Canada's reputation as a good neighbor is under fire as some U.S. media and politicians question the safety of the world's longest undefended border.
"Canada has been a fierce ally, top trading partner and America's closest friend for more than a century," said an article in the Boston-based Christian Science Monitor. "But it may be something else, too -- a haven for terrorists."
The Seattle Times said, "The nation to the north is a haven for terrorists" held back by a 4,000-mile border that "is little more barrier than ink on a map."
Though no specific link has been uncovered by law enforcement agents in either country connecting travel from Canada to the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., some cite early reports that some of the terrorists entered New England by ferry from Canada.
Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, added fuel to the fire Tuesday when he declared the "foreign force" that commandeered two planes and slammed them into the World Trade Center towers "came through Canada."
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, gave bipartisan assent to this fear when he noted the easiest way for "anyone who wants to head to our country for the wrong reasons" will take the "easiest border to cross" -- Canada.
Both U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and U.S. Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci have called for increased security on the U.S.-Canadian border, where 832 U.S. agents and inspectors stand guard, compared with 9,000 along the U.S. border with Mexico.
But not everyone is blaming Canada. Gary Luczak, spokesman for Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, said Canada and the United States have been "working well together" since Sept. 11.
Canadian officials, he added, "invited some of our people to the Canadian side to see how we could assist and enhance security and expedite the flow of people and trade."
Rodney Moore, a spokesman for the Canadian Embassy in Washington, said that despite the claims of a Canadian connection, "very senior, involved officials" in the FBI, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and security agencies "to date have found no evidence of any involvement from Canada for the Sept. 11 disaster."
Moore listed a variety of efforts Canada made before and since Sept. 11 to crack down on any terrorist cells and potentially violent illegal aliens using Canada as their base.
Last year, he said, Canada earmarked nearly $1 billion (U.S. funds) for immigration law enforcement.
"In the past six years, we've stopped more than 33,000 people" at Canadian posts overseas from ever entering North America, he said, adding that the effort has been so successful it has been copied by agencies in the United States, Australia and Britain.
In the past five years, Canada deported nearly 46,000 people -- 8,600 of them in 2000 alone, he said.
"Canada's current immigration act inspired the U.S. anti-terrorism act of 1996," he said, adding that new legislation is in the works to tighten Canadian security even further. No details on the new plans have been made public, he said.
Despite these actions, the 2000 public report of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service warned that a rise in more violent, indiscriminate and unpredictable terrorism means that "Canadians, now more than ever, are potential victims and Canada a potential venue for terrorist attacks."
Ward Elcock, the agency's director, told a parliamentary committee in 1998 that virtually every major global terrorist organization was either in Canada at the time or had been operating there, mainly to provide money and other support.
To stem this possible threat, Canada and the United States appear headed for a landmark accord that will tighten Canada's immigration and refugee system, including increased security checks on refugee claimants, increased questioning at the border and a new permanent residency card.
Concern among Canadians about their country's security has sparked a huge upsurge in support for a North American security perimeter.