Think-tank report reveals U.S. myths about Canada
The Ambassador Bridge at the Windsor-Detroit international crossing is pictured from Windsor, Ontario, Friday, November, 26, 2010. (Brent Foster / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, May 11, 2011 7:16AM EDT
WASHINGTON - The Canada-U.S. border will once again be under intense scrutiny in the United States as a congressional hearing aims to push for tighter security measures along the much-maligned boundary.
Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, is holding a Senate hearing next week to prod federal officials for details about security initiatives along the border.
Schumer said Tuesday that top officials from the Department of Homeland Security, formed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, will attend the hearing to discuss proposals that include employing military-grade radar along the border to crack down on drug smugglers.
News of Schumer's hearing before the subcommittee on immigration, refugees and border security came the same day that Canada's Fraser Institute released a report on U.S. congressional perceptions about Canada.
The study suggests American politicians view Canada as little else but a stable source of energy with a border security problem. There's also scant appetite for freer Canada-U.S. trade unless it involves cheaper prescription drugs.
According to congressional debates between 2001 and 2010, the report found that discussions about Canada primarily revolved around energy, including Alberta's oilsands. Most of those debates shone a positive light on America's neighbour to the north and there was little, if any, resistance to the oilsands.
But legislators were also deeply concerned about Canada having a porous border that was leaving the U.S. vulnerable to terrorists slipping across the boundary to wreak havoc. There were "persistent and repeated" allegations from lawmakers that Canada is lax on terrorism, including claims that some of the 9-11 hijackers entered the U.S. over the northern border.
The 9-11 myth is a diehard one in the U.S., with Frank McKenna, a former Canadian ambassador to the States, once calling it a "viral infection."
It's now become almost a rite of passage for Canada's envoy to the United States to remind Americans it's not true; Ambassador Gary Doer had to do it in October, when a Tea Party candidate repeated the myth publicly.
It's a message that doesn't seem to have reached many American legislators, the Fraser report suggests.
"When discussing border security, American politicians tend most often to speak of the Canadian and Mexican borders in roughly the same manner," the Fraser Institute's senior fellow Alexander Moens wrote. "Their concern about the threat of terrorists staging attacks from Canada remains high."
As for trade, Moens added: "Take cheaper drugs from Canada out of the picture, and the sentiment in Congress towards free trade turns negative."
At least one senator suggested Tuesday he was swimming against the tide in terms of the perceptions of some of his congressional colleagues.
"The closer you are to the border, the more you see and understand Canada's diverse importance to us," Vermont's Patrick Leahy, who's married to a French-Canadian, said when asked about the report's findings.
"In Vermont, we have the advantage of close proximity and many shared cultural and economic values. So much so that we good-naturedly refer to 'the giant to our north."'
Schumer's hearing takes place next Tuesday, a week after homeland security czar Janet Napolitano told a Senate homeland security committee that the Canadian government and the Obama administration are discussing how to set up radar and sensor feeds along the border as part of a future perimeter security deal.
Technology, she added, was the key to making the northern border more secure.
"We are adding more systems up there that can detect low-flying aircraft," Napolitano said.
The northern border has been on the hot seat in the U.S. since December, when the U.S. Government Accountability Office criticized security measures along the 6,400-kilometre boundary.
The report, largely dismissed by one White House source at the time, says that an "acceptable level of security" exists on less than one per cent of the border -- or about 51 kilometres.
It concluded that the United States did not "have the ability to detect illegal activity across most of the northern border."
As she did when it was first released, Napolitano took issue last week with the report, saying "some of the measures that are ongoing at the northern border ... I think are not captured."
In February, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama announced a framework agreement on perimeter security. It focuses mostly on boosting information-sharing between the two countries and integrating border control.