Michael Ford
Immigration

More power to U.S. border guards in Canada concerns Seligman

A bill that would boost the powers of U.S. border officers stationed in this country should worry Canadian travellers, says Toronto immigration lawyer Robin Seligman.

Pre-clearance is currently available at a number of airports and ferry departure points, allowing travellers to move through U.S. Customs and Border Protection before they leave this country.

However, Bill C-23, introduced by federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, would change the rules governing the process to allow U.S. officers to question, search and detain Canadians, even after they have indicated a desire to withdraw.  

Seligman, principal of immigration law boutique Seligman Professional Corporation, says that’s a big change from the current situation which allows travellers to walk away at any time.   

“The idea that a Canadian could be detained on Canadian soil by an American border guard is very concerning,” Seligman tells AdvocateDaily.com. “You should have the option to turn around and decide that you don’t want to go to the U.S. without having to face further questioning.”

In a statement to the CBC, Public Safety Canada Spokesman Scott Bardsley defended the bill, pointing out that it imposes limits on U.S. agents’ questioning.

"The change is that once a traveller indicates their wish to withdraw, pre-clearance officers would be authorized to exercise certain authorities, such as question the traveller as to their identity and reason for withdrawing," he told CBC News. "This authority is provided in order protect the integrity of the border but can only be exercised to the extent that doing so would not unreasonably delay the traveller."

The bill passed first reading in the House of Commons last summer after a pre-clearance deal reached between the Trudeau government and the Obama White House. However, the law then languished while a reciprocal piece of legislation worked its way through the U.S. Congress. The bill is now back on the agenda in Ottawa after legislators in both houses south of the border passed their version of the law.   

Other changes under C-23 include allowing U.S. officers to carry guns while on duty when Canadian Border Security Agents (CBSA) would normally be armed in the same environment.

The pre-clearance agreement between the two countries will also allow CBSA working at U.S. ports to prevent permanent residents of Canada from boarding flights home if they suspect them of failing to meet their residency requirements. 

"All of these things are very worrying," Seligman says.

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