Canada–United States relations

Canada–United States relations

Relations between Canada and the United States span more than two centuries, marked by a shared British colonial heritage, conflict during the early years of the U.S., and the eventual development of one of the most successful international relationships in the modern world. The most serious breach in the relationship was the War of 1812, which saw an American invasion of then British North America and counter invasions from British-Canadian forces. The border was demilitarized after the war and, apart from minor raids, has remained peaceful. Military collaboration began during the World Wars and continued throughout the Cold War, despite Canadian doubts about certain American policies. A high volume of trade and migration between the U.S. and Canada has generated closer ties, despite continued Canadian fears of being overwhelmed by its neighbour, which is ten times larger in population and wealth. [ James Tagg reports that Canadian university students have a profound fear that "Canadian culture, and likely Canadian sovereignty, will be overwhelmed." Tagg, "'And, We Burned down the White House, Too': American History, Canadian Undergraduates, and Nationalism," "The History Teacher," Vol. 37, No. 3 (May, 2004), pp. 309-334 [ in JSTOR] ; J. L. Granatstein. "Yankee Go Home: Canadians and Anti-Americanism" (1997)]

Canada and the United States are currently the world's largest trading partners, share the world's longest shared border, [cite web|url=|title=The world's longest border|accessdate=2008-04-01] and have significant interoperability within the defence sphere. Modern difficulties have included repeated trade disputes (despite a continental trade agreement), environmental concerns, and debates over immigration and the movement of people across the shared border. While the foreign policies of the neighbours have been largely aligned for much of the post-war era, significant disputes have arisen, including over the Vietnam War, the status of Cuba, the Iraq War, and the War on Terrorism.


As part of the British Empire

At the outset of the American Revolution, the American revolutionaries hoped the French Canadians in Quebec and the Colonists in Nova Scotia would join their rebellion and they were pre-approved for joining the United States in the Articles of Confederation. When Canada was invaded during the American Revolutionary War, only a few joined the invaders. Most French Canadians understood that the British Empire already enshrined their rights in the Quebec Act, which the Americans declared as being one of the Intolerable Acts. French Canadians thus could see that within the British Empire their language, law, customs, interests and religion would be protected, while within the United States these would all be opposed. Canadians clearly decided against joining the revolution. The American effort was a fiasco and Britain tightened its grip on its northern possessions. In peace negotiations, Benjamin Franklin unsuccessfully attempted to convince British diplomats to cede Canada to the United States. The British refused, and used Canada as a refuge for those Loyalists who wanted to leave the U.S. Thomas Jefferson saw the nearby British imperial presence as a threat to republicanism in the United States. Thousands of Americans who were loyal to the Empire gave up their lands in the United States and opted to start anew in Canada. These Loyalists represented only part of the large minority of Americans who opposed the revolution.

Among the original Loyalists, who were of many ethnic backgrounds, there were African Americans. In the following decades, more and more African American slaves continued to look north to British North America (Canada) as a land of freedom where they received welcome and lands. Upper Canada (Ontario) became the first territory to outlaw the slave trade, in 1793 with the passage of the Act Against Slavery, soon after being formed in the 1780s; the entire British Empire outlawed the slave trade in 1807.

The Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the war, called for the British to vacate all their forts south of the Great Lakes border. The British refused to do so, citing failure of the United States to provide financial restitution for Loyalists who had lost property in the war. The Jay Treaty in 1795 with Great Britain resolved that lingering issue and the British departed the forts, including Fort Detroit. This, however, also meant that British Loyalists living in the territory had to relocate and abandon their property.

Tensions mounted again after 1805, erupting into the War of 1812, when the Americans declared war on Britain. The Americans were angered by British harassment of U.S. ships on the high seas and seizure ("impressment") of 6,000 American sailors, as well as severe restrictions against neutral American trade with France. The Americans were out gunned by more than 10–1 by the Royal Navy, and so a land invasion of Canada was proposed as the only feasible means of attacking the British Empire. Americans on the western frontier also hoped an invasion would bring an end to British support of American Indian resistance to the westward expansion of the United States, typified by Tecumseh's coalition of tribes. (The British policy recognized the Indians as Nations while the American policy pushed Indians off their lands.) The early strategy was to temporarily seize Canada as a means of forcing concessions from the British. As in 1775, many Americans hoped the Canadians would welcome the chance to overthrow their British rulers. However, the American invasions were incompetent and were defeated primarily by British regulars with support from Indians and militia. A major British invasion of New York in 1814 was poorly handled and the British retreated.

In later years, Canadians, who remained loyal to the Empire well into the 20th century, viewed the War of 1812 as a successful resistance against invasion and as a victory that defined them as a people. A common theme in Canadian political rhetoric ever since has been the protection of Canadian culture from American influence and possible integration into the American political, cultural and economic realm.

Dominion status

Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867 in internal affairs while Britain controlled diplomacy and defence policy. Strained relations with the United States continued, however, due to a series of small-scale armed incursions named the Fenian raids by Irish-American Civil War veterans across the border from 1866 to 1871 in an attempt to trade Canada for Irish independence. The American government, angry at Canadian tolerance of Confederate raiders during the American Civil War, moved very slowly to disarm the Fenians, who in any case were never a serious threat to anyone. The British government, in charge of diplomatic relations, protested cautiously, as Anglo-American relations were tense.

Disputes over ocean boundaries on Georges Bank and over fishing, whaling, and sealing rights in the Pacific were settled by international arbitration, setting an important precedent.

Much more controversial was the Alaska boundary dispute, settled in favor of the U.S. in 1903. At issue was the exact boundary between Alaska and Canada, specifically whether Canada would have a port near the present American town of Haines that would give access to the new Yukon goldfields. The dispute was settled by arbitration, and the British delegate voted with the Americans--to the astonishment and anti-British disgust of Canadians who suddenly realized that Britain considered its relations with the U.S. paramount to those with Canada. [John A. Munro, "English-Canadianism and the Demand for Canadian Autonomy: Ontario's Response to the Alaska Boundary Decision, 1903." "Ontario History" 1965 57(4): 189-203. Issn: 0030-2953 ]

1907 saw a minor controversy over USS "Nashville" sailing into the Great Lakes via Canada without Canadian permission. Partly in response, in 1909 the two sides signed the International Boundary Waters Treaty and the International Joint Commission was established to manage the Great Lakes.

Economic ties and migration had deepened by this era, but were not equal. In 1911 there were 49,000 US-born people in Canada and 1.21 million Canadian-born people in the US.


Canada finally achieved independence from Britain when it took control of its own diplomatic and military affairs in the 1920s. Relations with the U.S. were cordial, except in the matter of tariffs in the 1930-32 period of the Great Depression.In the 1930s, the United States Army War College developed hypothetical war plans for a possible war with Canada; they featured an invasion in War Plan Red; it was merely an academic exercise. Similarly, Canada developed Defence Scheme No. 1 to counteract a U.S. invasion. Canadian defence was organized against an American invasion until the onset of World War II.

Following co-operation in the two World Wars, Canada and the United States lost much of their previous animosity. As Britain's influence as a global superpower declined, Canada and the United States became extremely close partners. Canada was a close ally of the United States during the Cold War.

In World War II the U.S. built large military bases in Newfoundland (then a British colony), and the business community there sought closer ties with the U.S. as expressed by the Economic Union Party. Ottawa took notice and wanted Newfoundland to join Canada, which it did after hotly contested referendums. There was little demand in the U.S. for the acquisition of Newfoundland, so the U.S. did not protest the British decision not to allow an American option on the Newfoundland referendum.

Nixon shock 1971

The US had become Canada's largest market, and after the war the Canadian economy became dependent on smooth trade flows with the US so much that in 1971 when the US enacted the "Nixon Shock" economic policies (including a 10% tariff on all imports) it put the Canadian government into a panic. This led in a large part to the articulation of Prime Minister Trudeau's "Third Option" policy of diversifying Canada's trade and downgrading the importance of Canada – US relations. In a 1972 speech in Ottawa, Nixon declared the "special relationship" between Canada and the US dead. [ Bruce Muirhead, "From Special Relationship to Third Option: Canada, the U.S., and the Nixon Shock," "American Review of Canadian Studies," Vol. 34, 2004 [ online edition] ]

Defense and international conflict

The Canadian military, like forces of other NATO countries, fought along side the U.S. in most major conflicts since World War II, including the Korean War, the Gulf War, the Kosovo War, and most recently the war in Afghanistan. The main exceptions to this were the Canadian government's opposition to the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, which caused some brief diplomatic tensions. Despite these issues, military relations have remained close.

U.S. defence arrangements with Canada are more extensive than with any other country. The Permanent Joint Board of Defense, established in 1940, provides policy-level consultation on bilateral defence matters. The United States and Canada share North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) mutual security commitments. In addition, U.S. and Canadian military forces have cooperated since 1958 on continental air defence within the framework of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). There is also an active military exchange program between the two countries under which Canadian Forces personnel have been involved in Iraq. Moreover, interoperability with the American armed forces has been a guiding principle of Canadian military force structuring and doctrine since the end of the Cold War. Canadian navy frigates, for instance, integrate seamlessly into U.S. carrier battle groups.

War in Afghanistan

Canada's elite JTF2 unit joined American special forces in Afghanistan shortly after the Al-Qaeda attacks on September 11, 2001. Canadian forces joined the multinational coalition in Operation Anaconda in January 2002. On April 18, 2002, an American pilot attacked Canadian forces involved in a training exercise, killing four and wounding eight Canadians. A joint US-Canadian inquiry determined the cause of the incident to be pilot error, in which the pilot interpreted ground fire as an attack; the pilot ignored orders that he felt were "second-guessing" his field tactical decision.cite web
title=U.S. 'friendly fire' pilot won't face court martial
publisher=CBC News
] cite web
title=Pilots blamed for 'friendly fire' deaths
publisher=BBC News
] Canadian forces assumed a six-month command rotation of the International Security Assistance Force in 2003; in 2005, Canadians assumed operational command of the multi-national Brigade in Kandahar, with 2,300 troops, and supervises the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar, where Al-Qaeda forces are most active. Canada has also deployed naval forces in the Persian Gulf since 1991 in support of the UN Gulf Multinational Interdiction Force.cite web
publisher=Department of National Defence

The Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC maintains a public relations web site named [] , which is intended "to give American citizens a better sense of the scope of Canada's role in North American and Global Security and the War on Terror".

The New Democratic Party and some recent Liberal leadership candidates have expressed opposition to Canada's expanded role in the Afghan conflict on the ground that it is inconsistent with Canada's historic role (since the Second World War) of peacekeeping operations.

2003 Invasion of Iraq

According to contemporary polls, the vast majority of Canadians were opposed to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Canadian government, under current Prime Minister Stephen Harper, maintains a position with emphasis on UN authority. Many Canadians, and the former Liberal government of Paul Martin (as well as many Americans such as Bill Clinton),cite web
title=Clinton speaks on Afghanistan, and Canada listens
publisher=The Globe and Mail
] made a policy distinction between conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, unlike the Bush doctrine, which links these together in a "Global war on terror".


Canada and the United States have the world's largest trading relationship, with huge quantities of goods and people flowing across the border each year. Since the 1987 Canadian–American Free Trade Agreement there have been no tariffs on most goods passed between the two countries.

With such a massive trading relationship, trade disputes between the two countries are frequent and inevitable. American officials have placed ongoing tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber despite losing various appeals placed by Canada in the NAFTA and WTO panels. The softwood lumber dispute remains a growing issue between the two countries and is degrading the trade relationship on both sides of the border. Other notable disputes include the Canadian Wheat Board, and Canadian cultural "restrictions" on magazines and television (See CRTC, CBC, and National Film Board of Canada). Canadians have been criticized about such things as the ban on beef since a case of Mad Cow disease was discovered in 2003 in cows from the United States (and a few subsequent cases) and the high American agricultural subsidies. Concerns in Canada also run high over aspects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) such as Chapter 11.

One ongoing and complex trade issue involves the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada to the United States. Due to the Canadian government's price controls as part of their state-run medical system, prices for prescription drugs can be a fraction of the price paid by consumers in the unregulated U.S. market. While laws in the United States have been passed at the national level against such sales, specific state and local governments have passed their own legislation to allow the trade to continue. American drug companies—often supporters of political campaigns—have obviously come out against the practice.

According to a 2003 study commissioned by the Canadian Embassy in the United States, based on 2001 data, Canada–U.S. trade supported 5.2 million U.S. jobs.

Arctic disputes

A long-simmering dispute between Canada and the U.S. involves the issue of Canadian sovereignty over the Northwest Passage (the sea passages in the Arctic). Canada’s assertion that the Northwest Passage represents internal (territorial) waters has been challenged by other countries, especially the U.S., which argue that these waters constitute an international strait (international waters). Canadians were incensed when Americans drove the reinforced oil tanker "Manhattan" through the Northwest Passage in 1969, followed by the icebreaker Polar Sea in 1985, both without asking for Canadian permission. In 1970, the Canadian government enacted the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, which asserts Canadian regulatory control over pollution within a 100-mile zone. In response, the United States in 1970 stated, "We cannot accept the assertion of a Canadian claim that the Arctic waters are internal waters of Canada…. Such acceptance would jeopardize the freedom of navigation essential for United States naval activities worldwide." A compromise of sorts was reached in 1988, by an agreement on "Arctic Cooperation," which pledges that voyages of American icebreakers "will be undertaken with the consent of the Government of Canada." However the agreement did not alter either country's basic legal position. In January 2006 David Wilkins, the American ambassador to Canada, said his government opposes Stephen Harper's proposed plan to deploy military icebreakers in the Arctic to detect interlopers and assert Canadian sovereignty over those waters. [Matthew Carnaghan, Allison Goody, [ "Canadian Arctic Sovereignty"] (Library of Parliament: Political and Social Affairs Division, January 26, 2006); [ 2006 news] ] In August 2007, former US ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, stated that in 2005 he informed his government that it should re-evaluate its assertion that the Northwest Passage is an international sea body, and should belong to Canada. His advice was rejected and in 2007 Bush and Harper took opposite positions. [ [ | Cellucci: Canada should control Northwest Passage ] ]

Environmental issues

The two countries work closely to resolve trans border environmental issues, an area of increasing importance in the bilateral relationship. A principal instrument of this cooperation is the International Joint Commission (IJC), established as part of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to resolve differences and promote international cooperation on boundary waters. The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1972 is another historic example of joint cooperation in controlling trans border water pollution. However, there have been some disputes. Most recently, the Devil's Lake Outlet, a project instituted by North Dakota, has angered Manitobans who fear that their water may soon become polluted as a result of this project.The two governments also consult semi-annually on trans border air pollution. Under the Air Quality Agreement of 1991, both countries have made substantial progress in coordinating and implementing their acid rain control programs and signed an annex on ground level ozone in 2000. Despite this trans border air pollution remains an issue, particularly in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence watershed during the summer. The main source of this trans border pollution results from coal fired power stations, most of them located in the American Midwest.

Currently neither of the countries' governments support the Kyoto Protocol, which set out time scheduled curbing of greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike the United States, Canada has ratified the agreement. Yet after ratification, due to internal political conflict within Canada, the Canadian government does not enforce the Kyoto Protocol, and has received criticism from environmental groups and from other governments for its climate change positions. [ [ The fight for the sextuplets | - Canada - Features ] ]

Illicit drugs

In 2003 the American government became concerned when members of the Canadian government announced plans to decriminalize marijuana. David Murray, an assistant to U.S. Drug Czar John P. Walters, said in a CBC interview that, "We would have to respond. We would be forced to respond." [ [ U.S. warns Canada against easing pot laws ] ] . However the election of the Conservative Party in early 2006 halted the liberalization of marijuana laws for the foreseeable future. The Canadian government currently grows marijuana for medicinal purposes only in former copper mines.

Arar affair

On September 26, 2002, U.S. officials, acting upon a tip from Canadian law enforcement, detained Maher Arar on suspicion of terrorist links. Arar is a dual citizen of Canada and Syria and was travelling through New York as part of a trip from Tunisia to Canada.

Despite travelling on a Canadian passport, Arar was deported to Syria, his country of birth. He was imprisoned there for over a year and tortured repeatedly. The decision by U.S. officials to deport him to Syria, his imprisonment and torture there, and the extent of collaboration between U.S. and Canadian officials became a major political issue in Canada at the time.

Canadian officials have since said that Arar was not linked in any way to terrorism, and the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, has issued a formal apology and a $10.5 million (CAD) settlement to Arar, who nonetheless remains on an American terrorist watchlist.

Territorial disputes

These include maritime boundary disputes:

*Dixon Entrance
*Beaufort Sea
*Strait of Juan de Fuca
*San Juan Islands
*Machias Seal Island and North Rock

Territorial land disputes:

*Aroostook War (Maine boundary)
*Alaska Boundary Dispute
*Pig War

and disputes over the international status of the:

*Northwest Passage
*Inside Passage

Common memberships

Canada and the United States both hold membership in a number of multi-national organizations such as:

* Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
* Food and Agriculture Organization
* G-8
* G-10
* International Chamber of Commerce
* International Development Association
* International Monetary Fund
* Interpol
* International Monetary Fund
* International Olympic Committee
* North American Free Trade Agreement
* North Atlantic Treaty Organization
* North American Aerospace Defense Command
* Organization of American States
* Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
* UKUSA Community
* United Nations
* United Nations Security Council
* World Health Organization
* World Trade Organization
* World Bank

The current state of relations

Shortly after being congratulated by U.S. President George W. Bush for his victory in February 2006, Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper rebuked U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins for criticizing the Conservatives' plans to assert Canada's sovereignty over the Arctic Ocean waters with armed forces. Harper's first meeting with the U.S. President occurred at the end of March, 2006; and while little was achieved in the way of solid agreements, the trip was described in the media as signalling a trend of closer relations between the two nations.


*U.S. President John F. Kennedy: "Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder." [ John F. Kennedy. " [ Address Before the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa] ". The American Presidency Project.]

* Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau compared relations to "sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt." [From a speech by Trudeau to the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on March 25, 1969; authorship of the speech was later attributed to Ivan Head, Trudeau's adviser. (It should be noted, as well, that Trudeau's quote is commonly, although incorrectly, remembered as casting Canada as a mouse; this was in fact the creation of an editorial cartoon that followed Trudeau's speech.)]

* Canadian Prime Minister John Sparrow Thompson: "These Yankee politicians are the lowest race of thieves in existence." - made during sensitive trade talks with US in 1893

* Canadian Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, speaking at the beginning of the 1891 election (fought mostly over Canadian free trade with the United States), Macdonald said: "As for myself, my course is clear. A British subject I was born—a British subject I will die. With my utmost effort, with my latest breath, will I oppose the ‘veiled treason’ which attempts by sordid means and mercenary proffers to lure our people from their allegiance." - , Feb 3, 1891. [Histor!ca [;jsessionid=8D3831D48EE489EBCF46813C8427E685.tomcat1?id=15356 "Election of 1891: A Question of Loyalty"] , James Marsh.]

* U.S. President Richard Nixon, during his visit to Ottawa in 1972, declared that the "special relationship" between Canada and the United States was dead. "It is time for us to recognize," he stated, "that we have very separate identities; that we have significant differences; and that nobody's interests are furthered when these realities are obscured."Canad and the World]

* Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, speaking in the Soviet Union in 1971, said that the overwhelming American presence posed "a danger to our national identity from a cultural, economic and perhaps even military point of view." Nixon responded in Ottawa in 1972, declaring that the special relationship between Canada and the United States was dead and Canada could not expect to continue to receive special economic favors.


See also

* Canadian and American economies compared
* Canadian and American politics compared
* Foreign relations of Canada
* Foreign relations of the United States
* Etiquette in Canada and the United States

Further reading

* Doran, Charles F., and James Patrick Sewell, "Anti-Americanism in Canada," "Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science," Vol. 497, Anti-Americanism: Origins and Context (May, 1988), pp. 105-119 [ in JSTOR]
* Stephen Clarkson, "Uncle Sam and Us: Globalization, Neoconservatism and the Canadian State" (University of Toronto Press, 2002),
* J. L. Granatstein. "Yankee Go Home: Canadians and Anti-Americanism" (1997)
* J. L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer, "For Better or for Worse: Canada and the United States to the 1990s" (1991)
* John W. Holmes. "Impact of Domestic Political Factors on Canadian-American Relations: Canada," "International Organization," Vol. 28, No. 4, Canada and the United States: Transnational and Transgovernmental Relations (Autumn, 1974), pp. 611-635 [ in JSTOR]
* Graeme S. Mount and Edelgard Mahant, "An Introduction to Canadian-American Relations" (1984, updated 1989)
* Graeme S. Mount and Edelgard Mahant, "Invisible and Inaudible in Washington: American Policies toward Canada during the Cold War" (1999)
* Bruce Muirhead, "From Special Relationship to Third Option: Canada, the U.S., and the Nixon Shock," "American Review of Canadian Studies," Vol. 34, 2004 [ online edition]
* Reginald C. Stuart. "Dispersed Relations: Americans and Canadians in Upper North America" (2007) [ excerpt and text search]
* James Tagg. "'And, We Burned down the White House, Too': American History, Canadian Undergraduates, and Nationalism," "The History Teacher," Vol. 37, No. 3 (May, 2004), pp. 309-334 [ in JSTOR]
* C. C. Tansill, "Canadian-American Relations, 1875-1911" (1943)
* John Herd Thompson and Stephen J. Randall, "Canada and the United States: Ambivalent Allies" (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1994), 387pp

External links

* [ Should the Provinces of Canada become part of the United States?]
* [ Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.]
* [ Embassy of the United States of America in Ottawa, Ontario]
* [ Canadian Society of New York] - formed in 1897 to foster a spirit of good will between Canada and the United States. For 106 years it held an annual [ gala] to honour distinguished Canadians or Americans who devoted their careers to strengthening the ties between the two countries.
* [ Canadian Association of New York]

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