Canada says the US is holding the NEXUS travel program hostage | Tech US News

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Out with the irritating old, in with the new in Canada-US relations.

One disagreement arose at a time of relative calm in cross-border matters, with a trade disagreement now solved and pandemic travel rules relieved.

This new dispute has been simmering for months and boiled over on a public stage on Thursday.

It involves dysfunction in a Canada-U.S program for pre-selected trusted travelers, who can cross the border more quickly with what is known as a NEXUS card.

The United States has closed offices in Canada that process applications for these cards as it pushes to change the program.

A Canadian official made his country’s displeasure clear in an unusually short assessment before a high-level audience in Washington.

“I’m going to be super undiplomatic and direct here because I think this is important for friends sometimes,” said Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the United States.

“O [NEXUS] the show is being held hostage… It’s disappointing and frustrating for us.”

She conveyed those sentiments in the presence of numerous government and industry officials in a conference hosted at the Canadian Embassy and organized by the Future Borders Coalition. U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus was sitting in the front row, a few feet away.

The US wants its employees at NEXUS offices to have immunity from prosecution in Canada, such as diplomats and customs officers, seen here, who work at Canadian airports. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press)

The closure of the facilities is caused by a disagreement over immunity from prosecution, not unlike the protection for diplomats.

The US government maintains that its employees at NEXUS offices deserve similar immunity from Canadian prosecution while doing their work in Canada.

These protections they already exist for US border agents at Canadian airports working at customs pre-clearance locations; in the US view, some of these NEXUS offices are located in the same facility and it does not make sense for different rules to apply in different parts of the office.

US View: Canada has taken years to make this change

The US says it has repeatedly informed Canada over several years that this was a priority. And apparently there has been little progress.

“This is not new news,” a spokesman for the US embassy in Ottawa said Thursday.

“The United States stands ready to reopen NEXUS centers in Canada once Canada addresses these concerns.”

Both countries closed their processing centers during the pandemic. This spring they reopened the offices in the US; but those in Canada were closed because the Americans refused to supply them.

The head of a Canada-US business group says it’s not the Americans who are holding the program hostage.

Maryscott Greenwood said Canada has known for years that this is a non-negotiable condition for the US to keep the program; she said US officials even made it clear, when the offices were closed during the pandemic, that they would not reopen unless they obtained legal protection for their agents.

She said Canada has dragged its feet in addressing the issue and could easily have introduced a regulation extending airport pre-clearance rules to NEXUS.

“Canada kept saying, ‘Soon, soon, soon,'” said Greenwood, a Washington-based lobbyist and head of the Canadian American Business Council.

“The real question is, ‘Does Canada want the NEXUS program or not?’ “

She said that if Canada no longer wants NEXUS, the US has a worldwide trusted traveler program, Global Entry. But the downside to Global Entry is that it is a unilateral US program and does not allow for quick re-entry into Canada.

Hillman said Canada is willing to find a solution. But she said it’s a complicated issue and may not even be possible under Canadian law.

It’s America’s hardball approach that she said she resents.

“What I do question are the tactics, to be honest with you: I think the tactics are harsh and not indicative of the relationship we have,” Hillman said.

In a later interview with CBC News he added: “It’s not how friends do business. It’s unacceptable. We’re getting more and more frustrated. I think it’s important to say that.”

SEE | Sources previously blamed NEXUS delays on the weapons disagreement:

Nexus delays due to disagreement over US agents carrying guns in Canada – source

A federal government source says the Nexus card delays are a result of U.S. agents wanting to carry weapons while on duty at Canadian centers, with Ottawa saying Nexus centers on this side of the border will remain closed until the dispute between the two countries. .

Could online interviews solve an impasse?

There is now a backlog of more than 334,000 people waiting for NEXUS cards, and Hillman said it’s getting worse every day.

She disputed reports that the main irritant is whether US officials can carry guns on Canadian soil.

Hillman told CBC News that’s not the issue: “They’re not asking for the right to bear firearms. They’re not.” She said the problem is that Americans want immunity from prosecution for acts committed by Americans while working in an office based in Canada.

She said it’s complicated and that these offices are not like pre-clearance facilities at airports, because some are located within Canadian cities.

She said she has discussed the issue with the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, and is committed to the NEXUS program.

A Canada Border Services Agency officer talks to a traveler at the Nexus office at Ottawa Airport in this 2012 photo. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

A predecessor of Mayorkas, who held the role in the Trump administration, said the problem had already begun to bubble when he was in office.

Kevin McAleenan said he didn’t want to comment too much and got ahead of the current administration on the issue.

But the Trump-era head of the US border protection agency and acting head of the Department of Homeland Security suggested a long-term solution: move everything online.

“I would recommend that they look at remote solutions to bridge this gap,” McAleenan told CBC News. “We’ve done that in other contexts.”

Trump-era border official Kevin McAleenan says online sessions could solve the problem. He’s also a fan of the ArriveCan app. (José Cabezas/Reuters)

Trump official: I love ArriveCan

Speaking about moving processes online, McAleenan and several other speakers at the conference offered their thoughts on the controversial ArriveCan app.

Several defended the much criticized application and regretted that it was seen by the public as a program related to the pandemic.

One attendee described it as a way to digitize the customs process and called it a step toward a long-term goal: to completely eliminate physical customs kiosks at airports, simplifying travel.

“I’m a fan of the ArriveCAN app,” McAleenan told a panel.

“We don’t have that in the U.S. We should have before the pandemic.”

Speaking on the same panel, his former Canadian counterpart lamented how the app was being looked down upon.

Use of ArriveCan is now optional, following public backlash.

“It was a super important opportunity for us and I’m disappointed how a vocal minority has given it a bad name in a very short period of time,” said John Ossowski, the former president of the Canada Border Services Agency.

He said the program became a poster child for resistance to vaccine mandates, when it was really an attempt to build a next-generation customs system.

He also ridiculed reports that the developers had managed to replicate the $54 million app in two days: “Did you incorporate the AI ​​tools?” Ossowski said. “You made 70 different versions of it? Did you get it approved on the App Store?”

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