Wednesday, March 14, 2007

why is the US opening inbound mail for Canada?

Whose mail is it anyway?
Why are U.S. inspectors looking at Canadian items?

Diane Francis, Financial Post March 14, 2007

What happened to a FedEx package sent from Hong Kong to Toronto is a cautionary tale for Canadians, businesses and Ottawa officials.

The parcel was opened at Fed- Ex's Alaska sorting plant by U.S. customs and Homeland Security officials.

"It was an ordinary letter-size package containing six pages of business documents," said Alex Doulis in a telephone interview. "On the top it was taped over after being opened. On the tape was written 'Opened for U.S. customs and border protection.' "

Two seals were stamped on the tape. One was an eagle in a circle with the words U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The question is, why would U.S. officials have the right to open mail sent from one foreign country to another?

The parcel was not intended for delivery in the United States, but in Canada. Why did this arouse suspicion?

This incident is also curious considering last week's controversy in Washington. The FBI director admitted to Congress in a hearing that the USA Patriot Act had been used improperly to obtain information about people and businesses. Was this another example?

The problem for Canadians, it would seem, is that sorting of courier deliveries is done mostly in the United States. This means the parcels fall under U.S. jurisdiction.

Instead, they should be treated as "inbound" -- a designation that applies to passengers who simply change planes in the United States and need not go out and through customs again.

The point is that parcels destined for Canada should be sorted in Canada, not in Alaska or any other foreign jurisdiction.

"This is just wrong," Mr. Doulis said. "We are all sending packages and letters to other countries and the American authorities have no business opening our mail. It's against the law in Canada to tamper with somebody else's mail. You can go to the jail for that."

It seems to me that FedEx or Canada Post or whichever outfit

picks up my mail for delivery somewhere is guaranteeing tamper-free transport. Put another way, they should be legally liable to not have our packages opened by a foreign government in transit.

"I have no objection to any country imposing rules in its own country," Mr. Doulis said. "What's the use of hiring a courier service if the stuff is held up for at least a day, is opened and your confidential material has the potential of being lost?"

Mr. Doulis became concerned after his friend's mail was opened, then resealed. He is an investor who regularly is sending confidential business documents to locations around the world. These are documents, or even originals, that are valuable and cannot be replaced. Some contain confidential information that no one else is entitled to view or keep.

His concern led him to make some phone calls in Toronto of the international courier services offered here.

"I called every one and all of them told me that packages headed out of Canada, that are southern or European-bound, are sorted in the United States," he said in a recent telephone interview.

"If the documents are coming from, or going to, Asia, they will go through Alaska, which is what happened in this case."

The problem is that once the letters or packages arrive in a U.S. sorting plant, they are obviously subjected to search.

And Canadian customers, and others, are not advised of this ahead of time. Notification of this should have been given to customers, at the very least.

"Once it ends up in the sorting room in the U.S. there's a possibility it will be opened like this envelope," Mr. Doulis said. "This is objectionable because the envelope was not destined for the U.S., so there should be no customs issue for the U.S. But it was opened and resealed by them and by Homeland Security."

Clearly, Canadian mail must be sorted inside Canada or else exempted as "inbound" if sorted south of the border.

Homeland Security, and the US Patriot Act, provide sweeping powers to law enforcement officials down there. This is because the Americans are paranoid about all of this and, frankly, have sacrificed their rights to protect themselves. That is their choice.

But Ottawa has to look after Canadians' right to privacy and protection from extra-territoriality.

Federal Minister of Public Safety, Stockwell Day, take note: Rules should be imposed on the couriers doing business in Canada and zealous U.S. officials should be told to back off in the meantime


Annamarie said...

Thanks for posting this. Very interesting and actually shocking. The US has no business in our private affairs. Goes to further illustrate how deeply integrated we are with our southern neighbour. I fear it will only get worse. (My new blog)

audacious said...

unbelievable isn't it!