Bill C-23 Would Let U.S. Detain Canadians On Their Own Soil

  • Ben Hayward
  • Mar 2, 2017 11:06AM

If you were looking for a pulse check on the future of North American policy, a Canadian border security bill would seem like an unlikely place to look. Nevertheless, the controversy surrounding the passage of bill C-23 in Canada’s parliament this month can be taken as a litmus test for relations between the NAFTA countries.

C-23 was a bill initially proposed last year, based on a reciprocal customs agreement signed in 2015 by then-President Obama and then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The goal was to increase the capacity for preclearance in travel between the two nations, and the United States ratified its version of the bill in December 2016.

However, the Canadian half of the deal has been stalled in parliament since June of last year and shows no sign of gaining steam.

 Preclearance refers to the process by which Canadians can be screened by American customs in advance on Canadian soil, and vice versa. For the millions of travelers between the two nations every year, this represents a significant speeding of transit after post-9/11 security measures were put in place in airports around the world. It allows travelers to avoid long customs lines upon landing.

There are concerns now that the bill’s provisions to allow American customs officers to search and detain passengers, in addition to a clause permitting them to carry firearms, are a violation of Canadians’ charter rights. While the bill does not provide customs officers with peace officer status, that is, the ability to make arrests, it does allow them to detain passengers until Canadian law enforcement can arrive.

This contravenes a previous stipulation that Canadians had the right to remove themselves from an American customs screening consequence free. They could simply state that they had chosen not to fly and that was the end of it. Under C-23, that rule has changed.