- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 23, 2001

Canada and the United States have been involved in a delicate dance since September 11. With an increase in border security measures, Canada's age-old fears that its sovereignty is being challenged have re-emerged in force. Now charged with strengthening the Canadian-American relationship is Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, who spent his first visit abroad last week trying to figure out how border security with Canada can be strengthened without hurting trade or Canadian feelings.
Their sensitivities would be challenged, however, despite being lauded for the unveiling of a substantial security package which will provide $4.8 billion for security measures over five years, $378 million of that going to border security. The sticking point, as both officials openly admitted, was a proposal to put American and Canadian customs and border agents on both sides of the border. The problem is, American agents carry guns, while their Canadian counterparts don't. For armed border agents ahem, American border guards to stand on the Canadian side is not just a legislative problem. It is viewed by Canadians as nothing less than an overt threat to their sovereignty.
Except, that is, by the Canadian agents themselves. The union representing customs officers is lobbying for arming the guards to be a requirement, and has hired an independent firm to study the problem. And no wonder. One wonders what said unarmed agents would do when the next Ahmed Ressam the Algerian who had been living illegally in Montreal and caught in 1999 at the Canadian-Washington border comes through with another trunk full of explosives. Ask nicely for the kind man to hand over the firecrackers?
Yet, as columnist Arnold Beichman aptly pointed out in a recent op-ed on these pages, that seems exactly what Mr. Chretien would have them do. "Let there be no doubt; we will allow no one to force us to sacrifice our values or traditions under the pressure of urgent circumstances," Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien told the House of Commons after the attack.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Manley has countered criticism from Canadians that the armed agents would amount to a loss of sovereignty, according to an interview with the Associated Press, and he has said the government will examine the issue. This it should do with haste. In these times of heightened alert, safety cannot be sacrificed to politics.

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