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Canada's Toughest Border Crossing (thewalrus.ca)
97 points by pseudolus 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments

A short summary of what’s going on here:

The land in question involves an aboriginal reserve that has a border going through it.

Canada used to have its border post at the physical border. But felt that this allowed too much smuggling with the reserve all around it.

So the feds move the border post inland: at the border of the reserve and the rest of Canada.

As a result, the “correct” procedure to enter the Canadian side of the reserve is to:

1) exit USA

2) drive past your intended destination to the border post (I suppose they could create the world’s largest duty free or free trade zone)

3) drive back to wherever you were going.

Canada used to have its border post at the physical border. But felt that this allowed too much smuggling with the reserve all around it.

My understanding is that moving the border post had more to do with poor community relations. It became too much of a hassle to maintain it on Akwesasne land:


Should Canada leave the aboriginal reserve, because it makes more sense?

The thing that would make the most sense would be to allow the First Nations tribe in question to vote on which country it should belong to, and, regardless of the outcome of the vote, to grant all residents of it dual citizenship (Due to existing ties that members of the tribe have to persons living outside of the reserve.)

Everything else either:

1. Compromises the border. (If you don't care about the border, then this point is, of course, negotiable.)

2. Draws an arbitrary geopolitical line, that benefits[1] two super-powers[2], at the expense of the rights and freedoms of a nation, that has been there long before the existence of Canada and the United States, and will likely remain long after.

[1] Actually, it's not even clear if there are any benefits to the current state of affairs.

[2] Think Germany, being split in half by the East/West border - or the Berlin wall. It sure as hell wasn't built for the benefit of the Germans.

The obvious solution is for the United States to negotiate an open border with Canada. Policy changes might be needed on both sides, but the economic benefits of open borders between allies with similar economies is undeniable.

Canada already has problems with guns being smuggled in from the US, I feel like that would only make it worse. Although maybe it is just an impossible problem to solve.

Canadian here, and I'd like to say: uh, no, thanks.

Canada has a very different culture than the US. Examples:

* compare types of crimes, and rates of crimes in major Canadian cities versus major US cities

* existence of many "socialist" policies, which all work on the following: "you contribute a small amount uniform across all citizens, to the national piggy bank, and the national piggy bank doles out to those in need (which may very well be you, but hopefully not, because things are likely not going to be in a good place for you then)"

* existence of media which would be "drowned" out by the US, if it weren't protected/supported by the government (e.g. CBC)

* different viewpoint on how to integrate minorities and First Nations so that everyone can prosper, together---partially because of the way history played out (not because "we're better")

* different take on nationalism

I actually get the US's immigration concerns. I really wouldn't want Americans flooding into Canada (no offense, but yeah, there are just major cultural issues which would need to be fixed first, otherwise the majority will just "win out").

Reading my post, I begin to realize that it could be taken very negatively. I want to convey the fact that my parents chose to immigrate to Canada, and not the US, for a reason. We would feel really weird if the countries somehow started to "integrate" further, unless it was Canadian "culture" that dominated. Otherwise, I am not sure if home would feel like home anymore (I don't feel like an outsider in Canada, but I often do feel like an outsider when I visit the US).

Immigrants who arrive to the country are usually extremely grateful, and willing to integrate into the bigger picture, or at least, that's the vision that Canada seems to operate under. This seems to create lower levels of "tension", less "ghetto-ization", and so on. I think that's the biggest culture difference between Canada and the US: most people aren't constantly thinking about the worst that could happen, and the worst generally doesn't happen.

I might be totally wrong. Scratch that: I really hope I am totally wrong.

I don't see how any of those things relate to open borders. Having different cultures doesn't preclude an open border; see Scotland and England for reference. Can you please clarify?

It's funny. I asked a friend of mine if she would oppose open borders with Canada, and she said that the US couldn't afford to deal with all of the Canadians that would flood into the United States. So which is it? I feel like this is a reflexive conservative argument that all of these X are going to come to our country and change our culture and take our stuff. Why is the first one bad, and is there even any evidence for the second?

Meanwhile, we're all leaving money on the table because of our fears: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17382400

Scotland and England are not really different countries, despite what people there might say. They’re just local political divisions, less significant than a Canadian province.

I assume that the theoretical open borders policy you’re describing would still leave in place immigration restrictions, so I don’t see why the rush of Canadians would overwhelm the U.S. (since they can’t work legally).

I see at least a couple big road blocks though. First, both Canada and the U.S. impose selective tariffs and restrictions on imported products from across the world. An open border would effectively allow venue shopping, as products imported to Canada would find themselves in the U.S. and vice versa. Even for local products, Canada standards for e.g. cheese seem like they would be much harder to enforce. Second, both Canada and the U.S. choose who to admit to the county based on their own polices (criminal backgrounds, specific blacklists, etc.). These would have the same problem with an open border.

An open border would effectively require a lot of these policies to be unified for Canada and the U.S., much like the E.U. While there are benefits, that’s a lot of autonomy to give up.

Open borders simply means people can travel freely, similar to the Schengen Area [1] in western Europe. It doesn't mean they have some sort of automatic dual-citizenship or whatever it is you're talking about here.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schengen_Area

The Schengen Area is relatively uniform with regards to government subsidization of healthcare and the availability of guns.

The same can't be said of the US and Canada. The incredible amount of regulatory capture in the US makes them unlikely to reconcile those aspects of their society with the rest of the developed world any time soon.

Setting aside your subjective opinion about the state of the US's government, the Schengen area includes countries such as Slovakia and Austria. Apparently there have been no wave of Slovakians migrating into Austria despite the gap between their living standard, political transparency or corruption level. Hungary and Austria for that matter, or Poland and German. The agreement is only about open border. Nothing else.

You clearly fail to understand the statistical differences in health and safety between those countries if you think they’re comparable to the gulf that exists between Canada and the United States.

Surely the easiest thing is to allow genuine permanent residents of Akwesasne - on either side of the border - to apply for some kind of special permit that allows them to just self-report their entry and exit over the phone.

Or the reserve could be a special administrative region that's partly Canadian and partly USA territory within which travel is unrestricted (sort of like Hong Kong). With two border posts - one on the border of the reserve and Canada and one on the border of the USA and Canada. But of course the problem here isn't lack of sensible solutions, it's political fuckupery.

The thing that would make the most sense would be to allow the First Nations tribe in question to vote on which country it should belong to . . .

The thing is that they mostly consider themselves independent. I'm not sure such a vote would get a meaningful result, and it would probably raise tensions rather than lower them.

They may consider themselves independent, but in practice, would probably prefer to be a part of one of the two countries, compared to being a land-locked micro-state, or the status quo.

How about a temporary change of the border? I.e., an agreement where one party gives up the region until they decide to have it back.

If you do that, the problem will shift to bouncing people around between two incompatible social and economic systems. "You are now subjects of Canada, until at some indeterminate point in the future, half of you will become Americans. Again."

The land these people live on is not of vital importance to either country. As such, we should be doing right by the people who live on it.

That kind of "temporary" solution that lasts forever in practice is a good way to get around national sovereignty sensitivities, though.

This may make Washington and Ottawa feel good (Because it lets both sides save face), but is going to be pretty shitty for the people living in said territory, if it ever goes back to being split.

If it will never be re-split, then it's a de-facto annexation. In which case, I'd prefer that the residents vote on it.

A condominium arrangement[0] seems like a pretty reasonable to resolve this.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Condominium_(international_law...

No, US should do it. But seriously though, the territory spans both US and Canada. Why is Canada different from the US in that regard?

There's an entertaining CGP Grey video about other oddities in the US-Canada border.


Considering how inconvenient it is in some geographies and how small the patches of land are, I'm always surprised the State Department doesn't negotiate a land exchange treaty with Canada to fix what are essentially cartography bugs.

Both sides would spend a few tens of millions compensating people for land seizures and dealing with the administrative overhead of negotiating and ratifying the deal but would gain it back over time with simplified border stations.

There's a fantastic film about this very plight. It's called Super Troopers 2. ;P

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEed-o8fVpM (possibly nsfw)

I grew up in Delta near Point Roberts. It's a part of America located on the southern end of a peninsula, the rest of which, is part of British Columbia. They have an elementary school but not a high school in point roberts. So, when I was in high school, most of the people from Point Roberts would be bussed into Tsawwassen but we had a bus that would bring a few of them to the high school I went to.

That seems like a perfect area that could be part of your land exchange idea. All the teenagers there end up going to school in Canada anyway. There's only one crossing between Point Roberts and Canada.

Then where will Canadians deliver their EBay, Amazon and other US vendor packages?

Have you seen how much cheaper auto parts are in USA?

Blaine. :)

I don't understand what you're trying to say. US residents can't register their children for public school in Delta or Surrey. There is a school bus that goes from point Roberts to Blaine every day, with special permission to bypass the border checkpoint, which takes all of the Point Roberts high school students to the HS in Blaine.

Some people in Point Roberts have dual citizenships. Some of the ones with both Canadian and American citizenships had their kids attend school in Canada. My highschool and a closer one in south delta had a bus for those people. Sorry my original comment was kind of unclear. There was about 6 people that took the bus from there whike I was going to school there, there was about 2000 people in my school.

Even with dual citizenship, people can't just send their kids to a Canadian school if it's not their primary residence. In BC you have to show proof of location to register a kid for school, either you own your home, or you show a copy of your lease, utility bills, etc.

If I had to guess they were using relatives' houses claimed as their actual residential address. This has been a problem in Vancouver recently with people claiming false residence addresses to register their kids for the "good" elementary schools in yaletown and kitsilano.

If it's a handful, they might just give a fee exemption of some sort and eat the cost. May as well prepare them for Canadian university that they'll inevitably attend because it's cheaper since they'll pay local rate.

> That same year, a 16-year-old [...], 10th-grader <redacted>, allegedly smuggled $25,000 US worth of marijuana across the Peace Arch border on school buses designated to transport Point Roberts students to Blaine, Wash., schools.

lol, but makes me wonder where/how they picked up their stock.

Cartographic "bugs" are features to politicians.

The article covers the issues quite well. It's hell for the people who live on either side of the border, and relations with the authorities on the Canadian side have been especially bad - in addition to the protest about CBSA border guards carrying guns earlier in the decade, there was a violent land dispute at another Mohawk reservation about 30 miles to the east in 1990 in which two people including a Quebec police officer lost their lives (http://www.rcinet.ca/en/2018/07/09/shooting-death-police-ind...).

The smuggling issue is not just something that takes place on the Akwesasne area of the St. Lawrence, either. It happens throughout the Thousand Islands.

Back when tobacco tax were much higher in Ontario and Quebec, the Akwesasne reserve was a key smuggling area for bringing low tax US cigarettes into Canada. I remember seeing videos of Ski-doos hauling sleds stacked high with cartons of cigarettes.

Eventually Ontario and Quebec (and a few other provinces) dropped their tobacco taxes to remove the incentive to smuggle.[1]


How much higher could they have possibly been in Ontario? A pack of Du Maurier runs you almost $20 CAD these days...

This was a long time ago. NY Times article says $44 for a carton in Ontario versus $15 or so in the US.

Obviously different times. However, the increase in taxes in the US made even higher taxes in Canada possible.

The price disparities between untaxed "reserve" cigarettes and non-reserve cigarettes is still there.

But they're often manufactured in Ontario now and find their way around.

Currency exchange rates can play some element.

New York State already has a lot of domestic demand for untaxed tobacco now that they're upped their taxes (again).

I recall camping on a small island on the Canadian side of the Thousand Islands. We planned to visit a dive site a short boat trip away, on the US side. Since tying up to a mooring was technically "making landfall" in the other country (even though there was no land involved), you had to go two hours out of your way to check in with the border post first.

At the time you could apply for an I-68 pass allowing boaters to report in by phone when doing short, innocuous crossings like this (with some restrictions, i.e. the trip is less than 72 hours and you stay within 25 miles of the shoreline).

It was super convenient. I wonder if a system like that could work here?

Probably not.

The part that’s missing in the article is that the reservation is a major hub of smuggling and various frauds.

Reminds me of the Northwest Angle, which requires you to cross the Canada border to get back into a small piece of America that is self-contained within Canada. And odd piece of geographic borders: https://lakeofthewoodsmn.com/northwest-angle/

Also Point Roberts Washington. School kids are bussed daily from the US through Canada to the US, and then back again at the end of the day.


We could trade those of course, but we could also connect them.

It looks like Point Roberts needs an 8-mile tunnel and the Northwest Angle needs an 11-mile tunnel. Causeways would probably work too.

The policy under which they might gain the right to mobility - proof of ancestral custom - fixes in place what would have been a continually evolving aspect of historical culture. The Orenda discusses a particular huron tribe picking up their whole village, including their dead, and moving it somewhere else - a practice they would repeat every few years or so. They couldn't recall any one place to say "thats where our ancestors lived" except to point at the whole territory where they made their various villages. The policy of requiring 50% native blood seems also geared towards eventually ending this allowance, given that entropy never decreases.

There is a lot to say here, but one question your comment raises is, why does the Canadian/American legal system have to acknowledge or accommodate a continually evolving aspect of historical culture? How much accommodation is fair to ask?

Many tribal practices of native peoples were and are incompatible with western legal systems. This is in part because the western legal system developed as an affirmative rejection of tribal law and customs. To take the example of England: Angles, Jutes, Saxons & Normans are all known to us; and the people are still here; but the scope of their tribal laws gradually narrowed as the framework of English law developed.

The notion of "equality before the law" gradually expanded individual rights and identity to a point where few of us recognise any tribal affiliation and led to uniquely open societies.

By that same logic, every noble house in Europe would have gone extinct by now. It's not hard, especially when you're dealing with isolated communities, to keep a lot of genetic continuity for a long time.

You don't need a 50% blood line to maintain your nobility title, you inherit the title from someone else, usually your father just like, and usually along with, a house or an estate.

To make it like aristocracy the rule should apply recursively, you are a Mohawk if 50% of your ascendants are Mohawks as defined by the same rule.

I once new a guy who was working really hard to keep a blood % out of his tribe treaty in Washington state. Said it was really hard to get his tribe to realize just how valuable it was to only have to show lineage, and not how much. The US (state?) government wanted to pay a small sum of money as due consideration for the treaty change, and he just couldn’t get the tribe to understand that the money would be gone in less than a few years, but that their grandchildren would likely have a harder time. I don’t think it helped that this guy looked pretty white, and wonder if there were people in the tribe who thought this % clause would help keep people out of the tribe who maybe didn’t look like they belonged.

The Haskell Free Library in Derby Line and Stanstead Quebec is quirky. Half in Canada and half in the US.


Both towns are fascinating as well. Worth a visit in the summer/fall.

In relation to that, some time ago I also stumbled across this photographic documentary of the whole US/Canada border:


I was there a few years ago and ended up Roland Roy[0], Derby Line town hero.

[0] https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125511...

how about putting the US border-crossing on the canadian side and the canadian border-crossing onto the US side?

though politically unlikely, this would be the most practical.

in order to enter the reservation from the US side you need to be cleared to enter canada but you are not actually leaving the US until you leave the reservation on the canadian side.

the reverse process from the other direction.

people who live in the reservation never need to cross any border checking. it also means you are only able to enter the reservation if you are allowed to stay in the US and in canada. not a problem for locals, but maybe for tourists who eg. have a visa for canada but not for the US.

it would also mean that the stricter laws of both countries would apply. no guns in the reservation as per canada's laws for example...

What's so great about those two countries that makes the border control to be overly diligent?

They both have a surplus of bored and/or vindictive officials.

getting their taxes on tobacco products is of extreme importance

Escape at Dannemora

Seems off topic?

If you click "Guidelines" at the bottom:

> On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity.

Frankly, I enjoy this "topic"; people post interesting things that I would have never otherwise learned about. Particularly Wikipedia articles; for example, I learned about Pando[1], one of the largest organisms on Earth: it is an Aspen grove occupying 106 acres, but it's still a single thing. To me, that was mind blowing the first time I read it; I wouldn't have ever recognized such a thing even if I were there in person.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pando_(tree)

Pando is fascinating and would definitely be worth visiting. Another large organism that got some press recently is the "Humongous Fungus" which covers 2,385 acres of forest in Oregon and is apparently one of the oldest organisms on earth [0]. There's definitely the potential for a sci-fi movie.

[0] https://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/nature/the-worlds-larg...

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