EDITORIALS

Put the pedal to the metal to save Canadian bike tour

Sisters Johnna Schifilliti (left) and Jordan Coursen take in some St. John Valley scenery over a three-day bicycle adventure last year. The two traveled from New York City and Bermuda to bike at the top of Maine.
Courtesy of FreshTrails Adventure
Sisters Johnna Schifilliti (left) and Jordan Coursen take in some St. John Valley scenery over a three-day bicycle adventure last year. The two traveled from New York City and Bermuda to bike at the top of Maine.
Posted March 13, 2013, at 2:02 p.m.
Last modified March 13, 2013, at 2:44 p.m.

The coordinator of a canceled Canadian bicycle tour in Maine was evenhanded and civil in the face of a regrettable situation. Tour company Velo Quebec, Alain Gascon said, would “respect absolutely” international rules and not bring 2,000 cyclists to the state for a major summer tour — because a trade agreement apparently requires the cyclists to start in one country and travel together into the next.

The absurdity is that even though U.S. Customs and Border Protection cites the North American Free Trade Agreement as the reason why the tour can’t happen, the trade agreement makes exceptions for cross-border tours. A tour bus, for example, is allowed to cross the border and return home. If all 2,000 cyclists gathered in Canada and took dozens of buses together across the border into Maine, they would be allowed to hold their 600-mile bike tour.

But because the Canadian cyclists were going to arrange their own transportation to Waterville, which is where the ride was supposed to start and end, the company would be required to obtain work permits for its approximately 100 bike guides and other employees. Getting the permits would require a lot of time and money, Gascon said. So, instead of riding through Waterville, Bangor, Bar Harbor, Belfast and Damariscotta for seven days — where cyclists were projected to purchase 36,000 meals and 1,700 “bed nights” in local hotels — they will pedal through Ontario.

There should be a way for U.S. Customs to interpret the law in Velo Quebec’s favor. The law states that temporary entry may be granted to someone “seeking to engage in a business activity … without requiring that person to obtain an employment authorization,” as long as the person meets other immigration requirements, such as proof of citizenship. Applicable business activities apply to tourism personnel “attending or participating in conventions or conducting a tour that has begun in the territory of another Party.”

Can it be argued that the tour would technically begin and end in Canada, since that is where most of the organizing occurred? As long as Velo Quebec meets the additional requirements set forth in law — such as that it earns its profits primarily in Canada and isn’t taking over the local labor market — a broad reading of the law indicates there may be a way to work through the problem. The 2013 Grand Tour Desjardins certainly fits the spirit of the law.

People involved are willing to try to find a solution. After holding an hourlong conference call last week, representatives from Velo Quebec, Maine’s congressional delegation, state officials, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and Customs said they want to bring the Canadian cyclists to Maine and understand it would benefit the economy here. As Velo Quebec’s first Maine tour, it could have been the start of a good partnership between the company and the state.

Is Customs being overly literal in its application of the law? The nature of the business activity would be the same whether cyclists crossed the border together or not, and the trade agreement was not intended to prohibit this kind of tourism. We urge officials to continue working toward possible solutions.

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