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NEWS: US border deal at risk without majority, says Harper

CBC reports, “Canada needs a strong Conservative majority to protect trade relations with the U.S., Stephen Harper said Thursday, adding that a border security agreement with the country’s southern neighbour is otherwise at risk. The Conservative leader said that without a Tory government: ‘The border vision would be dead.’ …The Conservative leader also used his pro-trade message to again distance his party from the NDP, saying its opposition to foreign trade deals is ‘ideological’… ‘The NDP has opposed every trade deal we have signed,’ Harper said.”

The Toronto Star adds, “Harper said that if re-elected he will move forward with the ‘shared vision for perimeter security and economic competitiveness’ that he signed with U.S. President Barack Obama on February 4. …If the Tories continue in government, they will push the U.S.-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council to cut red tape on trade and other matters. But some fear Canadians’ privacy will be invaded because Ottawa will share too much of their personal information with Washington. Indeed, the Harper-Obama scheme rings Canada and the U.S. in a single security perimeter, boosting cooperation between Canadian and American police, border, and intelligence services. Because negotiations between Ottawa and Washington are still shrouded in secrecy, it’s unclear whether the accord could limit immigration to Canada. That’s because the U.S. has tighter controls on immigration than Canada.”

Prior to the election, NDP leader Jack Layton had said, “We think that there should be a thorough discussion here about the extent to which he may be compromising our sovereignty. We of course want to work with our friends in the U.S. on issues. But we don’t want to compromise our ability to set our own policies.”

The Council of Canadians has raised concerns about what could be in the perimeter security agreement – and the impacts it would have on civil liberties, privacy, immigration and refugee policies, and our sovereignty – as well as the highly-secretive process the Harper government has pursued to achieve it.

TIMELINE

Last December, the Globe and Mail reported that, “The Harper government is bracing for a backlash over a border security agreement it is negotiating with the United States, anticipating it will spark worries about eroding sovereignty and privacy rights, a document obtained by The Globe and Mail shows. The communications strategy for the perimeter security declaration anticipates criticism from civil rights groups and others such as Council of Canadians chairwoman Maude Barlow.”

In early-February, the Toronto Star reported, “The confidential government document (prepared last fall on the perimeter security proposal) contains a list of ‘high risk’ stakeholders – those in Canada who might raise strenuous objections to stepped-up Canada-U.S. security arrangements. Advocacy and civil rights groups such as the Council of Canadians, led by Maude Barlow, were expected to react negatively because of ‘privacy concerns’. The strategy paper suggested that cabinet ministers be made available to the media to counteract Barlow’s statements.”

In mid-February, the Canadian Press reported that an Ipsos-Reid poll found that 91 per cent of Canadians say the negotiations (on perimeter security) should take place in public so that they can see what is on the table. Canadians want Harper to adopt a much more transparent approach to the negotiations which are being held in total secrecy.

In March, a Toronto Star editorial asked, “How, exactly, do Harper and Obama define a North American ‘perimeter?’ How would sharing more data on travellers and goods coming into Canada and the U.S. from abroad materially ’streamline and decongest’ the border, when most traffic originates locally? How would ‘improved intelligence and information sharing’ work? What about ‘joint threat assessments?’ What information would we share? Who defines threats? The U.S. still obtusely regards Maher Arar as a threat, long after he was cleared. How would an ‘integrated Canada-U.S. entry-exit system’ — potentially the most contentious part of this deal — work in practice? How would its exchange of ‘relevant’ data affect privacy? Would a Canadian flying from Toronto to Paris or Cairo, for example, be tracked in some U.S. database? How far would the sharing go? When officials talk about ’screening’ travellers, what do they envisage, and what biometrics do they propose to rely on? The U.S. has a vast and not always reliable database of red-flagged people. And it’s not easy to get off the list. How far would Ottawa go in stepping up ‘cross-border law enforcement operations?’ Does anyone envisage U.S. federal agents arresting suspects here?”

Also in March, the Globe and Mail reported, “The federal government wants members of the public to impart their ‘shared vision’ for the security of the Canada-U.S. perimeter – it just doesn’t want to explain what that means. Ottawa-based researcher Ken Rubin used federal Access to Information legislation to ask the Public Safety department for documents related to the definition of the term ‘perimeter security’ in the context of the Canada-U.S. border. The department’s response was an unequivocal ‘no’. In a letter written March 4, Public Safety officials said: ‘The records pertaining to your request have been entirely withheld.’ The department said the information could be injurious to international affairs, that it contained information developed for a government institution or minister, that it would provide an account of a government consultation, and that it is a matter of cabinet confidence.'”

And in mid-April, the Canadian Press reported, “Months before the Conservative government dismissed talk of a perimeter security accord with the United States as hearsay, senior officials were quietly discussing a draft of the border agreement. Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act show federal deputy ministers considered a version of the accord early last September. In December, however, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper called such a deal mere ‘hearsay’ and ‘speculation.’” In response, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow stated, “It is not healthy for the democratic process for this to be happening behind closed doors, in secrecy. It affects the Canadian people and we have a right to hear about it, and it should be part of this election debate. We’ve heard absolutely nothing about how the talks are going. And I think that Canadians need to demand of this government a more open process.”

The CBC report is at http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canadavotes2011/story/2011/04/28/cv-election-harper-ndp-1148.html. The Toronto Star report is at http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/981839–layton-a-throwback-who-would-harm-u-s-relations-harper-warns?bn=1.