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Nearly half of Canadians oppose greater integration with U.S. law enforcement

Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird speaks to reporters in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 5, 2011.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Canadians consulted on a controversial border security deal still in the works with the United States aren't sold on boosting collaboration between the two countries' law-enforcement officials, a new report suggests.

The report on the potential perimeter security agreement released on Monday shows nearly half of Canadians who weighed in opposed greater integration of law enforcement between Canada and the United States.

Many who took part in a federal consultation on the agreement voiced concerns about information sharing and the impact of joint programs on civil liberties, the report says.

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At the same time, others "called for an open border, more enforcement powers for the Canadian Border Services Agency, and joint enforcement and co-operation in support of a common perimeter," it says.

Cross-border policing is one of four areas targeted for closer collaboration in a joint declaration issued by the Canadian and U.S. governments in February. The other areas are addressing threats early, trade facilitation, economic growth and jobs, and critical infrastructure and cybersecurity.

The declaration could lead to a formal North American security perimeter aimed at expanding co-operation on continental security while allowing a smoother flow of goods and people across the Canada-U.S. border.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who released the report in Toronto, said the government is working on an ambitious plan that will take into account concerns raised during the consultations.

"We have listened and listened carefully" to submissions from more than 1,000 Canadians as well as community, business and civil liberties groups, he told reporters Monday.

Critics have expressed concerns about how the deal could affect privacy and sovereignty in Canada.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said measures must be in place to ensure Canadians' Charter and privacy rights are respected.

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Accountability is also a concern, said Graeme Norton, director of the organization's public safety program.

"If you do have an American officer policing in Canada and somebody doesn't like what they do, who do you complain to?" he said.

"Our overriding suggestion here is that any type of expansion of cross-border policing must be completely and totally demonstrated to be necessary," he said, adding that most cases could likely be handled by domestic police forces.

Mr. Baird said the agreement will respect Canadians' legal and privacy rights.

Federal officials led consultations with a range of stakeholders this spring, including the public. The consultations were conducted partly through a website.

Dozens of people who sent in submissions called for more transparency, saying details of the proposed agreement were being kept under wraps.

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Some questioned the consultation exercise, with one calling it "window dressing to make the government of Canada appear to be forthcoming" with the public.

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