OTTAWA (CP) - Disappearing borders, a common security perimeter, synchronized immigration policy - almost everything is up for debate after the terrorists attacks in the United States, including Canadian sovereignty.
Some experts believe Canada has no choice but to accept much closer integration with the United States if it wants to stay within a new North American security perimeter. "History has happened and we have very little freedom to manoeuvre in this," historian Michael Bliss of the University of Toronto, said in an interview.
Bliss says increased security measures at the Canada-U.S. border, and the frustration they cause for travellers and shippers, provide a powerful motive for dropping illusions of Canadian sovereignty.
"If the Americans feel that our security policies are not as tough as theirs then they will implement theirs along the border," he said, "and we can't afford to have the border significantly tightened."
Prime Minister Jean Chretien has rejected suggestions by U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci for common immigration and security policies.
"We have to have security, but not at the expense of the people of the country," Chretien said Monday in Kitchener.
Asked Tuesday if there should be common immigration and refugee policies, Cellucci said: "It's certainly not a necessity."
Still, Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley has emphasized that Canada must be inside the North American security perimeter, not outside of it.
Laura Macdonald, director of the Centre on North American Politics and Society, said there are many unanswered questions about how a common security perimeter would work.
"The issues around getting rid of the border are so profound that we need to do a lot of thinking about it," she said, "and in particular we need a lot of public consultation."
For example, it's not clear whether Mexico would be included in such a security perimeter. Excluding Mexico would raise questions about efforts to improve trade relations, Macdonald said.
It would be difficult to synchronize immigration policies without also synchronizing foreign policy, she said.
"One very concrete issue would be Cuba. Would Canadians be allowed to go to Cuba? How would the U.S. treat Canadians who had been to Cuba?"
She questioned whether border security can stop terrorism, noting that the United States has not been able to stop the flow of illegal migrants from Mexico despite devoting massive resources to border control.
Canada would also be hard-pressed to maintain its gun control policies if the border were erased, she added.
"It's a big problem, but I think the Canadian government has to sit down with the U.S. government and figure out what exactly are they asking us to do . . . and what are going to be the impacts."
Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, had rare praise for Prime Minister Jean Chretien's performance in the crisis.
"I can't believe I'm being supportive of Chretien but I actually think he's taking the right tack. He's acting with caution, he's an old hand here, he's been around the block.
"I think Chretien 's caution comes from a deep instinct in him not to give up Canada and not to give up our own way of reacting to things."
She said if Ottawa agrees to "erase" the border, Canada will be seen around the world as having merged with the United States.
"It would be the worst of all worlds. We would have no influence over American foreign and economic policy, but we would have to accept fallout from whatever policies they have."
Bliss says Canada could erase the border without losing its identity, and he points to the European Union as a model.
But Barlow noted there is no discussion of a new North American governing body like that of the EU in Brussels. Rather, the discussion revolves around Canada basically embracing U.S. security policies.
"We're not talking about a joint secure border where we would have equal influence in establishing the conditions and the principles and so on.
"We would just have to live with whatever standards and conditions were set, and whoever is America's enemies would be Canada's enemies."
Cellucci, who was in Toronto on Tuesday, said Canada and the United States would each make their own determinations about how many immigrants they would take in.
"To the extent that some of the visa requirements were a little more consistent, that would be helpful," he said, but there is no need to change independent external relations.
"These are two sovereign countries; we're not going to be exactly the same on everything but on the issue of security, we are going to be the same."
There is consensus on one point: free movement of goods and people across the border is vital for Canada's economic survival.
"If you want to drive Canadians toward union with the United States," Bliss said, "the way to do it is get into a mess where border trade is disrupted and our economy is crippled . . . and people give up on Canada."
© 2001 Canadian Press
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