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VIEWS: Walkom vs. Alden on border security

Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Washington, DC-based Council on Foreign Relations, recently wrote that, “While the (perimeter security) initiative as outlined makes tremendous sense on both sides of the border, it will face significant opposition in Canada from those who fear that national sovereignty will be sacrificed on the altar of continental security, and in the United States from those who favor unilateral approaches to securing the borders. Supporters of intelligence risk management on both sides of the border will have to work hard to spell out the benefits from such an agreement and to overcome the inevitable opposition.”

“The idea behind perimeter security is that the two governments would cooperate intensively to keep potentially dangerous goods and travelers from entering North America. In turn, greater security from overseas threats would permit streamlining of the northern border inspection regime, which has raised costs for business and discouraged travelers from crossing the U.S.-Canada border. With both the U.S. and Canadian economies growing anemically and facing high unemployment, improving the cross-border business and travel environment has never been more urgent economically.”

“The details of the agreement are still sketchy, and are supposed to be fleshed out through negotiations following the announcement of a framework agreement next month.” But they include:

1- “Setting common standards for screening incoming cargo before it leaves foreign ports, improving border infrastructure, and deepening law enforcement cooperation.”

2- “(Creating) an integrated entry-exit system for travelers. For Canada, this means adopting and rolling out a US-VISIT style biometric entry system.”*

3- “(Agreeing) to share much more real time information to help in targeting incoming overseas travelers who should be blocked or deserve extra scrutiny.”

4- “Establishing a workable ‘exit’ system at the land border with Canada.”

5- “(Committing) to an information sharing arrangement so that Canada’s entry data at the land border would serve as the U.S. exit data, and vice-versa. Much as at the U.S. side of the land border currently, American and Canadian travelers would not be required to give fingerprints, but other entrants would. Such data would be valuable to both countries, primarily for the immigration control purpose of ensuring that temporary visitors do not overstay their admissibility.”

Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom recently wrote, “The latest government attempt to create a common security perimeter around North America is another bad deal for Canada.”

“Bad because we’ll be handing over yet more of our border sovereignty to the U.S., particularly in the area of immigration. Bad because we’ll be allowing the country that operates Guantanamo Bay and that sent Canadian Maher Arar abroad for torture to collect more private information on us. Bad because the deal will tie our fortunes more closely to a nation that, while still powerful, is in economic decline. But the worst part of this proposed deal is that it almost certainly won’t achieve what Ottawa wants — a virtually hassle-free border between Canada and the U.S.”

“If the Americans could control who and what got into Canada from abroad, it was thought, they would once again let our trucks breeze through from Windsor to Detroit. And if we gave away more of our sovereignty in the process, the argument went, well so what? Yet even if this trade-off is deemed acceptable, it faces an insurmountable problem: In real life it won’t work. 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.”

Alden’s article can be read at http://securitydebrief.adfero.com/2010/12/13/us-canada-perimeter-security-in-2011/. Walkom’s column is at http://www.thestar.com/columnists/article/905413–walkom-why-ottawa-s-new-border-scheme-is-such-a-loser.

*According to the Department of Homeland Security’s website, “US-VISIT supports the Department of Homeland Security’s mission to protect our nation by providing biometric identification services to federal, state and local government decision makers to help them accurately identify the people they encounter and determine whether those people pose a risk to the United States.” The biometrics (a digital fingerprint and a photograph) are checked against a database to track individuals deemed by the United States to be terrorists, criminals, and illegal immigrants. Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Program on Technology and Liberty, has stated that the watch list is “bloated and full of inaccuracy” and that “Whether or not the loss of liberty is worth the security gained is not a question — because no security is gained.”