Harper, Obama sign border security deal

Critics worried about privacy, personal data barred from high-profile announcement.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The president and the prime minister were there for the big announcement. The folks worried about sovereignty, privacy and the sharing of personal data with U.S. Homeland Security officials were notably absent.

It's Canada's new border deal with the U.S., and it's here to stay.

The Canadian Press has the details:

WASHINGTON -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper is hailing a new set of border agreements between Canada and the United States as a merger between security concerns and the need for commerce and travel.

Harper says the deals on perimeter security and regulatory harmonization represent the most significant steps forward in Canada-U.S. co-operation since the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In the text of a speech delivered after a meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington, Harper says the agreements create a "new, modern border for a new century.''

The prime minister says Canada shares U.S. security concerns, but he adds measures to deal with criminal and terrorist threats can thicken the border and hinder efforts to create jobs and growth.

He calls the border deals "practical steps to reverse that direction.''

Both countries agree the best way to deal with trouble is with smarter systems at the continental perimeter, minimizing multiple inspections of freight and baggage.

"We also believe that, just as threats should be stopped at the perimeter, trusted travellers should cross the border more quickly,'' Harper said.

"Indeed, these priorities are complementary: The key that locks the door against terrorists also opens a wider gate to cross-border trade and travel.''

The second joint initiative will reduce regulatory barriers to trade by streamlining and aligning standards where it makes sense to do so.''

"Naturally, in this area, as in all others, no loss of sovereignty is contemplated by either of our governments,'' Harper said.

"Every rule needs a reason,'' he added, and "where no adequate reason exists for a rule or standard, and that standard hinders us from doing business on both sides of the border, that rule needs to be re-examined.''

Many of the initiatives will be years in the making.

Full implementation of the entry-exit control regime isn't expected until June 2014, the same year a new integrated cargo screening strategy is expected to be fully online.

An improved means of sniffing for explosives in the luggage of U.S.-bound air travellers isn't due for completion until March 2015.

"There are going to be other items that are frankly more complicated and are going to take a little bit longer to put in place,'' said a senior Canadian government official, who briefed journalists on condition of anonymity.

"Entry-exit is a good example. This is not something where you flip a switch and it happens all at once.''

The delays threaten to derail the wide-ranging perimeter security pact because it is being driven from the top down by the Obama White House and Harper's office in Ottawa.

The long U.S. presidential election campaign is expected to ramp up early next year, exactly when the tough work begins on many of the pilot programs and next steps outlined Wednesday.

That will force the Harper government to compete for the attention of the Obama administration, which will be focused on re-election.

After 2012, Harper's team will then have to deal with a fresh Democrat cabinet or an entirely new Republican White House that did not sign on to the deal.

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