Canadians lobby for screening facility at border

In April, the U.S. government dropped plans to build the center.

Published May 25, 2007

WASHINGTON - Plans for a screening facility at one of the nation's busiest land-border crossings were abandoned because of a disagreement over fingerprinting travelers, an outcome that has angered business groups in the United States and Canada.

Canadian business leaders are in Washington this week to lobby for the resumption of a U.S. plan to build a "preclearance" facility at the border near Buffalo, N.Y., that would speed commercial and passenger traffic from Canada into the United States.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff scuttled the initiative last month because Canada would not accept Washington's demand that it fingerprint travelers on Canadian soil who approach the border but decide not to cross.

The government wants to be able to take suspects' fingerprints and compare them with terrorist and criminal databases.

Canadian law precludes fingerprinting people unless criminal charges have been filed.

But U.S. and Canadian business groups and some lawmakers are angry at the Bush administration's April 26 decision to abandon plans to build the facility in Fort Erie, Ontario, just over Peace Bridge from Buffalo. They say the move threatens $20-billion of trade that flows annually across the bridge. Canada is the United States' largest trading partner.

Delays at the U.S.-Canada land border cost Ontario $5.23-billion and the U.S. economy $4.1-billion a year, said Len Crispino, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce president.

"It's not insignificant, " he said.