Concerns are mounting over added powers Ottawa has granted U.S. customs officers to strip-search, question and detain U.S.-bound travellers — on Canadian soil.
The changes are part of Canada’s new preclearance act, which the federal government says will enhance border security and make travel to the U.S. easier.
But Pantea Jafari, an Iranian-Canadian immigration lawyer, fears it could make travel more difficult for her.
That’s because the act gives U.S. customs officers in Canada broader interrogation powers — at a time when the U.S. has toughened its stance on immigration and has increasingly hostile relations with Iran.
“I will not allow a border officer to have access to me and have unfettered right to question me to no end,” said Jafari, who’s based in Toronto and serves many Iranian clients.
Since the preclearance act took effect in August, she has stopped travelling to the U.S. and says the country’s current standoff with Iran has only strengthened her resolve.
“My concerns of going to the U.S. have now 100 times increased.”
Preclearance act explained
Canada’s new preclearance act overrides a previous agreement with the United States that allowed travellers to clear U.S. customs in preclearance zones at Canadian airports, before flying across the border. Eight major Canadian airports already have preclearance areas — and the new act paves the way for more zones involving all modes of transport.
Proponents say preclearance offers many benefits, including allowing Canadians to clear U.S. customs in their own country.
“They land in the U.S. as a domestic passenger, so you don’t have to go through long lineups,” said Gerry Bruno, co-chair of the Beyond Preclearance Coalition, an industry group supporting efficient Canada-U.S. border travel.
While they don’t dispute the benefits of preclearance, some immigration lawyers claim the new act could jeopardize Canadian rights.
The big concern is that American preclearance officers could now further interrogate Canadians who withdraw their application to enter the U.S., perhaps because they feel uncomfortable during a customs inspection.
Previously, law-abiding travellers could simply leave and return home, because they were still on Canadian soil.
Now they could be detained — even handed over to Canadian authorities to face charges — for refusing to answer questions about why they’re withdrawing.
“You say, ‘I think you’re racially profiling me and I’m offended. I don’t want to go to your country, I want to leave,'” said Calgary-based immigration lawyer Michael Greene. “[U.S. officers are] entitled to examine those reasons and if they think you’re not being truthful, they’re entitled to detain you.”
Government defends changes
Jafari said the new rules are particularly concerning for racialized populations, such as those of Middle Eastern descent, who could be targeted for questioning.
“We’re the ones that are deemed the threat, right; the domestic threat of some sort that they need to data mine.”
Public Safety Canada said the withdrawal rules were revamped to prevent bad actors from probing preclearance zones in search of a weak entry point.
“Allowing a traveller to withdraw without any type of examination creates challenges in terms of border security,” spokesperson Tim Warmington said in an email.
He added that U.S. preclearance officers questioning travellers who opt to withdraw can’t “unreasonably delay” them.
But what constitutes an “unreasonable” delay could be open to interpretation, argues Greene.
“When you look at it from the U.S. perspective of wanting to protect the security of the country, that could result in some very extensive questioning,” he said.
Protected by Canadian rights?
Bruno said that law-abiding travellers shouldn’t encounter problems at the preclearance zones, and maintains that it beats clearing customs in the U.S., where you “can’t withdraw.”
“You’re there. You’re subject to U.S. laws,” he said.
U.S. preclearance officers in Canada must follow Canadian laws, including the charter and Human Rights Act. In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made this point when defending the new act — before it had become law.
“There is extra protection,” he told The Canadian Press.
“A Canadian who believes a U.S. customs official has broken Canadian law has little recourse in the courts,” states the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s website.
Right to strip-search?
Immigration lawyers are also concerned that under the new act, U.S. preclearance officers can now strip-search Canadian travellers.
Public Safety spokesperson Warmington said that U.S. officers must have reasonable grounds to do the search and that it will only happen in rare circumstances “where Canadian [border] officers are unable to respond or decline.”
Immigration lawyer Len Saunders said his concerns with the act are compounded by the fact that some customs officers appear to be getting tougher at U.S. land crossings along the country’s northern border.
In 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol doled out almost double the number of five-year bans to travellers crossing from Canada, compared to 2018.
“When the Americans are treating Canadians like this on American soil, why would you allow them so much autonomy on Canadian soil?” said Saunders, whose office sits close to the Canadian border in Blaine, Wash.
“I’m appalled by what the Canadian government has agreed to.”
Travellers who feel mistreated can submit feedback to a “preclearance consultative group” set up to provide oversight, said Warmington.
He also pointed out that Canadian customs officers will have equal powers in U.S. preclearance zones.
Canada currently has no preclearance zones in the U.S., but Warmington said the government is “exploring the potential.”
Changes coming for international students beginning Canadian studies online – CTV News
The federal government is rolling out a series of measures aimed at making it easier for international students who will be beginning their fall semesters taking online courses from Canadian schools, while COVID-19 restrictions remain in place.
The government says it will be allowing students to count the time spent studying online while abroad towards their eligibility for a post-graduation Canadian work permit if at least 50 per cent of their post-secondary program is completed in Canada.
As well, the government is allowing international students who are not able to submit all of the documentation needed to process their post-graduation work applications due to COVID-19-related closures but still want to begin their studies while in another country to do so.
This is being facilitated through a new two-stage approval process. The new process will allow prospective students to go ahead with their plans upon receiving an “approval in principle.”
In order to be approved in principle, students need to show they have been accepted to a Canadian college or university and have the ability to pay for it.
It would then be the responsibility of international students to submit all outstanding documents and be approved before being allowed to enter Canada.
The full approval requires submitting biometrics, an immigration medical exam, and a police background check.
International students who are staring a program this fall who submit a study permit application before Sept. 15, 2020 are eligible for these new measures.
“These changes will give students more certainty about their ability to enter Canada once travel and health restrictions are eased in Canada and their own home countries. They mean that students will be eligible to work in Canada after graduation, even if they need to begin their studies online from overseas this fall,” said the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship in a statement.
These new measures are in addition to other pandemic-prompted temporary policy changes already made by the federal government.
Last year more than 650,000 international students were enrolled in Canadian college and university programs, with more than 58,000 becoming permanent Canadian residents.
“The pandemic has had a significant impact on international students and the Canadian institutions and communities that host them,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino in the statement.
“We value the contribution of young people seeking a high-quality education in Canada, and we’re making every effort to minimize how current challenges affect their plans and dreams for the future.”
Canada-U.S. border closure to be extended for another 30 days, say officials – CBC.ca
CBC News has confirmed that the agreement to restrict travel across the Canada-U.S. border will be extended into August.
Senior government officials confirm the arrangement limiting border access to essential travel only will be rolled over for another 30 days.
The agreement, which has to be reviewed each month, was set to expire on July 21. It’s now being renewed for the fourth time since the border closed to non-essential traffic on March 21.
News of the extension was first reported by Reuters.
The extension comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump spoke on the phone Monday about a range of issues that included the border closure.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discusses his phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday
Canadian government officials say they expect the border to stay largely closed for the foreseeable future, despite calls from U.S. members of Congress to consider a phased plan for reopening.
COVID-19 cases are hitting record daily highs in a large number of U.S. states — which would make make any resumption of pre-pandemic travel a significant health threat to Canada.
“We recognize that the situation continues to be complex in the United States in regards to COVID-19,” Trudeau said Monday at a press conference. “Every month, we have been able to extend the border closures to all but essential goods and services and those discussions are ongoing.”
Recent polling suggests that more than 80 per cent of Canadians favour keeping the border restrictions in place.
Some leading public health officials have suggested the border should remain closed until at least the end of the year.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet told reporters today that the border should remain closed because the pandemic is still out of control in the U.S.
“If we take examples of countries who managed well this crisis, in the list of those who did well, you won’t find the United States,” Blanchet said.
“As long as the border appears to be a threat in the health of Quebecers and Canadians, it should remain closed.”
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet says the Canada-U.S. border should remain closed
Canada, U.S. agree to keep borders closed another 30 days: sources – CTV News
Canadian and U.S. officials have agreed to keep the border between the two countries closed to non-essential travel until August 21, CTV News has confirmed.
Sources say both governments are on the same page with extending the border restriction measures for another month.
The ban on discretionary travel was first introduced in March and has been extended each month since. The latest extension was set to expire on July 21.
The agreement, as it stands, exempts the flow of trade and commerce, as well as temporary foreign workers and vital health-care workers such as nurses who live and work on opposite sides of the border. Tourists and cross-border visits remain prohibited.
During a press briefing following a call with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau teased that a decision on the border would be coming later in the week.
Trudeau said that talks were “ongoing,” and vowed to “continue to work hard to keep Canadians safe and to keep our economies flowing.”
This comes as some U.S. political figures in border states have been pressuring Canada to begin a phased reopening of the shared border, despite the surging number of new cases of COVID-19 in parts of the United States, with some regions reporting record-breaking new daily case counts.
On Monday, CNN reported that nearly one in every 100 Americans has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, with more than 3.3 million cases confirmed.
More people have died in the United States from coronavirus than there are confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada.
At the end of June the federal government announced it would be extending to July 31 a ban on foreign travellers that exempted the United States.
The U.S. was exempt because of the ongoing a separate travel restriction agreement with Canada. It’s this agreement that sources say will be renewed for the fourth time since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.
As of June 9, foreign nationals who are immediate family members of either Canadian citizens or permanent residents can enter Canada to be reunited, under a limited exemption to the current border restrictions. This has allowed both foreign and cross-border Canada-U.S. families to reunite under certain stipulations.
There have been instances, however, when U.S. travellers have entered into Canada improperly. This has resulted in Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials being asked to take additional measures to screen who is looking to enter this country.
When asked in May what the benchmarks will be for signs it’s an appropriate time to loosen travel restrictions, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that the first step would be carefully reopening travel restrictions within Canada.
She said drastically limiting who has been able to enter the country over the last few months — specifically international visitors — has been key to Canada controlling the outbreak.
Even when international travel can resume, Tam said the 14-day mandatory quarantine and follow-up enforcement of that order will remain “a cornerstone” of the disease control measures.
With files from CTV News’ Michel Boyer, Sarah Turnbull and Brooklyn Neustaeter
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