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NEWS: The Council responds to border announcement

The Globe and Mail reports, “The Conservatives bill the Obama talks as the biggest step forward in Canada-U.S. cooperation since the 1993 NAFTA deal. But the perimeter plan is no treaty and there is no binding deal on the table for signing.” And, “It’s a work in progress that could be sunk by bureaucratic inertia or shifting political priorities — such as the 2012 U.S. Presidential election that Mr. Obama must fight.”

“At the heart of this perimeter deal is the notion that the ports of Halifax, or Vancouver, for instance, form part of a common perimeter encircling North America and must be secured to the Americans’ satisfaction so Washington can more readily trust shipments that enter the United States at the Canadian border. …Under the perimeter-security plan, Canada has committed to increasingly sharing with the United States the security intelligence gathered by its police and law authorities. …Canada has also pledged to ratchet up scrutiny on foreigners – even from countries that don’t need a visa to come to Canada. Citizens of countries that require no visa for Canada will be obliged complete a form before arrival that supplies what officials refer to as visa-type information. …A centre piece of this agreement is a joint entry-exit tracking system where the United States and Canada will effectively merge their land-border screening efforts on their common frontier by recording and sharing details on people crossing there. …Ottawa and Washington are also forming police and law enforcement teams to conduct joint patrols or investigations along their shared land border – an extension of an existing marine program called Shiprider. Officials say they hope to have deals worked out that would provide for Canadian goods to be pre-cleared by the end of 2012.”

“At the same time, Canada and the U.S. are pledging to harmonize regulations in 29 areas from food to health to eliminate minor differences that block trade.” iPolitics adds, “Co-ordination of regulatory regimes and standards range from finding common names for cuts of meat to joint analysis and approval of over-the counter products like pesticides and pharmaceuticals.”

Phased-in implementation
The Globe and Mail notes, “Wednesday’s deal is heavy on pilot projects and promises rather than concrete deliverables.” The Canadian Press reports, “Key features of the 29-point deal — as well as an accord on regulatory reform — are three to four years from seeing the light of day. Full implementation of the entry-exit control regime isn’t expected until June 2014, the same year an 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 until March 2015.”

CBC adds, “It will take months before people see the results of the agreement, but pilot projects will start as soon as April 2012. …The cargo clearance pilot project will start in Montreal and Prince Rupert, B.C., by 2013. …The entry-exit system pilot project is set to start by Sept. 30, 2012, at anywhere between two to four border crossings. The full program is to be in place by June 30, 2014. …There are also plans to share biometric information of third-country nationals by 2014 to reduce identity fraud, enhance screening and support ‘other enforcement actions’, according to the action plan that sets out the details of the agreement.”

The Council of Canadians responds
iPolitics reports, “Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew disputed assurances of Canadian sovereignty, saying security policy integration with the U.S. since 9/11 has been a ‘history of concessions’. ‘We fundamentally reject the argument that our civil liberties must be compromised on the basis that we need to have Canadian goods and services enter the U.S. with greater ease and certainty,’ he said. ‘On regulatory harmonization, we risk abandoning our own food and product safety testing to simply adopt U.S. norms. Do we want to do this on pesticides? On genetically modified crops or animals? Do we want to adopt U.S.-style industry voluntary inspection of food processing plants? That’s where regulatory convergence is taking us.'”

Postmedia News reports, “Council of Canadians chairwoman Maude Barlow said Canada gave up too much for what would essentially be negligible gains given that U.S. politics are responsible for the problems facing the border.
‘Once again, we’re bending over backwards to try to get something from the U.S. that we’re not going to get,’ she said.”

The Canadian Press reports, “Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, was critical of the government for not consulting directly with groups concerned about the environment, health and safety standards, privacy and sovereignty. ‘We are very concerned that the harmonization of goods and services at the border will lower health, food safety and environmental standards on both sides of the border, given that it is all being supervised and done on behalf of the business community,’ she said. ‘It is shameful that only one sector is driving this agenda.'” Another Canadian Press article reports, “‘The Harper government has again succumbed to U.S. pressure…for little or no real security gains to either country,’ said Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians.”

And Global News reports, “‘We are talking about marginal improvements at the border for what could be major changes or expansions on the amount of type of information shared,’ said Stuart Trew of the Council of Canadians. …The price of thinning trade also included surrendering more information about travellers to both governments, and some aren’t convinced it was a fair trade. ‘It is an imbalanced deal that really isn’t worth it to Canadians,’ said Trew. …Proponents of the deal say focusing border resources on threats allows trusted travellers and trade to move faster. Trew said he rejects that premise: ‘Why is this going to be the one solution that’s going to make our lives all the more easy?’ he said. ‘We really kind of reject this idea that civil liberties or privacy can be compromised in any way.’ …Refocusing efforts to enhance infrastructure, expanding pre-clearance programs, and focusing on evidence-based policing would do more to relieve border congestion and enhance security than broad information sharing, according to Trew.”