Sorting out Canada

Let's catch terrorists but maintain some border sanity.

Funny that less than a month after hosting the free trade world's fair in Seattle known as the WTO, our free trade-friendly congressional delegation is crying for more cops to tighten up our own borders. Specifically, they want more border patrol agents working the US-Canada border to protect us from the latest scourge of the North: terrorists and unwanted immigrants.

I remember when the US-Canada border was touted in schools for being the longest and oldest "unprotected" border in the world, a tranquil state symbolized by the Blaine Peace Arch, which is engraved with the words "Children of a Common Mother" to remind us that both countries have European—particularly British—roots.

Our neighbor to the north has long been regarded as a benign presence. Sure, there's been smuggling of wool, booze during Prohibition, opium, Chinese workers, and more recently the best pot money can buy (estimated to be a $1 billion to $4 billion industry, largely controlled, the Mounties say, by that once all-American group of World War II vets who have seized on globalism with a vengeance, the Hell's Angels). Why is the bud business so big in British Columbia? The laws are lax by US standards, and the border has plenty of relatively unwatched crossings, including the one that links Boundary Road in the US with the aptly named Zero Avenue in Canada.

According to US Border Patrol agent Jack Bacogus, speaking to Seattle Weekly in 1998, the booming marijuana market is "just like any type of international commerce. It'll take the path of least resistance. And let me tell you: This border doesn't resist much." Perhaps our state's free-traders should consider removing the "tariffs" of punishment from pot and legalize the trade, thus eliminating some of the need for more manpower, more high-tech surveillance equipment, and a newly armed border. They might make some free trade converts in the process. Heck, we might be able to steal away their whole industry. That giant sucking sound? People smoking Washington-grown weed!

The border has always been problematic and only relatively recently settled. In the late 19th century, the current line was drawn, giving the US the San Juan Islands and finalizing the shape of the lower 48 states. That boundary dispute ended the so-called Pig War, a disagreement between American settlers and the British (in the guise of the Hudson's Bay Company) on San Juan Island. The only casualties were the now-famous slab of Canadian bacon and a few drunken Royal Marines who drowned during the joint US/British occupation of the island.

Such disputes are common throughout the Northwest's history: We are also the children of trade wars. The first explorers, like Sir Francis Drake, came to our shores seeking trade shortcuts like the mythical Northwest Passage, in order to control international trade. The British later risked a war with Spain to retain access to the lucrative sea otter market, essential for trade with China. The Americans, French, and British fought over the fur trade, the impetus for much of the exploration and settlement of the continent.

In light of our dynamic and young history, it's truly surprising that the current border has remained relatively quiet for so long, a kind of backwater boundary that cuts through small towns and vast stretches of wilderness where the two countries are separated by little more than a ditch, or nothing at all. What we once celebrated is now, apparently, a problem.

Canada has been known to export various terrors against which there is little protection: bad drivers, bad beer, Victoria's sewage, Celine Dion. But now it is becoming known for real terrorists and a steady flow of illegal "aliens." Forget "Children of a Common Mother," Canada is now a net exporter of dangerous foreigners, and nothing scares us like illegal Chinese hordes or suspicious Arabs.

And it didn't all start just a few weeks ago in Port Angeles. In 1996-97, an Arab named Abu Mezer was caught trying to sneak into the US at Blaine three times in less than a year. He was finally caught in Brooklyn later in '97, where he was planning to blow up a New York subway (he was later convicted in the plot). Articulating then fears that many are feeling now, Whatcom County Sheriff Dale Brandland, who has testified about northern border issues before Congress, said, "I am very fearful that we're going to have a major terrorist incident in this country before we do something about immigration laws. That's my greatest fear, that we'll have some sort of major catastrophe." Fears of that kind led to Mayor Paul Schell's cancellation of Seattle's millennial celebration at Seattle Center. The only way to deal with foreigners, apparently, is to throw up your hands!

So the pressure is on now for Canada to get tough on immigration (and therefore terrorism), and for the US to man the northern border as we have our southern one. Already the rhetoric is cranking up. Canada has become "Club Med for terrorists," says one Canadian cop. A recent report from Canada's own intelligence service said that as many as 500 terrorist groups have taken root in Canada, seeking a "safe haven." The Seattle Times has described the border as "leaky." Apparently, their melting pot is trickling down into ours, and we don't like the mix.

That Canada should somehow conform to our policy desires seems logical for those in America who regard the country as the future 51st state. It is reminiscent of the time when the American battle cry was "54-40 or fight," suggesting the American border should be at Alaska. At that latitude, the only illegals would be caribou.

But the border is a more complicated issue than big stickism. We shouldn't let the fear of terrorism, nor a law enforcement agenda, color our entire border policy, which involves trade, tourism, and shared resources. We do need to catch real bombers, but it's a huge advantage to both countries to have that long, friendly border between us rather than a militarized zone keeping us apart.

 
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