Harper, Obama sign border security deal

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

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There were few surprises in the action plan released Wednesday. Insiders leaked major elements of the agreement months ago, but an official announcement was delayed by Harper's request for a high-profile launch with Obama at the White House.

The most contentious feature could be the plan to exchange entry information of all persons at the Canada-U.S. border, which would serve as a record of exit from the other country.

Canada says this information will help identify people who over stay their visa, track the departure of people subject to removal orders, and verify that people seeking immigration and employment insurance benefits are meeting Canadian residency requirements.

The plan also calls for joint, integrated assessments about security threats and improved intelligence sharing. The countries have pledged to create common privacy principles to guide such information exchanges.

Other main components include more comprehensive advance screening of travellers from third countries heading to North America and a harmonized approach to screening cargo arriving from offshore.

New explosive detection machines to be installed in selected Canadian airports by March 2015 are intended to make U.S. flight connections easier.

The countries will also work toward a common framework for trusted trader programs, enhancement of the Nexus trusted traveller program, and more pre-inspection and pre-clearance for land, rail, marine traffic.

In addition, there are various objectives and milestones to streamline the regulatory regime in the meat industry, the automotive sector and product approval processes.

A Regulatory Co-operation Council of about a dozen senior bureaucrats from Ottawa and Washington are to oversee the way forward. They will report back annually.

Canada and the U.S. share the largest trading partnership in the world with $1.8 billion flowing between the two countries each day.

Critics of the perimeter security initiative argue it puts Canadian sovereignty at risk.

They say Canada could lose control of personal information about citizens because the U.S. has less stringent privacy protections. They also worry about increased integration of policing and traveller screening.

The absence of civil society organizations and privacy advocates from a media briefing Wednesday underscored the tensions.

Only industry and consumer groups were among the 19 invited organizations, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

Highlights of the deal:

- Joint, integrated assessments about security threats and improved intelligence sharing, including common privacy principles.

- More comprehensive advance screening of travellers from third countries heading to North America.

- Exchange of entry information of all persons at the Canada-U.S. border, to serve as a record of exit from the other country.

- Co-ordinated research, prevention relating to violent extremism.

- Pilot projects for land-based joint security teams, creation of additional marine-based teams.

- Harmonized approach to screening cargo arriving from offshore.

- New explosive detection machines for Canadian airports by March 2015 to make U.S. flight connections easier.

- Joint assessments and audits for plant, animal and food safety systems in third countries.

- Common framework for trusted trader programs.

- Enchancement of Nexus trusted traveller program.

- More pre-inspection and pre-clearance for land, rail, marine traffic.

- Single electronic window for shippers to reduce paperwork.

- Co-ordinated border crossing infrastructure upgrades.

- Jointly published wait time service levels at key crossings.

- Closer co-operation on cybersecurity and health security threats.

- Harmonized names for cuts of meat and poultry.

- Alignment of auto industry manufacturing standards.

- Executive steering committee to oversee implementation of action plan.

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