The Harper government is facing high-level coaxing to grant border services officers the power to target and seize counterfeit or pirated goods entering Canada - contraband that ranges from fake Louis Vuitton bags to knockoff auto parts.
The largest business lobby groups in both Canada and the United States are requesting this enhanced power for Canadian customs be put on the agenda of perimeter-security talks between Washington and Ottawa - negotiations aimed at deeper co-operation with between the two countries on border matters.
In a joint submission, the Canadian Chamber of the Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are asking Ottawa to grant front-line customs officials the authority to search cross-border shipments and travellers for products that imitate brand-name goods or steal their copyrighted material.
"The Canadian and U.S. Chambers of Commerce are very concerned about the weak enforcement of intellectual property rights in Canada," the groups say in their proposal to the Beyond the Border Working Group formed by the Harper government and Obama administration.
"Over the past several decades, the trafficking in counterfeit goods has grown exponentially - so much so that almost every developed country has adopted legislation making the importation of counterfeit and pirated goods an offence and has empowered customs officials with the ability to seize these goods."
Estimates of the scale of the counterfeit problem in Canada are in dispute, with critics saying it is overstated. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce and other players, however, suggest it represents as much as $30-billion annually in terms of lost revenue and costs for the owners of intellectual property rights.
"There's obviously a lot of counterfeit handbags or contraband cigarettes and so on that cross the border," Chris Gray of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said. "Those are the things that everyone thinks about. But what people aren't thinking about are the counterfeit toothpaste and toothbrushes and brake parts" flowing into Canada, he said.
"You name it - anything that can be reverse-engineered, it's coming across the border in droves."
Canada has faced years of pressure from the U.S. government to take a harder line on protecting intellectual property - such as pirated movies - and the Harper government plans to use its majority to toughen up copyright protections for digital goods from DVDs to movies.
Border security talks launched in January represent Canada's attempt to ensure commerce with its largest trading partner is not choked off by an ever-expanding U.S. security bureaucracy.
Such a deal would seek to assure the United States that Canada is equally vigilant about terrorist and economic risks in the hopes that the U.S. would ease up on security restrictions affecting cross-border business transactions. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Canada has fought a constant battle to safeguard two-way commerce from additional security measures.
The Canada Border Services Agency made a point of noting in reports last year that intellectual property rights enforcement is primarily an "inland" rather than a border practice because the agency is not mandated to "actively search" for counterfeit goods and lacks the legislative authority to confiscate and destroy knockoffs. It currently refers concerns to players such as the RCMP.
The union representing front-line border security officers in Canada says this must change. Ron Moran, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, says he hears from members who are frustrated they can't take direct action when dealing with obviously fraudulent goods.