US, Canada Make Gains on Solving Nexus Travel Program Dispute

The border program will be a key item of discussion between Canadian and US representatives in the leaders summit next week in Mexico City

A traveler pulls luggage through Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
By Brian Platt
January 08, 2023 | 10:59 AM

Bloomberg — Canada and the US are getting close to resolving a dispute over a program that allows swift passage for travelers through airports and border crossings, according to government officials with knowledge of the matter.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau departs Monday for the North American leaders summit in Mexico, and the Nexus program will be a key item of discussion between Canadian and US representatives, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the ongoing negotiations.

The deal isn’t finalized, and negotiations could continue past the summit, the officials cautioned. But officials on the Canadian side said they’re seeing progress toward the framework of a deal.

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Nexus is a program that allows pre-screened travelers to pass through airport security lines and land border crossings with less waiting. A huge backlog of applications has built up since Nexus service centers in Canada were shuttered at the start of the Covid pandemic in March 2020, and they have yet to reopen.

The main point of contention is a US request that American officers working at Nexus enrollment centers in Canada be granted the same legal protections as US customs officers working in airports and at border crossings. Those protections allow a US customs officer accused of an on-duty crime to be prosecuted in the US instead of Canada, for example.

Business groups and politicians from border regions have urged the two governments to find a solution, warning that the dispute puts the program at risk of being scrapped entirely and is causing significant delays for tourists and business travelers.

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly — who will travel with Trudeau to Mexico, along with Trade Minister Mary Ng — raised the subject this week in a call with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the people said.

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About three quarters of the Nexus program’s cardholders are Canadians, putting pressure on Trudeau’s government to find a solution. Earlier this year, Canada’s ambassador to the US, Kirsten Hillman, said Nexus was effectively “being held hostage” by the US government’s demands.

Marco Mendicino, the Canadian minister responsible for border issues, has said Canada’s stance is a matter of national sovereignty — the principle that Canadian law applies to foreigners working in Canada, with few exceptions.

Mendicino has been speaking regularly with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to find a resolution, Canadian officials said.

Brian Nichols, a US State Department official, told a Washington audience on Friday that talks are ongoing and he hopes a solution is found “quickly.”

“It’s important for both our countries, and I’m optimistic that this will be resolved,” he said at a Wilson Center event.

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