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In Praise of Passports and Nice, Thick Borders

June 2, 2009

My co-blogger CanWorldJon has a cynical (but not that cynical) take on the new US border requirements: perhaps they’re basically just a “cash grab for government and government-friendly companies like Nexus”. I have no trouble believing that this a big part of what’s going on, but on another level America’s decision to tighten up its borders is just a straightforward if arguably unnecessary security and sovereignty measure.

The threat of terrorism may be grossly exaggerated, but there really is a long-standing problem with drug-running and people smuggling from Canada to the US, and it stands to reason that requiring passports or other relatively secure forms of ID may cut down on this activity. Similarly, the new rules may reduce the numbers of guns, drugs and illegal cigarettes that cross the border in the opposite direction. Americans still won’t need a passport to get into Canada, but they’ll need one to return, so in practice border security should improve from our perspective as well.

It’s a modest benefit, perhaps, but the costs are modest too. Some people who have never needed a passport before will have to obtain one, and crossing the border will involve a bit more hassle. There will be some effect on cross-border tourism and trade, although it’s hard to say how much. However, many Canadians who decry “thickening” of the border appear to be thinking in terms that are more psychological than practical. After all, America is a close ally and trading partner, and supposedly a friend. How can the US government, especially under Saint Obama the Transformative, be so rude as to suddenly declare that Canadians are no longer welcome to traipse across the border with only bare proof of citizenship?

Jon linked to a Buffalo newspaper that mirrored this attitude by warning that Americans should now “think of Canada as a foreign country”. Well, better late than never, but surely the time for that was 1783, when the American Revolution ended. Canada and the United States have been separate countries ever since, and showing a passport when you visit another country is de rigueur except in cases of “pooled sovereignty” (ugh) such as the European Union. Besides which, a slightly thickened border and a larger number of people with passports can only lessen Canada’s unhealthy dependence on the United States and lead to greater engagement with the rest of the world.


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One Comment leave one →
  1. canworldjon permalink*
    June 2, 2009 4:27 pm

    Great post, Corwin. You make a good case for tighter border controls based on other less often discussed concerns (or less discussed in popular media).

    Also definitely chuckled at your final paragraph. I think we’re both being less than charitable to our friendly American Buffaloers (?) whose line about Canada being now a “foreign country”, meant not that Americans always saw Canada as the same country and now would see it as independent, but simply they would now see Canada as “foreign” in the sense of “less familiar or traveled”, as with countries elsewhere in the world, where visa and border requirements are notoriously opaque.

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