A day trip across the Georgia Strait has been made complicated for private boaters moored in Boundary Bay who have just learned of decade-old legislation.
Opponents say the “ridiculous rule” requires them 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.
For Marise and Clive Besser, who never used to think twice before setting out on boat trips to Tumbo and Cabbage Islands – just across the strait, by Saturna Island – the reporting regulation could put a serious dent in their summer sojourns from Crescent Beach Marina to the B.C. marine park.
The U.S. border locks in Boundary Bay, making it impossible to leave the Crescent Beach and White Rock area by boat without crossing the international border.
The Bessers are confident hundreds of others who have also been unknowingly and unintentionally violating the rules for more than a decade are in the same boat.
“Now we’ve got CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) putting another level of concern, I think we’ll be going out much less,” said Clive Besser. “We’re going to think twice about going to that favourite little marine park.”
The rules – which include that boaters carry proof of citizenship, declare goods purchased or acquired outside of Canada and present themselves to CBSA upon arrival in Canada – are not new. They were introduced in 2001.
But they’ve only recently become widely known, the Bessers said, as a result of a directive announcing simplified reporting procedures for recreational boaters such as themselves.
The modernized rules enable those who transit through international waters – be it for an outing to the Gulf Islands or to fish in Active Pass – to report their return to Canada by cellphone. It’s something the Bessers never realized they had to worry about before, but they’ve since become well-informed of the potential consequences for failing to abide: a $1,000 fine, loss of their Nexus status and detention or forfeiture of their 32-foot Bayliner, Blazer.
The Bessers – who have spent hours on the phone with CBSA officials and the local MP’s office confirming and questioning the rules – which exempt private aircraft and commercial vessels – said they want to know why private boaters like themselves aren’t excused, especially considering that they couldn’t avoid passing through U.S. waters even if they tried.
As well, they said, while reporting by cellphone is fine in theory, where it fails – and frustrates – is when visiting an area which doesn’t have cellphone coverage, as the Bessers often do. That, said Clive, necessitates a 36-mile round trip, through often-treacherous waters, to the nearest marine telephone reporting centre, which from Tumbo is Pender Island’s Bedwell Harbour.
CBSA’s Renee Ribout confirmed the reporting rules are firm.
“The act of entering Canadian waters is sufficient to trigger the presentation requirements, regardless of how long a boater has been away,” Ribout said by email.
While Marise suggested the couple would have to be careful what fruits and vegetables they packed for lunch, Ribout said cross-border produce restrictions do not exist for boaters transiting from Canada through international waters to another Canadian destination.
The Bessers aren’t alone in questioning the logic of the rules. Fellow boater Doug Hudson was similarly frustrated.
“I can’t understand what the thinking is on that,” he said. “It just makes no sense at all. Even if you’re coming out of Vancouver, you could be trapped in this thing.”
Hudson, who has a 45-foot Bayliner, estimated there are 2,000 boats affected locally.
“Now that we all know it, we have to obey the law. It’s going to be a bureaucratic nightmare,” Marise said.