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As hundreds of thousands of Canadians continue to wait to have their Nexus applications processed, enrolment centres in Canada remain closed as a cloudy dispute carries on at the Canada-U.S. border.
The doors to Canada's 13 Nexus enrolment centres have been closed since March of 2020.
During the pandemic, new and existing Canadian Nexus-pass holders requiring in-person interviews have had to travel to the U.S., where offices have been open since April, to complete their application process.
The reason for the disparity between the two countries isn’t entirely clear.
READ MORE: Dispute over whether U.S. officers can be armed in Canada has kept Nexus offices closed
Although, a report last April seemed to suggest that a squabble over legal protections for American customs – involving the right to carry a firearm – is what’s keeping Nexus offices closed in Canada.
Yesterday (Oct. 13), Kirsten Hillman, a lawyer and Canadian ambassador to the United States, said the Nexus trusted-traveller program is being "held hostage" by American efforts to renegotiate its 20-year-old pre-clearance agreement, laying blame on U.S. officials.
As reported by CBC News, Hillman was speaking at a symposium on the Canada-U.S. border hosted by the Future Borders Coalition.
Being "super undiplomatic and blunt," she called the Nexus situation “disappointing” and “frustrating,” calling the U.S.’s approach “heavy-handed” and out of step with what’s otherwise been a co-operative relationship with Canada.
“There needs to be a recognition that we will work on the challenges, but we can't have the whole program sort of on its knees until we work those through because it's going to take some time,” Hillman was quoted as saying.
The conflict appears to revolve around a request by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency that its agents be granted the same legal protections inside Nexus facilities in Canada that they currently have at other entry points, such as airports and the Canada-U.S. border.
There's a disagreement over immunity from prosecution — the U.S. government is reportedly arguing that its employees in Nexus offices deserve the same level of protections as diplomats from Canadian prosecution while doing their job in Canada.
Reopening Nexus offices in Canada may come down to a recognition from the U.S. “that what is being requested is not simple and may not be possible,'' Hillman said, suggesting that the future of Nexus could possibly be at stake.
“We can't just let the whole program fall apart based on a request that is maybe not possible,” she was quoted as saying.
Application backlog swells
Meanwhile, the dispute has caused a backlog in applications for the popular program, which allows pre-approved travellers to cross the Canada-U.S. border more quickly.
According to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the number of Nexus applications has swelled from 270,000 in April to more than 350,000.
That figure is from July, so the actual number is likely much higher.
Currently, about a dozen border offices in the U.S. can process files for Canadian residents wishing to renew their status.
But some Nexus members may struggle to get a timely appointment before their cards expire.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has previously explained why U.S. customs officers can't have the same protections at Nexus centres that they do at other ports of entry.
His reasoning relates to traffic flow – it’s easier to manage pre-clearance areas at ports of entry because travellers are moving directly into the U.S., unlike at Nexus enrolment centres.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about Hillman’s remarks yesterday while at an event in Hamilton, ON.
The PM said both sides are in talks “almost every day” about finding a solution, the Canadian Press reported.
"We're going to continue to work with [the U.S.] on ways to make it smoother and more effective for people who work on both sides of the border,'' Trudeau was quoted as saying. “That's why the trusted-traveller programs like Nexus are so important and why we're so eager to get it rolling again."
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