Ottawa — Saying "America treasures its relationship with Canada," Secretary of State Colin Powell promised Thursday that the United States would strive to keep Canadians from being hassled or singled out when they cross the border.
Powell flew here for a luncheon meeting with Foreign Minister Bill Graham and other Canadian officials that he said dealt with Iraq "in considerable detail." The meeting also was intended as a balm on sore feelings in Canada over border security measures implemented by its powerful next-door neighbor.
Canada has been unhappy with the U.S. National Security Entry Exit Registration System, which authorizes taking fingerprints and photographs of people born or holding citizenship in five countries the United States says sponsor terrorism: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria.
Canadian officials consider the policy discriminatory. The government issued a travel advisory warning people from those five countries to avoid going into the United States, but rescinded it when U.S. officials promised that Canadian citizens would not get special scrutiny based on their country of birth.
Powell said both countries were working to simplify the system. He reminded Canadians the tighter border restrictions "are not directed at Canada" but are meant to extend greater protection to the American people.
"We're doing everything we can so that we respect Canadian citizenship, and they're not being profiled or anything," he said.
Border security worries were heightened this fall when two Canadians became ensnared in the new U.S. processes.
One, Maher Arar of Montreal, was detained Sept. 26 when he changed planes at John F. Kennedy airport in New York while returning home from Tunisia. Arar holds dual Canadian-Syrian citizenship and was deported to Syria; Canadian officials said he should have been sent to Canada.
The other, Michel Jalbert, 32, of Quebec, was arrested Oct. 11 when he journeyed into Maine to buy gas. An American policeman spotted a hunting rifle in Jalbert's vehicle, and a background check found Jalbert had been convicted 13 years ago of vandalism and possessing stolen property