The Canada/ U.S. border is the longest in the world between two countries, stretching some 8000 kilometres across some pretty challenging terrain. There are only 100 or so manned border checkpoints with customs officials; the rest of the border is unmanned with only a concrete boundary marker to tell you which country you’re in–and sometimes, not even that.
Take the Haskell Library for example. It sits smack dab on the Canada/U.S. border and has two separate entrances and addresses: one American, and one Canadian. The interior, however, is shared: a black line designates the border. The towns which straddle the library share the same water, sewer, and emergency systems, and there are at least three streets which criss-cross into the other country’s territory.
Haskell Library. Right side of black line is Canada.
Most border crossings, however, are rural and unmanned, like this one:
The no touching zone
And along the 8000 kilometre border is the euphemistically named “no- touching zone”. The no-touching zone is a 20-foot stretch of land which separates each country, cut out by hardy individuals in the early 1900’s as part of the International Boundary Commission.
Since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, Canada has experienced an unprecedented increase in immigrants–most of whom were born in one of the seven countries on the ban list–crossing the unmanned border points into Canada. Their refugee claims denied in the U.S. and fearing deportation, these immigrants risk life and limb, walking for days in unbelievable winter conditions, toward the Canadian border. With spring around the corner, Canada anticipates those numbers increasing.
There’s a sad irony in looking at this man-made land boundary carved out almost 100 years ago: a global “no-touch” zone has emerged. Countries around the world are standing at an ideological impasse with the Trump administration, resisting the relentless onslaught of divisiveness, xenophobia, and geopolitical exceptionalism. And in the middle of the chaos are millions of displaced people who are not a risk to anyone; people like you or I who simply want a better life for themselves and a safe place to raise their children. As a civilization, we never seem to be able to learn from our past, and, in the words of George Santayana, we are forever doomed to repeat it.
I hope the world can get their act together before we end up in a real-life Orwellian nightmare. In the meantime, I take solace in the kindly face of this officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For now, it seems to be all we have.
Mounties assisting a family of refugees crossing into Manitoba, Canada