Think-tank says Canadians don’t take border security seriously enough

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WASHINGTON, DC — Canada has made progress on ensuring a safe border with the U.S., but still, there are delays and some Americans think they’re merely being humored about their security concerns.

A recent report released, based on interviews with officials from both countries and Mexico put forth by the Migration Policy Institute, a U.S. think-tank, said Canadians need to be convinced that the threat is not only to Americans or their economy but to themselves and their way of life.

The analysis of the Smart Border Accord, signed by the two countries to improve security after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. also had a message for Americans.

“The American public and its government needs to reduce its tendency to react unilaterally and needs at least to consider the interests of its neighbors when developing new policies.”

The 30-point accord, announced in December 2001, includes increased staffing and new technologies to screen vehicles and people, such as Nexus, which pre-screens and expedites low-risk travellers. Rail shipments will also be examined at seven locations.

Canada has poured an extra $5 billion into anti-terrorism measures, including border safety.

But while Canada has come a long way in co-ordinating policy and sharing information with the U.S., it is still more focused on its economy and facilitating people and goods than security, said the report.

About 200 million people cross the border each year. With $475 billion in annual two-way trade and 85 per cent of all Canadian exports going to the U.S., there’s a lot at stake.

But major frustrations still exist. Some people interviewed said the Canadian government raised privacy laws too much as an obstacle to sharing more information. Others noted a focus on the land border to the exclusion of air and sea ports and little knowledge of what occurs in rural areas and aboriginal land straddling the border.

Minnesota U.S. Attorney, Thomas Heffelfinger, said no amount of manpower could protect a border that includes parks, reserves, lakes and stretches of prairie. The U.S. is investigating sensors that detect vibrations, movement and sound.

The institute report made some recommendations to improve border security including:
– Hold trilateral meetings that include Mexico to facilitate the movement of workers, students and tourists in the three countries.
– Tackle the causes of frustrating border delays, one by one and properly fund the efforts.
– Develop a long-term vision of North American integration.
– Devise a way to measure changes at the border through inspections or a passenger analysis database.
– Educate public and bureaucrats about the benefits of co-operation and emphasize no one gets a free ride.

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