Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-23, the pre-clearance act. This act is another example of quality negotiations completed by the previous Conservative government and left for the current government to carry over the finish line. I am glad it is managing to do so, despite needing closure.
I have had the privilege on several occasions to speak about the importance of strengthening ties with our allies and I have spoken in favour of new trade agreements many times since I was elected. It is no surprise that I am generally in favour of legislation that finalizes a cross-border initiative with our greatest friend and ally, the U.S. Pre-clearance and cross-border initiatives with the U.S. are important and help to enhance security, strengthen the integrity of the border, and create jobs and growth in Canada by improving the flow of legitimate goods and people.
I am going to speak to two specific aspects of Bill C-23 today. The first is the manner in which it would open up potential for greater business ties between Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, and the U.S. and the second is to respond to some criticisms from some members of the House regarding security provisions of the act and the powers of Homeland Security officials on Canadian soil.
Trade and travel between the U.S. and Canada are obviously key to the economic success of both nations. More than $2 billion travels daily across the border and we should always be taking steps to ensure that this relationship is strengthened and made more efficient and secure. Our relationship with the U.S. is a constantly changing dynamic and we must work together to make sure that our agreements and existing laws reflect the evolving challenges of global security, technological innovation, and 21st century trade.
Specifically, Bill C-23 pertains to legislation for the agreement on land, rail, marine, and air pre-clearance that was negotiated by the previous government. The bill is significant to our security and prosperity as it safeguards legitimate travel and trade while leveraging the work done by CBSA officers and customs and border protection officers to maintain our national security at the border.
As my colleague from Parry Sound—Muskoka has done, I would like to first discuss pre-clearance as a concept, what it is and how it has worked for Canadians over the past several decades. It is important to dispel the idea that this bill establishes wholly new concepts in Canadian commerce and security. It does not. Pre-clearance is not new to Canada. Pre-clearance operations were first implemented in Canada in 1952, when American pre-clearance officers began screening travellers for U.S.-bound planes at Toronto's international airport. This screening was informal, but it set the stage for the first air transport pre-clearance agreement reached between Canada and the U.S. in 1974.
What are the objectives of pre-clearance? Pre-clearance is designed to push the border away from the homeland. That means that travellers are screened in their country of origin before boarding a flight or train, rather than after the fact when they arrive at their destination. This distinction is important because it means that security and customs officials can identify and stop potential security threats before they enter a new country.
Of course, for Canadian travellers to the U.S., pre-clearance screening has the immensely added benefit of being able to avoid going through customs on arrival in the U.S. If travelling from a pre-clearance-equipped airport, Canadian travellers can arrive at a domestic U.S. terminal, collect their bags, and depart as if they were regular travellers. This avoidance of customs and immigration at destination is important for two reasons. First, it saves time and Canadian travellers can avoid long customs lines. Second and more importantly, for trade, business, and leisure travel, pre-cleared Canadian travellers can travel directly to U.S. destinations that do not have customs facilities.
A great example of the benefits of pre-cleared air travel is demonstrated by travellers to Washington D.C. Members of the House who have travelled to our southern neighbour's capital will know that there are two airports that serve Washington D.C.: Reagan National, which is about 15 minutes from downtown, and Dulles International airport, which is about 45 minutes away in Virginia. Reagan National does not have customs facilities. Therefore, the only Canadian-origin flights that can fly into this highly convenient airport are those from airports with pre-clearance facilities. Flights from Toronto's downtown Billy Bishop airport cannot fly into Reagan National, because Billy Bishop is not equipped with pre-clearance facilities.
We disincentivize internationally focused businesses from pursuing growth if we do not facilitate easier access to newer and larger markets. Our job, among other things, is to make things easier for Canadians. Bill C-23 would have a substantial impact for travellers and businesses that make use of facilities covered by this bill, including those based in Quebec City, those who use Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto, Montreal Central station, and Rocky Mountaineer, so that we have a fairly clear tourism and trade benefit through enhanced pre-clearance facilities, which would improve and expedite the flow of legitimate trade and travel while continuing to ensure border security and integrity.
If there was no pre-clearance, Canadians and returning U.S. tourists would not be able to take advantage of nearly half the direct flights between Canadian and U.S. destinations. They instead would need to fly to an intermediary city in the U.S. and go through customs. This would increase the cost of those trips, increase the amount of time the trips take, and ultimately make travel more difficult and therefore less likely to take place.
There is also a security benefit to pre-screening passengers. The United States and Canada have a long-standing tradition of working together to ensure that the border remains open to legitimate trade and travel and closed to terrorists, criminals, and illegal or unauthorized goods, which brings me to my second point today. Some members of the House and some media have reported concerns that this bill would enable U.S. customs and border protection officers to detain Canadians on Canadian soil. I have a few responses.
First, the legislation is clear that customs and border protection officials are not peace officers, and that the powers of arrest lie only in Canadian hands. Travellers would not lose their rights or be detained indefinitely in a Canadian airport. This legislation does not enable that behaviour. However, CBP officials may hold individuals for questioning at the discretion of the inspecting country officer. In treating the customs checkpoint as if it was an actual physical border checkpoint, the inspecting country should have the ability to determine the security risks posed by an individual in question. This evaluation is critical. Once a flight takes off, there is no other checkpoint for the inspecting country to stop a potential threat.
It is also important to remember that the bill is only at second reading. In committee, we can hear grave concerns from individuals, groups, and stakeholders about the legislation itself, and the recommended changes. The Minister of Public Safety is obligated to explain to members of this House and Canadians how the legislation would work, how it would protect our borders, enhance our security, and how it would not violate our rights. Sending the bill to committee will enhance our understanding of the broader effect of the legislation and clarify any concerns.
There is always work to be done on legislation before it becomes law. We must ask the minister and his officials important questions about balancing liberty, security, and trade. We have to hear from stakeholders, civil liberty groups, and customs and immigration officials, the important groups that deal with the issues raised in the legislation.
It is easy to support measures which on the surface, streamline our border and make it simpler to travel to and from the U.S. However, there are practical concerns that we have to highlight, and I would like to do so with my remaining time.
First, the government has not received adequate assurances from U.S. officials yet on Canada's evolving marijuana policy. We want to make sure it is not an issue for Canadians travelling to the United States. The government has to address this issue.
Second, there would be an assumed increase in airport fees, as airports offset the costs of including pre-clearance facilities and infrastructure. We need to ensure that they have received adequate testimony from the relevant individuals so that we can be certain of the financial implications of this legislation.
Third, airlines and air carriers are important stakeholders with respect to border security and public safety, and this legislation would impact their operations. Given that airlines are a critical stakeholder affected by this bill, we have to ensure that they are substantially consulted as this legislation proceeds through the House.
Last, and this is what we have heard much about today, we must ensure that the concerns expressed by some senior members of the Canadian Bar Association's immigration section about checks on investigative powers given to U.S. border officials on Canadian soil are heard.
Bill C-23 is an important piece of legislation that can streamline our border operations to enhance trade and prosperity while balancing national security concerns. I support sending this bill to committee to further study the balancing effects of Bill C-23 on liberty, security, and prosperity.