Opinion: Don’t give U.S. power over Canadians on our own soil

The Blue Water Bridge, looking east from Port Huron, Michigan in Point Edward. 
Glenn Ogilvie file photoThe Blue Water Bridge, looking east from Port Huron, Michigan in Point Edward. Glenn Ogilvie file photo

Micheline Steele

Micheline Steele

Micheline Steele

What would you say if I told you the Canadian government is preparing to give a foreign government the legal authority to detain you and even compel you to undergo a strip search while on Canadian soil?

Bill C-23 (The Preclearance Act) gives increased powers to U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers performing “pre-clearance duties” at eight Canadian airports, as well as some train stations and ferry routes.

Until now, I have regarded the preclearance process as a convenience. It lets travellers to the U.S. complete the Customs and Immigration process before entering that country. Once my plane lands, it’s just a matter of locating my luggage and I’m happily on my way. It streamlines travel and allows the U.S. to vet travellers before they reach U.S. soil. A win-win situation.

What has me, and many others concerned, is the new legislation would give the U.S. government increased powers over Canadians in our own country. Currently, while undergoing a preclearance examination by a U.S. Officer you have the option to withdraw. You can, for any reason, end the conversation and simply walk away.

It’s one thing for a Border Officer — U.S. or Canadian — to question, detain and take enforcement action against a traveller arriving at a Port of Entry. I understand and fully support this. But it’s an entirely different matter for a foreign government to have that authority outside its borders.

Under the proposed legislation, which replaces and expands an agreement from 2001, U.S. Border Officers in Canada would have the authority to:

– Compel you to answer questions about your identity and why you wish to withdraw your application. You would not have the right to withdraw your application, and if you failed to comply, you could be charged with a criminal offence;

– Conduct a strip search (if a Canadian Border Services Officer is not available, or unwilling to conduct the search);

– Detain you (though, you cannot be “unreasonably delayed”) under certain circumstances. It is very concerning however, that the Bill provides no explanation of what might constitute an “unreasonable delay.”

We all want to be good citizens and believe that if we’re honest and law-abiding people we have nothing to worry about. But, unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. We can’t blindly rely on our own government to act in our best interest, and I’m certainly not willing to put that trust in the hands of a foreign government.

The world has changed and these are different time, to be certain. But rights and liberties, once surrendered, may never be regained.

What’s more, such agreements can be expanded. Who is to say land border crossings won’t be next? The implications are far reaching.

We need our elected Canadian leaders to protect us by making certain this Bill is appropriately worded before it becomes law.

Micheline Steele is a Sarnia resident and a retired Canada Border Services Agency Officer.