Common border zone proposed

June 17, 2004

17 June 2004

Common border zone proposed

The following article is excerpted from the 17 June 2004 edition of the “Toronto Star”.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is proposing "binational" zones at Canada-U.S. border crossings, a move to speed commerce between the two countries but one that would allow American Homeland Security officers to carry weapons on Canadian soil.

In a speech to the Canadian-American Business Council here, McGuinty said the concept of shared ground between the two nations is both "pro-trade and anti-terrorism."

Under the McGuinty proposal, trucks would be pre-cleared at a prescribed zone away from the border so the trucks are not fighting the same bottleneck of travellers crossing the border for pleasure trips, an Ontario official said. The distance from the border would be determined by existing infrastructure and the available land, he said.

Although ideally the zones could clear traffic for both border crossings in a return trip, the official with McGuinty said it might be hard to get approval from both Ottawa and Washington.

The Premier's concept won applause from the business group and McGuinty then took it to a meeting with U.S. Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge.

McGuinty and Ridge discussed the binational zone and other security issues for 45 minutes and a McGuinty aide said later the U.S. security chief responded positively to the proposal.

McGuinty said he would raise it with Ottawa after the June 28 election.

"I know there is some sensitivity on the part of some Canadians to U.S. personnel carrying weapons on our soil," he said.

But he told reporters later that the public interest should override that concern and an accommodation could be reached.

The concept is modelled after the airport pre-clearance system that ensures Canadian travellers do not end up in long customs lines when they arrive at their U.S. destinations.

At Canadian airports, the U.S. agents are not armed because they are considered to be there as guests of Canada.

However, Canadian security officials are armed.

Travellers to the U.S. are pre-cleared at airports in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Calgary.

U.S. officers at land crossings between the two countries, known formally as U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers, are armed and remain on the American side of the border. U.S. agents have cited security concerns in refusing to give up their arms if they were allowed on Canadian soil….

Maryscott Greenwood, the executive director of the Canadian-American Business Council, said McGuinty's proposal was very well received at a meeting after the Premier's speech.
"Without any dissent, it was thought to be a great idea. Everyone was glad he was raising it," Greenwood said.

McGuinty cited an Ontario Chamber of Commerce report showing delays at the Canada-U.S. border cost both countries more than $13 billion annually and Ontario bears the cost of 40 per cent of these delays.

The cost of those delays works out to $1,100 per Ontario taxpayer per year, he said….

McGuinty said the federal government would be open to discussing his proposal and he said Quebec would also likely embrace his idea. …

The previous Conservative government in Ontario proposed a similar idea shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and even threatened to go it alone and issue weapons permits to U.S. officers over Ottawa's objections.

Canadian Economy & Politics
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Canadian News Channel
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