The terms of a border security agreement with the United States have not yet been negotiated, and Canadians should suspend their judgment. While the Department of Public Safety worries about public reaction, such concerns should not discourage negotiations. What matters will be in the fine print.
There is a great deal to recommend a perimeter security arrangement. The U.S. is not the only target for terrorists or other security threats; Canadians too are vulnerable. At the same time, the thickening of the U.S.-Canada border has harmed the economies of both countries. There would be no need to tighten the border if U.S. lawmakers could be assured that terrorists planning to slip into the U.S. via Canada could be stopped before ever entering this country. A deal that strengthens continental security while easing the flow of goods and individuals within the perimeter is a sensible objective, and a government that did not explore such an arrangement would be failing in its duty.
An agreement may be hard to reach. The two countries would have to harmonize visa and asylum rules along with screening and tracking procedures for people coming into the continent, and share data about the entry and exit of foreign nationals. Such measures would be a flashpoint for opposition. Simply put, U.S. foreign policy objectives are not always the same as Canada's, and the Department of Public Safety document rightly says, "The safeguarding of privacy and sovereignty will be of concern for Canadians."
Yet Canada and the U.S. already work very closely on continental security, from long-standing arrangements like NORAD to participation in the Container Security Initiative and joint Integrated Border Enforcement Teams to fight. Such co-operation is necessitated by the high level of trade between the two countries. According to a U.S. government website, the trade is "staggering ... the two-way trade that crosses the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit, Mich., and Windsor, Ont., equals all U.S. exports to Japan." In addition, some 300,000 people cross the border every day. But the key to Canadian public acceptance of a border security agreement may well come down to the willingness of the U.S. to ease post 9/11 border restrictions.