COLUMN: A navigational nightmare

New rule requires boaters to advise border officials every time they re-enter Canada – even after simply traversing the jagged international border to go from one Canadian port to another. - File photo
New rule requires boaters to advise border officials every time they re-enter Canada – even after simply traversing the jagged international border to go from one Canadian port to another.
— image credit: File photo

Oh, the 49th parallel.

It continually causes new problems that could not possibly have been imagined back when it was set as the boundary between what is now Canada and the United States in 1846, under the Oregon Treaty.

One of the sources of these problems is caused by Point Roberts, the small peninsula of U.S. territory that juts into the ocean below Delta, and is south of the 49th parallel.

The Oregon Treaty stated that the 49th parallel would be used as the boundary until it met Georgia Strait, at which point it would dip to the south to ensure that Vancouver Island was within what was then British North America.

Point Roberts' isolation from the rest of what is now Washington state was not a problem for decades. As recently as the 1970s, Point Roberts residents were still served by the B.C. Telephone Company, and had free calling to parts of the Lower Mainland. It made more sense to run telephone land lines from neighbouring Delta than from Blaine.

Going back and forth across the land border there was simple, and working for either the U.S. or Canadian Customs at that crossing was a job where the routine hardly ever changed.

However, Point Roberts' location and the terms of the Oregon Treaty are now causing Canadian boaters some significant headaches. Canada Border Services Agency requires all private boaters to report to it, if they cross the parallel and go into U.S. waters, even if it is a trip between two Canadian points.

Many boaters from Crescent Beach and White Rock like to make a trip over to Saturna Island and other nearby Gulf Islands. It used to be an idyllic trip, and there were no thoughts of reporting to Customs.

Back in 2001, likely because of the Sept. 11 attacks, the rules were changed. However, they were not widely publicized and many boaters are only now finding out about the changes.

There is no way to leave Semiahmoo Bay or Mud Bay and go to another part of Canada (other than the eastern shore of South Delta) without crossing into U.S. waters. The boundary line follows the 49th parallel to a point halfway between Delta and Galiano Island, before jogging south to go between Saturna and Pender Islands in Canada and Orcas Island and several small islands in the U.S.

Boaters from White Rock or Crescent Beach must enter U.S. waters, as indeed do the BC Ferries ships that go between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay, and Tsawwassen and Long Harbour on Saltspring Island. The ferry causeway extends almost right to the border.

The new reporting requirements exempt commercial ships like the ferries. But for some reason, private boat owners aren't so fortunate. Those who fail to comply could face fines, the loss of Nexus status and even forfeiture of their boat.

While boat owners can report in by cellphone, this isn't always practical, as cellphone coverage is spotty in places. The only place to report in person in the Gulf Islands is at Bedwell Harbour on Pender Island.

It appears that the federal government is unaware of simply how unnecessary this rule is. If U.S. border officials, who are far more vigilant and protective of their space than Canada is, don't have a concern, why is this so necessary in Canada?

Marise and Clive Besser have communicated with South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP Russ Hiebert to let him know their concerns. Hiebert has a strong interest in  border issues, and this could represent an opportunity for him to cut some red tape, while not wavering from Canada's commitment to keep a close watch on the border with the U.S.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.



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