While concern over the northern border with Canada has caused a bit of a media kerfuffle lately, the prime mover for the concern, ISIS or ISIL’s use of social media to weaponize lone wolves who could then conceivably cross the US-Canada in either direction to carry out terrorist acts, is more of a concern in each country. But the open stretches of border in the west of the North American continent are, and have been, a concern for decades now. And the reason predates ISIS, and arguably, predates 9/11. The concern is Canada’s borders with the rest of the world, not the US. Canada might have argued that the concern is not justifiable, that the terrorists in 9/11 entered directly into the USA, but from a broader perspective, there is reason for that historical concern.

Terrorist groups like the Tamil Liberation Army, for example, enjoyed virtual immunity in Canada because of the Liberal government’s close connections with Tamil-Canadians and their importance in several key ridings in Ontario essentially in the 90’s and the first years of this century. How do you trust, as a partner in common security goals, a government who refused to detain and deport suspected terrorists? What do you say to the prime minister – that would be former prime minister Jean Chretien – who failed to attend a 100,000 strong rally in a spontaneous display of solidarity with America in the days following 9/11? It was the late Paul Cellucci, then ambassador to Canada and a successful Massachusetts Republican, bless him, who presided over the event and gave words of wisdom and strength on that beautiful sunny September day in Ottawa, while the leader of the government hid rather than come out strongly against the terrorists and their manifest evil.

It has only been with Stephen Harper’s Conservative government that a change has come in Canada’s attitude to its borders and security in general. While Canada toughened it’s vigilance at airports and its borders in the years immediately following September 11th, it did so in fearful response to the possibility of America effectively shutting down the borders to Canadian business. Economics matters a lot, but there are times when freedom and courage matter a lot more. And Stephen Harper’s government seems to understand that. Perhaps a long silent majority of Canadians get it too, but time will tell on that. While the current government in Ottawa is a more trustworthy partner, there remains hundreds and hundreds of miles of open border between the USA and Canada. Canada has to prove itself a worthy partner in security to America, and America has to do what it deems necessary as far as its northern border – including the border with Alaska – and the nation’s security is concerned. Let us hope there is truly a sea change in Ottawa and Canada. But hope is not enough. Action on the northern border – more guards, more posts, and whatever technology and other resources can be brought to bear on the frontier – along with collaboration that clearly communicates to the US’s partner that it needs to come up to speed with the USA, will continue to be an issue in the years to come.