U.S. Passport Rule Makes Canada Wary
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
New U.S. rules take effect today requiring Canadians to have passports when they fly into the United States. Some in Canada are concerned that the new rules will impact business travelers and put a big dent in the tourism business on both sides of the border.
Richard Reynolds reports from Toronto.
RICHARD REYNOLDS: Canadians have always been allowed to enter the U.S. with comparatively few hassles. They have never needed passports. For decades, a driver's license would suffice. Stuart Johnston, of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, says the new rules will make it harder to do business.
Mr. STUART JOHNSTON (Ontario Chamber of Commerce): Tourism will be hit. That means the businesses, not only in the U.S. Border States but as far down as Florida will be hit. I mean, Canada and the U.S. share a very unique economic relationship. There's $450 billion worth of trade going between the two countries. So it's a pretty tight relationship.
REYNOLDS: An independent and respected research group in Canada, The Conference Board, estimates there will be 14 million fewer trips to Canada by U.S. citizens over the next five years, and seven million fewer Canadians trips to the U.S., costing both economies billions of dollars. Although people in the tourism industry are less certain exactly what the impact will be.
David Ogilvy is the general manager of the Westin Harbor Castle Hotel on Toronto's lakefront.
Mr. DAVID OGILVY (General Manager, Westin Harbor Castle Hotel): There is definitely some concern, although to date, we haven't really seen any issues from it yet. In other words, we haven't had any group organizers - convention organizers in particular - say to us we're not able to consider your hotel or Toronto because we're very worried about the passport issue.
REYNOLDS: U.S. Border Services officials say that close to 99 percent of Canadians coming to the U.S. are now bringing their passports. Americans may be a bigger concern since a smaller percentage of Americans have passports. To see the potential for real problems, you don't need to go any further than the hotel's front desk.
Unidentified Woman #1: You're with us for two nights?
Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah.
Unidentified Woman #1: For a non-smoking room with a king-sized bed overlooking the lake?
REYNOLDS: In the course of 10 minutes, a number of Americans checked in, and they all said that they knew nothing about the new rules. And Americans are expected to have their passports when they re-enter the U.S. One couple, Tom and Mary Alice Smith from Upstate, New York, said that they had passports but didn't even bother to bring them. Mrs. Smith said the new rules sounded like a bad idea.
Ms. MARY ALICE SMITH (Tourist): One of the concerns I have with the passport requirement is that a lot of people can't afford - I don't know how - it's maybe up to $90 to get the passports processed, and the time, and, you know, having your birth certificate to send in with. You know, it's just a big hassle.
REYNOLDS: The Bush administration has defended what they call the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative as necessary to properly secure U.S. borders. The Senate did push back the deadline for Canadians crossing by land until next year. And senators from Border States are known to have issues with the new rules. But barring complete chaos at the border, most think the rules are here to stay and Canadians and Americans had better have a passport when the border guard asks them for their papers.
For NPR News, I'm Rich Reynolds in Toronto.