Canada will gain enhanced powers to track unemployment insurance recipients who skip the country and landed immigrants who don’t spend enough time here to meet residency requirements under the new perimeter security deal with the US.
OTTAWA: Canada will gain enhanced powers to track unemployment insurance recipients who skip the country and landed immigrants who don’t spend enough time here to meet residency requirements under the new perimeter security deal with the US.
The increased muscle will come with a $1-billion price tag, says a former Canadian diplomat who has spoken to negotiators of the Beyond the Border deal.
A new entry-exit system for people crossing the 49th parallel by land will be a key feature of the deal, and will represent a landmark change for Canada, said Colin Robertson, an ex-diplomat who has served in Washington.
The federal government doesn’t keep track of who actually leaves Canada. But the US has been pressing Ottawa for years to start collecting that data as an added security measure.
The issue is contentious because some critics argue it poses a threat to Canadian sovereignty.
But the government will argue that it is good for Canada because of the expanded powers to crackdown on bogus employment insurance recipients and fraudulent migrants who haven’t spent enough time in Canada to gain official residency status, said Robertson.
Harper and US President Barack Obama announce the deal, nearly 10 months after kickstarting the new plan that aims to protect the continent from terrorist threats while speeding the flow of people and products across the border.
Robertson said he has been told it will cost around $1 billion to implement the data collection system of the new entry-exit provisions.
The measure would address concerns that some migrants are abusing Canada’s hospitality by not staying here the required two full years in a five-year period to keep their permanent resident status.
“Now we’ll be able to track that,” said Robertson, along with Canadians collecting EI while living in the US.
“If you’re supposed to be a resident of the country and you’ve gone down to Florida for six months, we’re going to have that information now.”
Currently the Canadian border agency collects such information to a limited degree through customs declaration forms filled out by returning air travellers.
The new provisions would bring Canada in line with the United Kingdom, Australia and the European Union.
Under the new deal, Robertson explained, Canada would give data to the US Department of Homeland Security on land travellers who have exited the US.
Under a reciprocal arrangement, the US would provide Canadian authorities with information on who is leaving Canada, he said.
“We will keep separate regimes,’’ said Robertson. Canada and the US will not become like the European Union where once you enter one country you can go anywhere. We’ll maintain different visa policies because that’s not where we’re headed. We’re not moving to full labour mobility.’’
Harper and Obama are also expected to announce an agreement to improve the access roads on both sides of the border, said Robertson.
“Because it’s fine to have this fast passage at the border but if the roads are all clogged as you go in, then again that reduces the effect. What you’re trying to do is improve your competitiveness.’’
In a forthcoming article, Robertson acknowledges that the entry-exit system “is likely to be difficult for Canadians” and that it will “become a target for nationalists and civil liberties groups.”
He writes that the sovereignty issue is a “perennial cause of the Council of Canadians,” which has opposed free trade deals with the US and Mexico.
© 2011 The Canadian Press