Lawyer says new data-sharing with U.S. could see more Canadians detained at land crossings

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Canadians driving across the U.S. border should be worried about how much of their private information will be shared, an immigration lawyer says.

Blaine-based Len Saunders thinks a new deal giving U.S. customs agents more access to databases in Canada is a bad precedent to set.

“Are the Americans eventually going to have access to financial databases in Canada? It’s a slippery slope. At some point, you might as well call Canada the 51st state if the Canadian government is going to allow Americans to have such access. Where does it end?”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) will be sharing biographic data, travel documents and other personal data collected at land border points of entry.

Saunders says the changes, which took effect July 11, could make it harder for you to visit the U.S. if you’ve ever been to Cuba.

“At some point, maybe the Americans are going to have access to that and with their harsh stance against Cuba, they could use that as detrimental information against Canadians when they come to the U.S. Even buying gas, if they’ve been recently to Cuba, the Americans will find out about that. There’s a whole bunch of issues here which I don’t think the Canadian government has fully thought through.”

The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness’ office pointed out to NEWS 1130 in a statement that border guards have always been able to review entry stamps and visas from previous travel in traveller’s passports.

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Saunders says people with minor immigration issues could be detained, and snowbirds, Canadians who spend the winter months south of the border, should be particularly concerned.

“Perhaps will get caught up in losing their Canadian medical coverage. What’s going to happen is any snowbird who overstays their six month welcome could potentially run into major problems trying to re-enter the U.S. because of information that’s been provided to the Americans by the Canadian government.”

Information sharing under the Beyond the Border Action Plan are billed as Phase 3 of stronger commitments initiated in 2012 to make land crossings more secure and efficient.

“Canada and the U.S. are strengthening the management of our shared border by delivering on our commitment to fully implement the Entry/Exit initiative at the land border,” said the Honorable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness in a press release. “The Government of Canada is determined to keep our border secure while protecting individual rights and freedoms, and has built privacy protections into the core of the Entry/Exit initiative.”

In a statement to NEWS 1130, Goodale’s office clarified the collection and sharing process.

“Just like “entry” records, the use of “exit” records is restricted to specific purposes by law. Only those who need the information to do their job have access, which is rigorously monitored and audited. Data is not shared with provinces or territories. The Privacy Commissioner was engaged early on in the process and his advice prompted several changes to strengthen privacy protection,” the statement said.

“The data collected is limited to the basic, non-intrusive facts that appear on page two of everyone’s passport (plus the location and date of departure, and, if applicable, the flight number).”

The statement also said only information collected at land ports of entry along the Canada-U.S. border will be shared, not information about previous travel to any other location.

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