The Conservative government has said only that U.S. agents operating in Canada will be involved in “intelligence and criminal investigations” and that uniformed U.S. officers will help patrol the land border from the Canadian side.
Theoretically, Canadian agents could operate with similar powers in the U.S. in order to provide an appearance of reciprocity.
“This declaration is not about sovereignty,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said when he announced the new arrangement two years ago.
In fact, it very much is.
The latest revelation underscores this. A 2012 RCMP briefing note obtained by The Canadian Press points out that Washington and Ottawa have been at daggers drawn over whether U.S. agents and police officers who commit crimes in Canada would be subject to Canadian law.
The Americans prefer to maintain sole legal jurisdiction over their agents operating abroad. In Afghanistan, for example, all U.S. government soldiers and officials are accorded diplomatic status — which makes them immune from Afghan law.
Similar “status of forces agreements” with other nations give Washington sole or shared jurisdiction over certain kinds of offences committed by American soldiers and their dependants abroad.
Under a 1951 treaty, even Canada has ceded some rights over U.S. and other NATO troops operating inside this country.
But the 1951 treaty does give Canada the right to arrest and try NATO soldiers or their dependants who have committed non-military crimes such as murder.
It seems now that the U.S. wants more. According to the RCMP memo, Washington is demanding that its police agents operating in Canada be entirely exempt from Canadian criminal law.
A U.S. agent who, for instance, shot and killed a Canadian while on Canadian soil would not be subject to a Canadian court.
That Washington prefers such an arrangement should surprise no one. The U.S. treasures its judicial system and is reluctant to let its citizens be subject to the whims of foreigners.
This same mistrust is behind the U.S. refusal to recognize the International Criminal Court, a refusal that has put it in the same camp as China and Sudan.
Canada, Britain and most other democratic nations do not have the same qualms about the ICC, which is a body set up to prosecute serious offences such as war crimes.
So it makes sense that the U.S. wants immunity from Canadian law for its police agents operating here. From its point of view, Washington is doing Canadians a favour by agreeing to patrol their sea, land and air borders.
Canada, on the other hand, is a supplicant. Ottawa is desperate to keep trucks ferrying goods back and forth across Canada’s southern border. The Canadian economy is said to depend on it.
If the Americans are allowed to run Canada’s border security as well as theirs, Ottawa figures, they will be more likely to let those trucks keep rolling freely.
The federal privacy commission has already warned that the new pact will require Canada to share information with the U.S. that could lead to Canadians being tortured abroad.
Now the RCMP is warning that the deal will exempt foreign police officers from Canadian law.
Will all of this reduce Canadian sovereignty? Of course. Will this federal government balk at giving so much away? Don’t count on it.