OTTAWA - Canada and the United States plan to join forces in order to better deal with "irregular flows" of refugees that turn up in North America or migrate within the continent, newly declassified documents show.
By 2014, the two countries will also begin routinely sharing biometric information about travellers, such as fingerprints.
And Canada is laying the groundwork for legislative and regulatory changes that will require all travellers — including Canadian and U.S. citizens — to present a secure document such as a passport or enhanced driver's licence when entering Canada.
The initiatives are described in Citizenship and Immigration briefing notes that flesh out the Canada-U.S. security agreement announced late last year.
The perimeter security deal — to be phased in over several years — aims to smooth the passage of goods and people across the 49th parallel while bolstering defences along the continental border.
The February 2012 briefing notes, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, provide fresh details about how the two countries will co-operate more closely on documenting and controlling the movement of citizens and visitors.
Citizenship and Immigration is the lead department on 10 perimeter security initiatives, the most contentious of which may be a plan to keep track of everyone entering and leaving the country, with the help of information from the U.S.
In turn, Canada will help Washington accomplish the same feat by systematically providing information on all travellers entering Canada from the U.S.
The plans entail greater exchange of both simple biographic and biometric data, to be governed by a forthcoming Immigration Information Sharing Treaty, say the notes.
A Citizenship and Immigration spokeswoman had no readily available details on the plans for "practical asylum co-operation" to deal with irregular refugee flows — presumably a spike in arrivals due to political upheaval or natural disasters in other countries.
However, the documents say bilateral discussions will result in "a joint action plan" within the next year to build on "established refugee protection principles and explore new modes of asylum co-operation" beyond the existing Safe Third Country Agreement.
Under that agreement, a refugee claimant must apply for asylum in whichever of the two countries they arrive first.
Canada and the U.S. have appreciably different ways of dealing with some kinds of refugees, said Roch Tasse of the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group.
"This raises flags as to what they will agree on down the road," Tasse said in an interview.
"We know that the Safe Third Country Agreement is already problematic. There are people who would be eligible in Canada that are not eligible in the U.S. But, because they arrived through the U.S., (they) are refused into Canada, and the U.S. deals with them the way they want."
The two countries will also begin automatically sharing information by 2014 about people booted out for criminal behaviour.
Details of two Immigration initiatives designed to help establish traveller identity have been blacked out of the documents. One is a joint project with the RCMP while another involves the Mounties, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Immigration and Refugee Board.
The government insists that none of the initiatives in the perimeter security plan cede sovereignty or decision-making ability.
The federal privacy watchdog says the perimeter deal puts the personal information of Canadians at risk because in some cases it allows the U.S. to pass that data to other countries without permission.
A set of overarching principles on how information would be handled under the security pact, released late last month, would allow details about Canadians to be transferred to a country with a poor human rights record, says the privacy commissioner's office.
Tasse said a disparity in privacy standards between the two countries means the security deal is likely to result in less control over the personal data of Canadians.
"We'll continue to have a good regime in Canada, but we're passing on more information to a weaker privacy regime in the U.S. over which we'll have no control."
The two countries have already held several meetings on information sharing "to work through barriers, irritants and inefficiencies" identified by both countries, say February briefing notes prepared by Public Safety Canada.
Officials observed that the two countries have very different frameworks for sharing data and protecting privacy, but share "nearly identical" objectives.
"Misconceptions, not structural problems, are behind many of the challenges we have identified," say the notes.
"Confidence is key: we want to have confidence in U.S. systems, just as they want to have confidence in ours."
What you need to know about the Canada-U.S. border deal
Canada and the U.S. are each other's largest trading partners. More than $1.5-billion in goods cross the border each day. The "Action Plan on Perimeter Security and Economic Competiveness" is a road map, not a formal agreement, aimed at making trade and travel across the border easier and more efficient. <blockquote>The plan focuses on four key areas. 1. Addressing threats early 2. Trade and economic growth 3. Building on existing border enforcement programs 4. Emergency and cyber infrastructure</blockquote>
Addressing threats early
Canada and the U.S. will be making a number of changes aimed at addressing security threats as early as possible and reducing the impact on trade and travel. The two countries will: <blockquote>1. Begin tracking and recording entry and exit of travellers across the border and verifying the identity of foreigners for the purposes of immigration decision making. 2. Begin conducting joint threat assessments and sharing core information. 3. Working together on developing best practices to counter threats from violent extremists. 4. Begin aligning ground- and air-cargo security to reduce the need for re-screening. Canadian travellers will no longer have their bags screened twice when transferring flights in the United States.</blockquote>
Facilitating trade and economic growth
Canada and the U.S. will be making a number of changes aimed at facilitating trade and economic growth <blockquote>The two countries will: 1. Expand programs for low-risk travellers, such as NEXUS, to make border crossing more efficient. 2. Upgrade infrastructure at key crossings to ease congestion. 3. Begin using radio frequency identification technology to read documents automatically as vehicles approach the border. 4. Create a unified approach for preclearing goods crossing by rail, sea or road. 5. Set up a single window for companies to send required info only once. 6. Make it easier for low-value shipments to clear customs </blockquote>
Building on pre-existing border enforcement programs
Canada and the U.S. will make a number of changes to existing border enforcement programs. <blockquote>The two countries will: 1. Make Shiprider a permanent program. The Shiprider program allows U.S. and Canadian maritime law enforcement officials to operate independent of the border to help combat crime. 2. Begin testing the Shiprider model for land enforcement. This means Canadian officials may work on the U.S. side of the border and vice versa. 3. Begin using voice-over-Internet technology so law enforcement officials can communicate across the border with greater ease. </blockquote>
Enhancing emergency and cyber infrastructure
Canada and the U.S. will be making a number of changes aimed at enhancing emergency and cyber infrastructure. <blockquote>The two countries will: 1. Work together more closely on international cyber-security efforts. 2. Enhance joint readiness for health, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear events. 3. Jointly develop strategies for managing traffic on the border in the event of an emergency. </blockquote>
Sovereignty and human rights
Both governments are stressing the all the initiatives in the plan were developed under two principles. <blockquote>1. That each nation has the right to act independent of the other in accordance with their own laws and interests. 2. That both countries will endeavour to promote human rights, privacy, the rule of law and civil liberties.</blockquote>