Canada Enforces Pleasure Boat Reporting Requirements
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Here is something I didn't know - and I'm going to take a chance here, but I bet you didn't either - the international border between the U.S. and Canada is the longest in the world, more than 5,000 miles long. Naturally, there are long stretches of it that run through areas like rivers and lakes, where the exact boundary isn't clear. It's a vague reference point, an invisible line. For centuries, boaters around the Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence River in northern New York have mostly ignored this boundary. As North Country Public Radio's Julia Botero reports, that's changing.
JULIA BOTERO, BYLINE: Mike Hajjar stands on a bluff overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Below, two women in bikinis sunbathe on the deck of a gleaming boat as it returns to dock. Here, locals like Hajjar call the international boundary that divides this river the imaginary line.
MIKE HAJJAR: When we go for a boat ride, we go for a boat ride. You know, yes, we weave in and out of the islands and sometimes you're in Canadian waters, sometimes not. But, you know, we're boating.
BOTERO: The border zigzags around a series of rocky islands, some only big enough for a house. Hajjar points across the river to a green clump of trees about a mile away. That's Canada, he says.
HAJJAR: I mean, it's right there. But you don't feel the same.
BOTERO: Canadian border officials are telling American boaters they could no longer weave in and out of Canadian waters at will. Instead, they have to stop their boat and call Canadian customs the moment they cross the border. Canada can charge a hefty fine and seize the boat of anyone caught breaking that rule. Hajjar says he didn't bother to make that call while out cruising. He crossed into Canadian waters and was stopped by the Ontario Provincial Police. Bill Morrison was with Hajjar that day. He says Canada has always felt like a friendly neighbor.
BILL MORRISON: And suddenly, they erect, you know, an 8-foot stockade fence and they have guard dogs on the inside of that fence. Well, are you going to feel the same that you did before? Probably not.
BOTERO: The Canadian Border Service Agency, or CBSA for short, refused to talk to NPR for this story. In a statement, they said everyone, including boaters, must report when entering Canada. The CBSA says this rule's been enforced since 2012. But boaters in the Thousand Islands claim this is the first time they've heard of it. Ted Hsu, the local member of Canada's Parliament, says security along the entire border has tightened. Still, he's asked the CBSA to look again at their latest attempts to thicken the border.
TED HSU: Legally, the CBSA has a mandate to enforce certain laws, so they're going to try to figure out how they can fulfill their mandate and at the same time not make Americans feel unwelcome here in Canada.
BOTERO: Doug Tulloch grew up on the U.S. side of the river. We're sitting in his boathouse next to his pair of purple jet skis. Tulloch says until the CBSA adjusts their rules, he'll stay on his side of the river.
DOUG TULLOCH: I had guests in from Vancouver, Wash., and I took them touring. And we stayed out of Canada because who needs the headache?
BOTERO: Canadians interested in cruising into American waters, on the other hand, are required to report only after setting foot on U.S. soil. For NPR News, I'm Julia Botero in New York's Thousand Islands. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.