Rabat - As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares to meet US President Donald Trump for the first time, a little-talked-about Bill C-23 is wending its way through Parliament in Ottawa, according to the CBC, with nary a whisper heard until now.
Rabat – As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares to meet US President Donald Trump for the first time, a little-talked-about Bill C-23 is wending its way through Parliament in Ottawa, according to the CBC, with nary a whisper heard until now.
If Bill C-23 isn’t controversial yet, it should be. It began its life cycle during the era of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former President Barack Obama, as part of an initiative to open border cooperation between the two countries.
The new bill will expand the rights and powers of US border control agents operating on Canadian soil, affording them the ability to search and even detain Canadian citizens and permanent residents on Canadian soil. It could potentially see Canadians being prevented from re-entry to their own country. A reciprocal agreement was passed in the United States in December, easily winning over both the Republican-controlled Senate and Congress.
In eight existing airports spread across Canada, areas designated for pre-clearance allow Canadian citizens going to the United States to clear US customs while still on Canadian soil. These pre-clearance zones are where Bill C-23 will see itself acted out and that has Calgary immigration lawyer, Michael Greene concerned.
Why the Concern?
“A Canadian going to the U.S. through a pre-clearance area (on Canadian soil) can say: ‘I don’t like the way [an interview] is going and I’ve chosen not to visit your country.’ And they can just turn around and walk out,” Greene explains.
Under Bill C-23, Greene continues, that same Canadian citizen or permanent resident would not be allowed to leave the interview. Instead they could be subjected to interrogation about their reasons for wanting to cancel their trip. “And that’s the part we think could be really offensive and goes too far,” he says.
According to the CBC report, the new bill does come with a provision against “unreasonable delay” but this provides immigration attorney Greene little comfort.
“What’s reasonable for them might be a very long interrogation. Whereas for the individual it may be ‘I’ll tell you why I don’t want to answer anymore questions and then I’m leaving.’ Well the problem is that if that person then tries to get up and leave, they can be charged with failing to cooperate, which, under this bill, is an offence they can be arrested for, and then charged and given a federal record.”
Not So Fast
As far as physical searches are concerned, right now when they are deemed necessary, they cannot be conducted without a Canadian officer being present. Here as well, Bill C-23 puts a new spin on things. If a Canadian officer is not available or disagrees the search is necessary, the US officer will be permitted to completed the search him/herself. Immigration attorneys such as Michael Greene worry that on an occasion where the Canadian officer refuses to take part in the search, the US officer will simply say “Fine, we’re going to do it anyway.”
Toronto immigration lawyer, Howard Greenburg, is also urging caution regarding the upcoming proposed bill. His concern is rooted in the vagueness of the bill’s wording and how border agents on both sides will interpret it in different situations. He explains his position saying, “At some point it may change from a situation where you’re simply responding to a question, to a situation. Where you’re failing to respond to a direction of an officer. So the ambiguity is somewhat dangerous for the traveller.”
Permanent Residents Read Here
Currently permanent residents of Canada and Canadian citizens enjoy an equal right to absolute entry back into Canada. Under Bill C-23, Canadian border agents would have the right to prevent a permanent resident or citizen from boarding a flight. The person would then be instructed to find a land route for his/her journey, where absolute re-entry would remain guaranteed.
This still leaves a problem for Greene, concerning anyone who might travel to Europe or other major cities. In Greene’s opinion, the Bill C-23 effect will ripple out far beyond the continental borders of Canada or the United States. This has the potential to be catastrophic for some travellers who find themselves turned away from flights home to Canada. “… if they get denied at, let’s say, De Gaulle airport in Paris, they’re not going to be able to get to a land crossing to make the entry,” says Greene.
Right now, Bill C-23 isn’t attracting much public attention or discussion. With Trump’s stand on immigration, however, and more Canadians learning the bill’s details, that could change, making the passage of the bill less certain than it perhaps was just a matter of weeks ago.