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VIEW: ‘Security perimeter will bring more of the same’, says Yaffe

Vancouver Sun columnist Barbara Yaffe writes that, “News of a possible Canada-U.S. security perimeter will strike fear in some hearts.” She highlights that, “The Council of Canadians proclaimed the project ‘unnecessary and invasive’. ‘Canada has armed and secured itself to the teeth to satisfy the U.S. but no new perimeter plan can bring the U.S. economy back to life,’ it said.”

Yaffe argues that, “Canada already has gone a country mile toward implementing the features of a security perimeter model.” She notes:

1- “(In late 2001) Canada and the U.S. struck a Smart Border Action Plan from which flowed common visitor visa requirements, coordinated immigration measures and immigration control officers, a safe third-country agreement, common biometric identifiers, information sharing on airplane passenger lists and information sharing between the RCMP and FBI.”

2- “The Canada Border Services Agency and U.S. Customs and Border Protection these days work together on a tsunami of programs.”

3- “Law-abiding Canadians — following a background check and fingerprinting — can acquire a NEXUS card and zip across U.S. border points with an iris scan.”

4- “Another program, for cross-border commercial shipments — known as FAST — also is jointly coordinated by the two agencies.”

5- “In 2006, Canada and the U.S. agreed to have Norad watch over maritime approaches as well as continental air space.”

6 – “Since 2008, the two have agreed to allow each other’s forces to help out in civil emergencies.”

She comments that the security perimeter “is likely to just bring more of the same.” But do we want more of the same? The Council of Canadians would argue that the existing aspects Yaffe outlines warrant deeper scrutiny and that some are already known to be problematic, notably the safe third country agreement, the no-fly lists, and information sharing between the RCMP and the FBI.

1- Let us not forget that in November 2007 a Federal Court judge ruled that Canada must reconsider the safe third country agreement with the United States because, as reported by the Globe and Mail at the time, “Washington flouts conventions meant to safeguard immigrants against torture in their homelands.”

2- And in January 2007 Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow wrote in an op-ed in the Toronto Star that, “Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon’s ‘made-in-Canada’ no-fly list is anything but. …However ‘made-in-Canada’ our list is for the moment, it will be ultimately merged with the U.S. no-fly list, which has already included peace activists, preschoolers and one U.S. senator.”

3- Nor should we forget that Maher Arar was deported from the US and tortured for a year in Syria after the RCMP provided false information to the FBI and the CIA. We should also remember that, as reported by the Canwest News Service in August 2007, “Canadian officials were aware that the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service was ‘processing Arar for removal’.”

It could also be argued that the “country mile” measures Yaffe lists weren’t enough to satisfy the Americans and that now more is needed. And likely what the Beyond the Border working group recommends will be considered insufficient at a certain point too and then yet more will be needed again. Yaffe wrote in June 2009 that Canadian diplomat and trade negotiator “Colin Robertson …wants closer Canada-U.S. ties on the environment, energy, continental defence, trade and investment and labour mobility.” He says, “we will have to make visible adaptations — harmonizing our visa policy, for example, and other confidence-building measures to meet American expectations, even if they do seem somewhat paranoid … not because we share the paranoia, but because we need to serve Canadian interests.”

That said, Yaffe appears to agree with us on two points:

1- “The reality is that the plan will have its limits — no one is talking about removing border crossings.”

2- “While the business sector surely will welcome any further integration initiatives, it’s important to note that no arrangement can thwart an increasingly protectionist U.S. Congress, with its newly elected Tea Party contingent.”

We’ve highlighted that Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom wrote, “The U.S. would be happy to control Canada’s borders to the outside world. But no U.S. politician who wants to get re-elected would ever agree to weakening America’s northern border with Canada. …So the upshot of any perimeter deal will be to give the U.S two borders — an outer one around North America and an inner one at the 49th parallel.” Barlow has stated that, “This security perimeter plan sounds like a whole new set of hassles at the border. It sounds like more border security, longer entry/exit lines at the Canada US border, new screening processes for anyone leaving Canada, more security guards and border personnel.”

Yaffe wrote in April 2008 that “The Security and Prosperity Partnership, launched in 2005, is so misunderstood by the public and so discredited by opposition groups it should be relaunched and rebranded. That’s the view of Simon Fraser University political scientist Alexander Moens who has just completed a study of the SPP for the Fraser Institute…” She added then that, “The reason for declining interest lies with effective lobbying by key groups, like the left-leaning Council of Canadians which has pointed to the closed-door nature of the SPP negotiations as a basis for suspicion. The ‘deep integration,’ the council asserts in its campaign titled ‘Integrate This!’, will redirect domestic interests to U.S. priorities. The group also worries that the Americans would try to gain further access to Canada’s natural resources.”

This perhaps is why the Council of Canadians has received so much media attention on the new security perimeter initiative and why the Harper government’s communications strategy on this – obtained by the Globe and Mail – “anticipates criticism from…Council of Canadians chairwoman Maude Barlow.”

Yaffe’s column (which appeared in the Vancouver Sun, Calgary Herald and other news outlets on December 10, and in the Windsor Star today) can be read at http://www.windsorstar.com/mobile/story.html?id=4040174.