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Winter is Coming

The enforcement of a recent Florida law forcing international drivers to apply for and carry an international driver’s license (in addition to their Canadian license) was recently indefinitely shelved after public outcry from Canadian snowbirds. Some legally astute Canadians quickly brought to the attention of U.S. officials that the law may be in violation of the Geneva Convention (not THOSE Geneva Conventions, but the 1949 Convention on Road Traffic). In an about-face, a spokesperson for the DMV added that the law wasn’t intended for Canadians, but for foreign-language permits, and added that “[Floridians] love our Canadians and we want you to come visit!” (

However, foreign language licenses are not the only threat from the North that Americans fear, and may not be the only reasons Canadians don’t feel like they are so welcome to visit. It is an increasingly accepted belief among politicians that the Canadian border is a far greater security threat in regards to terrorism than the Mexican-American border ( In part, this has to do with Canada’s relatively liberal immigration policy. Before 9/11, this led to polite nudges to Canadians, such as a statement made in Congress that “our friends to the north, the Canadians, are good neighbors but I must tell you that I too am troubled by their liberal immigration policies.” After 9/11, the statements have been much stronger. According to the Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin, “we have had more cases where people who are suspected of alliances with terrorist organizations, or have had a terrorist suspicion in their background – we see more people crossing over from Canada than we have from Mexico.” One US Senator, Byron Dorgan (D) described the security concern this way:

“We have a 4,000-mile border between the United States and Canada, with 128 ports of entry, and 100 of them are not staffed at night. At 10 o’clock at night, the security between the United States and Canada is an orange rubber cone, just a big old orange rubber cone. It cannot talk. It cannot walk. It cannot shoot. It cannot tell a terrorist from a tow truck. It is just a big fat dumb rubber cone sitting in the middle of the road.”

Republican Rep. Tod Tancredo remarked that “Osama bin Laden, could land in Ontario, claim he is Osama the tent maker… and walk unfettered probably into the United States.”

After 9/11, the United States implemented a series of border changes that significantly beefed up border security, and slowed down US-Canada border crossing. (see an exhaustive list here: But how real is this national security threat, and are the measures the United States has taken worth the costs? The costs are certainly staggering. The number of overnight and same day trips have decreased 53%. The numbers persisted into 2011, with the number of visitors down 5.1% for same-day trips and 4.2% for overnight trips from 2010. ( Unfortunately, the economic relationship between the United States and Canada has been seriously jeopardized by the post-9/11 “security first” idea. While Americans remain frustrated at the TSA and long and intrusive airport checkpoints, the Canada-US border suffers similar drawbacks with little to no public reaction. But “border thickening”, the phenomenon whereby national borders become increasingly impermeable for travelers due to enhanced security measures, may cost both America and Canada far more economically than it delivers in terms of security.

Besides the prohibitive economic costs, what exactly are the benefits? Are Americans really safer because of a thicker border with Canada? First of all, where exactly are all these terrorists? Because Canada loves freedom, democracy, and equality for women just as much as Americans do. We, too, were in Afghanistan. We support (sometimes even more vocally than the United States) Israel. If Osama-the-tent-maker can’t get into the US, wouldn’t he want to take out some Canadian targets as a consolation prize for making it through the trans-Atlantic trip? The latest attempt at protecting the border provides some hope. The US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced the “Beyond the Border” action plan, introducing a vision of perimeter security rather than border security. Perhaps we did learn something from Andre Maginot after all. The Declaration, found here (, has one central tenet regarding border security: Continental perimeter security and improving the efficiency of border management. Perhaps this kind of teamwork really will increase national (and indeed continental) security, without the damaging effects we have seen our shared border cause over the past decade.


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