Who is Making our Border Decisions?
Niagara Falls is one of the wonders of the world, and a point of Canadian national pride. The Falls lie on the border with the United States, however the more impressive Horseshoe Falls are within Canada’s jurisdiction. While Canadians take pride in ownership of the better share of the famous waterfall, recent incidents at the nearby border crossing with the U.S. call into question how much control Canada really holds over its famous landmark, and who may enter the country to see it.
The controversy began when two peace activists, one the founder of an NGO and the other a retired US army colonel, attempted to enter Canada on October 3rd. The pair was refused entry to Canada on the basis of criminal inadmissibility. Canada does have clear rules calling for a clean criminal record; but what is at issue here is how, and more importantly where, the decision on their admissibility was made.
The criminal records in question resulted from peaceful protests opposing the Iraq war. Arrests at such protests landed the pair in a national FBI database called the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). This same database is used by Canada to screen visitors coming to Canada. That peaceful protests land someone in an FBI national database is questionable, but it is a matter of U.S. domestic policy. That the FBI is effectively selecting who has the right to enter Canada is a matter of Canadian sovereignty.
While certainly Canada’s Border Services Agency has to rely on other governments for information about criminal records, there is a difference between using information and accepting information wholesale. For those with criminal records there is a well-established mechanism in Temporary Resident Permits (TRP), which is commonly used for individuals with minor offences who pose no danger to the well-being or safety of Canadians. That is certainly the case here.
It is crucial to Canadian sovereignty that decisions on who is allowed to enter the country are made by Canadian officials. By accepting at face value the NCIC database as a test on admissibility to Canada is de facto to transfer a chunk of Canadian border sovereignty to the United States. In response to this controversy some have made the argument that since the protestors were opposing the Iraq war, which Canada deemed not to join, their actions are perhaps not out of line with Canadian values. An interesting argument to make, but one that misses the fundamental issue is at stake here. Canadian border decisions should be made by Canadian officials and not foreign governments. Period.