The Canadian government will spend $28 million to remind Canadians that their national identity was forged in a largely forgotten war against the United States.
“Without the War of 1812, Canada as we know it would not exist,” Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore said Tuesday, while announcing a three-year-long commemoration of the conflict.
“Not enough Canadians know about the importance of the War of 1812. It was the fight for Canada,” Moore told reporters.
American historian Alan Taylor described the war as Canada’s David-versus-Goliath victory in repelling a U.S. invasion. The battle has instilled a lasting suspicion of American intentions toward Canada’s sovereignty.
Flag-waving events begin the year of the war’s 200th anniversary, including battle re-enactments, films, concerts and the building of a permanent memorial in Ottawa to the War of 1812.
But some see this planned outpouring of Canadian patriotism with suspicion.
News of the war’s commemoration broke at about the time that Canada and the U.S. were poised to announce a deal on security and trade along the 49th parallel.
That focused concerns that had been building during the past year, as both countries negotiated the border deal in secret.
Wayne Easter, international trade critic for the opposition Liberal Party, accused the government last week of wanting Canadians to “buy a pig in a poke.”
“Canadians need to know how much is our personal privacy going to be affected by this perimeter security proposal, and is there going to be any impact on Canadian sovereignty,” Easter asked the government during a sitting of the House of Commons.
The United States’ primary objective in the talks is to tighten security along a border that many American politicians, since the 9/11 attacks, consider too porous. Canadians see some of that concern as uninformed paranoia.
The most astounding examples came in 2009, when both Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Senator John McCain wrongly claimed the 9/11 hijackers entered the U.S. through Canada.
Canadians have already seen a “thickening” of the border: Passports, instead of drivers’ licences, are now needed to cross, inspections of people and cargo have increased, and communities bissected by the border — like Derby Line, Vermont, and Stanstead, Quebec — have seen generations of interaction impeded by the growing apparatus of security.
The Canadian government’s priority is to ease trade congestion along the almost 4,000-mile boundary. An estimated $1.6 billion worth of trade crosses the perimeter each day, a flow crucial to keeping Canada’s economy humming.
In exchange for smoother trade flow, critics fear Prime Minister Stephen Harper will allow the U.S. to impose security standards on Canada, and give U.S. authorities access to the private information of Canadian travellers.
Their nightmare scenario has the U.S. gaining some control over Canadian immigration and refugee policy by getting a say in who enters Canada.
Recent American actions haven’t helped ease anxieties. Some Canadian politicians reacted angrily earlier this month to news of a draft report by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, proposing the use of “fencing and other barriers” along the Canadian border to manage “trouble spots where passage of cross-border violators is difficult to control.”
More troubling is U.S. President Barack Obama’s proposed job creation plan, which contains a protectionist “Buy American” clause that would prevent Canadian companies from bidding on $100 billion worth of U.S. infrastructure contracts.
Bob Rae, leader of the Liberal Party, urged the government to walk away from talks on a border deal until Obama dropped that clause.
“All I’m saying is it’s completely nuts to sign a deal when we’re getting hit every day of the week from the other side,” Rae said.
Harper has repeatedly insisted that Canada’s sovereignty isn’t up for grabs.
But as he and Obama prepare for a joint announcement on the border deal, there are fears that the patriotic breast-beating about the War of 1812 is camouflage for the U.S. getting through talks what it once couldn’t get with guns.