Mr. Speaker, I am glad to be back in the House of Commons and in this chamber to be able to speak to and debate important pieces of legislation, as we are doing here today on Bill C-21.
I know I speak for all of us when I say, with a very heavy heart, that I am very saddened that one of our colleagues, the member for Scarborough—Agincourt, Arnold Chan, has passed away and I send condolences to his wife, Jean, and their three kids.
I will be splitting my time today with the member for Vaughan—Woodbridge.
I will be supporting Bill C-21, an act to amend the Customs Act, because it is really about safety and security for Canadians. It is about respect for our laws and accountability and ensuring that we keep a safe and smart border.
In simple terms, the proposed changes would provide the Canada Border Services Agency with the legislative authority to collect basic exit information on all travellers leaving Canada. In so doing, these changes would further advance two of the government's most important priorities: ensuring Canada's national security and its economic prosperity.
As hon. members well know, the women and men of the CBSA play a critical role in keeping our borders secure and in facilitating the flow of legitimate trade and travel. They are highly trained professionals on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. At the same time, no matter how well we train our border services officers, and regardless of how vigilant they are, we must recognize that they cannot be fully effective in the performance of their duties if they are not equipped with the tools they need to do the job, the job we expect of them.
That is what the bill is about, ensuring that Canada's border services officers have the tools they need, namely, more complete and more accurate information about who is crossing our borders and when they are doing so.
Today, on entry into our country, this information collection and exchange happens for approximately 80,000 travellers a day, with no impact on their travel experience. While this information is useful, it does not provide a complete picture, because while entry data is collected for all travellers, exit data is collected only for people who are not Canadian citizens who leave the country by land. This creates a number of problems. For example, with no means of identifying precisely who is exiting our country, we cannot know if wanted individuals are fleeing Canada to escape prosecution, if an abducted child who is the subject of an Amber alert is being snuck out of the country, or if a radicalized individual is leaving Canada to participate in terrorist activities abroad.
Bill C-21 would ensure that Canada, like most of our allies, knows when someone leaves the country. It is pretty straightforward. It is pretty standard around the world. This is a big step toward safer and more successful border management.
Expanding our collection of exit information would offer a range of benefits. For instance, with access to exit information from airline passenger manifests prepared up to 72 hours in advance, the CBSA and its law enforcement partners would have a new capacity to respond to the outbound movement of known high-risk travellers and goods prior to their actual departure from Canada, and they would become aware very quickly if such a traveller crossed by land into the United States.
In a contemporary environment, where criminal activity frequently crosses international boundaries, I am especially encouraged by how this legislation would help combat human trafficking and exploitation.
There are a great many things we are already doing to pursue the perpetrators and rescue the victims of human trafficking. Other legislation is before the House, such as Bill C-38, which would give police and prosecutors important new tools to facilitate human trafficking investigations and prosecutions. The government has been partnering since last year with major financial institutions to track financial transactions related to human trafficking. Millions of dollars are being invested through the national crime prevention strategy to support programs in communities across the country that help people exit exploitative situations. Fifty-three law enforcement partners across nine provinces participated in the most recent operation, Northern Spotlight, which identifies and helps people who are being exploited or who are at risk of exploitation. However, if Canadian authorities do not know when a human trafficking suspect or victim is leaving the country, that is a significant blind spot for investigators.
With Bill C-21 in place, law enforcement would be better able to work with international partners to locate traffickers and their victims and to identify travel patterns, human smuggling destinations, and implicated criminal entities. This would help investigators break up a human trafficking operation and help prosecutors secure convictions in court.
As well as being very useful for criminal investigations, knowing who has left Canada and when would help immigration officials identify people who have remained in the country beyond their authorized periods of stay. It would also help protect the integrity of benefit programs with residency requirements by allowing officials who administer those programs to make eligibility decisions on the basis of information that is more reliable and complete.
To be clear, everyone collecting benefits in accordance with the law would continue to receive them. For example, this would not affect snowbirds collecting old age security, because anyone who has lived in Canada as an adult for 20 years can collect OAS, regardless of where a person lives. It would not have any impact on medicare eligibility, because the information would only be used at the federal level. I am sure that all Canadians want to know that eligibility requirements for benefit programs are being respected, and the bill would help ensure that they are.
Also, Bill C-21 would address a problem highlighted by the Auditor General in the fall 2015 report. At that time, the Auditor General found that the Canada Border Services Agency, “did not fully have what it needed to carry out its enforcement priorities” related to the export of controlled or illegal goods. He recommended strengthening CBSA's export authorities, information, practices, and controls to better protect Canada and its allies, fight organized crime, and meet its international obligations.
Bill C-21 is a major advance in that direction. It would give Canadian border services officers authorities with regard to the export of goods similar to the authorities they have when goods are imported into Canada. It would make it an offence, under the Customs Act, to smuggle prohibited or controlled goods out of the country.
We will achieve the advantages I have outlined, and my examples are by no means an exhaustive list, without any additional burden or requirements imposed on travellers. Under Bill C-21, people would continue to simply show their passports when crossing the border. Their basic information, such as name, date of birth, and nationality, would be collected, just as it is now, at land ports of entry for all travellers entering the U.S. from Canada and all travellers entering Canada from the United States. Each country would share that information with the other. In other words, when people told the U.S. that they were coming in, the U.S. would let Canada know that they had left. For travellers leaving Canada by air, the same basic biographic information would be obtained through electronic passenger manifests received directly from air carriers. Information collected in this way would not be shared with the U.S.
I emphasize that these changes would not be felt by travellers. They would, however, strengthen our border security and integrity and thereby improve the security of Canada as a whole.
At its core, Bill C-21 is about keeping Canadians safe and about having a border that is secure and efficient. Given the extent to which our prosperity relies on the movement of people and goods across the border, Canada must be a world leader when it comes to border security. At the moment, when it comes to maintaining awareness about who and what is leaving our country, we are at the back of the pack. The measures proposed in Bill C-21 would serve to align Canada with international partners that have implemented, or a are in the process of implementing, such systems, such as New Zealand, Australia, the U.K., the European Union, and the United States. We need to keep pace, and we need to ensure that the women and men of the Canada Border Services Agency have the tools they need to carry out the vital work we expect of them.
I urge all hon. members to join me in supporting this important bill.