House of Commons Hansard #50 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.

Topics

Customs Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I understand that this bill is intended to improve security at customs, but one provision bothers me. It expands the powers of customs officers to search people and their goods. Clause 10 even authorizes a customs officer to search anyone in a customs controlled area.

As I have recently travelled, this worries me. First, when we go through customs now, especially at the airport, we are insecure and we feel that the people we are dealing with are looking at us suspiciously. Customs officers often seem very unfriendly and cannot smile. They are also very brusque with the travellers. I am afraid that this will lead to abuse of authority. For example, a customs officer who does not like the way I look could deliberately check my bags, search me and send me into the back room. I have seen it happen. People wearing a hijab and Muslims are systematically sent into the back room to be searched.

Has any thought been given to the abuse of authority that could result from this bill?

Customs Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I almost feel like I have been travelling with the hon. member, since I have occasionally had similar impressions. I remember one time in particular when I was crossing the border with my young daughter. As was the trend in Quebec, we sometimes went to the United States to go shopping. I did not find anything and my daughter was disappointed, but we had not bought anything. When we got to the border, we were regarded as people who were trying to bring something in illegally. They really grilled my daughter with questions about her watch, since they thought it had been purchased in the U.S. They appeared to really want to find something. I do not know if my car had been picked randomly, but that happened in the past.

I do hope things have changed, however, especially when it comes to searching people. In fact, the Minister of Public Safety must ensure that agents who carry out these searches meet the standards of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We hope, we want, in fact we insist, that they proceed in this manner so that people's rights are respected when they are being searched.

When I was an accountant , the best way to exercise audit control was to make sure that standards were properly applied. I am sure that there will not just be one border services officer searching someone alone, hidden in a corner. I would hope that human rights will be respected. In a society like ours, this is just plain common sense, and it is necessary. I am sure that that will happen. However, individual officers may take advantage of a situation. This happens everywhere in society. The power will go to their heads, and they will force someone to answer their questions and submit to a search. That may happen, because it does happen.

I would hope that the measures that are in place to make sure that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is fully respected will be followed to the letter. People have to be able to trust border services officers. They are also working to protect our security. We want things to go smoothly at the border, but we also want security. It has become almost an obsession. There may be minor incidents from time to time. People want security, whether we are talking about individuals or goods. But we must not allow just anything into the country.

Earlier, members talked about counterfeit goods. If I purchase an original item worth $100, I do not want to find myself with $90 worth of phoney goods. We have to protect goods, but we have to provide just as much protection, if not more, for people, while respecting human rights.

Customs Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to give an example for my colleague to comment on.

I have been involved with security myself. I was on in transit New York, en route from Ottawa as part of a ministerial delegation. In New York, a particularly zealous officer took my passport and asked for my U.S. green card. I told him that I did not have one and that I had never lived in the United States. He delayed me for at least 15 minutes, demanding to see a green card, which I did not have, and refusing to let me through. The minister was waiting for me on the other side because the delegation was about to board a plane for Africa. That is what I call excessive. As members of Parliament, we all have special passports. I had to tell the officers that I wanted to talk to his supervisor, or I would never have been allowed through. In the end, he took my passport, stamped it and practically threw it in my face.

I hope that that will never happen here, and that we will have enough staff to make sure that it never does. That is what happened there, and it is still happening.

Customs Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I understand what my colleague went through because I had a similar experience in the United States.

If ever we worry about what happens here, we have only to look elsewhere if we want to feel better about ourselves. I believe—I hope—that border services in Canada and Quebec are much better than what my colleague and I experienced in the United States.

In any case, this bill has to go to committee, and the minister has to provide satisfactory responses to all of the issues raised in the House.

Customs Act
Government Orders

May 4th, 2009 / 5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, let me say at the outset that I will be supporting the bill, and I believe the remaining members of our caucus will also.

The provisions are good. They are positive. They are a step in the right direction. However, there are a lot of overriding and overarching issues dealing with the border between Canada and the United States that certainly are not, in my view, receiving the attention they ought to be.

I cannot overstate that this is a tremendously important issue for our economy and our society. Some 87% of our exports cross into the United States, and something like $1.5 billion of trade goes back and forth every day. Many people work and travel back and forth between Canada and the United States and between the United States and Canada. It has to be done in a very efficient manner.

There are basically two overriding interests at stake here. First of all, there is the free and efficient flow of people, services and goods, both ways. Second, there are the security interests of both countries. Neither country wants to be invaded by criminals, illegal drugs, illegal guns. These are situations that have to be stopped at the border. We know full well that given the size and extent of our border there are going to be situations that happen each and every day. Again, I want to state how important this issue is.

For the last five or six years, I have been a member of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group. I believe it is a group that functions very well. We have an annual meeting, which alternates between Canada and the United States. It will actually happen in a week and a half, in Canada.

There are a number of issues, but invariably the first one that always comes up before anything else is the border issue. Whether it is the western hemisphere travel initiative, again it is the thickening of our border that has to a certain extent impeded the natural flow of trade and the natural flow of people on both sides of the border. They have the same concerns as we have, especially the northern states: Michigan, Illinois and New York State.

Of course the vast majority of the Canadian population lives within 100 miles of the U.S. border, so this is a tremendously important issue. Anything we can do to improve the situation, as the bill does, or that helps to facilitate the movement of goods and services and people, is a positive development.

This was before Parliament as Bill C-43. I believe it passed first reading at that time. It died on the order paper, and now it has been introduced in the Senate as Bill S-2. It received debate and deliberation in the Senate.

I have been impressed by some of the amendments that have been made. I am encouraged by the work that was done in the other place, and hopefully the bill will go through the House to committee. There are a few issues that will have to be explored further, especially dealing with the minister making regulations.

I assume that the committee will also want to hear from some of the stakeholders who deal with this issue each and every day. The union that represents the customs officers, the Canadian Airports Council, the Toronto airport, many of the stakeholders have expressed general consent for the bill. I am not aware of anyone who is opposed to the bill yet. So hopefully the bill will go through the House to committee. It probably should not be that long at committee, and hopefully it will be law in the not too distant future.

The bill could be broken down basically into two general components. The first component is the expansion of the activities within a customs controlled area, which allows customs officers to search, to seize and to stop people. This is an expansion of the powers that presently exist, and again that is a positive development.

The second component of the legislation is in passage of information, that is information in all forms, whether we are talking about ships, aircraft or general conveyance. Again, it is the goal of everyone to see that goods move efficiently and quickly across the border, both ways, and that people move also, that they are not stopped at the border for unnecessary reasons. At the same time it is equally important to facilitate the border people in stopping anything like illicit drugs, guns, or people who should not be allowed to cross the border.

When we read the resolutions and the policy papers coming from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and other major business groups across Canada, this is a major issue. This is an issue that they identify regularly, and it is an issue that they want both governments to work at.

As I stated previously, this will certainly be an issue at the next meeting of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group, which meets in Quebec a week from this weekend.

We have had a lot of situations that have arisen over the last number of years. One of course was the western hemisphere travel initiative. That has been before this House in debates, and this is an issue that was spoken about by this group. It is something we were able to delay. It is effective now for air transport, and it will be effective for vehicle transport on June 1 of this year, which is not too far away. That has been a major concern. We are hoping that when it does come into effect that sufficient people on both sides of the border will be aware of the provisions of this new regime and that we are not going to see adverse effects to our tourism and other industries because of lack of knowledge.

I hope that I am wrong, but I can see problems, especially in some of the border towns where people are used to going back and forth each day, whether to work, or for recreation or to purchase goods and services. Let us all hope that everything will work efficiently and effectively come June 1.

When the previous round for air transport came through a couple of years ago, Passport Canada was woefully unprepared to deal with the avalanche of new passport applications. But so far, everything in my experience as a member of Parliament has been positive. I think there is a bit of a delay now, but we have seen absolutely nothing like we saw in the horrendous situation of a couple of years ago. Passport Canada was telling Canadians on its website that their passports would be back in 20 days. The people would book their flights, send their passport in 40 working days before their departure date and find out the day before that they did not have their passports.

Mr. Speaker, you probably experienced the problems of many members of Parliament, especially members of Parliament who came from areas that did not have a passport office in their area.

There are a couple of matters I am going to bring forward that are not in the bill but they relate to this debate. They are issues that concern me as a member of Parliament and that I deal with each day. It is a nagging issue that deals with the stopping of people who have what I call “old criminal records”. In most instances we are dealing with records that are 20, 25 or 30 years old. Two major instances are possession of cannabis, marijuana. At that time, 30 years ago, it was a criminal offence.Right now they probably would not be given a conviction; they would probably be given a conditional discharge or an absolute discharge. The other more common case would be an impaired driving conviction.

Depending on the agent who greets them at the border, this stops them from going to the United States, and vice versa. One thing I would suggest to the House is that there has to be some way of resolving these issues. There has to be a protocol developed between Canada and the United States, and a quick way of adjudicating the matter.

If someone had an impaired driving charge 30 years ago, yes, it is on his or her record. It is probably something the person is not proud of but does that really affect the security of the United States or Canada? Is there not some efficient, quick way that we could expedite that process so these people can go into the United States or, if they are in the United States, can come into Canada? That is one issue I would like to see explored and resolved.

I do not want to get into the whole gun registry debate now, but another issue is the very clear and cogent evidence of the large number of illegal handguns that come from the United States each and every year that end up in Canada, certainly some of our major cities. There has to be some way for our customs officers, the people at our borders, whether it is through technology or whatever, to identify the illegal guns that are coming north each and every year.

Of course, the Americans would certainly have other issues concerning Canadians, such as drugs. Again, one of the major issues that I hear in my role as a member of Parliament is the number of illegal handguns that come into our country from the United States each and every year.

Another issue I will bring up is the whole area of the free flow of goods, services and people each way. It requires a massive expenditure of infrastructure by our government. Two years ago I had the pleasure of taking a tour of all the customs facilities within the city of Windsor, in the tunnel. As everyone who lives there and has experienced that particular border crossing, it is woefully inadequate.

The expansion of that facility has been talked about ever since I came here eight and a half year ago. I know it is complicated and an international issue. I know there are all kinds of different versions as to the correct manner of doing it, but I would like to point out that it is something that ought to be done and done soon so that things will flow that much more freely.

As I said, I do not consider this a major bill. It provides a more efficient operation within our customs operation. It allows for a more effective pre-clearance or information flow for people. Therefore, it is a positive step in the right direction, but there are a lot of other steps that we have to take on this particular border issue.

In conclusion, I will be supporting the bill. I hope it is not in committee too long and becomes law within a very short time.

Customs Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague mentioned in his remarks that there were some things he would like to see changed or some concerns he had with regard to this legislation. He went on to talk about illegal guns coming into Canada through a very porous border, mainly the United States. I am wondering if he sees this bill as being helpful in that regard or is that one of the areas where he has some concern.

Customs Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, some of the officers will be allowed to stop, seize and search in that particular area. It will help but, again, this is a much larger issue that requires a lot more resources and attention than it is given right now. It is still going to be inadequate but, to answer the question, yes, it will be of some assistance.

Customs Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the hon. member for Charlottetown to elaborate on three areas.

The first area is on the search provisions and the powers that are given to customs officers and whether he thinks they will be unwieldy; and second, will the privacy issues be resolved, preserved and protected? Finally, as a former member of the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation board, I wonder if he could elaborate on whether there are any other alternatives to the passport requirements, such as universal identification, that we should consider rather than the passport requirement that is now law.

Customs Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, one of the components of the legislation expands the area that customs officers can search, seize and stop. As I indicated in my remarks, that is a positive development.

On the privacy issues, this is something that can be looked at in committee. I must confess that I did not examine it that closely, but as far as I can see, I do not see any overriding privacy issues that ought to concern the House. The last question on the exploration of other travel documents is extremely important. Of course, we do have the NEXUS system that is used by frequent travellers.

The enhanced driver's licence is being explored. British Columbia and Ontario are looking at that. I would hope that, at some point in our future, that will be the method that is used by all states and provinces. Eventually, we will come to the point where we will accept driver's licences with enhanced IT capabilities that will allow customs agents to plug in the driver's licence and see one's criminal history or whatever things ought to be of interest to a border agent when we are either exiting or entering this country.

Customs Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just have a comment. I would like to publicly acknowledge the member for Charlottetown for speaking earlier so that I could speak next. I want to thank him for being generous in doing so. It is a busy schedule up here and I appreciate the fact that he was able to change his speaking slot so that I could speak next.

Customs Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I thank him very much for the comments.

Customs Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his pretty thorough canvas of a number of issues of concern, particularly to Canadians when dealing with this border issue. I thought he had a fairly thoughtful analysis.

There are times when I wonder whether we just end up talking to ourselves. It seems awfully difficult to get the attention of the Americans on a whole variety of issues, a number of which the hon. member has mentioned. Because we end up talking to ourselves, we end up in some fairly frustrating situations, some of which have been precipitated or highlighted by the comments of Secretary Napolitano.

I want to ask the hon. member whether he thinks that this bill will actually make a wit's worth of difference, particularly the expansion of activities with respect to the customs control area? Witness after witness said the same thing, which is that we make all of these changes and the border thickens. Things slow down and it takes more time to get over the bridge when delivering goods and services. I wonder if he could put it in the context of talking to ourselves, in effect, and being seemingly unable to get the attention of either the secretary of homeland security or the ambassador.

Customs Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I too, like the member, was a little taken aback by the secretary of state's comments. One would think that after all these years and discussions that the facts would certainly be known to the secretary of state, the one in the United States in charge of security.

However, to move on, the member asked an interesting question. Would this make any difference? I think it will, but it really has to be accompanied by some changes in the whole system,. There needs to be more infrastructure and more resources. If that is not there, this probably will not make a lot of difference. We can make all the laws we want, but we must have the systems, resources, proper infrastructure and proper technology, which is so important. Of course, we need the constant cooperation between the Canadian and American authorities, which is not always there now.

Again, I think that they are all part of one package. The next speaker is the member for Windsor West. I am sure that he will elaborate on the situation in Windsor and the infrastructure challenges that are in that city right now. I believe that is the busiest border in Canada.

To go back to the member's question, let us hope that the resources will increase. Let us hope that the infrastructure will improve and let us hope that this law will make a difference.

Customs Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his response. He has highlighted two things: first, if no resources are put to this bill, then we really are truly wasting our time here; second, if there is no co-operation with the other side of the border, then we are also wasting our time.

I wonder if the hon. member could elaborate on the issues whereby we expand these search and seizure areas. We certify that, presumably, trucks inspected in these areas can go right through the border without further delay, and yet at the end of the day we actually have not improved the quality of exchange between the two countries.

Customs Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, to answer the question, I do not think we are wasting our time. I hope we are not wasting our time. This legislation, as I indicated in my remarks, has several positive elements. It is a step in the right direction. It allows the customs agents and officers more powers within certain areas, and it facilitates some of the pre-clearing information that is required.

These are just two components of an overall system that basically has to become more efficient. More resources are required. More co-operation between the American and Canadian authorities is necessary. There has to be much greater use of technology. There has to be a greater emphasis on infrastructure so that things will flow smoothly.

Until those things are done, there is probably going to be a thickening border, but let us hope that the government will continue to work on it. Let us hope that there will be improvements made.

Some funds have been identified, but I am not aware of a whole lot of improvements that have been made. I still get an awful lot of complaints myself. Again, I remain somewhat cautiously optimistic. Let us hope that the situation will improve to the benefit of Canadian businesses, American businesses, and the people who live in this country and in the United States.