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Mini-passports not a good enough fix

U.S. travellers ‘chip’ card cheaper but still a disincentive to border crossing say Canadian tourism officials



A U.S. mini-passport initiative has received a mixed response from Canada’s tourism industry.

In mid-January the U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security announced the People Access Security Service card (PASS), a security card that would be simpler and less expensive than a passport, that will be available by late this year. The card, about the size of a driver’s licence and imbedded with a radio frequency chip that can be read several metres away, costs about US$50, half the fee of a passport. The card is designed to eventually carry a chip capable of storing biometric data, such as fingerprints or iris scans.

The U.S. already has special cards, FAST, NEXUS, and SENTRI, available to frequent travellers to Canada and Mexico. Unlike the new PASS cards, they require background checks. A PASS card or passport will be required for all Americans travelling to Canada and Mexico as of Jan. 1, 2007.

“While the announcement made… is an improvement over requiring U.S. citizens to carry passports it is only a slight improvement as the application process is as time consuming and onerous as applying for a passport,” John Winter, president and CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, said in a news release.

“The risk to the economy and communities on both sides of the border is that those who do not need to cross will not go through the significant time and expense required to obtain acceptable documentation. The cheaper, easy to fit in your wallet mini-passport… does not change the reality.”

Washington State congressman Rick Larsen said the initiative “will erect enormous roadblocks for cross-border travel surrounding the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.”

Tourism Whistler spokesperson Michele Comeau Thompson said the PASS card is “a step in the right direction,” but does have concerns.

“We certainly do agree that any barrier that will make someone reconsider coming to Canada is something we need to look at,” she said. “Educating travellers is going to be critical for tourism partners, whether a hotel, an agency, or a tourism commission.”

Mary Mahon Jones, head of the Council of Tourism Associations of B.C., said the card does not deal with border crossings by air and water, the choice for most B.C. business travellers.

“One of the foremost issues for all citizens crossing borders by any mode of transportation is the prospect of delays at the physical borders,” she said.

The president of the Council of Tourism Associations of B.C. agrees and says an alternative would be for the U.S. to speed up its 2005 Real ID Act, which requires proof of citizenship to be provided for state driver licences, which could then double as traveller identity cards. “More needs to be done,” Michael Campbell said, “for low-risk travellers travelling by air and water-based modes of transport.”