People with links to terrorists have been turned away at U.S. borders every single day since the attacks of September 2001, says Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge.
Ridge, on a visit to Ottawa on Thursday, said improved intelligence measures and border security have helped American officials reject a greater number of would-be visitors.
He made the comment Thursday after meeting Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan to issue a progress report on making border security more efficient.
"There isn't a day that goes by -- literally -- where a couple of people aren't turned away at our borders because they are associated in some manner, shape or form with terrorist or terrorist-related organizations,'' he said.
"What the quantitative number is, I don't know. But we do turn people away daily at the border.''
He was responding to a question about how many potential terrorist threats had been thwarted with all the money being spent to beef up security at the Canada-U.S. border.
But Ridge appeared to be referring to all international gateways to the U.S. It wasn't clear how many visitors have been turned away at the Canada-U.S. border.
Ridge also dismissed a claim by U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry that the border has become less safe under the Bush administration.
The Canada-U.S. progress report released Thursday is on the Smart Border Action Plan signed three years ago in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.
That agreement was intended to strengthen security while allowing legitimate traffic to flow more smoothly.
Government and business fear the potential impact from tightened security on the $1.7 billion in daily trade between Canada and the U.S.
Among the measures announced Thursday:
- Canada's participation in the U.S. Container Security Initiative, where Canadian border agents would be deployed to at a foreign marine port by April 2005 to search shipping containers bound for North America.
- A pilot project at Vancouver international airport to use biometric information like fingerprints and eye scans to fast-track low-risk passengers through immigration and customs. The so-called NEXUS project is already in place at 11 border crossings and will be extended to air travellers in Vancouver starting Nov. 30.
- A new Canada-U.S. Integrated Border Enforcement Team in the Sault Ste. Marie region. Similar groups of Canadian and American law-enforcement officials are already in place at 14 border regions.
- Installing so-called fast lanes to allow trucks and commercial goods to move faster while higher-risk passengers get screened at the B.C.-Blaine, Wash. and Windsor-Detroit crossings. Fast lanes have already been installed at 12 crossings.
- A plan to consult stakeholders such as trucking companies on a commercial pre-screening project at the Peace Bridge crossing between Fort Erie, Ont. and Buffalo.
"This is indeed a clear signal that both countries remain committed to working in partnership to secure our borders,'' McLellan said.
"There are no two countries on this Earth more closely allied than Canada and the United States.
The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters association welcomed the progress, but warned that more has to be done to improve the flow of trade.
"I applaud the two governments for the measures they announced today,'' said association president Perrin Beatty.
"Now what we urgently need is commitment, investment and action from both governments for infrastructure."
Increasing delays at crossings and backlogs at ports cost Canadian companies hundreds of millions of dollars each year in addition to the added cost of losing future business.
"Problem areas include the roads and bridges themselves, a shortage of border staff and too few customs booths for vehicles to travel through as well as the implementation of ongoing security improvements.''