World

THE WORLD'S LONGEST BORDER TRAFFIC JAM?

ANDREW PHILLIPS September 29 1997
World

THE WORLD'S LONGEST BORDER TRAFFIC JAM?

ANDREW PHILLIPS September 29 1997

THE WORLD'S LONGEST BORDER TRAFFIC JAM?

There’s nice, and a price in Canada’s for being case it sometimes means being overlooked by your neighbor. That may be the lesson from last week’s flap over an impending American crackdown on Canadians entering and leaving the United States. The problem is a U.S. law intended to penalize foreigners who abuse their temporary sta-

tus in the United States. Starting on Oct. 1, 1998, all foreigners, including the millions of Canadians who make quick trips across the border, would have to fill out forms instead of being waved through after a few perfunctory questions from an American official. By 1999, some foreigners would have to obtain a special card encoded with passport and handprint information. The result of the extra red tape would be chaos: hours-long lineups at congested crossings at a time when offi-

cials in both countries are extolling the virtues of free trade and more open borders.

In fact, the measure was never supposed to affect the Canada -U.S. border. Canada’s ambassador to Washington, Raymond Chrétien, complained to key members of Congress about the law late last year and received high-level assurances that there was no intention of making Canadians fill out the forms. But Congress did nothing to change the law and U.S. border authorities started making plans to impose the new controls. So last week, Canada stepped up its fight to head off the problem. Doug Waddell, the No. 2 official at Canada’s embassy in Washington, spoke out at a meeting of the Can/Am Border Trade Alliance, a business group dedicated to freer flows of people and goods. Waddell pointed out that last year alone, there were 116 million border crossings from Canada to the United States. With the prospect of massive disruptions looming, Waddell said, “We are alarmed, disappointed and just a little frustrated.”

That helped to get the Americans’ attention. John LaFalce, a Democratic congressman from Buffalo, N.Y., close to the busy Peace Bridge crossing point at Niagara Falls, introduced an amendment to the law in the House of Representatives that would exempt Canadians. LaFalce called the failure to do so earlier an “oversight." In the Senate, Republican Spencer Abraham of Michigan, home of the congested Detroit-Windsor border point, promised to take similar steps. In the end, officials of both countries were optimistic that the threatened chaos will be headed off. “The good news is we’ve got plenty of time to figure this out,” said newly arrived U.S. Ambassador Gordon Giffin in Ottawa last week. But the humbling fact was that it took a mild tantrum just to get the Americans to pay attention to the country they hail as their greatest friend.

ANDREW PHILLIPS