Naturally, I'm very pleased to be back with the committee to discuss this very important topic.
This is the system that, for 60 years, has allowed travellers in Canadian airports to go through American customs in Canada.
Pre-clearance allows Canadian travellers to get through the process of American customs and immigration while they remain in Canada. It saves travellers from having to wait in long customs lineups once they arrive in the United States. It enables direct flights to U.S. airports that would otherwise accept only domestic travel, and it allows Canadians to complete American border procedures before departure while they are still under the umbrella of Canadian law and the Canadian Constitution.
In a nutshell, preclearance is good for travellers, for business, for tourism and the Canadian economy in general.
The advantages of pre-clearance are currently available to travellers at eight Canadian airports: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto Pearson, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax. What we're trying to do is to make these advantages available to more Canadians in more parts of the country, beginning with Jean Lesage airport in Quebec City, Billy Bishop airport on Toronto Island, and train routes out of Montreal and B.C.
We'll also be upgrading the limited operations that now exist at certain cruise ships and ferry terminals along the B.C. coast into full pre-clearance. We'll be pursuing the pre-clearance of cargo, and the implementation for the first time of Canadian pre-clearance operations in the United States for passengers moving in the opposite direction. To get this done, both Canada and the United States must agree to the terms of the expansion.
After several years of negotiation, the agreement was finalized in the spring of 2015. It was tabled in Parliament at that time. Legislation to implement it was adopted by the United States last year with unanimous bipartisan support. It is now up to Canada to enact our own implementing legislation, so that the expansion of pre-clearance and the benefits it brings can move forward. We introduced the legislation in June of last year and it is now, I'm happy to say, before your committee.
I know that certain concerns have been raised about Bill C-23, both in the media and in the House at second reading, so I want to take a few moments to address them, and I hope correct any misconceptions that may exist. To begin with, the new framework established by Bill C-23 is generally quite similar to the one that already exists under the pre-clearance arrangement that predates the current one back to 1999. Under both the old agreement and the new one, for example, U.S. officers in Canada may question travellers, examine and seize goods, and conduct frisk searches. Under both the new agreement and the old agreement, U.S. officers may detain a traveller if there are reasonable grounds to believe that he or she has committed an offence, with the requirement that the traveller be transferred to Canadian custody as quickly as possible. U.S. officers do not have that power of arrest.
Where there are differences between what exists now and Bill C-23, they are relatively minor. For example, under both Bill C-23 and the current framework, U.S. officers may detain a traveller for the purpose of a strip search and they must request a Canadian officer to conduct that search. The only distinction under the new legislation is that an U.S. officer could conduct the search themselves in the unlikely event that a Canadian counterpart is not available, and there are strict rules around the search procedure.
With regard to withdrawal from a pre-clearance area, both Bill C-23 and the current framework allow travellers to withdraw. The only difference is that under Bill C-23 a traveller could be asked who they are and why they are leaving the pre-clearance area, in order to prevent people from entering pre-clearance areas in a casual way to probe for security weaknesses and then trying to depart from that area undetected.
Bill C-23 is clear. Once travellers have declared their desire to withdraw, an officer may not unreasonably delay them. To understand this provision, it's important to keep in mind that the concept of reasonableness is used very widely in Canadian law; for example, section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects against “unreasonable search or seizure”, the Customs Act requires that the search of newly arrived travellers be conducted “within a reasonable time”, and the Criminal Code says that a person who is arrested “shall be taken before a justice without unreasonable delay”. Generally, courts have understood reasonableness to mean that other people in the same situation would be expected to reach the same conclusion, or behave in the same way.
With respect to officer authorities, the term has been used to refer to generally accepted standards. In fact, when the existing pre-clearance law was being debated back in 1999, the NDP, at that time, argued in favour of adding the word “reasonable” to the section on the use of force as a way of limiting officer authorities. In other words, far from being vague or a licence for abuse, the requirement that travellers not be unreasonably delayed imposes a standard that is familiar in law and familiar to the courts. The bottom line is that travellers who wish to leave a pre-clearance area will be free to do so after answering a few basic questions about who they are, and why they are leaving.
Another concern that has been raised, both in the House and the media, has to do with whether eventual Canadian pre-clearance operations in the United States would complicate boarding in the United States for people who are permanent residents of Canada. The answer in almost all cases is, quite simply, no. Permanent residents would be treated exactly according to the same procedure in the pre-clearance areas as they would at any other point of entry into Canada. The rare exception would be for a permanent resident with a major issue of inadmissibility such as serious criminality. Such individuals could still come to Canada, subject to the usual admissibility rules at an ordinary point of entry, but they may not be able to benefit from pre-clearance because Canadian pre-clearance areas at U.S. locations would not necessarily be equipped to deal with serious criminal cases.
I'm also aware of questions as to whether Bill C-23 might limit the use of technologies that help reduce wait times at the borders, such as automated passport control kiosks and mobile passport control applications. To be clear, our government is supportive of these technologies, and Bill C-23 does not restrict their use outside of pre-clearance areas.
With respect to the authorization to carry weapons, U.S. officers would only be authorized to carry the same weapons and the same restraints as Canadian officers do in the same environment. For instance, because Canadian border officers do not carry firearms when dealing with passengers in airport terminals, neither would American officers. The same rules apply both ways. This is part of the principle of reciprocity in the pre-clearance agreement, which also gives Canadian officers the same authorities in this regard as U.S. officers on American soil. In addition, Bill C-23 maintains that very strict limit on the use of force by pre-clearance officers that currently exists.
The pre-clearance agreement also stipulates that pre-clearance in both countries shall be conducted in a manner consistent with the laws and constitutions of both countries. This is really the fundamental point. The expansion of pre-clearance means more Canadians will be able to benefit from charter protections when they are crossing the border. Today a Canadian flying from Quebec City or taking the train from Vancouver to the United States must subject themselves entirely to American customs and immigration procedures on American soil, with no Canadian legal or constitutional framework.
This bill is essential to changing that. There will be more people at more locations, travelling in more modes of transportation, who will have the opportunity to pre-clear before they depart—in other words, while they are still on Canadian soil and under the umbrella of Canadian law.
I'll conclude on one final matter. At second reading the New Democrats moved an amendment to reject this bill, notably on the grounds of what the amendment called “the climate of uncertainty at the border”. Let's be clear. Some 400,000 people cross that border on a daily basis, almost entirely without incident. Interestingly enough, statistics show that fewer Canadians—not more, but fewer—are being denied entry to the United States this year compared with last year. Nevertheless, I have met with the Secretary of Homeland Security and underscored my expectation, and I think the expectation of all Canadians, that travellers headed in either direction should be treated fairly, respectfully, predictably, consistently, and in accordance with law.
In fact, it is precisely with legislation like Bill C-23 that we can best reduce uncertainty for travellers. It establishes a clear legal framework that requires U.S. officers to adhere to Canadian standards when they are applying Canadian law, not just in the eight locations where pre-clearance currently exists but at many sites and in as many modes of travel as possible.
Ultimately the expansion of pre-clearance will make travel—and shipping, hopefully—to and from the United States faster and more efficient. It will provide significant benefits to the Canadian economy, it will enhance the protection of travellers' rights and freedoms, and it will only happen once we pass this bill.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.