Border plan risks privacy: BC Civil Liberties

Canada's trade with the U.S will improve by a new border agreement signed by leaders of the two nations, says Chilliwack MLA John Les.

Canada’s trade with the U.S. will be improved and its security enhanced after a new border agreement was signed by leaders of the two nations, says Chilliwack MLA John Les.

But the privacy rights of Canadians are being bargained away behind closed doors, charged Micheal Vonn, BC Civil Liberties Association policy director.

She said the perimeter action plan “risks the security of travellers” based on the information that will be collected about them and used to decide if they should be placed on “no-fly lists” or otherwise denied the right to travel.

“And there’s no process of redress or accountability” in the new plan, she said.

Les said he is “pretty touchy” about privacy himself, but he believes those issues will be thoroughly reviewed as B.C. and Canadian privacy commissions become “fully engaged” to ensure the agreement “does not impinge on people’s privacy.”

A joint set of privacy and protection principles to guide the plan is expected to be announced by May, 2012.

Les is B.C.’s representative on the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region that has been working towards easing trade barriers between the two countries.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barak Obama signed the ‘Beyond the Border’ plan on Dec. 8 to clamp down on terrorism while easing legitimate cross-border trade.

The Canada/U.S. trade relationship is the largest in the world, totalling hundreds of billions of dollars, with each country being the largest trading parter of the other.

But that trade slowed significantly after security was tightened at border crossings following the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City in 2001.

Essentially, the new plan sets up a shared security “perimeter” around both countries so that economic goods  — and cross-border travellers — need to be screened only once to enter both countries.

Les said border-crossings in B.C. have become “more of a barrier than a border” since 9/11, and look more like parking lots full of trucks “loaded with parts or goods or equipment that should be on its way to being a productive part of the economy.”

“Literally millions of jobs rely on trade across the border,” he said, such as B.C. manufacturers that supply parts for the aerospace industry in Washington State.

But Vonn said the new plan will require Canadian authorities to share all kinds of information about individuals with U.S. security officials, who have already demonstrated the arbitrariness of their decisions on who poses a threat to the nation.

“Any Canadian who believes with this agreement that Obama will be adopting Canadian no-fly lists is clearly not paying attention,” she said. “We will be adopting U.S. standards on just about everything related to security matters.”

She said the Canadian government has “no right” to bargain away the rights of its citizens in exchange for trade benefits, in a process that’s “shrouded by secrecy.”

The BCCLA and other seven other organizations, including the Council of Canada, have called for “extended public and parliamentary debate” before the plan is implemented.

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