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Standard Practice In Travel Enforcement For Boaters On The St. Lawrence River Has Historically Allowed Free Cross-Border Transit As Long As Boats Do Not Dock; Recently, U.S. Boat Tour Companies And Recreational Boaters Have Been Warned By Canadian Officials of Fines If They Cross Border Mid-Transit Due To COVID-19 Restrictions 

Senator Says North Country Boaters Are Unfairly Being Punished Since U.S. Authorities Have Not Implemented A Similar Policy; If Boaters Do Not Dock & Remain On Water, There Is No Additional Risk Of COVID-19 Spread To Canadians 

Schumer: Extra Fines Are Knot The Solution; Fair Travel Enforcement Will Smooth The Waters In The St. Lawrence River 

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to clarify recent cross-border travel enforcement amid reports of new penalties for tour companies and recreational boaters on the St. Lawrence River. Schumer explained that previously, both U.S. and Canadian border patrols only required clearance for boats docking in ports, CBSA has warned it will cite U.S. boaters mid-transit that cross over to the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River.

The senator said that while it is important to put smart safety guidelines at the U.S.-Canadian border in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, boaters crossing the border mid-transit do not pose additional risk to Canadians since there will be no docking or venturing onto Canadian land.  Schumer added that U.S. Customs and Border Control (CBP) has not implemented a similar policy and is allowing Canadian boaters to cross the border mid-transit without penalty, resulting in uneven enforcement. 

“I have heard from local boaters who are frustrated they cannot enter Canadian waters due to COVID-19 border restrictions, while U.S. authorities are allowing Canadian boaters into American waters. That type of uneven enforcement puts US boaters – especially tour companies – at a disadvantage and does nothing to protect Canadians from COVID-19 spread,” said Senator Schumer. “The Canada Border Service Agency should follow the working precedent, be flexible and use a common sense approach that will allow boaters to crisscross the Canadian-U.S. river boundary as long as they don’t dock – and remain on the water.”

Tourism, particularly cross-border, has contributed nearly $400 million to the regional economy, but with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic severely limiting leisure travel well into peak vacation months, the North Country economy has struggled to stay afloat. The senator said especially because U.S. Customs and Border Control (CBP) is not imposing similar mid-transit fines on Canadian boaters crossing onto the U.S. side of the St. Lawrence River without docking, North Country tour companies and boaters are at a disadvantage when it comes to economic recovery.

In order to clarify a system that would allow U.S. boaters to request preclearance to travel to the Canadian side of the river, Schumer suggested that CBSA work with CBP, North Country officials, and other personnel to establish a specific dial-in number that would grant cross-border access as long as boaters are complying with social distancing rules and wearing masks. The senator explained that such a system would not increase the spread of the virus since no boater will be venturing onto Canadian land, while allowing fair access to the river for North Country tour companies.

Senator Schumer’s letter to CBSA Minister Blair appears below:

Dear Minister Blair,

I write to express concerns about the Canada Border Services Agency’s (CBSA) recent cross border travel enforcement for boaters in the St. Lawrence River area. CBSA has warned U.S. boat tour companies and recreational boaters that they will be fined for crossing onto the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River although they do not dock. This is a deviation away from standard practice and the unfair fines would take a heavy toll on business and residents that are so vital to the region. I agree it is important to put in place smart safety guidelines to mitigate spread of the COVID-19 virus, however boaters crossing the border mid-transit do not pose additional risk to Canadians since there will be no docking or venturing onto Canadian land. I believe a balance can be struck that allows tour boats to traverse both sides of the border and maintain public safety.

Cross border tourism has long been a staple for Northern New York’s Thousand Islands. Tourism contributed nearly $400 million to the regional economy. Unfortunately, many tour boat businesses and recreational boaters have recently reported facing fines when they cross onto the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River. Previously, only boats that docked on Canadian ports without the requisite clearance would be subject to fines from CBSA. However, that enforcement has now been expanded to those boats that are mid-transit even though there is no additional risk of COVID-19 transmission to Canadian’s if boaters do not dock and remain on the water.  U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has not implemented a similar policy meaning that Canadian tour boats are free to cross onto the American side of the border without risk of being penalized. If true, that type of uneven enforcement is wrong and puts US boat tour companies at a disadvantage.

These fines impose an additional burden to small businesses and residents that are already beleaguered by decline in business due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the North Country and New York State currently implement phase four of reopening I would ask that you work concurrently with CBP, North Country officials and all other necessary personnel to establish a system by which boaters are able to dial into a dedicated number and request preclearance to travel onto the Canadian side without risk of fines. As part of the preclearance process tour boat operators can confirm that their guests are compliant with social distancing rules and wearing masks. Such a system, which would not increase the risk of COVID-19 spread to Canadians, can ensure that tour boat businesses are adhering to best practices in terms of reducing risk of virus spread while allowing those businesses to still provide the full tour for their guests.

I thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to our continued collaboration on this and other matters.