A leading expert in cross border policy is praising a new joint initiative between the RCMP and U.S. Coast Guard that will essentially eliminate the imaginary border on the Detroit River and Great Lakes.

Bill Anderson, Ontario research chair in cross-border policy at the University of Windsor, said the Canada-U.S. Ship Rider Program should have been created a long time ago.

The joint program in the Windsor-Detroit area will allow law enforcement officers from Canada and the U.S. to ride together on the Detroit River, patrolling and chasing down criminals on both sides of the international boundary, officials say.

'Why can't we co-ordinate these things?'— Border expert Bill Anderson

Anderson called the program "very practical."

"This is very consistent with the idea that Canada and the U.S. are two friendly nations with a border they manage jointly. Why can't we co-ordinate these things?" Anderson said.

The Canada-U.S. Ship Rider Program could be in place as early as this summer in the Windsor-Detroit region, if legislation before Canadian Parliament is passed.

"U.S. vessels will be empowered to come into Canadian waters to perform enforcement duties. Similarly, Canadians can go into U.S. waters," said David Cree, president and CEO of the Windsor Port Authority.

Program allows information sharing

Capt. Stephen Torpey, the chief of response for the 9th U.S. Coast Guard district in Cleveland, told the annual Windsor Marine Night event Thursday that RCMP and the U.S. Coast Guard will be able to share information and resources while looking for things such as drug trafficking and cross-border smuggling.

"The criminals have used that authority against us with our inability to go past the borders," Torpey said. "We now stand a much better chance of actually of apprehending and interdicting illegal crimes. Right now, the border is basically a line in the water that prevents us from being able to continue a pursuit of someone who may be breaking the law.

"With the ship rider authority, it will allow us to go past the border so that criminals could not use that as a fence."

Anderson compared border law enforcement to auto manufacturing.

"You can't make a car in Ontario without parts from the United States. So why couldn't you co-ordinate law enforcement in the same way?" Anderson said.

Port authority says 'look closely' to see changes

Cree said people will have to "look closely" to see a change on local waterways. The program will also be in effect on Lake Erie.

"I don’t think the average person will see a difference," Cree said. "It's to ensure Great Lakes waters are as safe as they can be."

Anderson said leisure boaters and fishermen shouldn't see an increase or decrease spot checks of boats on the river or lake. 

"This program applies to issues where they're pursuing someone," Anderson said. "I don't think the intention is for the U.S. to take over conventional enforcement in Canadian waters."