Canada, United States agree to homeland security plan for speeding traffic at key border points

Wednesday, December 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TORONTO (AP) _ U.S. and Canadian officials agreed Wednesday on a border action plan that calls for increasing security while speeding the flow of commerce at key crossings to protect the world's largest trade partnership.

The action plan was endorsed Wednesday after two days of talks in Ottawa led by Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley.

Some details were released by the White House prior to the final news conference Wednesday morning, where Ridge and Manley announced the agreement.

Titled ``U.S. and Canada: An Efficient, Secure and Smart Border,'' the plan lists steps taken by both countries and further planned measures in a coordinated effort to improve border safety after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Provisions include resuming a computer system that eases the entry process into both countries for low-risk, preapproved users.

Another measure would involve sharing information on passengers on flights between Canada and the United States, and increase immigration officers from each country at overseas airports.

The plan calls for new technology to clear goods in factories, rail yards and sea ports instead of waiting until they reach the border crossing.

Noting that 70 percent of border traffic between the countries uses six major crossings, the plan advocates improving infrastructure and finding new technology to relieve congestion.

``Public security and economic security are mutually reinforcing,'' the one-page document says. ``By working together to develop a zone of confidence against terrorist activity, the United States and Canada create a unique opportunity to build a smart border for the 21st century.''

Ridge, on his first trip out of the United States since being named to a new Cabinet position introduced after the Sept. 11 attacks, praised a Canadian government proposal to spend more than $5 billion over five years for security measures and improved border facilities.

The proposed budget ``reflects in a very substantive way the political will of the Canadian government to deal with questions not only of security but of enhanced economic vitality,'' Ridge said Tuesday.

One issue under discussion involved putting guards and customs officials from both countries on each side of the border. That would mean allowing armed U.S. border guards on Canadian soil.

Manley said that would require a change in Canadian policy and law, and the government would discuss it. In a telephone interview later Tuesday, Manley rejected criticism from Canadians who say allowing armed U.S. agents on Canadian soil would amount to a loss of sovereignty.

``I don't see it that way, because it would be reciprocal. We'd have Canadians on the other side of the border,'' he said.

Since Sept. 11, Canada has generally conformed to U.S. security requirements to avoid harming the trade relationship both economies depend on. ``I don't see any reason why we should try to resist the American desire to feel safe and secure,'' he said.

Canada faced accusations of being a haven for terrorists after the 1999 arrest of Ahmed Ressam as he tried to cross into the United States with explosives in his car. Ressam was convicted of plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport during millennium celebrations.

Canadian officials have pointed out that none of the Sept. 11 hijackers are known to have come through Canada.