Washington, Nov. 2: The US, which is used to advising its citizens to keep off Third World trouble spots — including parts of India, on occasions — got a shocking taste of its own medicine this week.
And faced with a travel advisory from Canada’s foreign ministry asking Canadians of Arab or Pakistani origin to “consider carefully” whether they should visit the US, even in transit, Washington quickly backed off.
The latest in a series of incidents which have soured relations between the US and Canada unfolded on Wednesday when Canada’s foreign minister Bill Graham said in Ottawa that his ministry objected to new US rules requiring anyone born in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan or Syria to be photographed and fingerprinted on arrival in the US.
Even if they were Canadian citizens.
The rules also subject those born in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen to “special attention” from US authorities.
Graham told reporters that “it is not something we approve of and we have registered our strongest disapproval with the US authorities”.
He added that “we can’t tell the Americans what to do on their own territory.
“What we are telling them is that we don’t accept this and we find it very troubling... I am certain that in due course common sense will prevail”.
Indeed it did. Faced with a tough Canadian stand, US ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, told Graham yesterday that Canadians would no longer be subjected to the new rules.
“What happened is that we have a clear recognition by the US that the place of birth is not the determining factor as to whether a person is subject to the security measures”, Graham clarified yesterday.
But Washington’s climbdown did not come easily. A day earlier, state department spokesman Richard Boucher tried to defend the US position on entry for Canadians of Arab origin.
He said the rules were meant to make the US safer. “It is a big border and bad guys try to come across. I think that goes without saying. The question is what we, in cooperation with the Canadian government, can do to make both our countries safer”.
But the controversy unleashed fury in Canada’s parliament and some MPs demanded that Ottawa should retaliate by asking US citizens with criminal records to be fingerprinted before they entered Canada.
Saudi Arabia is already considering fingerprinting all Americans arriving in the kingdom by way of retaliation.
Hussein Amery, president of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations, said: “It certainly looks, smells and feels like racism... the Americans are certainly not treating Canadians as friends when they do this”.
Yesterday, after the Americans backed down, Alexa McDonough, leader of Canada’s New Democrats, said: “The backbone of the foreign minister (Graham) has finally been stiffened and it appears he has done what he should have done”.
The Canadian travel advisory followed an incident last month when officials at John F Kennedy airport in New York arrested a Canadian of Syrian origin while he was merely changing planes on his way back to Canada from Tunisia.
After several weeks, they deported him to Syria instead of Canada. He is now in detention in Syria.
In their advisory, which ought to be a model for Indian consular agents, Ottawa assured Canadians that their “consular officials will respond to requests for assistance from all Canadians who are detained or arrested... by the American authorities”.