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The Border: Canada, the U.s. and Adventures Along the 49th Parallel

by James Laxer

Things have been a little defensive along both sides of “the world’s longest undefended border” of late. According to Toronto political scientist and journalist James Laxer, that’s hardly a novel situation, and it’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

In his new book, The Border, Laxer examines the shifting nature of the U.S.-Canada border, and the question of national identities, the idea of continentalism, and the lives of people on both sides of the line, with special attention paid to developments post-9-11 and their implications. While much of the research for the book had been completed prior to that date, the pace of global change following the terrorist attacks afforded Laxer “a unique perspective on the border before and after a date when the world changed.”

Although leavened throughout with personal accounts of various cross-border explorations, The Border is a terse and insightful book. It is at once a useful primer on the shared and distinct histories of Canada and the U.S., and the often antagonistic relationship between the neighbours, and a warning of what Laxer views as a gradual erosion of Canadian national identity, a signing over of our sovereignty to Washington.

Laxer looks beyond the continent for insights and comparisons to the North American situation, carefully exploring the relative cases for continentalism (a tightening of ties and loosening of boundaries similar to the European Community), increased participation in Fortress America, and for continued Canadian sovereignty. “Naysayers have predicted the demise of Canada throughout our history,” he writes. “I believe we will prove them wrong once again.”

While Laxer is relatively evenhanded, a polemical tone underlies many of his observations, and he is quite harsh in his assessment of contemporary American imperialism and its current unchecked global hegemony. American readers will likely find much to object to in The Border, but Laxer is scrupulous in his scholarship, and one cannot argue with his research. As to his warnings, only time will tell.