House of Commons Hansard #79 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was must.

Topics

Terrorism
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Saint-Maurice
Québec

Liberal

Jean Chrétien Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, our commitment has been made in the context of an attack against western civilization by terrorists. We are a very busy member of NATO and had to fly there last week so that we could all defend ourselves collectively.

Of course when a proposition comes from the discussion with the Americans and our allies, there will be an occasion for the House of Commons to discuss and debate that as I would like to see.

Terrorism
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the attacks on September 11 have pointed out the shortcomings of airport security measures, in the United States as well as in Canada.

In Canada, one of the things that was pointed out was that airport authorities awarded security contracts to the lowest bidder, with the agreement of the government.

Can the minister tells us whether he intends to change this way of doing things so that future contracts be awarded according to security standards rather than to the lowest bidder?

Terrorism
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Liberal

David Collenette Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, we believe that the measures we have in place in Canada at the present time are very good, but we have announced improvements to them. We are going to work in conjunction with the airlines and the security companies to step up all of the regulations.

Terrorism
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, Canada was a participant and signatory to the UN sponsored international convention on the suppression of terrorist funding. As such, we are obliged to make it a criminal offence to raise funds for the terrorists.

I would like to ask the solicitor general why we have not yet met this obligation.

Terrorism
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Edmonton West
Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, as I have already indicated, we are taking steps to implement the convention on the suppression of terrorist financing. In fact it is the government's intention to introduce criminal law to implement the provisions of that convention in the near future.

Terrorism
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members that I think we have done more questions today than during any other question period in this parliament. I draw to the attention of hon. members the fact that question period was quite quiet. Maybe that is the reason we got more questions and answers in, but I will let hon. members draw their own conclusions.

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I wish to designate tomorrow as an allotted day.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Attack on the United States
Government Orders

September 17th, 2001 / 3 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to notify the House that for the rest of the day, Liberal members will be dividing the time allocated to them for debate.

Attack on the United States
Government Orders

3 p.m.

Outremont
Québec

Liberal

Martin Cauchon Minister of National Revenue and Secretary of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec)

Mr. Speaker, I would again express my deepest condolences to the American people in this most difficult period. I would also offer my condolences and my support to the Canadians and other foreign nationals who lost a family member or relatives in the terrorist attacks. Innocent people were the victims of these monstrous attacks. Canadians are at once saddened and incensed by this indescribable violence.

Canada and the United States are the longest to have successfully managed a shared border. We share with our neighbours democratic values based on social, economic and political liberty.

I would like to tell the House about the actions taken by the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency to support the response of the Government of Canada to last Tuesday's terrorist attack on the United States. The CCRA takes the threat of terrorism extremely seriously. We have an active counterterrorism program that is very effective. Our customs officers are well trained to identify and detain suspected terrorists.

Since the tragic events in the United States, the priority of the CCRA has been the health and security of all Canadians and of all passengers arriving by air.

In addition, all our resources were deployed in looking after, together with our partners, the unprecedented number of aircraft and passengers rerouted from their planned destination of the United States to different airports in Canada. I am proud to be able to say that, thanks to the co-operation and understanding of these travellers, we successfully met the challenge with all the disruption involved.

Over the past six days, the CCRA intensified its efforts and consultations with its partners in Canada and abroad, for example, by sharing information and through increased co-operation in the fight against terrorism.

We were also in contact with the U.S. customs service to offer our assistance where it was needed and to share information. The agency worked not only with the RCMP, but also with Citizenship and Immigration Canada and with the Canadian Security Information Service to protect the border and keeping trade routes open.

Customs officers were on heightened watch at all border points. We intensified checks of traveller identification and increased our efforts in all sectors to ensure the health and safety of Canadians. That means more questions to be put to travellers and more identity checks, screenings and referrals to immigration or other agencies.

Although extra vigilance at the land border has resulted in delays at some border points, I am confident that Canadians expect us to do whatever is necessary to keep them safe. We have tried to minimize the impact of these delays on Canadians and Canadian business by adding additional staff.

However from an economic and commercial perspective I and many businesses have been particularly concerned with congestion and delays at certain major crossings on both sides of the border. In addition to adding staff we have established a website to keep clients informed. It provides up to date information to our clients on the traffic situation at these major points of entry.

I can tell the House that we have tried as much as possible to minimize delays. We remain committed to keeping the stream of legitimate people and goods flowing across the land border.

I would now like to turn my attention to what will have to be done in the future. It is critical, and even more so in light of the events of the last few days, to improve our ability to identify high risk people and goods in Canada's airports and seaports, before they can enter our country and North America. The risk of terrorism for Canadians is much greater in the North American perimeter than at the land border with the United States.

Customs organizations around the world must continue to modernize their procedures if they want to keep up with the tactics and priorities of terrorists and other groups that pose a threat to honest citizens. This is why, in April of last year, I launched a customs reform to strengthen our ability to manage the Canadian border.

Our new approach to border management is outlined in Bill S-23. It provides the logistical framework for the customs action plan which would give us the tools to protect Canadians by focusing on high risks. At the same time it would strengthen our economy by facilitating the movement of low risk people and goods. For example, the new system would give us advance critical information on passengers and flight crews so that customs officers could make decisions on admissibility prior to their arrival.

On the commercial side, the same concepts would be implemented for goods entering Canada by enhancing the ability of custom officers to target, identify and examine high risk shipments. We are in the process of rolling out all these action plan initiatives over the next four years.

However, in light of the events of the past few days, I instructed our whole customs team to take the following measures. First, assess the feasibility of speeding up the implementation of the initiatives proposed in the action plan.

Second, focus our new protection initiatives on the perimeter, where the risk is greater.

Third, beginning today, all our procedures, both with regard to travellers and the trade sector, will be reviewed to make sure that the lessons learned from the events of last week can help identify and intercept high risk people and process goods in a more efficient way.

Moreover, as we know, Bill S-23 is now before the House and will very soon, I hope, be referred to a parliamentary committee.

Of course, I invite all parliamentarians to make comments and constructive proposals so that together we can continue to build a good and even an excellent customs system that will protect all Canadians, while taking into consideration a balanced approach regarding trade, tourism and the various types of travellers.

I express my appreciation to all Canada customs staff, particularly those who voluntarily spent their off duty time working to help colleagues after hearing about the tragic situation. Day in and day out our officers have proven their commitment to stopping inadmissible people and goods from entering Canada. I thank them for their ongoing efforts in this regard and their overall dedication to their task.

I also thank Canadians for their understanding and patience. I assure them that we are making every possible effort to maintain the security of Canada and its borders. Terrorism is an evolving phenomenon. It is critical that Canada, the United States and like-minded countries remain alert to the changing face of terrorism so that together we can fight terrorism once and for all.

In short, we have taken tow major measures. First, we have managed, during the past week, with the co-operation of the businesses and public, to deal with this catastrophe while ensuring that life continues in as normal a fashion as possible.

Second, we have a solid plan for the future, a plan that will help us successfully meet current challenges.

I cannot overemphasize the dedication and efforts of the agency's employees in recent days and I know that we can continue to count on them in the future.

Attack on the United States
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I join the minister today in congratulating and commending all the customs agents and people at our borders who are working as hard as they can to do their jobs as effectively as they can. The minister is right to take the time to congratulate them for their hard work and effort.

More important, the minister identified areas on which the government will focus to solve some of the problems we have at our border crossings. He mentioned the need of customs agents, who are at the frontline of attack, to be able to both identify potential high risk people going across the border and facilitate the commerce part of things. I think that is of concern to a lot of Canadians.

However we hear from a lot of our customs agents at the border that one of their biggest problems is lack of resources. As the minister has mentioned, even though we have added more customs agents at the border their tools and resources for doing their jobs are limited. Unfortunately this results in the fact that they cannot be as thorough as they potentially could be.

The minister mentioned new technologies and a few other things for addressing the issue. Could the minister be more specific in the House today and give us an exact numerical value for these resources? What specific tools will he be giving to our agents at the frontline to allow them to do their jobs more effectively?

Attack on the United States
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Martin Cauchon Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for joining me in thanking the customs officers for their work. With respect to the question of resources at the border and the volume we deal with on a daily, weekly and year round basis, I have said many times that we are living in a global marketplace.

We on the customs side have what we call a dual mandate. If one has a look at the mandate the question of the safety of our population is a very important cornerstone of it.

In facing new realities such as the threat of terrorism and the question of resources, the way to manage the border is to proceed with the type of reform we tabled a year and a half ago: Bill S-23. We are trying today to proceed with a much better risk management by using soft technology. In doing so we will be able to use our resources where there is a higher or an unknown risk, and therefore be more efficient in our mandate.

What does this mean? Members know we are using passport and licence plate readers, ion scans, x-rays and the databank. If we keep doing this, while using intelligence and continuing to co-operate and exchange intelligence with other countries, we could proceed with new ways of delivering the services of customs.

I will give an example. Let us take a commercial flight. Normally when people come to Canada on a commercial flight we must stop them and proceed with interviews. Why do we not obtain all the information about people on a flight before they get to Canada?

With the information we have in the databank we would be able to analyze passengers on a certain commercial flight. When they got to the airport we could ask those who could represent a risk to our society to stop at the primary inspection line and then be referred to a secondary one. We could let the other people cross the border in a normal and standard fashion. That is an example.

We would like to use what we call palm readers at airports. It is a type of soft technology or new method of doing business which we at customs would like to use.

We must focus on the parameters as well. As we all know, we have free trade and economic links with the rest of North America. This is important. We must make sure we have a balanced approach and continue to be efficient for our society.

Attack on the United States
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Lanctôt Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to congratulate the customs officers. Pleasing as the minister's speech is, there are some aspects I would like to hear him address.

In Quebec recently there have been lineups of three hours or more. We are told that surveillance will be stepped up. If, however, the staff and the infrastructures are not there, and if the technology is not made accessible to customs officers, the lineups will be even longer, even if they are doing their level best.

At the Lacolle border crossing last week the wait was in excess of three hours. I wonder if it did not even reach six hours at one point. One can well imagine what will happen to commerce and to free trade if we say there will be more surveillance and more checks. There has to be staff for that. What can the minister tell us in this connection?

Attack on the United States
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Martin Cauchon Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, it must be recognized that the situation last week and today is absolutely special, exceptional and unfortunate. It is a crisis situation. Customs have, of course, put in place security measures as a natural reaction to such a situation.

Once again, I must express my thanks to all customs employees for their excellent work. As I have said, the work of customs is, first and foremost, to carry out a risk assessment in order to ensure that our dual mandate is being properly fulfilled. At the present time, customs is facing a huge volume, both in commercial traffic and in the numbers of business travellers and tourists.

That is why we proceeded with a reform one and one-half years ago. That reform is now included in Bill S-23, which is before parliament.

We hope to see it referred committee very very soon. I invite the hon. member to share his point of view and his constructive comments so that we may continue to work together to build an excellent customs system.

Attack on the United States
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, naturally, I would like to begin by echoing the sentiments of the leader of the Bloc Quebecois and conveying, along with my colleagues, our deepest condolences to the American people and to the friends and families of the victims, to all those affected by the tragedy, and to the people of Canada, who have also been severely affected by this act of terrorism.

The western world has been dealt a hard blow, and now it is time for a response.

I am worried about the potential magnitude of this response. Many of our citizens and my constituents with whom I discussed the issue during conversations last week are concerned. People are afraid.

We are particularly afraid of the response to terrorism not being adequate, or whose force would not be adequate, potentially resulting in an escalation of violence, which nobody wants to see.

It is with this in mind that I take part in the debate, hoping that the government will hear the message which members of the House have for it.

At no time must our actions be guided by anything other than a desire to reduce the number of acts of terrorism and to eliminate them in so far as possible, if that can be done. Nor should any action be taken that does not meet this objective.

This is not a time for vengeance. It is a time to get our anti-terrorist message across. We must not be driven by the pain we felt during last week's events and by the indignation we all felt at seeing those events. We must be responsible.

In this regard, the words of the Prime Minister, who said that wisdom and tolerance should guide our future actions, provided some reassurance.

I put a question to the Prime Minister during oral question period and he reassured us that there was no question of Canada giving carte blanche to anyone.

There is no getting around it. A responsible country, a responsible government, has a duty to weigh very carefully every action and decision which it takes.

With this end in view, I was stunned that the House did not give unanimous consent to allow parliamentarians to discuss an issue as important as this until late into the night, as was anticipated. I find it quite unbelievable that some refused to sit beyond 6.30 p.m. to discuss a topic of such critical importance.

I hope that the discussions held here will convince us of the need to be extremely cautious, extremely reasonable and extremely circumspect of everything that could happen from this moment on.

I will not be using the ten minutes allotted to me, as I understand my colleague responsible for foreign affairs wishes to speak. Therefore I have only five minutes, but I should like to talk about safety measures.

During question period, I asked the Prime Minister if safety measures anticipated over the next few weeks and months ran the risk of compromising our freedom.

We were given the required assurances. Well, we were told that this would be taken into consideration and that, at no time, could we accept having our fundamental freedoms affected by heightened safety measures, which would be playing into the hands of those who would attack our freedom.

I would like to suggest to the government one or two avenues we should be exploring.

On the subject of security, given the fact that the lowest bidders are awarded the contract to clear people on both international and domestic flights through the security checkpoint, the government should intervene and could do so easily to put special emphasis on the quality of training given these people on the front line.

We must not forget that all those who, unfortunately, become terrorists by taking a flight, as happened last week, passed through a checkpoint somewhere and were not detected by anyone there. I realize perfection does not exist, but it seems to me that we should very quickly raise the standards of security training given these people.

The government will also have to quickly come up with measures to ensure the protection and security of crews, for the people who work on planes, so this terrible tragedy may never be repeated.

I imagine we will soon try the terrorists. We must ensure that a civilization or religious beliefs are not put on trial. We must ensure calmly, with discernment and in full respect of the rules of international justice, that those sought and tried are truly guilty and that, at no time, do we attach the label of international terrorism the label to a particular ethnic group or religious belief. There is only a small band of terrorists the planet must rid itself of and nothing else. We must limit ourselves to that.

In closing, I invite the government to use international means already in place, to use Canadian diplomacy to its fullest, so the members of the government can use their contacts to ensure that whatever action is taken is the result of a very broad consensus among a number of countries and that whatever must be done be done without a shadow of a doubt as to need. Let us hope that the greatest number of lives may be spared and that those living near the terrorists being sought may suffer as little as possible.