Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise here today to speak to not only the amendments but also the bill.
We all know that since the attack on the United States on September 11 the world has changed. Most important, North America has changed. We have to look at many areas not only to tighten up Canada's security but also to address the fact that through some of these measures our trade routes might be impacted.
Canada is a nation of trade. It was built on trade. Our biggest trading partner is the United States which we depend mostly upon. In order to achieve the goals that are needed in Canada and the United States, it is necessary for all government employees to address this concern. It impacts on our daily lives, particularly on the lives of those who are trying to move trade back and forth. We already have some information that companies are looking at moving their operations south of the 49th parallel because of some of these concerns.
Bill S-23 will address some of those concerns. That is why I say here today that I give qualified support to it. I still have many concerns with regard to what has not taken place, what has not been introduced in this bill, and the speed with which this has taken place, which in my opinion has not been fast enough on a number of issues.
There are concerns expressed by the public, not only here in Canada but also in the United States. One of the big concerns we hear is that here in Canada many people think that through co-operation with the United States we will lose some of our sovereignty, that we will lose what we take to be wholly Canadian. That is not true. That part of it is a myth.
Americans have concerns that Canada will not implement a lot of what it has been talking about with regard to our borders. That has grown over the years. Even as the ministers have stated in the House, we have been very lax. We have allowed a lot of our laws and policies to be abused. That can be addressed. All of those concerns can be addressed.
What we have to understand first is that it is only a border and we are dealing with a continent. In order to achieve that, we should be harmonizing as close as possible with the allies we trade with. That becomes the most important thing. We have to be able to move our goods back and forth. We have to look at ways of speeding up the movement of the legitimate people that come to Canada.
I will quote something by Gordon Giffin who was the U.S. ambassador to Canada until last April. He talks about harmonizing, but there is another issue he discusses. “We have talked about a perimeter of defence to try and offset some of the concerns that are happening at the border and I am strongly in favour of that”.
He goes on to mention: “Perimeter policy does not imply unilateral action. Actually, it offers an opportunity for Canada to define the agenda for this dialogue”. Here is the interesting part: “Since the 1950s we have jointly defended North American airspace through NORAD, American and Canadian military personnel working together with seamless binational command authorities. Both procedures were not unilaterally imposed by the U.S. and Canada is not less sovereign for its role in that initiative. Surely if we can have a military perimeter policy, we can find better ways to collaborate on the civilian side as well. Canada and the United States share much more than geography as our shared goals that provide the foundation for this task”.
The good news is that there are people here in Canada and the United States that are working toward achieving those goals. If Europe can figure out how to simply enact legislation that allows goods to flow freely, surely we can do no less here in Canada and the United States. It becomes mandatory.
In order to achieve that, we have to look at our customs agency. Most people in Canada have the mistaken impression that the customs agents are our first line of defence. In some aspects it is true on the inspection part. A real strange thing is that our customs agency is basically underneath the revenue department and not the justice system. The citizens of our country are depending upon those customs agents out there to stop the flow across our borders of certain goods or people yet they have no power to detain them nor the equipment to stop them.
I find that very strange as do the people in the United States and other countries. If we are going to base customs strictly on revenue and taxation, then at least give our customs officers calculators and let them know that is their mandate.
If we are going to do what is necessary in order to secure our borders, then let us properly equip our customs officers. Let us train them to be officers and not tax collectors. Let us put our first line of defence back where it should be, at our borders.
Today if a customs officer has a problem with people coming into Canada, if somebody coming across the border threatens a customs officer, if a customs officer feels that he is being threatened, if he or she feels that the people coming in are armed or dangerous, they are supposed to let them cross our border unimpeded and phone the RCMP. Coming from a province where some of our customs officers may be an hour to an hour and a half away from the closest RCMP detachment, I find that very strange. In a province like British Columbia, within an hour to an hour and a half people can disappear awfully fast. They can also swap any goods being brought across the border illegally without being noticed. That is a major concern. We hear this across the board regarding our custom agents and also the American agents.
Another area of concern is the sharing of information. This must be mandatory. As we receive information about safety concerns regarding the flow of people across our borders, we should be obligated to share those concerns not just with one or two, but with all law enforcement agencies in Canada and the United States. Until we are able to harmonize that information and finally come to the realization that we are no longer innocent people in the world and can no longer live underneath the old rules that we were used to, that we must tighten our security, we will always have these concerns.
To do that we have to implement some of the amendments that are put forward in this bill and hope that the government will listen and act upon them. That becomes of primary importance. If we are to have free travel and trade routes and keep that trade flowing to eliminate hours of backlog at the border, we must address not only the concerns of the American people but also the concerns of Canadians who have come forward so strongly since September 11.