Feds fear virtual fence: MP says U.S. high-tech security measure will harm both economies

PUBLICATION: The Windsor Star
DATE: 2006.09.26
BYLINE: Dave Battagello
SOURCE: Windsor Star


Feds fear virtual fence: MP says U.S. high-tech security measure will harm both economies


U.S. plans to install a high-tech security fence along Canada's border will damage both nations' economies, a high-ranking federal politician said Monday.

Vancouver-area MP Russ Hiebert (Con--South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale), who was in Windsor for a breakfast meeting with local politicians, said his government is asking Washington to back off from plans for the virtual fence and to delay its looming passport requirement.

Hiebert is parliamentary secretary to Minister of National Defence Gordon O'Connor and -- with MP Brian Masse (NDP--Windsor West) -- is co-chairman of the federal government's all-party border caucus.

"The difficulty we face is we have to respect their sovereignty. This is U.S. law," Hiebert said. "It's not something we can change to our benefit. We would not allow members of the Congress or Senate to tell us what to do.

"But we will do everything we can to persuade them (to accept) an alternative solution."

U.S. officials last week announced they plan to use infrared cameras, drones, watchtowers and sensors to detect illegal activity as part of the Secure Border Initiative on the Mexican and Canadian borders.

Sections of the border in B.C. and Southwestern Ontario -- deemed most vulnerable to drug smuggling and terrorist infiltration -- are likely the first locations where U.S. authorities will deploy a virtual fence to stop illegal crossings, Homeland Security officials said.

Boeing Corp. has been awarded a US$67-million contract to begin work on the plan, which could eventually cost $2.5 billion, according to estimates.

With politicians cranking up the security rhetoric in advance of November house and senate elections, Hiebert conceded it's unlikely any change in direction will come soon.

He called the virtual fence an "overblown" security reaction, which ties U.S. concerns over illegal immigrants on its Mexican border to Canada.

"It's a big mistake," he said. "We want to be building closer ties with our American friends and they should be building closer ties with us considering how much we share (economically).

"We are the largest trading partners in the history of the world. We want to take down the barriers, not build them. We are going to press (that) this is unnecessary.

"We have very tough security in Canada. Since 2001, we've implemented all kinds of solutions to prevent terrorist attacks."

Part of the reason for Hiebert's trip to Windsor is a recognition U.S. security measures will be especially detrimental to the busy Southwestern Ontario trade corridor which handles up to 40 per cent of the nation's trade, he said.

MP Jeff Watson (Con--Essex), who hosted the meeting, said the fight over the virtual fence and passport requirement is far from over.

A virtual fence will only "thicken the border," he said.