Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Excellent opinion in the Ottawa Citizen.

Fear not, Canada

Fear not, Canada

Working to allow greater movement between Canada and the U.S. enhances, rather than threatens, our sovereignty, writes James Bissett.

By James Bissett, Citizen Special
February 14, 2011

It was inevitable that the opposition parties and much of the media would immediately express fear that Canada's sovereignty might be compromised by the possibility of a new border agreement with the United States. This claim centres on fears that our privacy might be invaded and our generous refugee and immigration systems forced to undergo reform.

These fears are misguided if not mischievous.

The proposed agreement poses no threat to Canadian sovereignty. Sovereignty is the expression of a state's ultimate power to decide on its own about matters affecting the national interest. A sovereign state exercises its power in a variety of ways, such as deciding to go to war or entering into treaty arrangements with other countries such as the proposed common security perimeter with our neighbours to the south.

If there is a real threat to Canadian sovereignty it rests with our inability to control our own border. One of the primary expressions of a nation's sovereignty is the power to decide who may or may not enter its territory and also the power to remove those who are not legal residents or citizens.

Our power in this regard has been seriously compromised by a refugee system that permits anyone from any country to apply for refugee status if they enter our territory, and by so doing get to remain here even if they are found not to be refugees. Our sovereignty has also been threatened by our inability to remove terrorists or serious criminals if by so doing they might face mistreatment or persecution. If the new border proposal can help us -- among other things -- regain sovereign control of our border, then it deserves wholehearted support.

Canada already has a free-trade agreement with the United States and a common defence shield under the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD). It would seem only natural and beneficial to both countries to establish a common security policy. The idea is not new. It was first suggested by the former U.S. ambassador to Canada, Gordon Giffin, in October 2000 (before 9/11) as a logical next step in the effort to maintain the safety and security of the citizens of both countries.

Three months after the events of 9/11, in December 2001, Canada and the United States signed the Smart Border Declaration that established the framework designed to harmonize our security strategy in the light of possible terrorist attacks against targets in both countries.

The declaration involved, among other things: agreement on the designation of terrorist organizations, the removal of people ordered deported from either country, the sharing of intelligence information, advance passenger information, the freezing of assets of organizations suspected of financing terrorist activities, and recognizing each country as "safe" for certain categories of refugees.

These arrangements go a long way in the direction of common security co-operation and present no threat to the sovereignty of either country.

Many Canadians deeply resent the perception common among many U.S. politicians that Canada presents a serious security threat and they attribute this erroneous assumption to the militarization of the border and the slowing down of commercial and tourist traffic.

Many Americans, on the other hand, believe that Canada is the weak link in matters of security and point to our wide-open refugee system that permits thousands of asylum seekers to enter the country each year without any form of screening. They also are aware that after 9/11 the potentially most serious terrorist threat to the United States came from a former asylum seeker from Canada whose plan to blow up the Los Angeles airport was luckily averted.

These differences of view should not be allowed to obstruct the formation of a common security perimeter that will be of enormous benefit to both countries. If such an agreement is realized it will put an end to these mutual apprehensions and return us to the former "good neighbour" policy that was the envy of much of the world.

The 27-member European Union has done away with internal borders and has established a common perimeter to control the entry of noncitizens. By recognizing the European Community as a single entry point for all of its members, it has been able to concentrate its focus on internal security and enhance its efforts to combat terrorist threats. The free movement of people and goods has in turn facilitated trade and commerce among the member states.

The agreement between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama to move forward towards a security perimeter for the two nations is a historic moment. We should not allow partisan domestic politics or the spurious threat to our sovereignty prevent it from happening.

James Bissett is a former Canadian ambassador and member of the advisory board of the Centre for Immigration Reform.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, and U.S. President Barack Obama have announced an agreement to work toward a joint security perimeter. Many Canadians are worried the deal poses a threat to our sovereignty and privacy.Photograph by: Larry Downing, Reuters, Citizen Special

No comments: