Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fishing for a Border Problem

Border regulations between Canada and the United States represent the dual efforts of securing each nation from outside threats and facilitating the swift movement of people and goods. This is a central hallmark of the border today. When the movement of goods and people across the border is hampered, the consequences can hurt economically. The idea of moving goods and people across the border with as little resistance as possible is not some new, radical idea.

In June 1935, members of academia and the government from Canada and the United Stats met at St. Lawrence University for the first Conference on Canadian – American Affairs. This conference hoped to raise issues pertaining to the Canadian – American relationship. It was truly the first of its kind. At the start of the conference, Dr. James Shotwell remarked that “it is the first time in the history of Canada and the United States that representative citizens of both counties meet together to take stock of the fundamentals in their interrelationship in all the varied fields of intellectual, economic, social and political activity… it is therefore, a matter of course that the imaginary line which runs from Maine and New Brunswick to the Oregon country should be reduced to an almost invisible thread in all that has to do with the interchange and interplay of ideas in the arts and techniques.”

During the panel on transportation, the Secretary for Canada to the International Joint Commission, Lawrence Burpee, remarked “on these international waters, as well as on the artificial channels connecting them, the inhabitants of the United States and Canada at present have absolutely the same rights of navigation. To all intents and purposes the water boundary does not exist.”

At the root of the last statement was this basic understanding that has led fisherman from across Canada and the United States to seek a day of fun in the Thousand Island – St. Lawrence River area. On May 30 of this year, Roy M. Anderson of Baldwinsville, New York was fishing in the St. Lawrence River with friends when he drifted about 400 yards into Canadian waters. Shortly after this act, members of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) approached Mr. Anderson and asked if he had called ahead to announce his intensions to fish in Canadian waters. When Anderson told them, “no,” he was told that he needed to pay $1,000 on the spot in order to keep Canadian Customs from impounding his boat. Anderson was fishing in Canadian waters under the assumption that as long as a fisherman does not drop anchor in Canada, there would be no reason to call customs.

The incident immediately raised eyebrows on both sides of the border. For some, the incident represented the at times Byzantine security requirements in a post 9/11 environment. The Ottawa Sun reported that not dropping anchor has “been the understanding, on both sides of the border, according to Canadian Conservative Senator Bob Runciman, ‘for generations.’” The incident eventually made it to the attention of American politicians. Congressman Bill Owens (NY – 23) took up the cause of the fisherman and started a dialogue with counterparts in Parliament on the Canadian side of the border. Soon, the Canadian Ambassador to the United States, Governor Cuomo of New York, Senator Charles Schumer and many other politicians were involved over what would seem to be a small incident.  By July 12, the Canadian Border Agency announced that fisherman would be able to call by cell phone when they crossed into Canada.

Of the change, Representative Owens stated that:

I think practically we’re in a scenario where we’re back to where it was before—but legally there’s this possibility of enforcement and that’s always going to make people jittery. It’s a little disappointing because it really doesn’t address the situation, and how it’s functioned quite well for likely 100 years.

The latest development reported in the Watertown Daily Times on Wednesday was that Vic Toews, the Canadian Public Safety minister has requested a broad policy review of his agency on boating on the border. The issue has risen because of pressure within the Canadian Border agency to allow Americans to fish in Canadian Waters without anchoring.

On both sides of border, the story of one fisherman being given a fine would not make it to the desks of each nation’s respective Ambassadors. Once again, this issue has raised that dilemma of what is appropriate security. Understandably, there must be a balance between security and freedom of movement. In the end, this event will be little remembered on either side of the border. But, the Borderlands of Canada and the United States mutually rely on each other for economic sustainability. As a result of the larger economic consequences of this event, an annual fishing tournament in Massena, NY was restricted to U.S. waters, and attendance was down.

The appearance of freedom of movement is essential for businesses, conference planers and tourists for them to make the jump across the border. When individuals and businesses are weary of border regulations, chances are they would stay away from cross-border trade and the needed influxes of capital. Border regulations – American and Canadian – need to be transparent, streamlined, and wildly available to the public. While most of the U.S. – Canada border is of artificial construction, so are the policies for regulating the movement of people.

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