9/11: Our Lost Border
It is a sad and grieving day today. Thinking of the relatives of the victims 10 years ago, is a reminder of our frail humanity. I also think of all the victims of the wars on terror as American seeks revenge. How come I do not feel safer and prouder of the state the world is in.
Canada lost 46 citizens and residents that fateful day. I read the brief notes on their live: in their prime, family oriented, productive people with whom so many of us can identify.
Life has changed for all of us in greater or lesser ways. Americans have changed more than Canadians. Americans have become less sure of themselves, fearful, less open to the World.
Before 9/11, Canadians admired Americans, even envied them in many ways, but now I think most Canadians feel badly for Americans and what their country has become. Some of us now pity our American cousins and hope they may overcome their fear and regain some of the best of the soul of America.
An ongoing affect of the tragedy of 9/11 ten years ago is the tranformation of the Canadian/American border. What was once a lightly guarded "picket fence" of a boundary has become a heavily guarded "wall" of a barrier. We were once neigbours who often spoke of each other as family and now we are foreigners to one another. This is particularly true from the American side. The US has been fear driven these past ten years, willing to sacrifice liberty for security. The Canadian government followed suit, not so much out of sense of fear of Canada being a terrorist target, but more out of a need to convince the Americans that we can match their concern for security. This has resulted in a thickening of the border. The changes to the border have made people crossing and commerce crossing more complicated. I miss the old border and the easy relationship across the border.
During the Winter Olympics Tom Brokaw presented a view of Canada for the benefit of Americans. It is the view, most Canadian's grew up with (Canadians are much more aware of the border than the US as most of us live within 100 miles of it.) I suspect many Americans know little of Canada and give little thought to our relationship. I enjoyed this video
recognizing that in many ways it is only an introduction of what is a very complicated relationship.
I have crossed the border many times: at Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Detroit, Northwest, Ontario, the Akwesasne First Nation, an unguarded border crossing between Quebec and Vermont, and Calais, Me. Usually, the biggest worry I had was whether I would be asked to give up my oranges in order to cross (Canada get citrus products from many countries so the US protects it's citrus industry by banning these products). I once was questioned closely at a sleepy crossing because I had my tool box in the back of my truck The border guard thought I was going into the US to work illegally. The most dramatic moment I had was returning to the US at Calais, Me. This was the first time I ever saw a border agent wearing a side arm. He searched our vehicle thoroughly included making us open up our tent. He was looking for drugs I guess although he did not know what he was looking at when he looked in the glove compartment in which he saw a hash pipe. Luckily my friends buried their marijuana on the Canadian side to be picked up the next year on their way to PEI. With a birth certificate you usually were allowed to enter the country. I once forgot mine and was refused entry at the bridge at Detroit. I tried to prove my citizenship by saying I pronounced Toronto a "Traawna" just as I know the was an American by the way he called Detroit as "Da troit". Rather than drive four hours back to Toronto to get my ID I drove drove a few miles and crossed through the tunnel with no problem. Crossing the border was usually relaxed and routine: no lists, no passports, no detailed questioning.
Apparently, there were lists but no one seemed to care about them. When I went to St John's NB to pick up my green card to live and work in the US, I was asked if I belonged to any subversive organizations. I asked what was on the list. The agent said he did not know. So I said, in that case, "NO!" I chose to not name any of the left wing organizations I belonged to. They let me in.
Immediately, after 9/11 I got the impression that when the US improved its borders creating "Fortress" America, Canada would be inside the walls as a result of our special relationship but we found ourselves outside the wall.
It seems the regulations to cross the border continue to be increased by a fear driven border security agency which had no limits to the funds available to it.
Our Conservative government seems to want to follow the US. It cannot seem to form an independent position on anything.
We should have known we were in trouble when G.W. Bush called Mexico and the most significant neighbour of the US. In the speech on 9/20 he gave thanks to a long list of countries that helped the US over 9/11. It did not include Canada, in spite of people knowing how wonderful Canadians were in treating airline passengers who were grounded in Canada, particularly in Gander Newfoundland. Soon American officials began saying the 9/11 terrorists came into the US, through Canada. This was repeated as late as when Janet Napolitano became head of the Homeland Security. It seems Canada had to continually prove itself strong on security. Our Conservative government has fallen all over itself to please the Neo-Conservative government of G.W. Bush. Canada joined the US in tightening the border. Passports, lists of people kept and exchanged, more paperwork, and the most troubling for me was the arming of Canadian border agents. Apparently, we had to look as tough as the American Border Patrol.
The border between Canada and the United States we proudly used to speak of as the longest unfortified border in the World. Well it is fortified now in many ways from strengthened crossing points , to drone aircraft flying overhead. Crossing the border has become a more fearful experience. I always hated that no mans land between the two counties border posts where you seemed to have not right to just turn around and go home. Now the worry includes wondering if you name will appear on some list and you might get arrested and end up in jail before it is sorted out. There are such horror stories. Even the American Ambassador to Canada has been stopped as someone with the same name is on a list.
The unique of the border can only be appreciated if you read about the small communities along the border, some even straddle it having been communities prior to the border firmly being established. The best know case is Derby Line Vermont/ Stanstead, Quebec. But there are others. My favourite is Estcourt Station, Maine. Americans have to pass through Canada to travel to the rest of the United States and the only local gas station is on the American side. Also,
I would love to visit Whitelash, Montana to cross. Places like Point Roberts, Washington, and Alburgh, Vermont are physically cut off from the rest of the United States. One unique place on the border is Akwesasne First Nation, a Mohawk community along the St Lawrence River that borders on New York State, Ontario and Quebec . The list is longer if you want to read about such places. These communites have been greatly inconvenienced by the new border regulations. In some cases streets have been blocked off, not to mention building and even private homes having the border run through them. A way of life that largely ignored the border has been interrupted.
I would hope that as time goes on, perhaps in another 10 years, there will be some relaxing of the the border restrictions. Canada is not an enemy of the US. We once were "kin" but it seems officially Canada cannot trusted. Sadly, no one feels more secure and their are fewer of us crossing into each other countries. This cannot be good.