August 11, 2017 – Canadian legislation to set up new U.S. border pre-clearance at airports, train stations and ferry ports has been held up over concerns about the powers granted to U.S. agents operating north of the border.
A slew of emails were submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office after articles in the national press highlighted the powers U.S. officers would have at their disposal.
Under pressure from Canadian officials, the U.S. Congress passed its own bill eight months ago on the specifics of the new border deal.
But while Canada’s Bill C-23 made it through parliament, it has been held up by the Senate ever since as lawmakers debate how the concerns raised should be addressed.
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Pre-clearance allows Canadians to clear U.S. customs and immigration before they travel, preventing hold-ups when crossing the physical border.
The service is already offered at eight Canadian airports, plus the Port of Vancouver and Vancouver’s train station. Two more airports, plus Montreal’s train station are expected to open pre-clearance points in 2017.
According to CBC News, more than 15,000 pages of complaints were received in February, a volume described as ‘unprecedented’ and one which took Public Safety officials completely by surprise.
Central to the complaints were the new powers the bill grants to U.S. border officials based in Canada. These include the right to carry arms and the power to detain and question Canadians at the discretion of the U.S. agent.
Previously, Canadians could simply withdraw their request to enter the U.S. and leave. But Bill C-23 removes that right.
Quick Facts: The Canada-US Border
- Longest international border in world at 8,891km, 2,475km of which is with Alaska.
- 3 million Canadians travelled to the USA in February 2016, with 2 million moving in the other direction.
- 400,000 people and $2.4 billion in trade cross the border each day.
- Canada and US are second and fourth largest countries in the world by area.
- Canadian provinces and territories on border: Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick.
- US states on border: Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine.
The U.S. version of the bill grants all the same powers to Canadian border agents working on U.S. soil. However, as yet there are no Canadian border pre-clearance centres in the U.S. They are deemed not necessary because of the relatively few Canadian airports receiving travellers, making the screening job much easier.
Canada-U.S. relations, particularly on immigration, have been strained since Donald Trump became president and began his crackdown.
The reaction of the Canadian public is related to what they see happening in the U.S., particularly with Trump’s move to ban immigration from six Muslim countries.
In March, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to reassure Canadians they will be protected when screened by US officials.
Trudeau said in March: “When you’re doing preclearance in Canada, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canadian laws are in place, so there is extra protection when Canadians go through American customs in Canada because they are protected by the Charter on Canadian soil.”
Trump Travel Ban
On June 26, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court passed a ruling than allowed Trump’s travel ban executive order to partially come into force.
The ruling means travellers from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – who do not have a connection with the U.S. – are banned from travel for 90 days. The U.S. refugee program is also suspended for 120 days, again for candidates with no U.S. connection.
The executive order came into force on June 29, 2017.
Asylum Seeker Spike
Trump’s crackdown also means the number of immigrants crossing the Canadian border and claiming asylum has spiked in recent weeks.
Quebec immigration officials estimate 150 newcomers per day are crossing the border, forcing Montreal’s Olympic stadium to be used as a holding centre.
A camp has also been set up on the Quebec-New York border to accommodate some of the asylum seekers.
The increase is believed to be led by Haitians, who fear deportation under Trump. The president has threatened to withdraw the special status given to Haitians in the wake of the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country.
Unofficial figures for July 2017 suggest more than 1,150 asylum seekers crossed the Quebec border, compared to 150 in July 2016.
Between January 1 and June 30, 2017, some 6,500 asylum seekers have arrived in Quebec, 35 per cent of the Canada-wide total.
Despite the pressure on Quebec, Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil says the province can handle the situation.
She pointed to 2008, when 12,000 asylum seekers crossed into Quebec, with 2017 on course to beat that number.
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