March 16, 2005 - 19:15

U.S. laments lack of information from Canada on suspected terrorist dealings


OTTAWA (CP) - Canadian laws are dogging efforts to catch terrorists and other criminals trying to sneak large sums of money across the U.S. border, a new report says.

The laws hamper the flow of information "that may be critical" to terrorist-financing investigations, the U.S. State Department says in its assessment of global measures against money laundering and financial crimes.

The recently released report notes that Auditor General Sheila Fraser found in November that privacy concerns restrict the ability of Fintrac, the federal anti-money laundering centre, to disclose intelligence to police.

Fraser said the information law-enforcement agencies receive from Fintrac is often too limited to justify launching investigations.

The U.S. report, released as part of a larger annual study of international narcotics, says American officials "have echoed concerns" that Canadian privacy laws and the high standard of proof required by Canadian courts "inhibit the full sharing of timely and meaningful intelligence" on suspicious financial transactions.

"Recently, the concern has been the inability of U.S. and Canadian law enforcement officers to exchange promptly information concerning suspected sums of money found in the possession of individuals attempting to cross the U.S.-Canadian border," the report says.

Federal law requires anyone transporting $10,000 or more across the Canadian border to report the movement to authorities.

Chris Kealey, a Canada Border Services Agency spokesman, said Wednesday officials made 1,425 seizures of currency in 2004 worth a total of $30.9 million.

Of these, 191 seizures valued at $13 million were deemed to be proceeds of crime.

The border services agency can share information about such seizures with Fintrac and Canadian police.

Fraser had found that a higher-than-expected volume of data, coupled with computer difficulties, had led to "slow transmission" of information between the border services agency and Fintrac.

In addition, the border agency had a nine-month processing backlog of reports submitted by travellers and businesses. The agency hired two additional clerks in September to help eliminate the logjam.

The U.S. report urges Canada to "continue its efforts to work toward ensuring the timely sharing of financial information that may be critical to international terrorist financing or major money laundering investigations."

Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan, the cabinet member responsible for the border agency, meets her U.S. counterpart, Michael Chertoff, in Ottawa on Thursday.

McLellan said Wednesday the two would work on security issues in advance of a summit in Texas later this month that brings together leaders from Canada, the United States and Mexico.

McLellan and Chertoff will also discuss plans for a major international anti-terrorism drill to take place next month.

The need for efficient cross-border communication on terrorist episodes was underscored in a confidential U.S. Homeland Security report that surfaced this week.

In one scenario, terrorists release pneumonic plague in a major U.S. city, causing cases to "rapidly occur in the United States and Canada."

The fictional plague kills a projected 2,287 Americans and 246 Canadians.

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