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Goodale to address border ‘tensions’ with U.S. homeland secretary

Goodale to raise border 'tensions' with U.S.

OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says he will soon talk face-to-face with his U.S. counterpart about the difficulties some Canadians are experiencing at the border.

Goodale said Tuesday he will have a chance in coming weeks â€” no date has been set — to discuss any border “issues or tensions” with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

“We’re working on the scheduling of that,” Goodale said after a cabinet meeting. “The atmosphere in terms of the preliminary relationship seems to be very, very good.”

The Nexus trusted-traveller cards of about 200 Canadian permanent residents were suddenly cancelled after President Donald Trump issued an executive immigration order banning visitors from seven largely Muslim countries.

There have been several recent reports about minorities being turned away at the U.S. border. At the same time, Manitoba is grappling with an influx of would-be refugees crossing at remote border points in bitterly cold weather.

Goodale was briefed on the refugee issue Tuesday by RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson and Canada Border Services Agency president John Ossowski.

“They’re redeploying resources to make sure that they’ve got the right people at the right place to be able to cope with these matters,” Goodale said. 

The border issues have threatened to overshadow progress Canada made this week in Washington on plans for cargo preclearance to speed up trade as well as more extensive co-operation on fending off cyberthreats.

Goodale was among the ministers who accompanied Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his first visit with Trump.

Canada and the U.S. agreed to move ahead with preclearance of cargo, which allows for the examination of shipments by the destination country at special sites inside the territory of the departure country. The idea is to benefit travellers and trade by reducing congestion and delays at the border.  

Goodale hailed the language in a joint Canada-U.S. statement as a “major step forward.”

“It didn’t say we were going to study it, we were going to think about it, we’re going to work on it — it says from both countries, we are committed to implement it,” he said. “There are some preliminary sites that have been examined for some pilots where we can work out the kinks and the logistics.”

The efforts would build on cargo pilot projects the countries have already carried out under the 2011 Beyond the Border security pact.

“I think, from my impression (in Washington), the Americans are as keen as we are to make cargo preclearance a reality,” Goodale said.

Currently, people flying to American cities through eight major Canadian airports can be precleared there by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.

Passenger preclearance is being expanded to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport and Quebec City’s Jean Lesage International Airport, as well as for rail service in Montreal and Vancouver.

On Monday, Canada and the U.S. agreed to bring traveller preclearance to other locations, though one insider said it was too early to say which ones might participate.

The commitment to collaborate more closely on cyberthreats and protecting important systems also builds on existing cross-border efforts.

“We have a number of common critical infrastructure systems that cross the border between our two countries,” Goodale said Tuesday.

“The North American power grid is a good example of that, where there are huge interconnections along the border. And we want to make that as resilient and resistant to attack as we possibly can.”

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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