Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address this bill which is of critical importance to the future of international trade.
The bill provides for:
—the expedited movement of persons and goods into Canada;
(b) streamlined clearance procedures for low risk passengers by pre-arrival risk assessment of passenger information;
(c) new requirements in respect of the provision of information obtained under that Act;
(d) monetary penalties in respect of designated contraventions;
We can only support any government initiative designed to facilitate trade and speed up customs procedures. We can only support a bill that can improve these aspects and thus ensure that our country can export its goods and services more easily to the United States and even elsewhere in the world while promoting cordial relations with our trading partners.
This is why we support in principle Bill S-23 introduced by our learned colleague the hon. member for Outremont.
However we must be extremely careful because the government has the unfortunate tendency to introduce bills that refer to all sorts of provisions and regulations that have yet to be drafted. When regulations can be twice as long as the bill itself, it is cause for concern because we are not getting the full picture.
Several of the bills introduced by the government in recent years had this unfortunate feature. For example, the Bank Act provides that regulations will come later. In the case of certain provisions, we are still waiting for these regulations.
Another problem with Bill S-23 that also existed with the Bank Act is the very broad discretionary powers given to the minister responsible, in this case the Minister of National Revenue, who is in charge of customs.
We must avoid this kind of situation since we can only evaluate a bill on its merits if it includes specific provisions. In the bill before us, there are at least three issues that deserve a much more indepth review than is now possible without the regulations.
First, when the government talks about expanding the CANPASS program so that more exporters and importers can move their goods more rapidly through customs simply by showing their CANPASS membership card, we may well wonder how we can evaluate the fairness and impact of this measure if we do not know what criteria is used when deciding whether certain exporters or importers should be allowed to qualify for the CANPASS program. They will be able to pass through Canadian and U.S. customs more quickly. Another category will be refused CANPASS accreditation after their cases are considered.
How are we to evaluate the fairness of this decision? What avenues of appeal are open to exporters and importers? It is important that the criteria for accreditation be clearly known.
Why? Because those who qualify under the CANPASS program will have a competitive advantage over their competitors. Why? Because they will be able to point to their CANPASS accreditation as a business advantage and tell their clients “I guarantee you that there will be no wait at Canadian customs. I will be able to clear the goods, and you will receive them faster than if you use my competitor who does not have a CANPASS”.
It becomes a bit like the ISO standard in industry. It becomes a symbol of recognition of the performance of these exporters or importers. If a company obtains CANPASS accreditation and another company in the same sector or in another Canadian province does not, we need to know why. Because the former has an advantage over the latter, as it would in the case of ISO standards, because it can show that it is able to expedite its shipping contracts for its clients.
The second example concerns the system for expediting passenger movement. We have no indication of the criteria which will be used. It is a bit disturbing when the minister is being given discretionary power, or we are waiting for regulations yet to come, but we do not know the criteria that will be used in awarding these accreditations.
This would also allow—and the privacy commissioner highlighted this problem with Bill S-23—Canada Customs agents to open packages weighing over 30 grams. Once again this raises some issues. Surely there is some way to limit this power to open mail without a warrant and without any legal reason. Surely there is some way to better define this aspect of the bill. This is what we will work on in the coming weeks.
While we support this bill in theory since it will help simplify trade, we have some serious concerns with regard to provisions contained within the bill. To this end, we are asking—and I am sure that we will have the co-operation of the minister responsible—that the minister provide us with the bulk of the regulations at the same time as we are studying the bill in committee specifically, so that we can get the whole picture of the situation.
Incidentally, I would invite the minister responsible for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency to come up with a work plan to review new provisions regarding international trade, as well as the existing ones, in light of the new circumstances, that is, the tragedy that took place some ten days ago in the United States.
Obviously, increasing security means tightening certain customs regulations and increasing the resources allocated to border surveillance. I hope the minister already has a work plan to review how Canada protects its borders and to ensure that this is improved in view of the new and terrifying events that took place in the United States the week before last.
Finally, I would ask the minister responsible, because this is part of his mandate, to try to see how we could neutralize, in the near future, the work of money laundering organizations that conduct their activities all over the world and often have a base of operations in Canada. I would ask the minister—because it is ultimately his responsibility—to review, in co-operation with the Minister of Finance, even though it is the Minister of National Revenue who is responsible for their implementation, the tax treaties signed with some countries that are deemed to be tax havens.
Since 1993 we have been asking the government to review these tax treaties, to provide more resources so as to put pressure on these tax havens to stop their unfair way of processing tax resources and particularly money laundering activities, given what happened in the United States and given the statements made by the western world regarding the fight against tax havens and money laundering, which are the source of wealth of terrorist groups. The government should take a serious look at this issue. I will complete my speech after oral question period.