Bill C-23, also known as the Pre-Clearance Act, is set to officially become law in Canada and it will give more power to U.S. border guards in Canada. Should you be concerned? Probably…
The new bill will replace and expand previous legislation governing pre-clearance zones between the United States and Canada. Under existing Canadian laws, U.S. border guards’ authority on Canadian soil is restrained. They are not allowed to carry sidearms or strip search Canadian citizens and their powers to detain Canadian citizens on Canadian soil are also limited.
The new law, however, will allow U.S. border guards to carry sidearms in pre-clearance zones where Canadian officials are also authorized to do so. It will also enable them to conduct strip searches in circumstances where a Canadian officer is either unwilling or unable to do so.
The use of the words “unwilling or unable” is somewhat broad in it’s interpretation and it is controversial in that the language appears to authorize U.S. border guards to conduct invasive strip searches even in circumstances where Canadian officials would deem such action unnecessary or inappropriate thus raising the red flag on obvious human rights concerns with this portion of the bill.
The most controversial aspect of the Pre-Clearance Act, however, is probably the expanded power to detain travellers granted to U.S. border guards under this bill. Once it passes into law, U.S. officials will be allowed to detain Canadian citizens who attempt to gain entry to the United States but subsequently change their minds before doing so. This means that an individual being questioned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection staff would no longer be permitted to simply withdraw from the process if they felt uncomfortable or unwilling to continue. They would not be allowed to leave the pre-clearance zone and their intention to travel. Instead, they would be detained and investigated further by U.S. officials.
The Trump Effect
The fear of abuse or misuse of these powers, given the shift in the U.S. political climate, has created considerable discomfort for many in any notion of handing over more significant powers to the Trump administration, especially on Canadian soil.
Many Canadians have significant concerns about how these laws could impact them. Some groups have already voiced their concerns about the implications that could be faced by religious, ethnic and racial minorities once this bill passes into law. Private citizens have also expressed concerns, saying that this bill prioritizes Americans’s interests and erodes the rights of Canadians.
Regardless of the human rights concerns, Prime Minister Trudeau says he stands firmly behind the changes, emphasizing the safety and convenience of pre-clearance zones which he believes are necessary in order to uphold border security while also facilitating easy travel.
As the conversation continues on the bill that will soon be in effect, it is at least important to know that Canadian citizens will still be afforded charter protections while in Canada. This applies to pre-clearance zones and any action taken by U.S. officials, who must conduct themselves in accordance with Canadian laws.
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