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By: Carl Meyer
The RCMP is planning to ease Canadians into the idea of United States law enforcement agents pursuing suspects across the land border and onto Canadian soil through “baby steps,” say two top Mounties.
“We recognized early that this approach would raise concerns about sovereignty, of privacy, and civil liberties of Canadians,” RCMP Chief Superintendent Joe Oliver, the Mounties’ director general for border integrity, told the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence on May 14.
“We said ‘Let’s take baby steps, let’s start with two agencies to test the concept, let’s demonstrate to Canadians and Americans that such an approach might work.” Mike Cabana, RCMP deputy commissioner for federal policing, also used the metaphor for an incremental approach in comments he made just before Mr. Oliver’s.
“First of all, the discussion started with respect to marine environments. And secondly, baby steps,” he said. A marine-based version “was seen as probably the most logical place to start to explore the possibilities.”
Both officials were responding to a question by Conservative Senator Don Plett, who hails from Manitoba, as to why the Mounties hadn’t gone further with Shiprider—the colloquial term for Integrated Cross-Border Maritime Law Enforcement Operations. That program will make it permanently legal for United States agents to be certified as police in Canadian waters. It is on track to be passed into law by the majority Harper government as part of its budget bill, C-38, in the form of amendments to the RCMP Act, the Criminal Code, and the Customs Act.
The plan to roll out cross-border policing over land is to start this summer, according to the Canada-US perimeter security plan.
The RCMP has told Embassy this land-based program could give US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration agents the ability to pursue suspects on Canadian soil.
Embassy has also revealed that the government is not ruling out that aerial police surveillance over land will occur as a result of the current amendments.
As a result, opposition members and academic observers raised several questions around national jurisdiction and police accountability.
But both Public Safety Canada and the RCMP say they are sensitive to these concerns and that Canadian law will remain supreme.
The Mounties say they need the legislation. Criminals, said Mr. Oliver, are “exploiting the fact that we have to respect our boundaries and we have to stop at the border.”
“We’ve had instances where we’ve engaged in the attempts to interdict vessels in our shared waterways, and the vessel has fled into the other territory and has escaped apprehension,” he said. Mr. Oliver also revealed that while it is often seen in the context of national security, cross-border policing is typically used to pursue organized crime.
Canadian and US agents are consistently focused on the terrorist threat as the “number one priority,” he said, but “the reality is that during our day-to-day interactions, the most prevalent threat that we encounter is organized crime, criminal entrepreneurs.”
Costs revealed The RCMP has invested $3 million since 2005 on pilot projects, training, and getting four standardized Shiprider vessels, said Mr. Oliver.
The RCMP has roughly 400 boats, smaller vessels that are often deployed in contract policing or federal policing, he said. But for Shiprider, the program is now moving to a standard vessel so officers can quickly find equipment. Around 140 Canadian and US cross-border officers have been trained so far, say the officials, at the US Federal Law Enforcement Training Center site in Charleston, South Carolina.
This year there are three classes of 28 people. They said the training is continually modified based on lessons learned in the field.
Each of the training courses cost the RCMP around $75,000. The Mounties pay for the accommodation and travel of officers, but the US pays for the courses.
The two officials noted that entrenching Shiprider into law didn’t necessarily mean they would have to go to the federal government and ask for more money—the desire was more about a legal tool to use at events. “Even in the absence of dedicated resources, there will be things like the Olympics, like the G20. Well, this will provide us an effective legislative tool in our toolbox that we can deploy on an as-needed basis,” said Mr. Oliver.
Partial data-sharing in place
The Mounties do not yet have a single computer network that allows all law enforcement and government agencies to share information in real time, said Mr. Cabana.
The closest, he said, is ASIS, an organization that networks different security professionals. It has eight chapters in Canada: Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, the Prairies, the Pacific, and Southwestern Ontario.
There are other initiatives, he added, such as Canada’s Marine Security Operation Centres, which vacuums up and consolidates information from different marine environments. American agents are located at a site in the Niagara region, he said.
“There are processes and protocols that have been implemented…out of concern to ensure the privacy and security of Canadians and to make sure that the information that exists, Canadian information, is properly maintained and properly shared.” An RCMP intelligence analyst is also located at Selfridge Air National Guard Base near Detroit, said Mr. Oliver.
There are also the annual threat assessments from the Integrated Border Enforcement Team, which draw input from the Canada Border Services Agency, the RCMP, the US Coast Guard, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the US Customs and Border Protection.