Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New border deal puts public at risk

Council of Canadians
December 7, 2011

The “border action plan” signed by Prime Minister Harper and President Obama in Washington, D.C. today creates new privacy and public health risks, is everything big business asked for, and should be debated vigorously before any of it comes into effect, says the Council of Canadians.

“The Harper government has again succumbed to U.S. pressure to beef up security and surveillance powers for little or no real security gains to either country. As we suspected, perimeter security just means that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will set most of the terms for greater information sharing, the use of no-fly lists, and joint policing of the border and beyond. Harper has also bent to the desires of North American business lobbies to remove regulatory burdens most of us understand as health and safety standards,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians.

The security side of the perimeter deal offers few surprises from what was reported in the news over the past two weeks. The organization strongly challenges the statement that a shared understanding of proper privacy protections can be achieved between Canada and the U.S. without significantly diluting stronger Canadian laws and norms. Following the implementation of the PATRIOT ACT in the U.S. after 9/11, privacy has virtually ceased to exist with respect to government collection, storage and sharing of information. For this and other reasons, the proposed new entry-exit system for travellers needs the greatest scrutiny by Canadian parliamentarians, security and privacy experts.

On regulatory convergence, the action plan raises just as many questions. Does it make sense to adopt U.S. style industry self-inspection of food processing plants? Many believe moves in this direction led to the Maple Leaf Foods tragedy that left 22 people dead and many more sick from tainted meat. Do we automatically want to recognize in Canada the safety of new genetically modified crops or, in the case of salmon, GE animals? Do we want to stop testing pesticides approved for use in the U.S. just to get them to Canadian shelves quicker? The Regulatory Cooperation Council is considering all of this and more, according to the action plan released today.

“Standardization can be a good thing when standards are high,” adds Barlow. “Considering how integrated many Canadian and U.S. industries are, it makes sense to look at ways to ease the flow of goods. The problem is standards aren’t higher in the U.S. in many cases and Harper clearly thinks little of environmental protection or public health. Already Health Canada and other agencies consider harmonization with U.S. standards to be a more important consideration than the real safety of our food. This perimeter deal cements that skewed priority list.”

The environmental cooperation aspects of the deal are a joke, focused entirely on auto emissions with nothing whatsoever to say about how we might jointly conserve natural resources, lower our dependence on fossil fuels or collaborate on the production of renewable technology, says the Council of Canadians.

Finally, the organization criticizes the government for hiding behind a sham public consultation and implying that this should clear the way for implementation of the action plan. The statement released today says the government “will continue to consult relevant stakeholders and Canadians on these issues.” But only business stakeholders were invited into the government lockup to brief media on the virtues of the plan. And only business stakeholders will have privileged access to ongoing Regulatory Cooperation Council working group sessions on Canada-U.S. standards convergence.

The Council of Canadians will not be alone in demanding an extended public and parliamentary debate on the new border plan before any of it can become operational.

“Past harmonization plans, including the 2002 Smart Border Declaration and defunct Security and Prosperity Partnership, have been secret and far too driven by business interests. More embarrassingly they also haven’t worked if we’re to believe the stories about a thickening border. Harper hasn’t yet explained why this perimeter deal will be any different,” says Barlow.

No comments:

Post a Comment