By Nicholas Keung
Canada will soon start collecting data on every person leaving Canada by land and air in a bid to identify and track anyone from potential terrorists to snowbirds who lie about their residency to claim government benefits.
The new measures, expected to take effect later this year, aim to strengthen border security, enforce residency requirements for permanent residents and pinpoint those who fail to leave the country as required.
It is not known how many visitors who’ve overstayed their welcome, failed asylum seekers and criminals the new “exit” system will catch, but both Employment and Social Development Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency, which will have access to the data, are expected to nab many Canadians who are outside of the country and ineligible to receive further benefit payments.
Of special interest are Canadians who live part- or full-time in such popular expatriate destinations at Mexico, Panama, Ecuador and Portugal.
The estimated savings for the government in employment insurance and old age security over 10 years could add up to $206 million, plus another $151 million in family and child tax credits and other benefits, according to an analysis of the proposed changes to the Customs Act published Saturday.
The Canadian Snowbird Association has been following the exit control changes closely and warns its 100,000 members against breaking U.S. immigration law by overstaying beyond the six-month limit and risking the loss of their federal benefits such as old age security and guaranteed income supplements.
“The move between the U.S. and Canada is inevitable and we are reminding our members to be mindful of the limitation on their time travelling abroad,” said Evan Rachkovsky, the association’s spokesperson.
Canada Border Services Agency does not currently collect exit information from commercial air carriers on travellers and only has access to U.S. records of foreign nationals and Canadian permanent residents arriving from Canada at land ports of entry.
The new reporting scheme — a final phase of what’s known as the “Entry/Exit Initiative,” similar to programs in Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe — will allow Canadian officials to track the 97 per cent of all outbound travellers who leave the country by land and air. The effort will ultimately be expanded to travel by rail and sea. Officials will start collecting land exit data this summer, followed by air-travel data within 12 months.
“The government cannot easily determine who is inside or outside the country at any given time, which adversely impacts Canada’s ability to manage the border and support pressing and substantial public policy objectives related to national security, law enforcement and federal program integrity,” the border agency said in its 35-page report published in the Canada Gazette.
“By implementing a new regulatory framework that prescribes the source, time, manner and circumstance related to the collection of information, the CBSA would have access to reliable, timely and accurate information that could be effectively safeguarded and managed.”
Immigration policy analyst and lawyer Richard Kurland said this marks a shift to a “continuum tracking” system, where people’s movements are going to be monitored by the government.
“People do not know, generally, that by consenting to Canada, they also consent to having their personal information donated to other countries, such as the U.S.A., due to the many information-sharing agreements between Canada and other countries,” said Kurland.
“Canadians cannot fix information that goes to other countries, and it is a real issue. You may be wrongly netted by the system. Mistakes are going to happen, and there is no oversight, monitoring, or control over the system.”
Right now, commercial air carriers are required to provide Canadian border officials with advance information that identifies air travellers and flight crew arriving on international flights. Officials rely on passengers to provide the information on customs declaration cards or electronically via the primary inspection kiosk, with travellers self-declaring the date they originally left Canada.
The proposed exit control measures will operate similarly with Canadian officials collecting basic biographic information — name, nationality, date of birth, gender and time and place of departure — from airlines on all passengers leaving Canada, in the form of electronic passenger manifests.
Canada already receives information from the U.S. on departures of foreign nationals and permanent residents at land ports of entry. The new rules will expand to include records of Canadian citizens entering the U.S. by land.
The federal auditor general’s office has in the past highlighted a number of security concerns stemming from the absence of reliable exit data, the border agency report says.
“In recent years, the Government of Canada has seen a number of individuals travelling to foreign destinations to engage in terrorist activities,” the report says.
“These individuals often pose a danger to countries in which they operate and may become a direct threat to Canadians upon their return to Canada through acquiring combat experience and training and potentially establishing terrorist networks and recruitment capabilities,” the report adds.
Ottawa said the exit data will help officials:
- Identify outbound movement of known high-risk travellers;
- Track visitors who overstay their visa and remain in Canada illegally;
- Verify travel dates to assess applicable duties, tax exemptions and benefits for returning residents;
- And check if permanent residents returning to Canada have fulfilled their physical residence requirement to maintain their status or qualify for citizenship.
Data collection on air travellers is expected to take longer to implement because it requires commercial air carriers to register, test and certify that they meet the government-specific IT requirements. The whole scheme is expected to cost about $110 million, with almost $80 million assumed by the federal government and the rest by the commercial air industry. Airlines failing to provide the information will face fines.
Once fully implemented, personal information collected under the Entry/Exit Initiative will be retained for up to 15 years, after which it will be purged — unless it is otherwise required to be retained under Canadian law.
Meghan McDermott, a staff counsel of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said Canadians should be concerned about the sharing of the personal data among government agencies and with foreign partners. “It’s a vast new collection of data … I don’t know what recourse we have and where to go,” when inaccurate personal information has to be corrected, she said.
Both the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the Security Intelligence Review Committee must constantly monitor the program and provide independent oversight to prevent abuse and breach of privacy and civil liberties, McDermott said.
Changes to the Customs Act received royal assent in December. The public has until mid-April to submit feedback.
Credit: MSN, www.msn.com