Mr. Chairman, I would like to first thank the committee for moving this meeting up. I think it came very quickly. As many of you know, the House passed this bill a week or so ago, on a voice vote at second reading. A number of members spoke, including me, the member for Essex, and the member for Tobique-Mactaquac. It passed in less than an hour.
Thank you for the opportunity and the invitation to be a witness here today and to speak to this bill. I, in fact, had a parallel bill which I introduced in the House of Commons as a private member's bill, and Senator Runciman introduced this bill in the Senate at about the same time. He was able to move it through the Senate more quickly than I was able to move mine through the House, because we all know how one gets a private member's bill on to the order of precedence.
We were very happy that this went through the Senate very quickly. In fact, I attended as a witness over there a number of months ago.
I would like to briefly focus on my reasons for supporting this bill.
This bill will allow pleasure boaters from the U.S. to transit Canadian waters without checking in with the Canada Border Services Agency, if they do not stop or plan to anchor. It also amends other regulations, but from my perspective, this is the most important. Currently, boaters who cross the border on the river, where there are no markings to show that they have crossed the border, must report to CBSA.
Regardless of your political leanings, we all share the goal of promoting the best interests of the Canadian people and ensuring we put forward a positive image on the world stage. The bill at hand promotes tourism, updates Canadian laws, and protects the human rights of our American neighbours.
Our country has a proud history of protecting not only the rights of our own citizens but those of anyone who crosses our borders. Certain charter provisions even go so far as to extend constitutionally enshrined protection to everyone, including boaters who harmlessly drift or cross into our territory. Most important, these include the right to life, liberty, and the security of the person; the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure; and the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment, including the excessive use or abuse of force by law enforcement officials. You don't need to look far to find examples of where the current legislation has caused violations of these rules.
Senator Runciman referred to the case of Roy Anderson. Mr. Anderson, an American citizen, was searched, severely fined, and detained in a humiliating fashion for breaking laws he never knew existed, even though he had fished in Canadian waters all his life. In this particular case, he in fact had an Ontario fishing licence to fish in Canadian waters. What's worse, actually, is that all this occurred after CBSA officials determined that he did not have a criminal purpose, that he was just fishing.
While the Simmons decision at the Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged our right to control who and what crosses our boundaries, it does not excuse the treatment some have received. Canada has long abided by the notion that a guilty verdict requires both a guilty action and a guilty mind. It is impossible to justify threatening, physically restraining, and fining individuals for laws that they were not even aware existed.
As a progressive nation, we have a responsibility to ensure that we change laws like these, which have become outdated, ineffective, and discriminatory. While current legislation might have had an important purpose in the days of prohibition, that is no longer the case. Those who are aware of the laws are required to report to the CBSA without delay. They are allowed to do so by phone or in person at one of the border security checkpoints. While this may not seem like a particularly onerous request, it is often much more difficult than it seems. Cellphone signals, especially on the water, are often unreliable. In the case of the Thousand Islands, where the Canada-U.S. border intersects, many Canadian cellphone users are caught up in accessing AT&T, or other U.S. providers. Sometimes this is difficult to do.
Beyond this, the only other option available to foreign citizens, is to physically check in with CBSA. This can be done at one of their checkpoints, which often exist at locations which are not accommodating to those who wish to visit our waters. Physical reporting often involves U.S. citizens boating a great distance out of their way to check in, then returning to their intended trip. The check-in can often cause a lengthy delay. It is costly in both time and money, and some have even reported having to spend multiple hours in order to meet this requirement.
Unfortunately, it has caused a number of our visitors to conclude that cruising through Canadian waters is simply not worth the hassle. This is a troubling conclusion given the importance of the tourism industry in Canada. While boaters who are simply transiting Canadian waters are not essentially tourists, they easily become tourists when they decide to stop to check out a restaurant or marina that they may have seen on shore.
The success of international tourism is largely based on the effect of marketing the destination services and experiences that a country has to offer, and first impressions matter. We must work hard to ensure that our laws do us justice on the world stage. Canada tries to maintain the reputation of being welcoming, fair, and trusting toward our friends in the United States and, in fact, across the world. That reputation, coupled with our many beautiful destinations, such as the Thousand Islands, has helped us grow a tourism industry we can be proud of and should aim to protect.
In fact, the UN World Tourism Organization estimates that the number of international tourists will reach 1.6 billion by the year 2020. This is a promising prediction, given that 1.7 million Canadians rely on the tourism sector for employment, according to 2012 statistics.
These statistics show that these positions are often held by demographics which have historically had difficulty in seeking and maintaining employment. In 2012, more than half were occupied by women, 22% were occupied by immigrants, and 589,000 jobs were occupied by youths, ages 15 to 24, accounting for more than one-third of youth employment in Canada. Tourism not only provides jobs to Canadian citizens, but also promotes the growth of communities through its support of small businesses.
In fact, approximately 98% of Canada's tourism industry is made up of small and medium-sized businesses that rely on the patronage of international travellers to keep their doors open. Beyond these direct benefits to Canadian citizens, the tourism industry also generated $21.4 billion in tax revenues in 2011.
In order for Canada to reap these benefits, we must be perceived as a valuable destination and must demonstrate that we can offer more than a cheap vacation. This means teaching our history, sharing our culture, and being seen as a friendly and welcoming destination.
Although it's our closest neighbour, these messages seem lost on the United States. The Canadian Tourism Commission's 2014 U.S. summary report found that relatively few visitors from the United States would recommend visiting Canada on vacation. These travellers cited poor perceptions of Canada based on what they had heard from friends, family, and the media. Stories of American boaters being detained, fined, and forced to lie on the decks of their vessels have caused bad press in the United States. News stories discourage travel near our water borders due to unclear regulations, severe punishments, and prohibitively difficult check-in requirements.
What's worse is that some articles even state that our outrageous regulations indicate that we do not want American visitors at all. This is not the message that Canada should be sending. We need to modernize our legislation to ensure that our image is positive, inviting, and reflective of Canadian values, not only for our own citizens, but for anyone who happens to pay us a visit.
Briefly, on another note, it has been pointed out that it is really a waste of CBSA's resources to be checking every boat that is merely transiting our waters. This bill also clears up regulations for air travel and will help the whale-watching industry where currently those leaving Canadian waters and returning without getting off the boat have to check in with the CBSA.
My primary focus, as I have explained before, is on the effects on my region along the St. Lawrence River. In debate at second reading in the House, we heard from members from along the St. Clair River and from along the main New Brunswick border. We have similar issues up in northern Ontario and on the west coast of Canada, so I encourage the committee to move this along to the House. There is a great hope and anticipation, I know, among the folks in my riding that we could see this through the House of Commons and through third reading before the boating season gets into full swing this summer.
Thank you very much.