Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-23. This is an act respecting the pre-clearance of persons and goods in Canada and the United States. The legislation completes negotiations and cross-border collaboration started by the previous Conservative government. We are very proud of our record on the matter.
With this legislation, national security would be enhanced on both sides of the border. Passengers would enjoy greater convenience when travelling to the United States, and Canadian goods and services would have easier access to the American marketplace. This is good for Canada.
I am confident the rights of Canadians would also be protected under this legislation. In fact, I would argue that they may actually be better protected because it would allow individuals entering the United States through borders to do so with those pre-clearance mechanisms that have already been identified.
Canadian law, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, would continue to apply in pre-clearance areas. Therefore, United States border agents would not gain the power of arrest under this legislation. This is an important point to bear in mind. Any criminal charges that are filed for someone inside a pre-clearance area would be under the Criminal Code of Canada and would be brought by Canadian law enforcement agents. Any security procedures that cannot be conducted in the public area of the pre-clearance zone, such as strip searches, would be performed by Canadian law enforcement in accordance with Canadian law.
That said, let us explore the context of the legislation. Every day, more than $2 billion of goods and services cross the U.S.-Canada border, and across the Canadian economy, one in five jobs is directly linked to international exports. The United States is Canada's largest export market, and Canada is the biggest purchaser of American goods. We make excellent trade partners, and it is important for us to put agreements in place that will continue to protect this. Ensuring the free flow of goods and services across this border is vital to the economic interests of both countries. With the uncertainty around American trade policy at this moment in time, and concerns about American protectionism on economic and security files, legislation like this would protect the Canadian economy and the millions of Canadian jobs that rely on trade with the United States each and every day.
Ironically, the United States Congress, a place not known for its efficiency, has already passed the enabling legislation to authorize pre-clearance facilities on their side of the border. Now they await Canada to take leadership on this issue. When the United States Congress and Senate can pass an important piece of legislation like this faster than Canada, it makes one wonder about the priority of the Liberal government and whether or not it is about promoting trade with our borders.
The use of pre-clearance is not new to Canada. Let us be very clear about that. Canada first allowed American border agents to pre-clear passengers starting with a pilot project in 1952. A formal pre-clearance arrangement for airline passengers was then signed in 1974, with further implementing legislation in the 1999 Preclearance Act. Since that time, pilot projects were pre-clearing ferry passengers and cruise ship passengers. Also, truck cargo has been implemented at high-volume border crossings. If anyone has flown to the United States from airports like Edmonton, Calgary, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Pearson airport, Vancouver, or Winnipeg, they already know there is this pre-clearance option available.
Twelve million passengers at these eight airports went through U.S. pre-clearance in the year 2016, so we can tell that this is of great advantage to Canadian passengers and the flow of goods and services. Without these pre-clearance operations, Canadians would not be able to take advantage of nearly half of the direct flights that presently exist between Canadian and United States destinations. Instead, they would need to fly to a major hub in the U.S., go through customs screening there, and then move onward, which of course is very cumbersome for the traveller.
I am confident when I say that most members of the House have heard concerns from their constituents with regard to this piece of legislation. Nevertheless, these concerns are rooted in an incorrect belief that American border agents would be operating under American law on Canadian soil. The concern is that Canada would be giving up its sovereignty on our very own territory. However, this is actually a false assumption and I wish to clear the record today.
The legislation says, “For greater certainty Canadian law applies and may be administered and enforced in preclearance areas and preclearance perimeters.”
There is no surrender of sovereignty because the Criminal Code of Canada and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are in fact the final law in these pre-clearance areas.
Furthermore, American border agents are not peace officers, which means they do not have the power to arrest those who are inside these pre-clearance zones. Again, I will quote directly from the piece of legislation I am referring to:
A preclearance officer is not permitted to exercise any powers of questioning or interrogation, examination, search, seizure, forfeiture, detention or arrest that are conferred under the laws of the United States....
A preclearance officer must exercise their powers and perform their duties and functions under this Act in accordance with Canadian law, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The legislation could not be any more clear in this matter. American agents must act in accordance with our Canadian law.
To summarize this legislation, American agents are allowed to stop people or items from passing the pre-clearance area if they are headed to the United States. These American agents are also allowed to evaluate passengers according to Canadian laws regarding terrorism and threats to public safety.
However, if an American agent detains someone, the agent must immediately turn the individual over to Canadian police or border agents, who would then be the ones to interrogate, arrest, and then charge the individual according to Canadian law.
I am going to stop there.