More border patrols sought in Canada
Canada's prime minister announced plans to hire more border guards and Mounties to tighten border security.
BY MARISA TAYLOR AND GREG GORDON
WASHINGTON – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced plans to hire 1,400 border guards and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, addressing longtime criticisms that his nation's immigration policies have made the country a haven for terrorists.
Harper's plan, unveiled Wednesday and Thursday, also calls for arming border security officers over the next 10 years, beginning next year.
Proponents of tough U.S. immigration enforcement have called for tighter controls on the Mexican border, but they've also voiced concern that Canada's sparsely patrolled border provides terrorists with an unimpeded gateway to America.
''The northern border is a concern, because it's double the size of the southern border and it's virtually unprotected,'' said John Keeley, spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington.
But the measures are sparking a debate already in Canada over whether they'll help bolster security in a post-Sept. 11 world or needlessly militarize the 4,000-mile U.S.-Canada border.
''It's extremely controversial for a lot of Canadians,'' said Janet Dench, the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “We like to think of our country as welcoming to people who arrive at our border.''
Harper's announcements come on the heels of the breakup of two alleged Toronto-based terror plots.
In early June, the RCMP arrested 17 young men and teenagers in an alleged scheme to take hostages in the Canadian Parliament and bomb buildings in southern Ontario. In late August, the United States and Canada announced that they had foiled a plot by at least nine U.S. and Canadian residents to buy and ship arms to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam, a Sri Lankan separatist group.
Thursday's initiative to hire 400 border guards will cost $101 million over two years, the prime minister's office said. Four thousand Canadian agents are stationed along the border.
On Wednesday, Harper announced at the headquarters of the RCMP, Canada's premier investigative agency, the hiring of 600 officers and 400 support personnel at a cost of nearly $200 million over two years.
Before Sept. 11, Canadians and Americans were accustomed to crossing the border easily, sometimes without identification checks. Since then, the number of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents assigned to the northern border has tripled, passport requirements have been tightened, and some U.S. lawmakers have proposed erecting a fence along some sections.