Lack of Island marine reporting sites more than ridiculous

Word that Canadian Border Services has temporarily suspended many of the small vessel marine ports of entry, that have historically served our US neighbours when they enter Canada on pleasure craft, has elicited howls of outrage from across the province. The reasons given: COVID-19 concerns.

For many decades a visiting American boater would simply pull up to the docks in a marine community which was their first stop in Canada, such as the ports of Little Current, Gore Bay or Meldrum Bay, pick up the phone and call into the border services office to report they had landed, recite their passport number and then carry on.

Occasionally, Island docks and marinas would get a visit from uniformed Canada Customs officers, but that was very much the exception to the rule. The important thing? It worked and it worked well.

For literally generations, US visitors would pull up to the docks, make their calls and then head into town to dine at local restaurants, shop in local stores, meet and greet old friends and acquaintances just like good friends and neighbours are like to do.

Of course, the world has changed a lot since 9-11, but for North Channel and Manitoulin Island ports of call, things remained remarkably collegial despite the wave of paranoia that swept over America in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Canada was a safe and welcoming haven from a world gone mad.

Americans may have suddenly had to present a passport to re-enter their own country in the wake of the tragedies incited by Al-Qaeda, but our own little world remained secure.

The world has certainly not become any less turbulent in recent years and the pandemic interrupted the flow of American citizens to our shores, leaving our US friends unable to visit (leaving very welcome greenbacks behind). A pent-up demand has since built up in Island communities eager to welcome the return of American boaters and also those boaters themselves, too long barred from the best freshwater boating opportunities in the world, as they looked forward to once again cruise the North Channel of Lake Huron.

It seems, however, that Canadian Border Services has this simple, workable arrangement is not to be. In our area, boaters must check in, in person, at Sault Ste. Marie.

For sail boaters, this can mean taking at least one day out of their planned holiday cruising in the North Channel.

The federal government needs to step up and find a solution to this dilemma that makes sense and our MP needs to make our concerns known throughout the halls of power. The message needs to be brought home clearly; our tourism-based economies on Manitoulin and along the North Shore do not need yet another anchor weighing down their post-pandemic recovery. There is no discernable reason, at least one that makes sense, for Canadian Border Services to impose these restrictions on our struggling marine communities. It is long past time for Canadian Border Services to come to their senses and reverse these damaging and heartless—even if temporary—reductions in marine ports of entry.

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.