MASSE IN THE NEWS: On Joint Canada-US Border Security Perimeter Report

Embassy News Embassy News

Perimeter talks re-visit no-fly list battle

Tourism, airline industries want Canada-US passenger-screening programs aligned; critics worry privacy, civil liberties could take a hit.

Carl Meyer

Results of the Harper government's first public report on a new Canadian and American border deal pit industry groups that want more information shared with the United States against civil society wary of losing privacy and civil liberties.


On Aug. 29, Foreign Minister John Baird presented a pair of reports documenting the results of six months of closed-door consultations over the creation of a Canada-United States security and trade perimeter that was proposed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and United States President Barack Obama in February.


One of the reports released this week says the National Airlines Council of Canada, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority and the Air Transport Association of Canada all recommended that Canada and the United States align passenger-screening programs, and share passenger data.


For example, the report notes that the ATAC pushed for merging Canada's no-fly list, the Passenger Protect Program, with the United States Transportation Security Administration's Secure Flight program, a system that matches watch list data, into a single North American 'no-fly' list inside a future continental security perimeter.


The report, entitled What Canadians told us: A Summary on Consultations on Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness, also says the TIAC pushed for visa sharing between the two countries.


But the government also said it heard from individual Canadians who "voiced concerns about enhanced sharing of traveler and travel information," especially concerning the loss of sovereignty and the protection of personal information. The latter, reads the report, "was a key theme that emerged in the consultations."


Individuals "generally questioned the need to share more information, and they sought assurance that any information sharing would be governed by Canadian privacy laws and that practices and procedures would respect the due process of law and Canada's civil liberties," reads the report.


The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which was consulted for the report, has had concerns since the perimeter talks were announced over how far proposals to align personal information across the border would go, said Sukanya Pillay, director of the CCLA's national security program, in an interview with Embassy.


"When you don't have proper legal safeguards around information sharing and everything that entails, you can have some devastating consequences," she said.


"How do you guard against forming a profile of a person that may implicate someone who is innocent?" she added. "What steps exist for that person to get their name, for example, off a watch list that they may be on, or to seek redress from whatever negative consequences may arise from their being wrongly identified?"


Another group that has been sounding the alarm over the idea of sharing more information with the United States is the Council of Canadians, which was also consulted.


"We feel that this could be a moment where Canada is asked to water down its privacy protections up here in order to satisfy some of the more extended information requirements that the United States [requires] under this deal," said Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew.


Brian Masse, the NDP associate critic for the United States-Canada border agreed that he saw a "reluctance" from Canadians to embrace greater information-sharing because he said past practices, as evidenced by the Maher Arar case, were examples of people's privacy being abused.



Economic growth, ease of travel cited as benefits


But David F. Goldstein, president of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, said in a "modern context" information on passengers is going to be shared, and there is not much that can be done about that without affecting economic growth.


"We cannot turn the clock back pre-9/11," he said.


We're either going to be able to sustain a modern economy, of which travel and trade is an important part, or face the consequences of a smaller economy, he said.


He said that travellers would have to understand that the increased level of information sharing supported by his organization and others is important for safety and security. And he dismissed the CCLA's concerns, saying he didn't think it would be comfortable with any level of information sharing.


"There's all kinds of liberties that we surrender. You surrender liberty when you go through an x-ray device to get onto an airplane. You surrender liberty when you put your personal information into a visa application to go to another country," he said.


"But the movement of people is an important part of the modern economy, and unfortunately part of the current reality."


GTAA spokesperson Scott Armstrong argued the reason his organization was in favour of aligning passenger data is that many travellers are actually looking to be able to speed up their experience at airports.


"If you can streamline the passenger process, obviously the quicker passengers can get through the airport the more efficient we can be, and the more efficient people can be in terms of how they allocate their time," he said.


Mr. Baird said at the Aug. 29 press conference if Canada was to ensure cross-border law enforcement activities, they have to respect the legal and the privacy rights of Canadians.


"That is incredibly important and I think it's important to all of us across the political spectrum. With respect to our sovereignty, our sovereignty cannot and will not be compromised. It's tremendously important that we keep both of those factors in mind in discussions," he said.


Jean-Michel Laurin, vice-president of global business policy at Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters cautioned against the perception of business as a whole being in favour of more information sharing.


There is a compliance cost to sharing more, he said, because firms need to adapt their systems and in some cases spend greater amounts of time retrieving information from supply chains.


He said his group was pushing for Canada and the United States to bring their respective systems into greater alignment in cases where there are already requirements for information sharing. Many agencies and departments on both sides of the border already ask border authorities to collect certain information such as about hazardous materials, dangerous goods or animals.


"At least governments should try and coordinate the type of information they have, so that what we're being asked by American authorities is similar to what we're being asked by Canadian authorities," he said. "At least have a single window and a coordinated way of collecting that information so that we can do everything electronically in a seamless fashion."


After an Aug. 16 meeting between Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Mr. Toews said Prime Minister Stephen Harper would meet with United States President Barack Obama in the "early fall" to further discuss the border deal, officially known as Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness.