Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today as your committee reviews Bill C-21, an act to amend the Customs Act.
My name is Jean-Pierre Fortin. I am the national president of the Customs and Immigration Union.
Our union represents Canada's front-line customs and immigration officers, investigations, intelligence, and trade customs officers and hearing officers, as well as support staff who work at the Canada Border Services Agency.
CIU has a long history of involvement in border security and immigration enforcement issues on behalf of its members. We seek to offer our members' operational insights to identify areas of concern and, where possible, to offer what we believe to be informed improvements.
Over the past decade and more, CIU has offered these concerns and suggestions to CBSA management and government ministers, and in appearances before both House and Senate committees. It is in that context that CIU is pleased to appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security with respect to Bill C-21.
As committee members are aware, Bill C-21 is the legislation that will complete the implementation of the Canada-U.S. entry/exit initiative, which was itself part of the original 2011 Beyond the Border agreement and action plan.
At the outset, it should be noted that as the national union representing front-line operational law enforcement officers, we recognize that legislative and policy changes can have an impact on our members and the public we serve. We focus on what the operational impacts will be and whether we can actually deliver what is now being authorized. We also examine proposed policy changes and consider if they support and enhance our dual mandate, which on the one hand covers security, and on the other hand trade and travel facilitation.
Also of interest to us is the clarity provided in the legislation with regard to any new enforcement authority. Our members appreciate that they are enforcing public regulation of defined activities to support the public interest. In our experience, clarity supports public confidence.
Let me turn now to some specific issues that merit examination.
As you know, Bill C-21 will create new sections in part V of the Customs Act that will expressly authorize CBSA officers to gather biographical information from all persons who are leaving Canada, including Canadians. Proposed section 94 will create a legal obligation on persons leaving Canada, in whatever fashion, to present themselves to an officer when requested to do so and to answer truthfully all relevant questions, in accordance with the officer's duties.
The actual details on how that information is collected or provided to the agency is not specific in Bill C-21. Instead, this is to be prescribed by regulation. It is unclear to us why the government has chosen this approach. It appears to mean that these potentially important details will not be subject to the same parliamentary review as Bill C-21. The committee may wish to clarify why this approach has been taken.
Proposed paragraph 92(1)(c) also appears to confine the collection of departing passengers' arrival information to the United States. The committee may wish to confirm this with the new minister and verify if the new paragraph will result in a prohibition on gathering and retaining departing passengers' arrival information to other countries, as this is an issue of enhanced importance in today's security environment.
The committee should also try to determine how—or if—CBSA intends to use the proposed section 94 authority with regard to persons departing Canada at land border crossings. Presumably, the goal is not to create lineups for people leaving Canada. Lineups already exist for those entering or returning to Canada, primarily because of continuing personnel shortages, which is another critical issue for this committee to consider.
We would urge the committee to explore the issue of how CBSA will use the information it gathers and receives under the entry/exit program. As you may recall, a previous report from the Auditor General identified approximately 44,000 outstanding arrest warrants under IRPA for persons who have failed to appear as required. Will this information now be used, as we suggest it should, to identify those persons as having left Canada so the agency does not waste scarce resources looking for people who have already left our country?
Additionally, will this information be used to create a more accurate lookout database for persons who are inadmissible to Canada in the future, especially on past criminality- and security-related grounds? We urge the committee to raise this with CBSA.
The committee should also ask CBSA for details regarding its liaison arrangements with domestic and U.S. law enforcement to ensure that the potentially important intelligence that can be gathered by the entry/exit initiative enacted in Bill C-21 is shared, as authorized under Canadian legislation, including the Privacy Act, to achieve public safety improvements. It is our understanding that the government has committed to requiring privacy impact assessments for all involved departments and agencies, the status of which the committee may wish to confirm.
Another general area of importance in Bill C-21 is what appears to be an expansion of CBSA's authority to examine goods intended for export. Deficiencies in this operational area have also been noted by the Auditor General, and CIU fully supports this enforcement mandate clarification. The committee may wish to query CBSA with respect to what operational changes it foresees undertaking as a result, and how, specifically, these will impact the deficiencies reported by the Auditor General of Canada.
The committee should also be aware of the underlying cause of these and other operational gaps at CBSA, as the issue requires immediate attention. As a result of the 2011 deficit reduction action plan, DRAP, there has been a loss of over 1,200 positions at CBSA, including those of screening, enforcement, and intelligence officers. These cuts have led to reduced operational capacity, which has resulted in the closing of ports of entry and reduced hours of operation, as well as increased pressure on officers to process more cases. An example of this is taking place in Quebec and Manitoba, where our members are being forced to screen faster the people who are illegally entering Canada between ports of entry, to avoid backlogs.
We are concerned that while Bill C-21 creates appropriate new screening and enforcement tools, the intended result cannot be effectively achieved without restoring the 1,200 positions cut under DRAP. We urge the committee to raise this issue of operational personnel shortages with both CBSA management and the minister.
In conclusion, it is my hope that this presentation will assist the committee in its important work, especially regarding the restoration of the necessary personnel who perform their duties on behalf of Canadians and whom I am proud to represent.
Thank you. I am looking forward to questions.