by Susan MacAllen, 2007
On Sunday, September 24 of 2006, sixty border security agent officers left four British Columbia border crossing points, simply walking off their jobs after U.S. authorities warned that two murder suspects from California were working their way north. The two suspects were believed to be armed and dangerous, but the Canadian border security were not armed, and consequently, not very dangerous.
The incident is illustrative of the difference in ideology between U.S. and Canadian authorities as regards issues of border security, smuggling, and terrorism. And it was one in a string of similar incidents. Although the border agents’ union, CEUDA, had been arguing for decades that border guards needed to be armed, the Canadian government refused to consider seriously its concerns. The longest border between two countries in the world, the U.S.-Canadian border stretches over 4,000 miles, much of that rural, and contains some 1200 crossing points. Several thousand people cross that border every day, and checkpoints are loosely guarded because of economics, geographical obstacles (such as the vast Boundary Waters Canoe Area between Minnesota and Ontario), and Canada’s historically lax attitude toward its security.
Ironically, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had addressed the issue just a month before the walk-out, telling the press that the Canadian government would begin arming border agents beginning in September, over the next ten years. That means that today, in April of 2007, the vast majority of Canadian border patrol still do not carry a weapon.
Algerian Ahmed Ressam entered Canada in 1994 with a fraudulent French passport and was granted immediate refugee status. Based in Montreal and in Vancouver, he spent five years working with al-Qaeda to procure weapons. Finally, he loaded up his car with explosives and made for a border crossing between British Columbia and Washington State, intent on bombing Los Angeles International Airport. A U.S. border agent noted that Ressam behaved nervously, and asked to search the vehicle. The arsenal was discovered, and the plot was interrupted - all by chance.
By the time of the 9-11 crisis, the security at the Canadian border had already become a joke. But following information that at least one of the 9-11 terrorists had crossed into the U.S. from Canada, the Liberal-controlled Canadian government, in an effort to save some face, announced that December it had signed with the U.S. a Joint Statement of Cooperation on Border Security and Regional Migration Issues. This would put in place multi-agency teams from both countries to better integrate border security enforcement efforts. But although it resulted in increased communications between agencies, with unarmed Canadian agents still walking off their jobs, it was really a bureaucratic show without much substance. In July of 2005, three men were arrested in Seattle for smuggling and distributing marijuana across the border, using an elaborately constructed tunnel that ran from a hut on the Canada side, to a house in Washington state, over 110 meters long.
The reasons why - from the American point of view - Canada will not step up and seriously assist our efforts to defend ourselves in the wake of 9-11, are complex and long-standing. Simply, Canada has felt a need to distinguish itself from its powerful southern neighbor. In an effort to preserve a unique identity, some of its more liberal factions - both in the governmental and private sectors - have persisted in opposing American ideology in order to establish a pure Canadian ideology. This combines with social devotion to multi-culturalism and political correctness (to an even greater extent than in the U.S.) to create a public suspicious of American motives, and defensive toward their traditional friend to the south. Unfortunately, given the world unrest, misplaced Canadian pride has become our inconvenience, and a real threat to the security of both nations. Although a Conservative government took power in Canada January 2006, little real change has taken place since.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has long expressed concerns to the Canadian government. In an August 2002 report it said too many Muslim immigrants abuse Canada’s immigration, passport, welfare, and charity regulations, using Canada as an easy enclave to grow their terrorist efforts. “...with the possible exception of the United States, there are more international terrorist organizations active in Canada than anywhere in the world...” This is despite the Anti-Terrorism Act measures passed in December 2001. CSIS reports that Canada allowed 300,000 people to enter as ‘refugees’ last year - a process that comes with little scrutiny. It cites that Canada contains active terrorist groups from some 50 countries.
Anti-American feeling and pro multi-cultural sentiment has indeed allowed the situation to develop. A prime example is the establishment of Canada’s notorious Anti-Hate Speech law, which has been used not only to regulate public speech against minorities and women as it was intended, but to squelch opposing political speech. In early December of 2006, Canadian Immigration - despite allowing in its stream of unexamined refugees - stopped Walid Shoebat from entering Canada. Mr. Shoebat is a well-known peace activist and former terrorist, who routinely speaks on the dangers of radical Islam and the growing terror movement, and his experiences inside it. He is best-known for his book “Why I Left Jihad”. He had been invited to speak at the Simon Weisenthal Center in Ottawa and at another venue in Montreal: both events were long-scheduled. Interestingly, Shoebat had visited Canada four times since 2004, and had spoken at several venues and to various newspapers and to live media. According to Shoebat’s representative, Canadian immigration cited his former involvement as a terrorist - some 20 years earlier - in denying him entry, despite international visibility as a peace activist.
Another former terrorist is Zachariah Anani, who spoke at a Windsor, Ontario church this past January about his experiences with radical Islam and terror. Now a Christian, Anani gave a lecture to a Baptist congregation entitled “The Deadly Threat of Islam”. His talk was well-received, and a second talk was scheduled. However, a group led by a Muslim activist protested the talks on the grounds that Anani and the pastor, Donald McKay, had engaged in the crime of hate speech under the law. The second talk was cancelled. (McKay in his introduction had spoken of Islam as “vicious and oppressive”.) McKay cancelled the second talk only after officials threatened to revoke Anani’s citizenship. Still, on the date of the event, pro-Islamist protestors stationed themselves outside the church. In separate incidents, the law had been used already to silence other Christian clergy voicing concern about Islam.
Where are we today? Canada is still resentful because U.S. officials banned 24 employees from Bell Helicopter of Montreal from building U.S.-bound military helicopters, based upon their nationalities. Although it was specifically in keeping with U.S. security policy, Canada found it objectionable. The border remains manned by a largely unarmed and understaffed Canadian security.
The U.S. depends little on Canada for trade. It is estimated that while 5-6% of our export goes to Canada, 40% of Canada’s is U.S. bound - Canada’s trade to the U.S. is worth $2 billion a day. To put it bluntly, without U.S. cooperation in trade, Canada would not easily survive. But an end to Canadian trade would matter little to the U.S. economy. We patrol the seas around Canada, protecting them from attack.
In June 2006, 17 were arrested in Toronto. They were al-Qaeda recruits and associates planning a bombing in Ontario which, as indicated from their confiscated materials, would have been three times as powerful as that of Oklahoma City. The CSIS told the Canadian Senate that “homegrown” terrorists - that is, young people recruited into al-Qaeda and other organizations and organizing attacks on Canadian soil within Canada - were a great concern.
Whatever they think of our policies with the War on Terror, they need to get serious about cooperating with us on security. Canada needs to get serious for its own sake, as well as for ours.