Boaters riled by tough Canadian border rules

Recreation and tourism in Sarnia are being hurt by the Canada Border Services Agency’s get-tough policy on boaters who cross the international border, local officials say.

The CBSA requires the operators of all boats who cross the line to report in by telephone, a requirement that’s not enforced by their U.S. counterparts, they say.

As a result, Canadian and U.S. recreational boaters and anglers who fail to report can have their vessels seized and be fined $1,000, even if they cross the invisible line accidentally.

“That’s how stupid it is,” said Dave Brown, chairperson of the Mariners Coalition of Port Huron and Sarnia. “If a boater crosses over in the middle of the (St. Clair) river they have to call in.

Brown said unlike Canada’s strict enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection only requires Canadian boaters to report in if they land at a U.S. dock or interact with U.S. boaters on the open water, when contraband or people might be exchanged.

“Think about that,” Brown said. “Our big brother in the U.S., which is wild about Homeland Security, hasn’t adapted the same policy and they’re not going to.

“There’s no justification. There’s no logic to it.”

Sarnia-Lambton MP Pat Davidson has been working on the issue for three years, and had hoped to have it resolved before the start of the 2014 boating season.

“It’s something that causes great consternation to local boaters, as well as the American boaters that come over. I fully understand that,” she said.

Davidson has requested a meeting with Canadian Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney to push for harmonization of Canadian and U.S. rules.

“If we’re out in a boat on the St. Clair River, I sure as heck can’t tell you where the imaginary line is. And I doubt anyone else can either,” she said.

A spokesperson with CBSA’s regional office in Niagara Falls said Canada’s reporting requirements haven’t changed.

Nancy Thomson said the agency began allowing some boaters in 2011to call in on a cell phone instead of reporting in person at designated marinas.

That includes Canadians who haven’t landed on U.S. soil and American who don’t plan on landing on Canadian soil. All private boaters must comply with the reporting requirements, Thomson said.

“Canadian law enforcement authorities do patrol Canada’s coasts and inland waterways and have the authority to stop any vessel having recently entered Canadian waters,” she said.

Brown said he knows that Canada’s get-tough policy has resulted in “unjustified” enforcement for some boaters.

“What do you think that does for tourism and boating?” he asked.

“This is a major issue for us and it just doesn’t make sense. It’s a clear case of bureaucrats not thinking this through.”

– George Mathewson