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Ottawa trumpets border-security model of joint marine patrol

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cpl. Raj Sandhu and U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Cody Ralston conduct Shiprider law enforcement operations along the Niagara River in support of the G20 Summit Saturday, June 26, 2010. \

Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon/Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon

Stephen Harper and Barack Obama have yet to flesh out details of their move toward a common Canada-U.S. security perimeter, but the seeds of this approach can be found in a pilot program that created dual-nation marine patrols to nab crooks who cross the shared border.

For several years, the Shiprider initiative has paired armed Canadian officers - Mounties, for instance - with the U.S. Coast Guard in joint water operations in which each is authorized to enforce the law on the other side of the border.

The Harper government is seeking to enshrine in law the arrangement that enables U.S. law-enforcement vessels to pursue suspects across the border into Canada. Under this 2009 deal with the Americans, Canadian ships can also chase their quarry into the United States.

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Critics of the Feb. 4 Harper-Obama perimeter agreement to deepen security co-operation warn it will end up ceding Canadian sovereignty to the United States.

But Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, speaking before he appeared at a parliamentary committee on Monday, said Shiprider is the kind of cross-border collaboration envisioned - one that yields results but doesn't erode Canadian authority.

Under Shiprider, specially designated and trained U.S. crews have to follow rules to motor across the border - enabling Canadians to retain control when the vessel enters Canada.

"There is never a crew without a Canadian on board. As soon as you cross the border into Canada, it's the Canadian officers who become the lead officers," Mr. Toews said.

"This is the kind of thing that Canadians should expect along the border," he said.

Mr. Toews said he'd like to see the joint patrols spread beyond waterways. "I viewed this as a pilot project in terms of water, but I think it can be extended to other aspects of the border."

The Harper government is pushing for parliamentary approval of the Shiprider arrangement through Bill S-13, legislation that began life in the Senate and will later head to the Commons.

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Mr. Toews said this team approach ensures that suspects can't evade capture merely by crossing the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway or the waters adjacent to the east and west coasts.

The goal is a more flexible method of fighting the illicit flow of drugs, money, guns and migrants.

"Law-enforcement agencies working at or near the Canada-U.S. border are increasingly required to investigate criminal activity beyond their national borders," he told the Senate's national security and defence committee.

"These investigations are hindered, however, by legal limitations [imposed]by national sovereignty and policing jurisdictions.

"Criminals know that these cross-border limitations exist, and they use this knowledge to their advantage - often committing crimes in one country and fleeing by water into the other country, knowing that they may be able to avoid prosecution if they cross the marine border."

Under the Shiprider agreement, U.S. law enforcement officials on joint operations are granted the same privileges and authorities as Canadian peace officers. This would also effectively exempt Americans from Canadian firearms law. When in the United States, participating Canadians have the powers of a U.S. customs officer.

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Canadian law would still apply in Canada, and Canadian crew members of Shiprider operations would make any arrests in this country. But, Mr. Toews said, prosecution in Canada wouldn't necessarily follow. He said it would depend on circumstances.

"It doesn't simply mean if you are apprehended in Canada, that's where the trial takes place."

In "urgent and exceptional circumstances," the deal allows the U.S. or Canadian officers aboard the vessels pursuing a suspect to continue the chase on land, but they must notify the host nation "as soon as operationally practicable."

NDP border relations critic Brian Masse said he's highly suspicious of agreements that allow Americans to chase suspects into Canada. "We have a different approach to law enforcement here. I think we're shirking our responsibility."

Canada and the United States already have an air perimeter defence agreement, the North American Aerospace Defence Command.

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