BEGINNING today, Manitobans need more than a birth certificate for their traditional cross-border dashes to Grand Forks or Minneapolis.
New document and identity rules have kicked in along the Canada-U.S. border, although border officials say they'll be lenient for a period until travellers get used to the new rules.
"We'll go on a case-by-case basis," said Joanne Ferreira, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "We're not going to deny entry to U.S. or Canadian citizens."
But, Manitoba travellers or Americans who entered Manitoba and are trying to return home without a passport could find themselves cooling their heels at border checkpoints while agents verify that their identification is correct.
The border changes are making news on the U.S. side of the line. The Buffalo Daily News on Sunday ran a front-page story under the cheeky headline "Starting tomorrow think of Canada as a foreign country."
Surprisingly few Americans -- only 30 per cent -- own a passport, compared to 54 per cent of Canadians. It's a troubling statistic, say Manitoba officials, because it could mean fewer U.S. citizens will visit Manitoba and support the tourism industry.
Travel into Canada from the U.S. tumbled in the fourth quarter of 2008 by 5.9 per cent to 2.2 million visitors -- the lowest level since 1996.
As of today, people travelling to the U.S. by land or water will need a passport or other approved documents such as the NEXUS card used by frequent travellers, the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) card used by truckers, or one of the enhanced driver's licences offered by some provinces, including Manitoba.
There are exceptions to the passport rule for Canadians. Residents 15 years of age or younger still only require a birth certificate or citizenship card to enter the U.S. The same goes for Canadians 18 and younger provided they are travelling with a school or organized group under adult supervision.
However, some business groups worry that individuals who still may not know about the new regulations could cause backlogs at the border. The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents about 4,500 trucking companies, said the majority of its members are ready for the new rules.
"Our concern more is that passenger traffic is not prepared and the secondary impact will be a backup and lineups at the border and how that will contribute to delayed trucks," spokeswoman Jennifer Fox said.
Jayson Myers, president of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, said he hopes any delays will be short-lived.
"It's the last thing we need right now given the fragility of the manufacturing system," he said.
Myers said many businesses are making contingency plans in case of border delays, such as stocking up on inventory.
International Trade Minister Stockwell Day said the changes shouldn't come as a surprise to Canadians, noting the federal government is putting increased resources into infrastructure changes at the border so people can get across faster. "We pushed the U.S. date back a couple of years in order to get people ready for this," Day said.
-- Staff, wire services