Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Northern Border Summit

By:  Eric Holder, Jr.
Date: Sept. 14, 2011
Location: Lake Placid, NY

Thank you, Rick [Hartunian], for your kind words, for the outstanding work that you are leading, and for all that you and your team have done to bring us together for this critical summit.

I know that many of you traveled a long way to be here -- and I want to thank each of you for participating in what I know has been a productive and informative two days. You've discussed successful investigations, prosecutions, extraditions, and crime-prevention strategies. You've shared best practices -- as well as innovative ideas for combating terrorism, cybercrime, drug trafficking, financial fraud schemes, and organized criminal networks. You've also voiced issues of concern and identified areas for improvement. And, above all, you've forged and reinforced essential partnerships -- across areas of expertise, disciplines, jurisdictions, tribal communities, and international borders.

I have no doubt that the conversations you've begun here in Lake Placid will lead to greater collaboration in the days ahead, and will enable all of us -- Americans and Canadians, alike -- to be more effective in fulfilling the responsibilities that we share: protecting the safety of our fellow citizens.

Especially this week -- which began with a commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks -- the importance of this work, and of strong international cooperation, is brought into stark focus.

We can all be encouraged -- and each of you deserves credit for the fact -- that the bond between the United States and Canada is stronger than ever. Canada continues to stand among America's most active treaty partners, under both the Extradition Treaty and the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. And -- time and again -- our nations have proven our ability to work together to resolve complex and sensitive bilateral law enforcement issues.

As Prime Minister Harper described our special relationship earlier this year, "We are partners, neighbors, allies, and -- most of all -- true friends." Throughout my tenure as Attorney General, it has been -- and it continues to be -- an honor to support and help sustain this friendship.

In addition to our common values, interests, and concerns, our two nations share many priorities -- securing our borders; eliminating violent crime; combating fraud and the trafficking of human beings, drugs, and firearms; and, of course, fighting terrorism.

Today, on both sides of the U.S-Canada Border, the threats we face are unprecedented. But they are not isolated. And there's no question that our nations' security interests are currently, and permanently, intertwined.

Our countries manage a 5,500-mile land border, which is crossed by 200 million people -- and hundreds of billions of dollars of goods -- each year. This poses a tremendous set of challenges. And the very openness of our border -- which both Americans and Canadians value and seek to maintain -- makes it vulnerable as a point of access for criminals of all stripes, for fugitives, for illegal traffickers, and for terrorists.

But because of your hard work, because of successful joint efforts such as the Cross Border Crime Forum, and because of the promising new "Beyond our Border" initiative that President Obama and Prime Minister Harper proposed earlier this year, our law enforcement efforts have never been more closely aligned -- or more effective.

In recent years, prosecutors, investigators, and law enforcement officials from our two nations have renewed their commitment to cooperation. All U.S. Attorneys' Offices -- and many District Attorneys' Offices -- with jurisdiction in our northern border areas now work closely with their Canadian counterparts on a regular basis. And our nations' law enforcement communities are sharing criminal information and intelligence more quickly and frequently than ever before.

This approach has paid dividends, which can be measured in real terms -- the seizure of millions of dollars in illegal drugs and assets; the disruption of international gang operations and criminal networks; and the successful extradition of individuals accused of drug trafficking, terrorist activities, and sexual assault.

As you've discussed over the last two days, there are numerous examples of successful transnational collaboration to learn from, to emulate, and to celebrate. The offices and teams represented here have proven that -- by working in partnership -- our two nations can make extraordinary progress in bringing criminals to justice -- and in combating threats to our citizens, our economic infrastructure, and our communities.

Yet despite all you've accomplished -- and the significant budget and infrastructure challenges you've overcome -- we cannot yet be satisfied, or become complacent. We cannot stop seeking ways to improve. And we cannot ignore the unfortunate fact that securing the border we share has never been more difficult -- or more urgent.

That's why, over the last two years, Secretary Napolitano and I have worked closely with our counterparts -- Minister of Justice Nicholson and Minister of Public Safety Toews. And I'm proud to report that cooperation between the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security and Canada's Ministries of Justice and Public Safety is a top priority for our agencies -- and our governments.

But we have arrived at a defining moment. Today, a decade since the Cross Border Crime Forum was created, our nations have reached a crucial point for updating our goals, for modernizing our strategies, and for identifying the most effective, and most economically viable, ways to achieve our shared public safety objectives; to breakdown remaining barriers to cooperation; and to honor our common values. And it is time to ask some important questions:

How can we build on the progress that's been achieved in recent years? How can we do a better job of securing our border, protecting our communities, and safeguarding civil liberties? How can we be more effective in holding criminals accountable? How can we ensure that our partnership remains an example for other nations around the world?

Despite the excellent relationship we've established, I believe that there are areas in which the U.S. and Canada can enhance cooperation in criminal investigations and prosecutions. And I believe we must consider how extradition, and mutual legal assistance, processes could be streamlined to avoid delays; and whether certain sentencing laws -- and information sharing policies and practices -- should be updated.

As Canada's national government considers various anti-crime policies and approaches, we will continue working to implement a comprehensive anti-crime framework that respects the sovereignty of both our nations. We will continue to join with the growing network of countries that have ratified the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime -- a group that, I'm glad to hear, will soon include Canada -- to establish the international framework necessary to combat these threats. And we will continue to support the innovative proposal that Prime Minister Harper and Public Safety Minister Toews have advocated -- to develop the next generation of integrated cross-border law enforcement operations.

As you discussed earlier today, the creation of "NextGen" teams of cross-designated officers would allow us to more effectively identify, assess, and interdict persons and organizations involved in transnational crime. They would also allow us to conserve precious resources, to avoid duplicative efforts, and to leverage tools and expertise.

Since December, senior representatives from DOJ, DHS, Public Safety Canada and Justice Canada have been meeting regularly to discuss a way forward. Their conversations have been candid, pragmatic, and productive -- and progress has been made in developing a pilot project that we hope to launch next year.

This is an exciting step forward -- and precisely the type of bold, collaborative approach that's necessary to address 21st-century threats. In conjunction with the other provisions included in the Beyond the Border Initiative, such a move would enhance our cross-border efforts and advance our information-sharing abilities -- while still vigorously protecting civil liberties and privacy rights under the laws of both the United States and Canada.

Let me reiterate this key point, which Bruce [Swartz] and several other colleagues noted earlier today: in protecting the security of our borders and the safety of our people, we will not abandon the values that have always defined the United States -- and aligned it with great nations like Canada. And we will never jeopardize every American's -- and every Canadian's -- guaranteed right to privacy. The protection of our civil liberties is of critical importance -- to me, to the Justice Department, and to this administration.

As we move forward in upholding the values -- and realizing the goals -- that unite us, I look forward to working with each of you. And as I look around this room, and at the many partners gathered here, I can't help but feel optimistic about the days ahead -- and be confident in our joint ability to ensure safety, security, and justice for those we are all so privileged to serve.

Thank you.