Border Security & Trade

Jul 15, 2007

‘Big Ideas’ have long been a feature of Canada-U.S. relations. One recent very Big Idea is the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), launched in 2004 by the Prime Minister of Canada, President Bush, and the Mexican president. Several other Big Ideas co-exist with the SPP and some of them nestle under its wing. But there are many less-grand ideas, most initiated well below national level both by government and the private sector. Several of these smaller ideas may well have just as big an impact in the longer term on our lives and prosperity.

The Conference Board of Canada’s 2007 Public-Private Sector National Security Summit, in May, co-chaired by your editor, Clive Addy, and by Robert Walker, CEO Defence Research and Development Canada, debated some of the Big Ideas for strengthening security and trade across the Canada-U.S. border. It also explored some smaller but no less important ones.

Creating a ‘Security Border’
The American preoccupation with security and Canada’s response to it was the recurring theme.

Michael Hart, Simon Reisman Chair in Trade Policy at Carleton University, advocated that both countries abandon the ‘economic’ border. By reducing the customs and excise functions, border agents could concentrate on security. He postulated convincingly that it doesn’t make sense to stick to traditional customs functions on the border for a relatively small financial return and that, above all, Canada needs to be a reliable partner on defence and security. Americans must see Canada “as an asset, not a pain in the ass!”

In the event of a terrorist attack in the United States, especially one with a possible Canadian connection, he suggested that Amer­ican confidence in Canada’s commitment to security might avoid a potentially catastrophic border shutdown.

In a similar vein, Paul Rosenzweig, Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, claimed that the “pre 9/11 border is gone” and that both countries should now “check their sovereignty at the door!” But the U.S. believes that Canada doesn’t altogether share this perspective.

Bill Elliott, Associate Deputy Minister of Public Safety, and Stephen Rigby, Executive Vice President of the Canada Border Services Agency, assured delegates that Canada does not take a relaxed view of security. Canada has its own approach – different in nature and in pace – but since 9/11, the government has been very active in working to strengthen both security and the smooth flow of trade.

The Honourable Perrin Beatty, CEO of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, clearly advocates that security, trade and prosperity policies must complement each other. Canadians strongly push this approach in Afghanistan but sometimes forget that it applies equally to our own situation.

Synchronized Border Security
Secretary Rosenzweig suggested that Canada and the U.S. should “synchronize” border security. The U.S. shopping list includes agreement on lookout lists, trusted traveller programs, inspection of sea containers, biometrics and a common system for private aircraft screening.

Though largely technical issues, political sticking points arise with linked proposals for ‘synchronized’ immigration and refugee policy and a common visa waiver program. According to Rosenzweig, the U.S. has visa waivers for 27 countries while Canada’s list is 47 – and growing!

Another potentially contentious issue is significantly expanded information sharing. David Loukidelis, BC’s Infor­mation and Privacy Commissioner, explained that the Federal Privacy Act does allow for collection, storage and sharing of personal information and its disclosure. However, sharing sensitive information about Canadian citizens with the U.S. may be quite another matter, especially after the Arrar affair.

Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI)
WHTI is a U.S. program mandated by Congress that includes building a ‘fence’ along the Canada-U.S. border. Secretary Rosenzweig confirmed that the U.S. is firmly committed to fully implementing WHTI within the next two years.

Under WHTI, all air travellers from Canada to the U.S. require passports. This part of the program came into effect in January and Secretary Rosenzweig called it “99.9% effective” so far. He said a draft plan covering land and sea travel will be published in June of this year which will require Canadians and Americans to have passports or another “acceptable document” when crossing the border into the United States.

On 20 June 2007, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced that DHS will institute the passport requirement around the end of next summer, instead of January 2008 as originally planned. In the interim, beginning Jan. 31, 2008, U.S. and Canadian citizens will need to present a passport, or, alternatively, a government-issued photo ID plus proof of citizenship – such as a driver’s license and birth certificate. Other acceptable documents will be trusted traveler cards such as Nexus and FAST.

Another WHTI initiative will see Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) become a feature of the NEXUS and FAST low risk travellers’ programs. RFID will send data to border agents before the car or truck arrives at the border crossing booth. This aims to “reduce linger times by 20-30%” according to Secretary Rosenzweig.

In a cautionary message, Catherine Johnson, CEO of ACT Canada, stated that information collected by the U.S. RFID system could easily be intercepted. Because data has become a ‘new currency,’ the probability of abuse is high. On the other hand, she strongly recommended a ‘chip contact card’ with built-in privacy that will form the technology basis of the E-passport and would avoid the need for sharing large data bases, upon which, she postulated, neither Canada nor the U.S. would agree.

Pushing Out the Borders
Mr. Elliott explained current pre-screening of passengers and inspections of cargo at points of departure overseas.

The Canadian military is also contributing to this concept alongside Americans and other NATO allies, in places far from North America, such as Afghanistan.

Mr. Rigby also described how advanced electronic information, coupled with prompt risk assessment by the National Risk Assessment Centre, detects and stops high-risk individuals and goods from entering the country.

This kind of precise risk assessment will shortly enable every ‘non-low risk’ container destined for North America to be checked for radiation before being loaded in overseas ports according to Jim Phillips, CEO of the Canadian/American Border Trade Alliance. The other containers, 95% of the total, will not be subject to inspection at the Canada-U.S. border. This should make the border ‘seamless’ for goods arriving by sea in either country.

The Costs of Security
Glen Hodgson’s research for the Conference Board of post-9/11 security measures on trade showed no overall reduction in cross-border trade. However, the costs to traders had increased quite significantly and, in the longer term, this could lead to loss of competitiveness and inward investment.

Michael Kergin, former Canadian ambassador to Washington, pointed out that WHTI and other security measures have caused a dramatic reduction in the number of U.S. visitors coming into Ontario. There was also clear evidence of a significant decline in cross border exports from Ontario since 9/11. The overall Canadian figures were buoyed up by increased exports of Alberta oil and gas to the United States.

Models of Cooperation
The U.S.-Canada International Joint Commission was founded in 1909 to ‘prevent and resolve disputes relating to the use and quality of boundary waters, and to advise each country on related questions.’ The Right Honourable Herb Gray, Chair of the Canadian Section of the IJC and a former Deputy Prime Minister, described its successes over the years. He suggested that a broader range of Canada-U.S. issues could be referred to the IJC. In addition, a number of smaller regionally-based organizations, modeled on the IJC, could be tasked with resolving particular cross-border disputes. Mr. Gray reminded the conference of the many thousands of nearly ‘invisible’ connections that exist between Canada and the U.S. that bring the two countries together on a daily basis.  

Identity Cards
Participation in NEXUS, the trusted traveller program, has been disappointing. The program is expanding to cover many more airports, land crossings and waterway travel. It should eventually include cruise ship, ferry, rail, and bus travellers. Ultimately, one card will be valid for all ports of entry and all modes of transportation.

NEXUS positively identifies low risk travellers whereas a passport or other ID gives only a person’s identity and nationality. Jim Phillips said that if the U.S. declared an “Orange” alert, only NEXUS card holders would be allowed across the U.S. border.

The C$80 cost of a five year NEXUS card is particularly worthwhile for frequent Canada/U.S. ­crossings, but of no help for travel to other continents.  

To date, FAST has 80,000 truck drivers enrolled, and operates at 19 border locations. But, according to participant Mark Seymour, Chair of the Ontario Trucking Associa­tion, FAST has hidden costs and other inconvenient implications. A FAST application costs $80 per driver and he or she must go to the nearest border crossing point for an interview. If a driver is not accepted into the program, no explanation is given and the application fee is not refunded. Like NEXUS, the system is RFID-based and the data is held in the U.S.

In the near future, FAST will depend on participation in ACE, the U.S. Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) security program. ACE will come fully into force in August of this year. According to Mr. Seymour, only a small number of drivers are enrolled in ACE so far. Under ACE, drivers will be required to provide a description of their loads instead of a code number. This represents a major ‘culture change’ for shippers and carriers. It also entails training in the ACE procedures, an additional cost to carriers and shippers.

Border Communications
Ron Moran, National President of the Customs and Excise Union (CEUDA), told the conference that his members at many border posts do not have adequate communications or easy access to criminal and other data bases. This obvious security gap shocked many of the delegates, as did the fact that a near term ­solution appeared unlikely.

A Canadian Border Patrol
CEUDA has proposed the establishment of a Canadian Border Patrol. This organization would patrol the 230 unguarded border roads and the vast marine border between Canada and the United States. CEUDA estimates that 50 cars cross the border illegally every day. A Border Patrol could also act as a back-up to the official Ports of Entry and pursue ‘port runners’ who fail to stop.

However, RCMP Chief Superinten­dent Mike Cabana, Director General Border Integrity, postulated that it was impossible to physically control the whole length of the border. The key to better security, he said, was better intelligence about what’s going on “in our own backyard.” He pointed out that members of the ‘Toronto 18’ could have crossed the border quite legally because none of them had a criminal record.

Cutting Edge Innovation
Technology is an important partner in making the border more secure, quicker and easier to cross. Dan Gudmundson, of Optosecurity, described an innovative method of detecting liquid explosives – the new threat that has recently made air travel even more inconvenient!

Promising new ways of quickly identifying individuals displaying unusual behaviour in crowds at airports, transportation systems and other places where large numbers of people gather are also promising and under development.

Integrating Systems
Curt Powell, Director of Transporta­tion Security at Raytheon, discussed the importance of integrating technology ­systems. He warned that a new piece of technology could actually damage security if not fully ­integrated with existing systems and ­procedures.

Ed Schaffner, Director of Integrated Security Programs at Unisys, reinforced this concept while describing his company’s important role in the U.S. Secure Border Ini­tiative (SBI net) and the need to ­inte­grate long-range cameras and other tech­nologies into overall border ­sur­veil­lance and management systems.

People, Technology and Procurement
Trust – between the providers, the users and the other stakeholders – is vital to the effective integration of technology into security systems, because “people, not machines, are the key to real security” according to Mary Kirwan, Chief Security Advisor at Microsoft Canada. Mr. Schaffner also noted that trust was key to selling technology to ­governments and other users. A phased, empirical approach to the procurement of new and expensive systems was considered to be the best approach.

Ms Kirwan suggested that common errors made by government in procuring technology included poorly stated and constantly changing requirements, over-ambitious goals and changes of procurement personnel.

Delegates were reminded by Mr Walker that today’s systems are so complex that it is almost impossible to ‘get it right the first time.’ A phased iterative approach, supported by better dialogue between the provider and the customer, was cited as fundamental to successful modern procurement.

Closing Thoughts
Since the events of 9/11, the nature of the Canada-U.S. border has changed forever. Canada needs to show that it understands U.S. security concerns in order to maintain and strengthen mutual trade and traditional ties between our two countries. Collaborating actively with the U.S. on security, and being seen to collaborate, is key to long term trade stability and Canadian prosperity.

Big ideas abound on topics of security and trade. Canada must contribute pro-actively to shaping, developing and, if necessary, modifying these ideas – especially those which might seem arbitrary, unnecessary or unreasonable.

Canada can take the lead in promoting other initiatives, in both programs and technology. These lower profile measures may well prove equally or more important than the Big Ideas in shaping the future security and prosperity of our continent.

The process has just begun. If we accept the new reality, working together in a spirit of openness and partnership, we can strengthen both the security and the future prosperity of both our countries.   

Richard Cohen is an independent consultant on national and international security and public safety issues. He is a security programs developer for the Conference Board of Canada and a member of the National Security Group.
© FrontLine Security 2007