moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to begin the debate on Bill C-21 now at third reading stage in the House of Commons.
The Public Safety Committee has carefully considered this legislation and reported it back to the chamber, with a great deal of consensus and support. I would like to thank the committee for the hard work that was done, and note that one amendment related to the length of time that exit information may be retained after it is collected was adopted by the committee. The original version of the legislation allowed for this time limit to be set at some future date by regulation. The NDP put forward an amendment for a 15-year retention period in the law itself, and this amendment found majority support among committee members.
I believe the amendment makes the bill stronger and the government is very happy to accept it.
Before I discuss the specifics of Bill C-21, I cannot stress enough how important a smooth, secure, and well-functioning border is to both us and the United States.
Every day, around 400,000 people and $2.5 billion in bilateral trade cross the Canada-U.S. border in both directions. We and our American counterparts have frequently reiterated our shared commitment to creating an even safer border that promotes even greater prosperity, two goals that go hand in hand. The bill before us today is a big step toward achieving those goals.
Bill C-21 would help us not only ensure that our border with the United States is more secure but also would ensure that our immigration system and social benefit system are better equipped to perform as intended.
Many Canadians would probably be surprised to find out that we do not currently have a system to track when somebody departs Canada. In fact, we have never had that kind of system. Most other developed countries keep track of who leaves as well as who arrives. Canada, of course, does an excellent job of taking note of who is entering the country. However, we need to address the security loophole and catch up to the rest of the world on who is leaving the country. Canadians might also be surprised to know that the Canada Border Services Agency has very few powers in the law to stop goods from leaving Canada, even if it is aware that the goods should not leave the country. Therefore, the legislation needs to be fixed, and Bill C-21 deals with both of these issues.
First, Bill C-21 would amend the Customs Act to enable the collection of basic exit information when someone leaves our country. With a clearer picture of who is exiting Canada, we can ensure the efficient movement of legitimate trade and travel, and keep our border more secure. Currently, this information is only tracked on foreign nationals and permanent residents leaving Canada by the land border for the United States.
It would be helpful to consider some examples of how the new legislation would be useful to the CBSA. It could, for instance, help to determine if a foreign national is overstaying his or her visitor visa. Canada is a welcoming country, but we expect those who are visiting us to abide by the terms of their visas and travel documents, including any expectation that when their visa has expired, they would return to their home country. At the moment, without Bill C-21, we can never know for sure.
Another example is tracking the exit of those who are inadmissible to Canada and have been issued a removal order. Currently, many individuals in that situation simply board a flight at their own cost and depart on their own initiative. However, with no way to track exit information, the Canada Border Services Agency cannot close the file. The result is often the issuance of immigration warrants for people who may already have left the country.
The exit information that would be collected is brief, basic, straightforward, and unobtrusive. It includes name, nationality, date of birth, gender, and the issuing authority of the travel document—in other words, nothing more than is found on page 2 of everyone's passport—along with the time and place of departure. This information would be gathered without imposing any new requirements on the travelling public.
When a person leaves Canada by land, the person would, as usual, show his or her passport to the U.S. border officer and the U.S. would automatically send that basic information back to Canada. This is a reciprocal arrangement with the U.S., which is in fact already receiving information about people departing that country and arriving in Canada via the land border. For those leaving by air, air carriers would collect the basic passport data from passenger manifests and provide it to CBSA before departure.
In addition to the benefits I outlined earlier, Bill C-21 would be of great use to law enforcement. Canadian authorities would be better able to combat cross-border crime, respond to national security threats, prevent the illegal export of controlled goods, ensure the integrity of our immigration system, and protect taxpayers' dollars by making it easier to identify cases of identity fraud and abuse in certain government programs.
A good example is in the event of a kidnapped child and the ensuing Amber Alert that would be issued. When an Amber Alert is issued and shared with the CBSA, the CBSA would be able to create a lookout for the missing child or for a suspected abductor. If those individuals should cross the land border, U.S. border officials would send the exit information back to CBSA almost instantaneously. When the name of the child matches the Amber Alert, CBSA would be able to inform the RCMP that that particular person has left the country. The RCMP could then coordinate with American counterparts to locate the child and apprehend the offender, or if the lookout matches someone on the passenger manifest of an imminent outbound flight, police could possibly intercept the abductor right at the airport and rescue the child before takeoff.
The same principle would apply in the case of known high-risk travellers. Currently, those on the passenger protect program list, or what we call the no-fly list, can be denied boarding if they attempt to travel overseas to join a terrorist organization. However, to be listed on the passenger protect program, the government must have sufficient evidence or intelligence to merit the listing. That is a rigorous process.
A target at the early stages of an investigation might not yet meet the threshold for formal listing and could still freely travel out of the country, leaving authorities with no way to know that the person is gone. Bill C-21 would create a record of that departure, which could help our intelligence and police agencies build a future case. If the person has been flagged to CBSA by either CSIS or the RCMP, those agencies could get advance warning that the individual is leaving several days before his or her flight departs, and for investigative purposes, that is very useful information.
It would also be an important tool for Canada's efforts to combat human trafficking. For example, if police are investigating a case of human trafficking, border officials could alert the RCMP if any of the suspects leave the country or are planning an outbound flight. This could help police determine the location of a suspect, or a victim of human trafficking. It could help determine the travel patterns of suspects or victims, which in turn makes it easier to identify human smuggler destinations, or implicated criminal organizations, and it could help police to identify other suspects or victims by learning who is travelling with the individual in question.
Bill C-21 would also help immigration officials make better-informed decisions and better use their resources. For instance, a permanent resident who is applying for citizenship must have physically spent at least 1,095 days in the past five years in Canada. Without exit information, this can be very difficult for both the government and the citizenship applicant to prove.
Bill C-21 would also help protect taxpayer dollars by reducing fraud and abuse of certain federal programs that have residency requirements. By establishing when people leave Canada, we would be better able to determine who is and is not eligible for certain benefits that are tied to Canada being a person's official country of residence. Of course, when people are entitled to benefits based on their residence in Canada, those benefits are properly and generously provided by Canadian taxpayers. However, eligibility criteria exist for a reason, and Canadians would expect the government to administer these programs responsibly. That means making sure the rules are properly adhered to.
Seniors currently collecting old age benefits in accordance with the law, for example, old age security, would not be affected. That is because once somebody has 20 years of residence in Canada as an adult, OAS becomes fully portable no matter where the person lives. Medicare eligibility would also not be affected because exit information would only be used in the administration of federal programs. The information would not be shared with provinces.
This bill also includes measures that would strengthen the ability of the Canada Border Services Agency to deal with smuggling and the illegal movement of goods out of Canada. Members will remember that this issue featured prominently in the report of the Auditor General in the fall of 2015. That report found that improvements were needed to combat the unlawful export of controlled or dangerous goods, including illegal drugs and stolen property. Even more importantly, as we are in the midst of NAFTA negotiations, these new powers would help ensure the CBSA could better combat the flow of counterfeit goods to our neighbours to the south, as well as the illicit diversion or transhipment of strategic products such as steel or aluminum.
Currently, the Customs Act only prohibits the smuggling of goods into Canada but not out of Canada. This legislation would address that gap in the law by making it an offence to smuggle prohibited, controlled, or regulated goods out of the country.
Prior to tabling the legislation, Public Safety Canada proactively reached out to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. This was an issue of interest to the standing committee. Privacy impact assessments have already been completed for the current and previous phases of implementation of this program involving the collection of basic data for non-citizens, and summaries of those assessments have been made available on the CBSA website. An additional assessment will be done once this new legislation is passed and the new framework is in place. This is all to ensure the requirements of Canada's privacy laws are properly adhered to by this important measure.
As we have seen with the debate on Bill C-59, which is our national security legislation, in particular the information-sharing provisions in Bill C-59 related to national security, many members of this House are concerned about the prospect of sharing personal information between federal departments, that is, within the government overall but between one department and another. Let me be clear, however, that under Bill C-21, before any information could be shared between CBSA and any other federal agency or department, a formal information-sharing arrangement must be established. Such an arrangement would include information management safeguards and privacy protection clauses.
The exchange of information with the United States would also likewise be subject to a formal agreement to establish a framework governing the use of any information and to set up mechanisms to address any potential problems.
Let me repeat something that I mentioned earlier, because it is very important when considering the impacts of this legislation on a traveller's privacy: the only information that we are talking about in Bill C-21 is the basic information, the basic facts, that appear on page 2 of everybody's passport, which all travellers now voluntarily provide to the customs officers of other countries when they enter those countries. This is simply a matter of making sure that the same information is available to Canadian customs officials so that it works both ways.
The benefits of Bill C-21 are clear, and I am glad to note that there has been broad consensus and support in the House for this measure. It would help ensure the efficient flow of trade and travel, which are are essential to our country's prosperity, and make sure that it continues with a secure border. It would help law enforcement agencies with everything from human trafficking to amber alerts, help the immigration department run its programs with more clarity and certainty, help to ensure government benefits go to those who are eligible for them and not to those who are ineligible, and help to ensure Canada can help to prevent prohibited goods from leaving the country. All of this can be achieved with virtually no impact on travellers and with robust privacy protection measures in place.
In short, this bill is good for Canada. I look forward to seeing it come into force at the earliest possible time and I thank the House for its consideration.