The head of U.S. homeland security has resurrected the menacing image of terrorists from Canada sneaking into the U.S. to blow up American cities, a scenario he suggests would prompt an immediate border shutdown.
Michael Chertoff ’s comments are a setback for Canadian officials who have repeatedly tried in recent years to dispel the notion that Canada is a “safe haven” for terrorists ready and waiting to exploit a porous northern border to attack the U.S.
As recently as late 2005, some U.S. politicians and commentators were still making the inaccurate claim that some of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, snuck into the U.S. from Canada.
In his strong comments to the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board, Mr. Chertoff appeared aggravated by complaints from border communities that upcoming U.S. requirements for passports or other secure travel documents at land crossings will harm trade, commerce and tourism.
“We want to be able to strengthen our protection at the border,” Mr. Chertoff told the newspaper board Tuesday, referring to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.
It will require Canadians and Americans entering the U.S. across land borders to carry a passport or biometrically secure identification by next summer, at the earliest.
“All this seems reasonable, but all I’ve heard in the last six months are complaints about this,” Mr. Chertoff continued, in comments posted on the newspaper’s website Wednesday. “I heard complaints about people from the northern border who say, ‘Well, it’s going to make it less convenient and that’s going to affect our business.’
“I say ‘Well, what do you think is going to happen to your business when a guy comes across the border with a phoney document and blows up a target in Buffalo or in Detroit?’
“Do you think that the American public is going to then allow the border to remain open or are they going to suddenly clamp down?”
The Windsor-Detroit border crossing is Canada’s busiest. The Buffalo-Fort Erie crossing is third.
The U.S. secretary for homeland security also came under sharp criticism Wednesday after saying he had a hunch America would be the target of a major al-Qaida attack this summer. In remarks to the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board, Mr. Chertoff said his assessment was based on past summertime terror plots, increased al-Qaida training activities in south Asia, and a recent spike in public statements by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command.
“All of these things have given me a gut feeling that we are in a period of vulnerability,” he said. “Not that I have a specific threat that I have right now but … I want to be somewhat more vigilant.”
President George W. Bush quickly distanced himself from Mr. Chertoff ’s remarks, with spokesman Tony Fratto saying “there continues to be no credible, specific intelligence to suggest that there is an imminent threat to the homeland.”
A spokesman for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said the province will leave any request for clarification and official response to Mr. Chertoff ’s remarks to the federal government. Federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day could not be reached.
The U.S. domestic security czar also repeated his recent comment that high-security driver’s licences, which Ontario is planning to introduce next year, could be used instead of a passport. A U.S. pilot project in Washington state to test the concept is to start in January.
“We want to get to a position with the land border that we don’t require a passport, but that would require one of maybe half a dozen kinds of secure identification comparable to a passport … a passport, a similar card called the passcard issued by the state department, or driver’s licences that comply, again, with the standards of a passport.” (The state department’s Passport Card would use radio frequency identification technology to link to a U.S. government database containing a traveller’s biographical data and a photograph.)
…this post forwarded by a Windsor Humanist (Neil.Hod.) after a July 12, 2007 article by Ian MacLeod in The Ottawa Citizen