WASHINGTON — A new U.S. government report has found that only a scant few kilometres of the mammoth Canada-U.S. border are secure, raising fresh concerns about terrorists bent on American destruction crossing the boundary unchecked.
There’s a far greater risk of terrorists coming across the northern border than the U.S.-Mexico boundary because of its sheer scope, and the fact that it’s dotted with heavily populated areas and well-travelled highways, warned the report released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office, the watchdog arm of Congress.
There are also more Islamic extremist groups in Canada than Mexico, the report found.
Indeed, the northern border is “vulnerable for exploitation,” the report said, including by those hoping to sneak Canadian-grown marijuana and ecstasy tablets into the United States, a growing criminal trend.
It also revealed that U.S. border patrol officials control only about 50 kilometres of the 6,400-kilometre boundary — even as the Department of Homeland Security “reports networks of illicit criminal activity and smuggling of drugs, currency, people, and weapons between the two countries.”
The report’s release came as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office announced he would travel to the U.S. capital on Friday to meet with President Barack Obama. Among other items on the agenda, the two leaders are expected to discuss a perimeter security pact.
The agreement, in the works for years, would control who enters and leaves North America in a consistent manner, allowing officials to ease security measures at the Canada-U.S. border.
Jason Kenney, citizenship and immigration minister, said talks continue between the U.S. and Canada on border security, suggesting the GAO report should have no negative impact on a perimeter security agreement.
“There are high level discussions on a range of measures, some of which are already underway, to improve co-operation while at the same time, of course, maintaining our sovereignty,” Kenney said.
“This is really about ensuring our sovereignty through common sense co-operation with the United States on a range of border security measures.”
But as they released the GAO report at a Capitol Hill news conference, two U.S. senators — Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins — said it raises serious concerns about a border that doesn’t get nearly the attention stateside as the violence-plagued southwest boundary with Mexico.
“The American people are grossly under-protected along our northern border,” said Lieberman, an independent lawmaker from Connecticut and the chairman of the U.S. Senate’s homeland security committee.
“We have got to work together with our neighbours in Canada to raise our guard.”
Among the findings that particularly concerned him, Lieberman said, was information that only a quarter of the border had achieved “full situational awareness” in which the probability of nabbing cross-border criminals was high.