Pubdate: Mon, 04 Jul 2016
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Page: A4
Copyright: 2016 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Campbell Clark


A fear that America's obsession with security might gum up critical 
border travel has loomed over some of Canada's domestic-policy 
debates. But on two matters currently in the news - the legalization 
of marijuana and visa-free travel for Mexicans - the United States is 
proving not to be the border bogeyman that Canadian politicians and 
bureaucrats sometimes make it out to be.

Last week, as the presidents of Mexico and the U.S. visited Ottawa, 
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced he will lift the requirement 
that Mexicans have a visa to visit Canada. This move caused 
controversy, as bureaucrats raised concerns of a "significant risk" 
the U.S. will see Canada as weak on security and decide to "thicken" 
border regulations.

But U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman says his country has no 
such concerns - and he says he even went out of his way to tell the 
previous, Conservative government that.

Politicians and pundits have, over the years, also expressed fear 
that legalizing marijuana will spark a U.S. border slowdown that 
would hurt trade and travel. But as Mr. Trudeau's government 
announced a task force on legalizing pot Thursday, Mr. Heyman 
insisted the border issues can be worked out, and noted some U.S. 
states have voted to legalize marijuana, too.

"Each country is going to have to decide their own drug policy," Mr. 
Heyman said.

At the North American leaders' summit Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau, U.S. 
President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto 
agreed to redouble efforts to combat opioid abuse, the ambassador 
noted, but he said he's never had any high-level discussions about 
Canada's legalization plans or a possible impact on the border.

"That has not been something that has come up," he said. "They're not 
red flags yet. I don't anticipate they are. But I'm sure it will be a 
point of discussion as we'll have to deal with that at the border - 
but then again ... some states are dealing with these issues, early 
on, in the United States as well. ... Look, if Canada sets a certain 
set of laws, we'll work with Canada to try to make sure [it works]."

No U.S. government official will endorse the Trudeau government's 
plans to legalize marijuana. Pot is illegal in the U.S., and the 
Obama administration's policy is that it should stay that way, even 
though four states have legalized it, and a dozen more have 
decriminalized its use.

And of course, the nature of Canadian legalization might affect the 
U.S. reaction. Mr. Heyman didn't discuss details, because Mr. 
Trudeau's government hasn't revealed them yet. But it's not hard to 
imagine that the U.S. would have greater concern about drug smuggling 
if Canada completely legalized marijuana production, allowing anyone 
to set up a grow op. The Trudeau government has signalled it wants 
tight controls on growing pot, however.

There's certainly no doubt the U.S. remains deeply conscious of 
border security, especially about preventing terrorists from entering 
the country, as well as serious criminals. Those post-9/11 
border-security measures taught Canadians to worry about the effects 
of a thickening border.

But those fears sometimes serve as an easy strawman in domestic policy debates.

Those concerns were misplaced in the case of Mexican visas. Mr. 
Trudeau promised to lift the visa requirement immediately during last 
year's election campaigns, but he has now delayed it till December. 
Bureaucrats, according to a memo leaked to the CBC, raised concerns, 
including a "significant risk" that if the visa requirement were 
scrapped, the U.S. would see Canada as weak on security, and crack 
down at the border.

Mr. Heyman said he heard of the same concerns when the Conservatives 
were in power, and tried to dispel them. "It is not a U.S. issue," he said.

"I meet so frequently with [Customs and Border Protection] and 
Homeland Security officials on so many things. I have never had a 
discussion with CBP or Homeland Security with regard to any concern 
or any issue or anything that's come up with regard to Mexican 
visas," he said. "Never."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom