In the wake of a dramatic RCMP reveal of two people arrested in Canada in connection with a plot to derail a passenger train, Canadians may have questioned why the United States Department of Homeland Security and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation were involved in the operation.
Those who have followed the quiet evolution of Canada-US cross-border policing, however, weren’t surprised. Law enforcement agencies in Canada and the US are now working together in an unprecedented way, says the RCMP—and the two countries are hammering out a plan to let agents in both countries drive back and forth across the border as though it wasn’t there.
“When you look at our environment, increasing travel and trade, more complex legal systems, continuing pressures with respect to resources and how we allocate...your investigative capacity has actually declined,” said RCMP Chief Superintendent Joe Oliver, describing the imperative behind co-operation.
“Taking into consideration the need for us to be more effective when you look at this question of economics and policing; taking into consideration that the Canada-US border is a huge area, a huge responsibility to monitor, detect, protect, and investigate, there’s a real need for us to work together.”
Mr. Oliver, who is the force’s director general for border integrity, granted a rare, wide-ranging interview to Embassy on April 4 on the subject of the evolution of cross-border law enforcement.
‘Where do you set the limit?’
Canadian and American police agencies are currently locked in private talks over how to effectively launch pilot projects that would allow American agents from organizations like the FBI and the US Drug Enforcement Administration to be accredited as police officers in Canada, with the power to arrest individuals on the street like any Canadian cop.
Specially-designated police can already conduct such operations in shared waterways, after the Harper government’s spring 2012 budget implementation legislation changed several Canadian laws to make permanent a program to accredit such maritime-based US and Canadian agents.
Certain designated members of the RCMP and US Coast Guard undergo specialized training, and when they head out on an operation, they are overseen by the host country’s officers, and operate under the host country’s criminal justice system.
The Canada-US Beyond the Border perimeter security plan, laid out in December 2011, calls for the “next generation” of this type of policing: moving the concept to land. But doing so hasn’t been easy: two pilot projects that were supposed to have been launched by last summer are still in legal limbo.
“We’re still trying to negotiate...the challenge is, in the land environment, it’s much more complex,” said Mr. Oliver.
“The possibility of having contact with the general public is greater, because of interaction with streets...it’s the visibility with the public,” he said.
“The other thing is that, in the maritime environment, you have a very fixed geographical area...in the land environment, where do you set the limit? Is it 10 kilometres from the border? Is it 20 kilometres from the border? Is it 25 kilometres?”
The RCMP doesn’t have an answer for that yet, he said.
But what the force is looking for is to allow its agents to work across the border in operations that require it—so it wouldn’t necessarily want Canadian agents to be accredited throughout the entire US, or vice versa.
“In terms of the vision, I don’t see Canadian officers being cross-designated and working in Los Angeles on a full-time basis. I mean, there are protocols, and we work joint investigations, but we don’t need that tool there,” he said.
“I think in terms of the next decade or so, we’d certainly like to see the evolution of integrated cross-border law enforcement. We’d take our crime-fighting capability to the next level, which is bringing the [maritime] concept to the land environment.”
From the 1990s to today
This vision, as Mr. Oliver describes it, is the end point of a long evolution in cross-border policing that began in the 1990s with Integrated Border Enforcement Teams, what he calls “the grandfather of integrated cross-border law enforcement.”
IBETs began as a response to a typical border problem, he said: smuggling.
“Because the volume of criminality taking place between the ports of entry, RCMP, US border patrol, and US customs got together and said ‘Look, what we need to do is start scheduling shifts together, we’ve got to be working the same high-threat areas together,’” said Mr. Oliver.
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