Conservatives months late with jihadi tracking tool, no word on completion date

The Conservative government is three months late on delivering a tracking system it continues to tout as a means of stopping homegrown terrorists from joining overseas conflicts.

OTTAWA — The Conservative government is three months late on delivering a tracking system it continues to tout as a means of stopping homegrown terrorists from joining overseas conflicts.

Under the Canada-U.S. perimeter security pact, the federal government committed to begin collecting records as of last June 30 on people leaving Canada on international flights.

However, the Tories missed that deadline because legislative and regulatory changes are needed before the plan can take effect.

Canada Border Services Agency spokeswoman Esme Bailey would not reveal a new deadline for the project, saying only that information on proposed changes would be provided in due course.

In an interview broadcast last weekend, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said it was important to know when people leave the country and where they are going.

He said the government is working on tools, but made no reference to the missed deadline.

A recent federal report said the government knew of more than 130 individuals with Canadian connections who were abroad and suspected of supporting terror-related activities.

One Ontario man who died in combat in Syria last year had taken part in an elaborate video, widely circulated on the Internet following his death, with the aim of inspiring like-minded young people to wage jihad.

A border services briefing note says information from the new border tracking system could be provided to the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. “This is of particular interest given the recent media attention on Canadians travelling abroad to engage in terrorist activities.”

For now, the system involves exchanging entry information collected from people at the Canada-U.S. land border — so that data on entry to one country serves as a record of exit from the other.

The first two phases of the program have been limited to foreign nationals and permanent residents of Canada and the United States, but not citizens of either country.

The program was to be expanded by June 30, 2014, to include information sharing on all travellers crossing the land border.

In addition, Canada hoped to begin collecting information on people exiting by air — something the United States already does — by requiring airlines to submit passenger manifest data for outbound international flights.

Speaking to a business council Tuesday in Ottawa, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the data collection “enhances the integrity of our immigration system and will do so even more when we expand the program to cover all travellers.”

Though he would not address specifics, Johnson said in tackling the issue of militants joining foreign battles “there is some progress to be made in that regard across the spectrum in terms of information sharing.”

In an emailed statement, Bailey said both Canada and the U.S. remain dedicated to full implementation of the plan to gather exit data.

Civil libertarians and privacy advocates have expressed concerns about increased sharing of personal information about Canadians with U.S. security agencies.

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