Canada had a nasty encounter this week with the Secretary of Homeland Security of the United States, Janet Napolitano, about Canada and our border with the US.
First, let me say how I feel about the border. I was told as a child that Canada and the US shared the longest undefended border in the World. In this we took great pride for it represented two countries that had mutual respect and an easy relationship with one another. I grew up near the border and on occasion crossed into the US. For the most part this was a casual routine affair although the US border guards always seems a little abrupt with guests coming into their country.
"What country were you born in? Where are you going? Is it for business or pleasure? How long do you intend to stay? OK"
Coming back we were often waved right through when the Canadian border attendent saw the Canadian license plate. If we stopped the conversation began:
Welcome to Canada! How long have you been out of the country? Did you purchase anything in the US? Fine. Have a safe trip."
Well it seemed friendlier to me as a child who had been instructed to say nothing while we crossed into the US, which had an aspect of mystery and dread.
While birth certificates were required as proof of citizenship rarely were we ever asked to show them. Once I was refused entry because I did not have it when I tried to cross into the US at Windsor Ontario. When the border patrol guy said well how do I know you were born in Canada.
I replied, because I say I was born in "Trawna" in the same way, when you speak you say you are from "DeTROIT". He was not impressed and I was not going to drive four hours back to Toronto to get my birth certificate. So I went to the tunnel crossing and the border patrol guy there did not ask for my birth certificate. I was in.
Only once did I ever cross the border and have an armed US border patrol officer pop out of the building. It was in Calais, Maine. We were returning from a holiday in PEI. I was startled when the guy showed up with a pistol on his hip. We were thoroughly searched including having to unload and unfold our tent. Seems they were looking for drugs. Lucky my American friend, who all the while protested, "But I am the associate minister of the First Church in Boston." had buried his marijuana in a mason jar on the Canadian side to be retrieved the next year. (He has now retired to PEI at Malpecque Harbour where he can eat to his heart's desire the picked herring and lobster right from the fishermen.)
For the most part crossing the border was a routine "Oh, hum" affair. We liked it that way.
Well 9/11 and American fear and anxiety began to bring an end to all that. The Americans at first talked of creating a security system that would include Canada within and not without. Soon it became obvious that the US was interested in creating Fortress America and Canada was on the outside and a source of threat. Canada, while not being as frightened or anxious has tried to respond to the US concerns by beefing up our border security, including arming our border agents among other things. Also, Passports will now be required to enter into the US both by Canadian residents and Americans returning to the US.
Of course, the US never does things half way. There are now to be drone aircraft patrolling the vast border. There has also been talk about building a fence along the Canadian border. Lot of luck building it along the middle of the Great Lakes. There has even been talk of putting armed warships on the Great Lakes in spite of a treaty that prevents this. Well, it seems the US has never signed a treaty or a law they can't break.
Over the years Canada has enjoyed some good natured fun at the expense of our American cousins for their excesses, ignorance of Canada and heavy handed approach to diplomacy.
For your enjoyment below is a skit by Canada's comedy group . Air Farce, about the border.
There are times when issues with the US are not funny. This week as far as I am concerned we had one of those. The Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, spoke at a meeting at the Brookings Institute of Americans and Canadians discussing border issues, demonstrated her ignorance and heavy handed approach. With the Obama Administration I would have though we saw the last of this approach that we had come to expect with the Bush Administration. It was not that an American showed some ignorance of things, it is that this American showed an ignorance of things that were her responsibility.
What caught every Canadian's attention is that she said some of the terrorist responsible for the 9/11 attack came into the US through Canada. THIS IS NOT TRUE. This is a myth that has been spoken far too often by American officials. It is this kind of lie that got the US to invade Iraq. I guess we should be grateful Canada was not invaded. After Canada's Ambassador to the US had to protes and point out this error, her feeble attempt to cover up her ignorance just made it worse, with her hiding behind "national security." The problem is if she believed this it colours her view of Canada andfthe necessity of a secure border. Sadly, her predecessor, Michael Chertoff also believed this lie. To make it worse, John McCain repeated this lie the next day on Fox news. He too should be expected to know the truth.
As it turned out this is only half of the issue with the Secretary. She came to talk about issues around the border. Sadly, she came not to listen but to lay down the law as to how it will be. This bully attitude does not go over well with Canadians. She obviously knows little about the Canadian/US border. She thinks it is just another version of the Mexican/US border and should be treated the same. She sees Canada as a lax country that lets people in which the US would exclude and therefore a security threat. Her perception of Canada is that we are a country infiltrated with terrorists wanting to get into the US just as the 9/11 terrorist did Wrong, wrong wrong on all accounts. And she should lecture us when the US has 12 million illegal aliens in its country most of whom came across the Mexican/US border. What kind of control does the US have on who enters their country. Not much it seems. Canada has a good, but not perfect system just like other countries.
Apparently the Secretary feels she must treat the Canadian border in the same way as the US treats the Mexican border. There can be no difference, apparently because of NAFTA, whatever logic this is slips by me. One should not have to point out that the two borders are quite different as to the attitude, history, and challenges they present. Canadians do not look with longing to a Greater Canada as Mexicans view the Southwest of the US as a Greater Mexico, as a land of hope and prosperity. We have plenty of that here at home. Canada historically respects the border even back to the times when in the West the Mounted Police had to remind American profiteers, whiskey ttraders and fortune hunters how to behave in Canada. And of course, how we welcomed Sitting Bull, after he defeated Custer at the Little big Horn, leting him stay, if he and his tribe behaved. Canada is also not a corrupt country with a major drug war going on along the border. It seems to me there are real differences that should be accomadated.
When I left the United States I gave a gift to my best friend. It was a wonderful tabletop book entititled "Between Friends/Entre Amis". It is a book of photos and comments about places along the Canadian/ US border. It was created by the National Film Board of Canada as a gift to the US on Canada's Centennial. It shows that the border is only a slightly delineated barrier between us, maintained by mutual respect and not armed guards. Farms come right up to the border, towns are divided by the border and even in places the border passes through buildings. My favourite is in Derby Line where the border passes though the town library, the entrance is on the Canadian side and the books are all on the American side. People along the border have throughout our history have easily passed back and forth visiting family members and neighbours. I feel the currentUS border security attitude disrespects this wonderful tradition and will not take it into account. It seem Fortress America will only be happy when all those places close up to the border are bulldozed and a physical and electronic barrier is put in its place. I hope the US will feel more secure but as an Canadian I will feel less secure living next to a neighbour who sees me as a threat and potential enemy rather than a friend and neighbour.
To Secretary Napolitano; find a copy of "Between Friends/Entre Amis". Canada's gift to Americans. A copy was presented to President Ford by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. READ THE BOOK, and try to understand that Canada has a different, a unique, border relationship with the US. Perhaps. the next time you will be a little more knowledgeable and understanding.
Canada is not Mexico, we have real issues of free flow of people and commerce across the border that need to be addressed for the mutual benefit of our two countries.
Here are a few pictures from the book, http://nanaimo.en.craigslist.ca/bks/1124347694.html If this fellow is still willing to sell this book for $60. It is a real bargain.