Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to discuss Bill C-23, which would allow for the expansion of pre-clearance operations. This is the system that, for over 60 years, has allowed travellers in Canadian airports, currently Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto Pearson, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax, to go through American customs and immigration procedures in Canada. It saves travellers having to wait in long customs lineups once they arrive in the U.S., enables direct flights to U.S. airports that otherwise only accept domestic travel, and allows Canadians to undergo American border procedures while under the protective umbrella of Canadian law and the Canadian Constitution. This arrangement, which is currently in place in eight of our airports, has been an overwhelming success for ordinary Canadians as well as for Canadian business.
Recently, the Minister of Public Safety told the House:
Four hundred thousand people move back and forth across the Canada-U.S. border every single day and $2.4 billion in trade moves back and forth across that border every day. We have to make that border secure and we have to make it efficient for the movement of people and goods.
In listening to the debate on this bill, it seems that there is widespread agreement among hon. members that pre-clearance is a good thing, and I am glad to hear that. However, I have also heard members of the NDP and the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands say that while they are in favour of pre-clearance, they want it to continue under the current legislative framework, and they do not understand why new legislation is necessary. I have also heard from constituents who have expressed concerns about the bill because of misinformation, so I appreciate this opportunity to explain it.
The short answer is this. If we stick with the current legislative framework, we remain stuck with the current pre-clearance locations, with no opportunity to expand to other locations, such as the Billy Bishop airport in Toronto, the Jean Lesage airport in Quebec City, Montreal Central Station, and the Rocky Mountaineer in Vancouver. If, on the other hand, we want more Canadians in more parts of the country to reap the considerable full benefits of pre-clearance, including more convenient travel to and trade with the United States, the way to do that is to pass this bill.
In my opinion, the most important thing to bear in mind is this: Canadians will continue to travel to the U.S., whether or not we have pre-clearance. However, with this pre-clearance legislation in place, U.S. officers must exercise their duties in accordance with Canadian law, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights, and the Canadian Human Rights Act. Ports of entry within the United States have none of these safeguards.
Without pre-clearance service at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, it could not offer direct flights to almost half its destinations in the United States, because those airports do not have customs and immigration facilities. With pre-clearance, it has direct flights to 50 U.S. airports, as opposed to only 27 if pre-clearance did not exist.
Pre-clearance operations necessarily involve two countries, in this case Canada and the United States. Therefore, any expansion requires both countries to agree. This agreement has been reached. It is called the Land, Rail, Marine and Air Transport Preclearance Agreement, and implementing legislation must be passed in both countries for it to take effect.
The United States adopted its required legislation last December, with unanimous support in both Houses of Congress. The Canadian legislation needed to implement the agreement and expand pre-clearance is the bill before us now.
Here is the choice we face. Pass Bill C-23 and open the door to pre-clearance in new Canadian locations and on new modes of transport, pre-clearance of cargo, and Canadian pre-clearance in the United States, or do not pass Bill C-23 and achieve none of that. Given the tremendous upside of expanded pre-clearance, there would have to be something really terrible about this bill to justify denying Canadians the economic and travel benefits it would bring.
Certainly, the reaction from the NDP and the Green Party to the provisions laying out the authorities granted to U.S. pre-clearance officers gives the impression that Bill C-23 is the worst bill we have seen. However, when we read those parts of the legislation, they are, frankly, moderate and reasonable and quite similar to the legislative framework already in place.
For example, under existing law, U.S. pre-clearance officers can conduct frisk searches. Likewise, under Bill C-23, U.S. pre-clearance officers can conduct frisk searches.
Under existing law and under Bill C-23, a U.S. pre-clearance officer may detain a traveller if there are reasonable grounds to believe that he or she has committed an offence, and the traveller must be transferred as soon as possible to Canadian custody. Under existing law, a pre-clearance officer may detain a traveller for the purpose of a strip search and must request a Canadian officer to conduct the search. Likewise, under Bill C-23, a U.S. pre-clearance officer may detain a traveller for the purpose of a strip search and must request a Canadian officer to conduct the search. The only difference here is that U.S. officers can conduct a search themselves in the very unlikely event that a Canadian officer is unavailable.
In the existing law and in Bill C-23, the provisions governing use of force by American officers are virtually identical. The provisions laying out the penalties for lying to or obstructing pre-clearance officers are exactly identical. Neither the existing law nor Bill C-23 confers any powers of arrest whatsoever on U.S. officers in Canada. Moreover, under both existing law and under Bill C-23, travellers are free to withdraw from the pre-clearance area. The only change is that withdrawing travellers would be required to say who they are and why they are leaving. The intent here is simply to address the problem of travellers entering pre-clearance areas to probe for weaknesses in border security before withdrawing undetected.
With regard to arming, U.S. pre-clearance officers would be permitted to carry only the same weapons as Canadian border service officers in the same environment. In other words, since Canadian border service officers do not carry firearms in airport terminals in Canada, neither would their American counterparts. By the way, this provision, like the entire pre-clearance agreement with the United States, is reciprocal. That means that if Canadian pre-clearance officers eventually begin conducting operations in the United States, they will similarly be allowed to carry the same weapons as American officers in the same circumstances.
Therefore, this is not, as some have styled it, a ceding of sovereignty. Rather, it is a mutually beneficial agreement that would confer the same authorities and obligations on both parties.
Above all, as I mentioned earlier, U.S. pre-clearance officers operating on Canadian soil would have to conduct themselves in accordance with Canadian law and the Canadian Constitution, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To put that in practical terms, a traveller flying today from, for example, Billy Bishop airport to Newark, has to submit to U.S. border procedures after landing in the U.S., with no Canadian legal protections. With Bill C-23 in place, that traveller could be processed by U.S. officials while still in Canada. If people are concerned about how they might be treated by American border officers, would they not rather undergo questioning and searches under the umbrella of Canadian charter protections, rather than fending for themselves in the terminal at Newark?
I appreciate that it is the role of the opposition to put legislation through the wringer, and I certainly do not begrudge the opposition members their right to raise concerns and vote against the bill if they so choose. However, we are talking about a measure that would bring tremendous benefits to Canadian travellers and businesses. The worst criticism the New Democrats can muster is that a person who wants to leave a pre-clearance area may have to say why. To me that seems an odd hill to die on. For my part, I will be supporting this legislation and looking forward to the advantages of expanded pre-clearance. I encourage all hon. members to do the same.