The U.S. and Canada are preparing to launch a pilot project that would authorize American and Canadian law enforcement officers to cross the international land border in pursuit of suspected criminals or terrorists.
The plan to create teams of “crossdesignated officers” comes ahead of a broader Canada-U.S. border security and trade strategy expected to be unveiled in the coming weeks by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama.
“The creation of ‘NextGen’ teams of cross-designated officers would allow us to more effectively identify, assess, and interdict persons and organizations involved in transnational crime,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech to a border conference earlier this week in Lake Placid, N.Y.
“They would also allow us to conserve precious resources, to avoid duplicative efforts, and to leverage tools and expertise.”
Holder described the threats at the Canada-U.S. border as “unprecedented,” ranging from terrorism to human smuggling, drug trafficking and the illegal trade in firearms.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, Public Safety Canada and the Canadian Justice Department have been in talks on cross-designating law enforcement officers at the border since last December, Holder said.
The two countries have now reached a “defining moment” in negotiations, he said. “Their conversations have been candid, pragmatic, and productive – and progress has been made in developing a pilot project that we hope to launch next year,” Holder said.
“This is an exciting step forward – and precisely the type of bold, collaborative approach that’s necessary to address 21st-century threats.”
On Thursday, the U.S. and Canadian governments were being tight-lipped about the specific timing and location of the pilot project for cross-designated law enforcement officers. Julie Carmichael, press secretary for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, said “these discussions are ongoing.”
The U.S. and Canada have been co-ordinating investigations and sharing intelligence about potential criminal and terror threats at the border for several years through two dozen Integrated Border Enforcement Teams.
But IBET officers are currently not legally authorized to cross the Canada-U.S. border in pursuit of a suspect as part of their investigation.
By “cross designating” officers from both sides, Canadian and U.S. law enforcement could move seamlessly across the land border.
The two countries have already experimented with cross-designated law enforcement teams that patrol Canada-U.S. boundary waters through the Shiprider program.
Shiprider essentially “removes the international maritime boundary as a barrier to law enforcement,” according to the RCMP.
Shiprider-compliant vessels, with binational crews of RCMP and Coast Guard officers, have patrolled border waters during the Vancouver Olympics, the 2006 Super Bowl in Detroit and ahead of the G20 summit in Toronto, When operating in Canadian waters, U.S. Coast Guard officers work under the command of a Canadian officer and follow Canadian laws and vice versa.
Holder stressed that Canadian and U.S. border security talks have been focused on “vigorously protecting civil liberties and privacy rights” of citizens in both countries.
Holder’s comments stand in contrast to concerns raised Wednesday in a Rideau Institute report, which warned Canada is being asked in the border talks to compromise the civil rights of millions of Canadians without any guarantee the Americans will provide more open access for trade.