Jim Hume column: Do we really want U.S. police working on Canadian soil?

Maybe concerns got lost in the Olympic news tidal wave, or maybe nobody cared. But it is a fact that the Integrated Cross Border Law Enforcement Operations Act became law in Canada with only whispers of public doubts.

The new law enables armed United States lawenforcement officers to cross the Canadian border in pursuit of American lawbreakers. And, once across the line, grants them "the same power to enforce an act of Parliament as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police."

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Buried in the miscellaneous section of infamous Bill C-38, a more-than-400page omnibus bill, the act was introduced in mid-July. With the promise of summer vacations at the end of debate and the government in ultimate control of the debate timetable, opposition concern was sharp but short-lived.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government, having waxed eloquent for months on the need for strong sovereignty statements in Canada's northern waters, apparently had no concerns at all about sovereignty on southern waterways. The government argued if drug traffickers and smugglers were to be stopped, only special squads boosted by armed American cops could do the job.

It was all made to seem nice and cosy. Small crews on fast boats would patrol the waterways lapping U.S. and Canadian borders. A patrol boat in Canadian waters would consist of five people, four would be Canadian police officers, one American. The crew makeup would be reversed on a United States Coast Guard vessel - four Americans, one Canadian.

RCMP Supt. Warren Coons, director of the Integrated Border Enforcement Teams, explained in a CBC interview that any designated American officer would, of course, "have to be under the direct control of a Canadian law-enforcement officer" when the vessel was in Canadian waters.

In the same interview Coons admitted that if "hot pursuit" was involved with multiple suspects reaching Canadian shores and heading inland, U.S. cops could become separated from RCMP officers.

When that happened, he said, "everybody would expect, for public safety reasons, that the officer would continue with the pursuit of an individual."

For what length of time and how far into Canada? "Common sense prevails," said Coons in a farfromcomforting response.

In the old rum-running days, Vancouver Island's entire west coast and east coast between Nanaimo and Victoria were highly favoured by smugglers of all that was illegal. In recent years, the Island was one of the chosen final destinations for people smugglers. Cooperation between police and/or coast guard services to intercept or arrest illegal vessels on arrival was deemed satisfactory - until last month and C-38.

Are we expected to sleep safer knowing that armed lawmen from the United States can seek their fugitives in Canada while holding "the same power to enforce an act of Parliament" as the RCMP - and presumably any local police force?

In what we call our Arctic waters, Ottawa has announced plans to spend millions of dollars developing unmanned land and air robots and drones to patrol and protect our sovereignty. Down south we're telling our neighbours they can come calling in hot pursuit with guns and handcuffs at the ready and legally authorized powers of arrest.

Even more discomforting is the federal government's plan to expand the now-legal waterway jointforce patrols. Prime Minister Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama have already shaken hands on Obama's "Beyond the Border" proposal. It could see land-based cross-border patrols operating sometime this year.

Stan Trew, speaking for the Council of Canadians, expressed the same alarm I feel. In a CBC interview, he is quoted as saying the marine border patrols are "a pretty serious compromise of sovereignty when it comes to policing and security." Trew wondered, as I wonder, how soon it will become normal to see U.S. peace officers seeking their prey on the Island - or anywhere else in BC?

Trew asked: "How do you define a border operation? How far inland does it go?" Big Brother Harper's Tories didn't answer. They just said they are meeting behind closed doors with cross-border counterparts to hammer out the details of such minor matters, even as United States policemen prepare to start wandering around Canada with arrest warrants in their pockets and loaded guns in their holsters.

In mid-July, when CBC ran its original stories, it invited readers of its Community Blog page to respond to the question: Should U.S. police have more powers to make arrests on Canadian soil? In short order, 5,673 readers responded, with 78.77 per cent registering a resounding no. Another 15.32 per cent thought foreign armed interventions might be OK, "but only in exceptional circumstances." Only 6.75 per cent thought cops other than our own a good idea.

How about you? Let me know. Better still, let your MP know.

jhume@shaw.ca

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