A jointly operated Canada-U.S. border security ring around the two countries is now part of Canadians’ future -
A jointly operated Canada-U.S. border security ring around the two countries is now part of Canadians’ future.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper set in motion historic changes in border and trade ties with the United States Friday, a radical overhaul in relations with Washington that Harper said had no impact on Canadian sovereignty.
The far-reaching concept of a security perimeter encircling Canada and the U.S. — with shared border facilities manned by interchangeable guards relying on high-tech information on both countries’ travellers — was given the stamp of approval after a meeting between Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House.
The declaration on a joint perimeter is part of a wider vision of enhanced bilateral cooperation that is intended to strengthen Canada-U.S. anti-terrorism capability and reduce barriers to cross-border trade that have worsened since Sept. 11, 2001.
The framework agreement, which has been under secret negotiation for months, is seen by some in Canada as the most significant challenge to Canadian sovereignty since the free-trade talks of the 1980s.
But Harper brushed aside such concerns.
“This declaration is not about sovereignty,” he said during a press conference with Obama.
Both Canada and the U.S. are sovereign countries, Harper noted. And it’s in Canada’s interest, he said, to “work with our partners in the United States to ensure that our borders are secure and ensure that we can trade and travel across them as safely and as openly as possible within the context of our different laws.”
The project is laid out in a five-page declaration entitled Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness. Both governments set up a committee of high-level officials to work together to implement the agreement in coming months.
It envisions wide-ranging joint police, intelligence and border operations that, taken together, could give U.S. security officials a much bigger say in Canada’s immigration controls, border operations and current policies on the sharing of information on Canadians with the U.S.
“We intend to pursue a perimeter approach to security, working together within, at and away from the borders of our two countries to enhance our security and accelerate the legitimate flow of people, goods and services between our two countries,” the statement says.
To do so, the two countries will “work toward common technical standards for the collection, transmission and matching of biometrics that enable the sharing of information on travellers in real time,” according to the declaration. “This collaboration should facilitate combined Canadian and United States screening efforts and strengthen methods of threat notification.”
Also envisioned are an integrated Canada-U.S. entry-exit system based on the exchange of “relevant entry information” at land borders; the enhancement of “integrated cross-border law enforcement operations” including “cross-designated officers” and the development of “joint facilities and programs within and beyond Canada and the United States.”
The idea of throwing up a security perimeter that encompasses both Canada and the U.S. arose in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, when tighter U.S. security began to slow travel and shipments to the U.S.
The Canadian sovereignty issues raised by a joint security perimeter were until now seen as political quicksand. But Harper is pushing ahead with the idea. “As I have said before, a threat to the United States is a threat to Canada — to our trade, to our interests, to our values, to our common civilization. Canada has no friends among America’s enemies, and America has no better friend than Canada,” he said as Obama looked on.
“So we commit to expanding our management of the border to the concept of a North American perimeter, not to replace or eliminate the border but, where possible, to streamline and decongest it,” he said.
Obama expressed confidence that the new Canada-U.S. relationship could work to both countries’ advantage. “With respect to security issues and sovereignty issues, obviously, Canada and the United States are not going to match up perfectly on every measure with respect to how we balance security issues, privacy issues, openness issues. But we match up more than probably any (countries) on Earth.
“And I have great confidence that Prime Minister Harper is going to be very protective of certain core values of Canada, just as I would be very protective of the core values of the United States, and those won’t always match up perfectly,” Obama said.
The two countries also agreed to pursue a range of measures to streamline and improve border facilities and procedures to improve bilateral trade.
Opposition parties and Canadian nationalists are already raising the alarm about Harper’s perimeter security project.
“It could mean the wholesale adoption of U.S. security, surveillance, immigration and military practices in return for a hollow promise of a ‘thinner’ border for trade,” the Ottawa-based Council of Canadians said. “The result will be two borders: one U.S. patrolled around the perimeter, the other a persistent irritant along the 49th parallel.”
But business groups concerned about the negative economic impact of a clogged border welcomed the agreement.
“The comprehensive framework agreement signed by the two leaders in Washington, D.C., will help to underpin the economic recovery, strengthen job creation and make North America a more attractive destination for foreign investment,” said John Manley, CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.
In the press conference, Harper also said he and the president had talked about a controversial proposal to build a $7 billion pipeline to take petroleum from Canada’s oil sands to refineries in Texas. Harper took the opportunity to promote Canada as a source of energy for the U.S.
“I think it is clear to anyone who understands this issue that the need of the United States for fossil fuels far in excess of its ability to produce such energy will be the reality for some time to come,” Harper told the media.
“And the choice that the United States faces in all of these matters is whether to increase its capacity, to accept such energy from the most secure, most stable and friendliest location it can possibly get that energy, which is Canada, or from other places that are not as secure, stable or friendly to the interests and values of the United States.”
The two leaders also discussed joint efforts to advance clean energy research and build a more efficient electricity grid — projects that are being pursued under the bilateral “Clean Energy Dialogue” announced when Obama visited Canada in 2009.
‘Fox don’t do French’
As is standard practice, Prime Minister Stephen Harper answered several questions in French on Friday. “I love French,” President Barack Obama asserted at one point, expressing regret he could not understand it, much less speak it while answering the queries of Canadian journalists.
Obama’s affection for the language was apparently not shared by at least one U.S. all-news networks, however. Fox News cut away from the news conference when Harper switched languages.
“Fox don’t do French,” anchor Shep Smith was heard to exclaim after the channel shifted gears.