Scale Offsets Risk for Canada on Record India Shopping Spree (1)

(Bloomberg) — Canada’s biggest asset managers, never afraid to push the investing envelope, have been loading up on Indian assets — big time.

Investors including Brookfield Asset Management Inc. and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board have signed deals for mobile-phone towers, office properties, a stake in an airport, and distressed debt, betting that scale outweighs risk in the world’s fastest growing major economy. After record deals last year, the Canadians have ramped up their India investments to more than $15 billion, the bulk of it in the last few years, according to calculations compiled by Bloomberg.

“It is a very important, critical market for us,” Suyi Kim, Asia head for Canada Pension, said in an interview in Mumbai, citing India’s rapidly developing private-equity scene and a market big enough to absorb investments from the C$298 billion ($217 billion) fund. The Toronto-based manager bought a 10.3 percent stake in telecom-tower owner Bharti Infratel Ltd. with KKR & Co. in March for almost $1 billion, adding to investments of about C$3.5 billion in the country as of December.

The Canadian funds have been lured by the size of the reward. They’re investing in a country that’s growing at more than 7 percent and will have the world’s largest workforce by 2030. India’s benchmark stock index has surged to a record, out pacing the Canadian market by almost three times since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office and pledged to overhaul the economy to unleash the power of 1.3 billion people. The latest reform, a goods and services tax designed to unify the market and make doing business easier, is set to go into effect on July 1.

But India also has major challenges, including $180 billion of distressed debt, which at about 17 percent of total loans, amounts to the world’s worst bad-loan ratio, and is slowing credit growth. Weak private investment, lackluster productivity and red tape also threaten to hurt the $2 trillion economy.

Read here for a run down on India’s transition to the GST

Soured loans are where two big Canadian investors see opportunity. Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec, which manages assets of about C$270 billion for Quebec’s retirees, has a 20 percent equity stake in Edelweiss Asset Reconstruction Co., India’s largest buyer of delinquent debt. The Caisse said in October it’s targeting $600 million to $700 million in stressed assets and specialized corporate credit in India over four years.

Brookfield in July also signed a memorandum of understanding with State Bank of India to set up a joint venture to invest in stressed assets, with the Canadian firm planning to contribute about $1 billion into the partnership.

Anita George, managing director of South Asia for the Caisse praised the government’s attempts to get credit moving again. The government last week gave the Reserve Bank of India, the nation’s central bank and financial regulator, new powers to spur lenders and borrowers to take writedowns.

Still, George is under no illusions about a country that can throw investors a “googly,” using the cricket term for a ball that comes at you from an unexpected quarter. That’s why the Montreal-based fund invests as a minority partner, she said.

“To be very frank, often we have a lot to learn,” George said in an interview in Mumbai. Indian companies don’t like to give up control so it works out for both sides, though the Caisse is very involved in governance and insists on board seats, she said.

For more on India’s pitch to buyout firms, click here

A representative for Brookfield said the Toronto-based company declined to comment on its India push. The company agreed to a couple of deals in October that more than doubled its Indian assets to $5 billion. It bought mobile-tower assets for an upfront payment of about $1.6 billion in the largest private-equity deal in the country to date and commercial property for about $1 billion.

It’s not the first time Canada’s asset managers have broken new investing ground in a concerted way. After the government freed them up in the 1990s to move beyond stocks and bonds, they turned to private equity.

Canadians also bought a record $3.85 billion in property in Manhattan in the decade through 2015, more than any other foreign country. More recently, the pension funds have been increasing leverage and setting up in-house hedge funds to bolster returns in a world where bond yields are paltry and the ranks of their retirees are swelling.

India has always been viewed as high-risk, high-reward for global investors, said pension expert Malcolm Hamilton, a fellow at Toronto-based C.D. Howe Institute, an economic research firm. “Modi’s government gives investors greater confidence.”

To read more on why the Caisse plans to invest in Indian government debt, click here

So far, pension funds have been well rewarded taking that higher risk, though the ability to to do so will diminish as their pensioners age, Hamilton said. “If they are lucky, they will succeed until interest rates move up and they can afford to de-risk.”

Apart from the demographics, the scale of the country’s entrepreneurial class is also a major draw, said George.

“I’ve seen so many companies that have started as startups and have actually been able to scale up and that to me is an amazing story.” Those have included Azure Power Global Ltd., in which the Caisse has a stake of about 21 percent.

“It’s a great story because he’s now at 1,000 megawatts, he’s the largest pure-solar play in India and he’s listed on the New York Stock Exchange,” she said.

Telecom towers are another focus area for Canadian acquirers as a battle for market share is expected to prompt carriers to boost investments to offer faster speeds and more capacity, boosting demand for towers.

Brookfield and Canada Pension are both said to be weighing a bid for a bigger prize — Indus Towers Ltd — after their initial forays in the sector. A takeover could value India’s largest wireless-infrastructure company at more than $12 billion, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. has been among the most active in India, through its controlling stake in Thomas Cook (India) Ltd. and While a rise in Hindu nationalism may one of the political issues investors may be watching, George said she has faith in Indians ability to push back if extremes surface.

“It’s the largest democracy and that aspect is very important,” she said. “Chaotic but democratic.”

(Updates with new central bank powers to fight debt in eighth paragaraph.)

–With assistance from Bhuma Shrivastava and George Smith Alexander

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

DHL says new Chile e-commerce business is ‘booming’

By Rosalba O’Brien
| SANTIAGO

May 10 DHL eCommerce’s first entry
into South America via Chile is exceeding expectations a month
after starting as it gives retailers easier ways to deliver to
consumers that could boost online shopping, a regional executive
said.

E-commerce is still in its infancy in Latin America, held
back by poor infrastructure, consumer fears over fraud, and lack
of practical payment options.

Chile, one of the region’s most developed markets, has a
high level of credit card use and good quality roads, but its
package delivery industry to date has been largely focused on
business-to-business transactions.

More than 50 “small and medium” shippers signed up in the
first month and DHL was in talks with some of the
larger players, Paul Tessy, chief executive of DHL eCommerce
Latin America and Canada, said in an interview last week.

“Our solution in Chile is very groundbreaking from what the
competition is offering … the business is already booming
because there is nothing like that out there,” Tessy said.

DHL is introducing consumer-focused conveniences that may
not seem revolutionary in more mature markets, but represent a
sea change in Chile. They include the option for evening and
weekend deliveries, an app that allows customers to see where
their delivery is in real time, lower charges for lightweight
packets, and an option for returns to be picked up from homes.

E-commerce in the region is expected to grow around 14
percent annually through to 2020, analysts at BMI Research said.

“We expect global players such as Amazon to
increase their exposure to the Latin American market,
particularly if DHL replicates its offering outside Chile,” BMI
said.

Amazon.com operates in Brazil and Mexico but is not present
elsewhere in Latin America.

Tessy said Chile was being used as a “model” and DHL is
actively evaluating markets such as Brazil, Argentina and
Colombia.

Large retailers such as Falabella, Ripley
and Wal-Mart already operate e-commerce businesses in
Chile.
(Reporting by Rosalba O’Brien; editing by Grant McCool)

BRIEF-Sumitomo Corp, Brookfield Business Partners to invest in 70 pct stake in 26 project cos in Brazil



* Sumitomo Corp – investing alongside Brookfield Business
Partners in 70 pct controlling stake in 26 project cos involved
in water, sewage services in Brazil

* Sumitomo Corp – Sumitomo will invest approximately
U.S.$250million, which represents a 14 pct stake in 26 project
companies
Source text for Eikon:
Further company coverage:

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Canadian exporters: Keep calm and carry on while NAFTA up in the air

As Canada prepares to renegotiate, or possibly see the death of the North American free-trade agreement with the United States and Mexico, the best advice to Canadian exporters seems to be: Keep calm and carry on … and strap in for what might be a bumpy ride.

“I don’t think we can anticipate anything. I think we have to plan for multiple scenarios, various different options,” says Danielle Goldfarb, director of the Conference Board of Canada’s Global Commerce Centre.

Like most leading think tanks, the Conference Board is deep into analyzing the often-conflicting signals on NAFTA emanating from U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration. In early June, the group is holding a webinar to discuss what Canada should call for in negotiations, and what to expect.

President Trump has alternated between calling NAFTA the “worst deal in history” during last year’s election campaign, to telling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau he was simply looking for a few “tweaks” to the 1994 deal, which has boosted cross-border trade and the integration of manufacturing in the area substantially.

Although the Trump administration has gone back and forth on the issue, just as recently as yesterday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross warned that the United States may still pull out of the deal.

The most contentious issues include agriculture and lumber. Mr. Trump has tweeted that, “we will not stand for” Canadian marketing board supports for dairy farmers.

And on April 24, Mr. Ross slapped a 20-per-cent tariff on Canadian softwood exports into the United States. Mr. Ross called it “a bad week for U.S.-Canada trade relations,” and, referring to NAFTA, said pointedly that “this is not our idea of a properly functioning trade agreement.”

While most analysts are willing to chalk up some of the U.S. commentary as rhetoric and posturing, there is nevertheless unmistakable concern about where this aggressive talk might lead.

On May 2, John Manley, president and chief executive officer of the Business Council of Canada wrote Prime Minister Trudeau saying that his organization’s members are “deeply concerned about the future of Canada’s trade partnership with the United States and Mexico.”

The letter continued, “The prospect of a new round of NAFTA negotiations represents both a risk and an opportunity for Canada. …

“At a minimum … Canada’s objective must be to protect the framework of rights, benefits and privileges that our companies and citizens currently enjoy under NAFTA,” wrote Mr. Manley, a former Canadian deputy prime minister.

“Canada also should seek to modernize and improve the agreement in ways that will create new opportunities and enhanced prosperity for citizens across the continent.”

There is a consensus that these are sensible objectives; the challenge now is to try to achieve them with a bombastic, unpredictable negotiating partner.

Canada needs to play both offence and defence in the negotiations, says Andrea van Vugt, the Business Council’s vice-president of policy for North America.

“It’s important that in our negotiations, Canada ensures that existing access [to the North American market] isn’t eroded.”

There is a lot at stake. About three-quarters of our exports go south of the border, according to Export Development Canada; by comparison, about 10 per cent of our exports go to our second-largest trading partner, the European Union, according to the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service.

Perhaps even more important are the continental supply chains that have grown since NAFTA was ratified in 1994. For instance, goods such as auto parts go back and forth across both the Canadian and Mexican borders many times as cars and trucks are built.

The auto industry was worth $79.8-billion last year, according to Canadian customs data. Vehicle and auto-parts manufacturing provided nearly 127,000 Canadian jobs in 2016, and this does not take into account the thousands of indirect jobs that the sector contributes for services such as transport, retail and administration.

In addition to imposing the softwood tariff and seeking to dismember Canada’s agricultural supports, President Trump has also mused about imposing a border tax on Canadian exports to America. This is already being met with second thoughts in Congress and state governments, because it invites retaliation, and for 35 states, Canada is the top export market.

As Canada and Mexico wait for NAFTA negotiations to get under way, businesses cannot do much in anticipation of the possible negative U.S. demands, other than to keep doing business as usual, make their views clear through their umbrella organizations and count on Canadian negotiators to take strong positions to avoid any attempts by the United States to erect new trade barriers, experts say.

The softwood and agricultural issues are seen by most as perennial irritants that Canada will have to continue to negotiate regardless of the NAFTA negotiations. As for the President’s outrage over various aspects of NAFTA, “My advice would be, don’t extrapolate what’s in a tweet to the larger relationship between Canada and the U.S.,” said Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. during a recent visit to Toronto.

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who successfully negotiated the Canada-U.S. free trade deal that preceded and formed the backbone of NAFTA, said last month that Canadian negotiators should be prepared for “more than a tweak” in the U.S. demands.

The United States might zero in on “rules of origin” that determine how much of a product is American-made, and the dispute-resolving mechanism in the agreement, he said.

Negotiations are not a bad thing for Canada, because the 1994 agreement is ready for an update, Ms. Goldfarb says. From Canada’s point of view, it could do with a refreshment of the rules for how Canadians, Americans and Mexicans move across borders to work.

Mr. Manley agrees. “Canada’s negotiators should take this opportunity to modernize our country’s trade and investment relationships with Mexico and the United States,” he said in his letter to the prime minister.

“Labour mobility and customs procedures are two areas in which NAFTA’s provisions are clearly outdated,” he said.

“Opportunities exist in areas such as intellectual property, e-commerce, the treatment of state-owned enterprises, competition rules, sanitary and phytosanitary measures [certifying that agricultural products are pest-free], labour, environment, procurement and regulatory co-operation.”

That is a tall list. Meanwhile, Canadian businesses can do little but wait until the procedural machinery cranks to let the negotiations begin.



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Gerry Lacoursiere, Former President of A&M Records Canada, Dies

He was nothing short of a legend in Canada. Gerry Lacoursiere, the man who launched A&M Records in Canada, died Tuesday in Windsor, Ontario. He had reportedly been ill for some time.

Heartfelt postings from those who had worked with him began to appear on social media, calling him “one of the good guys,” ” a great man,” and “one of the classiest people I’d ever know.” One said he’d “never heard a single bad word about Gerry.”

Lacoursiere, whose birth name was the rather aristocratic Germain Robert Lacoursiere, preferred “Gerry.” 

In September 1969, he was hired by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss — A&M — to launch the Canadian division of their label, A&M Records. In October 1990, he was appointed chairman of the Polygram Group, overseeing the amalgamation of Polygram, A&M, and Island Records. In January, 1997, he retired from the music business and was inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame. He was also presented by the Billboard International Business Achievement Award by Billboard magazine.

More recently, Lacoursiere served as a director of Yangaroo Inc. (Musicrypt Inc.) from 1999 to 2007 and as a member of its advisory board. 

On his birthday on April 14, music scribe and author Martin Melhuish, posted this on Lacoursiere’s Facebook page regarding his tenure at Alpert and Moss’ label: “Under Gerry’s leadership, the company became one of the biggest players in the Canadian market and one of the most active labels in signing and developing Canadian artists.”


Former label owner Al Mair posted about the passing of his friend on his Facebook page. His company, Attic Records, was distributed by A&M, a deal he struck with Lacoursiere.

He told Billboard, “Gerry called me on his arrival in Canada to open A&M Records Canadian company. He had been with United Artists, which was the label my client Gordon Lightfoot was signed to in the US. I watched Gerry carefully select great people to become part of his team.  Once their volume was sufficient, they became self distributed.  

“They were my record label Attic’s distributor for nine years, and they were nine great years. Gerry was always graceful and fun to deal with, and I will miss him dearly. The death of Gerry, and the earlier death of Joe Summers, marks the end of an era in the Canadian business. He will be sorely missed.”

In the history of A&M tome online, Lacoursiere, then president of A&M Records Canada, is quoted as telling RPM trade paper, “I was such a bad [record] salesman, they made me a promotion man — and I think that basically turned out to be my mission in life. 

“I got a kick out of taking a record, I believe in — not because it was happening in Los Angeles or any other market, but that I personally believed in, and going out and getting somebody to play it, and then finding out later that the consumer or the mass public was buying it — and that it was a hit record.”

In December 1985, Lacoursiere advocated for free trade policies in an article for Billboard (see bottom left):


Hannover Re CEO plays down Brexit impact on its business

May 10 Hannover Re,
the world’s third-largest reinsurer, does not expect Britain’s
departure from the European Union to have a dramatic impact on
its reinsurance business.

“We expect that even with a hard Brexit we will still be
able to underwrite our British business,” Chief Executive
Officer Ulrich Wallin said on Wednesday at the company’s annual
general meeting.

“We expect that Brexit will have no substantial influence on
the demand for reinsurance from primary insurance companies.”

The German reinsurer operates a branch in Britain where it
underwrites property, casualty, life and health reinsurance.

Wallin said there was a chance in the event of a hard
Brexit, in which Britain loses full access to the EU common
market, that Hannover Re would have to capitalise its office in
Britain, just as it has done in Canada and Australia.

Hannover Re is the world’s third-largest reinsurer after
Munich Re and Swiss Re.
(Reporting by Tom Sims; editing by David Clarke)

Canadian officials make first visit to Iran since 2012

The Maple Leaf is one of the only remaining Canadian symbols at what used to be the Canadian Embassy in Tehran.
Photo Credit: Nahlah Ayed/CBC

CBC reporter Nahlah Ayed and the Globe and Mail report that Canadian government officials are visiting Tehran for the first time since the Canadian embassy there was closed in 2012. There have been several meetings between officials of Canada and Iran elsewhere since the Liberal Party won the election in October 2015. Re-engaging Iran had been a plank in the party’s campaign platform.

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The story ended well for Iranian-Canadian Homa Hoodfar who was released from prison in Iran. A lack of a Canadian embassy there makes such cases difficult.
The story ended well for Iranian-Canadian Homa Hoodfar who was released from prison in Iran. A lack of a Canadian embassy there makes such cases difficult. © Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press

‘Things can go wrong’

The Globe reports that on this trip, three Canadian officials are “advocating for consular cases of concern” and an improvement of Iran’s human rights record. Better ties between the two countries would be of most benefit to over 120,000 Iranians living in Canada, says Bessma Momani, professor at the University of Waterloo.

“I think one of the greatest costs and …complications is that when Canadian-Iranians which will travel to their home country whether it’s to take care of sick relatives or …to take care of business—inheritance and other issues. They don’t have representation in their native country. And that’s, I think, problematic if things go wrong. And things can go wrong.”

And they do go wrong. There was a Canadian woman who died in a Tehran prison in 2003, and another who was released in 2016. The Globe quotes a source as saying there are current cases of concern which were raised during a phone call between Canada’s foreign affairs minister and her Iranian counterpart on Monday, May 8th.

Prof. Bessma Momani says it would be politically risky for Canada to re-open its embassy in Iran.
Prof. Bessma Momani says it would be politically risky for Canada to re-open its embassy in Iran.

Voting in Canada rejected

The newspaper reports they also discussed a request from Iran that Iranians in Canada be allowed to vote in the Iranian election on May 19th. But that was apparently rejected by Canada, in part because there is no embassy and that is where a polling station would normally be set up.

Momani doubts business interests would drive a rapprochement with Iran. It is still difficult to do business there.

While Canada will work to re-establish diplomatic ties, she does not think the Canadian embassy in Iran would be re-opened any time soon. This would be a politically risky move not likely to sit well with Canadian allies like the United States.

First Iran would no doubt want changes to a law that allows victims of terrorism to sue sponsors of state terrorism. In 2014, a Canadian judge ordered the seizure of millions of dollars of Iranian assets in such a case.

Energy projects in question as Liberals win British Columbia minority

By Nicole Mordant and Ethan Lou



VANCOUVER/CALGARY (Reuters) – The prospect of a minority Liberal government in British Columbia heightened economic uncertainty on Canada’s west coast on Wednesday, pitting the future of key energy projects against the ability of the Liberals to work with the third-party Greens.



A Liberal win threatens U.S. coal exporters that rely on British Columbia’s ports to ship to Asia. The Liberals have threatened a levy, in retaliation for U.S. duties on softwood lumber.



Preliminary results showed the ruling right-of-center Liberals squeaked to victory with 43 seats but were one seat shy of a majority. The left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) took 41 seats. Absentee votes still need to be counted, a process that will take until May 24 and could change the outcome.



The province’s nominal leader, the lieutenant governor, has requested the Liberal Premier Christy Clark continue to govern.



To keep power, the energy-friendly Clark needs to woo the tiny environmentalist Green Party, possibly making concessions as she tries to push forward with pipeline expansion plans and liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects.



On Wednesday, Clark said she was ready to work across party lines and hopes to meet Greens leader Andrew Weaver soon.



The Greens, which have three seats, could also ally with the NDP to form their own majority, resulting in an administration unfriendly to energy development.



When asked if that would happen, NDP leader John Horgan on Wednesday said he spoke to Weaver overnight and noted they had a range of issues in common.
  Continued…


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Taxi companies fined for taking advantage of refugees fleeing to Canada 

Three Plattsburgh, New York, taxi cab companies will pay financial penalties for taking advantage of illegal immigrants fleeing the United States for Canada through practices including price gouging, the New York Attorney General’s office said on Wednesday.

It said in a statement the fines came as part of a settlement after the three companies, Northern Taxi, Town Taxi and C & L Taxi, “admitted to not posting rates as required by law.”

Illegal crossings from the United States into Canada have become increasingly common in the months since U.S. President Donald Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to crack down on undocumented immigrants, took office in January.

“It’s no secret that we’ve seen intense fear in immigrant communities across New York in recent months. To take advantage of that fear for financial gain is simply unconscionable,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in the statement.

Refugees arrive at St Bernard de Lacolle in Quebec 

Credit:
David Millward/The Telegraph

“My office won’t hesitate to crack down on those seeking to take advantage of this climate of fear.”

As part of the settlement, the Plattsburgh companies will pay penalties ranging from $350 to $2,500.

Northern Taxi did not immediately respond to phone calls seeking comment. The owner of C&L Taxi said she was not aware of the allegations. The operator of Town Taxi told Reuters they had not publicised fares.

On Wednesday, Reuters published a report about asylum seekers traveling to the Canadian border, based in part on an interview with C&L Taxi driver Curtis Seymour.

Seymour voted for Trump partly because of his immigration policies, but said he had grown increasingly sympathetic to his immigrant passengers.

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A Trump supporter, and his cab, play unexpected role in escape to Canada

By Melissa Fares
| PLATTSBURGH, N.Y.

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. Cab driver Curtis Seymour got the call at 3:30 a.m. to pick up a passenger at the Greyhound bus station in Plattsburgh, New York, about 25 miles (40 km) south of the Canadian border.

An older Haitian woman wearing a purple and yellow headwrap, mauve lipstick and big gold earrings descended from the bus with two handbags, a backpack and a suitcase. Seymour placed her luggage in the car, and asked where she was headed.

“Canada,” the woman, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Cilotte, said in broken English. “No police,” she added.

Seymour, 62, who has driven the same streets in upstate New York for more than a decade, voted for Donald Trump in the Nov. 8 presidential election, partly because of his tough stance on immigration.

“I would vote for him all over again,” Seymour said. “But it’s more complicated than that.”

Since Trump was elected, Seymour has had a front seat view of the other side of the immigration debate, ferrying some of the roughly 2,000 people who have crossed illegally into Canada this year.

Most of those border crossers had been living legally in the United States, including people awaiting the outcome of U.S. asylum applications. But Trump’s tough talk on illegal immigration has spurred a wave of asylum seekers to leave for Canada, whose government they view as more welcoming to migrants. (For a graphic see tmsnrt.rs/2nyY8CJ)

There, they have begun applying for asylum, citing continued fears of persecution or violence in their homelands, including Somalia and Eritrea.

After arriving in border towns such as Plattsburgh, many use cabs to cover the final miles to the Canadian crossing. Seymour said he usually makes the run a few times every week.

Once registered as a Republican but now an independent, Seymour said Trump’s rhetoric made many of his border-bound patrons fearful. He said that while some asylum seekers were a crime risk, most of his passengers would be “assets to this country.”

“Trump’s immigration policies are strong. They are one of the reasons why I voted for him. But these people are human beings no matter where they came from,” Seymour said.

“It’s not like they’re aliens from another world or something.”

He also acknowledged that he has to make a living.

“Of course I don’t love all my passengers, but I certainly don’t hate any of them,” he said.

A PICTURE OF A FENCE

In the rush to get out of the cab and into Canada, travellers often drop items. The border is strewn with evidence of hurried escapes: a luggage tag, two baby bottles, one mitten, a wheel that fell off a suitcase, a stroller, an empty pack of cigarettes, a packed lunch.

One man from Somalia left behind his U.S. employment authorization card, which won’t expire until September 2017. It read: “NOT VALID FOR REENTRY TO THE U.S.”

Others abandon belongings too heavy to carry, which Seymour donates to drop-off centres around town.

Passengers who do not speak English, Seymour said, sometimes use different techniques for communication.

“One woman with her child spoke no English whatsoever and just drew me a picture of a fence.”

Since November, he has joined the cabbies awaiting passengers at the bus station headed to the border, usually working Monday to Saturday, from midnight until 9 a.m. A Reuters reporter accompanied Seymour on three overnight shifts.

As the bus doors swung open on a recent Wednesday morning, the cab doors followed suit, with drivers rushing up to the bus.

“Taxi! Taxi! Taxi!” solicited one driver.

“Going to the border? I’ll take you there for real cheap,” another yelled.

Seymour opted to lean against his white van and let a passenger, Cilotte, come to him. The bus driver had called him minutes before to tell him to be on the lookout for the woman.

About 10 minutes later on a two-lane highway running north from Plattsburgh, Seymour looked back at Cilotte in his rear-view mirror. “You’re okay,” he said repeatedly.

“When we get there,” he told Reuters, “I help them take their bags out of the car and I stay and watch and make sure they make it.”

He added, “I tell them, ‘Don’t stop now.’ But some of them stop. They just stand there. They freeze.”

Families seeking to cross at the official port of entry in Champlain, New York, are typically charged a flat rate of $60. Those who want to cross more discreetly pay $65 to $75 to be driven to a nearby dead-end street surrounded by farmland. From there, they cross a ditch and a small hill, then walk into Canada.

On Wednesday, the New York State Attorney General’s office announced it had investigated upstate cab drivers for price gouging asylum seekers. At least one driver from a rival Plattsburgh cab company charged passengers as much as $300 for a trip to the border, prosecutors said. Seymour said he was not charged with price gouging.

Once they arrive at the border, Seymour said, his passengers understand they will be arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

“But that’s what they want,” he said. “As long as they’re detained in Canada, they don’t care.”

At 4 a.m., Seymour and Cilotte reached the border. The Mounties had their flashlights on.

Seymour helped Cilotte with her bags. “They won’t hurt you,” he said.

“Right now you are in the United States,” the Mounties warned. “If you come any further, you will enter Canada illegally.”

Again, Seymour told Cilotte, “You’re okay.”

One Mountie asked Seymour: “You encouraging her to cross the border?”

“No,” he said, hands in pockets. “She’s just scared.”

“You can leave anytime now,” the Mountie responded.

“When I’m ready,” Seymour said. “When she’s ready.”

(For a photo gallery see reut.rs/2px10x4)

(Additional reporting by Christinne Muschi; editing by Leela de Kretser and Paul Thomasch)


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