House of Commons Hansard #101 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was security.


Question No. 42Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

October 24th, 2001 / 3:10 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia


Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, would you be so kind as to call Notice of Motion for the Production of Papers No. P-24, in the name of the hon. member for Nanaimo--Cowichan.

Motion No. P-24

That a humble Address be presented to Her Excellency praying that she will cause to laid before this House a copy of all correspondence of any kind between the government and the Virginia Fontaine Treatment Centre.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am informed by the Departments of Health Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs, Justice and the Solicitor General of Canada as follows. The matter is currently under investigation and as such no information can be released at this time. I therefore ask the hon. member to withdraw his motion.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Reed Elley Canadian Alliance Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I ask that this Motion for the Production of Papers be transferred for debate.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

The motion is transferred for debate.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all other Notices of Motions for the Production of Papers be allowed to stand.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Outremont Québec


Martin Cauchon LiberalMinister of National Revenue and Secretary of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec)

moved that Bill S-23, an act to amend the Customs Act and to make related amendments to other acts, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate on Bill S-23. This bill is most important for the implementation of our customs action plan.

The changes made in Bill S-23 are necessary to enable us to put in place some of the key programs contained in this action plan.

Last month's events make the passing of this bill even more critical. As we know, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency is ready to implement quickly many of the initiatives contained in our action plan, but we need this legislation.

Since the terrorist attacks on the U.S., we have been applying extreme vigilance at the border. This means increased examination of goods, intensified questioning of travellers and reallocating our resources to higher risk areas. We remain committed to continuing this extreme vigilance as long as it is needed.

However, even during this difficult time, we must always be mindful of our dual mandate: to protect Canadians and to keep the flow of travel and trade moving. Of course this mandate has posed many challenges over the past month. Let me reassure the House that we are doing everything we can to address them.

We are also equally committed to long term solutions to keeping Canada safe while ensuring that goods and people keep flowing across the border.

Our action plan is indicative of this commitment and desire to maintain the necessary equilibrium. Programs such as customs self-assessment and the expedited passenger processing system cannot proceed without this legislation, nor can other changes such as the customs control zones.

With Bill S-23 we will be able to make our borders more efficient. It is the outcome of lengthy consultations. We have consulted the stakeholders, our clients and our partners in the security and trade sectors. Both sectors have supported our customs action plan and the amendments proposed in Bill S-23.

Now more than ever it is crucial to put Bill S-23 into place so that the agency can continue to provide Canadians with the protection they expect.

Now more than ever it is indeed crucial to put Bill S-23 into place, so that the agency can facilitate the continuation of trade exchanges in order to ensure the Canadian economy of the activity it needs.

As far as trade is concerned, we have consulted with businesses and have understood that simplified trade administration policies are needed. As for the travelling public, we were made aware of the importance of uninterrupted travel without delays at customs.

The customs action plan is a critical investment in the future and will allow us to remain one of the most modern border agencies in the world. By providing innovative solutions to the problems we face today, the plan ensures that our customs processes will not be an impediment to Canadian prosperity.

As my hon. colleagues already know, the approach outlined in the action plan, and which the provisions of Bill S-23 would put into place, features a comprehensive risk management system incorporating principles of self-assessment, advance information and pre-approval, all supported by state of the art technology.

Our risk management approach will be supported by an effective and fair sanctions regime that imposes penalties according to the type and severity of the infraction.

Ultimately, businesses or individuals with good track records should benefit from their history of compliance. The bill would give them options that will make crossing the border easier, more convenient and more productive.

As part of the action plan, we are introducing the customs self-assessment program. The CSA program is one of the innovative ways in which we are changing how we do business at the border. It is the direct result of consultations with the trade community and was highlighted as its number one priority.

The customs self-assessment program is based on the principles of risk management and partnerships, partnerships with those clients who have proven track records. The CSA program also streamlines the customs clearance process bringing greater speed and certainty to the importation of low risk goods.

It will be implemented in phases and will expand over the years to include an ever increasing proportion of low risk import trade as customs works in partnership with the import trade and other government departments and agencies. Traders will welcome the provisions for advance information and pre-approval programs contained in Bill S-23. I believe my hon. colleagues will agree that this is a major step forward in border management.

The administrative monetary penalties system, AMPS, described in the act is designed to ensure uniform and fair rules for all Canadian businesses. This complete system will encourage compliance with the legislation, thanks to a series of penalties that are proportional to the type and severity of the offence.

In order to guarantee uniform application across Canada, the penalties will be based on detailed policies and guidelines. This graduated approach is more transparent and more equitable than the one in place at the present time, and provides importers with the opportunity to solve compliance problems long before the maximum penalty is applicable. In a desire for fairness, the program will be subject to an independent recourse mechanism. This program is intended merely to encourage compliance, nothing more.

Compliance is the key to success in this endeavour and Bill S-23 is designed to improve levels of compliance. Higher compliance levels ultimately benefit our clients because they lead to fewer examinations and audits.

We believe that the improved service and streamlined processing that we will be able to offer will provide incentives for voluntary compliance. However, ever mindful of our twin mandate, the protection of Canadian society, the agency reserves the right to do periodic spot checks and audits to verify compliance with Canada's customs laws and regulations.

The passing of Bill S-23 would also bring exciting options for travellers. Many of the hon. members will have heard of the Canpass highway program which was pilot tested in a number of locations in recent years. Under this permit based program, pre-approved, low risk travellers are permitted to use designated lanes to bypass regular customs processing.

The testing of this and other members of the Canpass family of programs has demonstrated their viability and effectiveness. The Customs Act amendments proposed in Bill S-23 would allow for the introduction of these programs on a continuing basis across Canada.

Another good example is the expedited passenger processing system for travellers. Under this new and innovative program, EPPS participants will be able to use an automated kiosk that will confirm their identity and membership in the program when entering Canada.

These innovative pilot programs are working. We want all Canadians and those who travel and trade here to be able to profit from our progress.

Another exciting initiative is the harmonized highway pilot, also known as Nexus, at the Blue Water bridge in Sarnia, Ontario and Port Huron, Michigan.

Nexus' goal is to provide a seamless service to pre-approved travellers entering Canada and the U.S. at these border points using technology and of course a common card.

New programs, such as EPPS, will not only make clearing customs a faster process but a more secure one. With new technologies, such as iris scanners, only those who have been pre-approved by a thorough screening process will benefit.

It is important to clarify for my hon. colleagues that pre-approval does not mean exempt. All participants in these programs are still subject to random identification checks and examinations.

With technology such as x-rays and iris scanners along with increased co-operation with our federal partners, we will be able to ensure Canadians a secure yet effective customs screening process.

I believe that a customs action plan will serve Canadians well by improving the flow of people and goods across the border and by strengthening our ability to protect Canadians. More people, with more of the right tools and technology will strengthen our security, while maintaining the flow of goods and people so vital to our economy.

The agency is in the business of administering and enforcing laws governing the movement of goods and people in and out of Canada. It is also in the business of providing client service excellence and serving the interests of Canadians overall. Using our new approach to customs clearance, we will get as much information as possible before goods or people arrive at the border, enabling the agency to focus on high risk areas.

For example, amendments to the Customs Act proposed in Bill S-23 would allow for the introduction of advanced passenger information and passenger notification record. With those programs, customs officers will receive certain prescribed information from commercial transportation companies on drivers, crew members and passengers in advance of their arrival in Canada.

By receiving this information in advance customs officers will be able to make enlightened decisions prior to the arrival of goods and people. It will make it easier to facilitate the movement of legitimate travellers and goods while allowing the agency to exercise its protection mandate.

As we modernize our border we will consider the technological infrastructure a vital element of our customs action plan. The agency will continue to conduct random customs examinations. The instincts of trained, experienced customs officers will continue to be our guiding force.

The agency must be able to meet the growing needs of travellers and of Canadian airports.

The new design of certain airports offers the possibility of mixing international and national travellers. This helps reduce delays, which in turn helps increase airport profitability.

Even though this is an interesting option for both travellers and airports, it increases the risk of goods being smuggled into Canada.

The proposed amendments contained in the bill would enable the agency to meet the commercial needs of the Canadian aviation industry as they evolve and to manage all the inherent risks.

The proposed amendments would allow the agency to create controlled areas inside airports and to authorize customs officers to interview people and to search their personal effects when they leave those controlled areas.

Another provision of Bill S-23 will be used to ensure that personal information is better protected.

The bill will be very explicit as to: when customs officers can gather information; the exact type of information that can be gathered; the use that can be made of this information; the circumstances and the conditions under which this information can be disclosed; and the reasons for disclosure.

I want to emphasize that the sole purpose of this proposal is to codify something that already exists through the ministerial authorization process and that is to make disclosure more open and more transparent.

As my hon. colleagues know, an amendment is proposed in Bill S-23 which would provide the CCRA with the authority to examine export mail. This proposed amendment is necessary to ensure that the postal stream does not become a legal means of bypassing Canada's export controls. I assure hon. members that it is consistent with existing authorities and practices relating to the charter and the import of mail. Customs officers will continue to exercise their authority in a professional and proper manner within the legislative framework.

The government's agenda to promote trade and investment in Canada will only achieve true success if it is supported by the customs action plan and the amendments contained in Bill S-23. Bill S-23 provides a bold and innovative framework to modernize Canada's border and border processing procedures.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This is such an important bill for all Canadians, and since the minister is in the House I would seek unanimous consent to have five minutes of questions and comments with the minister.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is there unanimous consent?

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. minister for his time. I have two quick questions.

First, has the advice and input of the union and the employees of Canada customs been sought on the actions about which he just spoke?

Second, airports like Halifax's are searching for pre-clearance facilities at airports to transit U.S. bound passengers much quicker than they do today. Has that been given any consideration by the minister and his department?

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.


Martin Cauchon Liberal Outremont, QC

Madam Speaker, the reform of Canada customs has been the subject of a huge and extensive period of consultation. We started some years ago by consulting stakeholders, the department and customs officers.

As I said on numerous occasions, we can use technology and programs like Canpass and the Canada customs self-assessment, but at the end of the day customs officers are the key component of our customs system. These are the people we rely on. We need their experience and expertise. We are using technology to make sure that we will proceed with a much better risk assessment and risk management system. We will make sure that our human resources focus on where the risk is higher or unknown.

I met with the head of the union some weeks ago and I told him that we must maintain an ongoing relationship in the sense that our customs officials are working in the field and their advice is very important.

We all know that pre-clearance is part of our customs action plan. It is one program that needs to be more efficient and effective. We have looked at that question at airports. Pre-clearance could also be established in other places as well.

However, as I said many times when referring to the management of customs and the land border, it should include a high tech smart border as well as co-operation with the United States.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the minister staying around. That is not done very often and I compliment him on that.

He is familiar with PALS, which is used on the front lines at our border crossings. I have compared the system with that used south of the border. The U.S. system ties indirectly and immediately with every organization. PALS does not. It is way behind in that respect. It does not tie in to CPIC, RCMP databases and a number of things that it should tie into, particularly at this time.

PALS is a piece of equipment that needs to upgraded. When can we expect this?

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.


Martin Cauchon Liberal Outremont, QC

Madam Speaker, that is an interesting question and I thank the hon. member for it. I announced some weeks ago additional resources with additional money in terms of more customs officers. I said that 130 more customs officers would join the team shortly and be assigned to airports and seaports.

I also announced additional technology such as x-ray machines, ion scanners and passport readers that are very effective. There is a new generation of passport reader that we will be obtaining shortly.

The databanks that we have at Canada customs are a key component of airport security, if that is what the member is talking about. The announcement that I made will improve the databanks we have at airports. Our customs officers at land borders access different databanks. There is a primary inspection line and then a secondary inspection line is referred to that has a variety of databanks.

The action plan we would like to put in place and will put in place will ensure that we provide a good system at seaports, airports and land borders.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, it gives me pleasure to speak to Bill S-23. I thank the minister for staying around to answer a few questions. In his speech he referred to Canada customs as one of the most modern agencies in the world. That is just not the case. That is reflected in his answer to my question regarding PALS. He stated that there is an effort being made to upgrade a number of systems, including PALS, that are used on the front lines.

I want to refer to a number of things that I have received in the past couple of months since becoming the critic for customs. They deal with border crossings, seaports and airports. I will refer to some documents but they are actually letters written to the minister. I know he has received these letters because I gave him some on behalf of frontline officers, the first line of defence, who are very unhappy for a number of reasons.

The reason I will refer to them is that I am a believer that if someone wants to learn how things should be done, a good place to start would be right on the front line with the people who deliver the service and face the problems.

We have a problem in Canada with the government. Everywhere I have been the border customs officers are doing a fantastic job given what they have to work with. It is an utter shame that when we visit these places we are denied the opportunity to talk with the frontline people because of directives from the minister, other departmental heads and commissioners.

I received letters that were written by an assistant deputy minister and an acting assistant deputy minister. I have others from a southern Ontario regional commissioner, an assistant commissioner and a regional director. All these individuals are with customs.

One of these letters states very strongly that employees should refrain from making any direct, or through a third party, public pronouncements critical of federal policies, programs and officers or on matters of current political controversy. It states that employees are not allowed to talk when others who are not of the government come to visit. The final sentence in each of these documents states that if they choose to do so they will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination.

In other words, customs officers, prison guards, corrections officers, or those holding whatever job in a government department, have strict orders not to speak their mind when people ask questions. When we go to visit these people they are not allowed to answer questions. I get a pile of letters from different individuals doing these jobs with the trust that I will not use their names lest they face the consequences of having provided information to me.

I cannot believe that in a supposedly democratic country when we are looking to the people at the front lines of defence at the borders, in our prisons, or wherever they may be, for suggestions on what we can do to make it easier for them to accomplish their mission, which is to protect and provide security for Canadian soil, its people and its property, they cannot openly discuss their views so that we can take them back, research them and possibly come up with better legislation. They have received orders from the government not to speak out in that nature to anyone.

During my last visit I was denied the opportunity to visit with the front line people. We know what the supervisors will say. They follow the rules very well. That is why they are supervisors. The higher up the ladder they go the better they follow them.

As I walked through these areas it was a shame to see the people on the front lines handing me notes urgently requesting that I call them because they are desperate to speak with me. They really want to speak with us yet are not allowed to. These people from all areas of the system wish to voice some serious concerns.

The response I have heard from the government these last few days during our two supply motions regarding the terrorist legislation and aspects of Bill S-23 was that anything we suggest is simplistic. The government's answer to everything is that it is too simplistic.

The most simplistic thing I have ever seen in my life is a government that was elected by the people to run the show yet in the House of Commons openly admits that it does not, as the solicitor general did during question period when he said he does not run his department.

He is right. The government does not run the show but the bureaucrats sure as dickens do. They hold an iron fist. There are a whole pile of instructions from the bureaucrats to the frontline people ordering them not to speak out or they may lose their jobs. Welcome to the democratic society of Canada. It is disgraceful.

I will point out how difficult it is to get our hands on the information we desperately need to help make the situation at the border safer and more secure, especially since September 11. This is the kind of support the frontline people are crying out for.

Canada customs has been all about collection for years and years. One customs officer said he was getting awfully tired of being referred to as a grocery cop or a tax collector when one of his main functions at the border has always been to provide safety and protection. However customs officers work for a revenue agency which is good for collecting money. It is the type of agency that will provide them with bulletproof vests and then give them calculators. It does not make much sense.

It is time to move out of collection and into protection. Protection is what it is all about. That is the priority we see across the country as a result of the events that took place on September 11.

Where are we falling short? I pointed out to the minister during our short question period that this piece of equipment, PALS, is out of date. A few hundred yards down the road at the U.S. border the system in place there is instantaneously tied into every agency that is essential for a customs official to do his or her job. It immediately identifies the felons, the murderers, the smugglers and those who are being sought for kidnapping.

Ours does not. That sends up a red flag. There is a problem when we must detain and question a person for a few minutes while we go into the main office and try to hook up to all the things we can to gather information about what it is we are looking for. It is time to start bringing things up to date.

I have stood in the booth at the border and have been shown how it works and what its shortfalls are. I know the equipment. We could sit here and start talking again, as I know the member over there who is shaking his head would like me to do, about what it is and what it is not. Unfortunately I do not think most members over there spend their time in a booth at the border to see what is really going on.

I am tempted to paint Liberal all over my car some day, although I would regret it dreadfully, and drive to the border so that I would be welcomed with open arms and able to speak freely with all the people who work there. If one is not a Liberal one cannot do that. They will not allow it. The customs officers are gagged. The documents right here tell them loud and clear that if they talk freely they will jeopardize their jobs.

I was the principal of a school for many years. If I wanted to know what we could do or change to make things work better in Grade 1, I did not go to the Grade 12 teachers. I went to those who were offering the service.

All the university training and all the elections one could have would not change my view that if I wanted to know how to do things right I should talk to the people who spend years providing the service and putting their experience to work. These people look for the best solutions, something the government refuses to do because its bureaucrats have all the simplistic solutions. They are simplistic because they do not believe in consulting with their frontline people.

Long before September 11 the auditor general recognized that with more than 100 million travellers a year entering the country at 147 border points and 13 international airports, the risks to Canada's safety and security were extreme. He recognized it in his reports long before September 11. Last April the auditor general wrote that the main role of customs officers was to protect Canadians against illegal activities such as smuggling of contraband or the unlawful entry of inadmissible people. The audit raised concerns about how well the risks were being managed.

The first thought that comes to some people's minds, including my own, is that if smuggling of contraband and dealing with criminals and inadmissible people is the main thrust and primary function, should it be done by a revenue collection agency like Revenue Canada?

Customs officers are being asked to enforce the criminal code. They are being asked to arrest drunk drivers. They are being asked to arrest smugglers. They are being issued minimal equipment to do their jobs. The government has upgraded that a little. It now gives them bulletproof vests, most of which are used ones donated by the United States because we do not have new ones.

The auditor general points out that if they are to function in this capacity and enforce the criminal code it will not be easily accomplished through an agency designed to collect taxes and revenues. He does not suggest this point blank but he alludes to it.

Why do we not move it to an organization that has the knowledge and ability to work with these people so they can do an effective job of enforcing the law? That is what the majority of their work entails.

That would require upgrading of equipment. It would require upgrading a number of things such as the number of people and hours of training. Frontline officers south of the border in the United States have 16 weeks of training. That is more than a lot of basic training camps in the military.

It is not so on this side of the border, certainly not when it comes to hiring students to fill in for the people we have. These students receive only two weeks of training yet their duties are the same. They must enforce legislation brought forward by the government in Bill C-18, which empowers them to arrest drunks and do everything they can to enforce the criminal code.

I will reiterate once again what happens. We have a number of border crossings where there are only one or two people on duty. They need to close these crossings at certain hours because they cannot keep them open that long.

I understand the government will try to keep all border crossings open 24 hours a day. It will need more people to do that. When crossings are closed they put out little orange cones to block traffic. Would that really stop someone from coming into the country who should not be here? People are under the illusion that criminals, smugglers and people trying to find their way into the country illegally do not know about that. They think they will stick to our main points of entry. That is not the case.

When will we recognize that if we are to properly equip and train our people to enforce the criminal code it could be better accomplished under a different agency than a tax collection agency called Revenue Canada? However the government has said that solution is simplistic.

It has been alluded to by a great number people, including the auditor general, that there are serious concerns.

Let us look at the customs office in Victoria. That is the famous port where Ahmed Ressam was arrested and finally caught on the U.S. side after many years of operating out of Canada. At the Victoria port's main terminal they do not have a single computer. They operate out of a 35 year old trailer. They consult 30 year old lists on a clipboard about how to operate, who to look for and what to do. There is no computer. With more than a million people passing through the port a year, how can a clipboard do the job properly?

I will refer to some comments, not just one comment from one person but some pretty general comments. First, people on the front lines have talked about technology. Technology is extremely important and it needs upgrading severely.

Second, we need more people at our borders. When we consider the number of individuals we will need at Pearson and other international airports, when we look at the 147 border crossings across the country and all our major airports and seaports, 130 people is a drop in the bucket. They need a lot more. They are understaffed by 10% to 50% in most places across the land.

We need to look at eliminating the student program. Members should not get me wrong. I believe in hiring students. It is important that we keep students working and provide them an opportunity for work. However when it comes to the security of the nation and all the training customs officers require to do their job properly, many believe that students are not the ones who can best fulfil the job. It needs to be done by trained professionals, as it is today. We could eliminate the danger by eliminating these kinds of programs.

Let me read one quote to the House: “I would like to talk about another aspect of my job, which is danger. Every day I go to work could be the last day of my life. The customs and immigration part of my job sees me interdicting persons smuggling high value drugs, firearms and weapons, as well as inadmissibles, some of them criminals and terrorists from other countries. Now I have the authority of a police officer and I am responsible for arresting drivers who are drunk or high on drugs, persons abducting children or persons with warrants for their arrest for a wide range of offences right up to murder”.

It is quite astounding what is required of this individual. He also said: “I basically deal with the same persons, goods and situations that my armed colleagues on the other side of the border deal with. As a result it would be prudent to assume that customs officers in Canada would be subject to the same dangers faced by the law enforcement officers in the United States”.

When I went to Fort Erie I noted the equipment issued to the customs officers, like bulletproof vests, batons and pepper spray. They had no sidearms. I went to the other side of the border where they were all wearing sidearms and were equipped with whatever was necessary because they have to deal with the criminal element. On the United States side of the border, frontline individuals can speak with anyone at random. There are no restrictions. They can speak with the press or anyone. They have the freedom to do that, which we do not have on this side of the border thanks to the government, which will not allow it.

The officers in the United States first of all commended the officers in Canada for doing a great job and for doing the best they could with the equipment they have, but they fear daily for each and every one of them and feel they are not in a position to look after themselves properly.

Our government in its wisdom must have recognized that, because it put out regulations. Regulation 16, I believe, in the manual states that in the event someone is coming into Canada and is showing signs of being a real and sincere threat to our nation and its people or to the guards themselves, they are to simply wish that person well and admit him or her into the country then report it to the police. I do not know at how many ports of entry where it might be at least half an hour or up to maybe two, three and four hours before the police can even respond to the situation.

I do not know if members have seen this out west, but in Ontario it is the same. People can come across these borders in these areas and if they want to get lost for a while, boy, it is easy to do. They will not be found. If they are, it will be well after the fact simply because the customs officers do not have the backup or the proper equipment to make an arrest when they should be able to. If there is a threat they have to let these people go.

The people working on the front lines do not like doing that, because they recognize the fact that those people can run free and loose forever. It is really hard for them to accept the fact that they have to let people go who they know will cause real serious problems somewhere down the line for some other people.

We have talked to a number of individuals in regard to some of our suggestions. My colleague from Edmonton, who is the chief critic for customs and revenue, and I visited with a number of people from the union representing the individuals we have talked about. We have talked to the police association and their people. It is always strange: When people get together who always seem to agree with the suggestions that we put forward in terms of what is needed to enhance the bill or what is needed to make the anti-terrorism bill better, they do not look upon the suggestions as being at all simplistic. In fact they agree with them.

They agree that customs and revenue should not be the agency that is working with, controlling or managing the frontline officers or customs officers at the borders. These jobs should not be under that portfolio. They should be under a portfolio that deals with law enforcement. They are just not allowed to arrest or detain people and they cannot use force against them.

I do not understand why the government has such a hard time accepting the suggestions that come through the mail from these people who are not allowed to voice their opinions when they would like to. They have to white out their names and ask that their names not be used for fear of losing their jobs.

A lot of my colleagues have seen the same problem in the coast guard and waterways are another area that needs to be addressed. When we go to a waterway border crossing and look to the south, we see the American coast guard going full scale in regard to protection. If we look to the north, nothing is happening.

I once asked a supervisor how he knew what the boats coming north were bringing in and what was happening. They do not know. Once again, they can only report to the police and the police usually do not have time to investigate because they are tied up with so many things. It is a pretty sad situation when a customs official has to say that a boat docked at one angle is probably carrying cigarettes, at another angle it is probably carrying whisky, at another probably guns and at another probably people. That is the best they can come up with. They simply do not have the forces to look after the continual flow of boats coming in freely at different crossing points, because we do not have officers patrolling those lines.

We are continually looking for legislation to address the needs. One of the needs of course is that we have to keep traffic flowing. We do not want the economy to collapse because of not being able to move freely across the borders. That is why we supported Bill S-23. It worked toward that end. If we do not get our heads out of the sand, start looking across country, recognize what the problems are and be willing to deal with them, we are headed for some serious problems.

I think the government should make one thing happen. It should be willing to allow the voices of the people trying to provide the service to be heard. I will emphasize that more and more. If their voices could only be heard to the fullest extent then we could come up with some very good suggestions and solutions for the problems we face each and every day.

The morale of such individuals is terribly low and I can understand why. They request something and it is not allowed. They write a letter and they get a warning that they will lose their jobs if they do not keep their mouths shut. Welcome to Canada.

I know the Liberals have a real hard time listening to the truth. The truth is an aggravating thing, especially when a party is operating a government that does not allow democracy to work. It is an absolute shame. I just cannot express enough about what it is like to work for a government agency where people's hands literally are handcuffed and their mouths taped lest they lose their jobs. We should think about that for a minute.

They do not have to worry about it on the other side of the House. Maybe they will lose their jobs in an election but they can say anything they like.

The guards at the border crossings have asked me to make certain that their voice is heard in all these respects. They do not enjoy the idea of going to work improperly equipped. They do not feel safe in their work. There are a number of issues that could be so much better if the government would only listen.

I also want to speak on behalf of the remote ports. They are really crying out for help, with one person at one station all by himself. We do not have anything there to address that person. There are many of those crossings, all across the line.

I want to talk about the students once again. They are trained for only two weeks, on average, yet they make up over half of the customs workforce during the two busiest months of the year, July and August. Half the workforce is students. There have been reports of shifts at Pearson airport manned entirely by students. To my way of thinking and to a lot of people's thinking, to have students as the first line of defence is a bit terrifying. I just recently heard about a female student who intercepted an individual crossing the border who had a gun. In the process of the student checking the chamber of the gun, it discharged and the bullet lodged in the building across the street. The students are not trained well enough in the inspection of a gun. It went off, but that was a student. She is not to blame. Sure, there should not have been a bullet in the chamber, but anybody who knows anything about guns knows that is the first thing a person wants to know when picking one up.

The auditor general's report referred to that. It also said that at many ports relations are totally strained among customs, immigration and other agencies and departments. When we add them together, customs, immigration and other agencies and other departments, at these ports, when they are strained to the degree that they are why are we not doing something about it? We are putting on 130 people. That is hardly a drop.

A quality referrals report was recently produced by immigration officers who were frustrated with the poor quality of referrals from the primary inspection line that is staffed by students. They were having a real problem because the expertise was not there to do the job properly.

On October 12, 17 of 29, or 60% of the officers on duty, were students with two weeks of training. This is a common occurrence. Week in and week out more than half the officers at Pearson are students. Our immigration officers are pretty sick and tired of the poor quality of referrals being sent to them. They are bogged down so badly that it is eating at their time. They feel they are not able to properly handle their work.

In 1991 we learned that the immigration department hired a contractor because the quality of referrals from the primary inspection line were so poor. The Ekos report found that in August, a peak travel period when a massive number of students is employed, more than 50,000 immigration referrals to secondary inspections were missed.

I do not understand why the minister will not remove students as a first line of defence or at least make provisions for them to be properly trained. It should be more than two weeks of training.

I want to remind the House that in the past week the American government has tripled its border workforce. The Americans increased their officers by 5,400 people and their border patrol officers to 900 persons along the Canada-U.S. border. Our minister announced last week the addition of 139 employees.

When I look at this I can understand the disappointment from the people on our side as to why this is not much of a priority. If the Americans have information that indicates they need 5,400 people on the border, what information do they have that we do not? Do the American officials understand that our immigration policy is so weak that they must defend against those travelling through Canada with the United States as their final destination and getting prepared for that? They have a lot of reasons to think that.

I want to express one more time that terrorism is an extremely serious situation. We have provided answers through consultation with those on the front lines, as much as we could, and with the police associations at every opportunity and they are on side with our suggestions. We have consulted with other agencies that like what we have to say with regard to what we should be doing. However, there are some people across the way who will not listen. They do not listen. They like their simplistic solution of letting the bureaucrats deal with it.

What else is new? I think that has been going on for 30 or 40 years. Once this government decides we ought to have a few reforms within our own country that respect democracy to a better degree, we might see the changes that are essential.

When I look at what is happening today, it is tiring to see day in and day out that respect for democracy by members across the way is diminishing and that there is little or no concern for protecting our people who are providing the service.

I hope that some day the members on that side will wake up and recognize that our first priority, particularly at this time, should be protecting our country and providing security. I hope that one day they will start acting on this.

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4:15 p.m.


Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this important bill, Bill S-23.

First of all, I must say that I will not be using the 40 minutes allotted me, nor will I be inviting the member for Wild Rose to share my time.

As I was saying, Bill S-23 is an important bill. It is vitally important but, unfortunately, it does not seem to interest my colleagues in the House.

What needs to be understood is that we must at all costs improve the flow of goods and people, as well as the movement of travellers through customs at the Canadian and U.S. borders, but still maintain complete security.

It must also be recalled that, since 1991, the number of vehicles crossing the border has increased by 11% a year because of free trade and various other factors.

In order to illustrate just how much transportation has changed in recent years, I will give a few statistics for the year ending August 2001. They are quite recent.

The number of vehicles crossing border points using bridges or tunnels between Canada and the United States between August 2000 and August 2001 was 45,587,344 automobiles, 8,306,261 trucks and 348,639 buses, for a total of 52,242,244 vehicles in all.

The Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor was crossed by 8,592,000 vehicles, 3,332,960 of them trucks. I could go on.

I did not do the math, because I did not have a calculator. With the volume of trucks and cars regularly crossing the border, —I would estimate that this comes to over 50,000 cars a day using the tunnels or bridges between Canada and the United States alone. I did not check the other border points.

Hence the importance of rapid and effective movement and good service at border points, so as not to hold up truckers and motorists for hours on end. Hence the importance of seeing the real danger that exists in transporting people: There must be security for people and for goods. Just about anything can be taken past these border points.

Despite a few reservations, the Bloc Quebecois will be supporting Bill S-23.

Bill S-23 is more than just sheets of paper, more than words or a wish list. It is a bill. What is important? To be able to implement the provisions of this bill. A piece of legislation with no one to enforce it is worthless. We need bodies. Canada needs more customs officers. The number of customs officers must absolutely be raised because of the heavy car and truck traffic going through customs.

As well, customs officers must be better trained in order to enhance their skills and enable them to do their job better. They must be provided with modern techniques. The Minister of Revenue referred to iris readers to identify people. Is this wishful thinking or reality?

This is why we presented an amendment at the report stage asking the minister to come before the Standing Committee on Finance a year after the bill is enacted to tell us “This or that thing is not going at all well, can it be changed?” Thought must be given to the conditions in which we have been living since September 11. If things were normal, perhaps nothing would have to be changed, but the conditions are far more serious.

The other question I have is this: how are our neighbours to the south, our American neighbours, going to see Bill S-23? Only this past weekend, hon. members will recall, New York state Senator Clinton was at Champlain, which is very close to Montreal. She spoke of a total perimeter for all of the Americas, with customs control and points of entry and exit at customs. That is not the position of the government across the way.

It is time to start thinking of a common ground. All we need is modern and efficient equipment, adequate numbers of staff and staff that is efficient and well trained, as well as a rapid information exchange system among all departments, in order to determine precisely which individuals are considered a low, medium or high risk. Customs officers must have the tools and information right at hand in order to function effectively. Otherwise, the paper on which Bill S-23 is written will merit nothing more than a fast trip to the round file, file 13.

I hope with all my heart that Bill S-23 will successfully improve border crossings and border security. The Bloc Quebecois will be supporting this bill.

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4:20 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I rise with great pleasure to discuss Bill S-23.

I represent the Halifax airport and one of the concerns I have is that many times the Halifax airport authority has asked the transport minister and the revenue minister about getting pre-clearance at the airport. This is something that the Ottawa airport, the Vancouver airport and other airports have. It is vital to the movement of U.S.A. passengers for them to have the convenience of being pre-cleared through the Halifax airport very quickly and expeditiously to the United States. All the authority is asking for is fairness, something that other airports in Canada have. In fact other airports that do not have it will probably be seeking this as well. We hope the minister, or at least his department, will take that under advisement to see how we can very quickly move that issue forward.

Also, when any bill of this nature comes forward it does absolutely no good unless it has full consultation with and support of the men and women at customs, the frontline workers, more or less the unionized workers. Again we encourage the government to ensure that the union is in lockstep with this measure, to ensure that union voices are heard, to ensure that their concerns have been brought forward as well.

The minister mentioned that there are about 130 additional employees being hired. In reality, within two years probably 300 to 400 employees will be lost through retirement. Therefore those losses will not have been offset at all. It would be prudent of the minister to go on a serious recruiting drive to encourage young people to get into the customs field and to become highly trained. The numbers should be in the 1,200 to 1,500 range, which is what is required to meet the new security measures post-September 11.

No matter what program we put in place we have to make sure that the movement of perishable goods, especially just in time goods, is not hindered by the actions on September 11. It is imperative as the two economies become more closely linked that the movement of goods and services is done correctly, quickly and efficiently and that both sides of the border are respected by both governments.

My former colleague, Mr. Peter Mancini from Cape Breton, raised in the House many times the divestiture of ports police in Canada to the normal city police, as was done in Vancouver, British Columbia and in my hometown of Halifax.

We argued at the time that it was wrong to do that. We felt that the ports police had to be specialized, a separate unit on its own, in tandem with government. The last time I heard any statistics on it, customs or the police check about 2 out of every 100 containers that come into the Halifax port. That is simply not good enough and is insufficient to say the least. We encourage the government to rethink that policy of the divestiture of ports police. It should reinstate the ports police, give them the training, adequate resources and personnel that is required so we can ensure that the goods and services that enter into our ports are properly checked and screened.

I am appalled that not so much the minister but his department would put a gag order on senior officials of the customs and excise union. It is simply unacceptable in this day and age of co-operation, open dialogue and transparency. “I want to be clear on what I would like to do” is what we always hear from the government front bench. At the same time that the ministers talk about openness and transparency, they tell their officials to put gag orders on the senior officials of the union.

I have a letter from Serge Charette, the national president of CEUDA, to the revenue minister, dated October 5. It clearly states that the union would like the gag order removed from its employees and rescinded.

In conclusion, I seek unanimous consent from all parties of the House of Commons to table the letter from the union to the minister so that it can be on the public record.

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4:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The House has heard the terms of the request of the hon. member. Is there unanimous consent to table the document?

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4:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


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4:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill S-23.

I say to the member who spoke previously that we certainly would have supported the tabling of that document. We think that access to information is an important aspect of parliament.

This bill is an act to amend the Customs Act and to make related amendments to other acts. We actually supported the bill throughout and thought that it had a lot of good practical ideas, until September 11, which made the whole thing obsolete in our opinion. It did propose a lot of good changes and enhancements to the systems that would expedite the process at border crossings and so on and so forth.

The events of September 11 in our opinion make Bill S-23 obsolete. The total focus is on our borders now. There is a great debate about whether we will have perimeter security, which I think we will have eventually. There is a great debate about increasing staff at border crossings, enhancing the procedures of control and assessment, increasing the focus on examining goods, services and people and identification at borders. It makes all of these things that were created to fast track and expedite border crossing obsolete until we finish the great debate on the philosophy of how we will treat our borders as a whole. Right now there is a proposal to increase funding by a lot for our borders.

I understand a second omnibus bill is being drafted to deal with terrorism. That one will focus on transportation issues and border issues. Bill S-23 will be superseded by that omnibus bill in many ways. We should shelve Bill S-23 for the time being until we see what the government puts on the table in the proposed omnibus bill. We have not seen it yet. We have just heard talk and conjecture about it.

The government is debating whether or not to consider a perimeter security system. The Americans will surely have a perimeter security system and we will be either inside or outside the system. Whatever decision is made will have a big impact on how we deal with our borders.

Many politicians in the U.S., such as the president, the vice-president, many senators and governors of states, have indicated that they want changes to the border crossing system. They have suggested that Canada is a safe haven for terrorists. We do not agree. However, they have certainly indicated that they have concerns about our border crossing systems. They will demand that we make changes, not the changes that are in Bill S-23 but other changes. If the bill goes through, we will go through a major series of changes to our border crossings and then we will have to do it all over again.

The U.S. has already tripled its staff at border control points which is an indication of the changes that are about to take place. Now Mexico is into the discussion about the perimeter security system. If the United States and Mexico are to have a perimeter security system, then Canada must be a part of that. I believe we eventually will be a part of it, which again will make many aspects of Bill S-23 obsolete.

In the last few days the official opposition has proposed motions that change job descriptions and functions at the border crossings. The official opposition has proposed that we change all the things in Bill S-23, completely reverse many positions, turn customs officers into law enforcement officers, remove the tax collection function from customs officers and give it to a whole new enforcement agency and so on and so forth. That is an indication of the changes we are facing.

Business groups, chambers of commerce, boards of trade and provincial premiers are also calling for changes at the borders which do not necessarily coincide with Bill S-23. We should put the whole bill on hold until we assess what we will do as a country and how we will treat the overall security system, the overall border system and our relationship with the United States.

Essentially there will be a revolution on how we deal with border crossing issues and because of September 11, everything will be different. Everything is different now. Much of our trade is halted at the border because of delays caused by examinations. I do not expect the United States government to agree that the aspects of Bill S-23 will expedite the smooth crossing of traffic and trade at the border and allow things to go back and forth freely. That is not going to happen. Bill S-23 in that way is a little obsolete.

Perimeter security is inevitable and Canada has to be part of it. Eighty-five percent of our business travels back and forth between the United States and Canada. The amount was as high as $250 billion in 1999. The bill was drafted prior to September 11, in a whole different world and under a whole different set of circumstances. In many ways we think it would be a waste of time to proceed with all of these changes, some of which were really good prior to September 11 and some of which may still be good. However, if the U.S. does not agree with them and they are not part of its overall vision it is going to be very difficult to proceed with them and we will have to bring in another bill to reverse or change them.

The bill should be shelved until these matters are dealt with and an agreement is made, even a fundamental decision as to whether or not we are going to be part of a perimeter security system and whether or not Mexico is going to be part of that system. There is no point in going ahead with these major changes if we are going to be faced with another series of changes, which we will be for sure. This is not a matter of if we are going to change our systems and procedures at the border crossings, it is a matter of when and how. We are going to change them.

Bill S-23 should be held off until we know exactly what the government's philosophy and position is. Until that happens, we would like to see the bill shelved.

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4:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciated the hon. member's speech. I share his concern about the security aspect of the bill.

Obviously much of the consultation that was done on the bill prior to September 11 focused specifically on trade and did not focus on the issue of security as adamantly as we would like to see, especially after the events of September 11. To my understanding, the minister in his consultations did not meet with any security groups other than the customs union.

The U.S. recently has been talking very seriously about invoking section 110, which in fact could completely stop trade going south of the border from Canada because of exit controls and a number of other things that the U.S. may implement. There is talk of this being implemented over the next couple of years. What is the hon. member's impression of the impact that could have in the end on our trade going south of the border?

As he knows, 84% of our exports go down to the United States. I think our concern, and I am sure it is the hon. member's concern as well, is that if section 110 is invoked because we have not addressed the security issues as seriously as we should have in this bill, our industry will still suffer the consequences of a lack of security at the border.

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4:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, that is an excellent question.

We cannot separate trade from security in our relationship with the United States. Eighty-four per cent of our trade is with the United States. Every truck, every shipment, everything that goes across the border involves security. Many aspects of Bill S-23 deal with allowing trucks to flow freely back and forth without inspection at the border by arranging for prior inspections. This is absolutely contrary to the atmosphere now in the United States and in Canada. We are not talking about expediting transportation now. We are talking about increased security. That is just the opposite.

Many aspects of Bill S-23 were to allow for electronically transmitted information and pre-clearance based on profiling and audits on previous business and things like that. We have to come to an understanding with the United States on whether or not it is going to accept that philosophy prior to passing any bill, either Bill S-23 or the proposed omnibus bill that we hear hints of from the government, which will deal with transportation issues. It is supposed to be the second bill after the terrorism bill, Bill C-36. We understand it is coming, that it is being drafted now. We have not seen it yet, but many aspects of it will impact on Bill S-23.

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4:35 p.m.


Louis Plamondon Bloc Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a short question for my colleague. He said that Bill S-23 should be put on the back burner and that we should proceed to a more indepth study in co-operation with the United States.

I am surprised at his indecisiveness, because decisions have to be made. We are confronted with a problem that is unusual and quite new. We need innovative measures and decisions have to be made fairly quickly.

The Bloc Quebecois has advocated some changes, especially in security matters, but, overall, this bill is a step forward, and that is why we are supporting it.

I wonder if the hon. member should not take this step. After that, the good suggestions he has made could be part of a second phase in the reflection we should do as quickly and as efficiently as possible, while taking into consideration the security issue I mentioned, because we must improve the transportation of goods.