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Canada to allow armed US Homeland Security agents on Canadian waterways

The Canwest News Service reports that, “U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano …is expected to meet with Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan at the Detroit-Windsor border crossing, likely on May 26. Plans are in the works for Ms. Napolitano to visit Ottawa the next day.”

“While details of Ms. Napolitano’s trip are still being finalized, officials at Homeland Security and the Department of Public Safety have been trying to finalize a border security deal that would make permanent a little-known — and potentially controversial — pilot project allowing the RCMP and the U.S. Coast Guard to conduct joint armed patrols of shared waterways.”

“One Canada-U.S. pilot program close to being given a green light is Project Shiprider, which was launched several years ago to test the effectiveness of having integrated law enforcement teams patrol marine areas, such as the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Strait of Georgia between British Columbia and Washington state. Under the project, RCMP officers were placed aboard U.S. Coast Guard vessels — and vice-versa — in a bid to thwart organized crime such as drug smuggling in Canada-U.S. border waters. While on Canadian boats and in Canadian waters, U.S. Coast Guard officers act under RCMP authority but have arrest powers.”

“During one test of the project in the summer of 2007, integrated Shiprider teams boarded 187 vessels and contributed to 41 arrests, according to the Department of Public Safety. The Canadian government subsequently announced in March, 2008, that it had begun negotiating a framework agreement to make Project Shiprider permanent. While U.S. and Canadian officials are eager to have a deal ready for Ms. Napolitano and Mr. Van Loan to sign, legal issues may still complicate the plan.”

While not noted in the news article, the US Coast Guard falls under the administrative umbrella of the US Department of Homeland Security.

In March 2008, trade campaigner Stuart Trew critiqued this initiative writing, “The Shiprider project raises several questions that demand answers from the Canadian government:

  • Why are armed U.S. Homeland Security officials allowed to freely move in and out of Canadian waters with the same powers as police officers in this country?
  • What was wrong with our previous security arrangement with the U.S. Coast guard that requires this radical and unprecedented arrangement?
  • Where were the public hearings on the Shiprider project?
  • Where was the parliamentary debate or political oversight on this and on the security integration measures in the SPP in general?
  • How will giving Homeland Security jurisdiction in Canadian waters possibly make Canadians any safer than before this project was quietly established two years ago?”

The full critique by Stuart can be read at http://canadians.org/integratethis/insecurity/2008/Mar-20.html.

The Canwest article also notes, “Ms. Napolitano and Mr. Van Loan have formally agreed to hold twice yearly summits to manage border issues, which Ottawa hailed as a step forward in the sometimes fractious security relationship Ottawa had with Washington during the Bush administration.”

The Canwest article is at http://www.nationalpost.com/nationalpost/story.html?id=1609460