ST. CATHARINES, Ontario (AP ) – Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day is calling on his U.S. counterpart to review border security policy after two incidents in which American customs officials delayed Canadian emergency responders en route to the U.S.
In the first incident, Quebec firefighters racing to contain a blaze in upstate New York were held up at the border as the landmark building they were dispatched to save burned to the ground.
The next day, a man being rushed to Detroit for emergency heart surgery was delayed for a critical five minutes when the ambulance was stopped by U.S. customs officials.
“Canada and the U.S. have a great tradition and a history … of helping each other in times of need and times of crisis,” Day said Monday at an unrelated event about crime prevention.
“We want to make sure that’s maintained. That’s why I have made sure that I’ve communicated, with some concern, to my counterpart in the United States (Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff) about this.”
Homeland Security had not received the letter as of Monday, spokeswoman Amy Kudwa told the Canadian Press.
While Day said the U.S. shared his concern and believed the incidents were isolated ones, Ottawa wants to ensure that it is Washington’s “policy to do all they can to make sure that incidents like this are avoided.”
On Nov. 11, volunteer firefighters from Lacolle, Quebec, got a call around that the landmark Anchorage Inn in Rouses Point, N.Y., was on fire.
The six-man team jumped into action as they have many times in the past, thanks to the long-standing cross-border aid agreement between the two border communities. This time, however, they were denied speedy passage.
The firefighters were delayed up to 15 minutes as they were grilled about their identification by a U.S. customs official. The inn, meanwhile, burned to the ground.
On Nov. 12, Rick Laporte, 49, was being rushed to Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital for an emergency angioplasty when the ambulance was held up at the Windsor-Detroit border.
U.S. customs officials asked the driver to exit the ambulance before they opened the back of the vehicle to confirm there was indeed a patient inside before allowing them to proceed.
Laporte is now recovering from surgery.
Laporte’s girlfriend, Kat Lauzon, said the incident highlights the need for immediate action.
“Not one person should die because of that type of miscommunication, or whatever you want to call it,” she told CTV News. “We need something done about this.”