TORONTO, Ont. - Truck drivers who aren't Canadian citizens won't necessarily be turned back at the border Dec. 31, said U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci to reporters at the OTA's annual convention in Toronto.
HOT SEAT: U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci is questioned by the media following his presentation at the recent Ontario Trucking Association annual convention in Toronto. Cellucci insisted Customs will do whatever it can to avoid back ups for truckers and to maintain the flow of goods and people across the border.Photo by Ingrid Phaneuf
TORONTO, Ont. – Truck drivers who aren’t Canadian citizens won’t necessarily be turned back at the border Dec. 31, said U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci to reporters at the OTA’s annual convention in Toronto.
Cellucci was the keynote speaker at the opening breakfast for the Ontario Trucking Association’s annual convention held Nov. 11 and 12.
His speech addressed issues ranging from the war in Iraq to how Canadian pot laws may cause back ups at the U.S./Canada border.
But the main subject of interest for the transborder trucking industry, namely the upcoming Dec. 31 deadline for US-VISIT enforcement at land borders, was addressed by reporters who spoke to Cellucci afterwards.
After repeated questioning as to the impact of US-VISIT enforcement on truck drivers who are landed immigrants (the program requires all landed immigrants, including truck drivers who have their FAST cards, to be fingerprinted and photographed when crossing into the U.S.) Cellucci could offer little solid information regarding how U.S. Customs plans to roll out the program.
Cellucci did, however, say he doesn’t expect landed immigrant drivers who currently carry I-94 waivers will be fingerprinted and photographed every time they cross the border.
“U.S. Customs is not interested in causing back ups at the border,” Cellucci said to repeated questions about driver enforcement rules.
“U.S. Customs will adopt a policy of informed compliance regarding the enforcement of FAST card registration for drivers and I expect there will be a similar policy for the US-VISIT program requirements,” was all Cellucci would say.
Cellucci would not say, however, how long informed compliance policies will be in effect after the Nov. 15 FAST card for BRASS (Border Release Advance Screening and Selectivity) drivers deadline or after the US-VISIT Dec. 31 deadline.
Other remarks by Cellucci included a warning that the loosening of Canadian pot laws could cause U.S. Customs officers to be more vigilant when it comes to searching vehicles at the border.
“I’ve said all along that if Canada is perceived as a place where it’s easier to get pot, Customs officers are likely to be more vigilant at the border.”
During his speech, Cellucci also took the opportunity to introduce the new U.S. Consul General in Toronto, Jessica LeCroy. LeCroy has been appointed for a three-year term. Her most recent assignment was one year in Baghdad.
Cellucci also addressed the question of how the recent re-election of George Bush will affect the U.S./Canada relationship.
“Our two countries are too inter-connected, we are too interdependent, to meet our challenges without the other. We share this continent. We in the United States cannot defend ourselves from international terrorism without Canada’s help. Neither of us can protect our citizens from international organized crime without the other. Neither of us can secure the energy resources needed to run our economies and nurture our shared environment without the other. Neither of our countries can manage the aftermath of a natural disaster, manage shared national power grids or prevent a spread of pandemic disease, without close cooperation that our two countries have come to enjoy at all levels.”
Cellucci also mentioned the much anticipated visit of U.S. President George Bush to Canada.
He said the significance of the visit (which took place a few weeks after Cellucci’s speech to OTA) would be twofold: It would be an “opportunity to show that whatever our differences, the United States and Canada share common goals and aspirations, threats and challenges…”
He added the visit would also provide an opportunity to “regain momentum on specific items on the bilateral agenda.”
Among the issues over which the two countries find themselves at odds are the U.S. refusal to sign the Kyoto Accord and, of even more immediate importance to Canada’s trucking industry, the banning of Canadian cattle after Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis was identified in one Canadian cow in 2002.
Cellucci stressed that the public focus on the trade issues of BSE has demonstrated how carefully and thoroughly American and Canadian authorities were able to work together to manage the more important public health aspect of the crisis.
“The professional manner in which Albertan, Canadian and American authorities tackled the issue demonstrates the real benefits of American and Canadian cooperation. The steps they took were so effective that only four months after the discovery of the first infected cow, trade in boxed beef resumed across the border, years faster than the resumption of beef trade when BSE was found in any one country before,” Cellucci said.
“The issue of trade in live cattle under the age of 30 months is not yet resolved, but we are working our way towards a solution and I think that light is at the end of the tunnel. We have a rule that once it is published and takes effect we will open the border to the trade in live cattle. What is so impressive in these efforts is that at no time did consumers on either side of the border lose confidence in our meat inspection services. Consumers could continue to eat beef, knowing that our inspectors and scientists have taken the right steps to protect our health.
“I know that the current border closure to trade in live cattle is tough on Canadian cattle and dairy farmers, but there is no alternative to taking all the careful steps that the public demands and expects. Any less would risk losing public trust, and that is too precious a commodity to put at risk. So I am hoping that we will have this one behind us soon.”
In his speech, Cellucci also played to his audience, specifically addressing issues of interest to the Canadian trucking industry and taking time to praise its successes.
“All of you are key players in this trade that goes back and forth between Canada and the United States. When I picked up the phone yesterday to call David Bradley, gladly I got the voice message, ‘If you’ve got it, a truck brought it.’ That is certainly true.”
New requirements for advanced cargo data and reporting inbound transit shipments (FAST cards for BRASS drivers) are scheduled to go into effect on November 15th at many of the land ports. “U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS ) border officials recognize the need for a large population of FAST-approved drivers,” Cellucci assured carriers.
“My DHS colleagues are working with you and your drivers to speed up the approval process and to accommodate approved drivers with appointments to meet interview, fingerprint and photo requirements. They are now receiving about 600 new applications a day.
“DHS officials are notifying trucking companies directly to encourage your drivers to report for interviews. When needed, we will be happy to open for extended hours if you can guarantee a firm number of drivers in attendance. Unfortunately, in the past when extended hours were offered drivers simply did not take advantage of the opportunity.”
Interview requirements are being phased in over a 90-day period so that not all ports will feel the effect at once, but the largest ports were to begin implementing the new requirements on Nov. 15, said Cellucci.
“DHS officials will, on Nov. 15, begin stressing the importance of proper inbound transit documentation and the timeliness of advance cargo reporting before enforcement. DHS has been conducting informed compliance with drivers for the past month, handing out flyers to notify drivers of the new requirements. Our offices will have a minimum period of informed compliance with the new requirements starting Nov. 15, probably 30 days to start, but the exact time period has not yet been determined.
“If the issuance of FAST cards is slower than we think it will be, we are ready to extend the period of informed compliance further. All U.S. government officials understand the need to keep traffic at the border moving while instituting these increased security requirements.”
As for special accreditation for drivers of hazardous materials, Cellucci said the method by which Canadian drivers will be ac
credited has not been determined yet. He did indicate, however, that Canadians with certain criminal convictions under U.S. law will not be accredited to carry Hazmat.
The Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) has issued regulations requiring all drivers with U.S. State and District of Columbia-issued commercial driver’s licences to undergo a background check when applying for or renewing their Hazmat endorsement on their licences effective Jan. 31, 2005.
Not all commercial driver’s licence holders have the Hazmat endorsement, but these background checks are now required for those that do. The TSA notifies states about drivers who do not qualify because of criminal convictions. The drivers are obligated to turn in their Hazmat endorsements, but not their commercial licences. States are directed to lift Hazmat endorsements for those who do not surrender them voluntarily. Therefore, some drivers may be banned from driving Hazmat but not be banned from driving other types of freight.
The TSA Web site states that this rule does not apply to Canadian and Mexican citizens on January 31, 2005, but further states that eventually they will be required to meet the same standard.
“No deadline has yet been identified. TSA is working to determine how this can best be accomplished, taking into account Canadian and provincial methods of designating Hazmat endorsement, as well as the existence of the new identification programs such as FAST,” Cellucci said.
Canadian drivers who haul explosives are already required to meet background checks for haulage of explosives across the border, Cellucci pointed out.
Cellucci also addressed the issue of border congestion.
“One last issue that I think is quite important for you and your drivers is the issue of border congestion, the need to address the capacity issues, Buffalo-Fort Erie certainly, Detroit-Windsor,” Cellucci said.
“Secretary Ridge and Minister Anne McLellan talked about this at their most recent meeting in Ottawa. They made a pledge that they would get to the Windsor-Detroit corridor within the next 60 to 90 days to try to bring some focus on the need to look at not only the longer term solution to capacity – and that is the roads, bridges, tunnels decision – but also what can be done in the short term to alleviate border congestion and to make sure this traffic keeps flowing. So this will be an issue that will have significant attention quite soon.”
Soon is good, said Canadian Trucking Alliance CEO David Bradley following the speech, but specific dates would be better.
“I appreciate the assurance that Mr. Cellucci has offered the industry with regards to border crossing issues and the Department of Homeland Security’s soft enforcement policy, but it would be better if we actually had an official policy in terms of how long exactly the soft enforcement policy will go on. As for border congestion, the problem can’t be addressed soon enough,” said Bradley.