Mr. Speaker, I would again express my deepest condolences to the American people in this most difficult period. I would also offer my condolences and my support to the Canadians and other foreign nationals who lost a family member or relatives in the terrorist attacks. Innocent people were the victims of these monstrous attacks. Canadians are at once saddened and incensed by this indescribable violence.
Canada and the United States are the longest to have successfully managed a shared border. We share with our neighbours democratic values based on social, economic and political liberty.
I would like to tell the House about the actions taken by the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency to support the response of the Government of Canada to last Tuesday's terrorist attack on the United States. The CCRA takes the threat of terrorism extremely seriously. We have an active counterterrorism program that is very effective. Our customs officers are well trained to identify and detain suspected terrorists.
Since the tragic events in the United States, the priority of the CCRA has been the health and security of all Canadians and of all passengers arriving by air.
In addition, all our resources were deployed in looking after, together with our partners, the unprecedented number of aircraft and passengers rerouted from their planned destination of the United States to different airports in Canada. I am proud to be able to say that, thanks to the co-operation and understanding of these travellers, we successfully met the challenge with all the disruption involved.
Over the past six days, the CCRA intensified its efforts and consultations with its partners in Canada and abroad, for example, by sharing information and through increased co-operation in the fight against terrorism.
We were also in contact with the U.S. customs service to offer our assistance where it was needed and to share information. The agency worked not only with the RCMP, but also with Citizenship and Immigration Canada and with the Canadian Security Information Service to protect the border and keeping trade routes open.
Customs officers were on heightened watch at all border points. We intensified checks of traveller identification and increased our efforts in all sectors to ensure the health and safety of Canadians. That means more questions to be put to travellers and more identity checks, screenings and referrals to immigration or other agencies.
Although extra vigilance at the land border has resulted in delays at some border points, I am confident that Canadians expect us to do whatever is necessary to keep them safe. We have tried to minimize the impact of these delays on Canadians and Canadian business by adding additional staff.
However from an economic and commercial perspective I and many businesses have been particularly concerned with congestion and delays at certain major crossings on both sides of the border. In addition to adding staff we have established a website to keep clients informed. It provides up to date information to our clients on the traffic situation at these major points of entry.
I can tell the House that we have tried as much as possible to minimize delays. We remain committed to keeping the stream of legitimate people and goods flowing across the land border.
I would now like to turn my attention to what will have to be done in the future. It is critical, and even more so in light of the events of the last few days, to improve our ability to identify high risk people and goods in Canada's airports and seaports, before they can enter our country and North America. The risk of terrorism for Canadians is much greater in the North American perimeter than at the land border with the United States.
Customs organizations around the world must continue to modernize their procedures if they want to keep up with the tactics and priorities of terrorists and other groups that pose a threat to honest citizens. This is why, in April of last year, I launched a customs reform to strengthen our ability to manage the Canadian border.
Our new approach to border management is outlined in Bill S-23. It provides the logistical framework for the customs action plan which would give us the tools to protect Canadians by focusing on high risks. At the same time it would strengthen our economy by facilitating the movement of low risk people and goods. For example, the new system would give us advance critical information on passengers and flight crews so that customs officers could make decisions on admissibility prior to their arrival.
On the commercial side, the same concepts would be implemented for goods entering Canada by enhancing the ability of custom officers to target, identify and examine high risk shipments. We are in the process of rolling out all these action plan initiatives over the next four years.
However, in light of the events of the past few days, I instructed our whole customs team to take the following measures. First, assess the feasibility of speeding up the implementation of the initiatives proposed in the action plan.
Second, focus our new protection initiatives on the perimeter, where the risk is greater.
Third, beginning today, all our procedures, both with regard to travellers and the trade sector, will be reviewed to make sure that the lessons learned from the events of last week can help identify and intercept high risk people and process goods in a more efficient way.
Moreover, as we know, Bill S-23 is now before the House and will very soon, I hope, be referred to a parliamentary committee.
Of course, I invite all parliamentarians to make comments and constructive proposals so that together we can continue to build a good and even an excellent customs system that will protect all Canadians, while taking into consideration a balanced approach regarding trade, tourism and the various types of travellers.
I express my appreciation to all Canada customs staff, particularly those who voluntarily spent their off duty time working to help colleagues after hearing about the tragic situation. Day in and day out our officers have proven their commitment to stopping inadmissible people and goods from entering Canada. I thank them for their ongoing efforts in this regard and their overall dedication to their task.
I also thank Canadians for their understanding and patience. I assure them that we are making every possible effort to maintain the security of Canada and its borders. Terrorism is an evolving phenomenon. It is critical that Canada, the United States and like-minded countries remain alert to the changing face of terrorism so that together we can fight terrorism once and for all.
In short, we have taken tow major measures. First, we have managed, during the past week, with the co-operation of the businesses and public, to deal with this catastrophe while ensuring that life continues in as normal a fashion as possible.
Second, we have a solid plan for the future, a plan that will help us successfully meet current challenges.
I cannot overemphasize the dedication and efforts of the agency's employees in recent days and I know that we can continue to count on them in the future.