Foreigners who travelled to Canada without advance checks from Europe or other non-visa nations will soon fill out an electronic form before they fly, as Ottawa moves to harmonize more security screens with those used by the United States.
The Electronic Travel Authorization system pledged by Stephen Harper's new perimeter security agreement with the United States is part of a series of new advance checks, combined with more sharing of information with the U.S., that will provide new scrutiny on those entering North America.
It won't apply to Canadians or Americans, but it will be a new step for travelers from other countries who don't need visitors' visas, such as most Europeans. They will fill out a form before they buy a plane ticket and some rapid checks will be conducted, Canadian officials said. Most will get authorization right away, the officials said, but some will be denied travel to Canada because of crimes or fraud.
The measures in the border plan do not include plans to allow the United States to track everyone entering Canada, as some previous reports have suggested.
They do increase the amount of information the U.S. gets from Canada on travellers, though not in blanket fashion. And more often, it's Canada that is committing to make its own changes to the way it screens travellers, in part to build trust with the U.S.
For starters, Canada and the U.S. will share risk and targeting information about potential security threats, and use a "common approach" to screening them -- so Canadian border officers will adopt methods similar to the U.S. for deciding who is a threat, and should be refused entry.
Ottawa will also create an "interactive" advance passenger list for air travel, so when someone wants to board an airplane to Canada, their information will be checked directly with the government before the airline allows them to board. Right now, the information is only checked by the government once they are in the air, so they can be questioned on arrival in Canada.
Ottawa also commits to speeding up alerts to U.S. authorities when someone on a U.S. security "watch lists" arrives in Canada.
In addition, both countries will be able to check with the other to see if a foreigner applying to get into their country has already been denied entry or a visa, or been deported, by the other the country. That will allow Canada to check if the U.S. has refused entry to a potential visitor because of a fraud alert or crime, for example, or for the U.S. to check whether someone seeking asylum in the U.S. has asked for refugee status in Canada.
To make it work, both countries agreed to create new computer systems to allow authorities from one country to retrieve some information from the other's database.
By 2013, the systems will be able to share "biographic" information on potential travellers and immigrants -- a name, date of birth, address, and other basic identifiers.
By 2014, the system is supposed to be able to process biometric data -- fingerprints, according to officials. The U.S. already collects fingerprints and photos from visitors from most countries, though not Canadians. And Canada plans to start requiring fingerprints and photos from visitors from some countries -- the list has not yet been determined -- in 2013.