Canada envoy to US embarrassed by delays in Parliament over preclearance bill

first_imgOTTAWA – Canada’s envoy to the United States says he is embarrassed it is taking so long for Parliament to pass a new law that would pave the way for greater preclearance at the border.U.S. Ambassador David MacNaughton said Wednesday he leaned on American lawmakers to pass a law that would allow passengers to be precleared at a greater number of airports to allow the speedy flow of people across the 49th parallel.But Canada’s version of the bill has been before the House of Commons public safety committee for several months.MacNaughton told the Senate foreign affairs and trade committee that he regularly gets asked by Americans where the accompanying Canadian legislation is, and he’s embarrassed to say it is not ready.MacNaughton said he exerted renewed pressure on MPs this week in Ottawa.“Please hurry it up, because I’m a bit embarrassed. I leaned on the Americans so heavily and now they’re coming back and saying, ‘Where’s yours?’” MacNaughton said of his conversations.Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos, who raised the issue, said the Senate would do its job more quickly.“I know the legislation is coming slowly from the House,” said Housakos.MacNaughton contrasted that with how he persuaded American legislators to move speedily.“We had a full court press on the U.S. before their recess at Christmas time, and it actually passed unanimously,” the envoy said.“So they’re waiting for us.”Housakos replied: “Well, if you can get it sent to the (Senate committee), we’ll be happy to do the same thing.”At the moment, passengers flying to American cities through eight major Canadian airports can be precleared there by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.That program is to be expanded to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport and Quebec City’s Jean Lesage International Airport and for rail service in Montreal and Vancouver. In March, the two countries agreed to expand it to other, unspecified locations.Some 400,000 travellers cross the Canada-U.S. border each day, and the preclearance plan is designed to speed that up and make it easier.The House of Commons public safety committee has for months been studying the proposed legislation that would expand preclearance operations.Under the bill, U.S. searches at preclearance facilities would be governed by Canadian law, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.But the committee has heard concerns about the impact of the new program on privacy rights.In a recent letter to the committee, privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien warned the recent pronouncements from the Trump administration could mean intrusive searches, including at preclearance facilities in Canada.The concerns arose after the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this spring that visitors to the U.S. could be forced to provide cellphone contacts and social-media passwords.“It would appear that Canadians who wish to enter the U.S. will, at preclearance locations in Canada as well as at border points in the U.S., have to face the difficult choice of either accepting a search without grounds or foregoing their wish to travel to the U.S.,” said Therrien’s letter.The government has said preclearance would strengthen security and prosperity while ensuring respect for the sovereignty of both countries.As for the upcoming renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, MacNaughton said speedy talks to modernize the agreement remain a possibility, but it is too soon to say whether that will happen.He said the true picture of “how complex” the Americans want the negotiations to be will only emerge after their current 90-day consultation period ends in August.“We’ll see how much they want to put on the table, and how long those negotiations might take.”last_img

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