Bill C-23 would give U.S. customs agents “intrusive” new powers

Feb 13, 2017 | News

By: Elliott Williams

The Liberal government is proposing a new bill which would give the United States Customs and Border Protection agents new and sweeping powers when dealing with Canadian citizens. Bill C-23 would allow U.S. agents and officers to carry their weapons in Canada, and stop, search and even detain Canadian citizens on Canadian soil. The Bill is yet to be approved by parliament.

“It’s a matter of Canadian sovereignty here… Certainly my first reaction was that it’s certainly very intrusive,” said Jean-Pierre Fortin, National President of the Customs and Immigration Union.

Canadian citizens would also lose the right to be able to turn away from a customs agent and return home from the border. Under Bill C-23, a U.S. customs agent could detain a Canadian citizen and question their reasoning for wanting to leave.

But the Bill has already caused concerns for many Canadians.

‘’I think Canadians should be quite concerned especially given the current context in the United States where the president there is making large sweeping generalizations, ‘said Christina Clark-Kazak, a professor of Refugee and Humanitarian Affairs at York University, adding that Canada may be open to such intrusive legislation would be to facilitate trade.

“In order to have the border open they feel like they need to make some concessions to perceptions of insecurity by the U.S.,” said Clark-Kazak. “So they’re willing to allow some incursion into their sovereignty to allow that border to remain open.”

Some immigration experts warn that the new law would make travel plans for Canadians more complicated.

“Now pre-clearance are being rolled out in train and bus stations, which are usually in the downtown core, often very busy transit hubs, with lots of people going through,’’ said Emily Gilbert,  immigration expert and Professor at the University of Toronto.

“I think we have to be really careful about U.S. customs and border protection agencies being on Canadian soil in those places, especially because they’re going to be allowed to carry guns,” she added.

Fortin said that the CIU will voice concern over the proposed bill and are now currently looking into different options.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be at the parliament or through the media, but certainly we’re planning to react on that. When we’re in Canadian soil, I think ultimately it should be under the control of the Canadian officers, not the U.S.”