13 DEC 2011: There was scant coverage in the US. media with last week’s announcement of the Beyond the Border deal between Canada and the United States. In Canada it received widespread media coverage as well as various online and social networking forums. For those in the travel industry should we embrace it or lobby against it? How will it affect you?

There were two main action plans announced: The Action Plan on Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness deals primarily with cooperation between Canada and the US on facilitating trade, economic growth and jobs; integrating cross-border law enforcement; improving the infrastructure and cyber security; and addressing threats early.

The other Action Plan on Regulatory Cooperation focuses on reducing barriers to trade and aligning our regulations and approval requirements to those with the United States.

Sounds all great on paper and as Prime Minister Harper proclaimed, ”Moving security to the perimeter of our continent will transform our border and create jobs and growth in Canada by improving the flow of goods and people between our two countries.”

It just makes you all warm and fuzzy hearing those words from our fearless leader! Fear not – this is a great day to be a Canadian traveller and business person.

I beg to differ.

No doubt there are some very worthwhile elements in these action plans. Anything to help increase trade and lessen the bureaucracy and onerous paperwork and unnecessary delays businesses must deal with is welcome and these initiatives should help boost the economy. No surprise the business groups and chambers of commerce on both sides of the border are in support of the action plan.

But with respect to travelling between the two countries are we willing to give up even more privacy and rights? I for one don’t want to relinquish any more information than what is absolutely necessary.

The agreement that was signed does commit the two countries to engage in more “informal information sharing.” This is very scary because it is so ambiguous. What information will be shared exactly?

According to US Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson our privacy concerns are unfounded and it’s just a “misunderstanding” of the agreement. When speaking with the Toronto Star’s editorial board after the deal was announced Jacobson said, “The fact of the matter is we are not sharing anything.” Jacobson added, “All we want to know is that you left. We already got the information that we need when you come (into the country). We don’t need any more information.”

Well that is news to me and I’m sure to all Canadians.

I don’t know about you but I have been grilled for a lot more information than about when I left the country. I think Jacobson is an honourable individual and that he firmly believes there is no reason for concern. It’s not Jacobson I am worried about – it’s the hawks in government and the security obsessed, privacy and rights be damned Homeland Security.

Jacobson is also a citizen of the US and perhaps like many Americans after 9/11 they were willing to give up much of their privacy and rights. I’m not an American so I can’t relate to the same extent of the devastating effects of 9/11.

And that’s the point. I am a Canadian and we do have a Charter of Rights and Freedom and different laws than the US So I don’t want a US driven deal agreed to by our Prime Minister Harper. It’s interesting – he’s a pit bull when dealing with Canadians and other nations but a lap dog when it comes to the Americans.

I don’t actually blame the United States for this deal. Harper and Canada’s negotiating team have kowtowed to the Americans and basically given them everything they want. The main thing Harper wanted was a photo op with President Obama.

Many of the elements of the action plan were completed months ago. But Harper was holding out for a photo op with Obama. In return he was willing to give away Canadian’s right to privacy and our sovereignty. Smile for the camera boys!

I wish Harper wasn’t so unconcerned about our rights. Just take a look at the Patriot Act from the Bush years to see how the US government abused its power both domestically and internationally. Just ask Maher Arar, the Canadian who was arrested while on a New York stop-over and sent to Syria where he was tortured.

Or the thousands of innocent people who are on the US no fly list. I’m talking about travellers who may have been on this list only because they may have a similar name to a suspected terrorist or, god help you, if you have family members from a country with suspected terrorists.

Keep a list but let’s just keep the guilty ones on it and not take years for the innocent ones to get off the list. Even the late US senator Ted Kennedy was on the no fly list!

All of the above action plans may never come to be. Most of the initiatives won’t come into play until 2013 and beyond. Next year is an election year in the US. With Obama on the hot seat domestically many of these initiatives may never see the light of day. The US is becoming very isolationist and protectionist with its Buy America. Republican and Tea Party elements may force even more erosion of rights and even more border security. Canada’s voice will be largely ignored in 2012 during the election campaign.

Then there is the small detail of paying for many of these initiatives. And where do you think the government will look first – of course the travel industry. Expect to see even more border, immigration and security fees in the future.

Travel agents should also be aware. With the new proposed border exit/entry sharing of information what happens if indeed the visitor extends beyond the time allowed – for example to receive health benefits. Think of the thousands of snowbirds – some who may go beyond the allowed time away from Canada. If the travel agent booked their trip and it is beyond the time allowed – can the agent be charged in helping to perpetuate an alleged fraud?

One initiative I would like to see between Canada and the US – joint Smiling and How to Treat Travellers as Humans 101 classes for border patrol officers.

Smiling border patrol officers and fellow travellers – now that’s a photo op!

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Chris Ryall

An industry insider with strong, outspoken opinions that readers enjoy, whether they agree, or take issue with his point of view.

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