U.S., Canada must both step up to border challenge

President Bush is trying to ease the strains on U.S.-Canadian relations caused by the Sept. 11 attacks on America and people from around the world.

The president and Canada’s prime minister, Jean Chretien, met at the White House on Monday. They issued conciliatory statements, particularly from Mr. Bush who strongly praised the effforts of the Canadian government against terrorism.

From British Columbia to eastern Canada, the attacks have brought long waits at border crossings. Waits of several hours are common for people trying to enter Washington state near Vancouver, British Columbia.

For areas on both sides of the border, that creates economic problems. In Canada, long lines for trucks also is having an impact on the nation’s overall scale of exports to the United States.

Some of the problem — and the solution — lies with America. Recent administrations have been shockingly inattentive to the needs for greater staffing at customs checkpoints. . Even in good times, there were often 30 minute to half-hour waits on the understaffed U.S. side of the border with Canada. Much of the trouble was because we had shifted so many personnel to the Mexican border (in the aftershock of Sept. 11, the exact motive of that obsession must seem a little obscure even to those politicians who were most worried about hard-working, decent Mexican immigrants).

Now, in a crisis, the northern border must be tightened. Since we are starting from such a weak point, the belated U.S. efforts are having severe impacts on people living along both sides of the border. There should be some help, however, from the $20 million that is being sent as emergency help to the U.S. Customs Service.

Canada, however, has much to do itself to improve security against terrorism. Its lax practices with regard to immigrants have created a situation in which Canadian security officials say there are 4,000 people known to be associated with terrorists organizations as scattered as the Irish Republican Army and the Tamil Tigers. A good number are associated with Middle Eastern organizations. Chretien is working on some changes, although he appears rather sadly eager to avoid offending the sector of Canadians who jump at any chance to complain that the United States is bossing them around.

As sovereign nations, Canada and the United States have to make their own decisions. We Americans can hardly pretend that we have some perfect immigration system to guide the Canadians, who often deserve credit for their compassionate decisions along with the criticism for their laxness. But by strengthening our own border staffing and maintaining friendly ties to a great neighbor, we can work with Canada to improve both countries’ mutual security.

President Bush is doing what he can to help the relationship. His country will expect Chretien’s government to move forward as well.

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