The perimeter security agreement between Canada and the United States is of great importance, both for the free flow of commerce in North America, and for the safety of the citizens and residents of both countries. But a Canadian Border Services Agency internal briefing note, written in February and recently obtained by the Canadian Press, concluded that the collection of data on airline passengers entering and leaving the U.S. and Canada is not yet up to standard.
This is an essential and vital aspect of the agreement, if the perimeter is going to be made into a reality. If people and goods are to move from Canada to the United States, and vice versa, conveniently and efficiently, each of the two countries needs to be confident in the procedures of the other, not only because of extreme threats such as terrorism, but also for the integrity of their immigration systems – for example, helping keep track of whether prospective citizens are actually living long enough in a country, and of whether unsuccessful refugee claimants have actually left.
The agreement itself abounded in the numerous working groups and pilots projects that were to be initiated in all sorts of policy areas. At the time, it all seemed somewhat abstract, a cluster of many processes, of agreements to agree.
In this sense, the CBSA's somewhat discouraging finding of unsatisfying progress is a healthy sign of the seriousness with which the Canadian authorities are scrutinizing their preparedness for a genuinely secure perimeter. Most specifically, there is not an adequate system for matching up the names and other particulars of people entering a country and those leaving one.
Back in 2006, a study found that 37 per cent of airline-provided data was inaccurate. No doubt, a requirement of consistent correctness will put a certain burden on airlines, as well as on ground-transportation companies – for example, to spell personal names correctly and consistently – but in the end it is in the interest of all travellers and of all firms that are in the travel business.
The success of the perimeter pilot project that is now in progress at four border points will be vital for the prosperity and security of the United States and Canada alike.