Pat's Boating in Canada Archive

Boating along the Canadian Border

May 17, 2016:
MP Gord Brown introduced a bill to Canada’s Parliament that would end the requirement of pleasure boaters entering Canadian waters from having to report to CBSA (customs) as long as they do not anchor or dock. It was passed into law in June 2017.

June 22, 2016:
Senator Bob Runciman (a 1000 islands boater) introduced a bill in the Canadian Senate that would eliminate onerous reporting requirements on Americans criss-crossing the watery border while pleasure-cruising or fishing the St. Lawrence River. (Canadian boat passing through American waters do not have to report to U.S. Customs.)

June 2011:
For a hundred year it was fine to fish or cruise into Canadian waters without checking into a Canadian port of entry (customs) - as long as you didn't dock or anchor your boat you had not "landed". But in 2011, Roy Anderson, an American boater fishing across the "invisible line", was boarded by Canadian Border Services officials in the St. Lawrence River at Gananoque Narrows. He said he was told "If you are in Canadian waters, you should be running toward a port of entry. If you're not running toward a port of entry, you are in violation of the law." He was threatened with seizure of the boat and being handcuffed and towed ashore unless he paid $1000 - on the spot. Chris J. Kealey, a spokesman for the Canadian Border Services Agency, said if the penalty is not able to be paid on the water, "they can seize the vessel pending payment of the penalty."

N.Y. boater reports Canada crackdown

by Brian Kelly, Times Staff Writer
Watertown Daily Times June 17, 2011

A fisherman's got to know his limitations. And the same now apparently goes for every other boater on the St. Lawrence River who may accidentally drift into Canadian waters.

Roy M. Anderson, a seasonal resident of Thousand Island Park, found out May 30 that long-held notions of where it's OK for United States citizens to fish no longer apply. While fishing a favorite spot in the Gananoque Narrows with a friend, his boat was boarded and then "seized" by Canadian Border Services Agency officers.

"I was dumbfounded," Mr. Anderson, 22, Baldwinsville, said. "My dad's 67 years old and he's fished there his whole life without a problem."

According to Mr. Anderson, officers came aboard his boat and checked his $83 Canadian fishing license, which he always carries, and checked for outstanding criminal warrants, of which there were none. Trouble started when Mr. Anderson was asked if he had reported his presence in Canada at a port of entry, which he had not. At the time, he was less than a quarter-mile into Canadian waters.

"I was told, 'If you are in Canadian waters, you should be running toward a port of entry. If you're not running toward a port of entry, you are in violation of the law,'" he said.

Mr. Anderson, who fishes the narrows daily in the summer, said he had been checked previously by Ontario Provincial Police and Canadian game wardens and was always left with the impression that, as long as he was not anchored or otherwise on shore, he was doing nothing illegal.

This time, his boat was searched for contraband and seized and he was told that it would cost him $1,000 to get it back. If he could not immediately come up with the money, he would be placed in handcuffs and made to lie on his stomach while his boat was towed to shore in Canada, where he could face a fine of up to $25,000 under the Canadian Customs Act.

"I had to pay it on the spot," Mr. Anderson said. "They seized my boat and I had to buy it back on the spot."

The Canadian Customs Act states that penalties "shall become payable on the day the notice of assessment of the penalty is served on the person." It also gives border agents the authority to seize a boat "as forfeit."

Chris J. Kealey, a spokesman for the Canadian Border Services Agency, said if the penalty is not able to be paid on the water, "the alternative is they can seize the vessel pending payment of the penalty."

Mr. Anderson said that his boat is old and "not worth much," so "I was thinking about letting them just take it." After a phone call to his father, Michael, he agreed to pay the money using a credit card.

"Usually I don't have my wallet with me out there," he said. "Thank God I had a credit card with enough on it so I could get my boat back."

Sean R. Magers, a spokesman for Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said the congressman has been made aware of Mr. Anderson's plight and has "reached out" to the Canadian Embassy on the matter.

Mr. Magers said the congressman's interpretation of the statute involved exempts fishermen, as it states that it does not apply to a person entering Canadian waters "directly from one place outside of Canada to another place outside of Canada."

David A. McCrea, a charter captain out of Henderson who fishes frequently in Canada, said "there's no rhyme nor reason" to be found in the enforcement of the Canadian fishing and boating regulations. He said calls to the border agency's Canadian Passenger Accelerated Service System, or CANPASS, which is designed to expedite the customs and immigration process, rarely provides a satisfactory answer as to what is and isn't allowed.

"You call that number five times and get five different answers," he said. "You just keep calling back until you get the answer you're looking for and then you get that guy's badge number."

Russell A. Finehout, a Clayton fishing guide, said he has had a Canadian fishing license for 55 years and it has always been a general rule among guides and other fishermen that if you had a license and weren't anchored, you could fish in Canadian waters without declaring your presence to customs.

"I've never been stopped by Canadian customs in all my years of fishing and I'm 74 years' old," he said.

Mr. Finehout said he recently visited the Canadian customs office at Landsdowne, Ontario, and was told that American fishermen are expected to report into the country at points in either Gananoque, Ivy Lea or Rockport.

"That makes it pretty much impossible for us to fish because of the time wasted going all the way over there to check in and then back to where you want to fish. That's a couple hours wasted, plus the extra expense for the gas."

Mr. Finehout said he was also told at the meeting that the rules apply not just to fishermen, but to all boaters, even people who unwittingly drift into Canadian waters without realizing they have crossed the international border.

"They don't want us to go over there. It's quite apparent to me," he said. "It'll be the last time I buy a Canadian fishing license."

Border officials defend policy

by Brian Amaral, Times Staff Writer
Watertown Daily Times June 30, 2011

CLAYTON — A two-hour tour.

That's what boaters in Henderson Harbor will have to take just to check in to Canada because of newly enforced regulations. The price tag for such a trip in gasoline is about $50.

The trip from Henderson Harbor to Kingston, Ontario, the nearest 24-hour check-in point, will cost so much that some boat captains there say they won't bring their fishing tours across the international border anymore, for fear of regulations that had been ignored for decades, but could cost a $1,000, on-the-spot fine from the Canada Border Services Agency.

"I'm not going to go there anymore," said Fred M. Kusik, the operator of Shady Lady Sport Fishing Charters in Henderson Harbor. "It's totally unrealistic, and it's going to cripple the industry."

Those were among the complaints about the rules at a meeting among Canadian officials and American ship captains that took place at the Antique Boat Museum. The regulations, which Canadian officials say have been in place for decades, state that American boaters who travel into Canadian waters must first check in at a specific point in Canada, use a phone to call border agents, announce their presence, their birth date, how long they'll stay and get a specific authorization number.

That will apply even to fishing tours, so operators will have to bring their clients to Canada with them when they check in.

Boat captains and tourism officials who attended the meeting called the regulations onerous and unnecessary, and said they were blind sided by the rules after decades of not knowing.

Canadian representatives, meanwhile, maintained that the rules aren't new, and that Canadians face similar regulations when coming into American waters.

Mark Pergunas, the chief of operations at the Lansdowne port of entry for the Canada Border Services Agency, explained that the regulations, while imperfect, were intended to keep his nation safe from smuggled goods and terrorism.

"It's not wonderful, as someone who is burning gas and daylight. But it's not half as bad as people thought. It's reasonably manageable," he said, while acknowledging that the trip from Henderson Harbor to Kingston would be difficult.

Mr. Pergunas explained some mitigating factors that he said made the rules less restrictive than they seem at first blush. For example, a fishing tour captain can call Canadian border agents from America the night before an expedition with information about their clients. They'll have to go back the morning of the trip, too, but calling the night before would speed the process, Mr. Pergunas said. And border agents could alert the fishing guide the night before if one of the clients won't be allowed into Canadian waters.

Reasons for not allowing an American into Canadian water could include a previous driving while intoxicated conviction, Mr. Pergunas said, though if it was a youthful indiscretion on the record of an older person, agents could use personal judgement. They're the same regulations that people face when crossing a bridge into Canada, he said.

Mr. Pergunas also explained that trawling — dropping fishing lines into the water while the boat is still in motion — is also not permitted unless boaters check in. Boaters with mechanical difficulties that didn't intend to stop, however, will not be punished for not checking in, he said.

"Our system mirrors the United States system very closely," Mr. Pergunas said. "All we're saying is... you have to come talk to us first."

Chris Kealey, a spokesman for the Canada Border Services Agency, declined comment on the regulations and the case of Roy Anderson, a 22-year-old Baldwinsville resident whose case brought to light the previously ignored rules. He claimed inaccuracies in reporting on the matter, but would not elaborate.

Gary DeYoung, the Thousand Islands International Tourism Council director of tourism, echoed sentiments among many in the room that they weren't aware of the possible $1,000 fine for not checking in.

"These are things people have done for years," he said.

A spokesman for Vic Toews, Canada's minister of public safety, said last week that a spate of smuggling had led the nation to more stridently enforce its regulations.

And while the regulations have irked American officials and caused something of an international incident, the Canadian officials who attended the Clayton meeting were on the law enforcement side, so there was little they could say or do to signal that the regulations could see a wholesale change.

Even the presence of the story in the media could buffet the Thousand Islands region tourism industry.

"How attractive is it to come to a place where you have to do this?" Mr. DeYoung said. -->

A month later, the CBSA announced it would allow boaters to check in on their cell phones if they cross the border (Canadian customs 1-888-226-7277), rather than having to dock and use a special CBSA landline to report they were fishing on the Canadian side.

Lingering questions, anxiety after Canada eases boater check-in requirements

by Nora Flaherty
North Country Public Radio, July 12, 2011

It’s been just over a month since agents from the Canadian Border Security Agency fined American fisherman Roy Anderson $1000 and threatened to seize his boat. Anderson was doing something boaters have been doing for generations without thinking it was an issue—floating, without docking, in Canadian waters on the St. Lawrence.

Since then, there’s been a lot of confusion among boaters about where they could and couldn’t go—and a lot of concern among those who depend on the tourism industry for their living about how that confusion would affect the season.

Two major developments Friday seemed to indicate the situation was on its way to being resolved—but Nora Flaherty reports it’s more complicated than that.

On Friday, the CBSA announced it will now allow boaters to check in on their cell phones if they cross the border, rather than having to dock and use a special CBSA landline.

It’s a move that will certainly make boaters’ lives easier. But Congressman Bill Owens says it’s not enough. He says boaters are accustomed to using the river freely—on both sides of the border—and even if there aren’t any more incidents like what happened with Ray Anderson, the chance that could happen makes boaters justifiably nervous.

I think practically we’re in a scenario where we’re back to where it was before—but legally there’s this possibility of enforcement and that’s always going to make people jittery. It’s a little disappointing because it really doesn’t address the situation, and how it’s functioned quite well for likely 100 years.

Also on Friday, Governor Cuomo said Roy Anderson will be getting his $1000 back. But what he’ll actually be getting is $999—rather than returning the whole fine—which would seem to be an admission of wrongdoing—Canada has opted to reduce it to $1. So while Anderson is likely glad to be getting his money back, that $999 refund also comes with the message that the CBSA’s sticking by its guns. And that’s likely to keep boaters nervous, too. Rich Clark is a fishing guide out of Clayton—he’s staying upbeat, but he says he expects things aren’t going to be as simple as they once were:

It used to be seamless, now it’s not going to be seamless and I hope they continue to work with us to make it fairly easy.

Politicians on the state and local level have been trying to find some resolution to this for over a month now…but Owens says in his view the only way relations on the St. Lawrence can get back to how they were before, is through legislation:

That would make this very clear that if you’re fishing on either side of the international border, recreating, boating, that there’s no requirement to sign in.

Owens says he has plans to meet with his Canadian counterpart, Member of Parliament Gord Brown, to talk about that…but that he doesn’t see this situation being resolved before the end of this year’s tourist season.

The number to check in with Canadian customs is 888-226-7277. And you can read a fact sheet from the Canadian Border Services Agency about check-in requirements.
"No other border-nations in the world enjoy the long-standing friendship, family ties and prosperity of the Canadian-American relationship. The numbers speak for themselves: $1.6 billion USD a day in cross-border commerce. This boils down to over $1 million every minute in cross-border transactions. 300,000 people a day cross our shared border. These numbers represent a personal and commercial relationship that is unrivalled in the world—and the envy of many nations." — The Hon. Michael Wilson, Canadian Ambassador to the United States
(geo.international.gc.ca April 2007)
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