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Pique n' your interest

The Customs Snare


Judging by the number of people swarming the village this U.S. Thanksgiving weekend, the lineups at the chairlifts, and the frightened looks on the faces of trained but as yet untested resort staff, it’s shaping up to be another profitable season for Whistler.

Nobody knew how the events of Sept. 11 would effect B.C.’s tourism industry in the long term – Thanksgiving was the first test, and it seems we passed with flying colours. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from Whistler businesses as a steady stream of cars from Washington and the Lower Mainland turned down Village Gate Boulevard on Friday afternoon.

Stores wedged their doors open to allow people to move in and out faster. The Marketplace Parking lot was filled to capacity. People lining up for season passes and express cards at guest relations were given day tickets and told to come back later. There was an hour wait at many restaurants, and the lineups at night clubs spilled out into the village.

I rode a chairlift with some university students from Washington who were having such a good time that they were already planning to come back for Spring Break with their fraternity brothers – did I know where they could rent a house?

We’ve seen better conditions and earlier openings, but with the exception of Utah nobody south of the border could boast better conditions than Whistler. One friend of mine was told, "I could go to Mount Baker, but why not keep driving north and ski the best?"

The warm and fuzzy feeling no doubt faded as Whistler’s visitors were held up at U.S. Customs for five and a half hours on Sunday.

I understand the need for heightened security. I understand the financial and manpower limitations that customs officers on both sides of the border are facing.

I just don’t understand five hours.

That kind of delay could kill tourism in this province faster and more effectively than any terrorist could.

What happened? Were they caught by surprise? They didn’t notice the stream of cars heading north for the weekend, as they do every Thanksgiving weekend, and prepare ahead of time to be swamped on Sunday?

According to reports, the border stations were understaffed, and the processing was taking too long. That doesn’t sound like prudence. More like harassment – you can bet 99 per cent of these people inconvenienced wouldn’t even come close to fitting the profile of a terrorist.

In light of the economy and the ongoing trade war you have to wonder whether it was national security or politics that motivated the border delay.