Far from discouraging organized crime groups from crossing the Canada–US border, streamlining processes in Beyond the Border may actually enhance the economic competitiveness of organized crime, caution two security experts at the Royal Military College of Canada.

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OTTAWA, April 25, 2013 – A joint US-Canada strategy designed to create a 'layered approach' to border security may actually skirt the  biggest persistent cross-border security threat—organized crime—and even enhance its economic competitiveness, according to a Macdonald-Laurier Institute study released today.

"Although security and economic competitiveness are at stake for both countries, the Americans want, first and foremost, to achieve greater security, while Canadians are prioritizing economic competitiveness," say the study's co-authors, Todd Hataley and Christian Leuprecht, security experts at the Royal Military College of Canada.

"Security and economic competitiveness are a false dichotomy. Organized crime is slipping through the cracks and, ironically, it may profit literally and figuratively as a result."

On February 4, 2011, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched a strategy for new era of cooperation called Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness.

 

This strategy had four goals: addressing early threats; and facilitating the growth of trade, the national economies and jobs.  It envisaged a layered approach to border security, with the two nations working jointly to shift border functions away from the border itself to points inland.

As the title suggests, a perimeter agreement between the United States and Canada defines an established security perimeter around the continent, ostensibly protecting the approaches to the region. Its premise is to push the perimeter out by means of pre-clearance for customs, reducing the need for enforcement at actual ports of entry.  That premise, however, has yet to materialize in terms of an actual shift of resources away from "holding the line" to focus on flows instead.

Like its antecedents, Beyond the Border's purpose is to diminish the marginal costs of legal cross-border activity. "Yet, it does little to raise the marginal costs of illicit cross-border activity," the authors say in their study titled 'Organized Crime Beyond the Border'.

"In fact, it actually risks lowering marginal costs for illicit cross-border activity which has significant implications for law enforcement. Its assessment of the resources necessary for adopting a layered security strategy in the region is deficient and does little to curb organized crime."

Far from discouraging organized crime groups from crossing the Canada–US border, the streamlining processes in Beyond the Border may actually abet intra-continental organized crime, the authors warn.

"As law enforcement agencies shift their attention beyond the North American perimeter, there is potential to pay less attention to those travelling within it, thereby easing the movement of organized criminals and illicit goods within North America."

Most of the individuals involved in transnational organized crime between Canada and the United States are already living within the perimeter runs less of a risk of being screened out, the authors say. Also, anybody involved in organized criminal activity understands the risks to trans-border movement, and tries to reduce their exposure by appearing as legitimate as possible.

The authors point out that organized crime groups exploit risk management models that facilitate trusted shippers.

"Fitting neatly into a trusted-shipper program, either by appearing as a legitimate trader or by using corrupt officials (or better yet, both), gives them the same expedited border passage afforded to legitimate businesses."

One crucial weakness of Beyond the Border is that it does not specifically address transnational crime and related smuggling at the border point near Cornwall, Ont., which spans the Mohawk nation of Akwesasne, the authors warn.

Without a more systematic strategy targeted specifically at this region, criminal elements in Akwesasne will continue to exploit the opportunities created by differences in policy on both sides of the border.

"Organized crime has not yet needed to combine security and economic competitiveness. Its absence from Beyond the Border notwithstanding, a White House statement cited combating transnational crime as one of the Beyond the Border goals," the authors said.

"Canada did not reciprocate. Therefore, we assume that the two countries do not agree on the centrality of organized crime to the nexus of security and economic competitiveness, and do not consider this a priority."

 

Policy-makers on both sides of the border continue to underestimate the role that policies can play to encourage or deter organized crime groups from exploiting countervailing transaction costs across border, the authors said.

 

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Christian Leuprecht is associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Economics at the Royal Military College of Canada and cross-appointed to the Department of Political Studies and School of Policy Studies at Queen's University.

 

Todd Hataley is adjunct associate professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada and a fellow of the Queen's Centre for International and Defence Policy.

 

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute is the only non-partisan, independent national public policy think tank in Ottawa focusing on the full range of issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

 

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Sean Osmar

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Macdonald-Laurier Institute

sean.osmar@macdonaldlaurier.ca

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