- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2007

Canada yesterday rejected a U.S. plan to let travelers to the United States pre-clear immigration and customs on the Canadian side of the land border, saying Canadian law does not require anyone not charged with a crime to be fingerprinted, as the Americans demand.

Stockwell Day, the Canadian minister of public safety, issued a terse statement, saying the deal, known as the land pre-clearance pilot project and meant to relocate U.S. and Canadian customs officers on the other country’s territory, is all but dead.

“Canada will not consider any proposal that does not comply with Canadian law. From early on in the negotiations, both parties agreed that an agreement would respect the laws of the country hosting the pre-clearance area,” Mr. Day said.

“Canadian and U.S. laws differ in terms of the conditions under which fingerprints can be collected,” he said. “This proved to be an obstacle in reaching an agreement. Canada will not consider any proposal that would diminish the basic individual rights of Canadians.”

The negotiations broke down more than two years after the project was first announced. It would have been implemented first at the Peace Bridge between Buffalo, N.Y., and Fort Erie, Ontario — the third-busiest commercial crossing and second-busiest passenger vehicle crossing along the border, handling $20 billion of trade annually between the two neighbors.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat and a supporter of the plan, has said it would help congestion caused by infrastructure constraints on the U.S. side of the border and would reduce post-September 11 security costs, which run in the billions of dollars.

If all inspections took place on the more spacious Canadian side, cars and trucks would be able to flow without stopping toward the New York State Thruway after crossing the Niagara River into Buffalo.

The Bush administration said U.S. officers would have had to possess critical inspection tools, such as fingerprinting, which violate Canadian civil rights laws.

“That’s a vital authority that we’re simply not willing to surrender,” Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said this week.

Mr. Day assured Canadians that Ottawa would do anything necessary to facilitate traffic flows short of breaking national law.

“While there are no talks scheduled, we remain committed to exploring ways to meet our mutual needs and address the important issue of pre-clearance within the parameters of Canadian law,” he said.

It is not clear whether the negotiation breakdown would affect plans for construction of a new, larger Peace Bridge to replace the existing three-lane span.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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