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Vigilance at US-Canada Border

Concerns in the United States about "porous" borders have long been directed southward. They've now shifted north. The US-Canada line is drawing close scrutiny as a transit route for terrorists.

The concerns are well justified. Canada's open immigration policies and relatively lax policing of recent arrivals could make it a logical entry point for those seeking more than a new life in the US.

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That possibility took on actuality in late 1999, when an Algerian who had been residing in Canada was caught at the Washington State border, trying to enter the US with explosives in his trunk. More recently, a man with a history of immigration violations in Canada was detained by the FBI in Chicago, and is being held on suspicion of having connections to the Sept. 11 suicide hijackers.

That's the only, still speculative, link between the attacks on New York and the Pentagon and the Canadian border. But calls for tightened vigilance are mounting, and common sense demands they be heeded.

US Attorney General John Ashcroft has pointed out that while 9,000 Border Patrol agents work the Mexican border, only 500 are stationed on the Canada line. The latter force will undoubtedly be beefed up. Inspections of vehicles and luggage will intensify. And the ability of border police to quickly access law-enforcement data banks to check out travelers must be enhanced.

Most important, Canadian and US cooperation in investigating suspected terrorists and terrorist cells must become closer.

At the same time, things need to be kept in perspective.

Canadians have understandably bridled at talk of virtually merging the two countries' justice systems and creating a security "perimeter" around them that would deemphasize the border. And more-zealous border enforcement has to be weighed against the fact that Canada sends 85 percent of its exports to the US.

Such considerations are important. But most important, at this juncture, is increased joint attention to the threat of terrorism, which will protect both countries.