U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (right), Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Minister of Justice and Attorney General Rob Nicholson (standing) and Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews sign an MOU on combatting human smuggling and trafficking at the March 2012 Cross-Border Crime Forum in Ottawa (Source: U.S. Embassy)
The NDP is calling on the Harper government to "yank amendments it has bundled with its budget bill... that pave the way for Canadian and United States maritime officials to operate in each other's territory, and present them as separate legislation," according to Embassy Magazine this week. Called "Shiprider" when it began seven years ago, and now officially known as Integrated Cross-Border Maritime Law Enforcement Operations, the joint policing project puts U.S. Coast Guard officers on RCMP boats (and vice versa) in shared waters at the request of either security force. Legislation to make the regime permanent fell off the order paper when Prime Minister Harper prorogued Parliament at the end of 2009. The government has finally re-introduced the legislative changes it will need to make this happen. But in a trick George W. Bush used frequently, they are buried in the 400-page Budget Implementation Act. The NDP critic for Canada-U.S. border issues, Brian Masse, protests and will raise the issue this week in Parliament, according to Embassy. "It should be standalone legislation...it's totally irresponsible to have it as part of the Budget Implementation Act," he says. "There's significant policing issues that really warrant a standalone bill. If it was so important that they did all the fanfare for it, why doesn't it warrant its own process?" For example, Masse asks, "What's going to happen if there's an incident? What type of review process-is it a normal RCMP process, or is it a special joint analysis?" The Council of Canadians has been asking similar questions about the Shiprider project for several years. The oversight and accountability mechanisms appear to be far too weak and there was never sufficient debate about the cross-border policing initiative when the legislative changes were first introduced. Instead of engaging in a real discussion, though, the Conservatives are responding that Masse's criticisms "show how out of their depth the NDP are on border issues," and that, "Our government will co-operate with the Obama administration-why won't the NDP?" LINKS TO "BEYOND THE BORDER" AND NORTH AMERICAN PERIMETER SECURITY Even without properly debated legislation to deputize U.S. Homeland Security agents in Canadian waters, the Harper government announced in March that it would be extending the program to land-based operations also, essentially making all of Canada a possible designated border operation based on the vagaries of the Shiprider legislation. "Cross-border law enforcement is one of the four pillars of the Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan," said a government press release after this year's Cross-Border Forum. "Canada and the United States are moving ahead on commitments to deploy Shiprider operations on a regular basis and to implement two land-based ("Next-Generation") pilot projects this summer. As discussed at today's Forum, the positive experience with the Shiprider pilot projects, Integrated Border Enforcement Teams (IBETs) and Border Enforcement Security Teams (BEST), has clearly demonstrated that working together significantly increases our ability to combat crime at the international border." The stealthy way in which the Harper government has introduced its cross-border marine policing initiative should be a warning about the way it plans to introduce other joint security measures with the United States described in the Border Action Plan. David Dyment, a senior research associate at the Centre on North American Politics and Society at Carleton University, cautions that ideology and not a real policy need might be driving Harper's agenda. "While these initiatives (Shiprider and its extension to land borders) are not without merit, it is worth questioning whether this type of policy towards the U.S. will be evidence-based, given the government's ideologically driven track record, on full display in the recent crime bill," he writes in The Mark News. "When our current national government gloms onto an idea that is consistent with its worldview, watch out." Dyment draws out bigger consequences from Harper's willingness to sacrifice Canadian sovereignty in areas like policing and the sharing of personal information. "There is no doubt that relations with the United States shape our national life," he says. "In fact, the government has indicated a willingness to give up not only sovereignty as it relates to our border and the sharing of personal information, but also our agricultural marketing boards. The Wheat Board has already been cast aside. Are dairy and poultry next?" It's not important which side of the argument on these issues you fall, suggests Dyment, but "there is nevertheless a danger that, driven by ideology, our government will latch onto harmonized security policies with the U.S., and to ending agricultural marketing boards, without having an evidence-based public discussion." TAKE ACTION - DEMAND SEPARATE LEGISLATION ON SHIPRIDER We'll have more on this budget development as it rolls out this week. In the meantime, you can write Minister Toews at email@example.com to let him know the Shiprider/Integrated Cross-Border Maritime Law Enforcement Operations legislation should be pulled out of the budget implementation bill so that we can get to the bottom of whether there is enough accountability for U.S. security agents under the project, or whether we need it at all based on the evidence. If you do write the Minister of Public Safety, make sure to cc your own Member of Parliament, as well as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Prime Minister Harper (email@example.com). For more information on the Beyond the Border action plan, see the Council of Canadians web page here.