Two seemingly unrelated stories caught my eye in my morning scan through the news at the Globe And Mail newspaper's web site. One was the head of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff's decision to ignore the wishes of Congress and toughen identification requirements for Canadians entering the United States. The other was the shooting death of an innocent bystander, Hou Chang Mao, on the streets of Toronto.
While at first glance the stories would appear to have nothing in common, there is a certain amount of irony in the fact they appeared on the same day. In the first instance, Mr. Chertoff deemed the threat of terrorist activity with origins in Canada real enough that all Canadians entering the United States, and American's returning to Canada, will not only have to carry identification providing proof of citizenship, but an official document, like a driver's licence, bearing their photograph as well.
While Mr. Chertoff doesn't believe these steps will do anything to prevent terrorists from crossing over into Canada he claims that the steps need to be taken now to protect Canada from any backlash if there were a terror attack against the United States. According to him because steps to beef up security are being taken now, if an event happens that can be traced back to Canada, there won't be an overreaction, a demand to shut the border completely.
While I'm sure all Canadians are grateful for his concern for our reputation – I know I am – I fail to see the logic in his statement. If a terrorists were still able to get through in spite of his so-called beefed up security, wouldn't that increase calls for even tighter security, if not a closing of the border? He freely admits that he believes al-Qaeda is actively recruiting people with Western European and Canadian identities in order to circumvent the very obstacles he is suggesting as stepped up security measures, so his logic escapes me.
Funnily enough, border security is on the minds of Toronto, Ontario area politicians as well. For the second time in a week, an innocent bystander was killed in a gun battle on the city's streets. Not only has this led to calls for the federal government to ban private ownership of handguns, or at least increase prison sentences for crimes committed with them, but for increased border security to stop the flow of illegal weaponry from the States into Canada.
While handguns aren't illegal in Canada, they are no where near as readily available, or as accessible, here as they are in the United States. This has led to the creation of the idea that there is a constant flow of illegal weapons crossing into Canada from the United States. Whether it's justified or not, this has led to the vision of cars with false bottomed trunks stuffed with side arms streaming across the border supplying Canada's criminal class with the means to stage fire fights on our peaceful streets.
You'd think that with politicians from both sides of the border wanting relatively the same things, assurances that their populations aren't under threat from the other country, that they could come up with a common plan that would work for both of them. But on this side of the border politicians are expressing concerns that asking people to show two pieces of identification instead of one, will cause irreparable harm to business and disrupt the travel plans of Canadians.
Maybe I'm a bit slow, but since these new border requirements are going to be for land crossings only, and a great many people drive from Canada into the United States, how much of a hardship will it be to have to present your driver's licence as well as your birth certificate when crossing the border. I can't see how a border guard looking at two pieces of identification instead of one, is going to, in the words of Canadian Trade Minister David Emerson, "significantly hurt cross border trade".
If that will impede crossing the border significantly, what do people think that any measures taken to prevent hand guns crossing the border the other way would do? The only way you're going to stop someone from hiding a cache of weapons in their vehicle and taking it across the border is to either know about it in advance or x-ray every car that enters Canada. I can't see even the most zealous of Canadian politicians supporting that last suggestion, as it is bound to have a negative impact on the tourist trade.
So, there's the quandary that our poor politicians have created for themselves. On the one hand they all want to have a free and easy access to each others markets, but on the other hand they both have developed scenarios wherein the other country is depicted as being a threat to security. In their efforts to find somebody to blame for their problems – Canada's lax immigration laws allow terrorists easy access to targets in the United States and America's lax gun laws are flooding the streets of Canada with weaponry – they have created an even bigger problem for themselves: how to be seen to be doing something about the problem they invented without making their solution another problem.
Perhaps they should have been looking for a real solution to their problems in the first place instead of being so quick to blame someone else. What were the root causes of the terrorist attacks (not the reasons spouted by the leadership of al Qaeda but the real ones) and what could be done to address them, and why has there been such an increase in violence in the streets of Toronto? In fact, it's one of the saddest commentaries on the whole state of affairs, how two friends like Canada and the United States find it so easy to point the finger of blame at each other for their problems.
Something amazing happened in Canada on September 11th, 2001. With American air space closed and flights cancelled there were Americans stranded in Canadian airports all across the country. In every city with an airport people took it upon themselves to drive out to the airport to invite people home with them for the night. To offer comfort to a friend in trouble.
I think politicians on both sides of the border need to remember things like that before they start making wild accusations about who's responsible for what. America is no more responsible for violence in the streets of Toronto than Canada is responsible for terrorist attacks on the United States. Closing the border between our two countries won't change the fact that either event happened or prevent similar events from happening in the future.