Monday, February 07, 2011

Border deal is about Canadian sovereignty

On Friday, the PM attended at the White House for his meeting with President Obama on a proposed border deal that involves border management, security issues, trade and supposedly a host of regulatory issues. We don't know the extent of this deal, the negotiations are just beginning. We do know the text of the declaration that has been released, however, and it provides some indications of what kind of changes and issues may arise. From that text, it's fair to say that PM Harper's response during the press conference that "...this declaration is not about sovereignty" is not exactly an accurate statement.

For example, under the heading of "Addressing Threats Early," there are a series of goals enumerated that may have implications for our sovereignty over Canadian immigration policy, privacy issues and law enforcement. (Emphasis added throughout)
We intend to develop an integrated strategy that would enable us to meet the threats and hazards that both our nations face, including natural disasters and man-made threats, including terrorism.
To increase security, counter fraud, and improve efficiency, we intend to work together to establish and verify the identities of travellers and conduct screening at the earliest possible opportunity. We intend to work toward common technical standards for the collection, transmission, and matching of biometrics that enable the sharing of information on travellers in real time. This collaboration should facilitate combined Canadian and United States screening efforts and strengthen methods of threat notification.

In order to promote mobility between our two countries, we expect to work towards an integrated Canada-United States entry-exit system, including work towards the exchange of relevant entry information in the land environment so that documented entry into one country serves to verify exit from the other country.

We intend to cooperate to identify, prevent, and counter violent extremism in our two countries. By working cooperatively on research, sharing best practices, and emphasizing community-based and community-driven efforts, we will have a better understanding of this threat and an increased ability to address it effectively.

We intend to formulate jointly Canada-United States privacy protection principles that should inform and guide our work in relation to facilities, operations, programs, and other initiatives contemplated by this Declaration.
Under the "Trade Facilitation, Economic Growth, and Jobs" section, questions arise over management of the border itself which sounds as if it is to come under joint management "where appropriate."
To enhance our risk management practices, we intend to continue planning together, organizing bi-national port of entry committees to coordinate planning and funding, building, expanding or modernizing shared border management facilities and border infrastructure where appropriate, and using information technology solutions.

We intend to look for opportunities to integrate our efforts and where practicable, to work together to develop joint facilities and programs – within and beyond Canada and the United States – to increase efficiency and effectiveness for both security and trade.
The declaration also includes sections on "Integrated Cross-border Law Enforcement" and "Critical Infrastructure and Cybersecurity" that raise questions as well. What are we talking about when we agree to work on enhancing the security of our communications networks, for example?

The bulk of this declaration is underwritten by the concept of increased information sharing between the two nations. In security, immigration, border matters, cybersecurity, who do we think has the stronger intelligence capabilities that will so strongly inform all this sharing? There's a recipe for imbalance here in that aspect in particular and on many of the items raised in the declaration that we should be vigilant about.

This is moving relatively quickly as well. There have been two bodies set up to report back to the PM and the President. There is the "Beyond the Border Working Group," with "representatives from the appropriate departments and offices of our respective federal governments" set "to report to their respective Leaders in the coming months, and after a period of consultation, with a joint Plan of Action to realize the goals of this declaration." Secondly, there is a United States-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC), composed of "senior regulatory, trade, and foreign affairs officials from both governments." Its first meeting is to take place within 90 days. What are the mechanisms for reporting to the Canadian public on all this? Are there any?

Pressing the case in the early stages here, various business lobby groups. Remarkably, those groups were briefed on the deal last week while opposition parliamentarians were not. All part of the Harper government's incessant public relations campaign footing, staging things so groups could provide public support simultaneous to the Harper/Obama meeting. Interestingly, the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa swung into action last night, promotionally tweeting some of the Canadian lobby groups favouring the deal, shortly after the Superbowl ended and possibly at a high Twitter traffic time. It might be useful to watch the Americans on this file, they may provide us with more information than our own government.

It's early, yes, but there are a few things we can say. The process being pursued here seems to fit well with the Harper secrecy modus operandi. It also seems to jibe well with the corporate tax cuts narrative too, given the synchronizing of the briefings and hand-in-hand advocacy we're seeing in the early going. And as usual, this minority government PM has made no case for this venture, laid no groundwork at all. What could be a sea change in terms of our relationship with the U.S. has been practically sprung on us. There is no mandate for this deal. And it does seem rife with questions about ceding Canadian sovereignty, despite Mr. Harper's protestations.