By LEE-ANNE GOODMAN, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Wed, April 22, 2009
WASHINGTON -- A diplomatic skirmish has broken out over suggestions by the U.S. homeland security secretary that terrorists have routinely entered the United States through Canada, including the Sept. 11 attackers.
Janet Napolitano's remarks in a CBC interview this week angered Canadian parliamentarians who were in Washington yesterday for a border conference attended by both Napolitano and Ambassador Michael Wilson.
As the keynote speaker at the Border Trade Alliance meeting, Wilson said he was "frustrated" that the 9/11 myth has resurfaced once again, eight years after the terrorist attacks.
"Unfortunately, misconceptions arise on something as fundamental as where the 9/11 terrorists came from," Wilson said.
"As the 9/11 commission reported in 2004, all of the 9/11 terrorists arrived in the United States from outside North America. They flew to major U.S. airports. They entered the U.S. with documents issued by the United States government and no 9/11 terrorists came from Canada."
But Wilson later added that Napolitano's handlers had reassured the Canadian Embassy that she simply misunderstood a question during the interview.
"Her comment from her people is that she misunderstood," Wilson told a throng of Canadian media that descended upon the conference to hear what he had to say about the controversy.
"We've been in touch with her office a few times this morning and there's no question in my mind she does not believe any terrorists came from Canada into the United States."
Wilson also said he planned to sit down with Napolitano soon to discuss the issue.
In the CBC interview, Napolitano was asked about comments she made last month that the Canadian and Mexican borders must be treated with parity, despite a deadly drug war being waged on the U.S.-Mexican boundary and the flood of illegal immigrants who sneak across the heavily fortified border regularly.
"Yes, Canada is not Mexico, it doesn't have a drug war going on, it didn't have 6,000 homicides that were drug-related last year," she said.
"Nonetheless, to the extent that terrorists have come into our country or suspected or known terrorists have entered our country across a border, it's been across the Canadian border. There are real issues there."
When asked if she was talking about the 9/11 perpetrators, Napolitano replied: "Not just those, but others as well."
She also hinted she had information about terrorist activity that was not public knowledge.
Napolitano dug the hole a bit deeper in remarks to the border conference yesterday.
"The fact of the matter is that Canada allows people into its country that we do not allow into ours," she said.
A Canadian MP in attendance said he was alarmed by Napolitano's comments.
"If you are in fact negotiating a managed border and your negotiating partner believes a set of mythology, then you have problems . . . you try to work on the basis of fact, not on the basis of myth," Liberal MP John McKay said.
McKay also disputed Napolitano's insistence that Canada is more lax about the people it allows into the country.
"It's just plain nonsense. It is so far removed from my own personal experience," he said.
"I have a heavily immigrant riding and I do visas all day every day, and one of the most difficult things I have to explain to my constituents is why is it that the United States granted a multiple-entry visa to the relatives, but Canada won't."