Photo by Flickr User Aaverage Joe

President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper have announced a sweeping new security agreement.  The agreement will expand the NEXUS program, increase the number of American security officials working in Canada, and dramatically streamline border procedures to improve the throughput of cargo.

Relevant to STB is that this agreement will end the duplicative border inspection for southbound Cascades trains.  By the end of 2012, all customs and immigration will take place in Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station.  This will save 10-25 minutes per trip and harmonize northbound and southbound running times to 4 hours.  Mike Lindblom has the full scoop.

I definitely cheer the streamlining of rail (and air) service, and indeed also to improving trade (some estimate that up to 1% of Canadian GDP is lost to bureaucratic redundancy at the border).  But these efficiencies were only possible via a Canadian capitulation to American security standards and policies, which in a post-Patriot Act era are already excessively heavy handed.  Far more information will be shared between the two governments, the practical result of which is far greater American access to information on Canadian citizens.  I am quite sympathetic to the fears – of eroded national sovereignty and lost civil liberties – that many of my Canadian friends have expressed.

45 Replies to “Obama, Harper Announce Massive New Security Agreement”

  1. If one can travel from Lisbon to Helsinki now without stopping, I fail to see why ANY border crossing checkpoints are needed between these two “Children of a Common Mother”.

      1. European countries are generally not totalitarian police states, since the fall of the Eastern Bloc.

        It’s a bit different over here, where both “major parties” seem intent on establishing a totalitarian police state as fast as possible. Not sure why, really — arbitrary arrests and massive government spying is bad for business, so it’s not even in the interests of their backers.

    1. This is a step in that direction. It has been in the works since the 1990s but was scuttled by 9/11 and American paranoia that Canadian immigration had let too many potential “Ressams” in. Drug policy also played a role, as the US wanted Canada to adopt its war on drugs. I wonder how much Canada had to concede on that. But Canada may have gotten a better deal with Obama than it would have gotten with Bush.

      Canadians are also fearful that a country with TEN TIMES the population and eyes on Quebec’s water and Alberta’s tar sands would dominate the country if open immigration were allowed.

      1. The Torontonian who said it to me said Quebec. I don’t know exactly which watersheds he was referring to. He said it in the context of that there’s a provision in NAFTA by which the US could, if there’s a severe water crunch down here, comandeer Quebec’s water.

  2. Great news! Now, if they only has a NEXUS machine & line and/or let NEXUS passengers off with business class.

    1. I would lIke to see security cooperation by both countries at sea ports, combined with a completely open land border. Freight vehicles would be subject to inspections to guard against major trade violations. The fact is, we gain nothing from US-Canada border controls, and cross-border traffic including traffic is unnecessarily impaired.

      1. You may not see any particular gain but Canadian border controls are absolutely essential. We receive virtually no assistance in stemming the tide of illegal weapons into Canada from the United States, while we do provide assistance in preventing the crossing of illegal drugs (while not fully embracing the “war” on drugs idiocy) from our side. A lack of land controls would see the criminals in Canada have a far greater access to weapons and a corresponding increase in crime and violent crime.

        This is one Canadian that says “no thanks” to that.

      2. Jack,
        I’ve never had anyone check my bags or cars for weapons when I crossed the border into Canada even with land border security. Are you sure the security check points make ANY difference?

      3. Grant,
        Border control officers are trained to (theoretically) spot those smuggling any illicit products across the border. Their effectiveness varies obviously. I know that busts at the border do occur and my understanding is that a great deal of smuggling doesn’t even attempt to go through the border checkpoints.

        For legitimate travellers obviously the experience at the border will vary. I have experienced two random searches, one crossing back into Canada by Canadian officials at Peace Arch and the other by US officials when I was connecting through Denver returning from Europe. The last one particularly bothered me as making that kind of connection anywhere else would have been permitted via a sterile transfer. Since then, I have avoided booking any connecting flights to a third country via the United States, which naturally means I only used American carriers for flights to the United States, if ever.

        I do know this much: if there was an open land border between Canada and the United States if would completely destroy our gun control regime, with a flood of legally and illegally obtained weapons crossing into Canada.

        Just this past summer: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2011/07/29/2121762/canadian-border-busts-handguns.html

        The RCMP has a good web report on firearms trafficking both domestically and from the United States: http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/ci-rc/reports-rapports/traf/index-eng.htm

        There’s been a couple of attempted terrorist attacks and other incidents coming from Canada to the United States. There are thousands of weapons crossing from the United States into Canada supporting organized crime (including the drug trade). I’d say that’s a very legitimate security concern.

  3. Thanks for those last 3 sentences, Zach. The US continues to sink into a strange paranoid depression where everyone is the enemy until proven otherwise, and other nations are being dragged into this hole with the US – sadly unnecessary.

  4. Thanks for comparison with border-crossings in Europe- among countries who have had longer and worse recent problems with terrorism than we do.

    Mark Dublin

  5. I fail to see the problem here. Every time I’ve crossed the border as. US citizen, it was the Canadian customs authorities that were nosy and oversensitive and ridiculously inquisitive. US? They just checked the passport and took the claims document on the return and it was done.

  6. My Canadian spouse just crossed the border this morning. I am pretty sure she wouldn’t agree with all the assessments of heavy-handedness, and we both have been through numerous rigamaroles at the border for several years, on a weekly basis.

    Sounds like quite a few posters here are injecting their own house brand of politics into the discussion so they can bash the govt. Most of the men and women at the border are normal everyday people just like myself. They deal with an enormous amount of people, and many act so stupid its amazing. With rules written clearly above practically everywhere, people still think somehow they are more special than everyone else, and hence get the staff p’d off.

    Sure, there are some guards who are jerks, and worse. Of course they ought to be dealt with in the severest manner, just like the multitude of morons who try to cross the border daily the illegal way.

    1. My concern is not about those who consider themselves “special” or “entitled” and even less for those who fail to read the rules and ask questions. I’m in retail; I see/hear that ALL the time.

      It remains a mystery to me why the US insists on fortifying and fencing its borders, both structurally and psychologically, as if somehow these “fences” will keep out the “bad guys” when in fact they do little more than exacerbate the we/they dichotomy this country and its “culture” has fostered for more than 150 years.

      1. You certainly haven’t proposed any solutions, only a statement that shows why we need border security. A mystery? Really???

        It is very, very simple, there are people who constantly try and pull crap, and could care less about you or me. I’m not talking about terrorists, but everyday people who can’t control themselves, and they bring up every reason why we need to ask what people are going to be doing in our country. Just like your house, you are letting someone new in, so who are they? What are they up to? etc. etc. Are you going to pay for their mishaps and follies since you think everyone should cross w/o being scrutinized? I’m not going to, so you pay my half and then some.

        Border security is a necessity; ever try going from Sinaloa to Baja California Sur? There, you will be interrogated and inspected, and more, just to get from one Mexican state to another. It makes our border routine look easy sometimes.

        As said, I’m no fan of the wait times, and some of the practices the government are atrocious, but anyone who seriously thinks that border inspection isn’t a good idea is in my opinion, off their rocker. We need some type of inspection there, period.

      2. What is it about Canadians that you think is so unsafe? I wouldn’t remove or relax our southern border – Mexico isn’t a very secure country. But Canada? I’d feel a greater need to put up security at Washington’s east border than our north one.

      3. Grant,
        It would be insanity to remove the checkpoints as long as large discrepancies remain in domestic law that removing border controls would compromise.

        I’ll agree with you on the passport issue. I personally feel that an enhanced driver’s license or a nationally issued travel ID card should be all that’s necessary for travel between Canada and the United States and expanded to other countries in North America. My preferred regime would be that when applying for a provincial/state driver’s license or ID card that you would also have the option of applying through the same process for a travel card (same pic, same forms, a nominal additional cost, etc). Sadly, I don’t think it’s very likely though.

      4. That was another casualty of 9/11. You used to be able to go to Vancouver and back with just a driver’s license, and if you were in a car they’d just ask your citizenship and that was it. (Greyhound riders got more scrutiny than drivers, as they still do.)

  7. Personally I’m not too fussed about a “thickening” border between Canada and the United States. While it’s true that Americans are still our biggest customer, there’s no real growth potential for Canadian business in American markets and there won’t be for a long time. Almost all of our new growth is going to come from emerging markets, so the need to marry ourselves to absurd US security standards to hold access to a market that’s going to provide diminishing returns isn’t really high on my list of priorities, no matter how some of the measures (like total pre-clearance at Pacific Central) may personally benefit me.

    I’m also not holding my breath that anything other than the most basic of regulatory changes will happen. There have been several accords attempted, some of them far more ambitious than this going back to Chretien’s government, in times when security as less of an issue, when the US government was not divided, when special interests in the US were less powerful. All of them have died from inertia.

    With the US government as utterly crippled as it is right now, I’m not expecting any of this to come to pass.

  8. @Matt: I have everything in favor of Canadians! But someone from ANY country can pull something really, really stupid. So, I feel its necessary to find out who they are.

    It is the same thing with ones own house, like I said before. Do you leave the front door unlocked? If not, you don’t trust your neighbors? Why not?

    I think you see my reasoning, and I’ll add one more. Do you think Canada shouldn’t be required to ask what Americans are going to be doing while up there? Why shouldn’t Canada know? There are tons of crazy Americans pullin’ crap all the time, so why make them wait? Let them into Canada w/o scrutiny? Gotta have it, its a necessary evil.

    1. Anthony, your reasoning is completely irrational. People from any country can pull something really really stupid correct? Even people from America so with that logic we have to start putting checks on I-5 to see where people are going and why. We’d better do I-90 to keep an eye on people from Spokane and even worse Idaho! It’s all paranoid delusions.

      As long as Canada has the same security protocols that the US does AND there’s communication between them there’s NO reason there should be a locked border. Absolutely NONE.

      1. Grant,

        That only makes sense if we harmonize domestic laws as well. As long as there are separate gun control and drug control regimes in place, border controls are mandatory in order for both countries to enforce their own laws on their own territory.

        Canadians and Americans have made a number of choices in domestic policy that are different and require the presence of border control in order to be enforceable. The likelihood of harmonizing those are small. I can tell you right now, Canadians would never tolerate the lack of gun control that is the norm in the United States.

        There’s also a major power imbalance obviously and as has been demonstrated through NAFTA, the American government isn’t interested in respecting its treaty obligations when that annoys some minor special interest. There’s not a lot of reason to trust the current government, no matter how personally popular Obama may be on this side of the border.

      2. No, not paranoid delusions, I’ve seen to many incidents of shady characters trying to cross, and saw another one just a few months ago when I took the bus back from the Pink Palace. What’s your solution those types?

        I don’t want border controls, if it could be had safely, but over the past five years of crossing I have come to a different conclusion, that they need to be there.

        Maybe the new agreement will expedite some travelers, my spouse and I were just talking that it may come to the point where if clears customs in say Prince Rupert, then they will be good all the way into the US w/o any further interruptions. We both agree that we don’t understand yours and others POV here on this issue. Who here crosses regularly, as in every week or at least monthly? I used to be of the opposite mind, not any longer after what I’ve seen in person…

      3. Jack and Anthony, many US states have different laws from other states, and Canadian provinces from other provinces. But we don’t have checkpoints between them.

  9. Are they going to have a similar arrangement on the train between Montreal and New York? Crossing on that train is the most ridiculous Kafka-esque process ever developed by the most dead-brained bureaucrat. It truly is stupid.

    1. We can only hope – what a nightmare THAT exercise became after the crimes of September 2001. I’d imagine it is about the same on the train to/from Toronto.

    2. There is a plan to eliminate the one stop in between New York State and Montreal (Saint Lambert) and then have a closed immigration and customs (pre-)clearance at Central Station using agents from Dorval like the one at Pacific Central.

      1. Given Montreal Central Station’s layout (platforms underground, sort of), it wouldn’t be too much of an issue to create a “sterile” track for a period of time each day.

    3. Anything would be an improvement. When I went from Montreal to NYC, it was the summer the Acelas were out, so we were in some horrible Horizon equipment to begin with, and we were at the border for two and a half hours, with no snack car, because that was the interrogation chamber. It was like something out of Casablanca.

      Everyone got asked the same three stupid questions: 1.) why are you coming to the US. 2.) How long are you staying? 3.) who do you know there? If the answer wasn’t satisfactory you were taken to the snack car for further questioning.

      Anyone coming to the country for evil purposes would have those answers memorized, and a story to go along with it. All this did was single out people with poor English skills and subject them to both embarrassment and intimidation. Plus, it made us four hours late getting to NYC because we missed our slot or something.

  10. Actually, 10 minutes is built into the Southbound Cascades schedule for the border stop, which works fine as long as the dog doesn’t sniff anything.

    The real time issue is the slow orders north of the border through Mud Bay, along with the fact that south of the border most of that line is single track, with meets at selected points that alter schedules of one train if the other is out of its time slot, and freight congestion (especially around the Delta Yard in Everett).

  11. “It would be insanity to remove the checkpoints as long as large discrepancies remain in domestic law that removing border controls would compromise.”

    I don’t think there is much more difference if any between the US and Canada than between the 25 nations of the Schengen Area. Yes the US needs to relax it’s drug laws and Canada it’s firearms but overall American and Canadian Law is pretty similar.

    1. And there I thought the Schengen Area was in Afghanistan. Appears that today the holdout was GB. Something about not wanting to collapse their banking empire into the EU quagmire. How conceited of them.

      1. No, that’s Shindand. ;)

        However as I’m sure you know, financial regulations and entry protocals are in no way related.

  12. Why doesn’t the choir see the obvious. The rules have changed. There’s a nice picture of the train. There’s the border and peace arch.
    C’mon, think.
    OK. There’s a million and a half people that live in Surrey, White Rock area that are closer to Blaine than downtown Vancouver.
    Relaxed rules = easier to link transit and trains at the Blaine station as an Amtrak stop. Think about it.
    Then drop in the thought of single tracks along the way and 20 coal trains a day in 10 years. The ROW needs fundamental change for both freight and passenger rail, and ridership sheds don’t have to start and end at the border anymore.

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