Talk of fence along Canadian border doesn’t rattle trucking reps

by Ingrid Phaneuf

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Trucking industry insiders are meeting the latest report on how US Homeland Security and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can beef up security on the Canadian border with a resounding “meh.”

In the words of David Bradley, president and CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance: “It’s their country so they can do what they want, but a fence at the US-Canada border is just a goofy idea; more optics, more theatre of security.

“With the US government debt spiraling out of control you’d think they might have other things to worry about than building fences. Guess they’ll have to cut a hole through it to allow the oil pipeline through.”

The draft report, which among other things considered the feasibility of constructing a fence along the US-Canada border, was released for public comment Sept. 29.

(You can view the report at

Specifically, it examines the possible environmental impact of various security enhancing options over the next five to seven years and invites comments on its proposals to use “fencing and other barriers” on the 49th parallel to manage “trouble spots where passage of cross-border violators is difficult to control.”

Options include increased use of radar, sensors, cameras, drone planes and vehicle scanners.

More pertinent to cross-border carriers are the proposed improvements or expansion of Customs facilities at ports of entry.
CBP has already considered but ruled out the hiring of “significantly more” border patrol agents to increase the rate of inspections, stating staffing has already risen in recent years (700% since 9/11).

Trucking insiders, meanwhile, are more interested in the soon-to-be announced results of ongoing negotiations between Canada and the US, which purportedly aim to strike a deal to increase cross-border trade efficiencies.

The real deal
Negotiations for a deal to increase border efficiencies and reduce congestion were officially kicked off back in February, when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US President Barack Obama issued a joint declaration entitled Beyond the Border: Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness.

“We intend to pursue a perimeter approach to security, working together within, at and away from the borders of our two countries in a way that supports economic competitiveness, job creation and prosperity, and in a partnership to enhance our security and accelerate the legitimate flow of people and goods between our two countries,” said a draft version of the deal released to the Globe & Mail.

According to the draft, other aspects of the deal will include:

  • An integrated cargo security strategy that ensures compatible screening methods for goods and cargo before they depart foreign ports for the US or Canada;
  • A joint approaching to screening people seeking to enter the United States or Canada, including new security investment in the top 10 publicly owned ports of entry;
  • Cross-border sharing of information on serious offenders, criminals and suspects;
  • A joint approach to port and border security;
  • A closer working relationship between Canadian and US militaries in emergencies, building on a 2008 agreement that sets out rules for how each country can call for the other’s assistance.

Report is a “yawner”
With such negotiations currently underway, the recently released environmental report is of little or no consequence, explains Margaret Irwin, American Trucking Associations’ director of Customs, immigration and cross-border operations.

“At this stage, and after everything that happened after 9/11 with the C-TPAT and more inspections, this is a real yawner,” says Irwin.

“Besides, we’re not interested in what seems to be the focus of this latest report, which is more about immigration and the area between the border crossing. What we’re concerned with is just-in-time delivery. We’ve been asking the governments to move the border away from the border (by creating off-site commercial inspection and security infrastructure). But it’s going to take some time to work out how we’re going to do that.

“The negotiations (announced in February) are high-level. As for this latest report – it’s really in the weeds. What we care about is using the C-TPAT and FAST programs to make the ports of entry operate better and to help inspectors focus more on the bad guys.”

Irwin believes that the “wise” use of more technology for the purposes of border security could actually increase traffic efficiency through ports of entry.

Her hope is shared by Yanke vice-president of road services Bryan Richards.

“The silver lining may be that increasing security between border crossings could create more comfort and ease concerns at the ports of entry,” says Richards. “But I don’t think this particular set of proposals is going to have much of a direct impact on trucking.”

Richards’ greatest fear is that borders could shut down completely if another incident like 9/11 occurs. “I got worried recently on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, when the security levels were elevated to yellow and orange,” Richards admits. “I would say my biggest concern would be  if there was another incident – if there was a knee-jerk reaction and they closed the border down – I would be out of business in three days. Let’s hope that if they actually go ahead with beefing up security at the border, cooler heads will prevail if and when a crisis occurs.”

The v.p. is also a proponent of “moving the border away from the border” to increase the efficiency of truck inspections:

“There was an indication in the report that they are still proposing modernization of land ports of entry – and there seems to be a lot of support on both sides for the perimeter security agreement. I doubt very much that an environmental report will override that.”

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