by Frank Kuin
The threat to Canadian sovereignty posed by American policy demands can
best be met by actively cooperating with U.S. proposals, says Professor
Norrin Ripsman, of Concordias Political Science Department.
Paradoxically, the most effective way to keep Canadian policies such as
immigration standards under Ottawas control is by meeting American
requirements quietly on Canadian terms, said Ripsman, an expert on national
Speaking in the context of American demands to bring Canadian immigration
and refugee practices in line with American standards in the wake of the
terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, he argued that vocal resistance to defend
Canadian sovereignty is counterproductive. Engagement through diplomacy
behind closed doors is a better approach.
The best way to defend Canadians interests is through pragmatism,
rather than through defiance, he said, noting that in the immediate
aftermath of Sept. 11, the Chrétien government talked boldly
about not compromising Canadian values.
Adopting a confrontational attitude to deal with charges that Canada is
a safe haven for terrorists, while understandable from a domestic
perspective, might do Canada more harm than good, Ripsman said. Specifically,
an uncooperative stance by Ottawa can damage Canadas vital trade
relationship with the U.S.
If we are going to take a bellicose stand towards the United States,
we have to recognize that the United States may respond in a bellicose
way, he said. For example, the U.S. may react by subjecting the
Canadian border to the same tight controls it practices at the U.S. border
Indeed, the border between Canada and the United States, at which more
than $1 billion in two-way trade normally crosses every day, has been
on high alert since Sept. 11 in response to charges that Canada is a gateway
to the United States for terrorists.
Although none of the 19 perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks are alleged
to have entered the United States from Canada, American politicians and
media often portray the countrys supposedly lax immigration and
refugee standards as the weakest link in efforts to keep undesirables
out of North America.
U.S. critics want to see Canadian immigration and refugee procedures harmonized
with American ones. Some propose a North American security perimeter,
whereby common standards are applied to who may enter into the United
States and Canada. The land border could then remain open.
Such American proposals tend to offend the sense of sovereignty of many
Canadians. But rather than by resistance, Canadian sovereignty might be
best served by ensuring Canada has a place at the table when common security
matters are discussed, Ripsman argued. We have to change our focus
from so obviously defending our sovereignty.
Rather, it must be recognized that Canada has an interest in tighter security
as well. Even in the United States did not dictate anything, Canada
has an interest in making certain that our hospitality isnt being
abused for the purposes of undermining our democratic values.
Thus, participation in continental security talks is the best means for
Canada to manage its part of any future perimeter. We can negotiate
best by being cooperative. There is room for bargaining behind the scenes,
and Canada can decide to some extent what measures it will take
provided that by and large, the American security demands are met.
As a model for Canada-U.S. cooperation, Ripsman cited the NORAD agreement
for continental air defence. By agreeing to participate in U.S. defence
measures for the continent, Canada was able to retain a say over
its own defence, he said.
Canadas choices are limited in the face of American pressure, Ripsman
acknowledged. Thats the nature of living next to the great
power of the world.