NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ontario – Canada remains concerned about a plan requiring a passport or special ID card to enter the United States, Canadian ambassador Michael Wilson said Thursday, but his American counterpart said everyone should get used to the idea because it’s not going away.
By June 2009, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will require that all Canadians and Americans show a passport or one of the new ID cards before crossing the U.S. border by land or sea ports.
A passport requirement for air travelers entering the United States goes into effect in January 2007.
Wilson said he has great concerns that the new rules will be forced onto the North American public and businesses before it is fully tested.
He’s also concerned that U.S. Congress will rush the rules into place before the deadline, and perhaps put them in place by January 2008.
“Canada continues to believe that the U.S. should not rush implementation,” Wilson told a crowd of businesspeople at an economic summit in Niagara-on-the-Lake, near the Canada-U.S. border.
“All the time and flexibility provided by Congress should be used to ensure that we get it right. Business, border communities, and the traveling public need to have the opportunity to provide input and guidance on the implementation of this initiative.”
He said there are still unanswered questions about whether there will be a phase-in period and how all the cards will be produced in time for the implementation date.
“Whether WHTI comes online in two months at the airport or later at the land and sea ports, there’s not much time to implement such a vast initiative,” Wilson said.
“From a logistics point of view, this does not leave a great deal of time to conduct the necessary trial runs, install any necessary new equipment at the border, issue the card and, most importantly, promote it to the public for purchase.”
The pass cards will cost US$20, plus a $25 execution fee for adult travelers, and are valid for 10 years.
But the American ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, said Canadians and Americans better get used to the idea of the new system because it’s going to be a requirement, regardless of any protests.
“The bottom line is this: We live in a post-9-11 era. There’s no turning back,” Wilkins said, adding that the United States is focused on implementing WHTI effectively and efficiently, with minimal disruption to trade and travel.
“I would ask you and ask us all that we now stop looking in the rearview mirror and use this additional time to work wisely to make sure WHTI is implemented smoothly and correctly – not use the time to delay it further, not use the time to kill it. Use the time to implement it.”
Wilkins backed up Wilson’s concerns that WHTI could very well be enacted sooner than the 2008 deadline.
“It’s not an automatic 17-month delay [before implementing WHTI], it’s up to 17 months.”
Wilkins said WHTI may be inconvenient in the short-term, but will eventually enable much smoother border traffic because of the technology involved.
Information on the ID card will be transmitted over a radio frequency as the traveler approaches the border checkpoint, so all the border guard has to do is visually verify the identity of the traveler.
He said the ID card will be faster than using passports, since border guards won’t have to flip through and stamp pages.