NDP calls for public consultations on plan that could station Canadian border guards on U.S. soil

The federal government should do more to consult Canadians on its plan to set up preclearance posts at the border that could see Canadian border guards posted on U.S. soil, says NDP public safety critic Peter Julian.

Border coalition welcomes proposal to set up new preclearance posts

An officer at a border crossing reaches out to get someone's documents from a car window.
Travellers return through a CBSA entry at the Canada-U.S.A international border crossing in Surrey, British Columbia on Wednesday, December 1, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The federal government should do more to consult Canadians on its plan to set up preclearance posts at the border that could see Canadian border guards posted on U.S. soil, says NDP public safety critic Peter Julian.

Julian told CBC News that if the government doesn't improve the consultation process and answer questions raised by groups like the guard's union and the Canadian Bar Association, he could propose a parliamentary committee study of the plan.

"If the consultation isn't done right and those answers aren't forthcoming, then I certainly don't have any hesitation to bringing it for more in-depth study at committee," he said. "But the government still has a chance to do the right thing and we'll give them an opportunity to do that over the course of the next few days."

CBC News reported last week that Ottawa is planning to set up preclearance posts on U.S. soil and allow American officers to work from border posts in Canada — something the Customs and Immigration Union, which represents border officers, describes as "game-changing."

The initiative could begin as early as June with a two-year pilot project at the small Covey Hill/Cannon Corners border crossing between Quebec and New York State. Canada Border Services officers would move in with their U.S. counterparts at the American border post, about 200 meters from the Canadian post.

Under the proposal, the CBSA would provide most of the usual services at the preclearance post in the U.S. but would have to refer any refugee claimants to a different border post located on Canadian soil.

Regulations being proposed by the federal government would, if approved, allow the program to expand to other border crossings across the country.

The Customs and Immigration Union and the Canadian Bar Association both say they have questions about how the program would work.

The public consultation period on the proposed regulations was scheduled to close on Jan. 15 but has been extended to Jan. 30. American officials have yet to respond to requests from CBC News for an interview.

A man speaks in front of a row of Canadian flags.
NDP critic Peter Julian says the federal government's consultation period was inadequate. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Julian said setting up preclearance posts could help create jobs and facilitate the flow of trade across the border. He also said the consultation period, which overlapped with the Christmas holidays, was "inadequate."

"You don't consult over the Christmas period and the New Year," he said. "It's a pretence of consultation when you put something out just before Christmas Eve and then expect to get feedback just after New Year's Eve. For something like this, that requires that methodical consultation process and an ability to answer very fundamental questions that seem to be going without response right now."

Julian said he's also concerned by the fact that the government is describing the move as cost-cutting, when the CBSA is already short an estimated 800 border guards.

"If the government is assuming that they can somehow benefit cost-wise from this, we're already hundreds of border officers short and with a deteriorating infrastructure," he said. "I think that's just wrongheaded given the concerns around the flow of illegal firearms and illegal drugs across the border."

'Surprised but delighted'

Laura Dawson, executive director of the Future Borders Coalition, said her group was also surprised by the government's notice of the proposed regulations but welcomed it.

"I think we were all a little bit surprised but delighted," she said.

Dawson said the small scale of the pilot project is understandable.

"There are a lot of things that have to be worked out with really a brand new set of operational procedures," she said.

Dawson said her group would like to see preclearance applied to cargo and expanded to other land border crossings and other modes of travel, such as rail and marine.

"The next thing we would like to see, in addition to the different modes, is cargo preclearance. That really is something that our members and cross-border businesses have been begging for for years, moving that inspection process away from the border," she said.

"Someday we would like to see the inspections take place on the factory floor and you seal the container and you send it across the border."


Elizabeth Thompson

Senior reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.