In an open letter to Prime Minister Chr’tien dated January 31, 2002, Richard Le Hir, President of the Shipping Federation of Canada, questions the federal government’s response to the security challenges that have arisen since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and calls for swift and decisive action to ensure the security of Canada’s borders, particularly those on the maritime front. The full text of Mr. Le Hir’s letter is reprinted below:
Mr. Prime Minister,
Much in spite of itself, the maritime industry finds itself squarely at the core of the most important strategic challenges since World War II. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, our American neighbors have effectively considered themselves to be at war, and believe that if another terrorist attack is attempted, it will likely target them at their most vulnerable point, the maritime front.
There are indeed a number of factors which make the specter of an attack on the maritime front an all too real possibility, including the colossal volume of merchandise transported, the diverse origins of ships, the sheer size and dispersion of port operations, the staggering number of people involved in the movement of goods worldwide, and the relative ease with which individuals can surreptitiously break through the links of such a long and complex chain. The risks of being caught are low; while the likelihood of causing substantial damage is high.
Believing their fears of another terrorist attack to be justified by the intelligence obtained through their extensive surveillance and espionage networks (and not being particularly inclined to half-measures), our American neighbors have moved aggressively to make the investments and implement the systems and procedures that are necessary to strengthen the security of their installations and tighten their control over the movement of goods and the people involved in such. All of this in the legitimate hope of reducing existing risks and minimizing the impact of future terrorist attacks.
For better and for worse (and it is admittedly more often the latter than the former), Canada shares with the United States the most developed continent on the planet, and the two countries are separated by the longest and least protected border ever to exist between two sovereign states. That border is part land and part water, with the St. Lawrence River, the Seaway and the Great Lakes serving as an access route to the heart of the North American continent. It is this very proximity and openness that create obligations for Canada.
First and foremost is the need for Canada to share responsibility with the US for defending the North American continent. Insofar as the United States is at war, and precisely because that war is being waged on a new kind of battleground with an invisible and shadowy enemy, Canada has no other choice but to provide the U.S. with concrete assurance that its borders will be as impenetrable as those of the US, and that the US can be as assured of its security to the North as if it were managing that security itself. Were Canada to fall short in assuming such responsibility, this would translate into the immediate closure of its border with the US and the implementation by the US of a system of security that would paralyze Canada’s ability to do business with its main economic partner, to the detriment of the millions of Canadian who depend on that business. Added to this would be the imposition of constraints on the freedom of movement of individuals, which certain Canadians have already been unfortunate enough to experience.
Although war is defensive in nature, it is also offensive. It is on this latter point that Canadian public opinion is perhaps at its most reticent. Nevertheless, to the degree that your government clearly and unequivocally assumes its fair share of the costs related to the defense of the continent, will it not gain for itself room to maneuver vis a vis its powerful neighbor to the south? Room that will permit the government to maintain its distance in th