We all make mistakes. Sometimes, they can cost us money, a job, or even earn us time in jail. As individuals, we can learn from those mistakes, smooth over the rough patch our life has become, and move on to become positive forces within our communities. In all but the most extreme circumstances, our society makes allowances for such things. We live and we learn.
Now, try explaining that to a border control officer on the way to Montreal with a mini van full of family members looking forward to spending a day at the Biodome. Chances are, if you have had more than two arrestable offenses in your lifetime you'll be making a quick U-turn back onto I-87 and will soon find yourself discussing other options with your perturbed family.
This is a familiar scenario in the North Country, one that is as frustrating as it is puzzling. If you haven't heard this one before, take note—if you have committed two arrestable offenses in your lifetime, you can be denied access to Canada. Some offenses, like a DUI, a lesser form of a DWI in New York State, only take one strike before you’re out.
Canada has a deal with the U.S. that allows its officers access to U.S. databases; specifically, arrest records. Some infractions, like driving while under the influence, are considered serious crimes in Canada.
On the surface, it doesn't seem so bad. They're just trying to keep criminals at bay, right?
But what about the man who was a hellion in college, and was arrested for defacing a street sign one night, and for getting into a bar fight another. Sure, those things should be punished, but there is a line between scofflaw and malefactor.
Let's fast forward 20 years. That same hellion is now married, the head of a company, has two children he’s now getting ready to put through college, and is an active member of his community, the same one he raised a ruckus in as a 20-something. Is he not redeemed? At what point should someone's dues be paid?
The DUI issue recently came up at a press conference held at the North Country Chamber of Commerce to discuss the economic relationship between the United States and Canada. It was a cheery affair, complete with resplendent hope for co-operation and the economic growth of both countries. Companies will transcend the border, jobs will be created and we’ll all live happily together.
But there's a hitch. If a company from Canada is built in Plattsburgh and requires its workers to be trained in Canada, those who can't cross the border are out of luck.
There are ways around this, but the process can take up to a year to complete. To simply apply for an application to be granted entry can cost between $200 and $1,000, and there is no guarantee you will be allowed into Canada afterward.
In some corners of the North Country, there is some animosity toward Canadians. It’s been mentioned in editorials throughout the region, and it was brought up at the chamber meeting. Perhaps making it easier to get into the country would be a logical first step to improving understanding for one another. Both countries would benefit from easier access, not only in tourist dollars, but in terms of the newly proposed job growth, too.
We are not trivializing the seriousness of drinking and driving, but it does seem prudent for Canada to begin rethinking its “no tolerance” policy. It will only serve to strengthen the ties between two countries whose ties are already strong. Drawing the line at felonies is a better way to keep the criminals out while still allowing those of us who have made a mistake to get on with our lives and get into Canada.