U.S.-Canada border gets tighter, tenser

Countries’ close ties strained after tragedy

Nathan Hurst / Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington— Before the 9/11 attacks, the big talk surrounding the U.S.-Canadian border was how to make it more efficient for commerce.

Those plans came to a screeching halt on Sept. 11, 2001, when the border that was, for most, a mere formality became a barrier not only to commerce, but also to Michigan’s historically close connections with Ontario.

Gone were the days of nipping across the border for a quick meal with friends or family, in were the days of hours-long, headache-wracked delays on the Ambassador Bridge, the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel or the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, reports of cargo trucks waiting days to cross between Michigan and Ontario weren’t uncommon.

In the decade since, things have been less hectic and more streamlined at border crossings, but under a heavy pall of suspicion. Everyone needs a passport now, whereas before travelers simply were asked to declare citizenship. Driving or flying requires proof of citizenship.

If this summer has been any indication, the once-friendly waters of the Great Lakes plied by Americans and Canadians alike for generations can sometimes be tense spots. Border Patrol boats are on high alert on both sides, with reports in New York of Canadian officers detaining American anglers who had wandered over the border. Cameras have been deployed along the border, including some on the stretch along the St. Clair River.

Even vacationers are more vigilant.

In late June, two fishermen on the St. Clair River near Marysville caught and turned in a man from the Czech Republic who was swimming across from Canada with a backpack.

Recreational boaters in Michigan waters talk about a bolder presence of federal Coast Guard, Customs and Border Patrol and other federal agents along the borders in recent months.

In Washington, northern border security has erupted as a political flashpoint as well.

A growing number of legislators such as Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, have called for greater attention to be paid to the U.S.-Canada border. Miller has pushed legislation that would require federal authorities to beef up Northern border security to match that along the Southern border.

Miller said so much attention has been paid to drug-related violence along the U.S.-Mexico border to the detriment of the Canadian frontier, which has proven to be a hot spot for suspected terrorists caught trying to enter the United States.

“I have to remind some people that there are two borders we need to be concerned with,” Miller said. “It’s essential that we be as vigilant as possible.”

Among the possible solutions: more agents and cameras, even unmanned aerial drones for remote locales.

On the other side of the aisle, some Democrats such as Rep. John Conyers of Detroit are concerned about the effects greater border scrutiny has on minority groups. In March, he called for a federal investigation into allegations from the Council on American-Islamic Relations that some Muslims were being unduly detained at border checkpoints coming into Detroit from Windsor.