Canada and the United States are contemplating a unified approach to border security, according to several leaked documents on the issue.
The goal is a single North American border circling both countries.
The documents, released last week, included a draft of the agreement. The revelations brought the House of Commons to a roar as opposition parties questioned how such negotiations could take place without public debate.
The government wants to safeguard both trade and the safety of Canadians, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this week. But he wouldn’t specifically address the idea of a unified border.
“Officially, we don’t know what they’re negotiating and what the results could be and, obviously, we won’t until the new year,” said Yukon MP Larry Bagnell.
Details are sketchy, but the speculation is the proposal would strengthen first-entry points around the continent, but would permit a more porous border between the two trading nations.
“They’ve already increased, since 9/11, I think six times the border guards between Canada and the United States and said that if we don’t have a secure border they would make that
border even tougher,” said Bagnell. “And of course, the biggest trade in the world is between Canada and the United States and if there were border problems there it would drastically hurt the Canadian economy – American too, but not as much as us because we’re more dependant on trade than they are.”
Some of the more detailed items speculated in the agreement include a unified cargo strategy, which would allow pre-clearence agreements for goods, a joint approach to screening people, including the use of biometric technology, cross-border sharing of information on serious offenders, criminals and suspects and shared border facilities.
Basically, everything would be done together and shared along this North American perimeter.
The remote Yukon-Alaska border already forces the two nations to share facilities, said Bagnell, citing Little Gold Creek, the border crossing on the Top of the World Highway between Dawson City and Tok, Alaska.
But that doesn’t mean we should be willing to share everything, he said.
The privacy of Canadian citizens, our border rules, immigration and visitor policies should be decided by Ottawa, not Washington.
“Those are Canadian decisions – sovereign decisions, whether part of an agreement or not,” he said.
The Harper government has dismissed the opposition’s immigration and privacy concerns.
“Our government is, of course, always concerned about the safety and security of our citizens,” Public Safety Minister Vic Towes told the house on Monday.
“We also understand that in order to grow our economy, we need to work together with our allies and especially our closest ally, the United States. We want to see an open border that ensures that there is traffic between our countries in terms of legitimate goods and travellers and yet ensures that our joint security interests are protected.”
Canadians have a right to be skeptical about Ottawa’s competence to negotiate such deals with Washington, said Liberal Robert Oliphant.
“After softwood lumber, climate change and F-35s, how can Canadians trust this government to negotiate anything and maintain control of our own borders?” he said.
“Just because the government cannot manage our foreign policy does not mean that it should simply abandon it. The American government continues to believe that Canada is a haven for terrorists, which is untrue. Will this myth limit the rights of Canadians to determine their own border policies and their right to cross this border as they please?”
But it is the expected ease of crossing the border between Canada and the US that has local supporters excited.
“We won’t know the implications of a potential security perimeter until details of such an arrangement are released,” said Krista Prochazka, executive director of the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon. “But TIA Yukon supports, in principle, efforts that balance security with efficient border crossings for our visitors.”
Between 75 and 80 per cent of Yukon’s annual visitors come from the US, said Prochazka, noting it is dependent on the economy and value of the dollar.
With the global economy struggling, border crossings have declined in 2008 and 2009, she said. But this year is looking better; US border crossings are up 14 per cent from last year.
Monday, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada welcomed the “potential European-style security perimeter in North America.”
“Canadians are very proud of their individuality. We see ourselves as an independent country,” said Bagnell, noting that anyone who would cede our sovereignty – unless it is something we agree to – would not last long.
“We’ve put the government on notice, by a number of questions in the House Of Commons that this has to be discussed in Parliament,” he says. “I think the government should be very wary of going ahead without having the public understand what they’re negotiating and having a say.”
The leaked documents say Prime Minister Harper and President Barack Obama are expected to sign the perimeter security deal in January.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at