Toronto Star

PM defends bill to expand U.S. border guards’ powers

NDP says Bill C-23 gives U.S. too much latitude amid ‘climate of uncertaint­y’


OTTAWA— As anti-Trump rhetoric ramped up in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended a government bill to expand the power of American border guards to question and detain U.S.-bound travellers at Canadian airports and other crossings.

Trudeau said the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will still protect travellers on Canadian soil even if they are detained for more questionin­g or a search by U.S. authoritie­s in a preclearan­ce zone.

“If we didn’t have preclearan­ce in Canada, people would be passing customs in the United States and, in the United States, American laws dominate and control the behaviour of people in border crossings,” Trudeau told reporters.

“There is extra protection when Canadians go through American customs in Canada because they are protected by the charter on Canadian soil.”

But the NDP says the bill is an unwarrante­d expansion of power at a time when the new U.S. administra­tion under President Donald Trump is ordering tougher security measures at the border and “racially profiling” those trying to enter the country.

NDP public safety critic Matthew Dubé served notice of an amendment to kill the bill completely — even before it is studied by a committee — because it “neglects to take into account the climate of uncertaint­y at the border following the discrimina­tory policies and executive orders of the Trump Administra­tion.”

Dubé cited a Vancouver man who said he was turned away from a B.C. border crossing after a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer searched his cellphone and reportedly suspected him of being a sex worker.

Dubé said the man was “turned away because of his sexual orientatio­n and dating apps that he had on his phone. And given that reality, for us, we have serious concerns about these new extra powers that are being given to American agents.”

“Preclearan­ce already happens without these new powers,” Dubé said, “and the government’s been unable to say why they need to give American agents on Canadian soil more powers, especially in light of the way Canadians are being treated at the border. This just opens the door for even more abusive treatment.”

But Trudeau argued in the Commons that expanded preclearan­ce “is a good system that allows for smoother movement of goods and services, easier access to the United States and protection.”

The proposed legislatio­n, known as Bill C-23, was introduced last June as part of a package to implement a cross-border deal first struck by Stephen Harper with Barack Obama. That deal was later taken up by Trudeau and Obama, with the promise to expand preclearan­ce sites from the current eight airports in Canada to four more locations, including Toronto’s Billy Bishop airport.

The bill would provide for preclearan­ce to eventually occur at land, air, rail and marine crossings. Officials say the U.S. has conducted air preclearan­ce at a handful of locations for more than 50 years.

There are no preclearan­ce sites on the U.S. side for Canada-bound travellers, but the bill would provide lawful authority for them. As written now, the bill would give U.S. border officers the right to carry firearms on Canadian soil like CBSA guards have; a limited right to detain and question a traveller who decides to turn back from the U.S., and the right to conduct a visual strip-search of a suspicious traveller, but only if a Canadian border officer is unavailabl­e to do so.

If a Canadian traveller decides to turn around and “withdraw from the preclearan­ce process,” an American border guard would have the right to further demand proof of identity and question the person about their reason for withdrawal, but officials said that should take only a “reasonable” amount of time, not be a lengthy process, and the individual would not be legally “detained” at that point.

However, if U.S. authoritie­s have reasonable grounds to believe the person has committed an offence, the traveller could be detained and would have a right to demand a senior Canadian officer and/or a lawyer be present.

American officers may detain and flag to Canadian police or border officers anyone suspected of violating Canadian law. The bill does not make U.S. border guards peace officers on Canadian soil and so they have no power of arrest, Canadian officials said Wednesday.

The bill limits the criminal liability of U.S. officers acting in the course of their inspection duties for all but the most serious crimes — murder, aggravated sexual assault and terrorism — and leaves most other prosecutor­ial decisions with the U.S. The bill is Canada’s reciprocal version of the same powers already granted to Canadian border guards by U.S. legislatio­n that was hastily passed through Congress in December in the dying days of the Obama administra­tion.

Department officials could not say whether the government would be open to any amendment of the legislatio­n, given it seeks to implement an internatio­nal agreement reached by the executive branch.

 ??  ?? Justin Trudeau says the new bill would allow for the “smoother movement of goods and services.”
Justin Trudeau says the new bill would allow for the “smoother movement of goods and services.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada