September 06, 2002 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - Border Crossing 

Security woes on world’s longest undefended border

Page 3 of 4

From her perspective, while the situation at the border has improved drastically since the Christmas holidays, the borders and customs are still not as fast as they were before Sept. 11.

"And even before Sept. 11, it wasn’t unusual to have a 45 minute wait. Forty-five minutes is still, in our minds, too long."

According to Paula Shore, a communications officer for Canada Customs, the waits at the borders might be improving but she credits part of that to the fact that land border traffic is itself down 36 per cent compared to last year. While the long weekend was still busy, even the Peace Arch crossing – the third busiest in Canada behind Windsor-Detroit and Niagara Falls – was down nine per cent.

There is still room for improvement, says Shore, and the new NEXUS program, which provides exclusive lanes on both sides of the border to frequent travellers who qualify, is one of the key elements.

"The Nexus program is up and running at the Peace Arch and Pacific Highway Truck crossing, and it is being used," she said. "There has been quite a demand actually, and we have received to date over 30,000 applications from people in B.C."

The Nexus program, which was introduced back in March, uses photo-ID cards and computer reading of licence plates to speed up the process. The program is not yet as popular as the defunct PACE program, which had over 66,000 members in B.C. before the terrorist attacks.

"We like it because it frees up our customs officers to concentrate on the travellers we don’t know. It lets pre-cleared travellers go through with fairly little intervention from us, so we can concentrate on the other folks and the traffic moves faster."

Lower Mainland customs is also more versatile because of how close the entry points at the Peace Arch and the Pacific Highway are.

"Because we’re close together and the staff are flexible, we can transfer people back and forth between the two ports fairly easily. If one crossing is extremely busy, we can move staff back and forth. We try hard to manage the delays and waits if there is a wait."

People using the borders are also helping to speed the process by having proof of citizenship, birth certificates and other documents on hand, and by following the rules.

A pre-Labour Day press release from Canada Customs, for example, provided information to travellers on how to pass through customs – bring proper identification for you and your children, keep receipts handy, and make a full declaration to the Customs Inspector. They also urged travellers to be patient.

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