- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

Canada’s frustration

An exasperated Canadian ambassador is defending his country’s antiterrorism policy against constant criticism from Washington, where immigration hawks accuse Canada of poorly protecting the border with the United States.

Ambassador Michael Kergin complained in a letter to Canada’s main congressional critic, Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, who recently charged that Canada’s border controls are so weak that terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden could slip through if he shaved his beard.

A study last year by the Library of Congress supported Mr. Tancredo’s complaints.

“It has been a source of considerable frustration to Canadians to see themselves portrayed by public figures in the United States as ‘soft on terrorism,’” Mr. Kergin said in his March 11 letter, which the Canadian Embassy released yesterday.

Mr. Kergin told Mr. Tancredo that his letter was a response to the congressman’s recent remarks about Canadian border security.

“You have alleged that Canada’s immigration policies would easily allow Osama bin Laden or other terrorists to claim refugee status and use Canada as a gateway to the United States,” Mr. Kergin said. “You have also previously portrayed the Canadian border as ‘porous’ and claimed that Canadians are not ‘friendly when it comes to border-related issues.’”

The United States and Canada have the world’s longest border and the greatest daily bilateral trade between two nations. More than $1 billion in goods and services cross the border every day.

Mr. Kergin listed several joint U.S.-Canadian actions to prevent terrorists from using Canada as a backdoor to the United States. A December 2001 agreement established a 30-point action plan to identify and address security concerns. U.S.-Canadian security teams “have made numerous arrests” and are disrupting criminal networks, the ambassador said.

“On the Canadian side, illegal immigration is as great a concern as in the United States, despite the fact that Canada has many less undocumented persons, both proportionately and absolutely than the United States,” Mr. Kergin said.

“The fact is that Canadians will not tolerate terrorism, and terrorists are not welcome in our country.”

Mr. Tancredo angered Canadian officials when he said in a recent interview that bin Laden, who planned the September 11 attacks on the United States, could enter Canada and cross the border if he “shaved off his beard and called himself Omar the tentmaker.”

The Library of Congress study said illegal immigrants are attracted to Canada because of its “generous social-welfare system, immigration laws, infrequent prosecutions, light sentencing.” Canada’s “long borders and coastlines offer many points and methods of entry that facilitate movement to and from various countries, particularly the United States,” the study said.

‘Award to terror’

An Israeli Cabinet minister from a key religious party is in Washington to denounce plans by his own government to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and turn the land over to the Palestinians.

Housing Minister Effi Eitam, chairman of the National Religious Party, thinks Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is playing into the hands of Palestinian terrorists.

“I am continuing to spread the message that unilateral withdrawal will be an award to continued Palestinian Arab terror, and the current unilateral plan will not benefit the security, political or peace-process situation in the Middle East,” he said in a statement. “In fact, it will hurt the stability of Prime Minister Sharon’s government.”

Mr. Sharon has proposed a “disengagement” plan to pull out Israeli forces and dismantle Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Eitam’s party, a member of the ruling coalition, supports Jewish settlements as essential to the security of Israel.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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