Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Customs Act, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois. The summary of the bill reads as follows:
This enactment amends the Customs Act to clarify certain provisions and to make technical amendments to others. It also imposes additional requirements in customs controlled areas, amends provisions respecting the determination of value for duty, and modifies the advance commercial reporting requirements. Finally, it provides that regulations may incorporate material by reference.
This bill is not very long. It has seven pages excluding the summary. I would like to start by saying that the Bloc will be supporting Bill S-2. This bill is designed to provide Canada Border Services Agency officers with the information, tools and flexibility they need to identify threats and prevent criminal activity, while ensuring that legitimate goods and travellers can cross the border efficiently.
Under the amendments that have been announced, all businesses that are part of the import chain are required to provide the Canada Border Services Agency with electronic data on their shipments before the goods reach Canada. With this advance electronic information, the CBSA will be able to make better decisions about admitting goods and analyzing the risks they pose to Canadians.
Other changes will allow the CBSA to fully establish customs controlled areas. Officers will enjoy greater freedom to examine goods and question and search people, regardless of where they are in these areas, not just at exit points, as the current law states.
Although Bill S-2 seems all right at first glance, it will be necessary to have ongoing follow-up and close questioning of representatives of the Canada Border Services Agency and the government.
The Customs Act makes the connection between the customs provisions that impose duty and tariffs on importers and the security measures in various other laws.
The bills' proposed amendments to the method of calculating the value of imported goods could reduce the number of disputed duty calculations. Moreover, revenue from duties could increase if the value of goods imported were more likely to be adjusted upward as a result of the proposed changes to the methods for determining customs value.
The purpose of the provisions of the bill that require information to be provided in advance is to improve the risk assessment of goods at the border. Combined with the broadened search power for officers in customs controlled areas, this measure could reduce the number of dangerous counterfeit products entering Canada through customs controlled areas.
At the present time, border services officers may search persons only when they leave controlled areas. If the bill is passed, in future, it will be possible to do that inside the controlled area itself.
When the bill was being examined, the vice president of the CBSA said the following:
Currently, an officer would question the person at an exit point, where the person must speak to a CBSA officer. The officer can ask questions and can search if it is deemed necessary. In this new scenario, the customs officers could ask similar questions within the customs controlled area, and if there are reasonable grounds to conduct a search, the officer would indeed proceed with a search. The officers would be trained appropriately, and individuals within the customs controlled areas would be advised of the possibility that a search could occur. There would be notification.
It will therefore be necessary to ensure that this follow-up takes place. We are told that officers will be trained and that notice will be given. Therefore, care must be taken to respect individual rights and freedoms by ensuring that the officers will indeed be properly trained and will give the necessary notification.
The Minister of Public Safety has given assurance that officers conducting a search will be subject to the requirements of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with respect to protection of the constitutional rights of the people being searched. The minister has said so, but care must be taken, once again, to ensure that the government will not take advantage of this to go beyond the limits of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for instance.
It is all well and good to say that, but this bill also gives the government regulatory authority to establish and expand customs controlled areas. The controlled area could be expanded to cover the entire airport or port and even parking and drop-off areas. The authority granted to border services officers would be disproportionate. Consequently, it will be necessary to constantly monitor how the Canadian Border Services Agency and the government are implementing these provisions.
The Conservative government is constantly introducing security-related bills and bills to amend the Criminal Code and including a little poison pill to try to push their right-wing agenda even further. We will have to watch this preoccupation with security. Under the bill as drafted, these controlled areas, in which border services officers could take action, could be expanded to cover an entire port or airport, including parking areas. Imagine the anarchy that could result if we do not exercise appropriate control and we let right-wing philosophies dominate security. It would be quite a worry for the people using these spaces.
I would like to point out that the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Transport Canada support the changes to customs controlled areas. Airport authorities also consider the use of customs controlled areas to be a reasonable security measure, and port authorities acknowledge the need for customs controlled areas in proximity to commercial and cruise ships. Both the airport and port authorities want greater flexibility and new areas. But the port authorities were clear that the areas should be close to the ships. We are not talking about the entire port. It is therefore important to be careful.
The men and women who are watching this debate need to understand that the Bloc Québécois will always defend security, of course, but will also protect the interests of individuals. People's rights should not be violated because they happen to be at an airport or port and someone has decided to conduct full searches because those in charge, specifically the government, have been allowed to go overboard on security. Obviously, once again, the Bloc Québécois will make sure people's rights are respected.
I would like to summarize the bill's timeline. It was introduced by the Leader of the Government in the Senate on January 29, 2009, passed at third reading on April 23, 2009, and sent to the House. We have just received it. It is exactly the same as a bill with the same number and title introduced on December 2, 2008. Bill S-2 was introduced on December 2, 2008. It is also identical to Bill C-43, which was introduced on February 15, 2008, during the second session of the 39th Parliament. These last two bills died on the order paper when the government called an election.
Once again, they say the matter is an important one, yet it was more important for the Prime Minister to break his promise about fixed election dates last time. He got himself a second minority government. Once again, it is clear that the Conservatives always think that they are the best. Now this is where they have ended up, and they are getting worse and worse day by day. That is a fact. We all knew it, and now everyone knows it, everyone in Quebec, at least.
It is becoming clearer day by day that the government is no longer able to govern. It is out of touch with what people want. Of course, when one has a right-wing philosophy, one always thinks that one is right and that everyone else is wrong. If the Conservatives carry on doing what they have been doing, they will be wiped off of the Quebec electoral map, and I, for one, will not mourn their fate. It is so disappointing every time government members from Quebec get brainwashed by the party's right-wing philosophy. They will get what is coming to them: a straightforward invitation to go back to where they came from.
This bill imposes additional requirements with respect to customs controlled areas, grants the minister the power to authorize entry, and amends provisions respecting the determination of value for duty and advance commercial reporting. It gives customs officers the power to search people and their goods while those people are in or are leaving a customs controlled area.
What I just said is important because customs officers in these specified areas will have more power. We are concerned that the government plans to expand that area to include entire airports and even parking lots.
First of all, more customs officers will be required to ensure proper control. Will they be properly trained? Will they respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? We can see the Conservatives' right-wing philosophy lurking behind this. It must be curbed, and once again, the Bloc Québécois can be counted on to do so.
The bill also states that regulations may be made stipulating when and how persons covered by the regulations may provide information on travellers.
The current Customs Act is the result of the total revamping of the 1867 act, which was undertaken in 1986 to maintain the original act's three purposes and to allow for greater flexibility in light of developments in transportation, communication, trade and business practices. Since 1986, the Customs Act has been amended regularly in response to free trade and related international agreements and to fine-tune international trade measures.
This is why the Bloc Québécois wants to cooperate. Yes, there are new international standards, yes we trade with other countries, such as the U.S. Yes, from time to time our customs legislation needs updating. On the other hand, we must not go too far. Once again, the Bloc Québécois can be counted on to do so.
I will take a few of the clauses in Bill S-2 as introduced, and give some comments on each if I may.
Clause 2 eliminates the requirement for the minister to make a regulation to grant access to a customs controlled area to any person.
Once again, care will have to be taken to ensure a degree of transparency with respect to the minister's powers.
Clause 3 eliminates the exemption that applies to persons leaving a customs controlled area to board a flight with a destination outside Canada. Now, these persons will be required to present themselves to an officer, identify themselves, report any goods acquired while in the customs controlled area, and answer questions.
Obviously, greater monitoring is a good thing. That is the reason, among others, that the Bloc Québécois will support this bill.
Clause 4 amends the power of the governor in council to make regulations respecting the persons or classes of persons who may be granted access to a customs controlled area, and regarding the manner in which a person in a customs controlled area, or a person leaving such area, must present himself or herself.
Understandably, the size of this area is important. That is why we have said from the beginning that we will have to be extremely vigilant concerning how this government will enforce this clause and how the minister will decide to increase the size of this area. Clearly, port authorities want this area to be expanded to all locations near vessels, but they did not ask that this apply to the entire port area, included its parking areas. Thus, we must be vigilant about how clause 4 is applied.
Clause 5 amends the requirement to report goods imported into Canada, so that a prescribed person, and not the person in charge of the conveyance, must report the goods at the nearest customs office. Accordingly, a regulation defining those prescribed persons will determine who must report the imported goods at the nearest customs office.
That is good. The purpose of this standard is to harmonize international trade practices and ensure that the individual who is transporting the goods is obliged to declare them, and not the person in charge of the conveyance, as was the case under the former legislation. This will shed an important new light on the matter.
Clause 12 of the bill amends the act to allow the minister to set the prescribed time and manner in which he can require a prescribed person to provide information about any person on board a conveyance, under prescribed circumstances and conditions.
Every time we talk about providing information on passengers, the Bloc Québécois is very concerned about privacy issues. We can never do enough to ensure that this information does not fall in the hands of people who will use it for nefarious purposes. It is therefore important to track it and ensure that the information on passengers provided to the agency will be properly protected.
Clause 7 amends the methods available to adjust the transaction value of the goods being imported when the vendor receives a benefit from a subsequent sale. This may lead to higher valuations and therefore higher duties being paid by importers.
We have seen that, in international trade, duties must be paid on the value of goods. So this clause proposes somewhat of an adjustment. Manufacturers in Quebec and Canada are sometimes under intense pressure from competitors in emerging countries and foreign competitors, which use pricing that is not in line with the actual value of the goods. This provision will make it possible to establish balanced tariffs, which can only promote international trade and, as a result, our businesses.
Clause 10 amends the act to authorize a customs officer to search any person who is in or is leaving a customs controlled area if the officer suspects on reasonable grounds that the person has secreted on or about their person anything in respect of which this Act or the regulations have been or might be contravened.
Therefore, the bill expands the officer's powers and rights to search a person who is in or is leaving a customs controlled area. Previously, the person did not have to deal with officers unless that individual had registered or gone through the service. In future, officers will be able to stop and search a person no matter where that person is in a designated area.
Clause 11 amends the act so that a customs officer may, in accordance with the regulations, conduct a non-intrusive examination of goods in the custody or possession of a person who is in or is leaving a customs controlled area.
The officer can not only search the person, but also conduct a non-intrusive examination of goods in the person's possession.
The goal of the Bloc Québécois has always been to ensure the highest level of safety in areas under Canadian control or jurisdiction. That is the reason we wanted to make sure we discussed this bill. We understand that it is in our best interests to protect personal rights, and that is why we need to be extremely vigilant when it comes to expanding controlled areas, and ensure that the Canada Border Services Agency and the government do not make excessive demands.
In conclusion, take the example of the port authorities. They told us what they needed, specifically, for the controlled area to be expanded to include areas near the vessel. But they never said that it would apply to the entire port, the connecting parking lot, and so on. When the controlled area is too large, we cannot ensure that the employees have the appropriate training or that individuals are informed of their rights.
Again, we are interested in protecting the rights of individuals, passengers and those who administer the service.