Mr. Speaker, today, in this late hour of the day, we in this House are being asked to consider the western hemisphere travel initiative, a policy under consideration by the United States government that will, if implemented, fundamentally change the manner in which we travel between the United States and Canada.
This policy would require not only Canadians but also Americans to present passports as the only acceptable form of identification when travelling or returning to the United States.
When this policy was first announced in Washington on April 5, 2005, Elaine Dezenski, an assistant secretary of state, responded to a question by stating, “--we don't control what the Canadians ask of us as we go into their country”. I mention this because I am sure we will concede that should the United States proceed with this policy, in all likelihood we in Canada will require the same level of documentation.
The answer to Ms. Dezenski's statement is that we do control to some degree how we interact with each other as two nations.
The United States is our closest trading partner. We share the security of our continent through the North American Air Defense Command. From the shores of Normandy to the hills of Kandahar, Americans and Canadians have stood together. Ours is a relationship unique in the world. We have a common border that stretches over 8,893 kilometres and a common bond that moves through the fabric of our two peoples.
While we recognize the right of each nation to make whatever rules it feels are necessary for its best interests, we also know that in being so closely connected there are always implications for the actions we take. We have ideals and a vision of ourselves that can certainly be quite divergent. We do not share a common concept of health care. We may not share all the same objectives of foreign policy or, indeed, our vision of the world but we are friends.
Each year millions of Americans come north to Canada and millions of Canadians travel to the United States. We are neighbours visiting neighbours and friends visiting friends. For generations, young Canadians and Americans have crossed our mutual borders on weekends with drivers' licences in hand. They come and go seeking entertainment and they feel comfortable in each other's countries.
Every day people and goods travel across our large frontiers as we trade with each other's number one trading partners. These efficient and unimpeded border crossings are essential for the millions of Americans and Canadians who work in industries that rely on each other for success.
We should not be about building walls between us but rather we should be about building bridges.
When we look to other parts of the world we see nations making it easier to travel between them. In fact, we see greater efforts at partnership. One only has to look at the current status of travel within the European Union. Citizens of member states of the European Union move with little or no hindrance between each other's countries. They understand that the key to a successful partnership, whether in business, culture or travel, is smooth and efficient mobility.
We understand that the United States is a country that endured the most horrendous of terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Indeed, we know there is a need for increased vigilance. However the true objective of terror is to cause those who are its victims to change their lives and to alter their ideals.
While it is essential that we work with our friends in the United States to ensure our mutual security, it is likewise just as important that we protect and encourage the very foundations of our special relationship. The ability to move between our two countries is at the heart of the relationship, and whether it is for business or pleasure, we must be accessible to each other.
We live on a shared continent with forests as old as time itself and rivers that flow across our borders. We share common shorelines of the greatest freshwater lakes in the world. We share a climate. We share mutual cultural interests.
There was a time when we would both speak proudly of having the world's longest undefended border. This was part of our relationship, unique in the history of the world.
The western hemisphere travel initiative is being discussed here because our relationship is important to Americans and Canadians.
I encourage all members of the House, governments in both countries and all citizens of our two countries to take the time to recognize that while we must be ever vigilant about our security, we must also be ever vigilant not to diminish the very special relationship that it has taken generations to build.
Let reason prevail and common sense carry the day.