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Commentary and opinion on current civic, political, and religious events and issues.

Past Issue
17 December 2001

Northern City Journal
(ISSN 1528-9575)
Vol. 2, No. 50

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Paranoia about Our Northern Border

The concern about guarding the U.S border with Canada is based on unproven assumptions and does not provide improved security.

by Jerome F. Winzig

Since September 11, there has been a lot of hoopla in the U.S. press, the executive branch, and Congress about the need for increased security along the 4,000 mile U.S.-Canadian border. Attorney General John Ashcroft has sent National Guard troops to patrol the border. Border patrol agents have been working overtime for three straight months, and they and their families are feeling the strain. Congress is discussing legislation to intensify border patrols along our northern border.

This concern about the U.S.-Canadian border is premised on four unstated and unproven assumptions: Canada is a more likely source of terrorists and dangerous aliens than our own ports of entry, Canada is less concerned about terrorists and other intruders than the United States, and terrorism is a one-way threat coming at the United States, never from the United States. Terrorists are more likely to enter the United States on the ground than in the air.

How would we feel if the situation were reversed, if buildings in Toronto had been attacked, and Canada had responded by clamping down on the U.S.-Canadian border, imposing lengthy inspections at all border crossings, and announced a billion dollars on increased spending to patrol our northern border? The thought should be enough to prompt a serious review of these hidden assumptions.

The first hidden premise is that Canada is a likely source of terrorists, even though it too is a democracy that treasures the same values we do. If Canada is such a threat, then why is it that on September 11 many diverted flights were routed to Canada, where Canadians welcomed the stranded passengers and in some cases even brought them home.

The second hidden premise is that Canada is less concerned about terrorists than the United States. Yet Canada shares much of the same culture with the United States. It espouses the same democratic principles. It speaks the same language (in addition to the French language, which predominates in Quebec). It is a steadfast ally of the United States.

The third hidden premise is that terrorism is a one-way threat coming at the United States from outside. However, much of the support for the IRA in Northern Ireland comes from the United States. The largest terrorist act before September 11 -- the Oklahoma City bombing -- came from within. The United States has a higher rate of political assassinations than Canada.

The fourth hidden premise is that terrorists are more likely to enter the United States on the ground than in the air. While this might make sense for someone trying to smuggle large amounts of merchandise into the country, it wouldn't seem to make much difference when the goal is to sneak a terrorist into the United States.

If the U.S. government has valid concerns about terrorists reaching the United States through Canada -- concerns that so far have little substantiation -- it would seem to be far easier and less costly for the United States to work with the Canadian government to keep terrorists from entering Canada in the first place. There has been some discussion of this; the U.S. ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, has said, "We could establish this perimeter to protect the United States and Canada."

Most of the emphasis, however, has been on significantly enlarging the U.S. Border Patrol. But with a 4,000 mile border, this seems a hopeless pursuit. If we deployed 12,000 agents on a 24-hour schedule, we could station guards one mile apart along the entire border. Why not instead work quietly with Canadian officials? That would mean a lot less political hay for U.S. politicians, but would catch a lot more terrorists at much less cost. It would also avoid the negative impact on U.S.-Canadian trade that our current measures have had.

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