Another bit of sovereignty surrendered at the US Border

As I mentioned previously, I’m not very comfortable with the presence of US Customs and Border Protection agents in Canadian airports. I recently found out that the situation just got much worse. In a piece for the CBC, H.M. Jocelyn, a Rutgers PhD candidate, reports on recent amendments to the Canada-United States Preclearance Agreement, the set of laws that govern the presence of USCBP at Canada-US border crossings. According to Jocelyn, the amendments effectively allow US border guards operating on Canadian soil to countermand Canadian authorities. For example:

This new authority also allows U.S. border guards to deny Canadians their right of withdrawal. Before the amendment to the law was enacted, if a person felt at all uncomfortable in the course of preclearance questioning she could simply leave, retracting her intention to cross the border with no penalty.

Now, as a result of amendments, the guard is entitled to detain her if he finds “reasonable grounds” to do so. And the request to leave in itself could be construed as reasonable grounds.

Given that USCBP is not really goverened by the US Constitution at the border, Canadians had to hope that our own constitutional protections would be there for us at border crossings. Now, it seems, we can’t count on that anymore.

Should USCBP be operating in Canadian airports?

I’ve long been uncomfortable with the fact that US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) operates in major Canadian airports like Toronto Pearson. I don’t recall when it occurred to me that the idea of USCBP operating within Canada was odd, but I haven’t been able to shake the idea. Certainly, USCBP didn’t endear themselves to me when they held me in secondary inspection for hours at the Queenston-Lewiston border crossing, when I was on my way to visit my cousin in NY and spend a little of my hard earned money in the US. And my wariness of the organization only grew when I learned that the nearly unfettered power they held at borders and ports of entry extended well into the US, and when they proposed to collect social media account info on people entering the US.

Even with my distrust of USCBP, I still felt more or less safe going through pre-clearence at Pearson. I was still on Canadian soil, still protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The worst USCBP could do was turn me away. But my fear of USCBP is not why I’m questioning their presence in Canadian airports today. My fresh qualms about their presence on Canadian soil is due to the migrant detention centers that the USCBP is running on their southern border. Call these detention centers what you want, every indication is that they are inhumane and criminal, and I can’t quite see how the Canadian government can allow USCBP to operate on Canadian soil and not be complicit in its crimes.

Granted, allowing USCBP to perform pre-clearence in airports is a great convenience for Canadians, and may even protect us from some of the abuses of they are free to engage in on their side of the border. And yes, it is a government’s job to protect the rights of its citizens. But surely if we want to be viewed as a country that respects international law and human rights, we can’t allow an organization that is currently breaking international law violating the human rights of a great many asylum seekers to operate within out borders.