Canadian leader urges flexibility on border ID program

Prime minister indicates he supports efforts to delay implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Thursday called on Congress to have "flexibility" with regard to a new program that would require government-approved identification for travelers from Canada to the United States, suggesting the initiative endangers trade, tourism and cross-border relations.

Harper, who met with President Bush at the White House, spoke during a news conference held by the two leaders. "I would just urge the Congress to think carefully, that if the fight for security ends up meaning that the United States becomes more closed to its friends, then the terrorists have won," Harper said. He indicated he supported efforts under way on Capitol Hill to delay implementation of the program.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, passed by Congress in 2004, requires travelers to the United States from the Americas, the Caribbean and Bermuda to have a passport or other accepted document that establishes identity. The Senate is taking steps to delay the start of the program.

The Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved an amendment by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, that would delay implementation until June 1, 2009. The requirements are currently set to begin Jan. 1, 2007, for all air and sea travelers and Jan. 1, 2008, for all land travelers.

Saying the matter is in the hands of Congress, Bush did not explicitly back an extension of the deadline. But he said he supports "a lot of flexibility and simplicity" in the law, and he acknowledged that "we need to get to the Canadian government as quickly as possible our definition of what a reasonable policy is."

Harper said he also had pressed Bush for more information about the program. The departments of State and Homeland Security have been developing requirements for identification to be used under the initiative.