Cablegate: The U.S. - Canada Border in 2007: Ground Truth And

DE RUEHOT #2035/01 3092218
R 052218Z NOV 07




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Managing U.S.-Canada relations means managing the
border. It's that simple. And that makes the border the
number one priority for Mission Canada. For the past year
dozens of officers from the Embassy and our seven consulates
have fanned out across Canada to observe the border and
discuss border issues with citizens and officials of both
Canada and the United States. Their conclusions and analysis
are collected here, together with recommendations on how we
can better manage our compelling national interest along this
vital frontier.

2. (SBU) In general, the border works well, but there are
places where increases in traffic and trade amidst aging or
outdated infrastructure are causing unnecessarily long wait
times. We saw significant but piecemeal progress in border
modernization. We learned that the United States and Canada
view the border differently, both in terms of its importance
and the relative prioritization of security and openness, but
both countries highly value the north-south linkages and the
unique cross-border communities that dot the frontier. We
found that each border crossing has its own unique
personality, which requires policy and regulatory flexibility
to manage well. We saw that the current environment is
dominated by WHTI and the new post-9/11 security measures,
particularly unilateral initiatives from the U.S. side.
Finally, the sense we got from the ground was that the
security threat is real but manageable without resorting to
draconian, disruptive procedures.

3. (SBU) A number of concrete recommendations flow from these
conclusions. First, both countries need to more
systematically manage improvements to border infrastructure.
Secondly, we need to focus constantly on port of entry
staffing, which can be a major factor in managing border
flow. Thirdly, the two governments should continue an open
dialogue on how to further the agenda on cooperative policing
and information sharing. Fourth, we must inform the public
in real time about changes, security, and regulations
affecting the border. Finally, we need a more systematic
way to manage bilateral border issues, something akin to the
Bilateral Consultative Group on counter-terrorism, which
convenes all agencies on an annual basis to review issues and
advance the agenda. Maintaining the historically unique
cross-border travel and trade relations, while ensuring
security of both countries is all about managing change, and
we hope that this cable will contribute to our ability to do

4. (SBU) This is a three-part cable series. Part I covers
the summary, conclusions, and recommendations. Part II
reviews ports of entry, the economy, and environmental
issues. Part III involves immigration, First Nations issues,
WHTI, and cross border law enforcement.


5. (SBU) On behalf of Mission Canada, I would like to invite
anyone with even a passing interest in our northern border
to peruse the year-long project we have just concluded to get
a clearer snapshot of our border in the year 2007. You can
Qa clearer snapshot of our border in the year 2007. You can
access detailed reports submitted throughout the course of
the year on our classified web site
(, and there is an extensive
power point presentation on our State Department SBU intranet
website under the Political Affairs Section - Reports and
Cables ( that provides a unique
visual image of the border in 2007.

6. (SBU) This time last year, first in response to concerns
on the part of Canadians and Americans from all walks of life
and second as a contribution to implementation of the Western
Hemisphere Travel Initiative, this Mission embarked on a
nationwide, integrated border reporting project. We traveled
to almost every border crossing, talked to officials involved
in border management, and visited communities in both
countries most directly affected by new border measures. We

OTTAWA 00002035 002 OF 005

heard how important it was to "get the border right"; we
heard how the border is "priority one"; and we heard how the
way of life among border communities was changing. We saw
how some new measures such as improved border infrastructure,
additional lanes, plazas, and other equipment have made it
easier to get across the border. However, we also saw long
back-ups and increasing inspections. We found towns with
libraries which straddle the border and others which could
only be reached by traveling through the other country. We
visited border crossings marked by a chain across a dirt road
and others with 14 inspection booths for truck lanes.

7. (SBU) The end result is a historic snapshot of our
northern border in the year 2007. It is a border at a
crossroads, still in transition, moving away from the
pre-9/11 optimism of open borders, with increasing volumes of
just-in-time deliveries and communities connected by junior
hockey and shopping, towards the concept outlined 5 years ago
of a "smart border" that uses technologies to strengthen our
border security while facilitating legitimate trade and
travel. The evolving vision that is captured here is of an
intertwined frontier whose potential can only be realized
through fulsome cooperation and constant attention by Canada
and the U.S.


8. (SBU) As dozens of officers representing six agencies
traveled from the Embassy and our seven consulates to visit
border posts and meet with citizens whose lives are affected
by the border, they found a series of common themes:

-- When It Works (which It Usually Does), It Works Well;
When It Doesn't Work, It Is Awful: In general we found a
disconnect between the rhetoric of a "thickening of the
border," in which longer lines and bureaucratic delays make
border crossings more difficult, and the reality that the
border in most places runs smoothly. There are situations
when the border simply can't handle the traffic volume,
however. Southbound delays of over two hours at some of the
major bridge crossings in Ontario were reported over the 2007
Labor Day weekend, for example. Customs and Border
Protection (CBP) inspection booths were fully staffed, but
heavy volumes of traffic choked approach ways and slowed
movement miles before the bridges. The heavy traffic
resulted from holiday weekend travel, a strong Canadian
dollar, and fabulous back-to-school sales at malls in New
York and Michigan, overwhelming the existing physical
infrastructure at the border crossings. (Comment: The
Canada Border Services Agency, CBSA, reported northbound
delays of from two - three hours as Canadians came home after
Labor Day. End comment.) Those places where thousands of
vehicles are funneled into a narrow border crossing will
require significant investments to make them capable of
handling the crush of people traveling over holidays, or to
witness major sporting or cultural events.

-- Each Border Crossing Is Unique: The difference between
small, intimate border crossings in isolated areas of the
Qsmall, intimate border crossings in isolated areas of the
West and upper Northeast, and the industrial style crossings
of the Great Lakes region, is huge. This leads each border
crossing to take on its own distinct personality: bridges
and tunnels are operated by different governance structures,
each crossing has its own infrastructure issues, and
relations among local communities are distinct. Solutions to
border issues should be very flexible to take account of this
great diversity.

-- The U.S. and Canada Weigh the Border Differently: To
Canadians, 90% of whom live within 100 miles of the border,
keeping the border open and moving smoothly is a major
national issue, because Canada is one large border community.
This is not true for the United States, where only a
fraction of the population lives near the northern border and
only a few major cities, such as Detroit and Buffalo, are
actually on the border. The relative difference in
prioritization of border issues often makes resolution of
border issues inherently unequal.

OTTAWA 00002035 003 OF 005

-- Core Border Priorities also Differ: The most obvious
disconnect between the two countries is in their relative
priorities on the border. For Canada the number one priority
is the free flow of people and goods in both directions. For
America the top priority is security. Canadians see the
border as something to be kept as invisible as possible.
Post 9/11, Americans see the border as a last line of
defense, the final place to check people or things coming
into the country.

-- For Both Countries, North-South Beats East-West: The
pull of the border is clear on both sides - an American
living in northern Vermont is more economically integrated
with a Quebecker across the border than with his fellow
countryman in Indiana, while a Canadian in Vancouver would
feel more comfortable with someone from Seattle than with a
Manitoban. Distinct cross-border cultures have been built up
over several centuries and they are highly valued by those
who belong to them, although arguably more by Canadians than
Americans. People on both sides believe these special
relationships are worth preserving.

-- Progress or Modernization Has Been Significant, but
Piecemeal: There has been a vast amount of border
modernization by both countries. The largest positive impact
has come from enhanced infrastructure like the new truck
plaza at the Champlain/LaColle crossing south of Montreal.
There have also been significant advances in facilitating
crossing and travel, like combining air, land, and sea
components of the NEXUS trusted traveler program. But the
progress has not been comprehensive and has rarely been part
of a strategic plan, instead depending on local or regional

-- Biggest Negative Is Unilateral Initiatives: The most
common refrain we hear from business is, "When are you going
to stop?" Business figures complain about new security
initiatives that make crossings more difficult, or more
costly: the surprise APHIS inspection fee, the Bio-Terrorism
Act, impending WHTI implementation, Hazmat ID for truckers,
etc. At the low end, these unilateral U.S. initiatives that
have not been well explained in Canada lead to frustration
and distrust, at the high end to avoidance of the border. To
Canadians, the trend in the U.S. seems to be moving in the
direction of increasing unilateralism, without advance
consultation with the Canadians, compared to the immediate
post-9/11 period when the joint shared border programs were
launched. We can combat this misperception by increasing the
interaction of U.S. agencies involved in border enforcement
with their Canadian counterparts. Canadians have so far (1)
complained about new programs, but then (2) buckled down and
figured out how to comply with the new requirements.

-- Border Threat Is Real but Manageable: The border
threat stems from two key factors: 1) the inability to
police such a wide area of complicated geography, and 2) a
handful of extremists who make use of legal protections to
continue to operate freely in Canada. The issue is
exacerbated by the inability of the U.S. and Canada to fully
Qexacerbated by the inability of the U.S. and Canada to fully
share law enforcement and terrorist information. The best
defense in the face of these realities is better intelligence
and cooperative policing.


9. (SBU) If there is one key to keeping the border open
without sacrificing the safety of our citizens, it is
managing change -- change in infrastructure, change in
border crossing procedures, and change in the nature of
cross-border communities. All must be managed flexibly,
transparently, and inclusively. Emerging from this project
are several recommendations for how we can best manage the
many changes that will face us across the border.

-- Keep an Eye on Infrastructure: There are at any given
time dozens of infrastructure projects underway along the
border - from large-scale endeavors such as enhancements to
the Detroit-Windsor bridges, to renovations of small border
crossing posts in rural areas. Canada is fairly strategic

OTTAWA 00002035 004 OF 005

about how these projects are planned and tracked, while the
U.S. side is decentralized. We should consider taking a more
strategic approach to infrastructure, since this will, in
many places; determine how well the border works. A northern
border infrastructure coordinator in Washington could help
coordinate major border infrastructure projects to ensure
they are synchronized, progressing, and successful.

-- Keep Staffing Levels Up: Adequate port of entry staffing
is key to facilitating crossings while ensuring security
along the land border. The minimum time needed to process
persons applying to enter the U.S. is fairly fixed. Once a
passenger vehicle reaches the inspection booth, the query
process is oftentimes completed in seconds, not minutes.
However, if lines begin to form long distances from the
inspection booths, and travelers see that only half of the
booths are open, they are bound to be frustrated. There are
simply few ways to cut corners on border staffing, and when
staffing is not adequate, the result is delays. Port of
entry staffing levels must have sufficient flexibility to
cover seasonal variations and shifting travel patterns,
including holidays in both countries. (Comment: Despite the
long backups experienced by Ontario border operators this
past summer, border operators were generally complimentary of
U.S. CBP's quick response time to fully staff available
booths when backups were forming. And, to be fair to CBP and
CBSA, we understand that high traffic volumes during peak
times may overwhelm existing infrastructure, causing lines to
form even with all booths fully staffed. End comment.)

-- Continue to Press for Cooperative Policing: The key
imperative for cross-border security will be continuing to
develop a mechanism for cooperative cross-border law
enforcement. We have scratched the surface, with Integrated
Border Enforcement Teams, Shiprider Proofs of Concept, and
the Cross Border Crime Forum. But all venues to date have
involved either temporary or partial integration. We should
work toward the kind of cooperation and integration of U.S.
and Canadian law enforcement officials that we have had for
military cooperation through NORAD.

-- Improve Information Sharing: Improved sharing of
actionable law enforcement information is a key near-term
goal. We currently share threat information but often do not
share the kind of background that would allow the other side
to develop a full threat picture. Part of the difficulty, of
course, is that the Canadian Charter of Rights sets forth
very strict right-to-privacy requirements. Our law
enforcement efforts on both sides of the border would benefit
from a mechanism that would help us to get beyond the fallout
from the Arar affair and engage in a free and continuous
exchange of information on the entire range of cross-border
law enforcement and counter-terrorism issues.

-- Improve the Flow of Public Information: Border rumors and
lack of full information about upcoming regulation changes
hurt us. The resulting uncertainty causes citizens to delay
or cancel travel, and leads to back ups at border crossings
Qor cancel travel, and leads to back ups at border crossings
as unprepared travelers do at the customs booth what they
could have done in advance in preparation for travel. We
need new and better ways to communicate changes to border
requirements, which should be announced well in advance and
kept on track once announced. We should aim for a regime of
"no surprises."

-- Finally, Keep Each Other Informed: We should also enhance
our border consultative mechanisms. We have the Permanent
Joint Board of Defense for military cooperation, the
Bilateral Consultative Group for counter-terrorism
cooperation, the Energy Consultative Mechanism for energy
issues, and the International Joint Commission for boundary
water management. Given the complexity of the border and the
many agencies and equities involved, an annual meeting along
the lines of the other successful bilateral mechanisms we
have with Canada could go a long way to bringing a strategic
focus to our management of the border. We might, for
example, enlarge the number of agencies participating in
meetings of CBP's and CBSA's Shared Border Accord
Coordinating Committee (SBACC) to include all of those with a
role to play in managing the border. Messages II and III of

OTTAWA 00002035 005 OF 005

this three-part message contain the full report of our
year-long investigation of the U.S.-Canada border in 2007.

Visit our shared North American Partnership blog (Canada &
Mexico) at

Visit our shared North American Partnership blog (Canada & Mexico) at


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