August 22, 2019

US border deal might erode personal privacy in Canada

The US-Canada border at Ontario.

The anticipated trade and security agreement with the United States carries no guarantee of a reduction of red tape at the border for Canadian business and is more likely to violate national privacy laws, a new report suggests.

In a report released Wednesday, the Rideau Institute offers a scathing rebuke of a new cross-border agreement with the U.S., expected to be announced within weeks, that the federal government says will increase perimeter security and ease trade with our neighbours to the south.

In February, Canada and the U.S. announced negotiations of the “Beyond the Border” initiative designed to reduce red tape at the border for businesses and improve North American security.

The Rideau Institute argues the new agreement may do neither.

Canada is being asked to compromise the civil rights of millions of Canadians without any guarantee the Americans will hold up their side of the bargain, says the report, written by Gar Pardy, a former senior diplomat to Washington.

“There can be little expectation that Canadian needs for less controls and constraints on trans-border traffic will be met,” Pardy writes. “A more likely scenario would be Canadian concessions on security and privacy matters and only American promises for an easier border regime.”

So long as the global economy continues to falter, government and business may be willing to make any concessions to open trade lines with the U.S., the report suggests.

“In this equation where economic benefits may be at stake, it is not extreme to suggest that . . . privacy protection will not be increased,” Pardy writes.

Pardy recommends Canada create a “single authority” to oversee the various security agencies that share information with the U.S. and ensure privacy laws aren’t violated.

Pardy also recommends the privacy commissioner review and monitor all information sharing agreements with the United States and report annually to Parliament.

Pardy also calls on the federal government to update the 28-year-old Privacy Act.

The conclusions are based on Pardy’s analysis of past security and trade agreements, as well as discussions with federal officials involved in current negotiations.

The report says Canadian officials admitted that some actions being considered in the new agreement could conflict with Canadian privacy laws, but that the Conservative government had “red lines” it would not cross.

Still, Pardy argues, the federal government’s use of information protected by privacy laws as part of its crime agenda and pursuit of alleged war criminals could be a signal that civil liberties could be eroded to serve other purposes.

The report also disputes that information sharing between security agencies on both sides of the border has made either country safer. Pardy argues that the lack of terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001, is “less an indication of the effectiveness of security measures than it is of the ineffectiveness of terrorist organizations to reach beyond their traditional areas of operations.”