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The bitter debate about American security prompted Canada's emissaries in Washington to prepare for another round of defending the world's longest undefended border on Monday, as the longest government shutdown in U.S. history lurched into its fourth week.
Ambassador David MacNaughton said he's relishing the chance to talk to U.S. lawmakers about the area where the relationship between the two countries is at its best: managing shared security concerns.
"I'd say it's more of an opportunity than a problem," MacNaughton said in an interview. "It allows us to talk about the degree of security co-operation that we have, a phenomenal working relationship."
He cited in particular a program known as Shiprider (officially it's the Integrated Cross-border Maritime Law Enforcement Operations program) in which law enforcement officials from both countries team up on board Canadian and U.S. vessels alike to more seamlessly enforce North American laws in the waters of either country.
"There's all sorts of good-news stories for us to talk about, and that's something we should be doing — we shouldn't shy away from that," MacNaughton said.
Neither President Donald Trump nor Democrat leaders on Capitol Hill have shown any hint of movement in the impasse over the White House request for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall or barrier along the southern U.S. border. Democrats won't pass a government-funding bill with the money in it; Trump says he won't sign one without it. As a result, the federal government has been partially shut down since Dec. 22, a state of limbo that on Saturday officially became the longest in the country's history.
But even with all the scrutiny and political energy focused southward, Politico reported Sunday that a key Democrat on the House National Security Committee wants to make sure that when it comes to keeping Americans safe, the northern border doesn't get overlooked.
"Where is it that, you know, there's porous areas in our homeland security structure?” Rep. Lou Correa, a California Democrat, told the news site. "I think looking at the Canadian border is definitely a place I want to go."
It wasn't always thus: fears of "thickening" the Canada-U.S. border reached a fever pitch in the months and years that followed the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, thanks to erroneous claims that the al-Qaida attackers, all legal residents of the United States, had entered the country through Canada.
"It took us a long time to beat back the story about the 9/11 guys coming from Canada," MacNaughton acknowledged.
And yet even if some in the U.S. harbour lingering public misconceptions about Canada and national security, recent reports suggest that the northern border poses a far greater threat to Americans than does the southern border, at least when it comes to terrorism.
Data provided to Congress last year showed that between October 2017 and April 2018, Customs and Border Protection officials intercepted six times as many people on a U.S. terror-suspect database trying to enter the country from Canada as they did coming from Mexico, NBC News reported last week. Even so, Trump has threatened repeatedly to declare a national emergency on the southern border, a threat he's backed away from in recent days.
Chris Sands, director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University, said if Congress does indeed start looking more closely at operations at the Canada-U.S. threshold, he fears the risk of resources being redirected to the southern border for political imperatives.
"If Congress were to focus on the northern border, what they'll find is that we've made more promises than we've delivered. What I'm afraid they'll do is then decide that there's money there anyway, so maybe we can divert," Sands said.
"If we're almost going to declare a presidential national emergency, or whatever, then of course you could see the justification — 'Well, Mexico's the bigger concern, so let's move some money.' But the experience we've had on the northern border is that once you do that, it takes a long time to get back to the old level of normal."