Border Security: The High Stakes for Canada and the United States in the 21st Century
The Canada Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Toronto Board of Trade co-hosted a luncheon panel with the Hon. John Manley and Gov. Tom Ridge. The luncheon panel was co-sponsored by the Canada Institute on North American Issues (CINAI). Each panelist discussed the new security environment since 9/11, the resulting cross-border security implications, and major current and future problems to securing our shared border. In doing so, they addressed the challenges presented by the conflicting goals of physical and economic security, and the high stakes involved for both countries in overcoming these obstacles.
The audience comprised Canadian and American business people, government officials, academics, public policymakers, and current and former politicians. Media coverage included CTV, Global and Omni TV, CBC Radio Canada (French), and several members of the print media. In addition, PBS in Buffalo (WNED) broadcast the entire program as a special feature.
Glen Grunwald, President, Toronto Board of Trade
David Biette, Director, Canada Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
PANEL INTRODUCTION AND FACILITATION
Pamela Wallin, Consul General, Canadian Consulate General, New York
The Hon. John Manley, former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada
Gov. Tom Ridge, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security
John Manley began his remarks reflecting on Canadian attitudes toward security issues, noting that the majority of Canadians wrongly thought that "today was September 10th," and that "we should be able to function pretty much the way we used to before 9/11." He emphasized, however, that whether Canadians liked it or not, the reality was that because Canada relies so heavily on its economic relationship with the United States, if the current U.S. concern was security, then it is Canada's too. Furthermore, he emphasized that "the two paramount responsibilities of the Canadian prime minister are first, national unity, and second, managing the Canada-U.S. relationship." Manley pointed out that leaders are in a much better position to manage and resolve problematic bilateral issues such as border security if they have cultivated a relationship of personal trust.
Manley also addressed Canadian concerns about sovereignty with regard to information sharing and the harmonization of identification cards. "We've got to be a little less religious about the question of sovereignty, and start to be really practical about it, and recognize that some of the threats that preoccupy policymakers in the United States are also threats to Canada," he said. Manley maintained that the number one foreign policy objective of the Canadian government ought to be to make sure the border functions properly. "We've got a wealth of social programs, a lot of influence around the world, and a lot of it depends on building and maintaining a strong economy. You can't do that with an impeded border," he stated.
Gov. Tom Ridge began his address by describing a 21st century border agreement that embraced two fundamental notions: the intersection of economic and security interests at the border, which have to be managed and balanced. He said that this principle was often at odds with political forces in the United States that want security officials to eliminate all risk despite the resulting damage to both economies. Ridge, in contrast, stressed the importance of viewing the border as an opportunity to work together on building the single, largest, most comprehensive trading relationship in the world. He remarked that those who live in a border community are the ones who truly understand the degree of interdependency and intersection between the economies of the two countries on a daily basis.
Addressing the topic of a border identification card, Ridge was optimistic that technology would solve the problem of finding a way to combine a common identification document that would be machine readable on both sides of the border. He said that progress had been made on inter-operable biometric standards as well as other technology for improving information sharing. As well, Ridge talked about the steps that had been taken to harmonize the entry visa process so that now both the United States and Canada recognized the same countries whose nationals require visas to enter through our respective borders. In addition he emphasized that there was a great deal of under-the-radar information sharing about these matters that goes unreported.
With regard to the ongoing Canadian debate over sovereignty, Ridge observed that people confuse sovereignty with collaboration. "When both countries seek to achieve a common goal and collaborate to achieve it, they're not surrendering sovereignty by advancing their sovereign interests together," he said. To illustrate his point, Ridge cited the example of the creation of twenty-five integrated border enforcement teams (IBETs) made up of law enforcement, customs, and immigration officials, embedded with intelligence officers. Technically the United States could do the job alone, according to Ridge, but it is much more effective to have joint teams working on both sides of the border.
At the conclusion of the panel discussion, Wallin asked Ridge to describe what he considered was today's biggest security threat. Ridge replied that, setting aside indifference to the fact that an attack could happen again, his gravest concern was an incident with a biological agent or radiological device.
Wallin then fielded questions from the audience starting with one about congestion problems at the Ambassador Bridge and its vulnerability to attack by terrorists intent on disrupting the economies of Ontario, Michigan, and surrounding states. In response, Manley said that another link would alleviate the problems, but that money had not been allocated to make it possible. He expressed hope that a sense of urgency would help fix this gap before a "disaster" occurred.
An expert in the tourism and hospitality industry raised the passport issue as a big concern and proposed the implementation of a reasonable delay to give both sides more time to examine the technology before imposing a deadline for implementation. In reply, Ridge agreed that there was an opportunity for both sides to find an alternative to a passport and that an aggressive search should be undertaken to find one. He said he firmly believed that the technology was available to solve the problem of access and security.
Another questioner asked Manley and Ridge how they thought Canadians would react to the border being closed in the event of another terrorist attack. Ridge responded by saying that he found it unimaginable that the border would be permanently closed even under a worse case scenario. He said that security might get ramped up and traffic diverted to adjust to an attack or in anticipation of one occurring. He could not envision, however, the literal creation a wall between the two countries—the historic friendship and dynamic trading relationship precludes such drastic measures, in Ridge's view
In conclusion, Manley reiterated his conviction that the biggest international concern for Canada had to be the border, that without a functioning border, Canada would not attract the investment or create the prosperity necessary to be a great country.
For more information, visit the Canada Institute website at www.wilsoncenter.org/canada or CINAI's website at www.TheCanadaInstitute.ca.
David N. Biette
Director, Canada Institute
Drafted by Stephanie McLuhan