Stop trading rights to curry favour with US, says Council of Canadians

May 19, 2011
Media Release

Wikileaks gives a taste of what perimeter security will mean for Canada

Toronto – Canada must stop indiscriminately sharing information on people within its borders with United States security agencies and immediately adopt strict accountability measures for information-sharing recommended by the Arar Commission, says the Council of Canadians.

“Why are we allowing CSIS and other Canadian security agencies to send their untested hunches about people across the border when it puts the lives of innocent people at risk? Maher Arar is still on a U.S. no-fly list despite being cleared of all suspicion by the Canadian government, which has apologized for his deportation and torture in Syria. By continuing to funnel information to U.S. security agencies the Harper government is saying it doesn't care about human or civil rights. This practise must end,” says Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians.

The Council is responding to diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks and reported by CBC, which show that U.S. diplomats used Canadian information to place several never-arrested suspects on a blacklist. There were 27 Canadian citizens and 14 foreign nationals living in Canada on the list, which is undoubtedly the tip of an iceberg of Canadian names sent to U.S. officials, in many cases based on having simply known a person suspected of terrorist links.

“The minimum criteria for when personal information is shared with any government should be suspicion of criminality. The security integration that Canada has pursued with the U.S. since September 2001 goes well beyond that, as proven by these leaked cables. Unfiltered information-sharing must stop immediately while accountability measures are developed,” says Trew.

Being on a US blacklist would bar access to the U.S., as well as stop a person from boarding an aircraft travelling over the territorial U.S., and possibly between destinations inside Canada. Before it fell, the Harper minority government passed a new air security law (Bill C-42) which allows Canadian air carriers to share all traveller information in their private databanks with the U.S. on overflights and domestic flights where the emergency airport is south of the border.

“That means the U.S. now must vet who can and cannot fly on all overflights and 75 per cent of domestic flights inside Canada,” says Trew. “Now Harper is promising to introduce Internet spying laws that will make it easier for Canadian police and security agencies to seek and record information on web surfing habits without having to get a warrant. We must assume this information will also be shared willy nilly with the U.S.”

The Arar Commission, which looked into information sharing practises with the US, recommended that strict rules be placed on what personal information can be shared under what circumstances. This recommendation was ignored. Instead, the Harper government is currently negotiating a new border agreement with the U.S. to increase the amount of personal information going into foreign databases. The government is conducting limited online consultations on this deal until June 3. They would like the perimeter deal to be signed by 2012.

“Harper is selling off our privacy and civil rights for weak promises of a thinner border and better access to the U.S. market. Are those fundamental rights worth so little to his government?” asks Trew. “We call on all Canadians to reject the perimeter security concept and to demand accountability and respect for civil liberties from the government.”