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Speech by Ambassador Michael Kergin, Ambassador of Canada to the United States, to the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States Biennial Conference

San Antonio, Texas
16 November 2001

Thank you, Don [Alper], for that kind introduction. It is a distinct honour for me to speak to the ACSUS conference here in San Antonio. I have fond memories of attending past ACSUS events. And I remain keenly interested in how you — the American academic community — views Canada.

I decided early on that I wanted to be here today. This group — endowed with such great knowledge of both Canada and the United States — fosters greater understanding and cooperation. Your objectives are similar to mine in this regard.

The academic intellect — like that of the diplomat — is careful, tightly organized, skeptical, and acutely aware of achievements registered by other academic intellects. Academics are highly competitive. The group gathered here therefore is to be congratulated. Your activism, research and teaching, have made ACSUS one of the most successful professional area studies associations in the United States.

Don [Alper] — you are to be commended for your leadership of ACSUS over the past two years.

I also want to thank David Biette for his nine years as executive director. Fortunately for us, he is not leaving the Canadian studies scene. He is on his way to the Wilson Center. We look forward to working with him in Washington, down the street on Pennsylvania Avenue.

As many of you know, we recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Studies Programme at the Department of Foreign Affairs. We have supported faculty members, researchers, and doctoral students at nearly 500 institutions throughout the United States. I know a number of you have been studying Canada a lot longer than 25 years — and yet, from my three decades in this business, there are many faces in this room that I recognize as the pioneers who spurred us on.

One individual is sadly missing today. Professor Robert Leblanc taught Canadian geography at the University of New Hampshire since 1963. Tragically, he was on board United flight 175 on September 11th. Professor Leblanc held the esteem of his colleagues in ACSUS and will be deeply missed by his fellow academics, students and many friends in the United States and Canada.

One hesitates to begin a presentation on such a sombre note — but, regrettably, it is an appropriate tone for the times. The impact of these horrible acts of terrorism is omnipresent — here in the United States — in Canada — and around the world.

From the terrace of the Canadian Embassy we watched the smoke rising from the pentagon — and wondered what would come next. The capitol building, some 400 yards away, was very much on our minds.

At the end of September, I travelled to New York City with Prime Minister Chrétien and the leaders of Canada's political parties as they toured ground zero — and we grieved with the families of Canadian victims.

Let me begin by telling you how deeply Canadians were affected by September 11th.

... from the moment we watched the attacks in horrified disbelief;

... to later that day when we received 226 diverted aircraft and their 33,000 passengers (most from the U.S.), needing refuge and comfort;

... to the 100,000 Canadians who came to Parliament Hill in Ottawa for a memorial service on September 14th; To the time when we could count, and name, and mourn our own dead.

Our sense of loss was profound. As profound as our solidarity with our American friends and family.

Canadians, like Americans, are concerned about what kind of a country — and what kind of a world — we will live in post September 11. As in the United States, the security of our citizens is uppermost in our minds.

Canada's response to the terrorist threat has been swift and comprehensive. Prime Minister Chrétien established a new cabinet committee on anti-terrorism — chaired by Foreign Minister Manley.

We have invested in new technologies and additional personnel as an initial down payment to boost Canadians security. We froze terrorist assets and introduced legislation to impede terrorist fund-raising. An omnibus anti-terrorism bill will provide Canada's law enforcement agencies with additional tools to shut down terrorist organizations.

Since we share North American space, these actions will also serve to protect our neighbours.

Canada is a significant contributor to the U.S.-led military coalition; Prime Minister Chrétien made that pledge to our American friends and to our global allies from the very outset of this operation. We have committed ships — one third of our navy, including modern frigates specializing in high seas interdiction — and aircraft. Some 2000 Canadian forces personnel are dedicated to the international anti-terrorism coalition.

Canadian energy resources also contribute significantly to U.S. energy security. Canada is the largest energy supplier to the United States — providing over 94% of natural gas imports and more crude and refined oil products than Saudi Arabia.

From a national security perspective, one cannot overstate the importance of having your largest source of imported oil located in a friendly neighbour next door. And while much has been made of the fact that the United States relies on foreign energy for upwards of 53% of its consumption, that figure falls to 44% if Canada is included under the continental umbrella.

So who says the U.S. needs to drill in ANWR!

But concerning the security and reliability of the U.S. northern border, a perception problem still remains: the Canadian media is assiduous in its hunt for the fabled "Canadian connection" — assuming that Canada must somehow be part of the terrorism problem rather than part of the solution.

Perhaps this is but a perverse media-specific version of Gresham's Law: bad news drives out the good.

The Canadian media's fixation with the negative tends to reverberate here in the United States, where some Americans have difficulty believing that terrorists could operate undetected on their own soil. Witness the reference in the popular television program "The West Wing" to a suspected terrorist who enters the U.S. through the "Ontario-Vermont border". Mistaken assumptions (not to mention inaccurate geography) can be influential. The media in turn can influence law makers.

When media and congress get the story wrong, it has a negative impact on both sides of the border.

The unfortunate reality is that there are terrorist sympathizers in both our countries — as there are in Germany, the United Kingdom and many other countries.

This reality of the terrorist lurking within requires — and has resulted in — a concerted response by both Canada and the USA: enacting compatible legislation, rapidly increasing our personnel along our common border, using technology to mutual advantage, and above all, ensuring an open, constant and fulsome flow of information between our respective border agencies.

The September 11th tragedy has brought the issue of how we manage our shared border under the sharpest scrutiny. There are enormous stakes involved.

You all know the statistics: some $1.3 billion dollars in commerce crosses each and every day. Over 200 million people transit each year.

87% of Canada's merchandise exports cross that border; 25% of all U.S. exports are sent north. 38 states of the union count Canada as their largest trading partner. More goods cross the bridge between Detroit and Windsor than all of U.S. trade with Japan.

Some Americans have talked of Canada posing a terrorist threat to their country. Yet Canadians also have identified risks originating from the United States. For example, last year alone, 50% more criminals were stopped trying to enter Canada from the United States than the reverse.

Almost half of our refugee claimants enter Canada from the United States; a very disturbing statistic is that 90% of the guns used in crimes in Canada are imported illegally from the United States.

I mention these facts not to indulge in finger pointing but to underscore the argument that border management is a cooperative venture. And it is a two way street where sensitivity to each other's social realities have to be recognized.

The ramifications of September 11 for border traffic are serious. Business people on both sides of the border are justifiably concerned about continued delays. "just in time" delivery schedules are at risk. Production lines are threatened on both sides of the border — undermining our shared international competitiveness.

Despite the challenges posed by the tragedies in New York City and Washington, Canada and the United States must sustain the effort to move into the fast lane on border management.

Improving our border will require:

  1. innovation in the use of information technologies to securely expedite people and goods;
  2. vision to move the border away from the border;
  3. investment to improve border infrastructure;
  4. patience to understand that time and compromise will be required to grapple with longstanding preoccupations with enforcement on one hand and worries about perceived losses of sovereignty on the other.

The key will be risk management — identifying the low risk (those with proven compliance histories) and segregating the high risk. High risk travellers and cargo should be inspected more closely while lower-risk travellers and cargo are expedited. Think of the resources which could then be freed up to target the illicit — and dangerous — traffic.

I have spoken previously about the establishment of a Canada-U.S. zone of confidence. Others have used the word perimeter. In Canada, this debate over semantics has garnered much attention.

Let me attempt to add some clarity: when I speak of a "zone of confidence", I envisage an arrangement whereby the measures applied by each country governing access across their border ensure or result in a level of confidence that the partner does not pose an external risk. The zone of confidence also means that each country's operations are coordinated consistent with their jurisdictional requirements to achieve a secure north american space.

As Governor Ridge indicated in his discussions with Mr. Manley: we, the USA, acknowledge each country has differing regimes and legislations; what counts is that we achieve the same results concerning safety and security.

And while, as large trading partners, we do have our disputes, these are more often directed to tangible items, such as softwood lumber, steel, wheat, even potatoes and tomatoes. Not the stuff of international conflict to be sure — rather the normal, albeit expensive, irritants, which should not be allowed to fester, between peaceful neighbours.

It is my firm belief that effective border facilitation reinforces our mutual security. We will continue to pursue the goal of improving the movement of legitimate people and goods across our border. Not to do so would be to hand the terrorists their victory: a restricted society and a weakened economy.

But as we all know, the current conflict is being waged on two fronts. Having spoken of actions taken domestically, allow me to turn to the international dimension. Globally we are facing an astute and capable enemy with pervasive networks. President Bush, Prime Minister Chrétien and many others have often said that this is a battle like no other.

Now more than ever, we need to support our multilateral institutions and the role they can play to make a better world. This is a credo you would expect from any Canadian ambassador.

Canada has relied traditionally on multilateral memberships. Cynics call it "joineritis" as we seem to have joined every international institution there is. "joineritis" is partly a counterweight to the gravitational pull of our relationship with the United States; it is also a survival technique for a medium size power to ensure some measure of rules based predictability in the world.

In the current crisis, Canada is well situated to build the coalition against terrorism in organizations such as the Commonwealth and la Francophonie, where we are charter members.

But as the military campaign rolls on — and the situation on the ground continues to change quickly — we must address a growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

The welfare of the neglected, abused and disadvantaged Afghan people has long been of grave concern to Canada, and to the international community. We have contributed to humanitarian assistance over the past 10 years, and have responded to the new UN humanitarian appeal for Afghan civilians.

We must also look beyond Afghanistan's failed state circumstance. We are actively examining scenarios through which the Afghan people could establish fair, stable and effective post-conflict governance in their country. Some would call this "nation building"; others may question the semantics. The objective is stability.

Recently the United States has reinvigorated its relations with multilateral institutions. This is most welcome and we hope this policy will be maintained. We have come to understand, to our regret, that failed states become prolific incubators for terrorists. That systematic abuse of a people either in the name of ideology or religion can escalate rapidly into an international security crisis. Inequality, injustice, poverty and oppression all contribute to instability and conflict. In the modern world, no country can isolate itself from this risk. Accordingly, confronting these challenges must make up a central part of North America's foreign policy. It must guide how we engage in the world of this new century.

Canada will offer its own brand of leadership. Canada will assume the G-8 presidency in January, leading to a revamped, smaller, leaner meeting of leaders at Kananaskis, Alberta in the summer.

Our priorities for the summit will place terrorism high on the agenda. But we also want to keep a focus on other longstanding challenges — Africa and the global economic situation are two that have directly engaged Prime Minister Chrétien's attention.

Canada, like the United States, was a leading proponent of a new round of multilateral trade negotiations. We therefore share in the success achieved at the WTO ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar, earlier this week — and look forward to further success in the months and years to come.

Canada also continues to focus on the southern hemisphere. The action plan endorsed by leaders at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City last April provides the guide to achieving hemispheric integration. The free trade arrangement for the Americas remains a high priority, of course. In addition, leaders endorsed a systematic work plan in support of democratic governance. Anti-terrorism issues are being discussed as well. And Canada continues to chair both these processes at the OAS.

The Quebec Summit of the Americas culminated a geopolitical migration towards the Americas that had been underway since our joining the OAS in 1990.

The Economist magazine recognized this shift: in 1997 it added an "Americas" category to its table of contents, and placed Canada inside. Three years ago, the state department also recognized this phenomenon: moving Canada from the European bureau into its Inter-American bureau. The National Security Council has just done the same thing.

All of which brings me back to Canada's most important bilateral relationship: that with the United States. This began centuries ago on the fairly simple basis that while we shared a latitude of geography, we had a diametrically opposed approach to the British Crown.

But from a conflicted history, our values and interests converged and have gradually evolved into a relationship not unlike family. No longer is our partnership merely a commitment of convenience; it is a profound engagement that goes far beyond the mere fact that we share a border.

Let me conclude by saying that September 11 is forcing this solid partnership to progress to a new level. The terrorist agenda of wreaking economic and political havoc on our two democracies cannot be permitted to stand.

It is incumbent on the policy makers, business people and the border custodians, to make sure the relationship works in real time and that the border becomes part of the solution rather than part of the problem caused by the tragic events of September 11.

Canadians and Americans have always been creative in their approaches, flexible in their thinking and cooperative in their discussions.

And these traits will continue to guide us.

Thank you. I would welcome any questions you may have.


Source: Foreign Affairs and International Trade / Affaires étrangères et du Commerce international / Embassy of Canada-Washington, D.C.

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