Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-23 to expand pre-clearance activities. Pre-clearance is a system that has been around for more than 60 years. It allows travellers in Canadian airports to go through U.S. customs and immigration procedures in Canada. This prevents travellers from having to spend a lot of time waiting in line to go through customs when they arrive in the United States, allows for direct flights to U.S. airports that would otherwise only accept domestic flights, and allows Canadians to follow U.S. border procedures, while remaining protected by Canada's laws and Constitution. This arrangement, which is already in place in eight of our airports, has been very successful for Canadian citizens, Canadian businesses, and especially Canada's tourism industry.
In listening to the debate on this bill, I noticed that hon. members generally seem to agree that pre-clearance is a good thing. I am thrilled to hear that. However, I also heard members of the NDP and the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands say that, although they are in favour of pre-clearance, they would like to keep it under the current legislative framework and they do not understand why new legislative measures are necessary.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to explain. I will give a detailed explanation, but here is the short answer: if we stick with the existing legislation, we will be limited to the existing pre-clearance locations. However, if we want more Canadians in more parts of the country to enjoy the benefits of pre-clearance, including easier travel to the U.S. and increased trade with the U.S., we must pass this bill.
Pre-clearance activities require action by two countries, in this case Canada and the United States. Any expansion of pre-clearance requires the consent of both parties. Such an agreement has just been reached and is known as the agreement on land, rail, marine and air transport pre-clearance. An implementation act must be passed by both countries in order for the agreement to be implemented.
We can choose to either pass Bill C-23 so that we can establish pre-clearance in new Canadian locations and for different means of transportation, the pre-clearance of shipments, and Canadian pre-clearance in the United States, or not pass the bill and not reach any of these objectives.
Given the considerable positive impact of expanded pre-clearance, this bill would have to have a major downside for anyone to justify denying Canadians the economic opportunities and the benefits to travellers of expanded pre-clearance.
Reacting to provisions that set out powers granted to American pre-clearance officers, the NDP and the Green Party would have us believe that this bill is downright apocalyptic. However, on reading the provisions of the bill, it is clear that they are modest and reasonable and very similar to the existing legislative framework. For example, under the current law, U.S. pre-clearance officers can frisk travellers. Under Bill C-23, U.S. pre-clearance officers can frisk travellers.
Under the current law, a U.S. pre-clearance officer can 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 the current law, a U.S. pre-clearance officer can detain a traveller for the purpose of a strip search and must request a Canadian officer to conduct the search. Under Bill C-23, a U.S. pre-clearance officer can 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 could conduct the search themselves in the very unlikely event that Canadian officers are 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. In addition, neither the existing law nor Bill C-23 confers any powers of arrest whatsoever on U.S. officers in Canada.
Under the existing legislation and Bill C-23, travellers can leave the pre-clearance area. The only difference now is that travellers who do leave the pre-clearance area may have to show some identification and say why they are leaving. The intention here is simply to address the problem of people who enter pre-clearance areas looking for weaknesses in border security before leaving undetected.
As far as firearms are concerned, U.S. pre-clearance officers would only be authorized to carry the same firearms as Canadian border services officers in the same environment. In other words, since Canada Border Services Agency officers do not carry firearms in Canada's airports, the same would be true for their U.S. counterparts.
This provision and the entire pre-clearance agreement with the United States are reciprocal. That means that, when Canadian pre-clearance officers start to conduct activities in the United States, they will have the authority to carry the same firearms as American officers in the same circumstances. Contrary to what some are saying, this is not about ceding our sovereignty. This is about a mutually beneficial agreement that confers the same powers and obligations to both parties.
Most importantly, 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 Quebec City to New York 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 a U.S. airport?
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 that 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.