Health & Safety
Clash over whether U.S. officers can be armed in Canada keeps Nexus offices closed
By Christopher Reynolds in Montreal
A dispute over legal protections for American customs officers has kept Nexus enrolment centres closed in Canada more than three months after they reopened south of the border — due in part to a clash over U.S. agents’ right to carry guns on Canadian soil.
The standoff has led to a massive backlog in applications for the program, which allows pre-approved travellers to cross the border more quickly.
The Canada Border Services Agency says the number of Nexus applications has ballooned from 270,000 in April to more than 341,000 at a time when travel delays are wreaking havoc on passengers’ summer plans.
Canada and the U.S. remain in discussions about when the 13 enrolment centres will reopen for applicant interviews as the two sides try to clarify “legal protections” for American customs officers while they are working at the jointly staffed centres, agency spokeswoman Rebecca Purdy said in an email.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed the hold-up revolves around legal protections for its Nexus office staff.
“One example could include the authority to carry or have access to a firearm while on duty,” spokesperson Rhonda Lawson said in an email.
Two senior Canadian government sources told The Canadian Press the U.S. wants its customs officers who work in Nexus centres to have the same protections guaranteed to its other preclearance officers on Canadian soil under a binational agreement, with sidearms as a major sticking point in the talks.
The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
All first-time Nexus applicants whose initial submissions are approved must come in for an enrolment centre interview before they get the green light. Some existing cardholders must also book an interview to renew their membership, which expires after five years.
About 75 per cent of current Nexus members are Canadian citizens, and another three per cent are permanent residents, according to the border agency.
While Canadians are allowed to head to one of 13 Nexus centres in the U.S. — all are located near the border — many locations have no appointments available.
“Current interview wait time: 1 year,” states the website for the enrolment centre in Port Huron, Mich.
The delay is affecting Canadian tourism and causing inconvenience for frequent border crossers.
“If you had more people with Nexus, they get through faster and they don’t clog up the other line,” said Jill Wykes, editor of Snowbird Advisor, an online resource for Snowbirds.
“Many other government offices are open,” she said. “I think it’s inexcusable.”
Meanwhile, airports continue to grapple with long security and customs queues amid staffing shortages.
“It for sure has exacerbated the delay,” said Duncan Dee, Air Canada’s former chief operating officer.
Added Teamsters Canada spokeswoman Catherine Cosgrove: “I haven’t even applied for Nexus, because there’s no point.”
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