Major American firms, such as Boeing, are cheerfully cashing in on Canada's $17 billion military refit by selling us costly aircraft, weapons and equipment.
The Americans are also happy to have skilled Canadians build high-tech equipment for them, as indicated by their snapping up 70 per cent of our $22 billion aerospace and defence sector output.
Or rather, Washington is happy to have some Canadians work for them.
Not every Canadian can be trusted to handle sensitive U.S. technology, as 24 workers at the Bell Helicopter plant north of Montreal have just found out. The Americans trust most of Bell's 2,000 employees. But a few are just too foreign for comfort.
The 24 Canadians are dual citizens. As a result, they were denied clearance to work on Bell's $850 million order for U.S. Army helicopters.
Why? Because they ran afoul of complex U.S. rules known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The rules were created to thwart spying, and were toughened after 9/11. They bar citizens from 23 countries including China, Vietnam, Cuba and Haiti from working on U.S. military contracts abroad.
The ITAR rules further hobble an already tightly regulated trade in defence products, and have been a Canada-U.S. irritant for years. The Europeans also find them offensive.
To its credit, Bell Helicopter tried to persuade U.S. officials to waive the rules for the 24 workers, but with no luck. It then did the decent thing, and reassigned them to other work.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he has "big worries" about Canadians being discriminated against on the basis of their citizenship. He is right. Ottawa must lobby for change.
In the U.S., people are allowed to be dual citizens and still get security clearances. "Dual citizenship by itself ... is not automatically a security concern," is how one judge recently put it. There have even been exceptional cases of Americans who also hold citizenships on the ITAR list being granted security clearances.
Why must Canadians working for the federal government or private firms be held to a higher standard?
These rules create needless friction with Canada and other allies. Some have begun to shun U.S. technology because of the rules and are turning to other suppliers. This will eventually hurt U.S. political interests and business. It's a lose-lose situation.
The remedy is obvious.
Harper should lobby the White House and Congress to broaden Canada's exemptions under ITAR rules, to better reflect our close ties.
At the same time, Ottawa must reassure Congress that legitimate U.S. security interests are being protected. Canadians working on sensitive U.S. contracts should be no less thoroughly vetted than U.S. workers. Let them be screened for trustworthiness, not on the basis of citizenship.
If dual American-Chinese citizens can get security clearances in the U.S., with proper screening, why bar Canadian-Chinese citizens?
Harper should remind the U.S. that Canadians, who hail from every country on Earth, are offended by discrimination based on national origin. It is unlawful here. We also do not like Washington telling us what countries we should regard as foes.
Allies deserve better.
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