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Doing Something about Border Issues

It is not often that we hear that legislators and/or government officials in the United States and Canada are “doing something” about some of the issues of concern to Thousand Islanders. However there is lots in the news demonstrating these actions. 

On Thursday, October 6th, the CBC's  Radio One broadcast from Ottawa had a joint interview with Canadian Senator Bob Runciman and New York Senator Patty Ritchie (48th District). They announced that a meeting would be held at the Frederick Remington Museum in Ogdensburg the next day to start a bi-national, bipartisan group to discuss how legislators in border communities can work together to solve problems and bring more economic prosperity to the region.

The meeting did take place in Ogdensburg. Senator Ritchie was joined by Senator Joseph Griffo (47th District) and along with Canadian Runciman, the International Border Caucus was formed.

[For those unfamiliar with the Canadian government, the Senate of Canada forms one part of the Parliament of Canada, the other being the House of Commons. Senators are appointed and Commons members are elected members of the government.  At present there are 105 Senators who are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the sitting Prime Minister. Seats are assigned on a regional basis. Senator Runciman was named to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on January 29, 2010. He serves on the National Finance and Legal and Constitutional Affairs committees.]

Ironically, Senator Runciman was held up at the border for 45 minutes waiting in line which prompted Senator Griffo, whose district includes the border crossing between Massena, NY and Cornwall, Ontario,  to say, "Long lines and lengthy waits are discouraging people from crossing the border. Agencies need to step up their efforts to determine how many staff are needed at various times of the day to insure that citizens of both nations are not forced to wait in long lines to go on vacation or to get to work.”


We are pleased to report that the meeting and the decision to form this new caucus bodes well for the region. Senator Ritchie published a list of items discussed:

  • The 100 percent tariff on Northern New York produced wines that Canadians must pay to bring them home to Canada.
  • Water levels on the St. Lawrence River.
  • Singer Castle’s need for a U.S. Inspection station: it would allow Canadian tour boats to visit the Hammond tourist attraction.
  • Concerns that the Obama administration’s “Jobs” bill includes provisions that could hurt Canadian businesses.
  • Concerns that the U.S. may someday install a border fence along parts of the Northern border.
  • Plans to develop a public forum to educate U.S. anglers who have Canadian fishing licenses on when they need to call Canadian border officials.

Senator Runciman described the meeting for TI Life as, “The first meeting with Senator Ritchie and Senator Griffo was a productive one. We talked about numerous cross-border concerns and I see a real benefit in continuing the dialogue in the future.”

His office also announced that the group will be expanded in subsequent meetings to include Canadian Leeds-Grenville Member of Parliaments (MP) Gord Brown, who earlier this summer began discussion in Washington with Congressman Bill Owens. In fact Gord Brown is the Canadian House of Commons Co-Chair of the Canada United States Inter-Parliamentary Group.  He and Owens continue working to address boater concerns on U.S. - Canadian Waterways.

Also being asked to join the International Boarder Caucus will be MP Ted Hsu from Kingston and the Islands , MP Guy Lauzon representing Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry , and the newly re-elected Ontario Provincial government representative Steve Clark, representing Leeds-Grenville. Other Canadian border legislators may also join. On the U.S. side, 11 New York State senators have agreed to participate.

Let’s hope this dialogue will continue and that real solutions will be found. 

When asked by TI Life why this dialogue was important, Senator Runciman seemed to hit the issue dead center:  “The Thousand Islands is a very special place that binds together the people of Canada and the United States in a unique relationship. I see the cross-border meeting of legislators as a way to promote common interests that centre on the river and the well-being of its environment and the people who work and play on it.”

Yes, it is true these legislators and/or government officials just may be “doing something”.

By Susan W. Smith,

Editor, Thousand Islands Life Magazine 

Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


Teddy McNally
Comment by: Teddy McNally ( )
Left at: 9:12 PM Friday, October 14, 2011
Hats off to our (Canadian and American elected officials for working on improving border issues. This is a beginning but I wonder if we citizens of Canada and US would not be better served if they were focused on the bigger ultimate goal of an open border stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Obviously,the process would include jobs, tariffs, anglers, etc. but why not open our border? Can you imagine the savings for our two countries? Years ago it was not possible to drive from France to Germany to Switzerland to Italy without going through official border crossings--today they are transparent and I for one would love to be able to travel "hassle-free" to and from Canada/US. Lets encourage our elected officials to strive for the ultimate conclusion.
Michael Joyce
Comment by: Michael Joyce ( )
Left at: 9:30 PM Friday, October 14, 2011
I’m sure you know that this River is populated by an amazing cross section of people who not only live in the immediate area on both sides of the border but also return each summer from across the breadth of both nations who share one common passion – a love of the Thousand Islands. I don’t know any River Rat who would not stop what they are doing and get involved to help protect the unique relationship enjoyed by Canadians and Americans along this stretch of the border. As with the original Indian settlers before us, the Islands is really one nation to most of us with the “real border” somewhere north of the Thousand Islands Parkway and south of Route 12!!
Robert P Hedden
Comment by: Robert P Hedden ( )
Left at: 10:34 AM Saturday, October 15, 2011
I am an artist. I founded Plein Air Painters Thousand Islands Region (PAPTIR) in 2009 to foster arists painting ouside from nature, and to organize and run Plein Air Competitions for existing Arts Organizations, municipalities, etc., as a means of bringing art to the public attention and assist in tourist attraction.

For the North Country Arts Council (NCAC), Summer Arts Fest August 2011, in Watertown, I invited a well recognized Canadian Plein Air Artist to judge the Plein Air Contest portion of the Arts Fest. I offered him a chance to display his work in an outdoor tent with the other vendors and handle any sales and taxes through NCAC. He had been busy doing finish work on his new retirement home, had not painted since April,so he had his paintings more or less randomly stored in boxes. He just threw 4 boxes in his car. At the US Customs on Wellesley Island, he was detained for two hours, mug shot, finger printed, and sent home with his paintings. He phoned me to tell me why he might arrive later than expected. On his way back with just his outdoor painting supplies, a US customs agent said,"You know, if I were to go to Watertown and see you painting and selling it I might have to do something about it".

I think it was fitting that the meeting (described in this article) were held in Remington Museum. Many Canadian artists display work there in contests and it is for sale. This happens at a number of venues along the US side of the River. I have displayed work in juried contests in Canada. Canadian artists donate work to Public Broadcasting Stations in the for benefit auctions.
Is this art brought across the border in a sneaky way?

We have all heard the phrase, "starving artist". I know scores of artists and know that they sell just about enough of their work to buy more materials and take a workshop now and then. I have taken courses in art regularly for the last six years at St Lawrence College Brockville ON.

It would be nice to have an artist economic free zone between the counties on the River (Jefferson and ST Lawrence) and the Canadian Counties/cities on the other side of the River. Possibly this could be limited in some way to avoid major commercial activity. It seems silly to have agents on both sides call the activity I described as a "business, requiring a broker and manifest".

To close, I would like to thank to my counter part in Canada and the Rockport Development Group for organizing the International Plein Air Event this past September. Four PAPTIR participants attended for the three days and enjoyed their hospitality.
Sue Saiter
Comment by: Sue Saiter ( )
Left at: 3:57 PM Saturday, October 15, 2011
Susan, Quite an interestin article about the two countries' governments starting a dialogue about the concerns of issues that are of great concern to us islanders. Please keep us covered on developments and what we can do to help support our sides of these issues. Emails are very vital for the elected and appointed officials to learn how their "people" feel on the issues.
Thank you for informing me of the developing situations. We don't hear much aobut down here.
Michael Laprade
Comment by: Michael Laprade ( )
Left at: 3:47 PM Monday, October 17, 2011
It was great to read Michael Joyce and also Teddy McNally's comments. Representing both sides of the River, their comments are right on target. It seems that it is way past time that the 1,000 Islands becomes a unified area bound by our unique geography and the overall recognition that all of us islanders are not just citizens bound by a border..we are neighbors. We, too, live in Europe for a good part of the year and love how we go from country to country without needing to declare ourselves. Just not here, and with dual US and Canadian citizenship to boot. Scrutinized at customs by boat or road, it is past time to have a 1,000 Islander designation and follow all border regulations, but have special IDs that allow us to visit our island neighbors without needless hours lost checking in and out at far away sites. Let us show our neighborliness in an official way with special "1,000 Islander" IDs and perhaps we can start something good for both sides of the River.
Herb Swingle
Comment by: Herb Swingle ( )
Left at: 8:07 AM Wednesday, October 19, 2011
This entire "issue" should Not discourage travel between countries.Howevever,I believe it already has!What a shame!
Louise Ford
Comment by: Louise Ford ( )
Left at: 6:19 AM Tuesday, November 15, 2011
1000 Islands 2011 ...Homeland Security 10 years after 9/11

This Morning Tuesday Aug 30 2011 at 6 AM my barely conscious mind heard a boat going by my bedroom window. Still not at all awake I then hear a second boat making an odd engine sound and then a blasting siren ! What on earth !?! I jumped up and saw the twin engine, orange US Coast Guard boat doing a sharp U-Turn (causing the unusual engine sound in my still dreaming head) with its lights flashing and siren blaring going after a boat, that from the vantage point of my bed, I could only see the wake of boat being chased.

I dashed out of the house and right down to the end of my point in my night gown. Not one to miss something that must have been big to cause all that commotion in this normally at 6 AM sleepy part of the river !! The sun was not yet up but there was plenty of light. The coast guard had pulled over what looked to me to be an average fisherman in a dark, low bass boat. I couldn’t see his numbers to identify US or Canadian. As they drifted down the channel I watched as the man handed one thing and then another to them. Boat registration, drivers license, flares, paddles, life jackets... we all know the drill. Then after about 15 min the fisherman went on his probably not so merry way and the US Coast Guard came back by my house yet again did a big swooping U turn in 40 acres (Canadian Waters by the way) and then headed towards Clayton. The sun rise was beautiful.

None of this is all that remarkable if we had not had the boarder war that we, as honest law abiding residents having been living with increasingly each summer since 9/11. This is not really a war between the USA and Canada as previous ones have been but this time it is the USA and Canada against the average citizen. Many of us life long residents on this border and people perhaps like this mornings fisherman just trying to enjoy this beautiful river feeling like we are under siege by all kinds of law enforcement.

I know that this has been a topic of conversation which has caused us all stress and worry all summer long. Most people I talk to feel as I do that we don’t under stand it. There seems to be no regard for the fact that we LIVE here. And yes it is a border but it is not East and West Germany or anything close to the situation on the Mexican border but it would be hard to tell sometimes.

Those of us who have grown up here have, up until recently, traveled between the islands with little or no thought to where the actual meandering border even is. Half of ones friends live on one side and the other half on the other... who cares ? We are all residents of the islands and to that end should have some sort of special pass as residents that would allow us access, not to the mainland but between the islands.

Also I don’t understand what on earth these patrol boats think they are looking for? The only thing I see traveling from my point back and forth to Leek Island in Canada every day are large numbers of deer !! Tick smugglers no doubt !

Sitting on my point this summer I have taken note of all the US And Canadian patrols. The Canadians run this Canadian Middle channel at least twice a day but many days there are 4 or 5 patrols. I will see the large steel hulled Cat Canadian Coast Guard, the small hard bottomed orange rubber boat, A white cutty cabin outboard that says POLICE on the side and a smaller white POLICE boat go by in one day.

The Americans patrol in various boats as well usually only once a day by here but more on weekends or even today I have had three patrols so far going by including my 6 AM wake up call ! US Coast Guard, Park Police, NY State Troopers, various boats, orange, grey, white and last but not least the US Jet Ski Patrol ! Since sitting down to write this the Grey US Customs boat has gone by twice in either direction after checking on Potters Beach. This does not include the drones, large listening airplanes, army helicopters and fighter jets that fly over regularly.

On top of all that there is one boat that I ran next to the other day on my jet ski. Knowing I was in full compliance with all laws I got up close to her to see if I could figure out who or what or where the men on board where from. The boat is black. 3 black engines on the stern, 6 standing stations 3 + 3 behind a center console. The occupants are wearing black. What looked like black flack jackets on all of them but probably were life jackets (you would think). NO country identification but on the side of the black boat in dark grey ... barely visible except that I was right next to them it said POLICE. I could not figure out what government they worked for !

My final point here is that you can’t even go fishing or live with out stress of maybe “they” are lurking and you will be stopped for no good reason ! 10 years after 9/11 our governments, with much encouragement from us citizens, have tried to SEAL our borders. In doing so we have created a police state in one of the most beautiful vacations spots in the world. Our government is broke. This seems to be to be an enormous waste of our tax dollars patrolling the 1000 Islands.

One solution is that Island Residents be given a card that goes one step further then the current Nexus cards. Perhaps a sticker for our boats so that they can see that and not bother us ! It would be a pass to travel between the islands - if we have to make a cell phone call ok but better yet let, at least those of us who have always had free access to the entire river - have it. And if someone is out in their bass boat at 6 AM before the sun comes up the authorities need a good reason to pull them over. We have civil rights that are being stepped on rather hard right now. If we allow our own freedom to be strangled out of fear of what really is a possible threat then the terrorists have won !

There are no armed army’s crossing this border. The ODD smuggling attempt in the Detroit River or the real problems at the Akwesasne Nation 80 miles down river from Alexandria Bay should not cause a police state to exist here. This is summer resort area of the 1000 islands couldn’t be culturally more different then the situation in Cornwall.

Today alone there have been 4 trips past here by the US Coast Guard. Perhaps it is an increase in security leading up to 9/11 but honestly I just think it is a ramping up that has been creeping up on us here and that most may not even be aware of.

I am sure most people on the river this summer have had their own stories. I have many more then I have finger strength to type. Maybe it is time we all wrote to our elected officials on both sides of the border. Groups like Save the River and TIARA could work on this cause as well. The entire character of this unusual area will be lost if we just let this police state grow. I know that living right on the border I see more then most who are tucked away on one side of the line or the other. I assume when I swim more then 20 ft off my point into Canadian waters I should check in !! Really ?

If you have a comment or a story of your own please post it below. I am sure there are many more stories like this out there... We need an OPEN border in the 1000 Islands!