House of Commons Hansard #32 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was powers.


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12:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The Chair would beg the indulgence of the hon. minister. The hon. minister is deemed to have spoken on the bill, having introduced the bill.

May we have unanimous consent for the Minister of National Revenue to speak to this bill?

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12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:50 p.m.


Herb Dhaliwal Liberal Vancouver South—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank hon. members for giving me this opportunity to speak. I know they believe that we should give all members an opportunity to speak in the House, particularly the Minister of National Revenue with such good news.

Let me thank my parliamentary secretary who did an excellent job this morning in starting off the debate and speaking on my behalf as I was not able to be here. She has a lot of experience in this area, being a former customs officer during the summers. Certainly she is very able to speak on this issue.

I am pleased to seek the approval in principle of the House for Bill C-18, which will give Revenue Canada's customs officers the additional power they need to enforce the Criminal Code at the border.

Bill C-18 is important for the protection of Canadians and Canada. It closes an enforcement gap which restricts our officers from acting to control criminal activities such as impaired driving, child abduction and the possession of stolen goods at the border.

The bill also gives officers the authority to detain individuals who are the subject of outstanding arrest warrants. In this regard Bill C-18 is vital to our government's efforts to increase the safety of Canadians.

Customs has always been vital to Canada's safety and prosperity. Today we have a customs administration which is allowing Canadians to seize the opportunities created by liberalized trade and travel while protecting us against threats to our social and economic well-being.

Even before Confederation our customs officers were our first line of defence at the border. In 1997 this is still a key part of their mandate. However, like any modern organization, customs must change to reflect the realities of a more transient world, a world where crime has no borders. That is why customs officers have always worked with the RCMP and other domestic and international law enforcement agencies to keep our communities and our streets safe.

We know that our position at the border gives us a unique advantage to identify and intercept criminals. We want to take advantage of this unique position. Make no mistake, our customs officers do come face to face with crime at the border. We have the numbers to prove it.

In the past 16 months our officers have seized over $850 million worth of drugs, almost $2 million worth of contraband alcohol and tobacco products, and more than 2,600 illegal imports of firearms.

Day in and day out our customs officers do a magnificent job. I am proud of the fact that Canada has one of the finest customs administrations in the world. However, we want to give them the tools to do better.

That is why I am here today, to talk about this important piece of legislation which will help make our streets and our communities even safer.

We have a compelling argument why this legislation is needed. We know that customs officers encounter criminal behaviour at the border which is outside the parameters of the Customs Act.

The fact that they cannot take appropriate action places all Canadians at risk. I refer to a case involving Jonathon Yeo. Mr. Yeo was refused entry to the United States because he was out on bail for a criminal offence. As a Canadian citizen he was allowed to return to Canada because the officers did not have the authority to detain him. Mr. Yeo went on to abduct and murder two young women before taking his own life.

Bill C-18 will provide our customs officers with the authority to detain and arrest individuals who are suspected of committing Criminal Code offences or other offences until local authorities arrive. Officers hands will no longer be tied when dealing with criminals.

This problem and the need for this bill is borne out by recent statistics, during the last two and a half years, at Canadian ports of entry.

Customs officers have encountered over 8,500 suspected impaired drivers, almost 200 incidents of suspected child abduction, in excess of 2,000 individuals subject to arrest warrants, and more than 500 individuals in possession of suspected stolen property, mostly vehicles.

The police have a very strong working relationship with customs officers but they all agree that customs officers must be able to intervene effectively when they encounter Criminal Code offences. This will make a tremendous difference to the enforcement of our Criminal Code at the border and as a result make for safer communities in this country.

Bill C-18 marks an important change in the role of customs officers. This bill is a product of consensus. Everyone sees merit in it. Members across have spoken of the merits of this bill and are fully supportive.

In lobbying to strengthen the ability of our customs officers to deal with Criminal Code offences, we have the support of all the groups we consulted including the customs officers union, police at both the provincial and federal level, Canadians Against Violence Everywhere Advocating its Termination, CAVEAT, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the tourism industry association of Canada. All agree this change is badly needed and we are prepared to take action but only after moving carefully and with thorough deliberation.

Before the government settled on this course a number of alternatives were considered but were found to be either impractical or too costly. Again and again we kept coming back to one solution, to extend the scope of customs officers arrest powers.

The bill will change the scope but not the nature of the duties of our customs officers. They currently have the powers to arrest for offences contained in the customs act. This solution will expand the scope of these powers to include Criminal Code and other federal offences.

Using this legislation we propose to provide customs officers with a first response capability at the border, allowing them to detain and arrest individuals who are suspected of having committed offences or who are in the process of committing offences under the Criminal Code. This first response capability will bridge the gap between the time customs officers detect a Criminal Code offence and the time when the police can intervene.

A first response capability means Canadians can expect more effective and efficient enforcement of our criminal laws and customs officers can fulfill their protection role at the border. A first response capability will strengthen an already strong partnership with the law enforcement community.

This bill is good news for all those who care about the safety of our communities. These powers will enhance our contribution in the fight against crime. For example, if a driver appears impaired the customs officer could administer the initial breath test. If the roadside alert indicates a problem they would immediately turn the suspect over to the police for the administration of a formal breathalyser test.

Customs officers can and will make a difference, a view also shared by the police community. For example, Windsor police Deputy Chief Michael Dagley said of this bill: “It is a real plus because it means we are not out looking for the individual and they are in custody quicker”.

We are not asking for sweeping powers. Customs officers will not be expected to participate in Criminal Code investigations or to transport prisoners. Customs officers will only be allowed to use these new powers while on duty at points of entry. Not all customs officers will be given this expanded power of arrest. This broader role will only be carried out by designated customs officers who will be drawn from those who are in regular contact with the travelling public. In practice, this will involve about 2,000 to 2,500 members of the current customs officers workforce.

Canadians can be assured that these designated customs officers will be trained to ensure that they act fairly, responsibly and within the confines of the law in carrying out their new duties. This training will be coupled with a clear accountability structure which will outline situations calling for a first response action.

I would like to stress again that our officers and their unions support this course of action. Their president, Ronny Moran, said last spring: “This is tremendous news for Canadians. Finally the longstanding gap in entry port enforcement will be bridged and Canadians should welcome the announcement as an effort to improve their safety”.

I have met with Mr. Moran and he has informed me that he has written to all members of Parliament asking them to support this bill.

I cannot deal with the issue of customs officers powers without addressing the very difficult issue of arming customs officers. I am aware that some employees and indeed some members of the public, as has been expressed today, believe that customs officers should carry weapons for their personal protection. We have considered these views very carefully. However, it is the government's position that the introduction of firearms at the border is unnecessary and could lead to the escalation of violence instead of the resolution of differences.

Customs officers carry out their jobs effectively without firearms and we have every reason to believe that this will continue. Therefore we will not arm Canadian customs officers.

In closing, I would like to summarize the changes this bill will bring about. It will give customs officers the tools they need to enforce the Criminal Code at the borders. It will correct an enforcement gap that is not acceptable to the public, local police agencies, victims rights groups or customs officers.

Mrs. Priscilla de Villiers, founder of Canadians Against Violence Everywhere Advocating its Termination, CAVEAT, said in March: “Obviously we are very pleased that this gap has been closed”.

Individual Canadians will be provided with the type of protection that results in safe homes and communities. It will reinforce Revenue Canada's commitment to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

I know Canada's customs officers can take up this new mandate and enforce the law wisely. Change is nothing new for the men and women of Revenue Canada. I am confident that they will take these changes in stride and continue to embrace the role to protect our nation. Customs officers are eager and in fact impatient to get on with the job, to get the training that will equip them for the task ahead.

I am confident that the solution contained in Bill C-18 will work and I am pleased to present it for the approval of my hon. colleagues in this Chamber. I am also confident, regardless of one's party affiliation, that this is a bill that will be supported because it is good for Canada and good for Canadians. I think it will receive support from all members of the House on both sides.

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1 p.m.


John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the minister's speech and his exhortation that we would support the bill because he believes it is good for Canada. However, before we decide on that I have a couple of questions regarding the men and women who are protecting our borders.

I understand that there are two categories, the ones who are trained and the ones who, shall we say, are less well trained. I understand that the customs officers have to take a 14 week course, pass with at least a 70% mark and then be subject to a one year probation before becoming a customs officer. However, at the same time, we have others who have to take a two and a half week course without an exam and begin work immediately.

I would like the minister to confirm whether my facts are correct on that basis. He said that the people who were going to be issued this certificate would be drawn from the people on the front lines. I understand that these are younger people with less experience and less training who are the ones who are quite often on the front lines. Is it the people with the two and a half weeks of training and no exam who are going to be issued with the certificates or are the certificates designating these people with the enhanced powers going to be given only to those who have had the full training, passed the exam and the probation? Are we going to let young people with two weeks training on the job run around arresting people? I would like to hear from the minister.

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1:05 p.m.


Herb Dhaliwal Liberal Vancouver South—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question.

I want to assure the hon. member that all those people who will be designated will have the full training. As the hon. member knows, we have a number of people at customs who are students and work on a part time basis and on a summer basis. I am very proud of the work we do to create this opportunity for students and young people.

The people who will get the designation will not be the students who are there on a part time or summer basis. These will be people who are permanent and they will be designated. As I said earlier, there will be 2,000 to 2,500 members across the country who will receive this training. Once they have fulfilled their training program and they are approved and passed, then they will be designated. With that designation they will have the ability to respond and carry out the additional powers which we will give them.

I want to assure the member that they will be well trained and they will be required to fulfil their training and be examined before they are designated. That is the whole purpose of designation.

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1:05 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. minister on his speech, much of which we can agree on but some of which we have some difficulty with.

Is the Minister of National Revenue aware of the drug trafficking, the trafficking of people, arms, alcohol and cigarettes that is occurring in Quebec and Ontario across our borders with the United States? Is he aware that serious allegations have been made that our police officers have been told to turn a blind eye to this situation that has been going on for far too long?

I would like to also know what the hon. minister would like to do about that and whether or not he would like to entertain a discussion with the Minister of Justice on this particular and very serious issue. We can give our customs officers all the powers that they can have but if they are not going to be allowed to enforce those powers and if they are being told by people higher up that they should not enforce those powers, that is a serious breach of justice within our country.

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1:05 p.m.


Herb Dhaliwal Liberal Vancouver South—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member from Esquimalt. I want to congratulate him on the good work that he did in the last Parliament on a variety of issues, including the land mine issue which he put a lot of work into.

I share the view of the member. It is very important to protect our borders. A number of initiatives were brought forward in the last Parliament. One was the anti-smuggling initiative that we put forward to ensure that we protect our borders. We are looking at smart borders by utilizing technology.

In the last few years we have invested a lot of money to ensure that we have increased the technology, to share the information with law enforcement officers domestically as well as internationally.

Certainly that is a very important concern. It is something that we as a government dealt with in the last Parliament as well, as the hon. member knows, in terms of trying to ensure that we have adjustment to our taxes to make sure that we have less contraband flowing across the border. I think we are renowned around the world as having one of the best customs offices and some of the best people dealing with our borders.

The hon. member knows of course that we have the largest border of any two countries. It is not easy to manage. However, I think we are doing an excellent job in terms of the resources we have. It is a priority for me to ensure that we protect our borders.

This is another example of our agenda to protect our communities and make our communities safer. I think the hon. member will support this bill because it is very much of some of the things that he has talked about, to protect the safety of our communities and to protect our borders. He can be assured that we will do everything possible to make sure that we reduce any contraband across the border.

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1:05 p.m.


Jason Kenney Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have two questions for the minister with respect to this bill.

First, I asked during my remarks on the bill if the government had made an estimate as to the incremental cost to be incurred by the department in training these newly empowered customs agents to act as quasi-peace officers and furthermore what the cost of upgrading any facilities might be. I inferred from the parliamentary secretary's comments that there was not clear estimate of the costs and that there were some facilities in place.

It is reasonable of the opposition and of all Canadians to expect the government to have some sense of what the incremental cost of a legislative change is going to be. That question has not yet been answered either from the information provided by the minister's department or by him or the government speakers in debate on this bill. That is my first question.

The second question concerns the basis on which the minister decided these newly empowered customs agents will not be issued firearms to properly discharge their new responsibilities. Does he think that a customs agent can stop, detain and arrest a gun smuggler or a drug smuggler or a child abductor or a kidnapper with pepper spray and a baton? Why is he not prepared to give those customs agents what they need to protect themselves, to protect Canadians and to enforce our laws?

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1:10 p.m.


Herb Dhaliwal Liberal Vancouver South—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I believe the member was not in the debate when some of those answers were brought forward. My parliamentary secretary just responded to a Conservative member 15 minutes ago. She said that the cost was $5.5 million and if the member read Hansard he would find that out. Clearly there is a cost to upgrade some facilities. We already have a number of facilities to detain individuals but there are areas we need to upgrade. Both the upgrade in some infrastucture and the training will be $5.5 million. I have stated this figure in a number of previous speeches. If the member were reading his press clippings he would clearly understand that.

Perhaps the hon. member does not know this. He referred to our customs officers stopping gun smugglers. He should know that under the customs act we are already doing that. We are doing that under the present legislation and it has not changed. This is an increase in expanding powers under the Criminal Code. We are doing what we can of the things he has talked about. It is under the customs act. If he reads the act it will be very clear to him that those already exist and we are taking those responsibilities.

As I mentioned in my speech, I have not seen a need to arm our officers. Maybe that was the point the hon. member was making. We do not feel it is necessary. We have examined the issue closely and we have no intention of arming our officers, but we are looking at providing protective vests for those officers who feel they need them. We will provide that option to them. We are looking for the best product available to provide to our officers.

This will be good for the officers. It is supported by the union. The union leaders have written to all members of Parliament asking them to support this bill. I have read of a number of groups that are supportive. This is a good bill that should be supported by all members of the House.

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1:10 p.m.


John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge our thanks and our indebtedness to our customs people who defend our borders. They work very hard and diligently to ensure they do the best they can to uphold the laws of Canada, to defend our borders and to ensure our country is safe from as many drugs and illicit contraband as possible.

The Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue said this is a very small bill but provides a great deal of benefit. My first reaction to that comment is that after four years why is it so late if it is such a small bill that provides such a great benefit to this country. We will leave that for the parliamentary secretary and the minister to explain at a later date.

These small changes are a step in the right direction but I have some serious concerns about the training of many of the people who we ask to defend our borders. I understand that many people involved have very little training. Sometimes it is as little as two and a half weeks, they do not even have to pass an examine and then they are on the front lines protecting our borders, trying to apply 70 pieces of legislation. After two and a half weeks I am surprised that they even know the names of the pieces of legislation, let alone the contents. But there we have it. The minister assures us that he is doing his job well.

I asked the minister quite specifically if it would be customs officers who are fully trained who would be designated according to section 1 of the act to be licensed to be peace officers under Bill C-18. He assured us that it would be only those who are fully trained. In fact, if I understood him correctly, he said that those who are fully trained will be given additional training as well to make them fully conversant with the additional powers that are going to be conferred upon them and that we would be able to differentiate between those who have been given the additional powers versus those who have not by means of some identification and a certificate that is indicated in the bill.

I wonder whether the minister really understands these powers and has a full complement of people who are fully trained to do this. I quote from the Globe and Mail article of Monday, October 14, 1996. It states that “College students average 80% of the front line customs and immigration officers at Pearson airport on a year round basis.” If they represent 80% that means we are pretty thin on the ground with full time, well trained people. I wonder whether there is actually enough staff to be able to ensure that the job is being done properly.

If he is talking about drawing 2,000 people and licensing them according to this act, bearing in mind the number of ports that we have to man, I think it would be incumbent upon the minister to assure the House that there is no problem about the adequacy of staffing to ensure that it can be done.

I am also concerned about the adequacy of the premises that we have at these ports and crossings because if we are going to give the powers to the customs officers to arrest and hold until such time as a peace officer appears on the scene, then I would hope that there are adequate detention facilities on site in order for them to detain these people.

If we are talking about arresting those who are impaired or appear to be impaired and those who may be involved in abductions and so on, I can very, very easily see that they could become violent. With the small number of fully trained customs officers, I wonder if we are placing some of these people in some danger in the event that an issue does become quite violent.

No doubt one day it will happen and we will look back and say “Why did we not provide the adequate detention facilities and adequate staff for the proper arrest to be made”. I would like the minister to think about that.

My colleague from Calgary Southeast asked the minister about the news item regarding drug smuggling across the St. Lawrence River with seeming impugnity. I think we need to address that. I have seen on television where at night in the winter there are skidoos and other vehicles crossing the St. Lawrence River and not in any way being apprehended by anybody, police officers, peace officers or customs officers or anyone else. According to the television clip that I saw, there was a significant amount of gunfire at the same time. It sounded like a pretty lawless place. That happens to be in your neck of the woods, Mr. Speaker.

I would hope that something would be done about it, taking it up with the minister to ensure that we can fully protect our borders.

In closing, again to paraphrase the words of the parliamentary secretary, it is a small bill, it is a big benefit. The Reform Party is pleased to support it and we certainly hope that it will go a long way toward improving the safety of Canadians, improving the integrity of our borders and ensuring that Canada is a safe place and not a safe haven.

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1:20 p.m.


John Maloney Liberal Erie—Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise this afternoon to speak on this legislation.

I think it is important at the outset to look at some of the figures involving the background of this legislation. In the last two and a half years Revenue Canada customs officers have encountered the following criminal situations at ports of entry into Canada: over 8,500 suspected impaired drivers, almost 200 incidents of child abduction, approximately 68 Criminal Code offences in my riding of Fort Erie at the Peace Bridge in 1996, over 2,000 individuals subject to arrest warrants and more than 500 individuals in possession of suspected stolen property. These are usually vehicles.

These statistics are very disturbing. Although customs officers reported these incidents to local authorities, the police were only able to apprehend a few suspects. This fact is most disturbing.

These incidents occur at most land, air and marine ports of entry, with about 80% located on highways, 10% at airports that handle international traffic and 10% at seaports.

I am very pleased to rise this afternoon to speak on Bill C-18, an act to amend the Customs Act and the Criminal Code, a bill that will make these statistics a thing of the past. This is a piece of legislation that is truly very near and dear to my heart and to the many customs officials that work the front line at the Peace Bridge border crossing in Fort Erie in my riding of Erie—Lincoln.

After my election in 1993, I was approached by the local customs union representatives about the difficulty in apprehending impaired drivers at the Fort Erie-Buffalo crossing. In fact, I attended at the border and observed their observations and even stood out at the primary inspection line and observed the cars coming across.

There have been several incidents in my riding and the customs officers were rightfully frustrated that they did not have the power to detain suspected drunk drivers until the local police could intervene. The standard operating procedure at that time was to let the driver through and notify the local police, hoping and sometimes praying that they would catch up with any impaired individuals. This was unsatisfactory.

In fact, it was shocking. Most people in my riding just could not comprehend this. Some said “Well, an individual has powers of arrest, citizen's arrest”, but the customs officers were very reluctant to take these powers because of concerns if they were injured in doing so, the question of false arrest, liability implications, et cetera. It was not recommended by either management or the union. This was unsatisfactory.

The course of action that was followed was far too dangerous for our border communities and too many times resulted in an accident before the driver could be apprehended. My customs officers told me that this had to change and I agreed with them.

In 1995, an in-depth study of officers' powers confirmed this and concluded that the existing situation was unacceptable. The study proposed an extension of customs officers' powers to include Criminal Code offences. Support for this idea came from groups such as Canadians Against Violence Everywhere Advocating its Termination, which we have come to know as CAVEAT, police forces, Revenue Canada, employees, the customs excise union and the general public in my riding of Erie—Lincoln.

In 1995, I began to prepare a private members' bill on this issue. I met with some of the stakeholders, including the customs excise union president at that time, discussed how this issue should be addressed and what the best course of action would be. Around this time I was informed by my colleague, the former minister of revenue, that the department was also looking to resolve this problem by amending the Customs Act and the Criminal Code. This government listened.

The result was Bill C-89 that was tabled this past March. This legislation, as many of you know, unfortunately died in the Order Paper in April. Over the course of the summer I was pleased to learn from our new minister of revenue that reintroducing this legislation was a priority. On October 30 he fulfilled that commitment. I congratulate him for the expeditious manner in which this important bill was reintroduced.

Under the proposed legislation, customs officers will be provided a first response capability at the border with the power to detain or arrest individuals suspected of having committed offences which fall under the Criminal Code, such as impaired driving or child abduction.

The intent of the legislation is to bridge the gap between the time customs officers detect a Criminal Code offence and the time when the police can arrive to intervene. Provincial authorities will continue to be responsible for prosecuting individuals for Criminal Code offences at the border.

Customs officers encounter criminal behaviour at the border that is outside the parameters of the Customs Act and the fact that they cannot take appropriate action places all Canadians at risk. This legislation will correct an enforcement gap which is not acceptable to the public, local police agencies, victims' rights groups or customs officers.

I believe that these changes will result in safer communities, but above all they will help to contribute to long term public protection.

I understand that once the bill receives royal assent it could take six to nine months to implement this initiative and that customs officers will be trained to ensure that they act fairly, responsibly and within the confines of the law in carrying out their new duties.

Current training programs will require changes and no customs officer will be permitted to carry out the first response function until he or she has received and passed the appropriate training.

This is not an entirely new function because customs officers are already designated as peace officers for the purposes of the Customs Act. They already undergo extensive training on search, seizure and arrest. Customs officer training also includes instruction on the charter and its implications in exercising the powers of search and arrest. I understand that plans are under way to introduce training on the use of force for personal protection and to compel compliance with the law.

No customs officer should be put in the position of having to carry out this or any other function without appropriate training. I urge the government to carefully plan this training as it is crucial for the customs officers to have adequate education and training. They want nothing less and our border communities demand nothing less.

It is said that the additional responsibilities will only be given to officers who deal directly with individuals seeking entry into Canada. This will involve about 2,500 members of the current customs officer workforce of 3,200. I am pleased to note that it will not include any student customs officers.

Many young people in my riding have part time or summer jobs at customs and, realistically, do not have the experience or the time to be properly trained for this function. We certainly do not want to put them at risk. I was very happy to see that this concern was taken into consideration.

I wish to discuss the functions that extend beyond the drinking and driving issue that were brought to my attention two years ago. Customs officers currently have the power to detain and arrest individuals for Customs Act offences such as smuggling. They also have the authority to search for and seize goods, such as illegal drugs, firearms, contraband tobacco and liquor, and prohibited materials such as child pornography.

The scope of the customs officers' existing powers of arrest and detention will be broadened to bridge the gap between the time customers officers detect a Criminal Code offence and the time it takes for the police to arrive and intervene. The changes will also authorize customers officers to arrest individuals who are subject to arrest warrants issued under the Criminal Code. In the case of impaired driving, designated customs officers will administer the preliminary roadside screening test. Individuals who do not pass the screening test will be turned over to the police for a breathalyser test.

Provincial authorities will be responsible for any further investigations and prosecutions of individuals for Criminal Code offences at the border.

Those of us who received a package from the customs excise union last month will have undoubtedly read the letter written by Mr. Stan Johnson, a customs inspector at the Windygates, Manitoba border crossing. As recently as October 3, 1997, Mr. Johnson was unable to detain an impaired motorcycle driver returning to Canada from an evening of drinking in the United States. Minutes after crossing the border one of the two motorcycle drivers lay dead from a deadly combination of speed and alcohol.

It is evident from Mr. Johnson's letter that he is struggling with the frustration that his role as a customs officer did not allow him to stop this tragedy. It is wrong to subject our customs officials to this frustration when these tragedies are clearly preventable.

I urge this House to deal expeditiously with this legislation. It has been demanded by customs officers, border communities, elected representatives and the families and friends of those who became victims of impaired drivers.

The customs and excise union has been calling for this type of corrective measure for more than a decade. The customs and excise union and those on the front line at the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie support this measure. In a recent letter the union said there was a tremendous need to bridge a very obvious gap in legislation that had existed far too long.

I will comment on a couple of questions asked in the House today. Why has it taken so long to get to this position? The situation is not a simple one. We have to do it right. It was necessary to assess thoroughly the nature and severity of the situation across Canada. It was also necessary to properly evaluate the various options and to discuss them with both federal and provincial officials. I am confident the proposed legislation is both reasonable and workable.

The question of arming customs officers has often been raised. Again it was raised in debate today. The health and safety of customs officers have been and will continue to be priorities. Customs officers do not carry firearms. The proposal to extend the scope of their arrest powers would not change that. Some customs officers believe they should carry a weapon for their personal protection. However it is the government's position that introducing firearms at the border is unnecessary and could be a serious mistake.

We have to bear in mind that this is not entirely new ground for customs officers. As I said, they are already designated as peace officers for purposes of the Customs Act. To date they have not needed a firearm to fulfil their responsibilities safely and efficiently. Arming them could invite more violent behaviour on the part of travellers.

If not handled properly, an officer's firearm could provide an otherwise unarmed traveller with a weapon that could actually be used to injure or kill the officer or other people in the vicinity.

We also have to bear in mind that the role of customs officers will be very limited. They will provide a first response only. They will not be expected to participate in Criminal Code investigations or to transport prisoners, as the police will intervene at a very early stage. For these reasons the government has chosen not to arm our officers.

Some concern was expressed about the impact on police and the judicial case load. It would probably be very minimal. Furthermore we expect that implementing this initiative will have a deterrent effect. We expect the number of incidents will drop significantly when the travelling public realizes and becomes aware that the customs officers are empowered to deal with criminal offences.

As I have indicated, this is good legislation. It should hopefully be passed unanimously by the House. The concerns being expressed today are very minimal. The country would be well suited to defend its borders and citizens from criminal activities, from individuals crossing its borders with criminal intent and undertaking criminal activities.

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1:30 p.m.


Jim Abbott Reform Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, my constituency has about three border crossings. It is basically in the middle of the Rocky Mountains or the range immediately to the west of the Rocky Mountains. Some of these border crossings have Canada customs persons present and only one person overnight.

I visualize a situation where customs officers, because of the lack of manpower, will have the opportunity under the legislation to take certain remedial action in situations. The question in my mind is, that being the case, whether they will actually have the resources.

There are situations right now from about 11 o'clock in the evening to 6 or 7 o'clock in the morning. The one border guard could be tied up in a potential smuggling situation involving a car coming across the border. Over the ensuing half hour period—and this is a very common occurrence—five or six or seven cars could be lined up, waiting.

We could end up giving these border guards extra resources legally. Will the government be prepared to give extra financial resources and people to actually get the job done?

Along the same lines I am also concerned about the fact that many people involved in Canada Customs at the border in all likelihood would be easily overpowered in the event of a physical altercation.

Has the government given thought to changing the profile of the people it will be hiring for Canada Customs? If more physical action is expected by Canada Customs inspectors, will courses be available? Will training be available for them so that they come up to speed and handle themselves?

It is one thing for this legislature to enact law that will empower the officials, but is the government actually prepared to devote the fiscal resources to Canada Customs to ensure it will be able to carry out that law without there being the potential of danger to itself and its fellow workers?

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1:35 p.m.


John Maloney Liberal Erie—Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. It is a very good one.

If we give these powers there have to be resources available to allow them to utilize them. The hon. member lives in an area where border crossings are very light. I live in an area where there are four border crossings, all of which are very high volume border crossings. The situation of one person being on the border would never happen. There are many people on all shifts.

We have to address those concerns too. Obviously it is a light border crossing and criminal incidents would probably not be as significant as what I have elaborated in my speech about my area. They definitely need the resources to do the job. I have some concerns with one person being on a border in the evening.

The hon. member asked if they would have the proper training or the proper education. I have indicated that is a necessity. As far as anticipation of more physical altercations at the border is concerned, I do not anticipate it will happen any more than it happens right now. They should be properly trained for that. Notwithstanding, certainly more training is required and more training will be given. Resources will be committed.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

London West Ontario


Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his excellent speech. It is my knowledge that he has been consistent and has persevered in bringing the attention to these matters that they deserve not only in this Parliament but in the last parliament.

Many members have worked and lived in constituencies across the land with border points. The member has written to the department. He has been involved in continuing dialogue and supporting the legislation as it came forward. Many members with border points in their constituencies have been there, which we as a department appreciate.

It is my firm belief that concern for Canadians is not a partisan issue. Members on the benches opposite have the same concerns the hon. member and I have about the safety of Canadians. We have different size border points and different needs. I hope we will start on this exercise shortly.

To train staff appropriately, we will probably start with the very large centres. We will do the appropriate training. We will manage this change as well as other changes we have made over the past number of years to make our border a smart border, a border that customs officers and Canadians can be proud of.

We do not want to hassle people as they cross the border. We want proper risk management. We want to target goods and people who present a security or a criminal risk to the country.

We want to stop smuggling. Our goal is to help the tourism industry. Our goal is to help returning Canadian residents when they travel abroad to access all the facilities they need in a professional and competent manner.

We at Revenue Canada are providing customs officers with tools to help them better do their job. In the last parliament we brought forth initiatives on some new projects that we are working toward implementing throughout the land.

We will have a very sophisticated, modern customs administration. As the minister said earlier, Canada can be very proud of its customs administration. We can be very proud of the people in customs. I know union officials in the hon. member's riding have talked to him.

I congratulate him in his work and all other people in the House, no matter what party, who helped us move the legislation forward.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.


John Maloney Liberal Erie—Lincoln, ON

I thank the hon. member for her comments.

Customs officials in my riding approached me on the issue since day one when I was first elected. They have worked very well with me, with their national executive and with departmental officials.

We have come up with legislation that is certainly to be desired. It is a concern we have had to date but we are there now and we are happy to have it.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.


Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Mr. Speaker, as presented by the revenue minister, Bill C-18 meets an urgent need to exercise greater control at Canadian customs offices.

Each of the provinces, including Quebec, that share a border with the United States experience situations where individuals from that country cross our border while intoxicated, or after committing serious offences across the border.

The proposed changes will affect nearly two thirds of the total strength of 3,200 customs officers, a number we believe to be insufficient to strengthen border crossings.

Recent statistics published by Revenue Canada show that, over the past two and a half years, Canada customs officers have been faced with the following situations, provided for by the Criminal Code, at ports of entry across the country: more than 8,500 cases where drivers were suspected of driving while impaired; 200 alleged cases of child abduction; nearly 2,000 cases of persons against whom an arrest warrant had been issued; and finally, more than 500 cases of individuals who were in possession of allegedly stolen goods, mainly vehicles.

While customs officers reported these incidents to local authorities, the police was only able to apprehend a few suspects. Such incidents happen at most ports of entry by land, air or sea, 80% of which are located on our highway system.

It goes without saying that, based on these troubling statistics, there is no need for the revenue minister to justify Bill C-18 any further. The minister also indicated that this bill would confer broader powers on Canada Customs.

Under this proposal, customs officers would help police officers by taking immediate action at the border. The customs officers' current powers to arrest and detain would be broadened in an effort to fill the gap between the time when they observe a Criminal Code offence and the time when the police arrives on the scene and can take over.

The proposed changes would also give customs officers the power to arrest any person against whom an arrest warrant has been issued under the Criminal Code. Designated officers could demand samples of breath from suspected impaired drivers. People who show high levels following this screening test would be turned over to the police for a breathalyser test. So it is the responsibility of provincial authorities to continue the investigation and to prosecute those who are alleged to have committed an offence under the Criminal Code at the border.

Let us now talk a bit about Quebec. These stricter measures at the Quebec-U.S. border would help Quebec's campaigns against drunk driving. Impaired driving is still the primary cause of highway deaths in Quebec. Alcohol is involved in about 45% of deaths and 25% of serious injuries on the highways.

Over the last decade, in Quebec, the number night-time cases of drivers with a blood alcohol content above the limit has decreased by 40%. Greater control at border crossings would therefore help support the efforts of Quebec's provincial police officers.

Let us go back now to the bill. The preamble states that a number of customs officers will be designated by the Minister of Revenue to carry out the new duties. I think the Minister of Revenue should specify in his bill the provinces, cities and towns that will be affected by the changes proposed in Bill C-18.

We agree that the minister should have discretion to designate the customs officers mentioned in the bill, but we would like more information on this subject. Also, I would like to ask another important question to the Minister of Revenue concerning the mechanism for selecting customs officers. Will this procedure be carried out in co-operation with union representatives?

The proposed changes as outlined in this bill will most certainly be creating a new class of customs officers. Will their pay be higher? How will these changes be reflected in the existing collective agreement? Will the seniority clauses be respected? All these questions need clarification before our party can take a final position on Bill C-18.

What will be the limits of the powers given to customs officers in their new duties? I hope we are not creating a new police force that could end up with the same powers as the RCMP. I need hardly point out that our party and the Liberal government have locked horns several times since 1993 on the sharing of jurisdiction between Quebec and Ottawa.

The Minister of Revenue must therefore make a commitment to respect the responsibilities and jurisdictions of Quebec. The mandate of the Sûreté du Québec, our provincial police, and of the courts imposing the fines and penalties for these criminal acts must be respected. Too often, under the pretext of national security, of national health, the federal government has used such political opportunities to try to convince us that national standards are required.

Furthermore, in these difficult years, we do not often see a government invest without providing for additional revenues. The Minister of Revenue tells us that provincial authorities will retain their responsibility to prosecute under the Criminal Code, but he gives no information on a very important detail. Who will be collecting the fines, Revenue Canada or Revenue Quebec?

The Bloc Quebecois is in Ottawa to protect Quebec's interests, including the areas that come under provincial jurisdiction. Therefore, our party will make sure the federal government fully respects Quebec's jurisdiction in the context of Bill C-18.

The principles underlying Bill C-18 are acceptable, but the way these changes in the customs officers' duties will be implemented still raises numerous concerns.

For example, given the budget cuts imposed by the finance minister, where will the revenue minister find the money to renovate customs offices? Where will he get the money to train customs officers? Did the minister estimate the total cost involved in delegating these new responsibilities to customs officers?

Earlier in my speech, I said that these changes will have to be made in co-operation with the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

The revenue minister claims he decided to table this bill after conducting the following consultations. In 1995, an in-depth study of the powers conferred on customs officers revealed that the existing situation was unacceptable. There is no need to go back over this, since the figures I mentioned just a few moments ago confirm it beyond a shadow of a doubt. It was therefore proposed that the powers given these officers be increased to include offences under the Criminal Code. Groups such as CAVEAT, Canadians Against Violence Everywhere Advocating Its Termination, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, police forces, Revenue Canada employees, and CEUDA have offered their support.

But, here again, did the federal government consult the right people before tabling this bill? Did it take the time to go and see the people in the provinces who will have to live with the amendments resulting from this bill? Did the Solicitor General, who is taking part in the implementation of this bill, consult provincial authorities in this connection? Or is the federal government once again getting ready to meddle in provincial areas of jurisdiction?

In addition, the minister is indicating that implementation of this bill could take from six to nine months after royal assent is given. First of all, he intends to train designated customs officers, and then to renovate certain Customs Canada facilities in order to create secure areas in which suspects can be held.

Once again, a grey area remains, making it difficult for us to see where the minister is really headed with this bill. Does he intend to take a global approach, or has he already identified regions where there is a more pressing need for these customs posts?

There are many questions, but we believe in the rationale behind Bill C-18 and this is why we are supporting it in principle.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

London West Ontario


Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, in response to the many questions posed by the hon. member in his speech, many of the answers were delivered earlier today in this debate. For the edification of the hon. member I have no problem restating some of the answers. I hope it will assist him because this is a very good bill for tous les Canadiens et toutes les Canadiennes.

This is not a partisan bill, no matter what the questions or how they are posed. The RCMP will continue to do all of its work between the border points across this country. That will not change.

The work of our customs officers throughout this country, including Quebec, will also not change. They are still dealing with all these issues under the customs and excise acts and the numerous other acts that our customs officers administer for us at our border points.

This is a first response not only after discussion with the people and the unions involved but is also being supported by these same employees inside. They are very supportive. This honourable member may very well find that the head of the union of customs will have sent a letter to all members asking for support for this bill, and I draw that to his attention.

This is not replacing or creating some new police force. This is a situation where we are filling a gap, a narrow gap that existed, that will help the safety at first response, the point where we can first intercept at our border point, and security for Canadians.

There are situations where children are being abducted. This is the place where we can detain until the appropriate and responsible police force comes to the assistance and follows out with the rest of the process. This is the place where a drunk driver, driving up to our borders, can be intercepted. Before, we could not detain an individual for a lengthy period of time in case the appropriate local police force was not, through other responsibilities, able to assist in a timely manner. This is a better situation. We will have the legal authority to charge and to detain.

Also, very clearly this gives us that authority to make an arrest where there is an outstanding warrant and then turn over to the appropriate authority.

These are very positive measures. We are giving the human resources, as we have given many other tools over a time period in all of our experiences as professionals. We have to work with upcoming technology, new technology. Unfortunately, I do not think all of us get pay raises every time a new machine comes in. I wish that were true, but it does not necessarily happen that way.

This is, though, a tool, a legislative tool that will assist our people, the people who protect Canadians, to do their jobs better. To give the assurance to this honourable member which he deserves, yes there has been ongoing consultation and there will continue to be ongoing consultation not only with the provincial and other policing authorities but with our unions, the people who work for us. This is very much a welcome piece of legislation and I respect that this honourable member did, in his concluding remarks, actually indicate that the Bloc is being supportive overall.

If I can help with any of his further questions, as a parliamentary secretary I am at his disposal to give him further briefings whenever he requests that. As the parliamentary secretary, I wrote to the representative of their caucus as well as the other caucuses, offering briefings in this matter.

I would like to give a little time before question period for the member opposite to acknowledge it.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I think the member will have to wait until after Oral Question Period to reply to the comments by the hon. parliamentary secretary.

We will now proceed to Statements by Members.

Alzheimer's DiseaseStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, some weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting some of the members of the Royal Canadian Legion, North Calgary Branch No. 264, along with the Alzheimer Society of Alberta. The occasion was their annual Coffee Break fund-raiser. I was delighted to have been asked to attend.

The Alzheimer's Coffee Break is a grassroots initiative to promote awareness of Alzheimer's disease. To date, there is no known cause or cure for this terrible disease that can strike adults of any age. Currently over a quarter of a million people suffer from the illness and the dementia caused by this condition.

By the year 2030 it is estimated that over three quarters of a million Canadians will have Alzheimer's disease. The devastation of this disease is terribly hard on the family members of its victims. Inevitably it robs them of their loved ones.

I urge all members of this House to become involved in a coffee break program in their ridings. Members should please contact their Alzheimer's society or their legion to offer their support.

Grey CupStatements By Members

November 18th, 1997 / 2 p.m.


Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, on November 16 the 85th Grey Cup was held in Edmonton. Canadians were witness to real football, three down football, football with the wider field and the deeper end zones. In the cold of a crisp late fall day a truly unique Canadian sport was played out before more than 60,000 fans and millions of television viewers.

Football in Canada is truly our game with our unique Canadian rules including the extra point for missed field goals. The importance of this game to Canadians should not be underestimated. Images of Calgarians who brought their horses into the lobby of the Royal York hotel in Toronto and Saskatchewan residents dressed in rider green, some representing the smallest communities in their province like Tantallon, Saskatchewan; this is what the Grey Cup is all about.

The Grey Cup and Canadian football help to define us as a nation. It is part of our cultural identity. Congratulations to the Toronto Argonauts on back to back impressive Grey Cup victories. Canada needs a Grey Cup and we need to appreciate the tremendous value it has. It has helped define us as a nation.

Living Arts CentreStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to bring to the attention of the House the official opening of the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga on November 14. The Living Arts Centre will be the heart of downtown Mississauga. This modern state of the art facility will provide citizens of all ages with multiple performance venues, studios and exhibition space.

We look forward to attending shows by high calibre international artists like Julio Eglizes, Penn and Teller, Raffi, Broadway productions and of course the many local artists and performing companies that will grace the Living Arts Centre stage.

Construction of the state of the art facility was funded under the federally initiated national infrastructure program. All three levels of government including the region of Peel provided $31 million in financing. The Living Arts Centre has itself launched a major community fund-raising effort which has already raised almost half of the $30 million goal.

We look forward to being royally entertained for years to come as the world comes to our new stage.

Railway TransportationStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Maurice Dumas Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to draw attention to the sale of the section of rail between Saint-Augustin and Thurso by Canadian Pacific to Genesee Rail-One and the operation of that corridor by its subsidiary Les chemins de fer Québec-Gatineau.

Canadian Pacific decided in 1994 to dismantle this section of track. Bloc Quebecois MPs and stakeholders in the Outaouais and Laurentian regions were opposed to this. The hon. member for Blainville—Deux-Montagnes and myself co-authored a brief which convinced the national transportation committee to hold public hearings on the matter.

The train between Saint-Augustin and Thurso, which serves Lachute and Montebello along the way, is back in operation. This is a great victory for the people of Argenteuil—Papineau and an excellent example of how useful the Bloc Quebecois is in Ottawa.

Francophonie SummitStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Claudette Bradshaw Liberal Moncton, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the Francophonie Summit which was held at Hanoi from November 14 to 16. The Prime Minister headed a Canadian delegation of some 30 francophones.

This proved to be a great success for Canada, confirming its lead role within the Francophonie. Canada expressed strong opinions on the political, economic and co-operative aspects of the summit, proposing concrete actions. The summit marked a significant step toward making the Francophonie more political, with the election of its first secretary general, Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

In addition, the selection of Moncton, New Brunswick as the site of the 1999 Summit was confirmed by the heads of state and heads of government. I know what a great honour it is for the people of the greater Moncton area to host the Summit.

The Acadians of New Brunswick have long awaited the opportunity to welcome such a delegation and to show them their region.

RailwaysStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Stan Keyes Liberal Hamilton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, 57,000 knowledgeable, skilled Canadians work for the railway industry. Today their representatives from coast to coast are here in the House of Commons to remind parliamentarians of the importance of this industry for Canada.

Canada's freight railways do not exist just to run trains but to move customer freight traffic in a timely manner. Exports such as grain, coal, fertilizers, forest products and motor vehicles are dependent on rail transportation.

Rail is not only a safe means of transportation, it is also an environmentally friendly one. With its millions of carloads of freight and more than one million containers and trailers a year, the rail industry helps reduce highway congestion.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, I am proud to welcome rail industry representatives to Ottawa and to invite all members of Parliament to take the opportunity to meet with them and learn more about this essential industry.

Robert Norman ThompsonStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Deborah Grey Reform Edmonton North, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of Canadians to pay tribute to Robert Norman Thompson.

Bob was a man who spent an impressive part of his life serving Canadians. He became national leader of the Socred Party in 1961. He was elected in 1962 for Red Deer and then re-elected in 1963, 1965 and 1968. He left politics in 1972 and taught political science at Trinity Western in Langley, B.C.

I was a student at Trinity during the mid-1970s and one of the first people I met was Bob Thompson. He had a way about him that one just could not ignore. Bob was fast, feisty and a fierce competitor when it came to political debate.

When I was elected in 1989 he became and has been one of my closest political advisers for all these years. My husband Lew and I had a wonderful visit this summer with Bob and Evelyn at their home in Langley. He was in rare form and we had a great talk. He told me he was being promoted. Promoted he has been.

We love you, Bob, and we thank you, Evelyn. God bless you.