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The Toronto Star

Obama Won't Ease Restrictions at US-Canada Border

Policy barring Arar also remains the same, U.S. security official says

Tonda MacCharles

The U.S.-Canada border crossing near Jackman, Me., and Armstrong, Que., Sept.12, 2001. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

OTTAWA - Canada-U.S. border slowdowns are mainly a result of aging infrastructure at crossings, not overly restrictive U.S. policy, says a senior American security official.

With a deadline looming that will require passports for entry into the U.S. by land as of June 1, deputy homeland secretary Jane Lute yesterday reinforced a key message: There is little difference between the Democrats' approach and the former Republican leadership when it comes to security on the 49th parallel.

She offered little comfort to Canadian businesses, government and travellers seeking any easing of restrictions. "The border is there, and it's a real border," Lute told reporters at a briefing at the U.S. embassy.

Nor will the Obama administration deviate from the previous Bush administration's position on Maher Arar.

Terry Breese, chargé d'affaires acting as interim ambassador at the embassy, said the policy remains. "Mr. Arar is not welcome in the United States. He's not admissible.

"He was removed from the United States to his native Syria. He returned to Canada."

Breese said a royal commission "made its own decisions" that Arar was erroneously labelled as a terror suspect, "but the United States remains of the view that he's not admissible to the United States."

Because "much of the evidence is classified" it is unlikely the American case against Arar will ever be made public, Breese said.

Lute said she is aware of concerns in Canada that unnecessary regulations are clogging trade and travel at the border, but she repeatedly refused to say whether the Obama administration agrees the concerns are justified.

Obama's second-in-charge of homeland security visited U.S. facilities at the Buffalo-Niagara Falls crossing, and met government officials in Ottawa as Obama and Lute's boss, Janet Napolitano, travelled to the troubled U.S.-Mexico border.

Lute said in Buffalo, which sees its economy integrated with that of southern Ontario, "there are concerns about congestion."

"It's not just related to the rules they have to implement, there is infrastructure challenges that exist. A lot of the infrastructure that we see, and I had an opportunity to view it firsthand, is old infrastructure" that has not kept up with the "evolution of commerce," she said.

But Lute dismissed fears of chaos and confusion at the border when the U.S. brings in the tougher rules.

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