Aerial Reconnaissance over the Prairie

By Glynn Custred on March 9, 2009
The US watches the once longest undefended border with drone aircraft

Adapted from a report in the Munich newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, March 2, 2009

Canadians have long been proud of the "longest undefended border in the world" between their country and the United States, 8,891 kilometers across the entire continent from the Atlantic to Pacific Ocean. Those days, however, are over, say some Canadians, for the United States is beefing up its surveillance along a 370 kilometer stretch of the border between Manitoba and North Dakota using unmanned aircraft equipped with infrastructure cameras and optical sensors.

Eight military air bases are located in the vicinity of the border where helicopters and pursuit aircraft are stationed, and from which remote controlled Predator B drones will soon be operating on routine border patrol. The Predators can stay aloft for 18 hours without refueling and have a surveillance capacity of forty miles altitude. Although the remote controlled aircraft are allowed to fly only 16 kilometers from the border they will still be able to look into a 24 kilometer strip of Canada, according to the newspaper the Globe and Mail. Border Patrol spokesman Juan Munoz-Torres told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that the United States does not want to spy on Canada, just "to observe illegal activity along the border."

Some Canadians find the whole exercise unnecessary. They also resent the feeling that they are being watched by the United States from the sky. They are also bothered by the fact that Predator aircraft has been used for military purposes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Munoz-Torres says that the drones are indeed military technology, but in this case used for civilian purposes. Predators are already in use in remote areas along the US-Mexico border.

Many Canadians do not like the idea that the United States is starting to treat the two borders in similar ways. For example, political scientist Ben Muller at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that the U.S. government is trying to soothe the feelings of Americans who make no distinction between the two borders. "They don’t see how different our border is" says Muller who also complains about false reports that link 9/11 and Canada. He finds the use of Predators bizarre, saying, "I am skeptical that they will see anything but wild animals."

Maybe not, but smuggling activities take place across all borders, in the case of the longest undefended border in the world the illicit movement of drugs flowing south and arms moving north is a reality. Also, NGOs of terror care little about what kind of border they cross as long as they get where they intend to go. In the case of Canada, the government is providing terrorist elements with opportunities they might one day exploit, for the Canadian government is subverting its own immigration laws in what many in Canada regard as a blatant abuse of asylum by which anyone can enter the country even without documentation, and freely move around the while waiting for hearings that many do not bother to attend. The Canadian de facto open-entry policy thus provides terrorists with an end-run around US security by offering them free entry into North America and an 8,891 kilometer border to cross at their convenience.

Canada is a sovereign country and can handle its immigration flow anyway it likes. The United States is also sovereign, and thus has every right to defend itself against the potentially adverse affects of its neighbors’ policies, or against its neighbors’ inability to control their own territory. Blaming "uninformed" (read "dumb") Americans for prudent steps to deal with their security needs, does not reflect well those who level those accusations.