Mr. Speaker, in my first speech to the House since the tragic events of September 11, I would like to take a few moments to extend my most sincere condolences to the people who have been saddened by this terrible event, on behalf of the people of Rivière-des-Mille--Îles, the people of Quebec and of Canada. I wish to assure them that they are in our hearts, in our thoughts and in our prayers.
Moving now to Bill S-23 which was passed by the Senate on June 7, the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of this bill provided certain major amendments are passed.
I would remind hon. members that the Bloc Quebecois has always been in favour of the movement of goods and services between countries, and of free trade. The proof of this is, in fact, that the government of Quebec and the Bloc Quebecois were the first to approve NAFTA under the Mulroney government. At that time, I would also remind hon. members, our friends across the way were against it.
The Bloc Quebecois and the government of Quebec were also in favour of the open skies project. They are in favour of the FTAA. The Bloc Quebecois has always been a supporter of free trade, provided individuals' rights and culture are always respected.
I will discuss the background of Bill S-23. This bill started out as a draft bill in the fall of 1998 when Revenue Canada, which has now become the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, published a discussion paper entitled “Customs Blueprint”.
In that document the department pledged first to improve the services provided; second, to ensure that businesses and travellers comply with the regulations; third, to identify efforts to end illegal activities and threats to health and safety; fourth, to promote certainty and consistency for travellers and business people.
Following this discussion paper the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency released the customs action plan for the years 2000-04. Customs new approach is based on a comprehensive risk management system that integrates the principles of self-assessment and information collection, as well as special authorizations regarding the main following features: processing techniques based on risks for travellers and business people; streamlined processes when risks are low; more thorough processes when risks are greater or when they are unknown.
Can we include in the unknown risks the new unknown risk for everyone posed by terrorism? I think so. As for the second principle, it was based on a fair and effective sanctions system.
I agree that this new approach is good in itself and implements a way of doing cross-border trading and travel much more expeditiously. It should be noted that the bill seems more geared to Canada-United States transportation. More importantly though, it could be adjusted to international travel in the near or not too distant middle future. I do not remember seeing any mention of marine transport in the bill, but we should start thinking about it.
This bill can therefore be summed up as follows: first, it provides for the expedited movement of persons and goods into Canada; second, it provides for streamlined clearance procedures for low risk passengers by pre-arrival risk assessment of passenger information; third, it provides for new requirements in respect of the provision of information obtained under that act; fourth, it provides for monetary penalties in respect of designated contraventions; fifth, it extends the deadline for requesting reviews and appeals beyond current time limits; sixth, it harmonizes provisions for the collection of amounts owing under that act with those of the Income Tax Act and the Excise Tax Act; seventh, it makes technical and housekeeping amendments; and eighth, it makes related amendments to other acts.
But let us be prudent. I would like the minister responsible for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency to be very prudent. My question this morning is this: Will Bill S-23 address all the shortcomings identified by the auditor general in his April 11, 2000 report with respect to the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency? Let us again look at what the auditor general said in his report.
We found that risk assessment is incomplete: Customs does not have important information it needs from a variety of departments and agencies to fully assess the risks its inspectors face. It needs to know where the risks are highest so it can determine the best way to control them. We have recommended that Customs work more diligently to obtain information on the risks arising from the responsibilities it carries out at ports of entry on behalf of other departments—Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, for example—and include them in its national risk assessment. It also needs to have up-to-date memoranda of understanding with those departments, setting out their respective roles and responsibilities.
This is a bit worrisome.
Another aspect of this legislation concerns us considerably, and I refer to mail searches. The bill provides a means for searches of all mail of more than 30 grams in weight. This is disturbing because it is a form of interfering with people's fundamental rights. When the bill was under consideration in Senate committee, the Canadian bar submitted an excellent brief on March 15, 2001 and I invite the Minister responsible for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency to note the position taken by the Canadian Bar Association. The points it makes are certainly important.
In closing, one point in this bill is of concern. It is the power accorded the minister. The bill also contains many regulations. Most of the points of law will be resolved by regulations.
The minister will have to define and make public the regulations he intends to make on security at Canadian customs so that they may be debated here.
The Bloc Quebecois supports the principle of the law. Indeed, goods and people must be expedited through customs, but not at all cost. I think the minister will have to make certain changes to his bill for us to support it completely.