Proof Positive: Truckers brace for U.S. passport rule

WINNIPEG — While an inborn love of hockey and double-doubles might be considered distinctively Canadian, wearing the home team’s jersey and having a Tim Horton’s coffee in the cup holder of your cab won’t be enough for U.S. border guards in just a few weeks.

On June 1, the final stage of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) will go into effect and proof of citizenship will be required at all land and sea crossings to gain entry into the U.S. There will be a few different documents that can be used to satisfy the new rule, including a passport or FAST card

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been hyping the June 1 change for nearly a year with an advertising campaign — check out www.getyouhome.gov for more information — so don’t expect border guards to let it slide if truckers plead ignorance and the proper documents are missing.

Sheldon Novak, director of customs, security and government affairs with Winnipeg’s Payne Transportation, started making sure his drivers are prepared back in February.

"We’re covering all our bases and not leaving it up to that particular border guard’s feelings on that particular day," says Novak. "Everybody has their own interpretation and you don’t always know what a certain guy will give you on a certain day." 

Not even the friendliest ‘how ‘ya doin’ eh?’ to a US border
guard will be proof enough you’re Canadian come June 1.

Most of Payne’s drivers already have FAST cards so it hasn’t been a big transition. About 170 of the carrier’s 180 drivers cross the border regularly and many of the truckers who aren’t FAST-approved currently had passports.

Passport vs. FAST:

For Canadian residents the options for meeting WHTI standards at land border crossings will include a passport, NEXUS card, FAST card, or an Enhanced Driver’s Licence/Enhanced Identification Card (EDL/EIC), which are being launched in a handful of provinces. 

However, The EDL and EIC options aren’t widely available (more on that later), so the best option for truckers will probably be a passport or FAST card.

While both of them will get you across the border, the latter two have different purposes, different costs, different uses, and different application processes.

A passport is a great document for traveling. It’s the only universally accepted identification document and can get you into, and out of, the U.S. (as well as other countries) by air, land and sea. It can be had for $87 plus the cost of photos, which should be about $15.

If you apply at a Passport Canada office in person it will take about two weeks to get the passport. By mail it will take around four weeks, unless Passport Canada is dealing with a backlog.

This could be a very real possibility as the June 1 deadline approaches. Of course, you can pay extra to get the application pushed through faster.

FAST, instead, is designed to provide expedited travel to pre-approved, low-risk truckers at the border.

"Overall, I think it’s worked. We haven’t had a lot of issues at the border — knock on wood — and my guys haven’t mentioned getting a lot of hassles," says Novak. "Out east they have FAST-approved lanes, which speed up the wait times at the border, but there’s enough benefit with less hassle to get it, even though our crossings out here don’t have FAST lanes. And lots of shippers want the guys to be FAST-approved."

The FAST card is also good for a five-year term, but only costs $50. And the application process is a little more in-depth.

Once the application form has been accepted, you have to make an appointment to go to a port of entry and get photographed, fingerprinted and fill out a questionnaire.

FAST cards or Enhanced Driver’s licences with
biometric will get you to the U.S.,
but might not make sense as one-stop-shop ID cards.

"They used to issue them on the spot, but now they’re mailed out and look much more official," notes Novak.

The only problem with FAST, says Novak, is that despite the security information imbedded into the card, Canada Customs doesn’t recognize it as official ID upon return to Canada so drivers need to have other I.D. handy — like, you guessed it, a passport of driver’s licence.

"It’s a highly secure program where you need proof of citizenship to get it, but the Canadian government doesn’t recognize it as ID?" Novak asks rhetorically.

Enhanced Options:

If you call B.C., Ontario, Quebec or Manitoba home there’s the EDL or EIC option.

The cost for an EDL in B.C., for example, is expected to be $35. The enhanced cards are secure ID outfitted with a radio frequency identification technology (RFID) chip that will store identity and citizenship information.

A number of privacy groups in Canada and the U.S. have raised concerns about the security of the cards, but officials are confident the latest security features will prevent identity theft, fraud and counterfeiting.

Leading up to the June 1 deadline a couple of provinces originally keen on the idea of EDLs scrapped their plans.

Both New Brunswick and Saskatchewan balked at plans to produce an enhanced card, while Alberta remained non-committal.

Novak, for one, has been advising his drivers against it.

"As a separate ID card I don’t like it," he says. "It’s not good for air travel, so if you need to fly home or down to the U.S. you’re going to need a passport anyway."

The document, however, isn’t as important as the date — June 1. Don’t forget. And be sure to get your acronyms straight.

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