Dave Bennison's tractor-trailer rig was searched time and again on Sept. 21, the first time he drove it into the United States after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
First, he was stopped in Fort Erie by Canada Customs. Next, he was halted in Buffalo by U.S. Customs. Later, the National Guard pulled him over before he could cross into Manhattan over the Triborough Bridge. Later, on his way out of New York City, the National Guard stopped him again.
"A lot of drivers were getting upset, but to be honest, I welcomed the inspections,'' says Mr. Bennison, a trucker with Challenger Motor Freight of Cambridge, Ont. "I have lots of time and nothing to hide, so security doesn't bug me a bit. I'd actually be more fearful if people weren't taking security so seriously."
After Sept. 11, the border emerged as a major issue, with traffic on its way into the States backed up for hours. Today, things are pretty much back to normal, despite a continued state of alert.
One recent morning, Mr. Bennison crossed the border at Lewiston, N.Y., in three minutes flat. He was on his way to Manhattan, hauling furniture destined for Bear Stearns' building on Park Avenue and 46th Street.
"Everything changed on Sept. 11, and we have to adapt to what is going on,'' he says. "But for the most part, what I have discovered is that if you treat the border with respect, understand it for what it is and do all of things you are supposed to, everything goes pretty smoothly."
Anything involving the border involves trucking. Trucks carry 70% of the goods between Canada and the Unite States -- that's $1.6-billion worth a day. About 13.5-million trucks cross the border a year -- one every 2.5 minutes.
In December, John Manley, then Foreign Minister, and Tom Ridge, U.S. Homeland Security Director signed a Smart-Border Declaration designed to speed and secure the flow of people and goods across the border.
As part of the initiative, the budget for U.S. Customs next year was increased by US$619-million, to US$2.3-billion, primarily to double the number of agents and inspectors on its northern border.OK
For its part, Canada recently launched a program to provide truck drivers who present little risk easy access when returning to the country. The Americans, who are concerned about communication breakdowns that might let high-risk individuals slip into the country under that provision, is analyzing the Canadian plan.
The trucking industry is pushing to be an active participant in the rule-making process so that its interests are protected.
"Negotiations are under way to flesh out the action plan, and the result is critical for us,'' says Massimo Bergamini, the vice-president of public affairs for the Ottawa-based Canadian Trucking Alliance. "Those talks will define what the border will look like for the next decade, so the result is critical. Because of that, we are somewhat concerned by the lack of consultation with the industry."
He says officials are under pressure to have a policy ready for the June meeting of the G-8 in Kananaskis, Alta., and "we are concerned that the urgency with which these talks are proceeding could lend to recklessness. Border issues are typically complex, and they defy simple solutions."
Without the help of the trucking industry, he says bluntly, the smart border plan will be "a pretty dumb border" plan.
A former Ontario park ranger, Mr. Bennison, 32, has driven trucks for the last 10 years. In the past five, he has logged more than a million kilometres, mostly in the busy corridor between Toronto and Washington.
He has delivered office furniture to the White House, has hauled a trailer full of Tomahawk missiles from Massachusetts to Montreal with a Humvee riding shotgun and has made hundreds of deliveries to the Empire State Building, the New York Stock Exchange, Times Square and the World Trade Center.
"I would drive my truck right under the World Trade Center,'' says Mr. Bennison. "The area beneath it was so large that I could go in with a tractor-trailer, turn around and back up to a loading platform.
"When I think about what happened on Sept. 11, it freaks me out. It really shakes me up."
From his home in Welland, Mr. Bennison makes two and sometimes three deliveries to Connecticut, New York and Washington each week.
It is a difficult job with long hours and challenging working conditions, made more complicated by the events of Sept. 11.
"You can't really say anything good could come out of a tragedy like that, but one thing that happened is that people did start understanding how important the trucking industry is to the economy of North America,'' Mr. Bennison says.
Because he's back and forth so often, agents on both sides of the border recognize Mr. Bennison. At times, they barely give him a glance.
"If an inspector decides to tear my truck apart, I try to have a good sense of humour about it," he says. He tries to time things so he crosses when traffic is sparse.
Mr. Bennison was on holidays in Ontario's Algonquin Park on Sept. 11 and watched the twin towers collapse on a TV in a logging museum. That night, he took part in a candlelight vigil at the park.
"I used to bring one of my kids with me to New York all the time, but I haven't since Sept. 11 because it really affected them,'' he says. "I've stopped telling them when I am coming down here because they get worried."
Mr. Bennison was one of the first truck drivers back in Manhattan after the attacks. He cut his vacation short to make the trip, and the night he arrived he left a candle and a prayer card at a memorial in Times Square on behalf of the Fenwick United Church, of which he and his wife are members.
"I was supposed to be off for the whole month of September, but Challenger called me because a lot of drivers were refusing to go to New York,'' he says.
The Cambridge firm has more than 700 drivers and terminals in the Toronto area, Montreal and Vancouver.
Crossing the border is not a big deal for Mr. Bennison.
"The consumer has to be a little more patient, shippers have to give drivers more of a time window to deliver, and the drivers have to have everything on the ball at the border. "
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