Thursday, January 16, 2003

Over the last two weeks, front page reports have trumpeted the claim of “Five Terrorists Heading to the US From Canada,”and several self-appointed experts and analysts have stated or implied that Canada is the “Achilles heel” of US homeland security. Yet last Tuesday, the FBI announced that the account of the five entering the United States was fabricated and withdrew the photos of the five from its website.

This is not the first time that Canada has been falsely accused of harboring terrorists and allowing its space to be used as a launching pad for a potential attack on the United States. Immediately after the September 11 attacks, media reports flashed around the world stating that several (and in some reports, all) of the 19 hijackers entered the United States from the northern border. We now know that all of the terrorists entered the United States directly from overseas with US-issued documents. None of the terrorists came from Canada.

As these inaccurate reports pile up, they foster and nourish a false impression among Americans that Canada is an unreliable security partner. These media-driven impressions simply do not match the reality of the security arrangements that are in place on your Northern border, nor do they take into account the many actions that Canada and the US have initiated jointly and individually in the campaign against terrorism since September 11.

Within weeks of September 11, the Canadian parliament approved a budget increase of more than $5 billion dedicated to improving security at Canada’s borders.

In the past fifteen months, Canada has taken strong measures that will keep out people who pose a threat to North America. This is as much in our interest as it is in yours. Simply put, Canadians will not tolerate terrorism and terrorists are not welcome in our country. Immigration regulations have been put in place to tighten refugee determination policies and impose harsher penalties for those using or selling false documents. Extra immigration control officers have been hired and posted oversees to interdict terrorists before they are able to get into North America. As a result, nearly 8,000 individuals were prevented from boarding flights destined for Canada last year.

As part of the Smart Border process put in place by the U.S. homeland security director, Tom Ridge, and Canada’s deputy prime minister, John Manley, our two countries have set up new Integrated Border Enforcement Teams (IBETs) to cooperate in guarding our shared borders and increase cooperation between law enforcement, intelligence and border enforcement agencies. Eleven of the fourteen teams planned are now in place and they are effectively disrupting criminal networks attempting to smuggle illegal migrants across the border. They have made numerous arrests.

This is only a partial list of what Canada has done to enhance security at the border. But unfortunately, the good news isn’t as gripping and these initiatives rarely make the front page or the evening news.

It is impossible to give a 100 percent guarantee that no terrorists will ever enter from Canada sadly, no Western country is free from terrorist threats and infiltration. This is part of the price we pay for living in democratic, open societies. But what is encouraging is that Canadian and American resolve and ongoing cooperation between agencies in our two countries still represent the best bet for our common security and dramatically increase the odds of our winning the war against terrorism.

That is the good news for all of us.

Michael Kergin is Canada’s Ambassador to the United States.

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