House of Commons Hansard #32 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was customs.

Topics

Customs Tariff
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Customs Tariff
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Customs Tariff
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

An hon. member

On division.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Customs Act
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Willowdale
Ontario

Liberal

Jim Peterson for the Minister of National Revenue

moved that Bill C-18, an act to amend the Customs Act and the Criminal Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Customs Act
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

London West
Ontario

Liberal

Sue Barnes Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I want to talk today about Bill C-18.

As you well know, this bill was presented in the last Parliament and has been reintroduced in this Parliament. We have waited in Canada for this bill because it will help with the safety of our community. It will help our customs officers at the border points. As Canadians know, at the border points Revenue Canada, through its customs department which is integral to the department, the men and women who are peace officers at the border are there to be the first line of defence not only with having commercial goods come into the country and consumer goods come into the country, but millions of people visiting this land, both our returning residents and our tourists.

Here we do the primary immigration and the customs work and now, with Bill C-18, we have the opportunity to fill a gap in the legislation that has been there for some time. This matter has had intensive study over the last decade or so. There have been reports. We have very much our own customs unions on side with us. We very much have the police forces in this country on side with us. We very much have on side the interest groups that have come to us, for example, Priscilla de Villiers and her very good organization, CAVEAT, as well as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

All of these interest groups have pointed out to us something that we do that had to be corrected. This gap had to be filled and it was a gap where our police officers, our customs officers—I really should not call them police officers. They are our customs officers at the border points.

Now, with this legislation, they will have the ability to put charges down where we suspect some criminal activity that was outside the parameters of the Customs Act and the other legislation that we cover at the border points.

I could tell you about suspected drunk drivers who in the past we could detain but we had to call the local police forces, whoever they were, at the border points, and they are different across this land. They would then come and we could hold them, but we did not have the legal right to hold them there forever. Now this gap has been closed because we can do those charges. We can also pick up the outstanding arrest warrants that come up with our intelligence systems at the border points.

This gap will help with the drunk drivers' situation. It will help with the possession of stolen goods' situation. It will be very material and will touch the lives of Canadians who fear children being abducted at the border points. We have very good lookouts and intelligence. A child find operation is dealt with by our customs officers at the border point. This will give them the added legal authority to make the necessary charges on those involved in suspected criminal activities. They will also have the legal authority to detain those individuals with outstanding arrest warrants.

It is a very necessary piece of legislation. My colleagues across the hall in this Chamber understand the need for this legislation and welcome it, as we do. It is very important to the men and women who daily serve us in our department and who serve Canadians in doing their very important jobs. They have been doing their jobs without this legislation but this clarifies in law and better allows them to complete the task.

They will have the adequate necessary training. We will start at selected points but it will be across this land. We will have to make some structural changes in some of our facilities to accommodate this situation but they are minor in the scope of things. We do not believe our customs officers need to be armed at our border points and we will not be arming them, although I know this was part of the discussion. This decision was taken after much investigation. We will ensure the safety of our customs officers.

We have been dealing professionally with this situation for a long time. Now we are giving our customs officers the tool that was needed to close that legal gap, to give them the power to charge individuals and detain them. We will be the first response only. We are not going to handle the regular processing after the fact. The local police will be called in and they will take over as quickly as possible but we will legally be in a position to fulfill the need for community safety at the point of entry.

I remember a time when individuals such as Jonathon Yeo were seen at our border points and there was limited ability to hold them. This will correct our situation. I can think of tales from across Canada of people not being able to detain those they suspected of drinking and then later those people getting into accidents. The safety of not only our peace officers but of Canadians is the number one area we are concerned with in this piece of legislation.

From a report of many years ago have come discussions with our unions, the public and within the department. Now we have this legislation. We hope that with the assistance of all members in this House it can be moved rapidly through all legislative stages with the appropriate amount of discussion in this Chamber. It will be sent to the justice committee, then at third reading we will have another level of discussion in the Chamber.

We in Revenue Canada are very proud of the men and women who serve us at the border. The percentage of complaints we get about these individuals is very low compared to the number of people and goods they process. It is a very low annual figure.

As a student customs officer at the border in 1974 I feel there are jobs that both full time and part time employees did which they will continue to do. My point about the students is that they will not get training in this area. We feel it is an area in which the full time and the full part time people should be trained in.

Not everybody will have to be trained at every border point. There will have to be sufficient numbers trained in this area of the law and procedure. They will be properly staffed at every border point so that we can continue to do the excellent job that we are doing now for Canadians. I wanted to make that point because even though we value every employee, full, part time, student, whatever, we recognize that these are skills positions, positions of authority. We want them to be carried out in the most professional manner. We will provide the facilities and the training so that our customs officers can do this across the land.

I want to highlight the fact that we have not gone so far as arming and we will not be doing this. We have given the legal tool that was missing.

This is a very important piece of legislation. It is one that has been long awaited. It is one that is welcomed not only by the men and women in our department who have to work hard every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at all of our many border points, but also those people in our communities, especially the policing community at these border points and in general the whole Canadian public, the men, women and children who cross our border points every day. This will make Canada better and more secure. I am very pleased.

It is not a long piece of legislation. It is not a difficult piece of legislation. The operative parts are actually in three clauses of the legislation. The bottom line is that it will make a big difference for the people who work every day at our border points.

I am open to questions from my colleagues on my side or across the floor and I will do my best to answer their questions or concerns. I am grateful that we are now in a position to put this piece of legislation before them.

Customs Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Reform

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the official opposition to do something I thought I would never do in this House and have not done to this time, support a government bill. It is not easy to do but for a good cause we will sometimes support government bills. This is a well constructed and designed bill and a thoughtful approach to a problem we have in controlling criminal activity coming across our borders.

What Bill C-18 does, as the hon. parliamentary secretary outlined, is extend the ordinary powers of peace officers to detain and to arrest people who are either under criminal warrants or suspected of engaging in certain forms of criminal activity, principally impaired driving. This is something which is most sensible.

The notion that several thousand impaired drivers cross our borders each year but cannot be detained by our custom officers is a troubling one. There are many customs and entry ports in this country where we do not have full time regular peace officers, RCMP officers, staffing those ports. The customs agents are the only official representatives of our government and are the only eyes that are watching what kind of people cross those borders.

For these customs agents not to have the capacity to stop, detain and arrest people suspected of driving on to our highways impaired and endangering law abiding Canadian drivers I think is troubling. We are encouraged by Bill C-18's empowerment of those custom agents so that they can essentially act as a first response capability at our borders, a first response capability for criminals and for those suspected of impaired driving.

We understand that over the past year, according to estimates made by our customs officers, over 8,500 suspected impaired drivers have entered Canada. None of these people could be detained or stopped legally by customs agents for impaired driving. There are other reasons why they could be stopped, but not necessarily for that offence.

There have been an estimated 200 incidents of suspected child abduction where customs agents have not been empowered to stop the alleged abductors of children. There have been over 2,000 individuals subject to arrest warrants and more than 500 individuals in possession of suspected stolen property, mostly vehicles, again in instances where our customs agents have not been able to detain these people.

This is a sensible approach and one which we understand is supported by, among other groups, the customs union, Canadians Against Violence Everywhere Advocating its Termination, CAVEAT, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, as well as various police forces. It seems to have a broad range of support both by those concerned about the potential for the overzealous use of peace officer force as well as the police officers themselves. They all seem to be in support of this bill.

However, we do have several questions which are not addressed in the information the government has provided with respect to Bill C-18 and which were not really explained adequately by the parliamentary secretary. Among other questions, the government clearly will incur costs to implement this bill, costs which will derive from the training of customs agents so that they will know how and under what circumstances they may exercise these new criminal law powers. What exactly are those costs for training those public servants in this respect?

There will also be costs associated with establishing new facilities, detention facilities at many ports of entrance. Again, we have seen no estimate of what costs are associated with that. I would therefore ask the hon. members opposite, perhaps the parliamentary secretary if she has an opportunity, to provide this House with information on what costs will be associated with this bill.

Another question we have is the question of how these officers will be empowered to enforce the law. We understand, as the hon. parliamentary secretary just admitted, that they will not be issued firearms. While we are giving them in this bill partial police officer powers, the power to arrest and detain, among other people, suspected gun smugglers and drug smugglers, we will be issuing them pepper spray and, I gather, batons to protect themselves and Canadians and to enforce the law against potentially violent law breakers.

It seems to me this raises a question about the safety of our customs officers and the seriousness that the government has in terms of empowering these officers to apply and enforce the law. My second question to the government would be why will it not issue these quasi-peace officers the tools that peace officers need to execute the law, to arrest and detain potentially violent and dangerous criminals.

I do not understand why the former minister of revenue, the current minister of Indian affairs, introduced substantially the same bill in the last Parliament. In justifying not issuing firearms to these officers she simply said that she did not feel it was appropriate. She did not really explain why. She just said “Under my watch they will not be armed. As far as guns, the message there changes the whole perspective of our border and the risk of increased violence is not acceptable to me”.

If these agents were properly empowered and issued firearms, the risk of violence would not, I think, come from them. The risk of violence comes from violent criminals who cross our borders. To suggest that peace officers who are issued the necessary tools to do their jobs somehow poses a threat of violence at our borders is, I think, a rather backward way of looking at it. It is those peace officers who use those tools who prevent violent criminals coming into Canada.

I would again ask for a more compelling justification for these peace officers' not being issued with the appropriate tools to do the job that most peace officers have.

We also wonder about the common practice at Customs Canada of employing student customs officers. When the question is asked “O Canada, who stands on guard for thee”, in too many cases the answer is poorly trained students at ports of entry in this country, not fully trained customs agents. These student officers are in some places such as Pearson airport. Some 80% of customs agents, the first line of defence Canada has in the protection and enforcements of its laws, are undertrained student agents and are not full-fledged customs officers.

We understand that in other jurisdictions such as the United States and the United Kingdom this simply is not the case. One hundred per cent of the customs agents representing those governments are fully trained, fully empowered, fully certified customs agents, and not quasi-customs agents.

I have another question for the government. Why does it continue to staff our borders with people who are not fully trained officers of the law? That is a reasonable question. These student agents will not have the powers given to full customs agents under Bill C-18. Quite understandably they will not have the certification or the training to exercise peace officers powers. Even though this is a good step forward, many thousands of our customs agents at many of our customs ports and ports of entry will not have the power to arrest or detain people under the Criminal Code.

If student agents are on duty at a particular port of entry and find somebody who may be suspected of criminal activity, a suspected child abductor, kidnapper, smuggler of contraband or an impaired driver, they can do nothing to arrest or detain those people. They had better hope that there is a full-fledged customs agent immediately available to them or a full-fledged peace officer. If there is not then there is no protection for Canadians and there is no discharging of Canadian law at those ports of entry. That is an important point to us.

I have another question. The revenue minister has not indicated whether or not there will be additional training or the extent to which there will be additional training for newly empowered customs officers. What kind of training will they receive? Will it be in a police college atmosphere? Will it be within the current customs college, or will they receive a kind of briefing? How do we know they will be properly trained to exercise the ultimate power of government, that is its police power? That question is not outlined.

I do not understand in a very sensible bill like this one why the government would not anticipate some of these questions and answer them. Perhaps it will in the course of this debate.

This is a worthwhile objective. It is a good and honest effort by the government to plug a loophole that too many criminals have taken advantage of to seek entry into the country. I would only ask why this kind of legislation was not passed years if not decades ago.

Why does it take so long for us to plug loopholes in terms of enforcing the criminal law in Canada? Why have we allowed 8,500 suspected impaired drivers to cross our borders in the past without having the power to stop them? How many innocent Canadians have died on Canadian roads because customs officers were not able to stop, detain or arrest suspected impaired drivers?

Those are good questions. They are not only directed to this government but to predecessor governments as well.

In conclusion, the position of the Reform Party with respect to impaired driving and the application of the criminal law is well known. We stand for a criminal law regime which can be enforced. We want our peace officers and officers of the government to be able to enforce laws and protect Canadians.

A couple of weeks ago our party introduced a motion in this place calling for stiffer penalties for impaired driving. Any effort which can potentially remove even one impaired driver from our roads and can make society even incrementally safer is one that my party will support.

Settlement Agreement
Routine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

Windsor West
Ontario

Liberal

Herb Gray Deputy Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Yesterday in the House the hon. member for Elk Island said in part:

—during the question period the Deputy Prime Minister referred to and read from a document. I believe under the standing orders he is required to table that document. We request that he do so.

In response to that request from the Reform Party I would like to seek unanimous consent of the House to enable me to table the document at this time rather than this afternoon at the usual point in Routine Proceedings.

Furthermore, if the House agrees, I would be happy to agree not only to table the document but to have it printed as an annex to today's Hansard .

Settlement Agreement
Routine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House agreeable to having the document printed as an annex to today's Hansard as suggested by the Deputy Prime Minister?

Settlement Agreement
Routine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, an Act to amend the Customs Act and the Criminal Code, be read a second time and referred to a committee.

Customs Act
Government Orders

November 18th, 1997 / 11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, some days are busier than others. Today, I was in a building on Wellington Street to attend a sitting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, but I insisted on rushing back here to speak on Bill C-18, an Act to amend the Customs Act and the Criminal Code.

These are extremely important amendments. This bill, which was tabled by the Minister of National Revenue, affects several facets of law. There is one entire section that deals with the changes and enhanced powers the government wishes to give customs officers.

This is not a new bill, however. It is numbered C-18, but it was tabled in exactly the same form during the 35th Parliament as C-89. It will be remembered that it was tabled by the government of the day on the eve of the calling of the federal election, on March 13, 1997.

During the first mandate, a number of groups came to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights as well as to the government calling specifically for the government to change certain provisions of the Customs Act in order to enhance some powers. A number of groups have long pointed out the need for customs officers to be able to enforce criminal law at Canadian entry points. In a country like Canada, especially, which has such a long border with a lot of entry points, offences have occurred over the years, and customs officers lacked the tools necessary to deal with them.

What provision does the Customs Act make at the moment? We are told that customs officers have powers, but they are enforcement powers as established under part VI of the Customs Act. These powers apply to surveillance duties and to the control of merchandise imported into or exported from Canada. They include the power to search a person in order to find proof of an offence and to inspect, detain or seize merchandise.

Currently customs officers' powers apply primarily to merchandise entering or leaving Canada. They do not involve the application of provisions of the Criminal Code. The expression “peace officer” in the Criminal Code includes customs officers, but only in the context of offences set out in the Customs Act. For example, section 163(1) of the Criminal Code stipulates that it may apply with respect to offences set out under sections 153 or 159 of the act, which are false statements and smuggling.

Under these circumstances, customs officers are invested with the powers granted peace officers under sections 462.3 and 462.32 to 462.5 of the Criminal Code. In short, at the moment, customs officers are considered peace officers under the Criminal Code only in the case of offences set out in the Customs Act.

The bill is proposing to amend the Customs Act to set out new offences that come under the powers of customs officers. They really want to use the bill to give the customs officers greater opportunity to intervene when they witness certain offences.

Let us be clear about the changes. At present, customs officers are only allowed to act when an offence under the Customs Act has been committed. Since they do not have jurisdiction over Criminal Code offences or impaired driving offences—we will come back to that later, because there are specific provisions on this—they cannot act in those instances. There has been in the past striking examples of cases where blatant irregularities took place at Canadian ports of entry and departure because customs officers did not have the power to act.

Bill C-18 proper contains four clauses. These are small technicalities, but I think they are worth mentioning anyway. Clause 1, which makes substantive changes to the Customs Act, is the bill's main provision, while clauses 2 and 3 amend two sections of the Criminal Code; these amendments, although minor, are nevertheless far-reaching in terms of the customs officers' jurisdiction. Finally, clause 4 is the usual provision dealing with the coming into force of the bill.

I will take the extra time at my disposal to look at a number of very important provisions. Clause 1 of the bill would add part VI.1 to the Customs Act. This new part is entitled “Enforcement of Criminal Offences Other than Offences under this Act”. As indicated in the title, legislation other than the Customs Act is involved, hence the importance of the powers conferred upon customs officers.

Section 163.4 would be added, stipulating that the minister may issue a certificate of designation to customs officers for the purposes of new part VI.1. In this respect, according to documents from Revenue Canada, these new powers would only be granted to customs officers at ports of entry to Canada who are not students. This is reassuring, since it is an important power. It will only be given to customs officers on duty at Canadian ports of entry. The certificates of designation will be issued by the minister. As will be seen later, we have some concerns. While we support the bill as a whole, as we did during the 35th Parliament, we do have concerns regarding the certificates of designation.

The next important provision is paragraph 163.5(1), which gives a designated officer the powers and obligations of a peace officer under sections 495 to 497 of the Criminal Code. These are very important sections. As you know, section 495 gives a peace officer the right to arrest without a warrant a person who has committed an indictable offence or is about to commit such an offence. Section 495 also provides that this power can only be exercised under exceptional circumstances, that is when the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that public interest requires such an intervention.

Under section 497, a peace officer who makes an arrest without a warrant must release the person arrested as soon as practicable, unless he has reasonable grounds to believe—this is another well-known legal concept—that it is necessary in the public interest to detain that person.

It is to be noted that these new powers can only be exercised in a customs office. So, while additional powers are given to customs officers, the bill restricts their use and relies on well-known legal concepts. These concepts are also recognized in case law and, over the years, they have been interpreted under a number of acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec charter. The expression “reasonable grounds to believe” has indeed been interpreted.

The additional powers given to customs officers come with certain obligations. In the final part of my speech, I will comment on the obligations that will apply to customs officers as a result of these amendments.

Bill C-18, an act to amend the Customs Act and the Criminal Code, contains an extremely important provision. I must say that I am very happy to see that the lawmakers have included a provision to amend the Criminal Code accordingly through the Customs Act. This provision can be found in proposed paragraph 163.5(2). It would give designated customs officers—the same officers just designated by the minister—the powers and obligations of a peace officer under sections 254 and 256 of the Criminal Code.

What are sections 254 and 256 of the Criminal Code? As everyone knows, I am sure, these are the sections having to do with impaired driving. Customs officers will have powers similar to those of peace officers, at border points for entering or leaving Canada—it all depends on the direction of travel. They will have the same powers as peace officers to apply sections 254 and 256.

These provisions are for the taking of breath or blood samples in cases of impaired driving. Thus, where a peace officer believes on reasonable and probable grounds—again, the same principle of law recognized by lawyers—that a person is committing or has committed the offence of driving while impaired as described in section 253, that officer may, under the provisions of another section, section 254(3), require that person to provide him with a sample of the person's breath or, in certain circumstances, blood.

In the past, when a person who was driving into or out of Canada had alcohol on his breath, the customs officer to whom that person made his declaration could do absolutely nothing about it.

Mr. Speaker, as an Ontario MP, you are well aware that the biggest port of entry between the USA and Canada is Windsor. This was an extremely big problem in that region of Ontario, because many people who worked across the border, or who crossed to the States or to Canada for a night out, were at the wheel of a vehicle and had had one too many. When they went through customs, the customs officer could do nothing.

With this amendment, in the form of subsection 163.5(2), customs officers will have additional powers and will be able to require individuals to provide a breath sample. Their actions will have legal consequences, eventually.

Proposed subsection 163.5 (3) provides that a designated officer who arrests a person in the exercise of the powers conferred under subsection (1) may detain the person until the person can be placed in the custody of a police officer or peace officer.

I find this reassuring, that customs officers' powers are being enhanced within very definite limits. These are very clearly delineated powers. The customs officers' powers do not replace those of the police officers of a province, nor those of the RCMP in provinces served by the RCMP.

Section 163.5(4) would limit the new powers of the designated officers by stipulating that they could not use any power conferred on them for the enforcement of the act for the sole purpose of looking for evidence of a criminal offence under the Criminal Code or any other act of Parliament. The purpose of this is to prevent customs officers from searching for evidence of other criminal activities.

With this clause too, the lawmaker has imposed certain limits on customs officers, that is, a customs officer witnessing an offence will be empowered when this bill is passed to investigate and gather evidence of what he has seen. If he has reasonable grounds to believe that an individual is, for example, moving stolen goods from Canada to the United States, he has, under the legislation and if there are reasonable grounds to believe the goods are in the trunk of a car, the power to examine the items in order to gather evidence to hand over to the police with jurisdiction where the customs officer made the seizure or conducted his investigation.

So, as we can see, there are limits, which are extremely important. Substantial additional powers, essentially the powers of peace officers, cannot be given to customs officers without limits being set, without very precise limits to ensure that everything occurs according to the intent of the bill.

As I have said on a number of topics, we will support the bill. However, we have some questions. As I said earlier, we have already examined the bill in the previous Parliament under another number and another title. This one is exactly the same as the one that was introduced in March 1997. I will raise certain points, which, at the time, gave me cause for considerable thought and also convinced me of the merits of such amendments.

In 1995, a study revealed that, in 17 months, there were over 4,000 instances where criminal law could have been applied in one way or another at 160 ports of entry either on the highways or at airports. According to Revenue Canada officials, the majority of these are suspected instances of impaired driving. In these 4,000 cases, no action was taken because customs officers did not have the jurisdiction to act.

The same study shows that an amendment to the Customs Act similar to the one contained in Bill C-89—at the time, we were considering Bill C-89, tabled on March 13, 1997—would fill the gap between the time when customs officers observe a Criminal Code offence and the time when the police can respond. It was clear from the statistics and from past experience that there was indeed a loophole allowing law-breakers to get off scot-free. This bill bridges the gap to correct this shortcoming and ensure that offenders are prosecuted.

Given the foregoing, we must recognize that the Criminal Code could be much more effectively enforced at our borders if our customs officers were given the appropriate tools.

However, while public safety may demand that we support the bill before us, some aspects will definitely have to be looked into at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. There are concerns regarding this bill. Some answers were found in departmental documents, others through informal discussions I have had with government members, but there are still questions that remain unanswered. These questions will be raised at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on which I sit as a representative of the Bloc Quebecois.

I will mention four points. The first one is the need to properly train the designated officers. As I explained at the beginning of my speech, in some situations and under specific circumstances, customs officers will have basically the same powers as peace officers do, and these powers are very important ones.

It must be realized that in fact the bill proposes a significant broadening of the customs officers' responsibilities. Sections 495 to 497 of the Criminal Code are not easy to apply. They require a high level of judgment on the part of the peace officer, since the consequences are very significant. Take, for example, the expression “reasonable grounds to believe”, which I pointed out earlier. This concept is not difficult to understand. It is a legal concept lawyers are used to work with, judges are used to interpret and officers are trained on. However, I am not sure that customs officers do get that kind of training.

The expression “reasonable grounds to believe” used in these sections is extremely important, as we saw in Storrey v Regina, in 1990, where the supreme court stated that, in order to arrest a person without a warrant, a police officer must have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the person has committed an indictable offence. This subjective belief on the part of the police officer must also be justifiable from an objective point of view. In order to properly interpret the clues that will influence his subjective belief, a peace officer must have received adequate training. We also have to determine whether or not customs officers should be armed to implement these new provisions. Here again, if it is felt that the implementation of Bill C-18 would require customs officers to be armed, then public safety will also require that customs officers have the necessary certificates authorizing them to handle firearms.

So, yes, there are additional powers, and, yes, we are in agreement. However, if the job is to be well done, if we want to prevent myriad interpretations and court challenges, designated customs officers will need appropriate training. They will perhaps need a basic knowledge of the legal concept of reasonable and probable grounds in order to be able to apply the legal principle. And if these officers—because this question has not yet been resolved—are armed, as are officers of the peace, then they will also have to have the necessary certificates authorizing them to handle these firearms.

My second question concerns the need to cooperate with provincial authorities. The bill would bridge the gap that existed between a customs officer's observation of an offence and police intervention. For this gap to be satisfactorily bridged, it must be possible to count on the cooperation of provincial public security services. It must be remembered—and it is good to remember this from time to time—that the administration of justice comes under provincial jurisdiction and that enforcement of the Criminal Code is thus a provincial responsibility. Although the new provisions would be implemented strictly in the context of federal customs responsibilities, consultations with the provinces would be appropriate.

If we want the amendments to Bill C-18 to be useful, if we want to avoid, once again, at this stage, the problems caused by overlap and unfairness at the enforcement level or to avoid jurisdictional squabbles, it is really essential at this time that the federal government, perhaps through the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights—we will surely be hearing witnesses from the police forces—sit down at the same table and find an approach to ensure mutual co-operation.

Another issue I am concerned with is costs. There must surely be costs related to these changes, for example merely in terms of equipping all customs facilities with cells. People cannot simply be arrested and placed at a table somewhere in the corner of some ordinary office. If customs officers have the same powers as peace officers and police officers, and if they are going to arrest individuals who could be dangerous, their safety requires that there be proper facilities, cells like those in any police station. We are told that there are about 80 border points. What are the costs for these 80 stations? This is another question that remains unanswered at this time.

My fourth point concerns infringements of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As we know, when additional powers are granted to customs officers to allow arrests without a warrant, it is possible that there will be violations to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We must never forget that individuals have rights, including protection against arbitrary detention. So we have to ensure that customs officers, when there are reasonable grounds to believe that an offence or other act has been committed, are adequately informed about the rights they might violate if they are not careful.

Here again, we will have to be especially careful in terms of the education and training provided to the customs officers chosen by the minister. In the charter alone, we find sections 8, 9, 10 and 11, which are extremely important, and customs officers will have to enforce this legislation properly to avoid any legal challenge under the charter.

Customs Act
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Lorne Nystrom Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I wish to say a few words on this bill before the House today and indicate, first of all, the support of the New Democratic Party for the bill.

It was a bill first introduced last March by the then government and died when the prime minister called the election for June 2. Now the bill is back before the House today. I hope it goes through the House, giving the customs officers the power to implement certain parts of the Criminal Code, mainly to detain or arrest until a police officer is able to come to the scene. This is something which is needed in this country. In other words, the customs officer becomes the first line of defence, when the customs officer obviously sees a drunken driver or someone else who is suspected of committing a criminal offence.

Today the customs officers do not have that power. In this country we have many border crossings and about 2,500 customs officers. There is really a gap in the law which has allowed over the last number of years a number of people who are suspected to be committing a criminal act to get into the country.

I want to give some information which is relevant to the debate this morning. According to Revenue Canada, in the last two and a half years or the last thirty months there have been about 8,500 suspected impaired drivers who have crossed Canadian borders. They have been allowed to cross because customs officers do not have the power to detain or to arrest the person suspected of being impaired. What a customs officer can do, under the law today, is call the local detachment of the RCMP or local police, which ever may be the nearest, and tell the police that there is a driver going through who is suspected of being impaired.

In many cases the driver is long gone before the police arrive. Revenue Canada believes that in the last 30 months about 8,500 impaired drivers have just simply driven away before police arrived or in some cases the police were not called because there was not point in doing so.

There have also been about 200 incidents of suspected child abductions allowed to cross the border because the border officials have no power whatsoever to arrest or detain these suspected kidnappers. Again I think that states very clearly why customs officers need additional powers.

There have also been over 2,000 individuals who were subject to arrest warrants who have crossed the border, again long gone before the police arrived. There have been more than 500 individuals suspected to be in possession of stolen property, mainly vehicles, who have also crossed the border before police arrived.

I think there is an obvious gap in the law that must be rectified by Parliament. It is because of those facts that I am pleased to offer support on behalf of our party to the very quick passage of Bill C-18. This is something which is long overdue. It should have been done a number of years ago.

I also want to add that I believe there is general support in the community for these kinds of powers. I know that police associations, customs officers, the customs excise union or the union des douanes et accises are all very supportive of passage of this legislation.

I also want to give an example of what happens because customs officers do not have this power. I have in my hand a letter which was written by a customs officer. I do not want to put any names on the record but just read into the record an incident that occurred very recently on the night of October 3, 1997. I believe this sums up the need for the legislation:

The night of October 3, 1997 at the customs port of Windygates, Manitoba was a prime example of the need for customs inspectors to have the authority to detain impaired drivers.

At approximately 2156 hours two Canadian males on motorcycles arrived at the port, returning from a nearby U.S. bar. One in particular displayed signs of impairment. I know from experience that this man cannot be dissuaded from driving, as driving while impaired has been a regular occurrence for him. Due to the distances involved, I also know that the suspect can be home before the RCMP are able to get on the road and apprehend him. Consequently, these motorcyclists were allowed to proceed.

Two minutes later, one kilometre north of the customs office, [one individual] age 30, is dead in a pool of blood in the middle of the road. A combination of high speed and alcohol caused him to lose control.

Minutes later, while administering CPR to a man that is clearly beyond help, I wonder what I could have done to prevent this tragedy. Shortly thereafter, family members of the deceased arrived on the scene and I also had the dubious honour of informing them of their loss.

Based upon previous encounters with [this gentleman], I am convinced that there is nothing I could have said, and nothing I could legally do to stop him from proceeding down the road that night. However, I am equally convinced that if customs inspectors had the authority to enforce the impaired driving laws, that this man would be alive today.

Then he goes on to say that in light of this incident and other incidents that have happened across this country, he hopes that Parliament will expedite the passage of this bill.

I think that letter sums up the need for this bill better than any speech we can make in this House. People have been killed because customs officers do not have the powers of arrest and detainment.

There are people who have actually killed others in traffic accidents because of the fact that they are driving impaired. We have in this country very strict drunk driving laws. They are enforced and here is a gap in the law.

Because of that, I hope this Parliament can pass as quickly as possible Bill C-18. With that, I offer our support and hope the House will do this expeditiously. I am sure that he will make sure that occurs this morning.

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12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Sophia Leung Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I speak in this House today to express my support for Bill C-18, legislation that will enhance safety and security for all Canadians.

The bill will strengthen our customs officers role in law enforcement by extending the scope of their powers so that they can arrest and detain individuals suspected of committing offences under the Criminal Code.

As the Minister of National Revenue has pointed out, the legislation will close a longstanding gap in our ability to better control criminal activities such as impaired driving, child abduction and possession of stolen goods at the border.

It will also allow us to deal with individuals who are the subject of outstanding arrest warrants. There is a clear need for customs officers to be able to stop criminals and suspected criminals at the border before they have a chance to enter this country.

British Columbia has many major borders which process travellers and commercial traffic coming to Canada.

Much of the criminal activity observed by our customs officers is reported at the borders. On the national level, possession of stolen goods is up by over 250%. The number of outstanding warrants is also up by close to 95% and the incidence of missing children increased by 16%. Impaired driving continues to be a cause for concern.

Those numbers are startling. Canadians expect us to do what we can to keep this community safe. Bill C-18 is one way that we can meet those expectations.

A modern customs organization is what we expect to have. Over the last few years Revenue Canada has begun a process of transforming the customs program. That transformation has produced one of the most modern, efficient customs organizations in the world.

The department has adopted new technology and new techniques such as risk management to respond to the reality of facilitating trade and tourism. The fundamental changes now under way in our customs program recognize that most clients obey the law.

Revenue Canada takes its responsibility to protect Canadians seriously and it is my belief that Bill C-18 serves as one more tool for modern customs organizations to fulfil their enforcement mandate.

Customs officers already have the power to detain and arrest individuals suspected of offences under the Customs Act. Our officers already deal with offences as serious as the smuggling of drugs and weapons. Bill C-18 will extend those powers to include Criminal Code violations. It will allow customs officers to deal with crimes that are repugnant to most Canadians.

My colleagues in the House recently received a letter from the union representing customs officers which indicates its support and the support of its members for Bill C-18.

Attached to that letter is a letter from a customs officer who works at the port of Windygates, Manitoba. In it the officer recounts a recent experience he had with an obviously impaired motorcyclist. Unable to detain this individual, the officer had no choice but to let him proceed on his way. One kilometre beyond the port the motorcyclist lost control and was killed.

In his letter this concerned customs officer pointed out that the ending of the story may have been different if he would have had the power to legally contain this motorcyclist.

Bill C-18 will allow customs officers to use their unique position at the border to act as a first response against crime. This means that customs officers will be able to legally hold suspects until law enforcement agencies can intervene. Therefore, that will increase their chances of catching those people at the right time.

What about partners in law enforcement? Let us be clear. The legislation is not intended to make customs officers a replacement for police. As we mentioned earlier, it will close a longstanding gap and will give customs officers a stronger role in law enforcement as they work in co-operation with police agencies across the country.

Police officers, police chiefs, attorneys general all know that this will enhance our ability to catch criminals at the border. Giving customs officers more power will help the police to do their job more effectively.

The legislation has a broad base of support among the law enforcement community of this country. We have consulted broadly with law enforcement agencies and officials and we have their support.

Customs officers will not have the power to investigate Criminal Code offences, nor will customs officers have the power to prosecute Criminal Code offences. That will remain the responsibility of provincial law enforcement agencies.

It is also not our intent to provide firearms to our officers as a result of this legislation. We have studied this issue carefully and have concluded that it is not necessary.

We are entrusting these powers to a group of men and women who prove their value to this country every day as skilled, dedicated professionals.

In 1995-96 our customs officers processed over 106 million people at the border. The department received only 448 complaints about the conduct of officers. This represents a one-to-nearly 240,000 ratio. I think those statistics speak very highly of the professionalism with which customs officers do their job.

Once Bill C-18 is passed it will take six to nine months to implement this initiative. We will use that time to renovate facilities, designate officers and train them on the identification of Criminal Code offences and related court jurisprudence.

Customs officers will have the training and tools they need to carry out their new duties in a professional and responsible manner. Canadians can be assured that men and women who are paid to protect our border will continue to do so with the same skill and dedication that they have come to expect.

In conclusion, I urge my colleagues in the House to support Bill C-18. I am sharing my time with a colleague, the member for Sarnia—Lambton.

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Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in support of Bill C-18 which, as we know, will provide customs officers with the power to enforce the Criminal Code.

I should say that my riding is on the Ontario-Michigan border. In fact, it records the third highest volume of border traffic on the Canada-U.S. border on the one side, Port Huron, Michigan and on the Canadian side at the village of Point Edward. We have two bridges with six lanes of traffic coming and going through the country and some 6,000 trucks alone every day crossing both ways.

At the southern end of my riding is the Sombra crossing where there are tens of thousands of trucks and cars crossing each year. We are open to the United States. That is patently clear with the 17% annual increase in truck traffic alone each year which has been going on for a number of years. We find that more and more Americans and others enter Canada through our entry ports, especially at southern Ontario.

This, as we know, represents trade and tourism for Canada. However, as is always the case, with more traffic and people comes more problems. Occasionally individuals who are attempting to enter Canada have committed or are committing a criminal offence, individuals who are wanted for all kinds of criminal offences. The other problem is impaired drivers who attempt to enter. As more and more of these people enter they pose a risk to all Canadians. We do not want these people entering our country. We want to stop them.

However, the reality is that when very impaired drivers try to enter, the only thing customs officers can do is attempt to detain them until the local police arrive to lay charges and take them into custody.

For years the taxpayers in the village of Point Edward where I live have been subsidizing all Canadian taxpayers because it has been the police force in the village that has been called when there was a problem. I have to ask why the taxpayers of one municipality should suffer financially by paying for local police because a border crossing happens to be located in that municipality.

This bill certainly goes a great distance in balancing that inequality.

Statistics from all ports of entry indicate that there were 8,500 suspected impaired drivers who tried to enter Canada in a two and a half year period which is about 3,400 impaired drivers rolling into Canada from the U.S. each year. In the past we had little or no opportunity to stop them or apprehend them.

We are told that each year there have been some 80 suspected child abductors, sad cases of people using children as pawns in illegal activities, rolling up to customs where little or nothing happens to detain or arrest them.

Canadians certainly welcome visitors to this country whether for pleasure or business, but no one wants impaired drivers to roll in or any individual who is being sought on a warrant by the police to just simply sail through our customs and enter the country.

For too long we have talked about customs officers as being our first line of defence at our borders and ports of entry, but for too long we have not given them the tools. In brief, we have said one thing but never given our first line of defence the tools to do the job. It is, I can see, the strange dichotomy which at long last is being corrected by this bill. This bill responds to three factors. The first and the obvious is that those who are the first to have contact with individuals entering the country must have the right to detain and arrest those who may be committing a criminal offence or a person for whom there is an outstanding warrant.

Second, we tend to forget that customs officers live in and are an important part of our communities. They have been frustrated when they have been incapable of preventing persons alleged to have committed serious criminal offences entering our country. This bill gives them the right and the authority to do what we want them to do and in fact what they want to do and that is detain suspected criminals.

Third and finally, this bill takes pressure off local police to respond to border problems because local taxpayers have been subsidizing directly the policing function that ought to have been carried out by the federal government. If anything, I suppose I can suggest that this legislation could go a step further and that is that the legislation as drafted would require that the prosecution of the offence be carried out by so-called provincial authorities.

In some jurisdictions where the RCMP are the provincial authorities the policing cost is divided 70% by provincial payment and 30% by federal payment. This is clearly not the case in Ontario where the RCMP are not provincial authorities. In British Columbia for example where the RCMP by agreement are provincial authorities referred to in the bill, the prosecution of border crossing offences are paid for out of the 30% federal contribution, yet in Ontario it is a different situation.

One could ask, why should the taxpayers of Windsor who pay for local police pay for prosecutions of offences at, for example, the Ambassador Bridge or the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel. I could say the same thing about the people in my riding.

I hope and trust that the standing committee will examine this issue in the bill and perhaps look at it more fully.

On the face of it I would suggest that allowing customs officers to prosecute as peace officers would recognize them totally and absolutely as such and would free up local police to deal with local problems and not problems associated with international trade and travel.

In conclusion, on balance I know that the people in my riding are pleased that the pressure is going to be taken off the local police. I think Canadians should be pleased that customs officers are now going to be able to deal with those people who for various reasons are coming into our country and we do not want them to come in because they are impaired or because they have committed offences for which there are outstanding warrants. As such I think this is a good piece of legislation. It is an important piece legislation. I believe it deserves the support of this House.

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12:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House of Commons to speak on this particular piece of legislation, Bill C-18, an act to amend the Customs Act and the Criminal Code.

It is in fact a very timely piece of legislation. I would go so far as to say that it is a good initiative. I am encouraged to see the government bringing this legislation forward.

It deals specifically, as previous members have mentioned, with the power to enforce Criminal Code sections as they pertain to powers of arrest at the border crossings or the first point of entry for persons coming into the country. As previously stated this piece of legislation is aimed at increasing the powers of customs officers themselves in their ability to arrest without a warrant and to release from custody in cases where an arrest has been effected without the warrant from a peace officer being involved.

The peace officers themselves I would suggest would be greatly aided by the ability of the border crossing guards or the customs officers being able to effect this duty independent of the involvement of the police here. Much like police themselves, customs guards are routinely encountering a great deal of what I would suggest ongoing difficulty at the border involving persons coming into the country under the influence of alcohol to whatever degree and this is certainly something that we want to deter.

I spoke in the House previously, as have other members, with respect to the difficulties Canadians face daily on the roads and the carnage that results from impaired driving. It is a very legitimate purpose that customs officers would have the ability to make that intervention and to effect an arrest. This is not to say that the age old common law powers of arrest and a person's ability to make a citizen's arrest could not have been utilized, but this certainly legislates it and empowers customs officers specifically in this regard.

Designated officers at customs stations and border crossings also encounter a fair degree of danger as it pertains to the illegal importation of weapons into the country and often cases involving the importation of drugs and banned or illegal substances.

It is trite to say that persons who are prepared to take these risks are often individuals who could be described as desperate in some circumstances. Customs officers are basically in the line of fire when they discover a person may be in possession of illegal substances, illegal handguns or other items. They are in a position of confronting the individual at the border, which can lead to a dangerous situation.

I have one concern about the bill. The increased power of customs officers to effect arrest and to exercise their discretion is not backed up with specific protections for those persons wielding this new power. I am sure this will be discussed at the committee level. I speak specifically of such things as the right to carry firearms and the right to wear protective body armour like a flak jacket or a bulletproof vest. This has to be given more thought.

To simply empower customs officers to make these arrests and to intervene more at Canadian borders is a good idea in principle which I and my Conservative Party colleagues endorse and encourage, but we have to be very careful when we empower people to give them adequate protection.

There is some irony in the timing of the bill. Less than two weeks ago there was a reading of private member's Bill C-211 sponsored by my Reform colleague from Langley—Abbotsford. That bill also dealt with peace officers being granted authority with respect to arrest warrants. Apparently the government did not feel this was a proper initiative and failed to support it.

I have heard other members refer to increased traffic at our borders. This has been taken into account. It is an important factor when one considers the amount of traffic that flows daily back and forth across our various border crossing points. We enjoy the largest unguarded border in the world between Canada and the United States, which is by far our biggest trading partner. That is certainly beneficial to this country.

The implementation of the new powers of arrest for customs officers is very much a good thing. It will allow customs officers to carry out their daily tasks more effectively.

One of the most positive elements of Bill C-18 would be to add a section to the act that would allow customs officers to handle impaired drivers in the same manner as peace officers. This will perhaps lessen the workload of some local constabularies whether the RCMP or the municipal police.

I noted with great interest the possibility of including in the ability of a provincial prosecution office the additional duty of handling the types of cases that would be brought forward by customs officers. That is something that could be explored.

I would suggest to the House based on my experience that provincial prosecution offices, much like the offices of the municipal and RCMP forces, are very much weighted down already. The downloading of this on to provincial crown offices is not something that should be entered into lightly as an initiative by the federal government. It is certainly something that could be looked at in the sense that it would be done on a per diem basis or contracted to various provincial offices.

When we are talking about a matter that falls solely into federal jurisdiction, that is international trade across our borders, although we are into the area of criminal activity per se involving impaired driving as an example or possession of firearms, there is room for some interaction and perhaps interplay between provincial prosecution services and those put forward by the federal Department of Justice.

With respect to impaired driving I can only reiterate comments I have made in the House. My party and I support tougher drunk driving measures. Bill C-18 is important because it gives customs officers an effective interventionist role in combating impaired driving within Canada.

The powers and obligations placed on customs officers under Bill C-18 are very much in line with those currently found in the Criminal Code under sections 495 to 497 and specifically under subsections 495(3) and 497(3) which put customs officers very much in line with their ability to act as peace officers, as designated by the Minister of National Revenue, as if they were in fact peace officers. An official designation would be placed upon them.

Generally speaking the feedback I have received on this initiative is positive. Customs officers are embracing the initiative and are prepared to act in this new found role.

Another section of Bill C-18, however, clearly states that designated officers may not use their new found responsibilities to engage in the sole purpose of searching for evidence. This might be a reasonable limitation. I would like to hear from the officials in the customs office, union, law enforcement officers and other civil libertarian organizations and associations throughout the country at committee stage.

This is an area we have to tread lightly on. When bestowing the powers of arrest and intervention on customs officers, we have to be very careful when it involves an infringement for the sole purpose of gathering evidence. There has been much contention in the past on this area of the Criminal Code. I suggest there will be continued contention.

The final portion of the bill deals with proposed amendments to the Criminal Code to ensure it corresponds with new sections of the Customs Act. I have a few concerns about the impact of Bill C-18. Perhaps the minister or parliamentary secretary could provide further details on how the government plans to address potential problems.

Will customs officers be able to respond adequately to the emergency type situations I referred to earlier? There are sensitive areas when a customs officer encounters a person engaged in an illegal activity or engaged in an offence under the Criminal Code for impaired driving.

There will have to be an allocation of funding and a commitment to increase resources as they relate to the training of customs officers and how to deal with the new powers bestowed upon them.

As we have seen by example in the House involving previous legislation, the Liberal government is often quite quick to grant new powers or to expand powers as they pertain to arrest or search warrants. We do not necessarily see adequate back-up in terms of resources to allow individuals to effectively carry out the particular powers.

I would be very much interested to see what commitment we will have from the federal government to adequately arm and protect customs officers in their desire to combat crime at Canadian borders.

I have a concern with respect to granting customs officers the ability of peace officers to avoid providing additional resources to municipal and federal police forces. I do not think that is the intent of the legislation. I do not think that there is an attempt to take powers away from police officers.

I would not want to see the reason given that no increased funding would be put into the area of expanding the availability of justices of the peace to assist police officers. I would not want to hear that money could not be allotted for that because money was being put into the area of increased training, et cetera, of customs officers at our borders.

When customs officers are put in a position where they have to act like police officers and carry out the duties, it is extremely important they have the feeling and the assurance the federal government will give them the training and back-up they will need to perform that role.

While I support the legislation which will make the job of customs officers easier by granting them new authority, I do so on the premise the government will not give carte blanche to new obligations without proper support in terms of resources.

On behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party, as I have said throughout my remarks, we support the legislation in principle. I look forward to the opportunity of discussing further details and fine tuning the act at committee level. It is a very important and timely piece of legislation.

Many customs officers throughout the land have felt a need for the legislation for some time. I commend the minister for bringing it forward. I look forward to discussing it further at committee level.