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The Impact of Local Law Enforcement at the Canada-U.S. Border

Stretching 5,525 miles, the Canada-United States border is the longest international boundary in the world. Every day, border officers from both nations inspect about a billion dollars in trade and hundreds of thousands of people in order to interdict harmful goods and persons at our shared crossing. However, the agencies in charge of the border and customs only have primary jurisdiction along the band that makes up the international boundary. Outside of that area, border security is left to other federal, state, and provincial police forces.

Date & Time

Jun. 14, 2012
9:00am – 11:00am


5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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The Impact of Local Law Enforcement at the Canada-U.S. Border

Mathieu Ferland, Director of International Relations, Sûreté du Québec

James Horton, Assistant Director, New York State Office of Homeland Security

Frédéric Lemieux, Director, Police Science and Security & Safety Leadership Programs, George Washington University

Michael J. Manning, Field Manager, Homeland Security Unit of the Vermont State Police

Policing at an international border requires special dedication that goes above and beyond the normal call of police work, wrote Frederic Lemieux, professor of Criminology at George Washington University.[i] Citing Lemieux’s “Seven Deadly Sins of Police Cooperation,” David Biette, the director of the Canada Institute, cautioned against international police cooperation without the proper planning, which could undo much of the important work that officers do at the border. Lemieux advocates for European-style Joint Investigate Teams (JITs), which collaborate together to share information, coordinate operations, and build mutual trust and confidence in other law enforcement agencies.

The Sûreté du Québec (SQ), Québec’s provincial police force, provides all levels of police services to residents of Québec, said Mathieu Ferland of the SQ. This includes complementary jurisdiction with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), and more than 30 municipal police forces throughout the province. For over 120 years, the SQ has worked diligently to improve and expand its relationships with both Canadian counterparts in other organizations and American law enforcement agencies. In 2006, the SQ made an official effort to reach across the border to better facilitate international law enforcement. Currently, there are continuous trans-national project patrols at the Québec-U.S. border and special workshops designed to develop personal relationships between officers of various agencies as well as programs to enforce laws on both sides of the border. However, Ferland stressed that more work needs to be done because conflicting laws of various jurisdictions, specifically weapons ordinences, create unnecessary hassles even when dealing with routine traffic incidents. While privacy concerns also impede the ability of the organizations to cooperate, deepened personal relationships and a better understanding of cultural differences have dramatically alleviated those issues.

Vermont, a state with a small and rural population, must cooperate with both domestic and international partners to ensure safety for its citizens, said Michael Manning of the Vermont State Police. Interdicting terrorists bound for other East coast cities in the United States is the preeminent international concern of the Vermont State Police. Other concerns include drugs and illegal aliens traveling south to the United States as well as firearms and illegal currency traveling north into Canada. Vermont law enforcement organizations need federal funding and efficient cooperation to continue enhancing the capabilities for addressing these threats. The workshops between the various law enforcement agencies continue to help officers navigate complex situations at the border. These workshops have been instrumental in the creation of the border operability guide, which will allow law enforcement officers to quickly assess what their duties and rights are with regard to the Canada-U.S. border.

The good news about the Canada-U.S. border is that all of the law enforcement entities surrounding it are cooperating closely, said James Horton of the New York State Department of Homeland Security. However, there are still many problems that must be dealt with to ensure a more secure border. New York issued its Northern Border Strategy, which identified three areas of focus for dealing with the border: prevent terrorist activity from crossing into New York, protect residents and infrastructure from terrorist activity, and prepare for a potential terrorist incident. One of the greatest threats to border integrity is the First Nations’ tribal areas that cross national, provincial, and state boundaries. These reservations have become difficult to police due to their independent nature and the added complication of having numerous agencies work in a confined area. Horton lauded operation North Star with helping cut down on these complications and allowing the various agencies to work more efficiently with one another. However, sovereignty of nations and organizations can lead to issues that must be dealt with to further enhance our ability to intercept crime at the border. Finally, Horton warned that as we move further away from 9/11, complacency has become a bigger problem. Vigilance is the one asset that all law enforcement organizations must have to combat the threat of terrorism, smuggling, and violence at our shared border. However, programs like the Beyond the Border Action Plan have significantly increased the level of communication between the two countries, which will only ease the pressures faced by all of the law enforcement agencies that operate at and near the border.

[i] Frederic Lemieux, unable to attend as moderator, provided his presentation, “Seven Deadly Sins of Police Cooperation” to be included in the conference discussion.

Hosted By

Canada Institute

Bound by common geopolitical interests and strong economic and cultural ties, Canada and the United States enjoy the world's most successful bilateral relationship. The Wilson Center's Canada Institute is the only public policy forum in the world dedicated to the full spectrum of Canada-U.S. issues. The Canada Institute is a global leader for policymakers, academics and business leaders to engage in non-partisan, informed dialogue about the current and future state of the relationship.     Read more


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