Canadian consul urges Vermont to oppose passport plan

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(Host) The Canadian Consul for New England wants Vermont lawmakers to oppose a plan by the Bush administration to require passports for travel into Canada. The Department of Homeland Security says the plan is needed to strengthen security between the two countries. But Canadian and Vermont officials say the measure will undermine trade and tourism.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) There’s been strong opposition to the passport proposal throughout New England ever since it was unveiled as part of an overall plan to increase security measures along the Canadian border. The plan is scheduled to go into place on January 1, 2008.

Canadian Consul Stan Keyes met with a group of House and Senate members to encourage them to pass a resolution calling on the Bush administration to come up with a less onerous identification system. Keyes says the passport plan will devastate tourism between Vermont and Canada. Roughly 600,000 Canadians come to Vermont every year and 200,000 Vermonters visit Canada.

Keyes says the plan will also have a negative impact on trade. He noted that 40 percent of all Vermont exports are sent to Canada:

(Keyes) “Being neighbors and good friends for almost 200 years with all the trade that we do, and the tourism that we do, the help that we provide each other – can we work together as two countries to come up with a solution?”

(Kinzel) Keyes says Canada won’t require its citizens or tourists to have a passport to visit the United States. It’s a situation that he says could cause some serious problems if the U.S. plan is implemented.

(Keyes) “You’re suddenly a Canadian border guard with an American visiting and you say welcome to Canada but do you have your passport or pass card in order to re-enter the United States after you’ve visited Canada? And if they don’t, what happens?”

(Kinzel) While Governor Jim Douglas opposes the passport plan, he’s more supportive of efforts by the Bush administration to install a permanent border station just south of White River Junction.

The Agency of Homeland Security is conducting a feasibility study to determine if it wants to turn a temporary facility on Interstate 91 into a permanent station. The U.S. Border Patrol has the authority to install border stations within 100 miles of the Canadian border:

(Douglas) “It’s unfortunate but we live in a different world now and there are people who cross international borders who don’t have pure motives and we have to respect the responsibility of the federal government to intervene.”

(Kinzel) While they haven’t detained any terrorists in the two years they’ve operated the temporary border station, federal officials say they’ve arrested 1,300 illegal aliens and confiscated about a ton of marijuana at the facility.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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