Immigration, Civil Liberties, and National/homeland Security

Article excerpt


In the wake of 9/11, the liberty-security conundrum in Canada and the United States, as in most liberal democratic states, has once again come to the forefront of political life. With the quick passage of antiterrorist legislation,1 both countries have allowed for increased governmental surveillance and detention powers to thwart potential terrorists within their respective states. By having provisions such as "preventive arrest" and "sneak and peek," executive discretion has essentially taken precedence over judicial review. Reminiscent of the early Cold War years when the communist threat was perceived as emanating not only from the Soviet Union but also from subversives within, both countries have instituted measures that ultimately violate individual freedoms, from the right to privacy to the right to due process, in the name of national security. Redoubling the impact of policing on citizens, antiterrorism in the wake of 9/11, just like anticommunism in the immediate post-World War II years, has become a domestic affair.

This does not mean to say that it is also not a bilateral affair. Canada quickly passed its antiterrorist legislation not only to arrest and prosecute terrorists at home, but also to allay American fears about their northern border being an unguarded, porous barrier to terrorists. With nearly 86 percent of Canadian exports going to the United States in 2003, amounting to almost 27 percent of Canada's gross domestic product (GDP), any semblance of "fortress America" would come at a great economic cost to Canada. The smart border declaration and action plan, signed in Ottawa on 12 December 2001, was negotiated to reconcile the Canadian priority for open borders with the American priority for security. The "secure flow of goods and people," and at the same time a "secure infrastructure" and better "coordination and information sharing," have become the principles governing border cooperation in the post-g/11 world. For some groups in Canada, like the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), these measures, amounting to a sort of "comprehensive incrementalism" in border management simply do not go far enough to ensure uninterrupted access to American markets. Indeed, the CCCE talks about reinventing the border between the two countries and strengthening information-sharing. This will allow for successful risk management on both sides and the movement towards a common screening of travelers directed to entry points to North America as opposed to the Canadian-American border.2 Given the spectre of Ahmed Ressam, an asylee from Algeria living in Montreal who was captured by US officials with a trunk-load of explosive material as he crossed from British Columbia to Washington in December 1999, allegedly to blow up the Los Angeles airport, the notion of Canada being soft on terrorists needs to be eradicated if the border is to remain open.

For other groups in Canada, like the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Labour Congress, border cooperation in the post-g/11 world has gone too far and information-sharing has proved dangerous for Canadian citizens. They argue that the detainment, deportation, and torture of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen of Syrian descent, on a stopover in New York as he was returning to Canada in September 2002, must be considered in the context of the kinds of integrated border measures, information-sharing, and institutional arrangements that (may) have compelled Canadian officials to pass on to American authorities their information (and, as it turned out, false information) about Arar's connection to terrorism.3 These groups point out that increased border cooperation generates greater pressure to harmonize policies between the two countries, thus undermining Canada's ability to decide issues on its own. Reg Whitaker calls these two positionsthe first, a demand for greater integration with the United States, leading to support for American foreign policies; and the second, a demand for lesser integration, leading to the questioning of further security cooperation"made in Canada" debates about the bilateral relationship. …


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