Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to discuss Bill C-23, which would provide the necessary authority under Canadian law to implement the land, rail, marine, and air transport preclearance agreement, thereby expanding U.S. pre-clearance operations in Canada, and, for the first time, enabling pre-clearance of cargo, and Canadian pre-clearance operations in the U.S.
Pre-clearance makes travel faster and easier for tourists and business travellers alike, and makes it faster and easier for Canadian companies to do business with Americans. It also allows Canadian travellers to undergo U.S. border procedures while under the protection of Canadian law, and, most importantly, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The proposed expansion of pre-clearance enabled by Bill C-23 has been greeted with enthusiasm by chambers of commerce across the country, by the tourism industry, the trucking industry, and by government partners, among others. The mayor of Quebec City, for example, has called it a great victory.
Pre-clearance operations for passengers have been a success story for more than 60 years, but they currently exist in only eight Canadian airports, and they do not exist for cargo at all. It is time to build on that success. Expansion to new locations and modes of travel require an agreement with the United States. That agreement has been reached, and the U.S. has passed the legislation needed for implementation in their country with unanimous support in both houses of Congress. That is no small feat. However, if we do not pass Bill C-23, the agreement will come to naught, and the benefits of pre-clearance will remain limited to those Canadians who already enjoy them.
Nevertheless, throughout this debate, the NDP members have been advocating in favour of the existing pre-clearance framework. According to the member for Vancouver East, the current pre-clearance system is working well. Similarly, the member for Beloeil—Chambly has said that the current pre-clearance system works well. The member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke has said that pre-clearance works just fine. To quote the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, “I understand about pre-clearance. It is working. It exists today.”
Yes, it does, and I agree that the current framework, which has been in place since 1999, has served Canada well. The NDP support for it is interesting, because in 1999 when this framework was proposed and debated, that party had a very different take. At the time, the then member for Winnipeg—Transcona said that he had concerns about the bill having to do with privacy protection, with the power of U.S. authorities to detain people, and concerns that this would be a further application of U.S. law on Canadian soil.
The then member for Winnipeg Centre said that he had serious reservations about the bill. He said it was too intrusive and a breach of Canadian sovereignty. He was worried that foreign officers would have the right to hold people and to stop people from leaving. He argued that by passing the bill, the House was granting foreign powers on our soil which the NDP did not think was necessary. He went on to declare that the NDP remained firmly opposed to the creation of Canadian offences for resisting or misleading a foreign pre-clearance officer. He accused MPs in favour of the bill of being ready to trample on Canadian sovereignty. He said, and this is my favourite part, that the bill opened up such a can of worms that it should be sent back to the other place for them to try again, and to take into consideration such basic things as national pride.
Clearly, a couple of decades later, the NDP realizes that its concerns back then were overblown. However, here we are again. A new pre-clearance framework is being proposed, and, once more, the NDP is sounding the alarm about perceived threats to Canadian sovereignty and perceived powers granted to foreign officers. It would not surprise me one bit if 20 years from now New Democrats leap to the defence of Bill C-23 while insisting that any further changes would mark the demise of the sovereignty of Canada.
My point is, let us be reasonable. In most respects, Bill C-23 is very similar to the current framework. Regarding authorities to detain, question, search travellers, and seize goods, Bill C-23 is either identical to the existing law or very nearly so. The same is true regarding penalties for obstructing or lying to an officer. The right to withdraw from a pre-clearance area is maintained; a traveller just has to say who they are and why they are leaving. The totality of U.S. pre-clearance operations in Canada would be subject to Canadian law, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights, and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The motion put forward by the member for Beloeil—Chambly asks us to reject Bill C-23 because of what he referred to as the climate of uncertainty at the U.S. border. However, it is precisely, with legislation like this, that we are best able to reduce uncertainty for Canadian travellers. The bill provides a clear legal framework governing the actions of U.S. officers on Canadian soil, and requires U.S. officers in Canada to adhere to Canadian legal and constitutional standards.
Today, for instance, a Canadian taking the train from Montreal to New York has to disembark after crossing the border and submit to U.S. customs and immigration processes without any Canadian legal protection. With Bill C-23 in place, that traveller could be processed at the train station in Montreal, with Canadian constitutional safeguards in force and with Canadian authorities on site. In other words, not only would the legislation bring about substantial economic benefits, not only would it make trips to the United States quicker and more convenient for Canadian travellers, it would also enhance constitutional and legal protection for those very travellers.
With that in mind, I encourage all hon. members to give the bill their full support.