A top Homeland Security official says he believes the time will come when Canada and the United States have a joint organization to handle border controls – what he described as a "NORAD border."
Within hours, however, the Prime Minister's Office was distancing itself from the comments.
North American Aerospace Defence Command is a unified U.S.-Canada effort to protect continental airspace. Headquartered in Colorado, it was first created during the Cold War to deal with the threat of missile- or bomber-borne nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union.
The commander of NORAD, however, is always an American, while the deputy commander is always Canadian. Rotating shifts, though, regularly put Canadians in operational command of North American airspace.
Alan Bersin, assistant secretary of international affairs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, spoke to an Ottawa audience Friday about efforts to flesh out a perimeter security deal between Canada and the United States.
He's also the department's chief diplomatic officer and until recently he served as the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Mr. Bersin was asked if he foresaw a day when both countries could agree on a bi-national institution to handle border matters – one that preserved each other's sovereignty but where one official was in charge, regardless of whether they were Canadian or American.
He called NORAD and co-operation over the St. Lawrence Seaway good examples of joint effort between the two countries.
"We have to actually get back to that mentality," the U.S. official said. "While it will take a while – and while we develop mechanisms to respect sovereignty, but also recognize where it is we need to blend our energies – I believe that time will come."
He added: "Why should we have separate admissibility processes … if, in fact, North American security would suggest that a Canadian and a U.S. immigrations and customs official ought to be working together to clear people in Frankfurt who are coming into Canada, to clear them such that they would be able then to come seamlessly across [the joint border into]the United States."
This will take effort, he warned.
"To say that is to show how far we have to get there: to build the NORAD border," Mr. Bersin said. "But I think that is the vision that will drive this co-operation, recognizing there are many intermediate steps."
The Prime Minister's Office, however, said this did not reflect their intentions.
"Our plan is clear that it respects each nation's sovereignty and those comments are not compatible with that vision," said Andrew MacDougall, associate director of communications.
Mr. Bersin declined to elaborate on his remarks after his address.
Canada and the United States are currently negotiating to work out the details of a December, 2011, perimeter security deal.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to slap stricter security on travellers and goods in Canada's latest attempt to secure a new border deal with the United States – one that would expedite trade across an American frontier that has grown congested with anti-terror measures since 9/11.
Mr. Harper announced last December that Canada plans to track entries and exits as part of a perimeter security pact with the United States. The deal requires Canadians to march in lockstep with Americans on threat monitoring.
In return for these concessions, President Barack Obama's administration agreed to remove obstacles plaguing Canadian businesses at the border – a payoff that Mr. Harper is betting will mean increased commerce, jobs and economic growth.