U.S., Canada harmonize perimeter security approach

In March, a Toronto Star editorial asked:

How, exactly, do Harper and Obama define a North American “perimeter?” How would sharing more data on travelers and goods coming into Canada and the U.S. from abroad materially “streamline and decongest” the border, when most traffic originates locally? How would “improved intelligence and information sharing” work? What about “joint threat assessments”? What information would we share? Who defines threats? The U.S. still obtusely regards Maher Arar as a threat, long after he was cleared. How would an “integrated Canada-U.S. entry-exit system” — potentially the most contentious part of this deal — work in practice? How would its exchange of “relevant” data affect privacy? Would a Canadian flying from Toronto to Paris or Cairo, for example, be tracked in some U.S. database? How far would the sharing go? When officials talk about “screening” travelers, what do they envisage, and what biometrics do they propose to rely on? The U.S. has a vast and not always reliable database of red-flagged people. And it’s not easy to get off the list. How far would Ottawa go in stepping up “cross-border law enforcement operations”? Does anyone envisage U.S. federal agents arresting suspects here?

Also in March, the Globe and Mail reported:

The federal government wants members of the public to impart their “shared vision” for the security of the Canada-U.S. perimeter — it just doesn’t want to explain what that means. Ottawa-based researcher Ken Rubin used federal Access to Information legislation to ask the Public Safety department for documents related to the definition of the term “perimeter security” in the context of the Canada-U.S. border. The department’s response was an unequivocal “no.” In a letter written March 4, Public Safety officials said: “The records pertaining to your request have been entirely withheld.” The department said the information could be injurious to international affairs, that it contained information developed for a government institution or minister, that it would provide an account of a government consultation, and that it is a matter of cabinet confidence.”

In mid-April, the Canadian Press reported:

Months before the Conservative government dismissed talk of a perimeter security accord with the United States as hearsay, senior officials were quietly discussing a draft of the border agreement. Documents obtained by the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act show federal deputy ministers considered a version of the accord early last September. In December, however, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper called such a deal mere “hearsay” and “speculation.” In response, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow stated, “It is not healthy for the democratic process for this to be happening behind closed doors, in secrecy. It affects the Canadian people and we have a right to hear about it, and it should be part of this election debate. We’ve heard absolutely nothing about how the talks are going. And I think that Canadians need to demand of this government a more open process.”

The United States was hoping to include Mexico in a similar arrangement, but the sheer level of violence in that country has so far made this impractical. In the future, though, we may well see a trilateral perimeter security arrangement which includes the United States, Canada, and Mexico — an arrangement which will bring to security relations what NAFTA has brought to economic relations among the three countries.


— Read more in Dana Gabriel, “Perimeter Security and the Future of North American Integration,” Infowars.com (1 March 2011); and Edward Alden, “U.S.-Canada perimeter security in 2011” (13 December 2010)