One Last Thing

Canada-U.S. Border Security on the Right Track

Usually critical of government (in)action on criminal justice and security issues, I was ­uncharacteristically upbeat when asked by FrontLine Security to comment on the state of ­current progress on border security in Canada. Such unusual confidence comes from the simple but unmistakable fact that – despite all the foot dragging, doubletalk, cost over­estimates, institutional rivalries and the ‘we’ve always done it that way’ attitudes – progress has been made, and more is clearly on the way.

Thanks to the efforts of people like former Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, Senator Colin Kenney, MP Gord Brown – and the behind-the-scene labours of their ­political staff – the right questions were asked of the right people. Thanks to the front line officers of CBSA and their remarkable union (formerly CEUDA and now renamed as the Customs and Immigration Union [CIU] to better reflect their expanded membership) led by National President Ron Moran and First VP Jean Pierre Fortin, the absolute unvarnished truth was available to frame those questions.

Thanks are also due to an entire spectrum of third party groups like the media who ­dutifully and fairly reported the truth, cross border trade supportive organizations who ­effectively articulate that intelligence based security and trade now complement rather than compete with each other. We can’t forget domestic law enforcement types, like OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino, who ‘aint shy’ about pointing out that what gets through the border ends up on Canadian streets that he is responsible for policing.

So why all the optimism? Consider the following. The enforcement priority of CBSA has finally been acknowledged. Officers are receiving the tools and resources they need to do their jobs – sidearms, internet connectivity at all land ports of entry, port modifications to deter port runners. Dangerous workalone practices are beginning to end. Discussions are progressing on the need for video analytics, better radios, and a recognition that lookout systems have to be modernized (hello face recognition biometrics). Significant positive change has also occurred at CBSA head office where new leadership includes growing acceptance of the enforcement mandate and someone who has at least worn a badge as the new #2.   

Progress elsewhere is also underway. The new RCMP Commissioner candidly told a Parliamentary Committee that marine surveillance on the St-Lawrence and Great Lakes is inadequate, and the redcoats are now deploying technology to address it. More importantly, the Mounties will be participating in a joint CBSA pilot mobile border patrol (long overdue) and which they simply don’t have the ‘horses’ (and boats and people) to cover. ‘Plays Nicely with Others’ has not traditionally been the Mountie motto, but ‘times they are a changing,’ and Canadians (including the RCMP) will be better off for it.

The guys in white coats are also ‘with the program’ as the Public Safety Technical Program (PSTP) re-organized and relevance-enhanced itself to include study areas of biometrics and surveillance. More importantly, PSTP just launched an RFP directly related to the most pressing issues of automated analytical marine radar surveillance and bad guy lookout biometrics at Canada’s ports of entry. Expect good things.

The Government (post 2006 version) has prioritized the various low risk identification programs and successfully convinced the U.S. that enhanced driver’s licenses and FAST and NEXUS enrolment are satisfactory for compliance with the less-than-well-thought-out Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. You won’t read it in the Globe and Mail, but Stockwell Day and his staff personally logged the overtime to get this done. Canada has also become a respected voice on items like Advanced Passenger Information, and Interpol security/criminality data base information sharing.

There are still items where action is required, such as restoring a public policing presence at seaports, deploying an effective face recognition biometric bad guy lookout system, prioritizing, tracking and (gasp!) actually removing criminal and security deportees, ending temporary residency permits for criminal inadmissibles, implementing pre border clearance and completing the arming initiative with proper employee accommodation. While we’re at it, it’s time to complete the personnel adjustments to end workalone situations and staff up the border patrol and inland enforcement, which I think can best be accomplished by re-allocating funding to operational areas in the regions rather than policy and program functions at national headquarters. Think boots on the ground and keels in the water.

In these times when cross border trade is especially essential to a hurting economy, the fact that we have deliberately and thoughtfully embarked on a campaign that recognizes effective border security is a big plus. Having said that, we must also come to grips with a reality that ‘more security’ is not necessarily ‘better security’ and the thickening of the border that it creates must also be vanquished.

Given the progress to date, and the inevitable institutional momentum it creates, I’m optimistic that we’re up to the challenges if we stay with what’s worked so far – identifying the truth and using it to frame solutions.

And one last thing… people do make a ­difference.  

© FrontLine Security 2008