ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

At an event to sign the Canada-U.S. Immigration Information Sharing Treaty, a key part of the Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan

Ottawa, Ontario
December 13, 2012

As delivered

Good morning.

Thank you very much, Ambassador, for joining us here for an historic and a very important development in the implementation of our Beyond the Border Action Plan that was signed between President Obama and Prime Minister Harper last year. This agreement that we are signing today is tangible evidence of the progress that we are making in ensuring the safety and security of both Canada and the United States.

The agreement signaled a mutual desire on the part of both countries to accelerate the flow of people and goods between both countries, to promote job creation and economic competitiveness, while at the same time strengthening continental security. With the Action Plan, Canada and the U.S. committed to share biographic information by 2013 and biometric information by 2014. Biographic information can include a person’s name, date of birth, gender, while biometric information can include such data as photographs and fingerprints.

Today’s adoption of the Canada-U.S. Immigration Information Sharing Treaty will allow us to share biographic and biometric information from third-country nationals who make an application for a visa to enter Canada or to claim asylum in Canada – and vice versa. That is to say, when people are applying to enter the United States or making asylum claims there, that information will be shared with us on a limited basis as per the agreement.

By having better access to information on visitors, visa applications and asylum claims in both countries, we can locate individuals who pose a risk to the safety of Canadians before they reach our borders, in order to prevent them from entering Canada or the United States.

Let me be clear that rigorous privacy safeguards will be in place in this agreement to ensure that immigration information is shared in a way that is consistent with Canadian law, with the Charter of Rights and with the Privacy Act. In fact, that’s the primary focus of the agreement.

Only immigration information will be shared under the treaty, no other information. The exchange of information will be limited to specific data elements and any information shared on travelers and refugees will be handled responsibly. Applicants’ complete files would not be exchanged systematically. Essentially, we will be, under the heading of biographic information, sharing basic data such as name, date of birth and country of nationality, and with biometric information sharing fingerprints.

That data will be destroyed immediately by the country against which the check is being done. To make this very simple, in the future if a foreign national is applying for a visa to Canada and submits to us their fingerprints as part of our new biometric program, we will ping those fingerprints off against the U.S. immigration lists and data banks. If there is a positive hit, we’ll be notified of that. If the hit indicates something problematic, that perhaps that person had previously been deported by the United States, or that in fact the person has an alias, then we’ll be able to more closely explore their real identity and whether they are admissible to Canada or would constitute a security risk.

In any event, under this agreement, the United States would immediately destroy the data which we pinged against their databases in order to make the verification, and Canada would do the same. There is no retention of data. Let’s be clear: the treaty will also not be used to share information on Canadian citizens or permanent residents, and the United States will not have direct access to Canadian databases.

Even with increased information sharing, Canada will continue to retain its absolute sovereignty to make its own decisions on who can enter our country. This agreement merely gives us an additional but very important tool to make our own sovereign decisions about who may enter Canada.

To be honest with you, Canada has a limited number of records of foreign nationals who may pose a security risk. The United States, given its scope, has a massively larger number of records of foreign nationals who may constitute a security risk. So we regard the ability to verify the identity of foreign nationals entering Canada against the U.S. databases as a massive upgrade in Canada’s immigration security that is clearly in our national interest.

Even with increased information sharing Canada will continue, as I say, to retain our absolute decision-making authority. The difference is that visa officers and border service officers will have vital information on applicants’ real identity. These measures will better protect the safety of Canadians and facilitate the flow of legitimate travellers.

With the signing of this treaty, Canada and the U.S. are taking a big step towards establishing a common approach to border and security screening. This builds on our efforts to protect our common borders and the surrounding perimeter through efficient screening of all applicants before they enter Canada or the U.S. We will also be establishing an electronic travel authorization in time which will require people from all countries who do not require a visa to enter Canada but who intend to fly here by air to apply for electronic authorization before they travel here. U.S. citizens will be exempt.

We’ll then check the travelers’ information once they’ve submitted that electronic travel authorization against our databases. This means that by 2015, through implementation of the eTA, we’ll be able to screen most visitors before they board a plane in order to determine whether or not they pose a risk. For instance, we will be able to check whether they have a criminal record.

By 2014, we’ll also have an exit-entry information system with the United States. We will know who has entered Canada and when each individual has left the country. We will also know whether or not it is appropriate to investigate a traveller who is required to leave Canada but has not left. This will make it much easier for us to remove inadmissible individuals from Canada and to detect residency fraud.

Ladies and gentlemen, the single biggest problem that Canada has had in enforcing our immigration laws and in removing those foreign nationals who do not have a right to be here, who are under deportation or removal orders, including in many cases convicted foreign criminals, is that we do not have an exit information system. This will change, and in fact we have just established legislative authority to do that.

Finally, next year, we will begin using biometric technology to screen visitors from certain countries whose citizens require a visa. Biometrics provide greater certainty in identifying travelers than documents, which, as we all know, can easily be forged or stolen. Starting in 2013, the collection of biometric information will begin for nationals from 29 countries and one territory who apply for a temporary resident visit, work permit or study permit, and in 2014 we will also obtain biometric data from overseas refugee settlement applicants.

Through automated and systematic biometric information sharing, both countries will be able to identify previously failed refugee claimants, deportees, previously refused overseas refugee resettlement applicants and visitor visa applicants trying to enter our countries under fake identities. The requirement to provide biometrics in our temporary resident immigration program will bring Canada in line with many key democratic allies, including the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.

The need for these measures was recently brought into sharp focus when I read the shocking case of Kai Guo Huang. In case you missed the story about Mr. Huang in the media, he entered Canada as a refugee claimant from China in 2006 with a fake name and under fake travel documents. Somehow, he was granted permanent residency here in 2010 despite the fact that he had been wanted for murder in the United States for 14 years.

This never should have happened. That’s why we’re undertaking initiatives such as biometrics, electronic travel authorization and greater information sharing. I could also point out that we’ve been doing this on a limited basis with some of our key partners – the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, for asylum claimants based on an agreement that we struck several years ago.

In fact, to give you an example, as a result of that limited information sharing, we managed to revoke the refugee status of a man whose British records proved that he was an American citizen and not somebody from the country that he claimed to be from. The United Kingdom returned to Australia a wanted rapist masquerading as a Somali asylum seeker and he subsequently pleaded guilty. The UK also took action against an asylum seeker who used nine different identities and six different documents across the five countries that I’ve mentioned.

These are just small, concrete examples of the kind of enormous advantage we get through this limited information sharing. Taken together, the important initiatives included in the Action Plan on Perimeter Security will significantly improve our ability to refuse entry to Canada to individuals who try to take advantage of our generosity. As a result, the immigration programs of both of our countries will be strengthened.

This is an important day for Canada, for Canadians’ immigration security. This agreement will render Canada safer, will help us to prevent the entry into this country of known criminals or people who would pose a security risk, or those who may come here seeking to abuse our generosity, and in moving forward the Action Plan on Perimeter Security, it reinforces our two governments’ common goal of facilitating the legitimate movement of travelers and commerce, goods and people, between these two great friends and allies. Again, thank you, Ambassador, for your presence and for your government’s hard work on this project.

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