May 13, 2006

Opposition grows to US-Canada border passport plan

By David Ortiz

NEWPORT, Rhode Island (Reuters) - Five Canadian provinces
and six Northeast U.S. states agreed on Saturday to fight U.S.
legislation that would require passports or sophisticated ID
cards to enter the United States from Canada.

The new rules to take effect from 2008 -- aimed at
tightening security after the September 11 attacks -- would
create a bureaucratic nightmare, damage trade and shake up
border life, said the U.S. states and Canadian provinces.

"The impact would just be devastating," Quebec Premier Jean
Charest told the annual Conference of New England Governors and
Eastern Canadian Premiers.

"This needs further thought before it's implemented. We
need to bring a real sense of urgency to this," he said.

Porous in vast stretches and often invisible, America's
5,500-mile border with Canada is drawing closer scrutiny after
President Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian
Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed in March to work together
on border security.

Residents in some towns on the world's longest undefended
border have long entered the United States with little more
than a wave of a hand or a flash of a driver's license.

Under rules written by the U.S. State and Homeland Security
departments designed to implement legislation passed by
Congress in 2004, passports or credit card-sized PASS cards
with biometric features will be required for anyone crossing
into the United States from Canada by land starting on January
1, 2008.

Senior officials from the five Canadian provinces and U.S.
border states said the rules could drive a wedge between border
communities that are culturally and economically entwined, and
strain the world's biggest trading relationship by slowing the
$1.1 billion in trade flowing each day across the border.

More than 300,000 people travel between the United States
and Canada each day. Only about 20 percent of U.S. citizens and
40 percent of Canadians hold passports, which cost nearly $100.
The PASS cards would cost about half that price.

In a draft statement released at the end of the two-day
conference, the governors or senior officials from Connecticut,
Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire,
and the premiers of Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick,
Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island said they would urge the
U.S. Congress to delay implementation of the law.

They also agreed to explore other options that would have
less negative economic and social impact. Only two states sent
governors, although all sent representatives to the conference.
Four of the five Canadian provinces sent premiers.

Vermont Gov. James Douglas said the new regulations would
make daily life much more difficult along the border where
children have long played sports in both countries.

Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri said: "We shouldn't be
thickening the border, what we should be doing is working
together, the two nations, to protect North America."

"I think a lot of Americans don't fully understand or
appreciate what is at stake here," he said.