A High-Voltage Tension Line

Security problems on the world’s longest undefended border strain Canada-U.S. relations

Vancouver, B.C.

On December 14, 1999, Algerian-born Ahmed Ressam crossed the border from Canada into the United States via the Victoria, B.C./Port Angeles, Wash., ferry. The trunk of his rented Chrysler was packed with enough explosives to blow up four large buildings.

Gary Stubblefield, president of security consultants Global Options, stated, “Ressam was planning up to four massive attacks on the scale of the Oklahoma federal building or World Trade Towers bombing.” Casualties would have been in the thousands or tens of thousands, he told the House subcommittee on immigration.

Three Canadians appeared before the House subcommittee. None had much good to say about Ottawa’s efforts to stop terrorists from arriving and thriving in Canada. “We’re the proud subsidizers of terrorism through inadvertance,” said David Harris, former chief of strategic planning for the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (Vancouver Sun, Jan. 27).

The subcommittee heard that Canada allows far too many questionable refugee claimants into the country. Once they arrive, overworked Canadian immigration officers do a poor job of weeding out potential terrorists.

According to John Thompson of the Toronto-based Mackenzie Institute, there are about 6,000 warrants for the arrest of illegal immigrants in Canada that have not been served.

Lax immigration laws, a liberal refugee system and weak funding controls are giving Canada the unenviable description, “Club Med for terrorists.”

There are a number of reasons why Canada makes an attractive base for terror groups. Unlike the U.S., which has numerous restrictions on fundraising for terrorist organizations, it is relatively easy to raise money for foreign groups in Canada. As well, Canada’s history of open immigration means there are a variety of ethnic communities where it is simple for foreign terrorists to live unnoticed. “You keep the bulk of your exercise as far removed from the target site and country until the last minute,” said David Harris. “[Canada] is, in some respects, a terrorist’s dream profile for a country” (Vancouver Sun, Jan. 26).

Drug Problems

Another major problem surfacing in Canada is the exploding drug-smuggling business. Recently, border patrol agents in Washington State complained that British Columbia’s lenient penalties for growing marijuana were encouraging organized crime to export high-potency “B.C. bud” southward. A Vancouver Sun investigation found only one in five people convicted of growing pot went to jail in Vancouver.

Eugene Davis, deputy chief of the U.S. border patrol in Blain, Wash., said that based on the amount of pot seized by his officers, the amount of marijuana being smuggled into the U.S. from B.C. has increased tenfold over the past two years.

The huge and extremely profitable marijuana export trade appears to be leaving law enforcement in the dust. The marriage of hydroponic technology and organized crime has given rise to a multi-million dollar enterprise.

In the Woodstock era, marijuana commonly had 2 or 3 percent of the ingredient that gets you “high”—tetrahydrocannabinol (thc). Today, the B.C. variety routinely runs 15 to 20 percent (and a mind-addling 27 percent in one recent seizure). Police say that through their wiretaps, they have found that “B.C. bud” is now so powerful that it is being exchanged, pound for pound, for cocaine (Globe and Mail, Jan. 29).

Annual marijuana revenues are approaching those of the forest industry (worth Canadian $14.4 billion in 1998). “It’s out of control,” said rcmp inspector Kim Clark, who heads the province’s proceeds of crime unit.

Risk of detection is low, court sentences are lenient, law enforcement is understaffed and organized crime laws are weak-kneed.

The export trade for B.C.-grown pot has reached such staggering proportions that, last May, Canada narrowly escaped being placed on the U.S. government’s blacklist of drug-source countries, alongside, for example, Colombia and Afghanistan. “The border has become an irresistible temptation to international terrorists and smugglers,” U.S. Representative Lamar Smith complained, posing “a direct and growing threat to citizens in both Canada and the United States” (ibid.).

Dave Kellar, intelligence head for the region’s U.S. Border Patrol, stated, “I don’t think anyone has any idea what the extent of the problem is. It’s huge.”

The longest undefended border in the world has suddenly become a high-voltage tension line.