Better Border Security
Dec 15, 2008

Our common border with the United States stretches across 8,893 kilometers (5,526 miles) of land and three oceans. According to Gov­ernment of Canada statistics, the annual two-way trade in goods and services between Canada and the U.S. in 2007 was worth over C$576 billion. Clearly, border security is a vital component of our ­economic security.

At the turn of the last century, Ahmed Ressam, the potential millennium bomber nurtured in Montreal, was serendipitously arrested in Washington State, after leaving by ferry from Vancouver, by a professionally inquisitive US Customs and Border agent. On 4 December of this year, his sentence of 22 years was reconfirmed and, it is believed, will again be appealed by the state as too lenient.

This major millennium threat to Los Angeles was luckily averted, but Ressam’s own links to the subsequent tragic events of 9/11, and the results of the inadequacies identified by the U.S. Commission of Inquiry into ­intelligence and security failings led to the 17 Dec 2004 passage by the US Congress of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. This, in turn, set in motion a series of ongoing discussions and actions about the measures the U.S. should take along its border with Canada. This may still be impacting the economic, political and security relationship with our most powerful trading partner during this time of immediate economic challenge.

The Mood
Since 2005, there has been a rush by some to build a material wall across our common border. For example, in 2006, Congresswoman Candice Miller of Michigan, not ­unjustifiably, demanded such a structure since “every day, smugglers are bringing drugs, people and ­contraband across our northern border, which is met with little or no resistance… Terror cells have been rounded up in Toronto [referring to the 18], which is literally a three-hour drive from my District.” In Canada there were, and continue to be, a number of editorials espousing a naïve position of laissez-faire by some commentators who feel that this will pass, and that all evil comes from the United States. The truth resides, unsurprisingly, between these two poles.

The original imposition of some of the draconian measures of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) policy caught the attention of the Canadian government, and Deputy Prime Minister John Manley was dispatched (prior to 2005) to work on commonly agreed measures and timings for their implementation. Within the Security and Prosperity Partnership that followed this and other talks (through the maturing of the new Public Safety Department in Canada and the subsequent creation of the Canadian Border Services Agency, to the very pertinent studies ­conducted by both the Parliamentary and Senate Security committees), Canadian efforts to arrive at smarter border security have slowly evolved and continue to do so. (See article by Ron Moran in this issue).

The Mutual Prosperity Case
In March 2006, at an address to the 101st meeting of the American Society of International Law, Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S., the Honorable Michael Wilson, underlined the importance of our mutual trade better than most when he stated:

“Let me give you some numbers. From 1993 to 2005, trade among the NAFTA partners grew an astonishing 173%, from $297 billion to $810 billion. Services trade has increased, and so has investment.

“By 2005, foreign direct investment by NAFTA partners in the NAFTA region had reached close to $539 billion, almost four times the $136 billion figure registered in 1993. The Canada-U.S. trade relationship is characterized by a remarkable level of both volume and integration.

“Each year, there are over 70 million cross-border visits.

“Every day, $1.6 billion in commercial transactions cross the joint border. That is over $1 million every minute.

“Over 70% of Canada-U.S. trade is transported via truck, one of which crosses the northern border every 1.5 seconds.

“We sell goods and services to each other, but more and more we make things together. More than one-third of our trade is comprised of intra-company shipments.

“In addition, auto parts, plastics, equipment, and machinery figure among the top ten bilateral exports for both Canada and the United States. This trade in intermediate products feeds into the North American manufacturing process and supply chains. Clearly, our economies enjoy a very high degree of integration.

“The inevitable conclusion of all this,” he said, “is that the management of our joint border is an extremely important ­element of the Canada-U.S. trade and investment relationship. This must be maintained carefully. It is absolutely essential that the proper balance be achieved between economic and security objectives, between legitimate and illegitimate travel, between our joint border as a gateway and a checkpoint.” Ambassador Wilson also pointed out, however, some of the actions that must be undertaken and still need to be followed closely today.

First, the cost of delays. Notwith­standing excellent programs such as FAST, NEXUS and CPAT, measures must continue to minimize the costs of delays for ‘just in time’ delivery to integrated networks such as the auto industry:

“Auto industry analysts note that the industry’s standard practice is to manage a border crossing with a 20-30 minute window,” said Wilson. “One can get a ­fascinating insight into the effect on inventory and carrying costs from delayed cross-border shipments. Every additional hour of inventory to cover the risk of shipment disruptions of Canadian parts to U.S. plants costs $432,000, and for U.S. parts flowing into Canada the impact of delays equates to $800,000 per hour of inventory charges. This could easily add up to millions in additional annual costs that industry should not have to bear, given the hyper-competitiveness within the auto sector.”

Add to this, the current economic fragility of these very industries and the case becomes ever more compelling!

Verification of a marine container by a CBSA officer at dockside.

Delays are not the only cost; improvements must be made in other areas of border procedure. To set the scene again from Ambassador Wilson’s perspective:

“If our industries have made the investments to reduce the need for intrusive inspections and delays at the border, then we must take a hard look at the myriad of government border inspection fees for which they remain liable, let alone new fees under consideration. To name a few:

  • merchandise processing fees on the cargo value;
  • COBRA fees on the truck, rail carrier, marine vessels;
  • harbor maintenance fees (HMF) on marine cargo; and
  • the proposed APHIS (Animal Plant Health Inspection Service) fee that would be collected on every carrier crossing the border, whether it be a truck carrying auto parts or a railcar loaded with bauxite.

“There are many other fees,” explained Wilson, “but these four alone exceed the tariff reduction benefits of the NAFTA. Individually, they do not present an onerous burden but collectively, and in aggregate, the numbers are huge. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), COBRA fee collections have increased by over $50 million from 2003-2006. HMF fees have increased by nearly $550 million in that same time period. There is now a surplus in that fund to the tune of $3.3 billion! Yes, billion. The proposed APHIS fee to be collected along our border is anticipated to cost the air industry in the first year alone $55 million, $8 million to the rail industry and $17 million to U.S. and Cana­dian trucking firms. This is an $80 million tax on border users in the first year alone!”

Add to this the estimated loss of $800 million in the tourism industry alone along our mutual border, according to Canadian/American Border Trade Alliance. American CEO, Jim Phillips, repeated clearly (and often) in both 2006 and 2007 at the Pacific Northwest Economic Summits that “WHTI is going to be disastrous if done wrong, but if it is done right it could be beneficial to trade.” He stressed that it must address security “in a manner which actually promotes the seamless movement of goods across North America.”

The Public Safety Case
Canada and the U.S. share a common economic challenge that is amplified greatly by the current recession, but we must not forget that we also have a major crime problem along our mutual border – and that it travels both ways. Consequently, to stop such nefarious profit on either side, better and smoother coordination of intelligence-led international cooperation of border police authorities and facilities is vital.

It was reported that “almost 5.5 million pills of ecstasy were seized in the states ­bordering Canada in 2006 (the most recent year for which full statistics are available). This is an almost tenfold increase since 2003. “They drive them in; they bring them in by boat and by plane; they bring them across by people just ­carrying them across their back much like the southwest border,” says Ed Duffy, ­assistant special agent in charge for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s northern region.

The coordination of intelligence-led and effective collective policing of such crimes is improving, as exemplified by the following three recent examples. However, as the size and frequency of these seizures attest, Canada is in urgent need of a border policy and better material support.

On 18 Dec 2008, the Greater Toronto Area Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU), with members from several law enforcement agencies (RCMP, Toronto Police Service, Peel Regional Police Service, Ontario Provincial Police, York Regional Police Service, Durham Regional Police Service and Canada Border Services Agency), arrested four Ontario individuals on Extradition Act warrants as a result of a lengthy international drug exportation investigation that lead to drug related charges by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in Los Angeles, California. This created another dent in the criminal network that began with a series of over 20 other arrests of major Asian gangsters since early 2007.

On 23 Dec 2008, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) announced that its officers at the Pacific Highway Com­mercial border crossing seized 121 kilos of cocaine with an estimated street value of $16,248,750, as well as US$22,000 cash. These seizures continue. Cooperative and more effective systems are re­quired to curtail trafficking. That same day, in the Port of Saint John, New Brunswick, CBSA officers seized about 276 kilograms of cocaine (an estimated street value of CAN$40 million). This is the largest drug seizure by the CBSA in that province. Officers had discovered the drugs on 11 Dec 2008 while searching a marine container that originated in Guyana. The shipment was targeted for examination as a result of intelligence gathering and information sharing among law enforcement agencies. With the assistance of x-ray technology and a detector dog, CBSA officers found 1,653 packages of ­suspected cocaine in 551 cardboard boxes.

Many superb examples of Canada/U.S. cross-border cooperation ­initiatives could be sighted as models for the way ahead, but one in particular bears mention.

In July 2008, the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) held its 18th Annual Summit in Vancouver, British Columbia. Government and private sector leaders from all levels called for urgent action to improve Canada-U.S. border security before the region hosts the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. PNWER endorsed ­specific recommendations by the U.S. and Canadian Chambers of Commerce on reducing border costs while strengthening security, as put forward in their February 2008 report Finding the Balance: Reducing Border Costs While Strengthening Security. It proposed an increased outreach and expansion of frequent border crossing programs, such as the BC enhanced drivers’ license program, to improve security by focusing resources on higher-risk traffic.

In addition, the conference recognized that more major urban centers are experiencing greater impacts to critical infrastructures through weather and rapid aging of existing systems. These also cause delay and expense in border areas. Major investment in repair and adaptation to climate and operational change are required.

Another key area where progress should be made to face the immediate ­economic challenges ahead, was heralded in the 2006 closing statement in Cancun Mexico by the leaders of the three Security and Prosperity Partnership countries:

“Our vision is to have a border strategy that results in the fast, efficient and secure movement of low-risk trade and travelers to and within North America, while protecting us from threats including terrorism. In implementing this strategy, we encourage innovative risk-based approaches to improving security and facilitating trade and travel. These include close coordination on infrastructure investments and vulnerability assessments, screening and processing of travelers, baggage and cargo, a single integrated North American trusted traveler program, and swift law enforcement responses to threats posed by criminals or terrorists, including advancing a trilateral network for the protection of judges and officers.”

This call, two years ago, is far more urgent now, as these nations prepare to spend billions to save just the auto industry that is so much a part of our common trade.

I will also quote two interesting recommendations from the excellent Senate Committee Report on Borders of March 2007 in relation to border security:

“Border crossings are ideal locations to put a damper on criminal activities. For a government clearly advocating stronger measures to assure law and order in Canadian society, border crossings should be ideal places to make ­relatively small investments and receive a significant return.

“Negotiate property swaps with the U.S. government so that Canadian and U.S. border officers can pre-clear persons and vehicles entering their country before they cross a bridge or enter a tunnel (to prevent would-be terrorists from damaging crossing structures vital to each country’s security and economic well-being).”

Funding initiatives that make our borders more efficient and secure will indeed prove a worthwhile and effective stimulus to our economy and quickly render our products more competitive internationally. This is a very practical and remunerative one of many urgent initiatives that the federal and other governments must consider. There are others, of course, but confidence grows as one is selected, built and achieved. Let’s get things done!

Clive Addy, the Executive Editor of FrontLine Security magazine, is the founding Chair of the National Security Group.
© FrontLine Security 2008