House of Commons Hansard #114 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Canada Border Services Agency Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent to split his time?

Canada Border Services Agency Act
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12:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Border Services Agency Act
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12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank hon. members for that. The bill is essentially an enabling piece of legislation. The department has been in existence since September of 2003, so that speaks volumes to the serial dithering nature of the Liberal government. The department has been set up and operating for over a year and a half, and this is a cleanup attempt.

The bill amalgamates the border services of the Canada Customs and Reveneue Agency, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and part of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. The bill was reported to the House with two amendments and the government introduced another amendment at report stage to correct an error in the bill.

With respect to the amendments passed by the committee, the first is one that I moved. It calls for an annual report of the operations and performance of the agency and that this requirement should be enshrined into the legislation. It requires that the agency table an annual report after the end of the fiscal year and before the calendar year. In other words the 2005 report of the agency would have to be tabled after March 31, 2006, but before the end of the December 2006 calendar year. Goodness knows there is a need for more accountability and reporting on the activities of government like never before. The amendment attempts to do that.

The parliamentary secretary has noted that the Treasury Board, on behalf of the Canada Border Services Agency, files a performance report and that this report should be considered that annual report. My point is the requirement under the Financial Administration Act does not specifically say that an annual report or performance report is required. It now does.

Other agencies that file performance reports are also required by statute to file annually. They include SIRC, the Correctional Investigator, Correctional Service Canada and the RCMP External Review Committee. That is what the amendment seeks do. I think we all can agree that shining the light into the operations of government is an important part of achieving accountability.

There is nothing simpler than putting into the legislation that an annual report be tabled by the agency. I do not wish to cause additional work in this regard, as far as filing an annual report, but subclause 2 states that the obligation may be satisfied by filing or tabling reports of the operation and performance of the agency required by the Treasury Board. This would also ensure that a report of some kind would be filed each year on the operations of the agency.

The second amendment ensures that officers who act as peace officers to enforce immigration and refugee acts are identified in the Criminal Code as peace officers. This again would put officers on par with front line peace officers and border officers. We in the Conservative Party support that amendment.

The creation of the new Border Services Agency itself makes sense. It is something that the Conservative Party has long advocated. However, we do argue that we ensure our border officers are equipped with proper technology, equipment and personnel. It is one thing to empower them through legislation. It is another thing entirely to give them the tools necessary to do the job.

I would specifically point to the issue of remote border crossings. The government must act immediately to end the practice of border officials working alone. We have seen the tragedy that can occur. One officer working in Roosville suffered a medical condition and died on the job. This is the type of thing that brings the vulnerability of those remote sites clearly into the light and the danger and loss of life that can result from these single agent border crossings.

Earlier this year, the justice committee heard testimony from the president and vice-president of the Quebec region of the Customs Excise Union about the problems facing border officials. Shockingly, we heard about 1,600 vehicles crossing the border last year without being stopped. They describe those 1,600 vehicles as blow-bys or cars racing across the border without being stopped. The president, Mr. Moran, testified that if two per cent of those people who ran the border were brought back, that would be good in terms of the numbers they could handle.

In Stanstead, Quebec over 250 unidentified vehicles illegally entered into Canada each month by using two unguarded roads. In Quebec alone there were over 100 unguarded roads at the border.

Our new ambassador to the United States says that Canada's biggest problem is gun smuggling from the United States. Guns, drugs, people smuggling, any form of contraband coming into the country undetected, poses a threat to our citizens.

Just to put this in perspective, over a five year period more than 25,000 prohibited weapons, including over 5,400 illegal weapons, were seized by our border agencies. That is what was seized. The real question is how much was not captured. It is frightening to think what has not been recovered or what that figure is.

Rather than fixing this Swiss cheese style border, an effective border policy will require more. It will require the government to put more resources and more protection around those individuals tasked with guarding the border. If the government took money out of the gun registry and put it into this type of frontline border security, it would be a step in the right direction.

I cannot let the catastrophic failure of the gun registry go by without commenting. It makes the sponsorship scandal look like chicken feed. It probably will be identified in some future years as the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting public. Despite the spin and the rhetoric, there is no nexus to public safety when one looks at the effectiveness of this failed long gun registry.

The RCMP commissioner has admitted that the RCMP does not have the resources to fulfill the mandate of patrolling the border at points of entry and therefore is withdrawing its services in Quebec. The closing of nine detachments in Quebec highlights that resource problem. Taking officials away from where the problem exists is ludicrous. Ironically, the commissioner has admitted that there is danger facing border officials and yet he does not support allowing them to carry sidearms. I would suggest to him that he would not be apt to try to stop somebody who was deemed dangerous if he did not have a sidearm.

Our neighbours in the United States continue to be concerned about security. Recently U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, expressed her concern about the Canadian border when she stated:

Indeed we have from time to time had reports about al Qaeda trying to use our southern border but also trying to use our northern border.

Senator Hillary Clinton echoed those concerns about the northern security issue and introduced a bill that would establish a northern border coordinator in the United States homeland security department in order to focus exclusively on the increasing security issue at the Canada-U.S. border.

In April, United States congressman, Mark Souder, called upon Canada to focus more on security and to give border security the proper resources and attention. He was concerned about the non-existent or flawed computer checks on incoming passengers and database systems designed to warn border agents at land crossings about high risk travellers being inadequate and containing a programming limitation consistently preventing border officials from knowing if they are dealing with armed and dangerous fugitives or even terrorists on the FBI's top watch list.

It seems incredible that we would have antiquated, out of date computer systems that do not allow us to share information with the United States, let alone share information with our own security agents and policing agents. That to me is an abysmal failure. These concerns about Canada's security have been echoed in the past by former U.S. ambassador Paul Cellucci.

In some cases I have been told anecdotally that our border officials from time to time need to ask the Americans for information about what is going on in Canada, as astounding as that might be. I mentioned earlier the problem of physically withdrawing the RCMP from the Canadian border. That is perverse logic put out by the commissioner. This is despite reports from the RCMP's own criminal intelligence unit that organized crime exploits at marine ports, airports and land border areas to smuggle contraband and people into Canada is flourishing.

This has become a huge issue, especially since the disbanding of the ports police by the Liberal government in the mid-nineties. Our ports remain our biggest vulnerability and auto theft at the ports remains rampant. I spoke recently with the Canadian insurance industry, which is willing to work with Canadian officials to try to alleviate this, but it has received very little positive feedback as far as its efforts to work and share collectively the information it has at its disposal.

The criminal intelligence unit's 2004 annual report notes that organized crime will continue to exploit the large volume of land, commercial and travel movement between the U.S. and Canada to smuggle commodities, currency and people in both directions. As well, organized crime will exploit the less monitored areas between the designated custom ports of entry.

Our committee did not hear from the union representing customs and excise but I understand it will be asking the Senate to examine Bill C-26 with a view to expanding the mandate of the CBSA to establish a border patrol service to enforce the border between ports of entries.

The challenge for our border officials remains large. A report compiled by the agency shows that over the past 5 years, 39 officers have been threatened, 234 were assaulted and 19 injured. These figures speak for themselves.

The reference to the number of contraband guns and other items coming into the country is staggering and Mr. Moran stated at one point that they were given a bullet proof vest to get shot at but no guns to shoot back.

The Senate committee on national security and defence made recommendations on how to improve security at the ports and border crossings and the government did accept some but not all of them. Many have been ignored.

The bill will continue on its path and it will go to the Senate. Hopefully the Senate, in its wisdom, will bring forward some amendments that will improve on the legislation. It is time to start looking at the broader picture of a North American border security perimeter and have the ability to secure continental security. That is the next free trade for our country. It is the area in which we should be moving because we know that security trumps trade. This is in Canada's interest.

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12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the words of my colleague in his reflection on the legislation that is before us. Over the number of years that I have been here, along with other colleagues in my party, I have had the opportunity to travel to many border crossing across the country, from Victoria all the way out to Halifax.

One issue that came up time and again was the number of people assigned to enforce border security. The RCMP in particular had a certain function and I can give an anecdotal account in British Columbia. Four RCMP officers were assigned to cover the border from Victoria to the Alberta border 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is impossible, ultimately, to do that. That was about two and a half years ago and I do not think anything much has changed since then.

We have heard a lot of talk ever since 9/11 about increasing border security and cracking down on individuals crossing both ways but we have not seen any major increase in personnel on the borders nor specific training. As my colleague mentioned, the officers who are charged with this duty are not armed and they should be armed because there are more dangerous people out there than there ever has been before.

Does my colleague have any recent knowledge about what the Liberal government has done to truly beef up security at the borders, if anything? I know there has been a lot of talk on the other side but just what has changed?

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, as usual, my colleague from Calgary brings a common sense approach to this. I know he has dedicated much of his life to law enforcement and follows these issues closely.

The short answer to his question is that sadly the government has done very little when it comes to improving the actual security and, in particular, the personnel, equipment and legislative backing that they require. As the member noted, a vast territory has to be covered in most instances. It is also increasingly complicated.

Since the 9/11 attacks we know the risks are even greater and the desperation involved is even greater. It is extremely daunting for border service agents to know that these are the types of people they may encounter and yet they do not have sidearms. In many cases they do not have the protective equipment they need and, more to the point, they do not have the technological advantages that would allow them to identify the very individuals who pose that threat.

I mentioned the fact that vehicles were driving across the border, carrying God knows what, without being stopped. That is the clearest sign that our border is porous, that people are both crossing into Canada and leaving undetected in many instances. That means we need more equipment, we need more maintenance budget and we need more technology. We need to use the most advanced security measures available to man. We have the ability to access that type of technology.

When I think about the task before the CBSA and what the government is requiring and Canadians are expecting its members to do and what they get in return to do that actual job, it is the government's failure and our collective failure in Parliament if we do not see Bill C-26 through. We must enable and empower those border security officers to do that important work and to do it to the best of their ability with the full backing, the full technological and equipment advantages that they need and the training, I am quick to add, as well because of the changing world and the complexity of the issues around security.

We also have to work closer with the Americans. We have to work toward, what I suggested earlier, a North American security perimeter. The water remains the biggest threat as far as those items coming into Canada, particularly on container ships. These container ships can bring large items into Canada, anything from a dirty bomb, to people, to child pornography, to weapons, to drugs, anything we are trying to detect coming in these containers, of which a minuscule portion, a percentage of a percentage point, actually receive the scrutiny required to detect them at the ports.

The Conservative Party takes this issue very seriously. We have made it a major plank in our platform. We look forward to having an opportunity to implement that one day in government.

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12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this important debate on Bill C-26. The bill would finally make official the creation of a consolidated border services agency that would bring together roles previously filled by many agencies with respect to immigration, customs, air travel, passports and so forth.

The new agency would be responsible for ensuring that people, goods and services coming into Canada are safe. Clearly, this would be an extremely important agency and one which would have far-reaching powers and responsibilities.

The agency will be responsible as well for certain technological projects intended to improve our security and speed up the flow of goods across the border between Canada and the United States.

The Conservative Party supports many of these ideas, including the smart border initiative introduced three and a half years ago. We also support FAST, the free and secure trade program, which is intended to facilitate the movement of approved goods across the border and NEXUS, which will facilitate the movement of low risk individuals.

Creating a consolidated border services agency is an important part of establishing the conditions needed for real improvement in our border security, but this bureaucratic reorganization will mean nothing unless it is accompanied by better controls, more resources and more personnel who are better trained and equipped. The government has been shuffling along, dragging its feet on this file for too long. The main reason for the lackadaisical approach seems to be that it allows the government to continually reannounce the same initiative as if it were something new.

The government is famous for reannouncing its initiatives to maximize the media impact. The government announces a fancy program and then does nothing until it sees an opportunity to reannounce it. I understand from the newspaper this morning that will be the Liberal plan for the summer.

We see the same thing in agriculture, an area that is very important to my riding of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry. Year after year the government makes ad hoc announcements that some inadequate amount of money will be given to farmers to help them cope with BSE and foreign subsidies and the other challenges they face. These announcements are always accompanied by promises that real transformation is on the way, but there is no follow through. Year after year nothing changes, except that a few more farmers lose their fingernail hold on solvency and are forced off the land. Too often the money that is promised never makes it into the hands of those who need it.

My party would like to see the government turn some of its wonderful announcements into real progress for a change. The Conservative Party wants to increase the number of personnel protecting our borders. We want to increase their training and powers. We want to give them the tools and technology they need to do their job well.

That is a problem at all levels of the Canadian security system, whether it be customs, immigration, correctional services, the RCMP or the armed forces. We are allowing resources to disappear, and our personnel is being overextended.

Recently we received the news that our American neighbours are placing further restrictions on Canadians crossing the border into the U.S. For the first time in history all Canadians will be required to carry passports. Why is this unprecedented restriction being placed on the mobility of Canadian citizens? Because the government has failed to satisfy our neighbours that Canada can be trusted to properly screen people and products passing through our country into the United States.

An independent multilateral task force recommended that Canada, the U.S. and Mexico should share a common biometric border pass that would allow smoother passage through customs, immigration and airport security, while ensuring the security of our shared continental perimeter. The U.S. has been working on biometric border control technologies since the September 11 terrorist attacks. In fact, the U.S. has taken many concrete steps to protect its own border while Canada has lagged far behind.

Apparently the U.S. has now decided that it cannot keep waiting for our government to do its part to enhance the security of our shared continent, so it is leaving us behind. There is no indication that things will improve for Canadians who depend on cross-border travel. The very same day the U.S. told Canadians we would need passports to cross the border, the Auditor General told us that the government is failing to properly control the issuance of Canadian passports. No wonder our neighbours are getting frustrated with us. Even requiring Canadian travellers to carry passports will not offer the security assurances it should.

The restructuring provisions contained in this bill will mean nothing unless we also fix the very basic problems of our border controls. We hear horror stories about officers working alone at border crossings, technical problems with communications tools and lack of information about people with criminal records or outstanding warrants. Border officers do not even carry firearms. This combination of problems leaves our borders and border officers very vulnerable.

Our ocean ports and waterways along our border are perhaps the weakest link in our border security system. Anything from illegal immigrants to sex slaves or dirty bombs can come into this country undetected. We inspect less than 3% of the containers coming into our major ports. We have a longer coastline than any other country in the world and our navy and Coast Guard are woefully inadequate to patrol the coastline.

My own riding of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry includes a major border crossing, the Seaway International Bridge in the city of Cornwall. While legitimate traffic crosses the border over the bridge, there is very little standing in the way of illegitimate traffic that crosses the border below the bridge and speedboats that cross the St. Lawrence River under the cover of darkness.

The aboriginal community of Akwesasne which straddles the Canada-U.S. border has suffered greatly as a result of this illegal cross-border activity. Sadly, the decent law-abiding majority of the people of Akwesasne live in the shadow of a small, prosperous criminal element. This poses all kinds of security concerns for the people of the community. It also entices the youth of Akwesasne to give up their schooling to get involved in illegal activities. This activity also creates problems for the city of Cornwall itself. As illegal drugs and smuggled goods pass through the city, some of them stay and cause social and economic problems.

I recently met with representatives from the Canadian Professional Police Association to discuss this problem and others. I assure everyone that this is not the last the House will hear from me on this very issue.

The Auditor General's report also pointed to significant shortcomings in Canada's anti-terrorist preparedness, for example, inadequate inspections at airports and a lack of preparation in the event of a terrorist attack.

The government's first task is to protect the security of its territory and the safety of its citizens. The current Liberal government, however, is too preoccupied by the scandals to assume this responsibility.

I will join my Conservative colleagues in supporting this legislation because it is a small step in the right direction, but I hope my colleagues opposite do not take that to mean we support their overall approach to border security, which continues to be a frightful failure. We on this side of the House will continue to push the government for real action to plug the gaping holes in our border security system.

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12:55 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am certainly no fan of the way the government has handled this file by any means.

The member mentioned that Canadians will need passports to get into the United States, but he forgot to mention that American citizens themselves will need passports to get back into the United States. Complications will arise in terms of tourism in our country. I would like the members comments.

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1 p.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague is right in assuming that this is going to cause some real problems with tourism. The border communities depend greatly on tourism from our American neighbours. We encourage them to visit our wonderful country.

Yes, this is going to cause another problem. It will be a disincentive for American tourists to visit our country. That is what will happen if we let things get to that point. The Americans just do not trust our security systems, our border systems. They have had to go so far as to insist that we need passports to get into their country, but Americans visiting our country need passports to re-enter their country as well.

I share my hon. colleague's concerns. Hopefully we can encourage the government to take this problem very seriously.

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1 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-26, an act to establish the Canada Border Services Agency. I will take this opportunity to read the summary of the bill found on the back of the first page.

This enactment establishes the Canada Border Services Agency, which was first created by order in council on December 12, 2003. The Agency brings together the border services of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. The enactment sets out the responsibilities, mandate, powers, duties and functions of the Minister responsible for the Agency and its President. It continues the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency under the name of the Canada Revenue Agency and contains transitional provisions as well as consequential amendments to other Acts.

From the outset, I also want to share with you the position of the Bloc Québécois, which is in favour of Bill C-26. We were also in favour of it at second reading. However, we have some major concerns over two aspects. In other words, we will be closely monitoring its application, at third reading and during all subsequent discussions. There are two points that bother us.

The first point is the transfer of major functions from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to the Border Services Agency that is being created. In our opinion, this transfer could jeopardize the protection of the rights of immigrants and refugees.

The second point that we will be monitoring is the right to collect, retain, use and disclose of information that this agency possesses under the application of the act and, finally, the agreements that could be reached with other entities and other countries.

I will take the time to fully explain these factors that are highly important to us and that we will be monitoring in the legislative process of this bill in this House. We must always pay attention to the inconsistencies in speeches by the Liberal Party of Canada.

At the same time as this agency is being created, RCMP detachments in Quebec are being closed. At the same time that the federal government wants to create an agency to oversee the arrival of immigrants in Canada, it is closing nine RCMP detachments—which were staunchly defended by my colleagues in the House, both those affected and not affected by this legislation. Why? Because there is no double talk from us. We do not want to create, in new legislation, an agency to protect our jurisdiction from immigrants, while ignoring the need for border protection.

We must not forget that there are over 100 unguarded roads in Quebec. That is the reality. These roads used to be guarded, in part, by local RCMP detachments. And I am not even mentioning the ports. Earlier, someone said that, in some areas, 30% to 60% of containers are not inspected, not to mention individuals who may enter via our waterways.

So there is always double talk coming from the federal Liberals. They want to show that they run a big safe country, but they are slashing security services. That is the message the Liberals have sent us, particularly by closing nine detachments. Obviously, these are regional detachments, but they are in strategic locations: Lac Mégantic, Granby, Coaticook, Saint-Hyacinthe, Joliette, Roberval, Baie-Comeau, Rivière-du-Loup and Îles-de-la-Madeleine. These were all strategic detachments in terms of the arrival of individuals, immigrants and goods.

The government wants to create an agency, but clearly its focus will not be on customs officers. Furthermore, it will decide to eliminate all RCMP detachments in a jurisdiction as large as Quebec in order to prevent the smuggling of goods and, sometimes, humans. So this is double talk from the Liberal Party. Ultimately, this can be very confusing.

Some may find this extremely annoying. It is most disconcerting to see how the Liberal Party can do both one thing and its exact opposite. It has become an expert at that. It tables a bill to create the Canada Border Services Agency. By so doing, it is trying to tell the Americans “That way, we will be better able to monitor the entry of individuals”. Obviously, that is, provided they enter at border posts. They can of course enter at many other spots because RCMP officers have been removed from a number of places in Quebec and elsewhere. There will be no more RCMP stationed in the regions, so anyone wanting to get into Canada illegally need only avoid the official crossing points and take one of the hundreds of highways or cross by water. That is the Liberal Party's reality.

This is a problem for the nine communities I have referred to, which used to feel safe. I will take the time to list them again: Lac-Mégantic, Granby, Coaticook, Saint-Hyacinthe, Joliette — that is, Saint-Charles-Borromée —, Roberval, Baie-Comeau, Rivière-du-Loup and Îles-de-la-Madeleine. These all had the reassurance of an RCMP presence but the detachments are being moved.

Obviously, the RCMP Commissioner has admitted the risks. The problem is that there was insufficient manpower to keep these regional detachments manned. There was no money for it, yet the government has found money to create a new agency. More public servants, more red tape, which will of course be concentrated elsewhere than where the need is along the border. That is the reality.

We have trouble dealing with this two-sided Liberal strategy. They say they are going to step up security while, at the same time, they make cuts. That is what they have done in Quebec, and now they are going to create this agency.

We want to play fair, and will state right now that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the agency's creation, provided individual rights are respected. This is our first hesitation. The second concerns the information that will be kept by agency employees and can be shared with other bodies. There must be an assurance that no personal information will be involved and that the individual interests of citizens will be protected.

To conclude this aside, I wanted to point out the dichotomy of the Liberal message. The Liberal Party wants to create an agency to ensure security and to prevent individuals and immigrants from entering Canada in a manner that puts the public at risk. However, this same party has decided to close nine regional RCMP detachments in Quebec. Obviously, we can do nothing but criticize that.

To return to Bill C-26, it must be said that the Canada Border Services Agency was created on December 12, 2003. It is now comes under the Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness portfolio. When it was created, the role of Citizenship and Immigration Canada in information matters was unclear. Considerable criticism was levelled in this regard.

In order to calm fears, the Prime Minister said that Citizenship and Immigration Canada would remain responsible for immigration policy in order to protect the interests of immigrants and refugees. He felt the need, therefore, at that point to say that care had to be taken and the agency not given free rein. They would leave what Citizenship and Immigration Canada was responsible for. He did not make this statement just anywhere. He made it in the United States on December 13, 2003, at a conference he was taking part in and during his discussions with American homeland security.

Still, while he felt the need to announce the agency in December 2003, it was not until 2004 that it was established. Today, they are tabling the bill. Again, the message is the urgency in resolving security. The Liberal Party is always prepared. The problem is that things take a lot of time, given the wavering Prime Minister, Mr. Dithers, as some foreign observers have called him. From this bill, we see once again that no decision had been made and that all the time needed was taken. Therefore, the urgency of security matters has become so pressing with time that they introduced the bill.

I will read the text from the Internet site of the agency, which was established and began operations in October.

The CBSA provides an essential service as the first line of defence in managing the movement of people and goods into and out of Canada. All people and goods entering Canada, whether by air, land or sea, must report to the CBSA at a port of entry. With a workforce of approximately 11,000 public servants, the CBSA operates at 1,369 service points across Canada and 39 locations abroad. At some of its busiest locations, the CBSA operates on a 24/7 basis.

Among the threats addressed by the CBSA are terrorism; illegal migration; illegal trade of weaponry, drugs and unsafe goods and foodstuffs; and the attempted introduction of contaminants and threats to public health. The CBSA is also mandated to prevent the admission into Canada of persons involved in war crimes or crimes against humanity, to assist in combating money laundering, and to conduct the detention and removal from Canada of inadmissible persons.

Obviously that is the message from the agency. However, it does not say that in order to ensure this is respected and to be able to address terrorist threats, the people, with their goods, must declare themselves to the CBSA's service points. I mentioned that earlier. In Quebec, there are over 100 side roads that are not monitored and for which there are no agency service points.

That is what led the RCMP commissioner to close nine regional detachments in Quebec. The agency is clear on this. It provides protection by land and sea. That is all well and good, provided the individuals and goods go through the agency's ports of entry.

The problem is that the land is so vast that there are goods that enter elsewhere than by the service points. That is where the problem lies with the inconsistencies of the Liberal Party. It is creating an agency to prevent terrorism in our land, or threatening goods or people from entering Canada, as long as those people choose to cross the border under big signs that say, “Enter here”.

The other problem is that there are many places where people can enter Canada that are not covered by service points. The Liberal government decided to close nine RCMP detachments responsible for guarding the entire area not covered by the service points. So this is the message the Liberal Party sent. It will live with the consequences in Quebec, as far as we are concerned.

Bill C-26 will make the Canada Border Services Agency responsible for the following: examinations at ports of entry to ensure that individuals are admissible and comply with Canadian laws and regulations; the arrest, detention and removal of migrants considered inadmissible; establishing policies respecting the enforcement of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act; establishing policies on the inadmissibility of migrants on grounds of security, organized criminality or violating human or international rights; deciding whether an immigrant who meets the inadmissibility criteria can be exempt for lack of a threat to Canada's security; ensuring payment of duties and taxes; and identifying and intercepting goods prescribed as high risk at airports, border stations and ports.

It confers powers on the minister and the governor in council. That is why the Bloc Québécois supports this agency in principle. We agree in principle, as we strongly support maintaining an RCMP presence, particularly in the nine regional detachments that were closed.

The Bloc Québécois would have preferred that more officers were assigned to these detachments—instead of seeing them closed—in order to guarantee the safety of Quebec and Canada. That has been the message of the Bloc Québécois MPs. We will support Bill C-26, and we support maintaining and reopening the regional detachments in order to have more RCMP officers in Quebec. That was the Bloc's message in order to counter any threats to our borders, by sea, land, air and rail.

We want to be able to ensure a high level of security throughout the land, at any and all ports of entry. That was not the message the Liberals sent when they decided to close nine RCMP detachments in Quebec. With this bill, they are saying they want to protect our ports of entry with signs and beacons marked “Enter here” and “This way into Canada”.

That is how the Liberal Party chose to react. It wants to increase security at entry points. It is not its problem, however, if over 100 roads in Quebec are not supervised and if there are no designated entry points and if people can gain entry the entire length of the St. Lawrence, from the coast and elsewhere. The Liberal Party decided it did not have enough money. The commissioner said, in committee, that he was aware of the danger, but lacked the money to ensure security. To say one thing and then the opposite is the watchword of the Liberal Party. Indecision and inconsistency best describe the behaviour of the Prime Minister, whom foreign observers call Mr. Dithers.

That is the way things are. We have to live with it in this House, because we have to vote on this bill. In fact, we support Bill C-26, but we have to mention that the Liberal Party, even if it seems to want to increase security at selected points, has decided to reduce security where proper entry points have not been established. That is the message from the Liberal Party.

We have two comments, not negative ones, but they explain why we will keep a close eye on Bill C-26. One concerns the protection of refugees' rights. Clearly, we reject the principle that claimants must initially be considered potential threats to the country's security. Even on the website, they consider everyone a threat. We have a very hard time accepting that. Men and women want to immigrate to Canada, to settle here. It is not true that every person who enters should be considered a potential threat to the country's security.

This is why we want a fair process, not exclusionary thinking. We really want people to be treated fairly. Men and women who decide to enter Canada, who want to live in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada should be considered full citizens from the outset, having standards to meet and certain checks to be run on them. However, they must not be considered potential threats right off.

For the moment, the staff will be former immigration officers. We are in favour of that. In future, however, is there not a risk that the agency may hire people with a mentality of exclusion, whose background will mainly have been in investigation, deportation, harassment and terrorism issues? That is one of our main concerns. The initial premise is that anyone can constitute a potential threat. It is all very well to use officers who were already there, and doing a good job, and whose main criterion was to consider anyone wanting to migrate to Canada to be people with full rights. Would there not, however, be a danger when new people are hired, who may start off with a mentality of exclusion, of seeing anyone wishing to migrate to Canada as a potential threat? Instead of trying to make things easier, while requiring them to make the standard checks, the aim is to have them consider these individuals as a potential threat and to carry out an investigation. This leaves a potential for deportation and harassment in order to make sure no mistakes are made, given the ongoing threat of terrorism.

We feel it is important for the human rights of those entering Canada to be respected at all times. The Bloc Québécois can be counted on to be a watchdog over the federal Liberal government, which always has this habit of talking out of both sides of its mouth.

There is one final point I would like to raise concerning disclosure of information. We want to be sure that the way the agency collects, maintains, uses and shares information is fully respectful of individual rights and freedoms, because this information can be passed on to agencies in other countries.

We need to be extremely vigilant about how the rights and freedoms of individuals are respected.

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1:20 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, prior to beginning my remarks I would ask for unanimous consent to split my time with the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh. I believe all parties have agreed.

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The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Is that agreed?

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Some hon. members

Agreed.

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1:20 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

I want to begin my remarks on Bill C-26 by highlighting the importance of this bill in terms of moving forward with more official resources, which I hope will come for our border services at the end of the day. When I say that, I mean it in the context of the men and women who defend our border on a daily basis. I believe they have not had adequate support or legislation to deal with some of the complex problems they deal with in today's world.

I want to at least outline a few important items that the public should know about Bill C-26. This bill will bring together under one umbrella organization the services of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration .

I do not have the time to go into all the details of Bill C-26 and the different departments, but I do want to highlight the importance of this bill for ordinary Canadians. We have often heard, as we have today, the debate about Canada being a threat to the United States in terms of the border.

This perception has been perpetuated even by some U.S. elected representatives, such as Hillary Clinton. She continues to talk, erroneously, about some of the terrorists of 9/11 obtaining access to the United States from Canada. That is not true. It is something that I am greatly offended by because it is not the truth and it also hurts our relationship with the U.S. It should be noted that these terrorists acquired passports from the U.S. itself.

We need to note this because we have many security issues on our side of the border, but we need to talk about the facts. At present on a daily basis there is approximately a billion dollars in trade in the form of goods and services between Canada and the United States. We also have a strong socio-cultural history, in which bonds of friendship, family and prosperity for both nations have developed. When we have the other erroneous elements thrown into the pot, they make things very complicated.

Let me point out that since September 11, 2001, we have seen a significant change on our border. There were problems prior to 9/11. I represent the riding of Windsor West. I can tell members that there already was a significant tie-up of trucks and cargo because of the lack of infrastructure from this government in the past decade. The problem has certainly been seen on the streets of the city of Windsor through more profound effects since September 11. Even the United States side did not have proper staffing.

In past decade the United States will actually have had a 30-fold increase of officers on its border. To put all the blame on the Canadian side is not fair and is certainly not accurate. We need to make sure we understand that this is going to be reciprocal and that we are tied to it enough in destiny.

As well, we hear a lot about our security risks in the United States, but it does work both ways. Let me point to a recent case in Windsor. Brian Bolyantu was killed on the streets of Windsor when an American citizen who had a long record with the law was accidentally let into this country. I do not want to get into the details of the case because it is going through a lawsuit, but tragically, the family has lost Brian because there was a mistake made at the border. It shows the danger that we are faced with.

In fact, a year or so before this case, Lori Bishop, a citizen of Niagara Falls and a mother, was going about her daily activities when there was a car chase through the Niagara Falls area by the Michigan state police. The chase came onto Canadian soil. The chase, which was broken off shortly after crossing the border, led to her death.

There is more. There is the case of Mohammed Charafeddine. He was shot by an American citizen who, once again, had a long history of infractions and a number of different criminal offences but was let into our country.

This is not a problem about nations. This is a problem about people who are undesirable on both sides of the border. Both countries must protect themselves from these people. We must make sure that these individuals do not gain access to our countries. At the same time, the fact is that we have to keep our borders prosperous through the movement of goods and services.

An issue that has not been addressed too much to date is the issue of passports. One change is that the United States has introduced a western hemisphere bill. It is going to final analysis. The American bill will require that every citizen entering the United States have a passport. As well, American citizens will have a passport.

Since that is coming we are actually making submissions to the House of Representatives to make sure that we can get an exemption if possible, but regardless of that, we wanted to make sure there is going to be accountability in this country because we have seen the lack of support for our border services people.

I filed a motion in the House of Commons the day after this came forward. It states:

That the House call upon the government to conduct an audit of the Passport Office to ensure that Canadians can acquire passports at the lowest possible cost and that passport processing fees do not generate surplus revenues.

We are trying to ensure that there is going to be an auditing process to make sure that Canadians can get passports at a relatively decent price, that the services are going to be there and also that there is going to be accountability. If the Canadian passport is not going to be seen as a document that can be trusted or protected, we are going to encounter further difficulties. That is why it is important to have a full audit of the office in terms of its practices.

The effects on our tourism industry will be huge. For example, right now a Canadian passport for a family of four with two teenagers costs approximately $218. For an American family of four with two teenagers, passports will cost $274. To enter and exit between our countries for vacations, personal time and family time is going to require an extra investment in time.

It is important to note this, because when we talk about the safety of our border and the way it works in our economy, this could have detrimental effects on everything from local communities that rely on restaurants and entertainment, for example, to employment opportunities. For my community, I know that the United States and Michigan rely heavily upon Canadian nurses and doctors, as well as a number of other health care professionals, to make sure that they have the proper people for their hospitals. It is important that we continue to have relatively easy access to a certain degree, with security, so people can get to and from work without being hindered.

One of the issues in regard to the border is the perception of the problems that we have related to infrastructure and also accountability. Bill C-26 is an improvement, but we still are lacking, which is why the government has introduced Bill C-44. It is from the transport department and calls for greater scrutiny.

For example, in my riding, there is no border authority in Windsor. There is nothing that oversees the most important trade corridor in North America and probably the world. In fact, a private American citizen owns the border. A private American citizen owns the Ambassador bridge, which controls about a third of the Canada economy, and literally has the entire Canadian economy at a standstill if there is a problem on the border. There is no oversight whatsoever of this border infrastructure. There is no public authority similar to Blue Water or the one in Sarnia.

There is one in Fort Erie and there is in Niagara Falls, but we have been left because, quite frankly, these others have been very influential in terms of lobbying, I believe, to ensure that they are going to have the structures and the tools available to them to have political pressure to avoid accountability.

I have tabled two motions in the House of Commons to create a border authority in Windsor because we have two private proponents that are seeking the next crossing, which is unusual. We have 24 crossings between Canada and the United States, with 22 held by the public sector and only two privately held. They are the Fort Frances international bridge and the Ambassador bridge in Windsor. Ironically, they have the highest rates for car passengers as well as trucks. There is also less accountability. That is why we need this legislation.

Let me conclude by saying that it is important for Bill C-26 to have the proper supports for our customs officers. Mr. Ron Moran was bang on when he presented to the Senate committee and at other hearings when he talked about the fact that we need to have an armed presence at the border. I believe that. It could be a tactical support group, which would ensure that we have greater security and greater trade with the United States.

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1:30 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I wish to thank my colleague for his interesting insights into the border issues that we have in the country. There is a lot of rhetoric that is thrown around the House, particularly from the government benches about the importance of trade, the need for increased trade, and the fluidity of trade.

The member spoke about the increased incursion of private interests into our border, particularly around the bridges and the lack of government action with respect to having the proper infrastructure in place so that we can move these goods.

It is one thing for a business to establish itself and set itself up as a successful venture, break into the American or Mexican markets, and then only be stopped at the last minute at the border and have huge delays at the border, thereby preventing the Canadian economy from growing and those workers from having sustainable jobs.

I wonder if the member could comment specifically on why we hear the rhetoric at one end, but when the rubber hits the road, as it were, and it is time to invest in our border services and move goods across the border, the government has been dragging its heels for so long and for so many bad reasons.

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1:30 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, it is absolutely incredible that the country has missed the boat, so to speak, on infrastructure. Sadly, since 1997, when I was on Windsor City council at that time, we have literally begged the government to do something for infrastructure and especially the border to create the capacity expansion and put in place the oversight necessary for our economy.

Quite frankly, a third of the Canadian economy is dependent upon four lanes on a private bridge between Canada and the United States. That makes no sense whatsoever. It is important to recognize that at certain points in time the country needs to invest in itself. Liberals have been taking shortcuts for years as well as Conservatives on infrastructure.

I would point to highway 407 in Toronto as a specific example. There we saw an investment by the people of the day ending up being fleeced.That infrastructure was privatized and let go without the proper return and also leaving a legacy of debt as a burden on the users.

Infrastructure investment is very important. It creates jobs in Canada. It uses a lot of Canadian aggregate. It pays a lot of taxes back into the system. More importantly, it provides the redundancy and the capacity expansion necessary for entrepreneurs and businesses to be successful.

What is interesting about the situation in Windsor is the fact that we want to continue to operate the border as a profit zone and a middleman at the expense of small and medium sized businesses which is unacceptable. Why would we want to add that extra level of profit for absolutely no reason whatsoever when the infrastructure itself will provide a return at the end of the day for the community and the country? We expect to have to add another type of expense for small and medium sized businesses that have to pay higher fees to get to the markets in which they want to be successful. They will have to compete with their American counterparts often at lower wages and often at lower environmental and other standards. It depends in which area they are competing.

I do not know why the government cannot get its head around the case in Windsor and provide a new piece of infrastructure that is publicly owned and operated. One that would pay a dividend back to this country, relieve the tax burden for the long term and address the security issue which is trumping everything else in the United States right now.

Security is enhanced by public ownership because the accountability is there. We ensure our inspections as well as our infrastructure investment is paid for in perpetuity as opposed to going into someone else's pocket.

It has been interesting in Windsor. The owner of that operation now has bought up all kinds of property in the Fort Erie and Niagara area, so that it can have the next crossing there and it is buying along the Windsor area. Because the government has dithered, it has allowed speculation and lobbying to rule the day on 90% of our trade going to the United States. That is unacceptable.

The government needs to say strongly and convincingly that our border is not a profit zone. It is a conduit for trade and social prosperity between our two nations, as it should be.