Longest Unarmed Border in the World.
Beginning next week. Canada will begin arming Canadian custom agents at the border with the US.
As children we were taught that the 4000 mile border between Canada and the United States was the longest unarmed border in the World. In the time of the Cold War with tensions between and among states we took great pride in this fact. It stood as a symbol of the trust and affection with which we held our southern neighbours, and them, us.
Crossing the border was a routine casual affair. "What is your citizenship". "Where are you going?" For what purpose?" "When do you expect to return?"
Fine. Welcome to the United States, Have a nice trip." That is about how the conversation went when traveling into the US. On the return trip, when one identified oneself as a Canadian the agent may ask, "How long have you been out of the country? Do you have any goods to declare?" Then a wave of the hand would send us up the road, relieved of any tension we might have crossing through the no man's land between border agents. Invariably someone in the car has some undeclared contraband thatwent undetected.
In all the years, I have crossed the border, only once did I ever see an armed border guard. It was years go, circa 1970, we were returning to the US at Calais Maine. When the American agent stepped out wearing a gun in a holster my anxiety level went way up. It turned out our vehicle was throroughly searched for reasons I was too anxious to ask about.
Since Canadian border agents are not armed my one incident coming back into Canada saw me pulled over by the police as I was going up the highway toward Toronto. On the pretext I was driving badly my papers were checked and with my friend taking over the driving we set off again. With lights flashing we were pulled over again. The officer was kind enough to tell us it was all a ruse. Apparently, we fit the description of someone INTERPOL was looking for. Whaaaaa! How many volkswagens with a red canoe on top and a couple with two children are of interest to the International Police Organization??
Well the days of easy and relaxed border crossing is over. The panic concern for border security as a result of the 9/11 tragedy has seen Canada give in to the pressure from the US to "beef up" the border. For the Americans this only means guns and more guns!
The reality is that no Canadian border agent has ever been killed. They have for years handled issues at the border without resorting to firearms. Such problems are for the police to handle. The RCMP seems to have done a credible job such that the head of the RCMP was not in favour of arming Custom agents.
Peacefull settlement of border disputes is part of Canada's mythology of itself. The famous Northwest Mounted Policeman, Sam Steele by his very presence, interpersonal skills and the rule of law settled issues in the West including keeping rowdy Americans in line who wanted to bring their side arms into Canada.Sam Steele Days.org - Who was Sam Steele?
We will now have border agents with guns, who are not police officers with all the training they get being in the position to let themselves be drawn into a potentially violent border confrontation. More likely, they will be expected to try to stop a fugitive being chased by American authorities for which they have no training. I predict in the not too distant future Canada will have its first shooting of a border agent. Guns beget guns!
Immediately, after 9/11 when the border security issue was being discussed Canada was to be inside the security shield. In the end, the US decided that Canada was a porous source of potential terrorists that they had to strengthen the border against us. The neighbours we once casually shared our lives with are now "secure" in their "gated country", not able to tell friend from fow. We have obliged them by arming our customs agents as a second line of defense, thus accepting their model of violence for handling problems. I find it all very sad.
Well we still have the longest undefended border in the world. Canada ocean coastline is 243,042 km long. The Atlas of Canada - Coastline and Shoreline I bet that keeps the American Homeland Security people awake at night!