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article imageOp-Ed: Canada to share information with U.S. on land border crossers

By Ken Hanly     Mar 14, 2016 in Politics
Washington - A development of the recent meeting of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama is that Canada will share with the US information on Canadians traveling overland to the states. The U.S. will reciprocate.
Thomas Walkom, writing in the Toronto Star, notes that in the U.S., national security is a key issue and Canada is considered suspect. He points out that Obama's first homeland security chief, Janet Napolitano, insisted that the 9/11 attackers came through Canada, even though evidence seems to contradict this. The announcement of the agreement was made not by Trudeau but by Obama.
The Canada Border Service already provides Americans with data on third-country citizens and Canadians who are permanent residents who travel overland to the U.S. However, the information consists of only basic data such as name, date of birth, and point of entry. Walkom remarks that federal privacy commissioners have pointed out that information sharing can be dangerous.
In 2011, the then privacy commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart pointed to the Maher Arar case, "in which Canada’s sharing of faulty information with the U.S. led to the arrest, rendition and torture of an innocent Canadian citizen. She also cited the cases of three other Muslim Canadians who had been subject to torture abroad in part because of Canada’s too-casual approach to sharing information." The results of the Arar inquiry can be found here. A more readable summary can be found here. Arar received compensation of $10 million from the Canadian government, no doubt to avoid a possible court battle. While the inquiry found that Arar was not a terrorist, he is still on the no-fly list in the U.S. He was deported or rather rendered to Syria because the U.S. claimed he was part of an Al Qaeda cell. Canadian RCMP intelligence authorities had provided the U.S. with raw unvetted intelligence data on Arar to the US. The U.S. refused to cooperate with the Arar inquiry. To his credit, the right-wing Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day still said he believed Arar to be innocent even after U.S. authorities showed him classified information supposed to show his guilt.
The new system was to have been already in place last July but has run into delays. It is part of the Beyond the Border program. Walkom describes it as an attempt to build a kind of wall around North America. The current federal privacy commissioner, Daniel Therrien refused to comment on the program until he knows exactly what the Trudeau government is proposing.
Canada and the U.S. have rather conflicting aims in the program. Canada's main aim is to have faster border crossings to help facilitate Canada-U.S. trade and tourism while the U.S. wants to ensure that its borders are secure.
The plan envisions joint law enforcement teams along the border. However, practical problems immediately arose. Who has jurisdiction if a U.S. agent shoots and kills a suspect but on the Canadian side of the border? As Walkom sees it the two sides have conflicting views of the border: Ottawa wants what it calls a thin border to allow easy passage of people and goods back and forth. As evidenced by last week’s announcement, it is willing to sacrifice some of the privacy of its citizenry in return for this.
Washington, however, wants a thick border that would make it harder for terrorists to enter the U.S.
So while it is happy to receive information from Ottawa and even give back some in return, it is not willing to substantially relax its guard.
Walkom worries that the result will be a still difficult border to cross while there will be an increased likelihood more Canadians will end up on a US security list. However, pre-clearance processes should make crossing quicker for many.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale claims the border security changes Trudeau and Obama agreed to are designed to make crossing the border "smoother." He said that the new rules would impact preclearance procedures, information sharing. and no-flly lists in both countries:"The most important thing is an expansion in pre-clearance, This is the ability to clear American customs and immigration procedures before you leave Canada, so that once you arrive in the United States … there's no further checking of passports and so forth." There is already preclearance at a number of Canadian airports including at Calgary, Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Trudeau and Obma agreed to add more members to the list. The government is also examining pre-clearance for train routes.
Canadian Civil Liberties Directory Executive Director, Sukanya Pilly, claimed the increased sharing of information could have negative impacts:"When you collect a huge amount of information about an individual, it can result in profiling." However, Goodale claimed that the government had been careful about privacy issues and the information was non-intrusive. Goodale also said that the two countries will share information on their respective no-fly lists: "(Canadian and American no-fly lists) are not up until this point shared with each other," he said. "This arrangement will make it possible for that to happen." Under the new agreement, Canada will also work with the U.S. to develop a better way of "getting people off the list if they ought not to be there," Goodale said. "We need an effective redress system," he said.
The border tracking system was originally promised back in 2001 as part of the perimeter security pact. There is to be a working group set up within 60 days to work out errors of identity on the no-fly lists of the two countries.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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