Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and to the vice-chairs and committee members, good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to join you today.
I'd like to begin by extending my thanks for your indulgence of me last week when I was scheduled to appear before your committee and, unfortunately, because of rather long votes that went on and then an overlap with a very important cabinet agenda that I had to address.... I'm grateful that you were able to accommodate the rescheduling of my attendance here today.
I'm also pleased to be joined today by the senior officials responsible for the agencies and departments of my portfolio. Specifically, I'm joined by Chairperson Jennifer Oades from the Parole Board; Director David Vigneault from CSIS; Commissioner Anne Kelly from the Correctional Service of Canada; Commissioner Brenda Lucki from the RCMP; and President John Ossowski from the CBSA.
For all of those who are new to this committee, I'd like to welcome all of you to your new roles and also extend my very sincere good wishes that we will have many opportunities to work together in the best interests of all Canadians. I fully anticipate that this will be perhaps only the first of many opportunities where I'll be asked to come before your committee. I look forward to those opportunities.
I also appreciate the opportunity to say a few words about some of the issues facing us, although we'll canvass that in greater detail in your questions.
I'd like to begin my remarks today by reiterating all of our collective thoughts with the families and friends for the tragic events that took place in Quebec City over the weekend. We know that it was certainly a terrible tragedy for the families, but also for the people of Quebec City. It's important, I think, for Canadians not only to recognize the historic significance and importance of Quebec City, but also to recognize that it is one of the safest cities anywhere in the world. For that community to have its sense of safety and security so terribly wrenched from them was indeed a tragic event. The individual responsible has now been charged.
I also want to take the opportunity, if I may, to offer my very sincere admiration to all the first responders—the medical responders and the police—who took very effective and immediate action. I want to acknowledge them. We reached out, of course, to Quebec and to the Quebec City police to assist if necessary, but this was apparently not, as we've learned from the police, a national security event. Rather, it was just a terrible tragedy.
I also want to acknowledge that since I was last given my mandate in the fall after the 2019 election, the world has changed rather significantly. In short order, the government was required to shift its focus. Although we are still very much in the business of governing—and, in my portfolio, keeping Canadians safe—much of our focus was, by necessity, shifted to the pandemic response. That remains a key priority for the government, and it is a key focus of my ministry.
We have taken very significant and unprecedented action to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Canada. We have, of course, taken very significant actions to protect our borders, and I'll be happy to answer any questions the committee may have about that. Beginning as early as January 26, we began putting in place screening measures at our airports to stop the spread of COVID-19, and then, over the course of the ensuing several weeks, we took the unprecedented but necessary step of actually closing the American border to all discretionary travel, while at the same time working hard to make sure that we maintained vital supply lines and the movement of essential workers and essential goods. I have some updates that I can provide this committee if there is time, Mr. Chair, which I think will assist the members in understanding the effectiveness of the measures that have been taken.
We continue to review those decisions on a regular basis in consultation with both our domestic and international partners, the provinces and territories and particularly the United States. We have, as I'm sure you're aware, recently announced a scaling up of the federal public health presence at the border. We are now covering 36 points of entry that account for 90% of all traffic into Canada, and that's a total force of 190 public health officers, which is up from the 18 we were at when the pandemic first began.
The Canada Border Services Agency has been working very closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada, including on strengthening compliance and enforcement efforts on mandatory quarantine and isolation orders.
Here, Mr. Chair, you will indulge me if I take this opportunity to acknowledge the extraordinary work of our border services officers. We've asked them to do a job that was, frankly, unprecedented and even inconceivable in the weeks and months prior to the closing of that border, and they've responded extraordinarily well. They've done an extremely difficult job. It's a daily issue. MPs from across the country have reached out to attempt to resolve issues at our border, but our border services officers, in my opinion, have done an exemplary job of maintaining the health and safety of Canadians while continuing to adapt to a rapidly evolving situation.
With respect to legislation, I want to advise this committee that we have an ambitious agenda in the year ahead. As you know, in my mandate the Prime Minister asked me to serve as the Minister of Public Safety in part because I bring some experience to the issue of keeping communities safe, having spent many years on the front lines of policing. A number of issues remain a significant priority to us. I would mention in particular that firearms-related crime remains very high in Canada. We've actually seen an unacceptable and very worrisome increase in gun violence in many of the communities across Canada. We are determined to address that gun violence as a priority.
As the committee is aware, on May 1 the government took very significant and decisive action in an effort to protect Canadians and strengthen gun control by prohibiting over 1,500 models of firearms that were not designed for the legitimate activities of hunting and sport shooting but rather were designed, with their intent and effectiveness, as tactical weapons for combatants to shoot other combatants. We also put in place an amnesty to give the existing owners time to come into compliance with the law. We are providing a temporary exception as well for indigenous persons exercising section 35 constitutional rights.
We have signalled our intent to implement a buyback program as part of the legislation that we will bring forward. I would like to reiterate our commitment to ensuring that effective owners and businesses are compensated fairly while at the same time making sure that the implementation and management costs of such a program are responsibly enacted and sustainable. We are working with Parliament, provinces, territories and first nations to get this right for law-abiding gun owners and businesses.
I've also been very clear, and it's clear in my mandate, that the Government of Canada will strengthen Canada's gun control framework. That's why we will be introducing legislation in the near term to introduce a red-flag regime to reduce cases of intimate partner violence and suicide by temporarily removing firearms from individuals.
Mr. Chair, I take your point, and there are a number of other things I could speak to, but I want to move ahead quickly on two things. I want to speak to the focus of our government and this committee in making progress in policing and justice reform. All Canadians need to have confidence that the justice system is there to provide justice for them. We know that black Canadians and indigenous peoples are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and we are prepared to make significant actions in both investment and legislation in order to change that. I'm happy to speak to those issues.
Finally, if I may, I would also like to speak to some of the actions we are taking with respect to individuals who are involved in hostile activities by state actors that threaten the safety, security and interests of Canadians. I want to be able to assure this committee that we take these matters very seriously and that all of our national security apparatus is focused on remaining vigilant against those threats and taking appropriate action to protect Canadians.
Mr. Chair, given our time constraints, I'll stop my remarks there. I hope to be able to explore a number of these and other matters with the committee in response to your questions.