Canadian Border Services denies ‘Port of Entry’ status, simple customs clearance to Island, N. Shore mariners

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Breaking news. Following a concerted outcry from marine communities across the Great Lakes, the Hon. Marco Mendicino, federal minister of public safety, this morning (May 19) announced through Twitter that “services will resume at over 300 marine ports of entry” and that this will happen “this week.” The closures were announced on May 2nd, leaving Manitoulin with no ports of entry. It is still unclear which ports are being reopened. Stay tuned for further updates.

MANITOULIN—“It’s ridiculous!” is the common refrain from mayors and stakeholders in the boating industry being voiced in response to the announcement by Canadian Border Services that US boaters coming to North Channel ports will have to travel to Sault Ste. Marie in order to register their entry to Canada.

“It’s ridiculous, bizarre,” said Gore Bay Mayor Dan Osborne. “It doesn’t make any sense at all. This will impact not only us, but the whole North Shore. We have a lot of businesses that depend on tourism, not only the marina, but the airport as well. This could devastate the economy.”

“It’s happening all over the place,” said North Channel Marine Tourism Council chair Stan Ferguson. “Isn’t it ridiculous? The government seems intent on making life interesting for us.”

Boating Ontario executive director Rick Ryzell was even more expressive with his response. “It’s insane,” he said. “That’s the only thing I can say that is printable.” Mr. Ferguson noted that board member Roy Eaton has been in contact with Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes to enlist her aid in dealing with the federal department.

Boating Ontario is pulling out the stops on the issue during its lobbying and Mr. Ryzell notes that two Conservative MPs are already onboard with pressuring the government to find a better solution.

“It’s not like it is a staffing issue,” pointed out Mr. Ryzell. “There aren’t even any border agents who usually attend the docks. It’s a simple phone call into the office to register. They tell the agent their passport number, they are 99.9 percent US citizens and they are approved.”

The boating industry is already battling with the federal government over the imposition of a luxury tax on boats. “We already have meetings set up over the luxury tax issue that is hammering the industry and we will be bringing the Canadian Boarder Service issue to those meetings as well,” said Mr. Ryzell.

For its part, Canadian Border Services says it is temporarily reducing marine ports of entry in response to the pandemic.

Mr. Ryzell noted that while the entire country is opening up following the lifting of COVID-19 protocols at the borders, there is one exception—waterborne traffic.

“The land crossings are the opening, the airports are open, rail, everything is open except the water;  we are being singled out and it simply doesn’t make sense,” he said. “This will have a negative impact on tourism and there is no reason for it.”

He noted that for boaters down his way, it is a two-hour boat ride to the nearest border registration centre. For boaters arriving in Manitoulin and North Channel ports the nearest facility is Sault Ste. Marie.

“I look at the North, you have to go to Sault Ste. Marie to register,” said Mr. Ryzell. “There will be a simple reaction from US boaters,” he said. “They just won’t come.”