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Legislators Look for Solution to Border Dispute

By Dave Bullard


Oswego, NY – When a Baldwinsville man had his boat seized in May by Canadian customs officials, no one could have predicted that this small incident would eventually turn into an international point of tension between two close allies and neighbors. But it has

For decades, it was said that the border between the United states and Canada was the world's most open border. Since September 11, 2001, that has become less and less true.

If you want to get dinner in Gananoque or spend a weekend in Toronto these days, you need a passport. And returning to the U.S. can bring you into contact with aggressive and suspicious border agents. But until recently, the bodies of water between the two nations have remained almost borderless.

"Whenever I take folks out in the boat, I tell them 'Well I think the border is right there and if you look over the side of the boat, you'll see the line on the bottom'. Usually they look over the side," said Gordon Brown, a member of the Canadian parliament. Brown grew up along the St. Lawrence river.

American policy says foreign boaters don't have to check in with customs if they don't drop anchor. And American boaters have assumed that Canada has the same policy. But a fisherman from Baldwinsville wound up having his boat seized and a $1000 fine levied by Canadian border police.

Canada has a policy which requires checking in with customs if a boater crosses the invisible border. It was the first time the policy had been enforced in decades.

The incident caused a fuss. The boater got his boat and 999 of his dollars back. Canada changed the policy. Now, boaters need only check in by cell phone.But that's not enough for lawmakers on both sides of the border.

North country Congressman Bill Owens says he's introducing a bill that would allow Canadian boaters to move freely through American waters as long as they don't come to shore.

"Our primary purpose is to return the river to the position it was in two months ago, where people could rely on the fact that if they didn't dock or anchor that there was no need to report in," said Owens. "We think that people need that understanding."

And member of Parliament Gordon Brown will introduce a bill in Canada to give the same rights to American boaters. But Canada's Public Safety Minister says a legislative change may not be necessary in order to change the policy.

Regardless, Brown admits Canada's recent enforcement of its policy has caused a lot of confusion. But it has the potential to cause far worse damage. Fishing tournaments have been cancelled and groups that make their living from tourism worry about the damage to their industry.

Brown says the goal of the matching bills is to protect borders while allowing maximum freedom.

"Focus on the bad guys. Nothing that is being proposed here precludes our border service agents in Canada or Homeland Security agents to deal with people and stop them and check them and to ensure there isn't anything untoward going on," said Brown.

The effect of the bills would be to return things to the way they were, when the only tension on these international waters was the tug of a fish on the line.