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Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) officers and a detector dog on harbour patrol aboard a Zodiac boat.

Gateways and Corridors in Canada: Evolving National Security

by Peter Avis

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The Canadian Gateway and Corridor system is a vast, country-wide network of land, sea, air, and cybernetic interconnections that weaves each of the pillars of our democracy – social, economic, environmental, international, security, and defence – into a national fabric. From a national security perspective, the idea of a gateway and corridor ‘system of systems’ is a purely strategic notion. Having started with the canals, roadways, ports, and railroads built by the Fathers of Confederation, these trade and transportation systems have evolved and will allow Canada to prosper in a rapidly changing ‘global village’ marketplace. By positioning ourselves to connect the expanding blocks of international enterprise and trade, Canada’s evolving gateway and corridor system will reinforce our status as a trading nation in the global economy. Security is a critical part of this strategy development – not just to keep Canadians safe, but to remain competitive and to assist in marketing our particular attributes to other partners in world trade.


The security threat environment is dominated by the spectre of terrorist attacks against western civilian targets – many of which have been perpetrated against transportation targets.  Terrorism experts are in general agreement that the followers of al Qaeda and other such groups will continue to seek targets of highly symbolic value that would cause mass casualties and/or major economic disruption. In the medium-to-long term, Dr. Elinor Sloan of Carleton University has opined that “terrorist attacks will have an economic focus with transportation and cybernetic systems being among the most attractive targets.”1 Moreover, a Rand Corporation study holds that maritime terrorism has specific importance to al Qaeda in that “Osama bin Laden has emphasized that attacking key sectors of the Western commercial and trading system is integral to his self-defined war on the United States and its major allies.”2

However, while terrorism captures the imagination, other threats pose challenges to Canada. Devastating natural catastrophes (from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, to the South East Asia Tsunami, to SARS) have occurred more frequently in the last decade and have had a huge impact on security systems. Moreover, organized crime is more widespread and more powerful than ever before – and may be developing links to terrorism through failed states, piracy, and trans-border lawbreaking. When assessing vulnerabilities and risk levels, an ‘all-hazards’ approach is deemed the most thorough.

The terrorist threat, however, remains the foundation of national security thinking and planning. Ongoing assessments of all transportation security sectors keep the process of risk mitigation alive and well. While the USS Cole incident in 2000 and the attack on the French oil tanker Limberg in 2002 alerted the marine security community close to a decade ago – and pirates off the Somalia coast remain in the news – it is the 26 November 2008 terrorist attack upon the Indian port of Mumbai that has renewed vigor in the marine security sector. Western governments, including the US, UK, and Canada, pondered how 10 heavily armed terrorists from the group Deccan Mujahideen (affiliated to al Qaeda) could slip into central Mumbai harbour in a fishing boat, completely undetected, and wreak havoc on an alerted but unsuspecting financial hub port city.

Two defining facts stand out on the security front:

  1. the change from suicide bombing to a commando-style attack methodology; and
  2. the approach, and apparent exit, from the water – this was a maritime security event.

Moreover, it appears as though the Indian authorities were alerted by the US about possible maritime attacks prior to the event. However, after a week of high alert, security forces relaxed …then the attack occurred.3 Multijurisdictional confusion was apparent when the act was finally perpetrated. Situational awareness was incomplete both in surveillance and in reacting effectively to actionable intelligence.

It is lesser known, yet public, that Britain’s security services have recently “…intercepted up to 100 suspects posing as postgraduate students who aim to acquire weapons material and expertise.”4 There is a link to al Qaeda here, and the security alerts for airlines and airports (among other critical infrastructure) are based upon this sort of intelligence and information.

As a result, the US Homeland Security Advisory System warns that there is a current threat level of HIGH, or Orange, for domestic and international flights. The British M15 Security Service states that the present threat level from international terrorism to the UK and its overseas interests is assessed as “SEVERE.”5  We have recently (April 2009) seen an embarrassing, but partially successful, harvest of 12 al Qaeda followers in Britain.6 There seems to be no question that al Qaeda is alive and planning its next move in numerous countries.

Is it any wonder that governments are trying to understand the challenges of the various sectors of national security and to build a more integrated security system that injects risk-management solutions into threatened areas of national interest? The Canadian Government is no exception. Our national security agencies and departments are challenged with the task of keeping in step with our allies, who are obviously feeling a great deal of discomfort from the present level of threat. We are linked. This threat is ours in Canada as well.

St. Lawrence Seaway

© Robert Wagenhoffer/Corbis/42-22832999

St. Lawrence Seaway as seen from the top of Montmorency Falls, Quebec.

The Emergence of Gateway and Corridor Systems

In the last five years, the world economy has grown more than during any other five-year period since the Second World War. As one of the most trade-reliant nations in the G-8, Canada is benefiting from this global growth. By the end of 2008, exports and imports of merchandise had both hit record highs, reaching $461.8 billion and $436.7 billion respectively. At the same time, the global economy is changing significantly. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the European Union (EU) gave rise to trading blocs that have underpinned the new integrated global marketplace. Coupled with the emergence of new economic powers such as China and India, global marketplace integration is driving the distribution of economic activity, as well as the expansion of world trade. The recent global economic downturn can only be a bump in the long road of this trading behavior evolution.

The challenge for federal and provincial governments today is to move ahead of the emerging trade flows to create policies and commercial frameworks that provide Canada with a competitive and secure transportation advantage for the development of trade that flows to and through North America. This will undoubtedly involve increased infrastructure investments, inland ports, gateway and corridor designations, improved border clearances, grade separations, and competitive, regulatory legislation.7

The emergence of Gateway and Corridor Systems has forced nations to redefine how they organize and develop their trading behavior to match their strategic capabilities and situation. A gateway city can be viewed in this landscape as a transition point or node that separates a barren hinterland on the one side and a well-developed and energetic environment on the other. It acts as a funnel for goods and services to enter a market area. The hinterland side often has a narrow trade corridor with trucking, rail, or maritime transportation services that connect the gateway city to a distant consumer city - another gateway in another market. The well-developed side usually has a thriving multimodal network of transportation services and infrastructure. When two or several corridors cross as they exit from the hinterlands, hub cities emerge. Winnipeg and Montréal are examples of hub cities, due to their multimodal connections for east-west and north-south corridors in the central portion of North America. Cargo traffic is funneled through a gateway city or port because it sits at a strategic position at which transportation costs can be reduced along a land corridor or a sea route. Ocean ports like Prince Rupert, Vancouver, and Halifax are obvious gateway cities. Gateway cities that are inland and away from the ocean, like Calgary or Windsor, for instance, can emerge, due to the hinterland influence of nearby geographical discontinuities, such as mountain ranges, deserts, lakes, and rivers, and political boundaries, such as international borders.8

Canada’s Gateway and Corridor Initiatives

Recognizing the change that was upon them, Canada's government developed a National Policy Framework for Strategic Gateways and Corridors in 2007 to advance the competitiveness of the Canadian economy in the rapidly changing field of global trade and commerce. Already, in 2006, the Government had indicated, in the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative (APGCI), that a select number of regions were potential targets for an integrated “gateway and corridor” approach, based upon international trade and commerce volumes of national significance.9 Canada has made significant investments in transportation and border security since 2001 that have produced a robust foundation for these initiatives. Future federal gateway and corridor strategies will be guided by the 2007 framework, focused on transportation systems of road, rail, marine, and air infrastructure of strategic significance. Security is a major part of this policy evolution.

The Government also launched the "Building Canada" infrastructure plan. With a budget of $33 billion between 2007 and 2014, "Building Canada" will provide more funding for provincial, territorial, and municipal infrastructure. It includes $2.1 billion through the new Gateways and Border Crossings Fund to improve the flow of goods between Canada and the rest of the world by enhancing infrastructure at key locations, such as major border crossings between Canada and the United States.

Three strategic gateway and corridor initiatives have been identified: the Ontario-Québec Continental Gateway and Corridor; the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor; and the Atlantic Gateway and Corridor. A fourth initiative may be possible as the northern climate changes over time: an Arctic Gateway and Corridor system that would use rail, sea, and air to handle cargo flows between Asia, North America, and Europe. Once again, Canada could become a linking piece between the US market and the other large trading blocks of the world. While security of the supply chain is a significant feature of gateways and corridors, the gateway and corridor approach (national policy framework) is also about linking policy and physical infrastructure together with relationships that transcend traditional institutional boundaries (i.e., public/private, federal / provincial / municipal).

Montréal rail yards

Yvan-Martin Levesque/VIA Rail Canada

Montréal rail yards.

Ontario-Québec Continental Gateway and Corridor

The Ontario-Québec Continental Gateway and Corridor system is the key avenue for international trade between Canada and the US, as well as to Canada’s other gateways. It is a fine example of a fully-developed, multimodal, international trade and transportation system.  Ontario and Québec businesses have easy access to 135 million consumers within 1000 kilometres – an easy one-day trip for a trucker. The top five Canada-US border crossings are located along the Ontario-Québec corridor. This represents almost 65 percent of total trucks crossing the Canada-United States border.

They each display impressive trade figures: Windsor-Detroit ($1139.8 billion); Niagara-Fort Erie ($66.2 billion); Sarnia ($49.0 billion); Lacolle ($20.5 billion); and Lansdowne ($14.3 billion).10 The transcontinental rail system provides access to major markets all across North America. Moreover, the St. Lawrence Seaway (on which, to navigate from one end to the other, one must cross the Canada-US border 37 times) provides access from the Great Lakes to trans-Atlantic shipping. Finally, and impressively, Canada’s busiest airports for freight and passengers are in Ontario and Québec. They are a key component in just-in-time courier deliveries and multimodal connections.

The Windsor-Detroit Trade Corridor is a key component of the Ontario-Québec Continental Gateway. On 18 June 2008, the Governments of Canada and Ontario announced an end-to-end transportation system that will link Highway 401 to Interstate 75 in Michigan. It was also announced recently that the preferred access route on the Canadian side, the Windsor-Essex Parkway, would start construction as early as summer 2009.11 The new crossing will include state-of-the-art facilities to respond to the modern multimodal requirements that this corridor presents.

The Windsor-Detroit Ambassador Bridge

© Rolf Hicker/All Canada Photos/Corbis/42-24128672

The Windsor-Detroit Ambassador Bridge.

On 2 June 2006, the Governments of Ontario and Québec signed a Cooperation Protocol with an agreement on the transportation sector. Among other objectives, this protocol sought to promote the development of the Ontario-Québec trade corridor, and to collaborate on improving the efficiency of all transportation modes in the corridor. On the Québec side, the new section of Highway 30 will create a southern by-pass for the Greater Montreal Area. This infrastructure will help integrate highways 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 and 540 into a more efficient network to better connect the Greater Montréal Area, Ontario, the Maritimes, and US markets. According to the planned schedule, the new bypass will open in 2012.

Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor

The Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor is a network of transportation infrastructure including British Columbia’s Lower Mainland and Prince Rupert ports, their principal road and rail connections through hub and gateway cities on a corridor stretching across Western Canada, connections through major Canadian airports, and then arching south from the Winnipeg hub towards the United States, through key border crossing gateways into the American heartland.

Calgary and Edmonton owe their location and size to the mountain passes that provide smooth access for railways through the Rocky Mountains. They have evolved as inland gateways that distribute goods from British Columbia to the western prairies. Edmonton has a special role in that it houses the CN western rail operations centre. Winnipeg, on the other hand, was founded as an eastern gateway to the prairies and has developed into a central hub for the continent. Calling itself the Manitoba International Gateway, Winnipeg is a major hub for the Asia Pacific region.  It brings together transpolar air flights to Krasnoyarsk, Russia, container hub and multimodal services for the Asia Pacific Corridor through to the US and Mexico (CN lines to Memphis), and, looking forward, the Churchill Maritime Gateway linking Europe and Asia via sub-arctic maritime corridors.12 Finally, Fort Frances and the other border crossing towns are the gateways to the US for the Asia Pacific cargo flow – which mostly travels west to east, and then south into the American heartland.

Atlantic Gateway and Corridor

In Atlantic Canada, future trade patterns, particularly rising container trade driving demand for deepwater ports, the increasing use of the Suez route for Asian exports to North America, and the expansion of the Panama Canal, point to growing potential. Major shippers are also increasingly considering North America’s east coast to balance inbound and outbound logistical flows. An integrated approach to the Atlantic Gateway and Corridor could significantly enhance Canada’s ability to capture a larger share of growing trade flows between North America and foreign markets. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) from 2007 provides the framework for collaboration between Canada and the Atlantic provinces toward an Atlantic Gateway strategy. In the broader national context, it would include the linking of the Atlantic system with the other gateway and corridor strategies.

Canadian warships

DND photo LH2007-018-001

Canadian warships in the Port of Halifax.

A Lexicon for National Security Strategy

Canada has embarked on a bold strategic venture by focusing effort and investment on the National Policy Framework for Strategic Gateways and Corridors. The inclusiveness of this project, and the mere fact that these corridors span all regions of the country, will ensure strategic ‘comprehensiveness.’ As we have seen, this venture brings a new lexicon to the national security community. This lexicon has its foundations in the integration of levels and departments of government, businesses, infrastructures, and trade flows, as well as international linkages and domestic stakeholder communities. Practitioners of security will have to become accustomed to this lexicon and this new, integrated way of looking at transportation and trade flows. They will also have to adapt their vocabulary to the evolving multimodal and interlinked movement of cargo and personnel – and the effect on the people, environment, economics, international relations, defence, and security of Canada.


The Gateway and Corridor approach brings together traditionally disparate players into a common partnership with a vision linking trade, transportation, and security. It also leverages assets and information. Governments are both setting the rules and investing in infrastructure and technology, while the private sector works in partnership, making significant investments themselves. The need for improved security in the post-911 era is evident. The altering of Canadian mindsets about security in both public and private communities challenges future Canadian governments – for it will take years of effort to bring about full-scale acceptance of the notion of security as an integral part of life in Canada. Just as the British government has published The National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom: Security in an Interdependent World in March 2008, Canada must take formal steps to publish its Canadian National Security Strategy. Because Canada is known as a trading nation, the strategic notion of secure trade and transportation Gateway and Corridor systems linking Canadian interests to suppliers and markets in the world economy is a major foundation pillar for such a modern Canadian National Security Strategy. We have Gateways and Corridors and are working to secure them. It is time for the overarching national strategy to balance the management of scarce resources to improve our management of these Canadian interests in the future.

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Captain (N) [Ret’d] Peter Avis enjoyed a full and rewarding seafaring life in the Canadian Navy. He also served in interesting and productive senior staff appointments, particularly those associated with maritime strategy and security. He is the author of Comparing National Security Approaches to Maritime Security in the Post-9/11World.


  1. Elinor Sloan, “Terrorism in 2025: Likely Dimensions and Attributes,” Trends in Terrorism Series, Volume 2007-3, Integrated Threat Assessment Centre, Government of Canada.
  2. Michael D. Greenberg, et al. “Maritime Terrorism: Risk and Liability,” Rand Center for Terrorism Risk Management Policy, 2006, p.16.
  3. “Government Source: U.S. Warned India before Mumbai Attack,” at www.foxnews.com .  Cited on 23 March 2009 at http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2008/12/02/government-source-warned-india-mumbai-attack/ .
  4. Caroline Alexander, “U.K. Targets Port-Smuggling Risks After Mumbai Terror Attacks,” at www.bloomberg.com, 12 March 2009.  Cited on 23 March 2009 at http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601091&sid=acSE1WbV3D10# .
  5. United Kingdom Government, “The Threats,” on the Security Service M15 website.  Cited on 17 May 2009 at  http://www.mi5.gov.uk/output/the-threats.html .
  6. Jim Sciutto and Rhonda Schwartz, “Scotland Yard Official Resigns After Compromising Al Qaeda Terror Investigation,” ABC News website, 9 April 2009. Cited on 17 May 2009 at  http://www.abcnews.go.com/Blotter/International/story?id=7299160&page=1 .
  7. Graham Parsons, Barry Prentice, and Davis Gillen, “North American Gateway and Corridor Initiatives in a Changing World, Munich Personal RePEc Archive (MRPA) website, 4 June 2007.  Cited on 17 May 2009 at  http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/12665/1/MPRA_paper_12665.pdf .
  8. Ibid.
  9. Transport Canada, “Canada’s Gateways: Focused on a strong Canada,” on Canada’s Gateways website.  Cited on 17 May 2009 at http://www.canadasgateways.gc.ca/index2.html .
  10. Ontario and Québec Provincial Governments, “Ontario-Québec Continental Gateway and Trade Corridor,” Ontario-Quebec Continental Gateway website, 12 August, 2008.  Cited on 17 May 2009 at http://www.natpo.ca/pres/Mike%20Casey,%20Evangeline%20Levesque%20-%20Ontario-Quebec%20Continental%20Gateway.pdf .
  11. Ontario and Québec Provincial Governments, “Border Crossing: Windsor-Detroit Corridor,” Ontario-Québec Continental Gateway website, 18 June, 2008.  Cited on 17 May 2009 at http://www.continentalgateway.ca/windsor.html .
  12. anitoba Provincial Government, Presentation: “Manitoba International Gateway Strategy,” 2008.  Cited on 17 May 2009 at

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