Bill C-21 would result in the collection of data on all Canadians entering and leaving the country
The Canadian government is poised to begin collecting much more information about Canadians leaving the country — a change that is triggering privacy fears because the data will be shared with the United States.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale introduced Bill C-21 more than two years ago. The bill would implement an “entry/exit program” to keep track of when individual Canadians enter and leave the country — information that wasn’t always collected in the past.
The bill quietly cleared the House last week and is awaiting Senate debate in the fall. Once enacted, it would allow the government to keep tabs on just how long someone was outside the country — information that could be used to claw back social benefits like Old Age Security (OAS), Employment Insurance (EI) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) from those who have been away too long to qualify.
The information collected under C-21 also could be used to track whether prospective citizens — permanent residents — have met strict residency requirements. The data could help the government keep tabs on high-risk travellers for national security purposes, or track down foreign nationals who have overstayed their visas.
Right now, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) only knows when someone enters Canada.
“Bill C-21 would help us not only ensure that our border with the United States is more secure but also would ensure that our immigration system and social benefit system are better equipped to perform as intended,” Goodale said during a recent debate on the bill in the House.
The government plans to use C-21 to collect what it calls “basic data” from travellers — things like name, nationality, date of birth, gender, and time and place of departure. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents will collect the data from those entering the United States by land and send it to officials in Ottawa; airlines will collect the information from those departing Canada by air.
Snowbirds will have to ‘be more mindful’
The information collected is to be shared with the U.S. government as part of a longstanding effort to “thin” the border between the two countries. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) could, for example, use the information to go after Canadians who have overstayed their visas in the U.S., or reclassify some snowbirds for tax purposes.
For the more than one million Canadian seniors and retirees who head south every year, that extra level of scrutiny could be awkward.
Generally, Canadians can spend up to 182 days a year in the U.S. without having to worry about being hounded by American tax or immigration officials.
But it’s quite easy to inadvertently stay past that 182-day limit and fail the so-called “substantial presence test” the IRS uses to determine if a foreign national should be paying income tax in the U.S.