned.

"I think it's explosive," said John LaFalce, who represented Buffalo in the House but has retired. "It's going to upset the historic relations between our two countries profoundly."

Bart Stupak, who co-chairs the Northern Border Caucus, which represents 55 members of the House residing near the Canadian border, said that "most members of the caucus, if not all, are pretty much opposed" to the passport measure.

Stupak, who represents northern Michigan in the House, said he thinks the idea of requiring passports of people passing back and forth across the border between Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and its sister Soo in Michigan is "crazy."

Opposition to the measure has also spread west. Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota held a hearing on the proposal in Grand Forks on Tuesday, and businessmen from the state lined up to express concern about any negative impact on tourist and other traffic from north of the border.

Judith Johnson, who with her husband owns the Frost Fire Ski Resort just south of the Manitoba border, depends on Canadians for 80 per cent of her business. She wonders whether the busloads of schoolchildren from Winnipeg will also be required to have passports.

"(Senator Dorgan) would like them to scrap it (the passport proposal) altogether. It doesn't make sense for a family of five to be spending all this money to cross the border when the benefit will be negligible," said Rebecca Pollard, a spokeswoman for the senator.

But scrapping the plan will be extremely difficult because it was written into a broader intelligence bill that has been passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush.

Most people crossing the Canada-U.S. border use a driver's license or birth certificate. But driver's licenses do not meet the standard set by Congress for proof of identity and citizenship.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, which is in the midst of a public-comment period on the proposed regulation, said they are also considering another type of special document similar to the Nexus card for frequent cross-border travelers.

"It is a work in progress. The law is the law but it does give Homeland Security the right to come up with other secure documents and all options are being looked at," David Wilkins, U.S. Ambassador to Canada, told The Globe and Mail editorial board last week.

But Wilkins also made it clear that the proposal is still part of the post-Sept. 11, 2001, mindset. "When you're dealing with the terrorism issue you can't be right half the time; you don't get second chances."


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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