moved that Bill S-22, an act authorizing the United States to preclear travellers and goods in Canada for entry into the United States for the purposes of customs, immigration, public health, food inspection and plant and animal health, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to speak today on Bill S-22, the preclearance act which was introduced in the House yesterday. This is a good news bill for Canada and Canadian travellers. It is a key element in Canada's efforts to modernize our border with the United States while at the same time maintaining Canada's sovereignty and protecting the rights and freedoms of Canadians.
Before explaining how this bill does exactly that, I will briefly tell members what preclearance is and how Canadians have and will benefit from these services.
Preclearance was introduced in Toronto in 1952. It is currently operating at the Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal airports. It allows U.S. border control officers working in Canadian airports to determine whether people and goods can enter the United States.
In 1974 Canada and the United States formalized this arrangement under the air transport preclearance agreement, but this did not spell out the powers of U.S. preclearance officers in Canada and was not given force through implementing legislation.
This year is the fourth anniversary of the Open Skies Agreement and the 25th anniversary of the 1974 Air Transport Preclearance Agreement.
These two agreements have worked hand in glove to transform air passenger travel between Canada and the United States.
In the past, travelling from Canada to the United States was long and arduous because the airlines were often prevented from providing efficient routings by the outdated air agreement. Because of open skies, some 60 U.S. destinations can now be reached non-stop from 19 Canadian cities and many more can be reached by convenient connections at U.S. hubs.
Parenthetically, I should point out that in transporter traffic, since the open skies agreement has come in, Canadian carriers dominate that market. Canadian carriers carry more passengers in the transporter market than do U.S. carriers. That is a testament to the efficiency of Canada's various airlines.
Why was preclearance important to this success? Because many of those 60 U.S. destinations do not have an adequate level of customs and immigration inspection.
At airports with inspection services, passengers who are precleared in Canada do not wait in line for customs and immigration services upon arrival at U.S. airports and thus enjoy shorter connection times with onward flights.
The fact that travellers could be precleared by U.S. inspection agencies in Canada helped make Open Skies work.
Since the signing of the open skies, air traffic has increased 39%. That is quite a remarkable achievement. It has risen from 13.5 million passengers to 18.7 million. Compared to 1994, about 2.6 million more business travellers and tourists arrive in Canada from the United States by air.
U.S. preclearance operations in Canada have operated efficiently for over 40 years. In 1997, of the 8.5 million passengers processed at U.S. preclearance sites, less than .002%, a minuscule amount, were denied entry into the United States.
We have four major objectives for border co-operation: access for our friends, families and business partners in the United States and the promotion of tourism; facilitate goods to ensure access to the United States market; protect Canadians from international crime and its effects; and ensure Canadian sovereignty and protection of our rights and freedoms.
This act does contribute to these four objectives and gives Canada a crucial building block for the 21st century.
Major changes have occurred since 1974. The 1982 charter of rights and freedoms granted Canadians new individual rights.
Border processing of persons and goods has evolved as a result of the rapid increase in border crossings and the adoption of new technology. Traffic has risen dramatically, as has the number of routes. The need for efficient and effective processing is essential in an era of just-in-time delivery.
This act, which is modelled on existing preclearance schemes in Europe, will allow Canada and the United States to modernize and apply new innovative approaches to border management. It will be accompanied by amendments to the 1974 Canada/U.S. Preclearance Agreement which will reflect the new legislation and other safeguards agreed to by Canada and the United States.
The Preclearance Act will update and clarify the legal status of U.S. preclearance services at Canadian airports. It will provide legal authorities to protect travellers' rights, while countering illegal activities under Canadian law. Finally, it will provide the legal basis for other border facilitation initiatives by air and other modes of transportation.
The bill will provide a structure for the preclearance regime and it directs enforcement. The bill represents roughly two years of negotiations with the United States government that was really a balancing act which required marrying the legal regimes of our two countries. It allows all of us to be satisfied that our own rights are respected.
I should point out that the officials in the Departments of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, Revenue Canada, Justice and my department have worked very hard at crafting these compromises to ensure these basics rights that we all respect and expect are protected in the bill.
The preclearance scheme we have before us is really a hybrid which maintains the supremacy of Canadian law but allows the United States to administer certain civil and administrative matters in designated areas that pertain to the entry of persons and goods to that country.
One of the primary objectives for us during negotiations was to safeguard Canadian sovereignty. I do not think there is a member in this House who would disagree with that priority. We think it has been accomplished in a number of ways.
The agreement is entirely reciprocal. The charter of rights and freedoms and all Canadian laws will apply in the preclearance area, so let us not pay attention to those naysayers who somehow say that it is an erosion of Canadian sovereignty. The charter of rights applies everywhere in Canada and it will certainly apply in this instance.
All criminal matters will be dealt with by Canadian law enforcement officers. There will be no enforcement of American criminal law. In the case of conflict of laws, Canadian law overrides American law and that is the way it should be.
Strip searches are a rather unpleasant part of customs duty and enforcement will be done only by Canadian officers. Canadian police officers will be available at all preclearance sites to ensure that these goals are attained.
U.S. preclearance officers will not, I emphasize they will not, have immunity from criminal prosecution. The American government will be liable for civil actions, personal losses or property damage claims against American officers in the course of their work.
While the charter applies exclusively to the action of governments, the intent of the legislation is that the charter would apply to U.S. officers' activities because their actions would be authorized by the act and would occur on Canadian soil. Travellers would also have full rights under the Canadian bill of rights and the Canadian Human Rights Act. The American government agrees with the application of the charter to U.S. preclearance activities.
The main job of a preclearance officer is to determine whether travellers and goods are to be allowed entry into the United States. The act would grant a preclearance officer the authority necessary to make that determination. The administration of U.S. law would be limited to those dealing with customs, immigration, public health, food inspection and plant and animal health.
Only the provisions of those laws that are directly related to the admission of travellers and the importation of goods to the United States will be administered. These border control laws can only be applied in preclearance areas or in transit areas which will be designated by the Government of Canada.
The bill also requires airlines to provide limited personal information about passengers from third countries passing through Canada, if the passengers wish to use in transit facilities.
This information will be subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights. Advance information will not be provided for travellers originating their trip in Canada and bound for the United States.
All aspects of this preclearance regime will be fully reciprocal with the United States. Canada will not proceed with enactment of this legislation until an amendment to the 1974 agreement has been signed between the U.S. and Canada which guarantees reciprocity.
Canada has not established preclearance in the U.S. However, we have agreed to consider requests by San Francisco and Anchorage, Alaska, to establish Canadian preclearance services in their airports.
Some amendments were passed in the other house which addressed concerns with respect to the false declaration and the introduction of a review process which ensures that a traveller is knowingly making a false statement and which provides for a review within five years of the legislation coming into force.
Very often we are criticized for introducing bills in the other place. Bills of this nature which deal with such technical matters and fundamental issues of law are well suited to be introduced in the other place. Senators have taken the time to thoroughly debate and discuss this bill and they have made amendments which we feel are very sensible. I would like to thank my colleagues in the other place for their work on the bill.
The bill ensures that a traveller can refuse to answer a question and can leave the preclearance area unless an offence is suspected. Mere suspicion is not sufficient grounds to conduct a search. The legal standard that must be met is that reasonable grounds must be there to suspect.
Travellers will be put on notice through signage and brochures that they have rights and obligations in seeking entry to the United States.
The fundamental principle of the bill is that Canada and the U.S. wish to ensure the integrity of our border operations. We do not want preclearance sites to become the preferred routing for organized crime and we will not permit that. To prevent that illegal activity on Canadian soil, we have to ensure that travellers who are reasonably suspected of committing a crime can be prevented from leaving the area while it is determined an offence has been committed. This principle we believe is consistent with Canadian operations at our airports and land borders and with Canadian jurisprudence.
Upon passage of legislation, in transit preclearance operations will be extended in Vancouver, and will be implemented in Toronto and in Montreal's Dorval Airport.
Calgary Airport will be eligible for in transit preclearance no later than January 1, 2001. Other Canadian airports with current U.S. preclearance programs, such as Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa, subsequently will also become eligible for in transit preclearance.
The successful implementation of an in transit pilot project at Vancouver Airport, introduced after the Prime Minister's visit to Washington in 1997, has demonstrated the benefits of this process.
The act paves the way for in transit preclearance in other airports. This will provide passengers, travelling from Asia and Europe to the United States, better and quicker air service.
In the past, in transit passengers were obliged to pass through both a Canadian and U.S. inspection process, often requiring two visas and a much longer connection time. The new in transit arrangements will eliminate the Canadian inspection process and encourage international passengers to use Canadian air carriers and airports for their travels to and from the United States.
It is not anticipated that there will be an increase in refugee claims as a result of this particular initiative. The pilot project in Vancouver has resulted in only one refugee claimant, one out of about 100,000 passengers using these in transit facilities.
The preclearance act is intended to be the basis for agreements between Canada and the U.S. for other modes of transport as well. As trade and travel between our two countries continues to grow in leaps and bounds, the government intends to enter into discussions and negotiations for air cargo, road, rail, marine and ferry preclearance. All good news.
I am glad my friend from Winnipeg—Birds Hill is in such a good mood. He will be speaking on the bill and I know he will wholeheartedly endorse the government's position.
This legislation will clarify U.S. authorities and protect travellers' rights under Canadian law and safeguard Canadian sovereignty. There will be a uniform regime in place at preclearance sites and border entry points to counter illegal activities across our shared border.
I encourage my colleagues on the other side to give their full and rapid support to a bill that we consider to be a priority so that those airports I mentioned can put the necessary arrangements into place and we can give better service to Canadians and other travellers using Canadian airports.
This will increase economic activity, it will be good for the airlines and it is good for our relations with the United States, all without compromising Canadian values and the integrity of Canadian law.