Skip to content

New report calls Harper’s perimeter deal “myopic”

A new strongly worded report by Gar Pardy for the Rideau Institute attacks the legitimacy of Harper’s perimeter security negotiations with the United States and recommends protections that any deal should include to safeguard the privacy and civil rights of people living in Canada.

The Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness declaration, announced at a February 2011 joint press conference by Prime Minister Harper and President Obama, “speaks of providing ‘a shared vision for perimeter security.’ It is a concept that is meant to beguile, and feeds into the paranoia promoted by many that the threats we are facing come from abroad,” writes Pardy, a former member of the Canadian Foreign Service who worked on Canada-US relations in Washington and Ottawa, including four years as liaison with the CIA, in his report.

“The perimeter security concept is a modern Maginot Line created out of the expectation that immense flows of information about citizens will increase security. Like the Maginot Line of history, it creates the illusion of security but it is the security that only ‘theatre’ can provide since it does not reflect the complex environments in which our lives are lived.”

Pardy calls the declaration “an act of desperation” on the part of the Harper government to roll back border constraints and restraints which business groups see as “the main barrier to the full flowering of Canadian exports to the United States.”

He says past initiatives such as the Smart Border declaration of 2002 and the Security and Prosperity Partnership have clearly failed if US politicians continue to claim the Canadian border is less secure than the Mexican border with the US. But he warns there will be no guarantees US concessions at the border will follow from Canadian concessions on information-sharing, which Obama expects to come first.


Pardy writes:

“The concessions the Americans want is the transfer of enormous amounts of information about Canadians and others about whom Canada collects information. It is evident that to meet such expectations Canadian privacy laws will need to be ignored, violated or weakened. While the Declaration speaks of formulating common Canada-United States privacy protection principles, there can be little expectation that these principles will reach upwards towards existing Canadian standards. Rather there will be a willingness by the Government of Canada to lower Canadian standards to match those of the United States, which continue to deteriorate.”

Existing recommendations to enhance Canada’s privacy laws, which haven’t been significantly altered since the 1970s, have gone ignored by successive governments, writes Pardy. He adds the ability of North American law enforcement agencies to deal with the explosion in the amount and type of information has been poor to say the least. And on the recommendation in the joint declaration for merging entry-exit systems for travellers, Pardy says:

“such exchanges would create the need for greater coordination and co-operation between Canada and the United States on visa and refugee policies. Changes to Canadian privacy regimes would be necessary in order to meet American requirements.”


The Rideau Institute report suggests the Canada-US perimeter discussions present an opportunity for the Harper government “to provide Canadians with complete details on the implications of sending personal information south and to elaborate measures that will lead to the protection of the privacy rights of Canadians.” Pardy makes three main recommendations:

1. “Authorize the Privacy Commissioner to review all new agreements with the United States that affect the privacy rights of Canadians, to monitor the implementation of the agreements, and to report annually to Parliament with the results of the reviews and monitoring.”

2. “Following the Arar Commission’s recommendation, create a single authority to oversee all federal police and security organizations involved with the transfer of information between Canada and the United States. Designate this authority to receive, investigate and report publicly on any complaints arising from the provision of information to the American authorities.

3. “Negotiate a separate treaty on the protection of personal information being transferred to the United States for national security purposes, which would protect such information if it fell outside the current bilateral treaty framework between Canada and the United States.”

The recommendations are similar to those presented by the Privacy Commissioner over the post-9/11 period. They provide a solid foundation on which people concerned about the security perimeter can base their arguments once the joint action plan is made public, as early as this month.

Recognizing current doubts about the efficacy of US security policies over the past decade, Pardy hits the nail on its head by describing what is so plainly wrong with this new perimeter deal:

“The erosion of our civil liberties is now to be justified not on the basis of national security, but on the basis that we need to have Canadian goods and services enter the United States with greater ease and certainty. If it was difficult to justify the earlier assertion of national security needs then Canadians should be outraged at the idea that economic necessity provides justification for the Shared Vision assault on our civil liberties.”

To read the full report, click here.