Consultations not a carte blanche for Harper-Obama perimeter deal: Council of Canadians

Media Release
August 29, 2011

The Council of Canadians is warning the Harper government its short-lived public consultation on the proposed perimeter security and regulatory harmonization pacts with the United States is not a carte blanche to sign a deal that threatens the privacy, civil liberties and health of people living in Canada. The prevalence of input from business lobbyists in the two reports will only lead once again to Canada-U.S. border deal that benefits CEOs before the general working public, says the grassroots social justice organization.

“We are very worried this consultation was just smoke and mirrors,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson with the Council of Canadians. “We’ve seen this process time and again since September 2001, where the Canadian and U.S. business sectors come up with a plan for the border and the government is asked to implement it. These business lobbyists are looking for profits. They’re not looking out for our privacy or real security.”

The Council is responding to the release today by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of two reports on what the department heard during separate consultations on the regulatory and security aspects of the joint Canada-U.S. Beyond the Border Action Plan, which is still being prepared by cross-border working groups. The organization was one of dozens of civil society groups, corporations, industry lobby groups and provincial governments to comment on the Beyond the Border declaration from February 4, 2011.

“We told the government there wasn’t enough information about how far Harper’s perimeter deal would go, what public policies it would impact, for the public to provide meaningful public input,” says Barlow. “The government should consider a second round of consultations, town halls and other accessible means once the action plans are complete this fall and before the plan is turned into law.”

The Council shares many of the same concerns as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, which are summarized in part in the government reports released today. These include the inability of Canadian governments to control how U.S. departments will use personal information on travelers and other residents of Canada, the dangers of centralizing biometric information into databases which can be tapped for numerous purposes not strictly related to securing the border, and the effect a common exit-entry program would have on constitutional rights in Canada.

“Canada has been harmonizing security policies with the United States for over a decade to satisfy a seemingly endless list of U.S. demands that put the privacy and civil liberties of people, particularly targeted racialized communities at risk unnecessarily,” says Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “From discussions we’ve had with the government as part of its so-called consultation on the perimeter deal, it’s clear that Harper is now considering trading personal information on people north of the border for almost insignificant changes to U.S. customs procedures to shave a few minutes of border wait times.”

The Council of Canadians is also concerned about regulatory harmonization discussions with the United States, which the Harper government and Obama administration have tied to the perimeter agreement.

“Of course there is probably room for greater regulatory cooperation in closely integrated industries but wholesale regulatory harmonization can only lead to a race to the bottom while closing off markets with stricter rules over food and health safety,”

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