N.Y. residents boycott Canada over border dispute

By NiCK GARDINER Staff Writer
Posted 6 hours ago

Some New York State residents have started to boycott Canada because of the recent arrest of a U.S. boater fishing in Canadian waters.

The May 30 arrest of Baldinsville, N.Y. boater Roy Andersen, who paid $1,000 on the spot to retrieve possession of his boat after it was seized by the Canada Border Services Agency, has ignited a fury of criticism against the agency by some heavyweight politicians on both sides of the border.

Andersen had been fishing in the Gananoque Narrows without first checking in with customs.

The issue has drawn criticism from New York Senators Charles Schumer, Bill Owens and most recently Patty Ritchie, who said Thursday the action will impact tourism.

The case has also raised the ire of local New York neighbours and was reflected in a recent resolution passed by Ogdensburg City Council and endorsed on Wednesday by the Chamber of Commerce.

The resolution offers support to federal and state officials attempting to "find a solution to the new interpretation" of Canada Customs regulations on the St. Lawrence River.

"People are talking about it and boaters are talking about it, saying 'Why would we go over there if this is the way we are going to be treated?'" Sandra Porter, executive director of the chamber, told The Recorder and Times Friday.

"We have heard from a lot of Americans who are boycotting events in Prescott and Brockville," said Porter.

"I talked to a couple last week who said they always go over to Brockville (for Riverfest) but they did not go this year."

Anne MacDonald, Porter's counterpart at the Brockville and District Chamber of Commerce, said members are concerned the dispute will hurt their businesses.

"We are concerned about the impact on tourism and economic development," MacDonald said during a phone interview.

MacDonald said she wants to stay out of the political argument but recognizes there has been a negative reaction on the U.S. side and hopes to see the Canadian policy restored to the usual practice.

"There has to be, maybe, a clarification of the rules. It sounds like if he didn't anchor there, there shouldn't be any issue at all."

Coming at the heart of the tourist season, the incident couldn't have happened at a worse time, said MacDonald.

"Within our tourism region, fishing is a huge industry. This is very troubling," said MacDonald.

At the suggestion of Senator Bob Runciman, who has publicly called for the border agency to return the $1,000 and apologize to the boater for their actions, the chamber sent off a letter to the federal government asking for the issue to be addressed.

Copies of the letter were sent to Canada's Security Minister Vic Toews and Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism Maxime Bernier.

Runciman and Leeds-Grenville MP Gord Brown met with Toews shortly after the incident asking for action, but after a month without an answer, he fears it may come too late for tourist operators this summer.

Runciman said Friday he has asked chambers of commerce in Kingston and Gananoque to follow suit and keep the pressure on for action.

He continues to insist American boaters have always been allowed to fish Canadian waters on the St. Lawrence without checking in at customs, unless they were anchored.

And he scoffed again at earlier public comments from CBSA media officers that the arrest was nothing unusual.

"That's a crock. Give us a list of how many times people have been fined $1,000 for fishing in Canadian waters?

"I think it's anything but routine."

Runciman said he has received many e-mails from U.S. residents vowing not to buy Ontario fishing licences and to stay out of Canadian waters until the situation is resolved favourably.

It is clear the negative reaction is growing, not subsiding, at a time when the area's fishing charters and tourist operators generally benefit from the influx of U.S. tourists.

He said the fishing sector in this area has "remained relatively stable" despite ongoing turmoil in the tourism industry caused by various factors that include lingering economic woes after the 2008 recession, the high Canadian dollar and tougher border security resulting from the 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

"I don't think they (CBSA) realize the magnitude of this."

CBSA media spokesman Chris Kealey said in an e-mail Friday afternoon that he can't discuss specifics of the Andersen case but noted the agency has reviewed reporting requirements to allow some private boaters to call the CBSA instead of having to stop at a customs office.

The option is open to Canadian residents who have not landed on U.S. soil and American citizens who do not plan on landing on Canadian soil.

He said "private boats weaving in and out of Canadian waters" would be required to phone the office only once upon their initial crossing of the border.