Skip to content

Is Canada-U.S. military integration on agenda for tomorrow’s “inaugural” meeting of N.A. defence ministers?

We’re all impatiently awaiting the joint announcement by Harper and Obama of a “new” perimeter security deal. From media reports, the agreement would fast-track some of the Security and Prosperity Partnership’s more contentious harmonization projects, including establishing a common entry and exit system for travellers to and from North America. The more hardcore Canadian supporters of deep integration with the United States are digging up old arguments to support it. Yet there was so much controversy when news of the deal leaked out in December that Obama and Harper had to postpone their big announcement.

I wonder if tomorrow’s trilateral meeting of North American defence ministers in Ottawa will reveal the anticipated military component to the concept of perimeter security or if it’s more or less unrelated. The use of “inaugural” to describe the meeting is interesting because of how much North American military cooperation already exists. Should we expect a strong drug focus, for example? It’s possible with Mexico’s presence and the extent to which the U.S. military has taken a commanding control there of border security, immigration and drug enforcement. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow’s post-meeting media announcement to know for sure.

The original Globe and Mail report on the Harper perimeter plan did note that on top of more traveller and criminal information sharing, there could also include “a closer working relationship for the Canadian and U.S. militaries in emergencies, building on a 2008 agreement that sets out rules for how each country can call for the other’s assistance.” This refers to the Civil Assistance Plan, which has showed up on the NORTHCOM website under 2011 news, along with a 2010 Tri Command Vision and 2009 signed framework.

I hadn’t seen anything in the news about this framework, though it is posted to the Canada Command website. And a quick Google search shows that the human resource company Adecco is currently recruiting a business consultant with Level 2 (secret) clearance to work with the federal government “to provide advice, guidance and assistance in support of Canada Command’s Western Hemisphere strategic planning activities,” including a review of the Civil Assistance Plan and other multilateral military agreements.

The “environment” described in the Tri Command vision statement is one of multiple threats to the North American way of life, from disease to nuclear proliferation and the spread of “extremist ideologies.” These and other “emerging threats” will “present greater challenges as many of today’s adversaries are unpredictable, diverse and decentralized, yet increasingly networked.”

The mission of the Tri Command is collaboration:

The Commands (NORAD, NORTHCOM and CANADA COMMAND) shall develop and share comprehensive, situational awareness and a common operating picture, and must strive to interact seamlessly with each other and with our respective civil authorities, non-governmental organizations and other mission partners.

As part of this mission, the Tri Command vision statement contains five goals:

1. Strengthen our collective ability to detect, deter, defend against, and defeat threats to our nations.

2. Improve unity of effort with each other and with our respective mission partners.

3. Develop a culture of continuous collaboration and cooperation in planning, execution, training, information management, and innovation.

4. Enhance intelligence and information sharing and fusion to support mission accomplishment.

5. Strengthen our collective ability to provide appropriate, timely and effective support to civil authorities.

Tomorrow’s press conference in Ottawa with Defence Minister Peter MacKay starts at 2 p.m. and will probably air live on CBC. No matter what’s happening, this is a sorely under-reported story that needs more fleshing out. The Civil Assistance Plan is controversial in its own right with the potential for a more visible U.S. military presence in Canada. The militarization of immigration policy in Mexico has not gone well. The prospect of adopting similar collaboration with U.S. military agencies in Canada is something we should all be very concerned about.