POLITICS

Tool for tracking terror suspects in the skies facing further delays

06/17/2015 01:52 EDT | Updated 06/17/2016 05:59 EDT
OTTAWA - The Conservative government appears set to miss another target date for delivering a border tracking system that could stop homegrown terrorists from joining battles overseas.

And with just days left in the parliamentary calendar before a fall election, it is unclear when — or even if — the necessary legislative and regulatory changes will come.

Under the Canada-U.S. perimeter security pact, the federal government committed to begin collecting records of people leaving Canada on international flights as of June 30, 2014.

It missed that deadline and would not reveal a new date, saying only that information would be provided in due course.

However, a newly obtained internal briefing note shows federal agencies were eyeing October of this year for completion of the project. The heavily censored May 2014 note, prepared for Citizenship and Immigration Canada's deputy minister, was released to The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

It now seems the government will almost certainly miss the revised implementation date, as the required legal and administrative changes remain to be done.

The House of Commons is expected to rise shortly and return some time after a fall general election.

The Canada Border Services Agency, which is leading the project, continues to consult with the federal privacy commissioner, partners and other interested parties on the initiative, said Pierre Deveau, a border agency spokesman.

A final assessment of the project's implications for the personal information of Canadians will be delivered to the privacy commissioner once the required legislation receives royal assent, "but consultations continue throughout the process," Deveau said.

A federal report published last year said the government knew of more than 130 individuals with Canadian connections who were abroad and suspected of supporting terror-related activities. It said the government was aware of about 80 such people who had returned to Canada.

A border services agency briefing note, released previously under the access law, says information from the planned border tracking system could be provided to the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

"This is of particular interest given the recent media attention on Canadians travelling abroad to engage in terrorist activities."

Citizenship and Immigration says entry and exit information will provide hard data on an individual's presence in — or absence from — Canada. It plans to use the data in programs where residency and travel history are key, including permanent resident card renewals, grants of citizenship, temporary and permanent resident applications, and investigations into eligibility to hold a Canadian travel document.

For the moment, the tracking system involves exchanging entry information collected from people at the Canada-U.S. land border — so that data on entry to one country serves as a record of exit from the other.

The first two phases of the program have been limited to foreign nationals and permanent residents of Canada and the United States, but not citizens of either country.

The initiative was to be expanded by June 30 of last year to include information-sharing on all travellers crossing the land border.

In addition, Canada planned to begin collecting information on people leaving by plane — something the United States already does — by requiring airlines to submit passenger manifest data for outbound international flights.

Deveau said Canada and the United States "remain dedicated to the full implementation" of the project.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to questions.

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