New Brunswick

Campobello ferry proponents say it's getting harder to cross border

People who are lobbying for year-round ferry service on Campobello are wary of upcoming border security regulations, which they say will make it even more difficult to get through the United States to the New Brunswick mainland.

Federal public safety minister says new security regulations 'will not impinge' on Campobello residents

Campobello residents say it's getting increasingly difficult to travel through the United States to the rest of Canada. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

People lobbying for better ferry service on Campobello are taking little comfort in the assurances of politicians about Bill C-21, the recently enacted border security legislation. 

"It sounds to me like it's unknown if it's going to cause more disruption," said Brent MacPherson, one of the people who has been looking into the need for year-round ferry service for about the past year.

The main reason for that investigation is that since the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., it's been getting harder for islanders to pass through the United States to get to the rest of Canada.

They've always had to do that through the winters, but last summer, even the seasonal private ferry service to Deer Island didn't operate, a situation that MacPherson described as "devastating" to the Island economy on top of the personal day-to-day inconvenience.

"Dealing with a border situation, the political climate is different," MacPherson said. "It's getting difficult. It's a challenging life."

New Brunswick Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Greg Thompson, who is the MLA for St. Croix, which includes Campobello, said he was sending a letter to federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale this week to request that the implementation of the border security amendments be delayed. 

Bill C-21 has received royal assent, but regulations have not been drawn up for implementation. Among other things, the new law will allow Canada to track how long people are out of the country. Information on Page 2 of the Canadian passport, such as name, birth, citizenship and passport number, will be collected at border crossings and shared by the U.S. and Canada. 

Goodale issued a written statement Wednesday, suggesting there will be a time and place for concerns to be addressed, and reinforcing, in part, what New Brunswick Southwest MP Karen Ludwig had said.

"The claim that C-21 will mean additional paperwork for those crossing the land border into the United States is completely false," said Goodale.

The international bridge between Campobello and Lubec, Maine, is the only way islanders can get to New Brunswick.

"The traveller's experience will be entirely unchanged," he said.

With respect to goods being sent out of Canada, Canada Border Services Agency officers will be given the discretion to require reporting and to conduct examinations as and where necessary, in order to crack down on smuggling of things like stolen vehicles and nuclear materials, "which are not serious concerns with respect to Campobello Island shipments," Goodale said.

"The relevant regulations are currently being drafted. I am confident they will not impinge on Campobello residents in any negative manner.  

Every officer is different — how you deal with them. … So you never know what you're going to run into." - Brent MacPherson, Campbobello

"But in any event, before any regulations take effect, the normal drafting process provides an opportunity for the general public to be informed and to comment if any concerns need to be addressed."

The discretion of border guards is something that makes MacPherson uneasy, following a negative personal experience.
He and his husband, who grew up on the island, moved back there for semi-retirement, and his husband ended up taking a job in Saint Andrews.

On one of his four daily border crossings, they were travelling together, said MacPherson, and an officer in Calais, Maine, asked how the two men were related.

"Victor said, 'Well, we're married.

"It was shortly after that that the officer said, 'You're flagged,' and, 'Go in,'" meaning they had to go into the customs building and their car was searched.

A group of Campobello residents is about to release the second part of a study calling for the creation of year-round ferry service. ((CBC))

MacPherson said that after that day, the same thing happened, time after time, when his husband tried to cross the border.

"Every time Victor was making a trip through the border it was on the computer to flag him and the search and questions and everything, until Victor one day said, 'This is enough.' He demanded to see a superintendent."

"The superintendent looked at the screen. He said, 'I don't see why you have been flagged. I don't know why this is happening.' Victor said, 'Well, I could tell you why it's happening.'

"We felt it was discriminatory because we're a same sex couple."

"Every officer is different — how you deal with them. … So you never know what you're going to run into."

"This is what Campobelloers have to deal with on a daily basis."

Other examples

MacPherson cited two other recent border issues faced by fellow islanders. One happened to a young man with a disability who can only travel by ambulance.

He recently lost his passport somewhere between leaving Campobello and being in hospital, an hour's drive away, through Maine.

"The thing is, in order to get a passport he needs a New Brunswick ID, which he doesn't have.

"You have to get that … from Service New Brunswick in St. Stephen.

The ambulance couldn't transport the man to St. Stephen, he said. 

"It's being looked into, but ... there's no easy answer."

In-home assessment impossible

The other case involved young parents and their three-year-old who has autism.

"He needs an assessment and his caseworker is somewhere on the mainland but doesn't have a passport, so can't come to the island."

MacPherson said children elsewhere in New Brunswick would receive an in-home assessment.

"These are things that people on the mainland take for granted," he said.

A ferry service would only address some of these issues, but according to a survey conducted by Vaughn McIntyre Consulting, most people on the island think it's needed.

"Respondents, finding it more and more difficult to cross the border, believe a ferry is an imperative, and not a choice," said a report completed last fall.

Ferry could benefit mainland

The island has about 875 full-time residents, and 163 people, including some visitors, took the survey. 

More than 80 per cent of respondents said crossing the border is more difficult than it was five years ago. Nearly half felt American border controls had increased wait times.

For example, residents now have to fill out a form even for a piece of hardware, such as bolt, worth less than $5.

Ninety-one per cent said they'd use a ferry to Deer Island if it were available year-round.

The consultant estimated that if they had a ferry, island residents would spend an additional $3 million a year in Canada.

A second phase of the study is expected to be released Jan. 28 at the Campobello municipal council meeting. It's expected to include business plans for different ferry landing options, including Deer Island, Blacks Harbour and Saint Andrews.

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