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A woman takes a stroll as she waits at the Peace Arch U.S. border crossing in White Rock, B.C.

JOHN LEHMANN/GLOBE AND MAIL

Amid the manifold distractions of an American presidential election year, much of the perimeter-security agreement between the United States and Canada, announced by Stephen Harper and Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday, may be difficult to implement promptly. But one important element of the agreement that is directly connected to security – the sharing of data on who has entered or exited one of the two countries – ought to be put into effect, sooner rather than later.

The Americans have a particularly well-founded eagerness to prevent the entry of terrorists into their country – and of more ordinary criminals, too. Consequently, the U.S. government was resolved to include the entry-exit system in the border agreement. In fact, terrorists have never favoured the Canadian border as an entry point into the U.S. But the data sharing will be valuable to Canada, too, not only for its own security, but also on other matters.

At present, the federal government knows little about departures from Canada that affect the functioning of the immigration system. For one thing, there is no reliable way of knowing whether unsuccessful refugee claimants have done the right thing and left the country, or whether they have continued to live in Canada, hoping to avoid deportation – an outcome for which the odds are good.

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As for permanent residents of Canada who wish to become citizens, the government has no way of verifying whether they have stayed in the country for the required amount of time. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a significant number of citizenship applicants have had a tenuous presence in Canada – that they have not truly settled here and put down roots. The new system will be a great help to Canada in keeping track of all this.

For most travellers, it will be only a slight addition to border bureaucracy – counterbalanced by fewer inconveniences. Notably, duplicated baggage screenings on connecting flights will be eliminated.

The entry-exit tracking system does raise privacy questions, and the data gathered should be relevant to the policy's objectives.

Some Canadian nationalists will interpret the border agreement as yet another step toward reversing the result of the War of 1812. In fact, it will be a reaffirmation of almost two centuries of peace between two independent countries.

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