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A fence between U.S. and Canada? Forget it

Now and then, a news report seems too ridiculous to be believed.

Great news: This time, the report is exactly that.

"OTTAWA -- The U.S. is looking at building fences along the border with Canada to help keep out terrorists and other criminals," the Canadian Press report this week began.

"The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has proposed the use of 'fencing and other barriers' on the 49th parallel to manage 'trouble spots where passage of cross-border violators is difficult to control.'"

The clatter you heard when this story hit the Herald's website sprang from readers' jaws across the valley hitting the floor. Fences? Along the border ... with Canada?

Canada, the country that shares a 4,000-mile border with our lower 48 states, a grand total of about 30 miles of which are fenced?

That's a whole lot of chain link to be installed. And for what purpose? The U.S. faces its share threats in the world, but Canadian border jumpers has to be way down the list.

Talk about diminishing returns: The "fencing and other barriers" really would be meant to deter the occasional Sept. 11-type terrorist. But given the fanaticism needed to be such a terrorist in the first place, would dozens or even hundreds of miles of mega-expensive fencing even slow him or her down?

But don't pop those blood pressure pills just yet, because the story is a wild misinterpretation of U.S. policy.

"The U.S. government insists it has no plans to put up a fence along parts of the Canada-U.S. border, despite a report that contemplates exactly that," the Toronto Globe and Mail reported Thursday.

It seems the study that proposed the fencing did so only as one alternative among many -- and the most expensive and least likely alternative at that.

"A border fence along the northern border is not being considered at this time," Customs and Border Protection declared in a statement.

That's a relief.

Even better, the truth turns out to be that for the first time in years, the U.S. and Canada are looking at easing -- not tightening -- the border controls that delay what used to be a gloriously free crossing.

That's because the two countries are moving toward a continental security system, focusing on ports and major airports to intercept terrorists coming from overseas.

"Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama launched the Beyond the Border initiative in February," the Globe and Mail reported.

The initiative "aims to improve trade by streamlining and dismantling regulations, while moving toward a continental approach to border security."

And it's bearing fruit: "Canadian and U.S. negotiators are moving toward a sweeping border pact aimed at easing bottlenecks and aligning security procedures," The Wall Street Journal reported last week.

Across the many decades while it remained open, the U.S.-Canadian border was all benefit and almost no cost. Those days may be gone. But it's refreshing to see that after years of tightening security, the trend is reversing, and Washington seems to be getting back on the right track. -- Tom Dennis for the Grand Forks Herald