Globe and Mail Update
Monday, December 10 Online Edition, Posted at 4:20 PM EST
Ottawa Hi-tech scanners, computer databases, and a sizable increase in immigration officers dominated the border-and-immigration package outlined in Monday's budget, as the government set aside $2.2-billion over six years to speed traffic across the Canada-U.S. border and keep illegal immigrants out.
While new spending for the border was split between policing border-crossers and infrastructure aimed at easing the flow of traffic, a substantial hike in immigration spending was dedicated to screening out illegal immigrants and detaining or deporting those who arrive.
The fears expressed by Canadian businesses that the economy would be hit unless smooth crossings were ensured were reflected by largest-ever budget commitment to the border, split between a $664-million security package and another $600-million to be spent on roads and infrastructure on the approach to border crossings.
Business groups hailed the measures as enough to settle U.S. concerns about security on their northern frontier, and convince them to accelerate the flow of trade.
"I'm very pleased with the cohesiveness and sense of urgency with which a whole series of initiatives are being adopted for the border," said Tom D'Aquino, president of the Business Council on National Issues.
He said the fear that border blockages would reduce investment in Canada are already being felt: "Already, I'm beginning to hear from some people concerns about disinvestment."
The border security measures were weighted toward technology to be used by customs inspectors. It will include $135-million to expand the integrated border teams of police, customs, and immigration officers on both sides of the border, but spending on software and scanners outstrips money for new personnel.
A $107-million sum will be spent on new X-ray machines and ion scanners to detect drugs and explosives in shipments of goods.
Another $67-million will go to setting up databases so that lists of air travellers sent by airlines and information from scanned passports can be checked against upgraded security databases.
The government will also set aside $58-million to set up the technology required to expand Nexus, a pilot fast-lane system for pre-checked travellers crossing the border, to several major border points.
Nexus, now only a pilot project at the Sarnia, Ont., border crossing, has been suspended since Sept. 11, but Canada is pushing the United States to expand it across the border.
While the border-security package was laden with as many measures to speed crossings as police them, a $1-billion package of new immigration spending over six years will be aimed almost entirely at tightening control over who enters Canada.
It includes $395-million for increasing immigration officers at home and abroad to screen out illegal immigrants and security risks trying to come to Canada and to stiffen checks of people when they arrive.
Immigration officials said the contingent of 44 immigration control officers who gather intelligence on illegal immigration overseas and check for false documents will be at least doubled, and perhaps increased to as many as 100.
Those officers are expected to work in networks with U.S. counterparts under the terms of a border and immigration accord signed with the United States last week.
In Canada, more than 100 new immigration officers will be added to check people arriving in the country.
The government will spend $210-million for an enforcement plan that will include detaining more illegal immigrants — including those who are security risks and refugee claimants who do not have identification documents.
Some of that money will also go to increased spending to enforce deportation orders.
A small part of that sum — about $15-million, according to one official — will be devoted to speeding up the determination of refugee claims at the refugee board, but even that was portrayed in the budget as an effort to speed up the system so that false claimants would be removed from Canada more quickly.
Another $287-million will go to the creation of fraud-resistant immigration documents, mostly for the already-announced plan to replace the paper cards now held by landed immigrants with new, magnetically scanned permanent resident cards, to be issued next June