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Harper's Border Deal Expands the National Security State

The Canada-U.S. "Beyond the Border" agreement announced in December 2011 promotes bilateral "friendship, sharing, and collaboration." These are excellent values. They are instilled in kindergarten. But if Canada wants to build an adult relationship with the United States, we need to openly address issues of civil rights, due process and accountability.

Nowhere is this more the case than with respect to the dramatic changes proposed for North American security. Numerous privacy concerns have already been raised with respect to increased data-gathering and cross-border information sharing. Very little attention, however, has yet been directed to the worrisome proposals for more integrated cross-border law enforcement.

Under the Beyond the Border agreement, the Shiprider pilot program will be standardized. Shiprider is an extension of Integrated Border Enforcement Teams (IBETs) which enable bilateral information and intelligence-sharing across the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Office of Border Patrol, the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Coast Guard. The main target of IBETs has been organized crime such as drug smuggling, contraband weapons and human trafficking.

The Shiprider program will extend IBETs to shared waterways and seaways, and will also permit cross-border law enforcement. Designated RCMP and U.S. Coast Guard officers will jointly operate vessels on patrol, and will be authorized to enforce the law on either side of the border. The Harper government has also tabled legislation, Bill C-60: Keeping Canadians Safe (Protecting Borders) Act, that would bestow these designated officers with enforcement capabilities equivalent to the RCMP -- anywhere in Canada!

It is clear, therefore, that these cross-border law enforcement arrangements are not just about information-sharing. They are about creating interoperable security practices and personnel. As such they raise troubling questions regarding accountability, due process and civil rights.

When and where does a cross-border initiative start and end? Who decides? Who has jurisdiction over the information that is gathered? Who is responsible if something goes wrong? How might national security concerns be used to sidestep the law with respect to these designated officials?


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Another "Beyond the Border" pilot project, Next-Generation, also raises concerns with regards to its widening security mandate. Next-Generation officers will be located between ports of entry. Like the IBETs, the Next-Generation program will facilitate intelligence and information-sharing. They will also, like the Shiprider program, allow designated officers to enforce the law on either side of the border.

But Next-Generation will also expand the security mandate of these officers by drawing together organizations responsible for the defence of national security: the RCMP, Public Safety Canada, the Department of Justice Canada, the US Department of Justice and the US Department of Homeland Security. These are not just border agencies, but agencies mandated with the full weight of national security.

The "Beyond the Border" agreement will also bring Canada more closely in line with the extensive reach of the Department of Homeland Security. Criminal infractions can now be treated with the full force of threats to national security. But, for example, is the selling of contraband cigarettes a matter of national security? Are smugglers of prescription drugs on a par with terrorists?

As the title "Beyond the Border" suggests, the agreement is not just about efficient trade or border security. It is not about those kindergarten values of playing nicely together, sharing toys and secrets. This agreement is about deepening and extending the national security mandate across the two countries, well away from the border.

The public discussion about this border deal needs to grow up fast, in order to cut through the government's infantilizing PR and face up to the ways that the Harper government is expanding the national security state, both in domestic policy and in our international relations.

Emily Gilbert

Emily Gilbert is director of the Canadian Studies program and associate professor of Geography at the University of Toronto. She has written extensively on North American deeper integration, North American security, borders, biometrics and citizenship.

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