More than 40 academics, policy makers and U.S. and Canadian government officials gathered in Seattle on Monday, June 20, to discuss how border security is envisioned and managed. Convened by the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University and the Seattle Canadian Consulate General of Canada, the seminar featured presentations by experts on border issues and lively discussion among academics, law enforcement officials, policy leaders and businesspersons.
The focus of the seminar was the idea of "Perimeter Security," which is being explored by two high-level government teams recently established by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama to invigorate trade between the two nations and to enhance continental security by pursuing smarter, more cooperative border policies.
Among the comments:
- Geoffrey Hale of the University of Lethbridge suggested the two governments give more thought to building joint border facilities, noting that taxpayers in both countries could achieve substantial savings and security could be enhanced by locating the border functions of both nations in a single building, especially at rural border crossings.
- Hugh Conroy of the International Mobility and Trade Corridor Project in Bellingham suggested that both countries should take a hard look at the optimum utilization of their physical real estate at border crossings, noting that at some locations such as Sumas there are large parking lots for trucks that are no longer used thanks to technological improvements speeding up the inspection process. Conroy argued that border agencies should consider a holistic approach to the best utilization of this space, noting that some U.S. inspection operations could be conducted more efficiently by taking advantage of this open available space, even if it is technically in Canadian territory, and vice versa. Conroy added that there is precedent for doing this in Detroit, where freight trains are inspected by U.S. agents before they leave Canada.
- David Davidson of the BPRI suggested that border agencies explore the concept of a dedicated "Leisure Lane" at the border for properly documented U.S. and Canadian citizens not on business travel and with nothing to declare, arguing that border delays could be reduced substantially because these people, the vast majority of border crossers, could in most cases be subject to briefer interviews.
- Bellingham attorney Greg Boos suggested that certain visa applications for businesspersons currently handled at far-away consular offices could be more effectively processed at the border, saving valuable time and thereby helping boost cross-border economic activity.
- University of Alaska professor Margaret Stock underlined the importance and efficacy of locally-based Integrated Border Enforcement Teams, which conduct joint patrols with U.S. and Canadian law enforcement officers working in tandem on both sides of the border.
- Professor Alexander Moens of Simon Fraser University noted the impact of the "chilling effect" of unfriendly treatment at the border on peoples' propensity to cross the border, suggesting that border agencies should better train officers on how to ask the important interview questions without unnecessarily intimidating individuals.
- Economist Paul Storer of WWU urged the two nations to simplify and harmonize certain tariffs, noting that many importers and exporters do not take advantage of NAFTA exemptions on free trade between the U.S. and Canada due to the onerous paperwork required.
- Solomon Wong of InterVISTAS Consulting in Vancouver argued that goods should not be subject to re-screening at the border after having been screened once in one or the other country. He pointed out that while there are challenges to further cooperation, we should not overlook our unique history of cooperation. He reminded that before Ellis Island was opened to receive immigrants in New York in 1892, those bound for the United States were processed at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Quebec City.
The proceedings of the seminar will be published and forwarded to Canadian and U.S. government officials seeking smart ways to bolster the shared security of two countries while boosting trade.