Bottom Line
Border Crossings
Balancing risk and free enterprise

by Don and Debbe Morrow,
special correspondents

"There is $1.3 billion per day in trade between Canada and the United States. The Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor handles 25 percent of the trade alone. That’s an average of one truck every 2 seconds,” says George Costaris, manager of political/economic relations at the Canadian Consulate.

To support this level of activity and provide improved security, Canada and the United States have collaborated and developed an expedited clearance system called Free and Secure Trade, or FAST. The substantial size of this effort is put into perspective when we are reminded there are thousands of miles of shared border with a handful of “controlled gates,” but no fences between them.

How does FAST work?

For FAST to work, three things must be in place.

  • Importers must be preapproved.
  • Carriers must be preapproved.
  • All truck occupants (including driver and co-driver) must be preapproved.

Shipments from approved importers, transported by approved carriers using registered drivers, will be cleared into either country with greater speed and certainty, and at a reduced cost of compliance. Before the shipment arrives at the border, the preauthorized carrier will provide information to customs using electronic data transmission. When the shipment arrives at the border, it will be processed through a dedicated lane (if available).

The driver will present his/her registration card, and — using bar code or transponder technology — the importer, carrier and the shipment will be identified.

As you can see, FAST is not a standalone system but part of a much bigger picture. Other systems need to be in place first before FAST can work.

The importer needs to be enrolled in the U.S. program Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism or Canada’s program Partners in Protection. The aim of both these programs is to increase the integrity of supply chain security. The carrier needs to participate in those two programs in addition to the FAST program.

Information and applications are available from:

The third requirement for the system to work is the driver. For drivers to register for FAST, a non-refundable fee of $50 U.S. or $80 Canadian must accompany the application. The FAST commercial driver’s card is valid for five years. Currently, the approval process is taking around four months; the goal is to reduce this to six to eight weeks. One application is good for both U.S. and Canada. Applications may be found at the above Web sites.

Currently, Canada and the United States jointly offer expedited customs clearance processes to preauthorized drivers, carriers and importers at 12 major border crossings:

  • Stanstead (55), Quebec/Derby Line, VT
  • St. Armand/Philipsburg, Quebec/Highgate Springs, VT
  • Lacolle, Quebec/Champlain, NY
  • Lansdowne, Ontario/Alexandria Bay, NY
  • Queenston, Ontario/Lewiston, NY
  • Fort Erie, Ontario/Buffalo, NY
  • Windsor, Ontario/Detroit, MI
  • Sarnia, Ontario/Port Huron, MI
  • Emerson, Manitoba/Perbina, ND
  • North Portal, Saskatchewan/Portal, ND
  • Coutts, Alberta/Sweetgrass, MT
  • Pacific Highway, British Columbia/Blaine, WA

In addition, plans are being developed to have all major commercial crossings FAST capable by the end of 2005.

Past criminal activity can keep a driver out of the FAST program and out of Canada altogether. Under certain conditions, a driver may be eligible for rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is asking to have your record reviewed along with supporting documents in an effort to reinstate you to admissible status. To be rehabilitated means you lead a stable lifestyle and you are unlikely to be involved in any further criminal activity. Two big factors in the decision are the amount of time since the criminal activity and the level of remorse.

The forms and instructions required to be considered for rehabilitation are IMM 5312E (06-2003). The title is “Rehabilitation for Persons Who Are Inadmissible to Canada Because of Past Criminal Activity.” The form can be downloaded or obtained by writing to:

Criminal Rehabilitation Processing Center
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
6080 McLeod Road, Unit 10
Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada L2G 7T4

The cost is a non-refundable $200 to $1,000 Canadian, depending on the severity of the criminal act. For more information call (905) 354-4687.

An analogy used by the Citizenship and Immigration agents is to look at them as if they are loan officers at a bank. You would like a loan, but you have had credit problems in the past. Their job as “loan” officers is to evaluate on an individual basis the level of risk vs. benefit that giving you a loan — or in this case, access — represents.

None of us wants to live in a world where the risk of terrorism is real. Unless you are an ostrich with your head in the sand, there is no escaping the fact we are affected everyday by the risk of terror. At press time, a 9,000-gallon tanker trailer is still missing in New Jersey after disappearing in April. Chemicals from two sites are also missing from the same general area. We are living in an ever-shrinking world with some very nasty people.

The Customs and Border Protection folks have a tough balancing act to accomplish. FAST is the balance beam, with the level of risk on one side and free enterprise on the other.

Truckers can lend them a hand as they meet the challenges of keeping the border secure — even if it’s just some recognition, a little encouragement or a thank you.

Don and Debbe Morrow can be reached at

Editor’s note: Special thanks to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Canadian Consulate for their help in writing this article.