Stricter U.S. rules prompt more scrutiny at border

Canadians are being pulled aside for close inspection by border agents more often upon returning home — ironically because of stricter U.S. security demands.

OTTAWA — Canadians are being pulled aside for close inspection by border agents more often upon returning home — ironically because of stricter U.S. security demands.

Tighter document requirements ushered in by the United States following 9-11 have led to the unexpected effect of more scrutiny — and additional searches — of people at Canadian land-border crossings, says a newly released evaluation report.

The revelation comes as the Conservative government negotiates a controversial perimeter security deal with the United States, intended to reduce delays and congestion at the 49th parallel.

Washington imposed tougher entrance requirements under a program known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

More than 190,000 people and almost $2 billion in goods cross the Canada-U.S. border daily.

Millions of Canadians have dutifully acquired passports and other secure identification documents in recent years to ensure they can still travel to the United States.

About 60 per cent of Canadians had a passport in 2009—2010, up from 36 per cent four years earlier, before the U.S. initiative began, says the evaluation by the Canada Border Services Agency.

In addition, another 125,000 people in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia had acquired enhanced driver’s licences with secure features that allow entry to the U.S. by land or sea.

The fact more travellers are carrying detailed documents makes it easier for Canadian border agents — not just U.S. officials — to check them against police and intelligence databases.

As a result, says the evaluation, the number of people referred by Canadian officials for closer inspection at the border increased after the U.S. rules were implemented.

“According to one CBSA regional interview, the increased presentation of passports has resulted in more secondary referrals as the documents are queried against enforcement databases,” says the evaluation report.

“This observation is supported by the CBSA’s quarterly operational statistics, which show an increase of 12 per cent in the rate of secondary examinations in the highway transportation mode for the first three months after final implementation.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection also reports that the new document requirements have prompted more secondary inspections, the evaluation adds.

No one from the border services agency, which falls under Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, was available Wednesday for an interview about the findings.

Concern about delays and red tape at the border have fuelled discussions on the planned continental security arrangement between Canada and the U.S.

The proposed perimeter pact is designed to expand co-operation on security while allowing for the smoother flow of goods and people across the clogged border.

Beefing up security around the perimeter of North America won’t make it easier to travel within the continent, said Emily Gilbert, director of the Canadian studies program at the University of Toronto.

“Having this external, hardened border is not actually going to take that much pressure off the internal one,” she said Wednesday.