Key features of a Canada-U.S. perimeter security pact were unveiled today in Washington by Prime Minster Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama and have already elicited sharply different reactions. The alleged goal is to streamline trade and hasten transit time for people and goods as they cross the border while at the same time, protecting the continent from terrorist threats.
My view all along has been that these are two different goals and should not be merged. In seeing the outline of the deal, I now feel that more strongly than ever.
No one I know objects to finding ways to hasten the border crossing process for ordinary people or cut unnecessary red tape for business, particularly small business. But in merging these two issues, Canada is essentially giving up policy control in the key areas of privacy, security, immigration and surveillance in order to entice the U.S. to loosen controls at the border.
I fear this deal will have just the opposite effect. The added security measures will add layers to the existing process and may actually add to the so-called thickening of the border -- at least for ordinary people. More ominously, it is likely to lead to a wholesale replacement of Canadian privacy and security standards with American ones, set by Homeland Security. Who will gather and house all the information on people entering and exiting Canada, even to and from other countries? How will this information be used? There are millions of Americans on Homeland Security lists now. Will this information be used as a form of social control, to identify not terrorists, but activists and dissenters of government policy? Once your name is on a list, how will you challenge it?
Another concern is the clear intention to set up cross-border working groups, filled no doubt with members of the business community, who will oversee the harmonization of standards and regulations on everything from food security and drug approvals to car safety. Who will monitor these changes to be sure they are in the best interest of Canadians? Under a former similar "border deal," the Security and Prosperity Partnership for North America, one cross-border committee lowered Canadian standards for pesticides on fruits and vegetables. We read about it after it was a done deal.
The fact is, this process has been set up to accommodate one sector of our community and that is big business. It is in the interest of the big drug companies to lower the time it takes to have a drug approved in Canada. It is in the interest of the big American grain companies to sell their genetically modified wheat in Canada. It is in the interest of the energy industry on both sides of the border to lower and harmonize standards for gas fracking and transportation of dirty oil.
The perimeter deal announced today has been plagued by a bad process all along. It should have included groups concerned with health and safety, security and privacy, labour rights and environmental protection. Instead, the big business community was the only sector at the table with government and guided the process from the beginning.
Our relationship with the United States affects all Canadians, not just those in the private sector. While we recognize the importance of our trade with the United States, giving away control of key areas of public and foreign policy is too great a price for a deal that may -- just may -- speed things up at the border for a small group of selected individuals and businesses.
We must call on our government to create a full public and Parliamentary debate before this deal becomes operational. We have to ask the Harper government of this and similar initiatives such as CETA; if they are so good for Canada and Canadians, why are you so secretive about their content and so exclusive in your deliberations? Until this question is answered, Canadians will rightly be suspicious when we are told to take our medicine and be quiet.
Follow Maude Barlow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MaudeBarlow