Canada not interested in US border-fence initiative

Thu, 2005-12-22 11:53 AM

Canada has no interest in a new U.S. initiative to study building a security wall along the border, Canadian officials said. A cross-border business group said it makes no sense when what's urgently required are measures to speed the flow of trade.

The study "on the use of physical barriers" was slipped into an amendment to a bill on border security and illegal immigration passed Friday by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The amendment, sponsored by California Republican Duncan Hunter, also approved building security fences with lights and cameras along more than 1,000 km of the U.S.-Mexico border in four states to keep out illegal aliens and drugs.

The move comes amid heightened bilateral tensions arising from Canada's election campaign. But U.S. sources said it was prompted by southern U.S. politicians anxious to assure constituents they're not penalizing one border over another.

Alex Swann, spokesman for Canada's Public Safety minister Anne McLellan, said the U.S. administration has never discussed the notion with Canada during regular meetings on border security.

"This is not a priority for us," Swann said Saturday.


He insisted such a barrier would be impractical. Scotty Greenwood, executive director of the Canadian-American Business Council, said the study is a waste.

"It's an indication of a lack of understanding about what the true challenges are on the northern border," Greenwood said. "Just the fact that it would quietly pass is scary. They'll study it and it isn't going to be controversial.

Legislators should be focused instead on improving key border crossings like Windsor-Detroit—the world's busiest—and expanding programs that expedite the flow of people and goods like NEXUS and FAST, Greenwood said.

"Security, sure. But it should be smart security. One size does not fit all."

The entire border security bill, which includes other measures to tighten the southern border and stop illegal aliens from finding jobs, passed by a vote of 239-182.

Conservatives have long wanted to build a barrier along the Mexican border.

Although some Democrats compared it with the Berlin Wall in Germany, 50 party members supported the amendment to erect fences and direct the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to study doing the same on the Canadian border.

"You typically have these diplomatic-type protests that speak stupidly of the Great Wall in Canada or some other nutty comparison," Hunter told the National Conservative Weekly, noting there's already a 23-kim stretch of fence in San Diego.

"We're simply talking of having a real border and asking people when they want to come to the United States that they come in the front door."

Canada has long fought the perception it's a haven for terrorists, combatting the mistaken belief some of those involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks entered the U.S. from the north.

There also have been complaints from some U.S. legislators that Canadian immigration policies are too lax, although there are an estimated 50,000-120,000 people in Canada without legal status compared with more than eight million in the United States.