Lawmakers and advocates for cross-border business in the United States want Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to look to the future to reduce travel delays between the United States and Canada.
Nearly 1,500 emails have been sent to MPs and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino since the Canadian American Business Council’s new campaign, “Travel Like it’s 2019,” went live two weeks ago.
The online campaign is calling on Ottawa to scrap the troublesome ArriveCan app, a mandatory screening tool for visitors to Canada, and tackle the backlog plaguing the Canada-US trusted traveler system known as from Nexus.
Both are direct symptoms of the COVID-19 pandemic and are just part of a constellation of factors that critics say are causing widespread travel delays across the continent and turning off some would-be travellers.
But they’re also the easiest factors to weed out, said council CEO Maryscott Greenwood, who fears the pandemic has become an easy excuse to allow the Canada-U.S. border to gradually thicken.
“The public health emergency has given governments permission to have an asynchronous approach to what should be synchronous border policy,” Greenwood said in an interview.
“It’s a major change. It’s really different. And we have to fix it. »
Just last week, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra told the House of Commons Transport Committee that the lingering aftermath of the pandemic is to blame for chronic travel delays at Canadian airports.
Opposition Conservatives, however, have attempted to turn ArriveCan into a political lightning rod, the smartphone app and web portal visitors must use to upload their travel documents and vaccination status in advance.
The same goes for some US lawmakers.
“This requirement discourages travel, impairs the flow of commerce, and burdens travelers with the submission of private health information,” New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican, wrote in a letter last week to Mendicino and Kirsten Hillman, Ambassador of Canada to the US
Some travelers are intimidated by the app requirement, while others don’t go through the download process until they arrive at the border or airport, causing delays at customs, Stefanik continued. .
“As a result, travelers are choosing to stay home rather than face long wait times and frustrations caused by the ArriveCan app.”
On Nexus, New York Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins wrote to Chris Magnus, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, demanding that the agency prioritize clearing a backlog of requests from the American side.
The system receives between 8,000 and 15,000 applications a day, Higgins wrote, and the current wait time for an appointment is more than nine months.
He also cited recent border statistics that suggest the volume of inbound traffic to the United States is still a shadow of what it was in 2019.
Data released by the border agency last week shows that 250,678 personal passenger vehicles entered the United States through the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area in June this year, up from 462,665 in June 2019.
“These scaled-down operations are hurting the economy of the United States as well as the quality of life along our northern border,” Higgins wrote.
“Fast processing of Nexus applications and interviews will increase border activity as we work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The current application backlog for Nexus has reached 350,000. Nexus offices in the United States reopened in April, while all 13 enrollment centers in Canada remain closed.
Recent media reports suggest those offices are closed due to a dispute over whether US customs officers should be allowed to carry handguns into Nexus centers, but Greenwood is unconvinced.
The bilateral treaty that governs preclearance between Canada and the United States already allows US border guards to keep their handguns in certain circumstances, she said. The United States would like to see these conditions extended to include Nexus.
Greenwood said she thinks the federal government could open these centers quickly if it makes them a priority — and she hopes the campaign can help make that happen.
“They hear about it from us, they hear about it from members of Congress, and they hear about it from their own constituents,” she said.
“I think it’s escalating to the point where it needs to be dealt with.”
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