Canadians say passport law is flawed

/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins gave some pointed advice to Eastern premiers and New England governors as they met in this golf resort: it's time for residents to get passports.

During a presentation to politicians including Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Wilkins said Tuesday governments must get the message out to individuals that they're likely going to need a passport to travel to and from the United States by land next summer.

The ambassador offered little hope to the group that has been fighting the controversial law, arguing it would hurt trade and tourism on both sides of the border.

"I think the best thing we can all do is keep focused and get passports," Wilkins said.

The premiers and governors passed a resolution calling on the U.S. administration to delay the requirement of passports for land crossings until the summer of 2009.

It appears their appeal will have little effect.

"I think it would be a mistake for any of us to count on Congress changing the law," Wilkins said. "They passed it. Only Congress can delay it now. Only Congress can substantially amend it."

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative required residents crossing the border by flight to carry a passport last January. The requirement for land crossing was supposed to come into effect a year later but has been delayed until next summer.

Still, the premiers argued that doesn't give residents enough time, and pointed to the long lineups at passport offices in the past year.

Earlier this year, New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham traveled to Washington and met with several high-ranking officials to discuss the province's stance on the issue.

Since New Brunswick is the only Atlantic province with land border crossings to the U.S., Graham said it's vital that New Brunswickers are given the opportunity to prepare for the changes.

"I'm happy to see there has been a temporary reprieve but that doesn't mean that we become complacent," he said.

Graham said he hopes New Brunswick can participate in a pilot project that would allow high-tech drivers licenses to be used in place of passports. A similar project is in the development stage in British Columbia.

Although hopeful for such a project, Graham said it's clear New Brunswickers should get passports if they plan to travel to the U.S.

"Everybody today has a driver's license in their back pocket. Many people today, though, don't have a passport," he said.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest told Wilkins that the delay on both sides of the border is proof that the new system is flawed.

Vermont Gov. James Douglas also voiced concerns.

"Sure, we all want security, but I think what's going on right now is a total overreaction to 9/11," he said. "It has been relaxed somewhat, but we've got to work out something better."