What’s most contentious on – and off – the SPP summit agenda

Posted by admin on Aug 18th, 2007

KELLY PATTERSON CanWest News Service Saturday, August 18, 2007

Wide-ranging proposals for the two-year-old North American Security and Prosperity Partnership would more closely bind Canada, the United States and Mexico – and have sparked controversy and suspicion from those outside the process. Their concerns will be at the heart of much of the discussion at the Three Amigos summit at Montebello on Monday and Tuesday.

Charges of secrecy

The only outsiders with a formal role in the SPP are mega-corporations through the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC), which brings together 30 business representatives from the three countries to help direct the accord.

Created in 2006, the NACC includes giants such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lockheed-Martin, all of which have an interest in seeing regulations slashed, the Council of Canadians’ Maude Barlow says.

She stresses she is for co-operation among the three countries, as long as public interest, not corporate profit, is the driving force. “Continent-wide regulations are fine if they set high standards, but who is making the decisions, and on what basis?”

Foreign Affairs officials say the SPP working groups consult with “relevant stakeholders.” However, there is no public list of those stakeholders, and the working groups’ reports are not publicly available.

Even MPs can’t easily get the details on SPP projects beyond vaguely worded lists of “initiatives” and “milestones” on government websites, argues NDP trade critic Peter Julian. More than a year after the NDP filed Access to Information requests on the SPP, the government has not released a single document, he says.

Responding to similar requests from U.S. groups, the U.S. government has released only vaguely worded or heavily censored documents.

The charges of secrecy are nonsense, says University of Ottawa professor Roland Paris, who argues many of the SPP projects are just a part of normal bureaucrat-to-bureaucrat business between Canada and the U.S. and “would not have been announced in the past at all.”

“If anything, the effect has been to increase transparency,” says Paris, who worked as an adviser in the Privy Council Office when the SPP was launched.

Thomas d’Aquino, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, agrees, pointing out the NACC made its first report to the SPP public as soon as it came out in February. And the largely technical report is hardly shocking, he adds. “If I give it to you to read at 11, I guarantee you’ll be asleep by 11:10.”


Under the SPP, Canada has pledged to intensify and fast-track its efforts to “share data on high-risk travellers” with the United States and Mexico, despite controversy over the ordeal of Maher Arar. Arar spent a year in a Syrian prison, where he was tortured, after U.S. officials deported him, acting on shared information from Canada that turned out to be false.

“Maher Arar is a chilling example of the dangers of a convergence of watchlists,” says Barlow, warning similar cases are bound to arise if Canada pursues the SPP goal of greater “interoperability” with U.S. security forces.

D’Aquino agrees intelligence sharing can be problematic. “As a strong advocate of human rights, I am dead-against any evolution to a police state.

“But we do live in a world with real terrorist threats. … We all have to accept some sacrifices to achieve security for all,” he says.

No-fly lists

A Canadian no-fly list, described as a “key milestone” in the SPP’s Report to Leaders in 2005, went into effect just months after a public inquiry exonerated Arar. Canadian officials refused to confirm whether the list would be shared with the U.S.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has refused to remove Arar’s name from its own no-fly list, despite a formal request from Canada.

The federal government says Canada’s no-fly list was designed to avoid the kind of errors that have plagued the American one, which reportedly has about 44,000 names, including preschoolers and, famously, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy.

The much smaller Canadian list includes an appeal process, but critics say it is unfair because complainants are not allowed to know why they are listed. In June, days after the list came into force, federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart and her provincial counterparts appealed to the government to suspend it.


The SPP commits Canada to developing “compatible immigration security measures.” These include admission requirements and visa decision-making standards – a provision that alarms human rights groups, who say some U.S. practices are draconian compared with Canada’s.

Canada has already become entangled in the U.S. system in a post-9/11 program that preceded the SPP. Under the Safe Third Country program, Canada hands refugees who have come here via the U.S. back to U.S. authorities, who routinely put them in detention facilities until their status is determined.

Water exports

A national firestorm erupted in April when news emerged that Canadian water was on the table in a series of conferences held by researchers tasked with designing a “blueprint” for the future of the SPP.

Talks for the North American Future 2025 Project included the discussion of “water transfers” from Canada, according to an outline of the visioning exercise, which is funded by the United States and Mexico.

“It’s no secret that the U.S. is going to need water,” project leader Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, of the prestigious Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, explained. Ottawa later affirmed it has no intention of allowing the bulk export of water, adding legal protections would prevent that anyway.

But the federal government has jurisdiction only over waterways that are shared across the border with the United States; there is no binding legislation preventing provinces from allowing the export of the vast reserves of water they control.

A 1985 report urged the government to come up with a policy anticipating pressure for bulk-water exports, but no action was taken, according to Peter Pearse, a University of British Columbia professor who co-wrote the federally funded study.

Public safety

Food safety, drug approvals, pesticide rules, auto standards, consumer product standards – all these and more are under review through the SPP, a process that could affect many aspects of Canadians’ everyday life.

For the past two years, scores of bureaucrats in all three countries have been poring over their regulations, looking to streamline and harmonize them where possible, or, in cases where this was already happening, to fast-track the process.

Directed to work toward common North American standards, regulators must justify the scientific basis for any differences. They are also working on a trilateral Regulatory Co-operation Framework, to be finished within the year.

Barlow argues standards have plummeted under the Bush regime and fears Canadian safeguards will be gutted.

Unsafe imports:

The SPP emphasizes the fast-tracking and expansion of trade through Pacific gateways – an effort that many fear will mean an explosion in unsafe imports at a time when dangerous imports from China, from toothpaste to toys, are already flooding the continent.

Concern that crucial safety provisions have not been factored into SPP fast-tracking plans was a key factor when the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to block SPP funding last month; Republican Duncan Hunter told the House only one to two per cent of cargo containers are now inspected.

Pesticide residues

Canada is in talks to raise the amount of pesticide residues it allows on fruits and vegetables, after the SPP identified stricter standards as “barriers to trade.”

Canadian residue limits are more strict than those in the U.S. for 40 per cent of the products it regulates; in only 10 per cent of cases are the U.S. rules more stringent.

Both countries already lag far behind the European Union and other developed countries when it comes to pesticide residues, in some cases allowing hundreds of times the limits set in those nations, according to a 2006 study by David Boyd of the David Suzuki Foundation.

After news of the talks emerged in May, Health Canada officials said no limits would be changed without public consultation, and noted tests suggest that, in most cases, residue levels are well below the Canadian limits. However, Boyd’s report raised questions about the effectiveness of those tests, noting Canadian results differ widely from those of Britain and the United States.

Ottawa Citizen

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