Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It is a pleasure for me to appear before you for the first time as Minister of Public Safety. I am pleased to assist the committee in examining the supplementary estimates (B). My portfolio is in that perspective. I would like to underscore some of my priorities.
With me today are four senior officials under my responsibility.
In most portfolios, I wouldn't think that after three months you were still new, but this portfolio is of such a size that I consider I am still very new and on a steep learning curve, and I thought it necessary to bring lots of help.
Today I have with me Mario Dion from the National Parole Board; Don Head from Correctional Service Canada; Stephen Rigby from the Canada Border Services Agency; Myles Kirvan, who tells me he's my associate deputy minister—I'm not big on titles—; William Elliott, who is the Commissioner of the RCMP; and Jim Judd from CSIS. Hopefully, they will be able to answer the many questions that are beyond my scope and reach.
The estimates that are before the committee seek funds of $156.9 million for the current fiscal year, subject to Parliament's approval. The government would put those taxpayers' dollars to good use by helping keep our communities safe for all Canadians. Specifically, we would make important investments in the Government of Canada's national crime prevention strategy, improve Public Safety Canada's emergency management capacity, continue the transformation of the corrections system, and invest in tools that the RCMP needs to fight crime.
Since my appointment last October, I have visited public safety facilities across the country and have met the Canadians whom we serve, as well as our partners. I have spoken with my colleagues from the provinces and territories, my foreign counterparts, and stakeholders and police departments.
I formed a strong sense of where the government must direct its efforts in the public safety sphere. Let me highlight a few of the government's priorities.
As you know, a secure and efficient border is a key element of Canada's prosperity. That's why we will work to keep the border open to legitimate trade and travel with the United States. In the first days of this session, the government introduced new public safety legislation in the Senate, Bill S-2, amendments to the Customs Act. These amendments contain measures to enhance security and to meet our obligations to our trading partners. I welcome your future review of this legislation once it has passed the other place and comes over to our side.
On the policing front, the Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that the RCMP is an effective and accountable national institution. The interim report of the RCMP Reform Implementation Council concluded that reforming the RCMP is well underway and is headed in the right direction. I'm looking forward to receiving the final report of the council in the coming weeks and to pursuing our efforts in this area.
We have made a commitment to reform the system for reviewing and handling complaints at the RCMP. We have made policy statements to the principal stakeholders and to the provinces and territories that employ the RCMP as a police department. Once those statements have been reviewed, I hope to table a bill in the current Parliament.
We are also committed to corrections reform. Our government has clearly stated that the penitentiary system does not work as well as it should. We need to implement measures to further improve offender accountability. We also need to continue to put policies and programs in place that will give offenders the tools they need to rejoin society as productive citizens.
Budget 2008 included significant investments to help transform Canada's correctional system, and those efforts will continue, with changes to programming and legislation. Law enforcement officials are constantly being challenged by the growing threats of high-tech crimes. Internet fraud and online sexual exploitation of children are a scourge on Canadian society. We are exploring measures to ensure that the right law enforcement tools are in place to fight the growing sophistication of serious and organized crime. This type of crime increasingly utilizes information technology and outstrips our antiquated legal frameworks, which were designed for the era of the rotary telephone.
It intends to defend this objective through a statement on national security, which I hope to present at the appropriate time.
Lastly, I want to ensure you that we are firmly resolved to combat terrorism, as we promised in our 2008 election platform. We will be introducing a bill that will enable Canadians affected by terrorist acts to bring legal action against those who sponsor terrorist organizations—in other words, to obtain compensation from designated states.
Members of Parliament and senators introduced similar legislation as private members' bills in the last Parliament. I can assure the committee that public safety remains a core government priority. Tackling crime and ensuring safer communities are commitments we made to Canadians during the last election campaign in the autumn. While the global economic picture has deteriorated since then, one thing remains: security and prosperity go hand and hand and one cannot flourish without the other.
I'm proud to be entrusted with my responsibilities. And I'm especially proud of the achievements of the 60,000 public safety portfolio employees who work hard every day in Canada and abroad to keep Canadians safe. It's the second-largest department in the government by size. It contains capable and professional people in a broad range of areas, and they enjoy a high level of cooperation between them on all the important issues of the day. I appreciate the tremendous support I have received throughout the department, in particular from the senior staff of the agencies that make up the core of the department's responsibilities.
I thank you for having invited me to appear before you today, and I welcome the committee's questions.