Monday, December 12, 2011


This editorial appeared in the Calgary Herald on the topic of the Canada-US border deal:

Editorial: The upside of exit visas

Losing track of people is no way to keep a country safe

Although there are unresolved issues around cost and privacy, an exit visa system for both Canada and the U.S. seems logical and overdue.
The federal government has admitted to losing track of more than 40,000 failed refugee claimants ordered deported from Canada in the past 15 years. Precisely, the federal Immigration department says it has outstanding deportation warrants for 40,815 people whose refugee claims have been denied. Without an exit visa system, it has no way of tracking them.
Similarly, there are upwards of 300,000 people in Canada on temporary visas at any one time, including foreign workers, students and visitors. The government has no accurate way of determining how many have left the country. As with the failed refugee claimants, many could be here illegally.
The same scenario exists in the U.S., which also has no exit visa system.
That situation will eventually change as both nations implement exit visas under a broad new U.S.-Canada border agreement announced
by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama. The agreement, which is non-binding and could take years, establishes a security perimeter around the continent aimed at expediting trade and travel between the two countries.
Setting up an exit visa system could cost Canadian taxpayers $1 billion, according to some estimates. However, the long-term payoff could quickly erase that cost. The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters estimated that the new border deal could ultimately save Canadian companies up to $30 billion annually due to reduction in red tape and redundant checks on the shipment of goods.
As the exit visa system rolls out, Ottawa will need to alleviate the privacy concerns of Canadians. Privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart has warned about the collection of biometric data which, if gathered indiscriminately and stored in networked databases, draws us "ever closer to the bleak reality of a surveillance society."
There are many unanswered questions about how an entry-exit data system could affect individual travellers, including access to tax data. Although the government has said the U.S. will get nothing more than basic data on Canadians, the potential for "information creep" worries civil libertarians. Some experts argue that entry and exit visas are an inefficient way of identifying threats and worry that they can entrap average citizens.
It is only logical and reasonable, however, that a nation should know who is inside its borders. Officials admit the tracking of bogus Canadian refugee claimants is "massive and not getting better" and will only get worse without a good tracking system.
The border deal, if it works as advertised, could result in more efficient crossings for individual travellers, with an expanded NEXUS pass system for non-business travellers.
Imagine having your luggage checked through to a connecting flight in the U.S. without the current rechecking process at an American airport? That's the way it should work between Canada and the U.S.

No comments: