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Published:January 19th, 2007 07:41 EST
Remarks by Secretary Michael Chertoff and Canadian Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day at a Press Availability

Remarks by Secretary Michael Chertoff and Canadian Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day at a Press Availability

By SOP newswire

Secretary Chertoff: Well, good morning, everybody. I'm delighted to welcome my colleague and friend, Stockwell Day, from Canada, who is here for a couple of days visiting. This is preparatory to a meeting we're going to have in the latter part of February as part of the Security and Prosperity Partnership with Canada, the United States and Mexico. So we have had an opportunity to talk about some of the issues that are going to come up in February, and to see what we need to do to prepare ourselves to have a good conference next month.

We did have an opportunity to review where we are with the implementation of the WHTI air rule requiring passports for air travel in and out of the United States in the Western Hemisphere. As you may know, this rule comes into effect next week on January 23rd.

I have some good news, because we've been working cooperatively with the travel industry, as well as with some of the destination countries outside the United States to make sure that we are communicating with the traveling public in a consistent and clear fashion about the passport requirement. And, remarkably, this effort has been successful as demonstrated by some of the tracking that we have done about the number of people who are coming into the United States with travel documents.

We've seen, for example, that from the week of December 11th of last year, when we had 81 percent of Americans coming in with a travel document that's compliant. As of this past week, it went up to 94 percent. Canadians have gone from 93 percent to 96 percent. Mexicans were 100 percent in the last week. And the Caribbean is up to 98 percent; Bermuda is up to 100 percent.

So people have got the message, and that's good news. It suggests that we will have a relatively seamless transition when the rule comes into effect.

Of course, we'll always be open to consider hardship cases, and one thing I did say to Stockwell is that for Canadians who are snowbirds who are returning to Canada, we will allow them to depart the United States without having a passport for some significant period of time to avoid the problem of people who may have come last year before the requirement, and we don't want to strand them here, although I'm sure they'd love to stay an extra month in the warm weather.

So that's good news. We want to continue to work on implementing the land rule early next year in the same spirit of efficiency and speed, and work on a whole variety of issues.

Minister Day: Thank you, Michael, to you and to all of your officials for the important discussions we were able to hold today. This furthers discussions, in terms of preparing for our meeting in February, that I had just a couple of nights ago with our Mexican counterpart, and he also is looking forward to joining us in February, because what we're talking about is making sure that both security and prosperity are keynotes when we look at what happens at our borders. We want to make sure that trade and our citizens can flow freely back and forth across the borders, and at the same time, that those people who would pose a risk at all to any of our countries would be not able to do that.

We're pleased that we've been able to send a signal to our snowbirds, as we call them, that they will not run into significant difficulties, in terms of returning to Canada, and what we want to see happen as we continue our discussions and look forward in February to the tripartite meetings is sending the message to our citizens that, indeed, our mutual prosperity is what is paramount, along with our security, and that we can have both. And we're looking forward to moving that agenda along, especially in our tripartite meetings in February.

We hope that we'll experience, you'll experience some slightly warmer weather that we're having in Canada right now. And our Mexican counterpart raised that as a significant concern, but not enough to stop them from coming.

So we look forward to those meetings in February, and thank you for the time we've had today. And I look forward to ongoing discussion.

Secretary Chertoff: Great. The Minister has got to give a luncheon speech, so we don't have a lot of time, so keep the questions short.

Question: Can you go over those percentages again, these —

Secretary Chertoff: Sure, just to give you a sense, for the last week, Americans coming back to the U.S., 94 percent came with a passport; Canadians were 96 percent; Mexico was 100 percent; Bermuda was 100 percent; and the Caribbean was 98 percent. And this is, of course, before the requirement kicks in. We've seen a steady increase in all those categories since December, which is very good news.

Question: And what was the December percentage?

Secretary Chertoff: The December percentage for Americans was 81 percent; Canadians was 93 percent; Mexicans was 75 percent; the Caribbean was 79 percent; and Bermuda was 96 percent.

Question: I'm with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It's been made clear to us several times by various members of the U.S. administration that the Maher Arar file is your responsibility, Secretary Chertoff. Why is Maher Arar still on the watch list for the United States, and what information have you been able to provide to the Canadian government about why he remains there?

Secretary Chertoff: Well, it's — I don't know if it's exclusively my responsibility. We share responsibility for how we deal with anybody who might want to come into the country with the Department of Justice, because the terrorist database is housed within the FBI, and also the Department of State. So there's a shared responsibility.

I'm not in a position to comment at this point about whether a particular person is or is not on a watch list because I have to be mindful of the privacy rules. In general, I know there's been some discussion between our law enforcement authorities and Canadian authorities about information to make sure that we have access to common information.

If and when anybody wants to come into the United States and they present themselves, we will make a judgment at that time about their admissibility based on the facts and circumstances known to us.

Question: It's been made clear by the State Department that he is on that list and that he is on that list for a reason.

Secretary Chertoff: Well, I'm not going to — I'm not going to contradict the State Department. I've got to be mindful of not transgressing any privacy rules, so I'm not going to add to anything the State Department has said. I'm simply going to say that if this becomes a relevant issue, only if and when somebody presents themselves to come into the United States. Otherwise, it's kind of a hypothetical issue because the significance of being on a watch list is what — how we evaluate somebody and how closely we look at them when they seek application for admission.

Question: Minister Day, what information have you been given about this?

Minister Day: Well, Allison, I can tell you, and I'm sure you're aware, it was a few months ago when the Arar report, the first part of it, came out. And we responded to all the recommendations. We said we would accept all of those, one of which was to remove Mr. Arar and his family from the watch list. We did that immediately. And also, soon after doing that, I communicated to my counterpart, to Secretary Chertoff, that we had done that and that he had been removed from the list and that they may want to take that into consideration as they were doing their evaluations. My colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, also communicated that to his colleague. And that is what we have done. We have put into effect the recommendation from —

Question: Have you been informed as to why he remains on the U.S. list?

Minister Day: Our officials recently have looked at all the U.S. information, and that does not change our position. We are still maintaining that he should not be on that fly list.

Question: The administration has, for almost five years, argued that it didn't need to bring certain electronic surveillance under the FISA law, and of course, we've only managed that for a year. But now the administration is backing down. How is it that the administration was able to argue for all this time that the power to do that fell under the President's inherent powers, and now changing its mind about whether the FISA Court needs to deal with it?

Secretary Chertoff: I don't think there was a backing down. As I understand, what the Attorney General indicated is that they've reached a way forward with the FISA court that allows the — this kind of activity to proceed with the approval of the court. I don't — and maybe the Attorney General said something I'm not aware of — but I don't read that as somehow suggesting that what was done before was wrong.

I will tell you, there's only one court that to my knowledge — one appellate court — that to my knowledge has dealt with the issue of the President having inherent authority, and that was the FISA Court of Appeals itself, and that court said, in fact, the President did have inherent authority.

So that's three judges, for whom I have a lot of respect, who took this position previously. Nevertheless, sometimes one doesn't have to push the full measure of one's authority. If there's a way forward that satisfies everybody, so be it.