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Former U.S. ambassadors join chorus of critics on border ID plan

16:44:27 EDT Jun 27, 2006



WASHINGTON (CP) - Two former ambassadors to Canada are urging U.S. officials to delay the plan for strict new identification documents at the border, saying it's a looming train wreck that won't make anyone safer.


James Blanchard and Paul Cellucci, who spoke Tuesday at a conference on Canada-U.S. relations, said there has to be a better way. "This is a potential disaster," said Cellucci, who served in Canada under President George W. Bush before David Wilkins was appointed a year ago.


"At the minimum we need to postpone this. I don't think it's going to stop any terrorist attack," said Cellucci, who applauded intelligence-sharing between the two countries leading up to Canada's anti-terror bust early this month.


Blanchard, the U.S. representative under former president Bill Clinton, said American officials simply aren't ready to properly implement the security program requiring passports or another secure document at land crossings by Jan. 1, 2008.


"It could be a total train wreck in our relationship," he told the forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


"A lot of people in Washington don't understand the degree of social integration between our two countries."


There are already rumblings about delaying the rule requiring passports from air and sea travellers to the United States that's supposed to go into effect next Jan. 1, although American officials insist they're on track.


"I think they've already talked about pushing that one back because they're not ready," said Cellucci, who noted that Bush wasn't crazy about the land crossing plan in some of his early comments on the issue.


Congress passed the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative in 2004 as a way to more closely monitor who's entering the country after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.


So it's going to require a stronger lobbying effort among politicians from border states on Capitol Hill to explain the devastating impacts on tourism and commerce, said Cellucci.


"I don't think those senators and congressmen can stand by and let these consequences take place."


The forum on Canada-U.S. ties was held as Alberta kicked off a week of events to promote its energy resources in the U.S. capital and participate in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival starting Friday.


Cellucci, who didn't endear himself to some Canadians with his pointed criticism at times, said he's a "little disturbed" by accusations from some U.S. politicians that Canada has become a haven for terrorists because of lax immigration laws.


The recent arrest of 17 terror suspects is "a clear demonstration" that Canadian agencies have the tools they need to prevent attacks.


"They absolutely get it. They recognize the threat is real."


And he applauded the defence spending boosts under federal Conservatives.


Canada and the United States should continue their incremental economic integration, he said, and avoid a big, rancorous debate over sovereignty.


The two countries will "have a union in everything but name" in 10 or 15 years, said Cellucci, who thinks tourists shouldn't have to pay duty on goods and supports easy labour mobility between Canada, Mexico and the United States.


Anne McLellan, former Liberal deputy prime minister, said there are certain realities about Canadian values that don't change regardless of who's leading the country.


They'll necessarily pit Canada against the U.S. at times, she said, yet the bilateral relationship is a "model for the rest of the world."


Canada hasn't put enough effort into understanding Congress, she said, and buys too easily into "the perception of an all-powerful president."


Nor do Canadians really understand the daily burden the U.S. carries as the world's lone superpower or "what it means to see everything through a security filter."


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