Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the people of my constituency of Cariboo--Chilcotin to participate in the debate. The debate deals with issues we cannot consider outside the scope of what happened on September 11.
On behalf of all the people of Cariboo--Chilcotin I offer our sincere and deep regret at the loss of so many people in the United States. Our ties are so intermingled that it was true when the Prime Minister spoke in terms of friends and family. Many of us have not only friends but family in the United States. Many more of us have friends as a result of commercial relationships that have grown deep and strong. However it is those who have family in the U.S., family who are in jeopardy or who have suffered, to whom I offer our deepest regrets.
Bill S-23 seeks to amend the Customs Act and other acts to allow for the preapproval of people, goods and low risk cross-border travellers. It contains an amendment that points out the inadequacy of the bill to which I am speaking now. I have been assured there has been much consultation with industry stakeholders concerning the contents of the bill. We are told the bill is a result of such consultation.
The bill comes none too soon and perhaps much too late. Bill S-23 focuses on risk management. It would implement automated electronic reporting mechanisms such as Canpass Nexus and EPPS for preapproved, low risk commercial and personal travellers so that greater resources could be applied to so-called higher and unknown risk traffic.
Landings under the new programs proposed in Bill S-23 would be subject to random stop checks and a regime of monetary sanctions that match the frequency and severity of the infractions.
Why do we need the bill? There is a consensus among our business community, consumers and tourists that as a free trading nation we must maximize the efficiencies of moving people, products and capital across our border.
Canada and the United States have enjoyed the benefits of sharing the largest and longest peaceful border in the world. We share a border with the largest economy in the world. We need to ensure we take advantage of the opportunities of being in close proximity to such a wealthy neighbour. We must prevent any disruptions that would harm those advantages.
In 1995 we signed the Canada-United States accord on our shared border. Its goal was to promote international trade, streamline processes for legitimate travellers and commercial goods, provide enhanced protection against drug smuggling and the illegal entrance of people, and reduce costs for both governments.
Everyone agrees we must do these things to ensure our prosperity. In the past we have managed to increase Canada's trade under the free trade agreement and NAFTA. Let us look at some of the facts and figures.
The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency handles over $500 billion in cross-border trade and processes more than 108 million travellers each year. Over 87% of our trade is with the United States. The emergence of so-called just in time manufacturing and e-commerce has shortened delivery deadlines from a matter of days to a matter of hours.
All these advancements have created an exponential increase in cross-border volume. However, have we agreed with the United States on reciprocal arrangements that would prevent the bill from becoming a detriment to trade and thereby slowing the process by which our products go into the United States? We should ask for assurances that the United States will take the same measures to ensure a level playing field so that Canadian goods can flow into the United States as easily as American goods and people come into Canada.
Earlier this summer I drafted a short questionnaire for our international visitors. It came out of a number of complaints I have received from our tourism operators that some of their clients and guests have been harassed at the border.
I think of a 70 some year old lady who was detained and given a great deal of difficulty because she intended to come to Canada for more than just a few weeks to care for a sick daughter. She understood the laws and intended to obey them. However the problems she encountered were such that other people who saw them turned back to the United States rather than continue their holiday in Canada. This is only one of many instances of which I have been advised.
In Cariboo--Chilcotin we have many visitors travelling from outside Canada to our beautiful part of the world. Because of the economic situation of today these visitors are absolutely essential to our economy.
On the questionnaire I prepared I asked visitors to tell me about their experiences at our border. I will use their responses to advise the minister responsible for Canada customs about shortfalls and the lack of good service at our borders.
This is an important exercise because we want tourists to return with their vacation dollars. We want them to feel at ease and not have a problem vacationing in Canada. I am happy to report to the House that the results of the survey were mostly positive, though certainly not all.
At the same time Canadians want assurances from the government that from a national security perspective we can ensure that people, products and capital entering Canada are not an economic, medical or criminal risk.
As a result of the vicious attack on the United States on September 11, our border security has become one of the chief concerns of all Canadians. Apparently the protection of our borders, freedoms and way of life is not the chief concern of the government.
Today's debate on Bill S-23 is late and it is a weak effort under today's circumstances. The bill attempts to streamline border procedures but it is only a start. It does not take into account difficulties that we discussed in the House four, five and six years ago, difficulties that our customs and immigration people are having with their computers in communicating with the computers of other departments and other agencies, where customs and police are not on the same page and where the lack of essential information is not communicated and is not available.
It was only last spring that we were talking about adapting CPIC, the police computer system, to monitor sex offenders and to create a registry. The government turned that down. This in my view is an essential component of the protection of our citizens. The government's refusal to consider this is only another example of its lack of concern for the basic security and welfare of our own citizens.
We are all trying to engage the government in a greater debate on national security, in particular the integrity of our borders, ports, coastlines and airlines. The government continues to turn a deaf ear and to speak to us in the most rude manner. The Prime Minister is hesitating. There is no apparent willingness to move from the comfortable past to meet the urgent, threatening and dangerous challenges not of the future but of today.
Canadians want to see more effective screening and security at our borders and more effective tracking of refugee claimants and permanent residents within Canada. We want the ability to deport suspected terrorists to their countries of origin or the countries where the crimes were committed. Let me say that again: We want immediate action to detain and deport anyone in Canada illegally or failed refugee claimants linked to terrorist organizations. We want an improved ability to detect these dangerous people. We believe that our first priority should be the protection of Canadian people and the safety of all our citizens.
We all agree that the threat to our safety is real. Why will the government not take it seriously? This legislation is late and half baked. It does not meet the needs of today and that is why we cannot support it.
Before last week's terrorist assault on the United States, Canadians faced the threat of long waits at the border because the United States was threatening to implement changes. It has drawn up section 110 of the U.S. illegal immigration reform and immigrant responsibility act. These changes would require more indepth interviews and examination of documents at the border. This would cause considerable hardship to Canadians trying to do business in the United States. That is the threat the United States has been holding over the government's head. The government has dragged its feet when it comes to protecting our borders so the United States is prepared to do something about it. The U.S. has talked about doing the job for the Liberal government by using section 110 of its immigration act.
The Canadian Alliance has supported a move toward more use of technology in terms of how we handle border crossings. We support that. The idea of using the technology of retina scanners and handprint readers, the so-called biometric pass system, is necessary in today's world. We have tried to show the Liberals the work that must be done to protect our citizens and the United States from the long reach of terrorists.
I want to be clear: Canada's porous border is not a reflection on hard working men and women who serve as our customs officers. It is a result of policy decisions that shifted customs from a security mandate to the Department of National Revenue with the prime mandate of recovering tax and duty for the crown.
Our customs and immigration officers should be more than tax collectors, but that is what they have been relegated to.
That is what the Liberals are most concerned about, it seems: collecting taxes as well as collecting votes. When it comes to Canada's immigration and refugee policies, the Liberals seem most concerned about collecting these votes.
Canada has no definition of refugee. The government simply takes those who present themselves at the border and declare themselves to be refugees. Then it is our responsibility to determine the validity of these claims. Why can Canada not use a UN convention definition of refugee and predetermine which legitimate refugees should come to our country to be useful, productive and happy citizens? We need a definition of refugee. Let us make use of the UN definition and know who we are welcoming, know who is coming to our borders and know that we can trust them. There are ways of avoiding those who would come here to harm us.
David Harris, former CSIS chief of strategic planning, declared it is guaranteed that the terrorists are coming. He also referred to Canada as a big jihad aircraft carrier for launching strikes against the United States. In January 1999 a special Senate committee on security and intelligence stated very clearly that Canada is a venue of opportunity for terrorist groups.
Other former senior government staff members have expressed concern. The government has not listened. It is still not listening. The government must improve our border entry and our exit security. By not responding to the pleas from the United States concerning the openness we have enjoyed along the Canada-U.S. border, the government is jeopardizing billions of trade dollars and tens of thousands of Canadian jobs.
The government should be pursuing policies and laws that protect the lives and livelihoods of all Canadians. We must weigh the concerns about the safety of our citizens and the preservation of an open trade relationship with the United States with our humanitarian responsibility to receive genuine refugees. We can no longer have a policy of admit first, ask questions later.
If the Liberal government is not willing to increase our standard of national security, the United States will not be willing to jeopardize the safety and security of the American people by continuing open access across our long undefended border. If we do not respect and defend that border from abuse by unscrupulous people, dangerous people, it will not remain an undefended border. That would be a great shame. We must do everything for the economic well-being of our citizens, the safety of our citizens and the harmony of this precious relationship we have with the people of the United States of America.