Both houses of the Canadian federal government have passed a new law that when enacted will lift several years of uncertainty concerning the rights of American boaters and anglers on the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, the Niagara River – in fact, on any border water of the two countries.
Under this new law, which recently passed the Canadian Senate and the Canadian House of Commons, American boaters who do not anchor their boat or step foot on Canadian soil will not have to report to Canadian Customs.
In addition, the measure will also exempt Canadian boaters from being required to report to their customs officials when they return to Canadian waters, as long as they met the same requirements while they traveled in U.S. waters.
The bill will become law after it receives “Royal Assent.” which could come as early as next week, according to New York State Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-St. Lawrence, who has been actively involved in the issue.
Canadian bills may be given Royal Assent in two ways: by the Governor General or his/her deputy in a formal ceremony that takes place in the Senate before an assembly of both houses, or by written declaration.
The new law was authored by two Canadian lawmakers: Sen. Bob Runciman and House member Gordon Brown. It needed to be approved by the end of this month to become law for this year’s boating season because that’s when both houses adjourn for the summer.
Runciman represents the Thousand Islands and the Rideau Lakes area. Brown represents Leeds, Granville, the Thousand Islands and the Rideau Lakes area.
In February, Ritchie, who represents Oswego, Jefferson and parts of St. Lawrence counties, traveled to Ottawa to testify before the Canadian Parliament’s Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defense in support of the measure.
The need for the legislation has its roots in a 2011 incident involving Roy Andersen, a then-22-year-old, Baldwinsville resident who spent his summers in Thousand Island Park. He was out fishing in the Gananoque Narrows on the Canadian side with a friend when two Canadian Border Services agents bordered Andersen’s boat and seized it.
The agents told Andersen that he and his buddy had not reported to a Canadian port of entry upon entering Canadian waters. Andersen and his buddy both had Canadian fishing licenses and their boat met all the safety requirements. All that didn’t matter.
Canadian officials told the boater he would need to immediately pay a $1,000 fine or face being handcuffed, having his boat towed to Canada and pay $25,000 in penalties. While the fine was eventually reduced to $1 after lawmakers got involved, the incident has kept many American boaters and anglers from venturing into Canadian waters.
Ritchie worked closely with Runciman and Brown to get the fine reduced, which also led to the formation of the binational “Legislative Border Caucus.” This caucus has since worked jointly on issues involving the border and looks for new opportunities to bolster the bonds between the two countries, Ritchie said.
Prior to the Andersen incident, in most cases fishermen and recreational boaters who were just passing through and didn’t anchor or set foot on the Canadian side (either on the shoreline or on a Canadian island) weren’t required to call Canadian customs.
A passport was required by Canadian law, but rarely asked for.
Today, all American boaters crossing the Canadian side must put a call in to Canadian customs (1-888-Can pass).
In addition, they are required to report information from (and have in their possession) certain documents. Anglers and recreational boaters alike must have either a passport, birth certificate or enhanced driver’s license. If they have a DWI, drug charge or any firearms charges on their criminal record, they are not allowed to enter Canadian waters.
“This legislation will end the confusion and ensure that Canada treats U.S. boaters the same way the Americans treat Canadian boaters,” Brown said.
Ritchie added: “The waterways our nation shared with Canada are scenic gems that not only provide endless opportunities for recreation, but also help to drive economies on both sides of the border. I cannot thank Senator Runciman and Member of Parliament Brown enough for working with me to ensure boaters can enjoy our shared waterway without headaches, which in turn will strengthen the local tourism industries for our nations.”