Border security issues are piling up for the new Govt

When the new Government assumed office after the 2015 election, it was clear that they had new policy priorities and that they were specifically intent on a more inclusive and consultative process for decision making than their predecessor. Some sceptics, myself included, cautioned that while this was understandable, governing is about making choices and taking action, and not simply holding media events to celebrate ‘inclusion’ and ‘outreach’. Put differently, governing is more difficult than campaigning, and it’s what Governments are elected to do.

As we prepare for the return of Parliament in September, a substantive lack of progress is evident in a number of areas, and border security is clearly one where specific actions are required. This is true, not only because of the inherent priority of the subject given our geographical situation, but also because of a changing security-focused world and the need to deliver on border security commitments.

Canada remains a signatory to the Beyond the Border Agreement (BTB) which, wisely, has very specific commitments that includes timelines which are now not being met. Perhaps the most important of these was for the joint assessment of border gaps and vulnerabilities (completed) and a commitment to address them through a joint technology procurement and deployment process.

It appeared this might be happening   when, in 2013, the federal government announced a $92M allocation to the RCMP to deploy sensor technology at the Canada-U.S. border from Quebec/Maine to Oakville as part of its ‘Anti-Tobacco Smuggling’ strategy. A year later, with no action taken, this funding was re-announced by the RCMP as the ‘Border Integrity Technology Enhancement Program (BITEP) – yet almost two years later, BITEP remains an acronym and not a deployed action.

The importance of this failure to deploy sensor surveillance technology along the Canada-U.S. border cannot be overstated. Without it, both countries face increased risk of cross border smuggling of weapons, drugs, tobacco and people. In today’s world, that’s an unacceptable risk and what’s required is action – not repetitive ‘consultation’ or more RCMP navel gazing.

As part of the BTB Agreement, Canada also has committed to implement a Pre Border Clearance Agreement with the U.S., which was introduced in Bill C-23 during Parliament’s final week of sitting before the summer break. It appears that the Bill will provide the necessary legal authorizations which have been worked out for Canadian and U.S. officers to conduct pre-screenings in each other’s countries, including the taking of biometric identification.

Less clear is whether the RCMP has finally created a national security-based facial recognition biometric database that can identify security threats such as those who are using altered or counterfeit identification. This national security database need is not confined to pre border clearance but, once again, it is unclear what actions, if any, the RCMP have taken to create and deploy this critical part of a modern border security system.

In today’s world of departing and returning jihadis, not having this detection capability deployed is simply unacceptable.

The need for this specialized screening is also implicit in several announced border security initiatives including: the modernized (in C-51) ‘No Fly’ database; the Advanced Passenger Information initiative for screening at airports before departure to Canada; and the Electronic Travel Authorization for screening of persons from select visa exempt counties. All of these programs need to be scrutinized by the new Government to make sure the intended outcomes are actually occurring.

A rigid hull inflatable boat (rhib) with members of The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) during Exercise Frontier Sentinel 12 in Sydney, Nova Scotia. The Frontier Sentinel Exercises series was initiated in 2006 to collaborate on information exchange, planning and coordinated responses between the operational commands, their tactical elements, and government and non-government agencies, to secure and defend threats in the maritime domain of Canada and the U.S.

Parliament also has another Bill before it in C-21, which will implement the Exit-Entry information sharing agreement that is part of the BTB Agreement. The information sharing between Canadian and U.S. authorities on non-citizens entering and exiting each other’s countries has been ongoing in a limited fashion, and C-21 will expand its application to all persons, including to citizens. However, it appears that the information obtained under the Exit-Entry process will only be used for records reconciliation rather than entry decision making, which is unfortunate.

This application use should be monitored as we will want to avoid the data being used to ‘detect’ the departure of non-citizens who have non-appearance warrants outstanding (reported by the Auditor General at the embarrassingly high number of 44K+) so that the warrants are removed from the system without a concurrent creation of inadmissibility status should such persons try to re-enter Canada.

Both Pre Border Clearance and Exit-Entry will require the restoration of CBSA personnel resources, especially in the Intelligence and Operations units which were cut as a result of the 2010 Deficit Reduction Action Plan (DRAP). Security programs without sufficient personnel don’t deliver on promised/intended results.  

In addition to this already lengthy list of border security issues, the new Government appears intent on implementing a new border crossing process for the Akwesasne Mohawks near Cornwall. For decades, the Canadian port of entry was on the Akwesasne reserve on Cornwall Island but that changed when the Mohawk Band Council (and ‘Warriors’) objected, with protests and threats of violence, to CBSA officers being armed on what they claim as their territory. The port of entry was moved to Cornwall, which created an obvious inconvenience to Island residents returning to Canada from the U.S. as they now have to drive across the Island to report in.

Several weeks ago, the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Affairs produced a special report to the Government on the issue, citing the historical Jay Treaty from 1794 to justify the need for a special identification program to permit and facilitate cross border travel between Canada and the U.S. for Akwesasne Mohawks.

Given the existing undeniable reality of cross border smuggling in the area (read FrontLine’s special report, pages 7-30), this issue has significant border security ramifications for both countries. Interestingly, the BTB Agreement included completing negotiations by December 2012 for creating a pre clearance facility in Massena NY – which would be a far better solution than what the Senate Committee has proposed.

Irrespective of what process is selected, the reality of cross border smuggling means that deployment of analytical radar surveillance systems to provide full domain awareness must be part of the plan. However, detecting the target isn’t the end game; interdicting it is. This means: deployment of sufficient cross border operational resources; including CBSA in the Shiprider program (long overdue); and full enforcement operations between ports of entry.  
Finally, as Jonathan Calof details in this edition, Canada has made a number of new border-related commitments as a result of its recent Summit with the U.S. and Mexico. These appropriately include trade and travel enhancements such as including Mexico in the trusted traveller program, expanding the Single Window Initiative to facilitate Mexican imports to Canada, and working together to align commercial clearance practices.

The commitments also include having the three countries create a joint database with practices to detect and interdict ‘foreign fugitives with known or suspected ties to North America’.

This kind of a targeted ‘bad guy lookout’ system has long been advocated, and presumably it will have both criminality and security components and, hopefully, be supported by face recognition biometrics (because bad guys don’t always use their real ID).

Immediately prior to the Summit, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the Canadian visa requirement on Mexican travellers to Canada, which was imposed in 2007, will be lifted by the end of 2016. While this was presented, and reported, as a reversal of a mean-spirited action of the previous Harper government, there has apparently been little consideration of why the visa restriction was imposed in the first place. In essence, following 9-11 and a U.S. crackdown on persons illegally in their country, the Government of Ontario raised the issue of clearly bogus refugee claimants entering Canada at land ports of entry from the U.S. where they made refugee claims which resulted in their admission and a huge financial burden on the system.

In truth, these people were not at risk while in the United States and simply, for a number of reasons, preferred being ‘refugees’ in Canada. Ontario proposed a ‘Safe Third Country Agreement’ where persons making such claims at land ports of entry were returned to either Canada or the U.S. from where they had arrived and sought entry.

Border guards must be ever vigilant in distinguishing between vacationers and those engaging in organized criminal activity such as smuggling.

Initially, the then Liberal federal government resisted this initiative which was part of a larger Perimeter Security Strategy which, full disclosure, I had been involved in drafting. This seemingly changed over time as Ottawa took over negotiations and the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement was enacted (with supporting Immigration and Refugee Protection Act regulations) in 2004.

The issue resurfaced in 2007 when, following another U.S. crackdown on persons illegally in the U.S., southwestern Ontario became flooded with thousands of Mexican refugee claimants who had entered Canada from the U.S. and been allowed to stay despite the Safe Third Country Agreement designed to prevent this.

Examination of the fine print of the Agreement revealed that the federal Department of Justice had created an ‘exception’ to the Agreement for people who were citizens of counties without a visa requirement which, in 2007, included Mexico. That was the reason that the previous government imposed the visa requirement, and it worked – the flood of bogus Mexican refugee claimants seeking entry to Canada from the U.S. stopped almost immediately.

If the Trudeau government lifts the visa requirement without some modification to the Safe Third Country Agreement and the IRPA Regulation, we will be re-opening the door to a problem that had been fixed. Rest assured that the financial and systemic performance costs will be enormous, especially if Donald Trump somehow becomes the new President.

In summary, there are a significant number of border security issues that require substantive choices and action from this new Government, rather than consultation or ‘review’. The good news is that since his appointment in November 2015, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has shown a repeated inclination for a pragmatic approach, including wanting to know the facts, and holding Agency heads to account. That’s called leadership, and it’s needed now on the critically important border security file.

Scott Newark is a former Alberta Crown Prosecutor who has also served as Executive Officer of the Canadian Police Association, Vice Chair of the Ontario Office for Victims of Crime, Director of Operations to the Washington D.C.-based Investigative Project on Terrorism and as a Security Policy Advisor to the Governments of Ontario and Canada.