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Canada’s Prime Minister Urges U.S. Congress to Delay WHTI

July 10, 2006

Canada’s Prime Minister Urges U.S. Congress to Delay WHTI
July 10, 2006 – Last week, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper appealed to the U.S. Congress to delay legislation requiring Canadian travelers to carry a passport or other secure travel documents when entering the country. Harper stated that the U.S. obsession with security threatens to severely damage its historic ties with Canada.

According to The Gazette, this was Harper’s first visit to the White House since becoming prime minister. Harper also complained that the Bush administration has failed to provide Canadian officials with the technical information needed to comply with the looming travel rules, known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

"If the fight for security ends up meaning that the United States becomes more closed to its friends, then the terrorists have won. And I don’t think either of us wants that," Harper said at a joint news conference with President George W. Bush.

"I would hate to see a law go into place that has the effect of not just limiting or endangering trade or tourism, but endangering all those thousands of social interactions that occur across our border every day."

The first phase of WHTI is scheduled for implementation Dec. 31, 2006, and will eventually require passports to enter and re-enter the United States from countries in the Western Hemisphere.

While the United States will offer a wallet-size pass card to its citizens for land crossings, the Bush administration has yet to give Ottawa specific guidelines for an alternative document that will be acceptable for Canadians.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office last month warned that the program is so behind schedule, the Bush administration cannot meet the 2008 implementation deadline.

"We are ready to co-operate in order to implement this initiative if that happens," Harper said. "We need more information, and we’ve been pressing for that for some time, and we’ll continue to do so."

The prime minister, however, made it clear Canada wants Congress to delay the travel plan out of fear it could cause chaos to cross-border tourism and trade.

The U.S. Senate has passed legislation to delay the plan by 18 months, but the proposal has not cleared the House of Representatives.

"I would just urge the Congress to think carefully," Harper said, because the open border has allowed Canada and the United States to "have the strongest relationship of any two countries, not just on the planet, but in the history of mankind."

Bush, for his part, said he wanted the U.S. security requirements to be as flexible as possible, but noted he is bound by the congressional legislation.

"If the Congress provides flexibility, of course we will work with the Canadian government to extend deadlines," Bush said. "If the Congress says, ‘No. This is what our intent is,’ we will work with the Canadian government to make the law work."

The White House has taken pains to strengthen ties with Ottawa since the Conservatives took office. The newfound friendship between the Tories and the Bush administration was evident by the turnout for a private dinner for Harper on Wednesday.

NTA was vital in pressing from the legislation that as passed to delay the plan. NTA also is pressing for changes, specifically those in the previously-adopted Coleman/Dorgan amendment, that would postpone WHTI and ameliorate some of its harsh provisions:

  • Cap of $24 for the PASS card, which would be the equivalent of a North American Passport for Americans


  • Establishment of a 72-hour visitation pass for Americans wishing to leave the United States for a cross-border trip and not possessing a passport


  • Waiver of PASS fee for children under age 18


  • Waiver of documentation requirements for children traveling in a group of six or more having permission from parent or guardian

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