OTTAWA, Ont. — Department of Homeland Security and Canadian officials removing ahead with negotiations for a pilot project to relocate U.S. primary and secondary inspection stations to the Canadian side of the border and vice-versa.
Alex Swann, communications director for the office of Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan, said today the first pilot project, if given the go-ahead by governments both here and in the U.S. would involve the Fort Erie/Buffalo Peace Bridge crossing as well as another, as yet unspecified crossing possibly in the Thousands Islands area.
The Peace Bridge project would place U.S. Customs inspection booths on the Canadian side, where the Canadian inspections plaza is located.
“There is just no more room on the New York State side and that’s a factor playing into the selection of this crossing for the pilot project,” said Swann. The other crossing selected would probably relocate Canadian Customs inspection booths to the U.S. side he said.
As for whether U.S. Customs officials will be allowed to carry guns on the Canadian side, this is still matter for negotiations, Swann said.
“There is still a lot of legislative work to be done,” he said. “But in Canadian airports, U.S. Customs officials do not carry guns. Even though RCMP officers are stationed nearby to provide support if needed. There could be an arrangement that was somewhat similar for booths at the land border.”
Other powers of U.S. versus Canadian Customs inspectors and officers would also have to be negotiated before the pilot project began. And the required legislation, once agreed upon by both governments, would also have to be passed by both Canada and the U.S.
“There’s not point at which I could comfortably say this project would begin,” said Swann. “But if you said in about a year, I would say that would be in the right ballpark.”
Swann emphasized that negotiations have already begun between the governments and various stakeholders. The initiative is all part of the 25 per cent challenge announced jointly by Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge and Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan in Detroit in December.
On the third anniversary of the signing of the Canada-United States Smart Border Declaration, Ridge and McLellan released the fifth Smart Border Action Plan Status Report, and jointly announced the issuance of a framework to put land preclearance in place at the Buffalo-Fort-Erie Peace Bridge and at one other border crossing. According to the framework, the preclearance pilot at the Peace Bridge would involve the re-location of all U.S. primary and secondary border operations for both commercial and passenger traffic from Buffalo to Fort Erie. At the second pilot site, Canadian border functions would be moved to the U.S. side of the border, with the two governments actively exploring crossings where it would be suitable, such as the Thousand Islands Bridge or Queenston-Lewiston.
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