Jessica N. Trisko, visiting fellow at Yale University

Stephanie von Hlatky, postdoctoral fellow at Georgetown University

Provinces have an integral role to play in border security, argued Stephanie von Hlatky, postdoctoral fellow at Georgetown University at an event hosted by the Canada Institute. She was joined by Jessica N. Trisko, visiting fellow at Yale University to discuss the findings of their recently published article, "La frontière américaine du Québec: enjeux de sécurité," in Guy Lachapelle (ed.) Le destin américain du Québec (Presses de l'Université Laval, 2010) and Sharing the Burden of the Border: Layered Security Cooperation and the Canada-US Frontier (forthcoming).

Trisko debunked three common myths that commonly dominate media coverage of the U.S.-Canada border security relationship:

1. The border was non-securitized before the 9/11 Commission's recommendation that the northern border be tightened;
2. Economic interests dominate decision-making involving the border; and
3. Canada is benefitting from increased security at the border without bearing substantial costs.

Trisko argued that these myths do not accurately capture the reality of how the northern border is governed. She maintained that North America has shifted from using a border management model known as the "status quo" to one described as "dual bilateralism." The status quo model argues that pre-9/11 border measures served the United States and Canada well for decades and did not require additional protection. The dual bilateral approach emerged from the Security and Prosperity Partnership and argues that the Canada-U.S. and U.S.-Mexico borders are now managed via a series of bilateral relationships that stresses national sovereignty regarding border management.

In the case of Canada and the United States, the shift from the status quo model to dual bilateralism can be explained in part because Canada realized that it was in its own economic and security interests to step up border security following the 9/11 attacks and was therefore willing to share the costs of increased security measures with the United States. Thus, said Trisko, Canada is best described as a "burden sharer" and not a "free-rider" in the realm of border security.

Trisko described several initiatives taken on behalf of the Canadian government to enhance border security following 9/11. Much like the United States, said Trisko, Canada demonstrated a willingness to adopt a homeland security paradigm, leading to the creation of new federal departments, such as Public Safety Canada, which serves to better coordinate federal department and agency efforts in the realm of national security and safety. Canadian officials also took the lead to develop a new "Smart Border" that would increase information sharing between security agencies and expedite the transport of goods and people. In addition to federal initiatives, Trisko noted that Canadian provinces also increased their role in the area of border management.

The Unique Role of Provinces in Border Security

Von Hlatky noted that Canadian provinces have considerable latitude when it comes to implementing border polices handed down from the federal government. However, Quebec, said von Hlatky, has gone further than other provinces regarding border management and building its relationship with the United States. Quebec is permitted its own international policy through non-binding international agreements with sovereign states, under the Gerin-Lajoie doctrine, which has allowed the province to become an active player and make a valuable contribution to border management. Since 9/11, said von Hlatky, Quebec has created a security information management center, signed cooperation agreements with bordering states, and participated in regional organizations meant to promote mutual aid for civil protection, such as the Northeast Regional Homeland Security Directors Consortium. These efforts are a reflection of the importance of the Quebec-U.S. economic relationship. Approximately 72 percent of Quebec's exports are destined for the United States.

Von Hlatky maintained that Quebec's efforts are evidence of the province's advocacy of a decentralized approach to border management. The Quebec government maintains that provinces are better equipped to handle diffuse threats such as organized crime, money laundering, human trafficking, and terrorism. She noted that Canada's federal government has acknowledged that provinces have a "special role" in implementing border policy and that federal and provincial interests in the realm of border management are complementary. Thus, Canadian provinces and Ottawa would benefit from identifying areas of mutual interest where a decentralized approach to border management would be beneficial.

Drafted by Tina Wong, Program Intern
David Biette, Director, Canada Institute