The worlds longest undefended border is about to get a little more formal over the next few years as the U.S. phases in measures designed to enhance security.
The U.S. State Department and Department of Homeland Security announced the measures on Tuesday. Among other things, Canadian citizens will be required to have a valid passport or biometric travel ID card when crossing the border into the U.S. American citizens will also have to show their passports when they return from Canada to the U.S.
Because border requirements are often reciprocal, Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan confirmed that it is likely that Americans will also require passports or biometric IDs to visit Canada. At the same time she says they will work with the U.S. to ensure a free flow of low risk individuals in both directions.
Still, the announcement has cast a chill on B.C.s tourism industry which relies heavily on visitors from the U.S. Only about 20 per cent of Americans and 25 per cent of Canadians currently carry passports, although numbers have been increasing in both countries since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The new measures will come into effect for air and sea travellers at the end of 2006, and will be implemented at all land crossings starting Jan. 1, 2008.
By the end of this year, Canadians will also require passports to travel by air or sea to the Caribbean, Bermuda, South or Central America if they have a stopover in the U.S.
The cost is $87 for a 20-page adult passport in Canada after a $27 increase came into effect this year. In the U.S., the cost of adult passport is US$97, or U.S. $67 for a renewal.
John Winter, the president and CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce believes that most Canadians who regularly visit the U.S. already carry passports to reduce their waits at the border, and have probably been expecting something like this since the Sept. 11 terror attacks. However, he is adamantly opposed to Canada demanding passports from American visitors.
"An impact on tourism will only be felt if Canadian authorities react in kind, that would be childish and immature to impose that kind of restriction just because the Americans are implementing it," said Winter. "Theres no reason to take that route, asking for picture ID is fine.
"The reality is that our economy needs American tourists, and it needs them badly. It would be ludicrous to take any steps or measures that could limit visitors coming into this country, or especially into B.C., and we should oppose anything that would make (getting into B.C.) more difficult.
"The U.S. economy is large. There are probably some communities that will be affected if Canadians stop going down there, but in terms of Canadian communities needing U.S. visitors, its just on a much larger scale its crucial to our well-being to keep them coming."