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BORDER COMMUNITIES STRIVING TO ENSURE FREEDOM, SECURITY

I would like to commend The Buffalo News for its informative and balanced reporting since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, particularly as regards the Canada-U.S. border. Where the editorial, "Problems at the border," reached to understand the breadth of issues and controls needed to ensure national and continental security, many other reports around the country, and in the national media, have simply pointed to the northern border as a weak link in North American security enforcement.

In response to public concerns over security at the border, in recent days we've seen both the Canadian and U.S. governments introduce substantive new legislation to strengthen personnel and policies as well as the tools and mechanisms that drive the security apparatus at the border.

With images of the tragedy and horror of Sept. 11 deeply imprinted on our minds, I am sure that everyone will agree that these new measures are both welcome and necessary.

In this regard, the government of Canada has introduced a number of measures as part of a $280 million (Canadian) Anti-Terrorism Plan that has four objectives:

Stop terrorists from getting into Canada.

Bring forward tools to identify, prosecute, convict and punish terrorists.

Prevent the Canada-U.S. border from being held hostage by terrorists and impacting the economy.

Work with the international community to bring terrorists to justice and address the reasons for the hatred that causes terrorism.

Specifically, $91 million has been allocated to improve airport security, ranging from new explosives detection equipment at airports to more than 150 additional customs and security inspectors.

An additional $54 million for law enforcement and intelligence agencies will enhance integrated policing activities, improve technology, increase protection services, enhance information sharing among government departments as well as international and domestic law enforcement agencies, and provide for increased staffing in priority areas.

And $49 million for strengthened immigration will provide for the introduction of a permanent resident card for new immigrants by June 2002, front-end security screening of refugee claimants, increased detention capacity, increased deportation activity and hiring up to 100 new employees to enforce upgraded security at ports of entry.

Finally, the House of Commons has introduced a package of measures that takes aim at terrorist organizations and strengthens investigation, prosecution and prevention of terrorist activities at home and abroad.

In the five years since I was appointed Canadian consul general to Buffalo, the border has been a near constant focus of my work and attention. With Section 110 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which would have generated delays at the border measured in hours instead of minutes, I learned early on that border regions understand far more keenly than inland states the important role that the border plays in our personal and commercial lives.

As with just about all else, proximity enables experience, which inevitably leads to deeper understanding. Border communities such as ours in Western New York and across Niagara recognize the need to safely balance the often competing goals of security with the smooth and efficient movement of goods and people in our border operations.

Underlying these primary concerns, we often find that bridge authorities need to address secondary issues having to do with regional economic development and to some degree, competition with distant border regions, all of which adds to the complex nature of border management. We learned with Section 110 -- where it was paramount to cultivate nationwide understanding of the full import and impact of the border -- that there is simply no substitute or match for the experienced view from the border.

Just under two years ago, Buffalo-Niagara served to launch a binational discussion among government, border communities and stakeholders on border management through the Canada-U.S. Partnership Forum. It is time again for border communities to step forward and to make their voices heard -- to ensure both our security and our freedom.

MARK ROMOFF is Canadian consul general to Buffalo.