VANCOUVER – The public safety minister is downplaying the Conservative government’s failure to introduce a system to track the travel of potential terrorists, despite a deadline in a security pact with the United States that passed more than three months ago.
The 2011 Canada-U.S. perimeter security agreement, known as Beyond the Border, included a provision that would see Canada collect records on people leaving the country on international flights. The measure is designed to track potential terrorists who leave the country to join overseas conflicts.
The agreement set a deadline of June 30 of this year, but such a system is not yet in place, nor are the legislative and regulatory changes that would be required first.
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney insisted Wednesday that Canada remains committed to tracking and sharing information about international travel with the United States, though he suggested the security pact was merely a road map rather than a firm timeline.
“These are targets; we are constructively working with our American counterparts,” Blaney said in Vancouver after speaking to an earthquake preparedness conference.
“The Beyond the Border action plan is on track. Are we exactly where we wished to be? Not exactly, but we are moving in the right direction.”
Currently, Canada and the United States exchange entry information about people crossing the land border, allowing each country to track when travellers come and go.
The program has so far been limited to foreign nationals and permanent residents of both countries, not Canadian or American citizens. It was expected to be expanded by June 30, 2014, to include information on all travellers crossing the land border.
In addition, Canada hoped to begin collecting information on people leaving by air by requiring airlines to submit passenger manifest data for outbound international flights. The United States already does this.
Blaney acknowledged the importance of collecting and sharing information about travellers, though declined to say when Canada’s tracking system would be implemented.
“This information sharing is getting more important as we need to be able to provide our law enforcement with tools to track terrorists,” he said.
A recent federal report said the government knew of more than 130 individuals with Canadian connections who were abroad and suspected of supporting terror-related activities, including 80 who have returned to Canada.
Last week, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson told a Commons committee that the force has about 63 active investigations involving 90 suspected extremists who intend to join fights abroad or who have returned to Canada.
Blaney told the committee the government plans to bring forward new measures to help monitor suspected terrorists, though he offered no specifics.