North Country Congressman Bill Owens is working to eliminate a new problem that’s threatening tourism and recreational boating on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
Owens (D-Plattsburgh) and Canadian Member of Parliament Gordon Brown are preparing to sponsor legislation in their respective houses that would allow boaters to cross the U.S./Canada border in open waters without having to check in with the other country’s Customs services, as long as the boaters don’t anchor in foreign waters or come to the other country’s shore.
That’s how those waters have been used for decades, but on May 30, Canadian Customs officials boarded a boat piloted by a Baldwinsville man. They took him to the Canadian side, impounded his boat and charged a $1,000 fine to be released and get his boat back.
Canada had begun to enforce the policy that had always been in place, but had been ignored by both sides.
The change in enforcement caused some fishing tournaments on the St. Lawrence River to be cancelled because organizers could not guarantee that some fishermen would not wander across a border that is not marked.
So Owens and Brown, on a conference call with reporters Wednesday, said they would work to make their bills law if their respective security agencies could not find a way to change their own policies.
“Our primary purpose is to return the river to the position it was in two months ago, where people could rely on the fact that if they didn’t dock, or if they didn’t anchor, there was no need to report in. We think that people need that understanding,” said Owens.
“Focus on the bad guys,” said Brown. “Nothing that is being proposed here precludes our border service agents in Canada or Homeland Security to deal with people and stop them and check them and ensure that there’s nothing untoward going on.”
Canada’s Justice Minister is asking the agency responsible for border security to explain its change in enforcement of the policy.