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Welcome to "Ask the Ambassador" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to U.S. Ambassadors around the world.

U.S. Ambassador to Canada David H. Wilkins, discussed U.S.-Canada bilateral relations.

David H. Wilkins, U.S. Ambassador to Canada
David H. Wilkins 
U.S. Ambassador to Canada
Biography

Event Date: June 27, 2008


Kyle in North Carolina writes:

Hello Ambassador Wilkins. Thank you for answering our questions. America and Canada are very close on most issues and are probably the friendliest neighbors of any other countries in the world. But what issues, if any, do America and Canada not see eye to eye on?

Brandon in New Jersey writes:

Are there any problems with Canada and the United States?

Ambassador Wilkins:

Kyle and Brandon, thanks for your questions. I'm glad that you note the importance and uniqueness of the U.S. - Canada relationship. I couldn't agree with you more. The United States and Canada have been fast friends and neighbors for generations. We share a long-standing peace and the greatest trade relationship that has ever existed in the history of the world.

Canada has proven its friendship on countless occasions -- notably by coming to our aid whenever the U.S. has needed help. From harboring stranded U.S. citizens after the attacks of September 11, 2001 to reaching out immediately with assistance and support to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, Canada has proven to be our "friend in need."

Naturally, like all great friends, we don't always see eye to eye. There are times that we disagree on issues. For example, right now implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative passport requirements for land and sea border crossings, scheduled to go into effect June 2009, is the most significant dispute.

What is important to remember is that when those disagreements arise, the U.S. and Canada discuss them. We sit at the table and hash them out. Sometimes, that process requires years. But we stay at it. In fact, a great part of the job of this Mission that I lead is to ensure that the lines of communication -- the ongoing dialogue -- remain strong and constant. The members of our Embassy and Consulates work every day to prevent misunderstandings and to iron out differences even before they arise. No two countries in the world enjoy the level of cooperation and friendship that we and Canada share.


Parker in Alaska writes:

I heard that you will be asking for a passport in order for Americans to fly over Canada. With the rising fuel costs, airlines will not be able to change their paths very easily. Is this true? If it isn't, then how will you put these rumors to bed? If it is true, how do you hope for the rest of the world to cope and why are you now making this a policy?

Ambassador Wilkins:

Hi, Parker. I think there's some confusion here, so let me try to sort this out.

First, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) is a result of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA), requiring all travelers to present a passport or other document that denotes identity and citizenship when entering the U.S. from other countries. At this time, all travelers entering or departing the U.S. by air must present a valid passport. However, travel between U.S. territories and the mainland is not part of the WHTI, and this is, of course, even more true for Alaska and Hawaii as states. That is considered domestic travel and is not subject to the WHTI passport rules. This has been made clear in all of the WHTI materials that have been published to date. For detailed information check out http://www.dhs.gov/xtrvlsec/ and www.cbp.gov.

The confusion may be because TSA has recently begun requiring government-issued photo identification for domestic air travel, including between Alaska and the lower 48. This could include a passport, but also includes state-issued driver’s licenses and other government–issued documents. The full list is available at www.TSA.gov. We advise all travelers to contact their travel agency and consult the TSA and CBP websites mentioned above prior to travel to understand all of the latest requirements.


Mark in California writes:

In 1938, S. W. Boggs of the Geographers Office at the Department of State during a visit in Ottawa, offered to concede Machias Seal Island (located in Washington County, Maine) for Canada's concession of the Plover Group of Islands (just East of Barrow, Alaska). At the summit on May 28, 2008 in Ilulissat, Greenland, John Negroponte signed for the United States a declaration that there would be an "orderly settlement on any possible overlapping claims." What are all the current "overlapping claims” between Canada and the United States? Has Governor Palin of Alaska been asked to appoint a commissioner to work on end overlapping claim between Alaska and Canada?

Ambassador Wilkins:

Hello, Mark. Yes, Deputy Secretary Negroponte signed the Ilulissat Declaration on behalf of the United States this past May; however, the “overlapping claims” referred to in that declaration generally relate to claims to an extended continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean under provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Addressing disputes such as those posed by Machias Seal Island, or the demarcation of the U.S. – Canada boundary in the Beaufort Sea, are subject to direct bilateral negotiations and require the assessment of many other treaties, historical evidence, and long-established maritime legal conventions. There are four U.S.-Canada maritime boundaries in disputes: the Dixon Entrance between Southeast Alaska and British Columbia; seaward of the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Washington State and British Columbia; the Beaufort Sea between Alaska and the Yukon in the Arctic; and the Gulf of Maine area off the east coast (which includes Machias Seal Island). National boundaries are a responsibility of the federal government.


Catherine in U.S.A. writes:

Is the United States taking any steps to prevent the killing of baby seals?

Ambassador Wilkins:

Thank you for the question, Catherine. The United States has a long-standing policy opposing the hunting of seals and other marine mammals absent sufficient information and safeguards to ensure that the hunting will not adversely impact the affected marine mammal population or the ecosystem of which it is a part. United States policy is set out in the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA), which established a moratorium, with some very narrow and specific exceptions, to the taking of marine mammals in United States waters. The MMPA may also impact the Canadian seal hunt, since the MMPA prohibits the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products, including those derived from seals, into the United States.

The United States has advised the Government of Canada, on numerous occasions over many years, of its objections and the objections of concerned American citizens to the Canadian commercial seal hunt. The U.S. policy regarding sealing has been, and will continue to be, governed by the MMPA.


Howard in Idaho writes:

My wife and I plan to travel to Anchorage, Alaska In our AIRSTREAM Class B motorhome in early July, traveling aback to Idaho Falls near the end of July. We will be traveling via highway both directions. What documentation do we need? We have official birth certificates, certificates of ownership of vehicle and proof of insurance. We will NOT be traveling with pets. Please advise. Thank you.

Ambassador Wilkins:

Howard, it sounds like you are well prepared. We strongly encourage all Americans planning to travel outside the United States to obtain a passport. However, a passport will not be required to enter the U.S. at the land border until June 2009. You will currently need your birth certificates and photo I.D. (Driver's License).

Make sure that your U.S. insurance covers you in Canada. For additional information that you might find useful, I encourage you to check out the following web-site that we maintain:

http://amcits.com/enter_canada.asp

And

http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/ready_set_go/land_travel/

As well as

http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/travel-voyage/menu-eng.html


Zach in Washington, DC writes:How does one become a U.S./Canadian dual citizen?

Ambassador Wilkins:

The U.S. and Canada each have their own laws regarding citizenship. Citizenship in one country, generally speaking, has no impact on obtaining citizenship in the other country. A person could acquire U.S. citizenship under U.S. law and separately claim Canadian citizenship under Canadian laws. That person would be a dual citizen.

In the case of the United States, one can be born a U.S. citizen, through birth in the U.S. or through one or both parent's transmitting their U.S. citizenship. Or a person can immigrate to the U.S. (if able to qualify through sponsorship from relatives or employers) and after residing for a number of years as a permanent resident, a person may apply for naturalization.

For more information, go to:

http://travel.state.gov/visa/immigrants/types/types_1326.html

Or

http://amcits.com/usa_citizenship_claim.asp


Martin in Germany writes:

Sir! How do judge Canada´s engagement in the war on terror? Are there still different ways of coping with this situation? Is there any significant support for the U.S. policy on this subject within the Canadian society?

Ambassador Wilkins:

Hi, Martin. Thanks for your question. Canada has been a steadfast partner in the war on terror. In Afghanistan, Canada is an integral member of the international coalition helping to rebuild the country into a more stable, democratic, and self-sufficient society. The Canadian Forces are leading the counterinsurgency effort in Kandahar, one of the toughest parts of Afghanistan, covering a large area that has traditionally been the home turf of the Taliban. Canada has also led stabilization and reconstruction operations in the volatile Kandahar province of Afghanistan, and has worked to help improve Afghanistan's border security. Canada's efforts -- and those of its partners -- have made a significant contribution to providing peace and security for the Afghan people.

I myself had the opportunity to travel to Kandahar last December with Canadian Minister of Defence Peter MacKay and the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Rick Hillier, on their visit to the region. It was one of the most moving and memorable Christmases I have ever had. I was extremely impressed with the men and women in the Canadian and U.S. armed forces. They perform their duties with a dedication and professionalism that are truly inspiring in spite of working in conditions that are difficult and dangerous. They believe in the work they are doing and have made a positive difference in the lives of many ordinary Afghans.

In Iraq, Canada has given more than $770 million in combined assistance and debt relief to help bolster that young democracy.

Canada is a leader in efforts, such as the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terror, to ensure that radiological materials do not wind up in the hands of adversaries, potential adversaries, and proliferators. Canada also co-leads and funds other international efforts aimed at nuclear, chemical, and biological non-proliferation.


Daniel in Tennessee writes:

What would you recommend the best college majors to take would be if you were interested in becoming a U.S. Diplomat in a foreign country?

Ambassador Wilkins:

Daniel, I'm very thankful for your question. Reading between the lines, it seems that you might be interested in serving as a U.S. diplomat yourself!

There is no one path to becoming a U.S. diplomat. Diplomats come from all different backgrounds and have a wide breadth of experiences. My recommendation is to study what you really enjoy. Almost any field -- from music and the arts to political science or history -- would be of use in our varied and ever-changing diplomatic corps. As long as you are willing to learn and work hard, you can do well in this career.

No matter their background, U.S. diplomats must be able to apply their individual knowledge and expertise to whatever situation they encounter. Diplomats work with diverse peoples and cultures throughout the world, and regularly confront new and unexpected challenges. Whether helping a new democracy to hold its first free and fair election, working with allies to establish peace and prosperity in Iraq and Afghanistan, or promoting educational and professional exchanges that let foreign friends learn first-hand about our wonderful country, U.S. diplomats must be prepared to put their creativity and analytical skills to use.

An open mind, a good sense of humor, and a genuine concern for people are also important. And lastly, I'd add that members of our Embassy and Consulates are also very patriotic. They genuinely want to serve their country.


Josh in Colorado writes:

Dear Ambassador Wilkins,

What made you decide to become a U.S. ambassador? And what is the most important tool that you find necessary to being a good ambassador in a foreign country?

Ambassador Wilkins:

Josh, becoming a U.S. Ambassador was not a privilege that I sought. The President asked me to serve our country in Canada, and I was honored to answer the call to serve our great nation. It is the privilege of a lifetime to represent my country in Canada.

I came here determined to accentuate the positive and make our relationship with Canada even better. As in any friendship, it's important to listen to each other and keep the lines of communication open. Fortunately, our Canadian friends are also open to dialogue and to sorting out issues with us before they become problems.


James in Colorado writes:

Does the Canadian Government appear to be any closer to participating in Missile Defense with the United States ?

Ambassador Wilkins:

James, that's obviously for the Canadian government to decide. I know of no current plans for missile defense participation by Canada.


Adam in North Carolina writes:

Mr. Wilkins: First off, thank-you for all the work you do. It seems that day in and day out you're our relationship with our strongest ally even stronger.

I would think that with Canada's rich oil and natural gas reserves up north they would be self-sufficient with huge potential to export. Does the United States and Canada have any bi-lateral agreements for oil imports and exports and if so, does this give any potential for the United States to become independent from OPEC?

Ambassador Wilkins:

I am glad that you have recognized, as more and more Americans have, that a key element for strengthening our energy security is right next door. Canada and the United States share the world's largest bilateral energy relationship. Canada is our largest source of energy imports, including petroleum (17% of U.S. oil imports) and natural gas (16% of our total supply in 2006), and a major supplier of electricity. Canada's strong rule of law, mature democracy and open investment environment make it an exceptionally stable and reliable energy supplier. Increasing U.S. energy security involves looking for new sources of oil, developing alternative energy sources and improving energy efficiency through technology. Americans should find it reassuring that that part of the solution is found with our good neighbor, Canada.


Dave in Canada writes:

This is off topic somewhat so it may not be answered. But I read the ambassador's travel and his interesting comments about visiting Vancouver . I commend him for his positive reaction to a spirited exchange with UBC students. However I was left with questions about his reaction to the needle exchange. I have been to the East Side many times, but not to the exchange itself. Like the ambassador I expect I would find it profoundly disturbing, but I wonder what the alternatives are. Everything has been tried, voluntary treatment, mandatory treatment, and aggressive police enforcement and nothing has worked. And I know many police officers are unhappy with a "tolerant" approach. I have to say however I think the public has decided if nothing is going to work, we should be as compassionate as possible to these people and indeed some police personnel have been leaders in that regard. So my question, is the ambassador aware of an approach to drug addiction and abuse that has worked anywhere in North America .

Ambassador Wilkins:

Dave, drug addiction and drug trafficking are indeed important issues that both our governments confront.

I am certainly no expert, but according to the “United States – Canada Border Drug Threat Assessment 2007,” the United States recognizes that drug addiction is a disease and, as such, should be treated using the full range of public health tools. The “Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral and Treatment” (SBIRT) program has begun screening and providing brief interventions in hospitals, primary care settings, colleges, and one tribal council. Hundreds of thousands of patients have been screened as part of the SBIRT program. The resulting brief interventions and treatment referrals have been shown to contribute to significant declines in substance abuse. The United States also seeks to reduce the barriers to drug treatment through the Access to Recovery (ATR) program, which provides vouchers for treatment as well as for support services such as child care, transportation, and mentoring. Drug users who find themselves involved with the U.S. criminal justice system are increasingly being offered an opportunity for recovery through drug court programs. Drug courts combine the coercive power of the courts with the support of family, friends, counselors, and treatment providers to help non-violent offenders overcome their drug problems. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides extensive funding to support the nearly 2,000 drug courts operating throughout the United States.


Del in Canada writes:

How will Canadian/U.S. relations regarding the Arctic develop if the Senate does not ratify the Law of the Sea Convention?

Ambassador Wilkins:

The United States and Canada already have deep and broad cooperation in the Arctic. This cooperation covers almost every conceivable area, from the health of those residing in the Arctic, to scientific research, to environmental cooperation, and to joint work to study and protect our wildlife populations. This cooperation in the Arctic is especially vibrant during the International Polar Year. While President Bush has called on the Senate to ratify the Convention on the Law of the Sea, this strong cooperation and relationship with Canada in the Arctic will continue, and I am convinced it will prosper, whether the Convention is ratified or not.


Shaun in Georgia writes:

Mr. ambassador, where do you see the current border situation with Canada going? This border is very vulnerable and I think I share with most Americans who transit the area a grave concern that this border is a haven for fugitives and others who prey on kids for example. As well terrorists can easily navigate the border in preparation for an attack and while the Western Hemisphere initiative is in place there are many places that remain unmonitored, unpatrolled along the vast border between our countries. In protecting both countries is there anything the folks in Ottawa or Washington can do to better the situation along the border even slightly with more cameras or something?

Ambassador Wilkins:

Shaun, thank you for expressing your concerns about the U.S.-Canada border and securing it against terrorists and criminals. While our shared border is more than 5,500 miles long, both the U.S. and Canada make every effort to maintain each other’s safety in using multiple methods to keep watch on the border area. The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) uses a ‘layered’ approach to monitor vast sections of the border. We plan to begin using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) in the next few months. We currently employ a combination of Air and Marine assets such as helicopters and patrol aircraft, boats, ATVs, and officers on horseback. There is also a series of cameras and ground sensors at certain locations. While it is impossible to watch every foot of the border on a 24-hour, 7-day a week basis, CBP – along with many other state and local law enforcement agencies - does a very good job of securing our border. Our Canadian counterparts have similar approaches.


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