House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was columbia.


Canada Border Services Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am not aware of that report, but I am aware of the anecdotal evidence that I hear from customs officers who feel very much at risk, particularly when they are working alone. That report is not much solace to those who are standing there by themselves, unarmed, and find themselves encountering a dangerous individual who may be on a terrorist watch list or somebody who exhibits aggressive behaviour, and they are facing a serious threat to life and limb.

My colleague referenced the GST which would be the same GST that his government was going to get rid of 10 years ago. The member sitting in front of him used to espouse how important it was to do just that. He should at least address that shortcoming before swallowing himself whole.

Canada Border Services Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

How is David Orchard, Peter? You are from the valley; you know something about those orchards.

Canada Border Services Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

The member opposite is chirping, Mr. Speaker. He seems to have awoken from his perch.

The member also referenced the fact that there are thousands of miles of unguarded borders just as there are thousands of miles of unguarded coastline. The issue is that the government is not currently staffing the existing posts where there are crossings. I understand there are over 147 land crossings and 13 marine border crossings. Yet, there is insufficient staff as it currently stands to address the day-to-day management of those particular crossings. His reference to having one stationed every kilometre is completely mute.

The current Liberal government is not staffing the 147, which arguably is insufficient, but it is not putting people in those stations as it stands. That is the issue I am trying to highlight. We can have the greatest technology, the greatest plan, the smart plan, and the fast plan, but all of that means nothing if we do not have individuals watching these posts. In some cases a pylon is put on the road in an effort to deter those from entering the country illegally. That is laughable but true. That is the situation we are facing.

Our border is seen as a porous border. It is causing concern on the American side as well. That is not to suggest there are no challenges there. The Americans have obviously taken great steps to improve border security from their perspective. That is why I am encouraged to see that there is a collaborative approach, that we are working now in lockstep with the Americans, and moving in that direction to ensure the border is protected.

We need to look at the broader picture of having a North American security perimeter. If we protect the perimeter, then the border becomes less of a threat. The hon. member and his government should be examining that as a means to improving the overall North American security perimeter. We are not living in splendid isolation here on our northern part of the continent. This is the area in which the government should be looking rather than coming up with some of these antiquated phrases that really mean nothing, if it is not going to put resources and personnel in place.

Canada Border Services Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Loyola Hearn Conservative St. John's South, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for sharing his time with me on this extremely important issue.

We wonder sometimes with what importance the government looks upon cases like this. This is an extremely important piece of legislation moving in a positive direction. That is why we support it because any positive move to make our borders more secure would have to be supported by everyone.

However, are we just looking at semantics? Are we looking at smoke and mirrors? Where is the substance? Where is the meat? Let me say to the parliamentary secretary who introduced the bill that we have in this country, on both coasts in particular, the worst protected sections of coastline in the world.

In many parts of Canada the only indicator of any presence of ocean traffic is our radar. Unfortunately, large chunks of the coastline are not covered by radar. What is even more concerning is the fact that cuts in recent years have been so great that many of the radar sites, which operate by way of towers in remote or isolated areas, have no maintenance being done them. All of this is on the public record, by the way, from witnesses who work in these very locations.

The cuts have been so deep that the people who operate in these remote sites are told that there is no regular maintenance until the service goes down. If the problem happens to be in a remote tower, getting to it depends mainly on weather because in quite a number of areas the only way of getting there is by way of helicopter. If the weather is inclement, people wait for days and sometimes weeks in order to service the towers that control the radar sites. If they happen to fly in and they do not have the right part to effect changes or repairs, then they have to wait for another opportunity to get back there again. That is one major concern simply because no money is available for regular maintenance.

A more important gap in the coverage is the fact that if we know and the people in the area involved along the coastlines know what is covered by radar and what is not, would the bad guys not know too? In the past, when we discovered drug shipments landing in remote areas or on occasion where we had boat loads of people being dropped off on our coast, why is it that this always happened just slightly outside of radar coverage? It is because these people know which areas are covered by radar and which are not.

They know where it is safe to land and drop off contraband whether it be material or people, and escape without being detected. It is only when we find people wandering around, or in some cases we would be lucky enough to discover a hiker or someone driving in a remote area, that we would know that these things happened. Suddenly, we would notice a lot of activity, trucks being loaded with bags full of what appeared to be hay and of course it was drugs. When we discover a few hit and miss situations, how much is going on that we know nothing about?

When we talk about this, the ministers involved say they have changed all of this. Any boats approaching our shores, regardless of where they were coming from, had to call ahead to give notice. They used to have to call ahead 24 hours in advance. When they were within 24 hours of our coastline on either side of the country, they would had to call the nearest site to report that they were coming so that the very people we are talking about, the Canada Revenue Agency people and any police that would be involved if there were any concerns, would be available to meet the boat to check it out.

However, they have extended that. Now, any boats coming toward our coast must call ahead 96 hours in advance to let us know, which gives us lots more time to prepare. For what? For the boats that we know are coming.

Canada Border Services Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

What if they don't call?

Canada Border Services Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


Loyola Hearn Conservative St. John's South, NL

That is the question. What if they do not call? Of course, the good guys always call. We do not have to worry about the good guys if they have guns in their cupboard. It is the bad guys who do not register their guns. We are spending $2 billion on the gun registry and the people from across the floor just voted to put another $100 million into it to keep it going for another while.

Canada Border Services Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

The member for Kings—Hants.

Canada Border Services Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


Loyola Hearn Conservative St. John's South, NL

The member for Kings—Hants, who was against the gun registry, just put another $100 million into it.

The legitimate vessels that are approaching and calling in advance to tell us they are coming, and if they call 96 hours ahead, it does not make any difference. If we cannot react in 24 hours, then it does not make much of a difference what kind of agency we have, but it looks good. However, the people who are coming here, dropping off illegal immigrants or landing dope on our coast are not calling in 96, 24, 12 or 2 hours in advance. They are just not calling. They know, as everyone else knows, that if they want to come into this country and land, they can easily find a place and nobody will know they are here.

That is what we are concerned about here. I ask members who are questioning this to check the public record and the evidence given by people who work in the very field we are talking about. They will tell us exactly what I am saying because I am speaking directly from evidence on the written record. It is a major concern.

The other way we know that there are some boats approaching our coast that are not calling ahead and preparing us for their arrival is through the overflights. We had regular flights out of Newfoundland by provincial airlines that would monitor oil spills, look out for foreign overfishing, but also keep an eye on ocean going traffic. These flights have been severely curtailed, again because of cost cuts and shifts of responsibility. We now have infrequent flights.

On paper we talk about all these agencies that we need to coordinate in order to serve us, to protect our ports, but we are not putting our money where our mouth is. The very thing we need is a strengthened Coast Guard. We have a tremendous Coast Guard and we have a tremendous individual who looks after our Coast Guard. I have the greatest respect for Mr. Adams, but give the Coast Guard the tools to work with. Give it the funding necessary to have the type of Coast Guard for which a marine country like Canada could be proud.

Yes, we can have a much more secure country. Yes, this bill can help, provided we look after the necessities of putting on the ground the equipment, the personnel and particularly the funding that it takes to do just that.

Canada Border Services Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


Werner Schmidt Conservative Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am particularly impressed with the nature of the discussion that is happening here. I am sorry that not all of the members who have spoken in the debate are currently available for comment.

I would really like to commend the kind of interaction that is taking place and the basis on which this discussion is taking place. This is a non-partisan discussion yet at the same time one that recognizes the weaknesses and the strengths in our current operation.

In particular, I would like to refer to the last speaker and the degree to which he recognizes that the weaknesses that need to be addressed are weaknesses that need to be addressed by all parties, and they need to be addressed in an objective, non-partisan way. Indeed, they are the problems of security that affect every human being. Whether they are Conservative, Liberal, NDP or from any other party is irrelevant. The significant part here is that we develop an attitude of security and a recognition that our security does not happen only because we have officers at the border, but that we have security because we all care about it.

When the hon. member has to say that some of these people who recognize that they are in danger refuse to call because they feel there will be no one at the other end of the line, that is a serious indictment. I know the hon. member speaks from experience. I would like to ask the hon. member to what degree the neighbourhood and the people who care about one another have filled the vacuum that has been created, in his observation, for a strength, a power and a service that ought to be provided by government.

Canada Border Services Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Loyola Hearn Conservative St. John's South, NL

Mr. Speaker, we have in this country a tremendously dedicated public service, particularly the people who operate in the agencies mentioned here, who are front line people who put their lives in danger quite often when they go to work. They are always working on the edge. When we look at the support they get, it is heartbreaking.

Perhaps to answer the member's question about lack of coordination and the problems that we run into, I will give him an example of something that happened off his own coast in British Columbia. We had one of the towers down. Because of the weather, the tower could not be repaired. The radar site was inoperable. Communications were out.

There was a fishing boat off the coast. One of the fishermen got a jigger in his eye. The jigger slipped while he was removing it from a fish and became hooked in his eye. One of the fishermen on the boat called to the local radar site to ask to be hooked up with a hospital, which can be done very easily and quickly when the communications set is operating properly.

The tower was down. The staff could not transmit the message to anyone. They could not hook up the boat with the hospital. The only help that could be given was from one of the workers at the site who had a first aid course. She walked the individual through the process as well as she could. That is just an example of what happens when we do not maintain our equipment. The person who told us that was actually the person who was involved. She had tears in her eyes as she told the story.

We heard many heart-wrenching stories from people who want to be able to help. They want to be able to make sure we have a secure nation. They want our borders to be secure. These people work long hours and a lot of overtime because of the areas in which they work, but they are people who beg for some assistance.

We compared what happens in some of our sites along the west coast of Canada, along the coast of British Columbia, with what was happening just south of the border in Seattle, Washington. It was like chalk and cheese in relation to the amount of support and the number of employees based per geographic area. Luckily, they cooperate with us.

I will say to members that if we would give the tools to the people who are there to do the job they would have no problems doing the work, because we have some great people on the ground. The problem is that we do not have to go any further than this very House to find out what our problem is in this country.

Canada Border Services Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today about Bill C-26. This legislation will have endless repercussions on the lives of everyone in this country. It will have an enormous impact on everyone crossing our borders, including each member of this House, like nearly everyone in this country, as well as everyone who will come here in the future.

This is an ambitious bill, with an extremely broad scope. It is the result of the events of September 11, 2001, and I want to mention that the outline of this bill was drafted in the days after the unfortunate events unfolded in New York City over three years ago already. We must not forget that the world is a very different place now.

The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-26. It is however concerned by two things: in particular, the transfer of important duties and functions from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration to the Canada Border Services Agency, a transfer that could eventually jeopardize the protection of the rights of immigrants and refugees, the right to collect, retain, use and release information with regard to the enforcement of border security legislation and agreements between the Canada Border Services Agency and other national and international entities.

With regard to repressive measures affecting immigrants and refugees, we cannot disagree with an entity that already exists in fact, whether by order in council or whether it has been in existence for ages already. We cannot question a reality. The reality is that the transfer of responsibilities from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to the Canada Border Services Agency, as Bill C-26 seeks to do, has already occurred at our borders.

Nevertheless, we can and must remain critical of the implementation of measures that will transform this system and legally establish it. In the name of protecting individual freedoms, we must ensure that the potential changes in this system will not run counter to the very foundations of our society. After the events of September 11, 2001, discussions essentially concern the fine line between individual freedoms and the protection of national security.

The Bloc Québécois is opposed to national security outweighing individual freedoms. Our sovereign neighbours to the south can evaluate the situation any way they want and make their decisions accordingly. Canada should do that as well—remain sovereign—and it should not feel obliged to make its decisions on the basis of those of its neighbour. Thus, the measures taken in anger and bewilderment, immediately after the events of September 11, must not put Canada's inherent values on the back burner.

Although the Bloc Québécois has disagreed on many points with the decisions made by the federal government in the past, it also recognizes many shared values in the common history of Quebec and Canada. Values such as democracy, peace, privacy, human rights and many others are fundamental to both our cultures.

Such tragic events should not cast their shadow over the values that have built our common history for more than 400 years. We must be very cautious when the time comes to make major changes in the way we see and interpret the world. With respect to the circulation of passengers at the new smart border, I want to point out that, if Bill C-26 were adopted in its present form, some of these fundamental changes would contradict the vision we have had up till now, both in Quebec and in Canadian society.

Until now, we have shared the point of view, in Quebec and in Canada, that it was up to Citizenship and Immigration to manage the flow of new arrivals, whether they are immigrants, refugees or visitors. Under Bill C-26, all of these people will automatically have to deal with officers of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada.

Some try to reassure us by suggesting that these will be the same employees, the same officers, who previously worked for the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. However, we must not be fooled. Two things can become one: these officers, with the change of bosses, will eventually change their mandate and their corporate mentality. They cannot change hats without changing their mission.

Furthermore, if these officers are currently the same and we agree that the uniform does not make the officer, then we must obtain assurances that when they change mandates their citizenship training—and I emphasize the word “citizenship”—will stay the same.

What I mean is that it is essential that we get assurances that these officers will not become agents of repression, but that they will uphold the precepts that unequivocally make Canada a welcoming land of liberty and an open country where rights and freedoms take precedence over all the rest.

We have a hard time imagining a public safety guardian—whose mission is to protect national security—becoming a guardian of human and individual rights. We want to stress the fact that these two mandates contradict each other and it is only natural that a person who takes care of one is not best suited to take care of the other.

On the Border Services Agency Web site it says it is “the first line of defence in managing the movement of people and goods into and out of Canada”.

It talks about defence as though an enemy army were flooding the Canadian battle fields. If this is not a way of seeing each passenger, individual, visitor or new arrival as a threat to national security, then I do not know what is.

The presumption of innocence is the foundation of the society we share. A fundamental breach of this tenet is announced here. Posting officers who are concerned with defence is the antithesis of an open border. We believe that the balance between national security and individual liberty is threatened.

We have no right to see every individual crossing our border as an enemy of the nation. While realizing that the world is not as safe a place in 2004 as it was in 1984, the Bloc Québécois nevertheless refuses to agree that it should be less free.

It is dangerous for officers of the new agency to have the authority to decide whether individuals crossing our borders have a right to enter and also to be entitled to stop, detain and deport people, all at the same time. I am talking about a single officer having the power to make all these decisions. That is not worthy of a free and democratic society. It sounds like a repressive society, which Canada is not.

Judging who is entitled to enter and who is not is a judicial responsibility. To date, all individuals dealing with immigration have had the right to defend themselves, the right to counsel and the right to argue their case.

The system may not be perfect, but the right to judicial review exists in immigration matters. This will no longer be the case if Bill C-26 is passed as it stands, because newcomers will simply be prevented from entering.

For Canada to act contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to deny individuals entering the country their basic rights is contrary to human rights. The Bloc Québécois does not agree with letting this government take that direction.

We reject the idea of initially considering anyone coming into Canada as a potential threat to national security. We want a fair process to be established, not exclusionary thinking. Our concern is that the agency may look for officers with this kind of thinking, whose main qualifications will be investigation, deportation and harassment. We find it most unfortunate that there is no review mechanism for people crossing the borders, no process for appealing the decisions made by these officers, that they are judge and executioner, and that, in other words, they have the power of life and death over people, without anyone overseeing their work.

When certain individuals cross our borders as a last resort and ask for asylum, if they are sent back to their country of origin, they often risk being tortured. Already, under our current system, there are deportation cases that end in real human dramas. And I am not talking about the consequences of the safe third country agreement, which will soon come into effect, and for which these same officers will be responsible. This agreement will have a devastating impact on the lives of many refugee claimants. But that is another issue.

I am not talking either about exceptional situations. Canada is not a country where one life may be less important than another. It is a free and democratic country where humanitarian values are paramount. It is important that Canada define its rules accordingly and not implement legislation that could possibly lead to abuse or to violations of its own intrinsic values.

I will go quickly over clause 118. It provides that the governor in council may take away other powers from Citizenship and Immigration Canada and give them to the Border Services Agency. Of course, it seems risky to leave to a single individual the authority to give powers to the agency, without debating the issue in the House.

We are told by IRB officials that the nationals of 10 foreign countries are specifically targeted. This of course goes against all the principles of our shared society, and we ask that a clause be included in Bill C-26 to prevent racial profiling. The September 11 events have already generated enough abuse and racial tensions. It is critical to put an end to this abuse, instead of encouraging it.

The Bloc Québécois is convinced that the last thing that Canada wants is to be identified as a racist, discriminatory nation, and this is why we want a special reference to this issue included in Bill C-26.

My second point has to do with the measures taken to control the exchange of information. In addition to all the measures that I just mentioned—and I have to hurry if I want to mention them all—there is a very important aspect of this bill that could lead to very dangerous potential abuse.

Once again, American pressure appears to be dictating the government's choices, an indication of outside interference. These are not Canadian values. I would again point out that the fundamental freedoms protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are the foundation of all the laws of this Parliament, which apply to all persons on Canadian territory.

If the government wants to expel certain individuals from its territory, so as not to have to honour its commitments, not only international commitments but moral ones as well, we condemn this. We would not want to attribute such an intention to the government. We therefore oppose all measures in Bill C-26 relating to the exchange of information.

Clause 119 permits the collection, retention, use, disclosureand disposal of information for the purposesof this act or for the purposes of application of the border legislation and the implementation of an agreementor arrangement entered into between the Border Service Agency and a foreign state, international organization or any other individual or organization. We do not wish to see that power extended any further.

Not only is there nothing to restrict the nature of these agreements, but there is also the possibility of information being exchanged between the Canadian Border Service Agency and any other individual or organization. This broad power to communicate information is a source of concern and of potential abuse. There is nothing stopping the minister from entering into a whole range of agreements with numerous entities. The problem lies in the fact that there is no definition of the purpose of the information sharing, nor any restriction on the type of agreements permitting such exchanges or with whom they may be signed.

It is dangerous to leave all this power in the hands of a single minister, a single individual. It seems risky for such a power not to be counterbalanced by measures to protect refugees and immigrants on whom information might be disclosed.

When a refugee claimant seeks asylum because of persecution in his or her country of origin, if there is an agreement permitting notification of that country, it is not hard to imagine the danger this places the individual in. International agreements on refugees require us to welcome these individuals, give them a place to stay, and respect their rights, but they also require us to protect them.

Once again, fears about national security must not open the door to the abuse of individual liberties. If some members of the House plan to rise, as they have already done, and reassure us, I say that defining our course of action is not the task of any one member, but rather is dependent on the legislation and conventions by which we are bound.

There is a current trend toward even greater disclosure of personal information. We must draw the line somewhere. We are saying here that the line between privacy and the protection of national security has been crossed, especially since it in no way serves the interests of Canadians to release such information to a third party.

We will not make any suppositions about the reasons why this measure was included. We will only recommend that protection of privacy and individual liberties be reinforced.

Once again, the texts of international conventions are the definitive reference on what we can and cannot do. Paranoia has no place in the decision to release confidential information, and the Arar case is a perfect example of the type of society into which such measures can lead us. This case is currently before a parliamentary commission; an indication of how contentious it can be to formulate legislation governing such behaviour.

When individual rights are curtailed, when individuals feel less free, is a country more progressive? The Bloc Québécois strongly believes the opposite is true, and Canadians clearly agree. So, before we make decisions that could lead to major changes in how Canadians live, to a fundamental shift in the values held by Canadians and Quebeckers, we must ask ourselves the following questions: are we prepared to sacrifice fundamental rights and at what price? In whose name? Are we safer or less free? Would our security be greater or our freedom more restricted? Have we truly reached the time when we must make such choices as if we were at war?

I would like to point out that we are discussing a bill. Before it ends up casting doubt on all the values underlying our shared history, before we decide whether we are creating a climate of war for ourselves, we must be prepared to accept the consequences, because they are momentous.

It is agreed that we have certain commitments to our American neighbours. But are we prepared to become unconditional allies, as their president put it during his most recent visit? Do we want to keep at least a bit of our sovereignty, or are were prepared to sacrifice everything for some vague reasons.

Bill C-26, in its current form, contains certain aberrations of a scope much broader than would appear. We must make just and enlightened decisions before there is no turning back.

For all these reasons—namely the abstract sharing of Citizenship and Immigration Canada's responsibilities with Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, which in the long run could endanger respect for and the safety of immigrants and refugees and everything related to rights and the collection and sharing of information about the people who cross our borders—the Bloc Québécois has reservations about the current application of Bill C-26.

We agree, nevertheless, with the principle of this bill and we recognize that the world is not the same in 2004 as it was in 1984. Still, we would hope that, even if the world is less safe, it is no less free. This is the unfortunate prospect that Bill C-26 opens.

Let us remain sovereign in the choices that we make in this House. Let us prepare bills consistent with our shared values and with the treaties and conventions that we have signed in the past. Most of all, let us not abandon one of our most important values: the presumption of innocence. Let us not put all our entrants in the same boat, and let us avoid any presumptions of guilt in their regard. That would be contrary to 400 years of free and democratic life.

Canada Border Services Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario


Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Vaudreuil—Soulanges for her comments.

In my speech, I described the Government of Canada's position on certain points. I would like to repeat them, because the hon. member has described something that does not exactly match the government's position.

The Canada Border Services Agency was created in order to provide integrated services at the border. The CBSA facilitates legitimate cross-border traffic of travellers and goods while stopping people and goods that pose a potential risk to Canada.

The Government of Canada is committed to protecting refugees and welcoming immigrants. This remains one of its highest priorities.

Moreover, transferring port of entry functions will not have any negative effect on the protection of immigrants and refugees. The duties of officers at ports of entry will remain the same.

I wanted to make that point and also underline the point I made in my remarks. We come from the premise that 90% or the vast majority of Canadians, whether they be individuals or businesses, want to comply with the law. However, we do have to deal with a small minority of those people who would like to take advantage of our generosity.

Canada Border Services Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to raise a critical point about what the hon. member opposite was saying.

Our position is quite simple. We are saying that we can and must remain critical in respect of the application of the measures that will transform this entity. On October 12, 2004, the government announced it was reversing two decisions. Assessing risk before referral is now the responsibility of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. The signature of two ministers responsible is needed for issuing security certificates.

We are saying that currently, individual freedoms have to be respected. The rights of immigrants and refugees must also be respected. We must keep a critical eye on the procedures implemented. We must also recognize that the Border Services Agency has highly complex responsibilities.

To name a few: it must ensure that all people coming into Canada are admissible and comply with Canadian laws and regulations. This responsibility is quite broad. The agency must also interdict inadmissible people and detain and remove persons who have been determined to be inadmissible to Canada. This also requires a great deal of coordination. Furthermore, the agency must develop policies for implementing the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, for individuals who are inadmissible for reasons of security, violation of human rights or involvement in organized crime; decide whether an immigrant who meets the inadmissibility criteria can be exempt for lack of danger; ensure payment of duties and tax; and identify and intercept goods prescribed as high risk.

I have just listed seven responsibilities. They make for a highly complex agency. As I was saying earlier, with the coming into force of the Safe Third Country Agreement, because of the level of coordination and complexity, we must keep a critical eye on the way this agency establishes procedures.

I simply want to mention to the hon. member opposite that we are not necessarily against the principles of Bill C-26. The only thing we are saying is that we must remain on the lookout, because of the complexity of this agency.

Canada Border Services Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the Bloc Québécois' immigration critic for her vigilance and her concerns, which always focus on human rights with regard to immigration.

As we know, immigration is important to each of our ridings. In the past, it was more important for the big cities, but this is no longer solely their prerogative. The Bloc Québécois has always promoted a society accepting of new arrivals.

I want to ask my colleague two brief questions. First, can she remind us why it is so important to have a review and appeal mechanism? The Bloc Québécois has long fought for this. As she will explain, we were extremely disappointed, since the Bloc Québécois has been asking for several months now for the review mechanism to be re-established. Can she tell us why this is important?

Second, can she talk about the improvements that should be made to the IRB so that the tribunal can be much more vigilant, dynamic and efficient than it currently is and so that we can put an end to the Liberal tradition of political patronage?

Canada Border Services Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my dear colleague for his question. As I was explaining earlier, this is a department with complex responsibilities. In addition, there is the role played by Citizenship and Immigration and the coordination between these two departments.

With respect to the review and appeal mechanism, it is certain that at present, we have the same concerns about the agency's services. Decisions made by officers at the borders cannot be appealed. We have some concerns about that. People have no access to a safety net or recourse. Therefore, we must be certain that justice is done. If the system is to be based on values of justice and equity, the mechanisms to support those values must also be included.

That is one of the issues we have with immigration. When a refugee receives a negative decision, the decision is without appeal. We must explain to those listening that in the beginning, there were two commissioners on the IRB. With the changes in legislation in 2002, there is only one commissioner who makes the decision to keep or deport a refugee claimant.

The fact that there is no possibility of appeal takes away a certain safety net that used to exist. Previously, if one of the two commissioners decided in favour of the claimant, the individual could remain in Canada.

One of our demands is the implementation of the refugee appeal division. That is somewhat relevant to what I said earlier. If we want a fair and equitable mechanism, we must have a means of appeal and a way to review the file of any person who believes there has been a miscarriage of justice. That is currently lacking in immigration.

Transferring that idea to Bill C-26, it is rather similar. If we want there to be justice and equity within our borders, we must make sure that we have the mechanisms in place to give people who feel they have been treated unfairly by the system a chance to appeal the decision and receive fair treatment.

Canada Border Services Agency ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate on Bill C-26.

The first thing I would like to do is acknowledge the hard work and tenacity around this issue that both our colleagues from Windsor—Tecumseh and Windsor West have focused on this. It is a huge issue for Windsor. It is not, like many in the House, a broader issue. This is Windsor's back yard.

I will mention the border delays. If members have had a chance to go to Windsor and be brought to the border by either of the two members I have just mentioned, they saw how backed up the trucks are from the bridges, many kilometres back from the actual border. This happens on a regular basis.

What is disappointing but interesting is that there are so many trucks it is affecting the small businesses that are on each side of those main arterial roads in the city of Windsor for the simple reason that people cannot turn off the main arterial road into the parking lots of these small businesses. They are literally being strangled by virtue of the fact that their customers physically cannot get to them.

This whole issue of what is happening at our border crossings has all kinds of permutations. It is important to note that Bill C-26 is not a small bill. I point to the fact that it is close to 100 pages long and contains 147 clauses, which is a lot to consider.

I heard my colleague from the Conservative Party, the member for Central Nova, talk about the fact that he felt this should be a non-partisan debate. That is fair and I accept that. We will try to gear to that, but nonetheless there are some elements in here that have to be acknowledged, such as what the status was of border crossings under the government. We must remember that it has been the government for 10 years. What was the status we found when we actually looked at it? In other words, we are fixing something, but we need to remember who broke it or did not take the time to think ahead.

The is about the future and about moving forward. However I want to bring to the fore the fact that it was the Auditor General--and I do not know what we pay the Auditor General but it is not nearly enough--who did an audit and determined a number of things. First, she found that watch lists that are used to screen visa applicants, refugee claimants and travellers seeking entry to Canada were not consistently accurate and up to date.

My friend from the Bloc just finished commenting on the concerns that she and her caucus colleagues had around some of the immigration ministry authority and powers moving over to this new entity and what that might mean to new Canadians or refugees or those who are seeking to make Canada their new home. I point to what the Auditor General found out, which is that it can cut both ways. We can have someone, who ought not be coming in, getting in because the proper information is not going where it needs to go, or, if there is an error, not that computers ever make mistakes, but in that rare moment when there is a computer mistake, and I say that very tongue in cheek, the fact that this needs to be kept up to date was found to be inadequate by the Auditor General.

It sounds like a little thing but when it is someone's life, someone's family or someone's kids who are being denied entry simply because information is either not up to date or inaccurate, that is a big deal. The Auditor General found that problem going into this.

She also found that 25,000 Canadian passports were lost or stolen each year and the information about those passports was not being made available to the front line officers. She acknowledges that those passports could be used by people who have unlawful purposes in wanting to be in Canada. However, from a common sense point of view, one would think that there would already be a system in place to make sure that if a passport, one of the most important documents in the entire nation, is lost or stolen, the information about that passport would be forwarded to the front line people we look to as being our first line of defence in terms of making sure that only those who we want in this country are getting into the country.

The Auditor General found that and that is obviously something that Bill C-26 is attempting to correct. I do not in any way want to leave any impression that it is a bad bill, but I do want to point out how we got here and what some of the problems were that we are collectively trying to solve with Bill C-26.

The last thing the Auditor General mentioned, and these are just the big pieces, was that Transport Canada was not being given access to criminal intelligence that the RCMP had when doing the screening for employees who would be working in secure areas in an airport or indeed actually having access to aircraft themselves.

I hear my colleagues murmuring around me. It is surprising to hear that kind of information and obviously it has to be treated right. By no means are we suggesting that our privacy laws should not be upheld, but by the same token it just makes sense that if there is important intelligence that the RCMP has, that there be a means to make sure that the front line people who are hiring those who are going into secure areas and will have access are people who should be given those kinds of clearances and have that kind of a security level.

Those were areas that our Auditor General found problematic and wanting, particularly in the events following September 11, and that is how we got to this point today where all of this is here.

To take in the enormity of what we are trying to achieve takes a lot of work. There are all the issues that every one of us has raised so far. In its totality, we must understand that we are talking about goods valued at $1.9 billion and 300,000 people crossing our borders every day. We could spend a lot of time, which we have and I hope members will at committee, talking about the security side of things, but I would hope that we recognize, and these are the issues that our colleagues from Windsor are bringing up all the time, that security and safety obviously are paramount but that we have to do this in a way that is intelligent and efficient so that we are not disrupting the critical flow of goods and people back and forth on our borders with the U.S.

Being from Hamilton and representing downtown Hamilton, certainly in terms of the steel industry, we talk a lot about just in time delivery. If we were to talk to anybody who lives near a border city, they would tell us the nightmares that a lot of manufacturers are going through because they have things timed in such a way. For instance, we did a tour recently of the transmission plant at General Motors in Windsor. I would urge any member who has an opportunity to take it because there is a lot there to be learned. One of the things they talked about was that transmissions built there in the morning could easily find themselves installed in a newly assembled vehicle in the United States by the end of the day. It is hard to make that system work if the equipment is sitting in a truck 20 kilometres from the border where it has been sitting for four hours, and the driver has no idea of when it will get to where it is going.

I cannot say this enough, because I would not want anyone to think that we are not taking security seriously, believe me we are, as every member of the House does. However there does have to be that balance where we have the ability to efficiently move goods and people across the border. That will take training, new technologies and new systems of dealing with the processing of goods and people. It will take a lot of work and a lot of thought but we need to do it. It is imperative, both for our security and for our economy.

If the parliamentary secretary is planning to comment, which he may or may not, but if he does, I hope he acknowledges that the government is embracing the notion that they have to deal with both sides of this equally and that both are important, and that if either side fails then collectively we have let our country down. It is just that important.

The member from Newfoundland spoke about the staff, the front line people. I want to underscore, on behalf of our caucus, that message because it is critical. As we all know, we can have the greatest plans, policies, ideas, goals and lofty ideals in the world, but without the people on the front line who will make it happen, it is really just words and hot air. If we stand back and acknowledge how important it is and how difficult it will be, we had better appreciate the people on the front line. They need the numbers, the training and adequate equipment to do their jobs.

It is not the easiest job in the world. Although not exactly the same, to some degree I would liken it somewhat to officers pulling cars over on the highway. They are never a 100% sure what they will find when they walk up to that car. Border crossing staff, support staff and others, all who are employed, never know what they will face. Given some of the dynamics in our world at this time, we have to be cognizant of their needs as citizens, as employees of the government and as protectors of our border. They need to be treated with the respect and importance they deserve. If it takes funding to ensure that the training, numbers and equipment are there, then that money bloody well better be there. It is just that important.

Last, in acknowledging that we will support the bill going to committee, as we can see from the comments made by not only me on behalf of our NDP caucus, but also other colleagues, there is a lot of work to be done. The bill could be perfect, but I doubt it. I do not think I have ever seen a perfect bill. Therefore, there is always work to be done.

Given the importance in some of the areas, which will not be easy to work out, I hope the committee has the opportunity to dig into these things in a meaningful way, simply because of its overall importance.

I would like to caution the government a little. It is my understanding that the agency has been up and running for about a year and we are doing the paper work after the fact. I have spent 13 years in majority government situations at the provincial level, and have sat on both sides of the House. I know that when a bill is introduced in the first year of a four year majority government, there is a fairly high degree of certainty that it will become the law simply because with a good healthy majority government bills do not lose. Things can happen sometimes. This may indeed be one of those. I do not know. It obviously predates the last election.

However, the government that it needs to be careful. In a minority situation, it could easily find out, having gone stampeding out through the gate and setting something up, starting to pull pieces into place, spending money, hiring people, doing studies and all these things, at the end of the day the majority of the House might not agree with the government. Since the government does not control the majority, the only thing that is lawful is what Parliament says is lawful. Therefore, I would add that cautionary note for the government.

This predated the election, although I do not know if we want to make a big deal about that. However, it is worth at least pointing out that in a minority situation, as we are all going through these new untested, uncharted waters to some degree in the modern era, the government ought not get too far ahead of itself. It should remember that it is in a very different dynamic than it has been for the past decade.

Let us ensure we get the horse in front of the cart, pass the legislation and then take the action, not the other way around.

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5:15 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario


Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I want to comment on two particular points my colleague raised.

First, the department strives for perfection, but I do not think Bill C-26 is perfect. That is why bills come before Parliament. I am sure my colleague understands that the decisions of December last were made because the government could not wait around for the endorsement of the House when the security of Canadians was at stake. The government took action to bring these various agencies and groups together under one roof so it could have better coordination and ready access to information, as the member cited.

We are not creating any new powers or authorities under the new department or agency. Some efficiencies could be obtained. An immigration officer could call up information that otherwise might be awkward to pull up. There will be some efficiency, some synergy. The whole reason for this is so various groups can share information respecting fully, as the member cited, the need for privacy. The legislation would not change anything with respect to those authorities.

Having talked about the need for coordination, the member should be inclined to support the bill. I hope his colleagues will as well. Bringing these government functions under one roof is an important step for our government to take. It will result in a more coordinated and a more strategic focus on that.

If the member glanced through the 9/11 report that came out of the United States, he would find that this is a challenge governments face worldwide. We have to ensure that various agencies and departments talk to each other. The member cited inter-operability, as did other members. We are striving to ensure that radio systems can communicate with each other and that those protocols are standardized. We still have work to do, but much progress has already been made.

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5:20 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think all of us are like-minded in moving forward. This will be one of those times when we may have disagreements along the way about how we do something, but no doubt we are all resolute in the raison d'être of the bill and the absolute critical need to ensure that our borders are as safe as possible as well as being efficient as possible. I have no doubt we share that goal.

Again, I want to be perfectly clear that our caucus is certainly supportive, at the very least, to getting it to committee. I would not want to hazard beyond that. I am not criticizing it in any great detail at this point. It is up and running. Something needed to be done. We need to get it to committee. We will see where we are at in committee and if there are some changes that gets us close to perfection, I know we will want to roll our sleeves up and do that work.

Let me say two quick things to the hon. member. First, I appreciate the fact that after September 11 a lot of deficiencies were found in the American intelligence system. To the Americans credit, they have had a number of reviews of that and publicized their findings. People in very senior positions have had to take some hits and responsibility because of lack of planning ahead of time, which contributed to September 11. We did not have those kind of reviews, but I want to ensure that we put on the table the fact that we had similar serious problems here. We were not looking any further ahead than the Americans or anybody else. One could call that a partisan shot, but it is part of the history and needs to be provided to put things in context on how we got there.

Second, I accept the fact that the government had to move quickly. I accept the fact that a majority government would have no reason to think the bill would not pass. I have some trouble with the specific comment of the parliamentary secretary that it could not wait around. This is a minority situation. If it happened now, I do not imagine the government would dare run off, spend money, hire people and create an agency without first getting the approval of the House.

If timing was an issue in terms of responding quickly and having to beef up our security in a very quick rapid way, I believe the government would find it would get the support of the House. We are not here to hurt the country. We are here to do the right thing. If that means moving quickly, then by unanimous consent the House can do anything. I have a little problem with that being the reason. I think it is more the fact that the Liberals were in power with a majority for so long, it never really occurred to the government, in any serious way, that its bill would not pass.

I thank the parliamentary secretary for his attention and for taking the time to comment.

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5:20 p.m.


Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia.

I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-26 to establish the Canada Border Services Agency, which will provide integrated border services and facilitate the flow of persons and goods across our border.

This bill is of particular interest to me given that my riding of Langley is on the international border with the United States and I have a border crossing in my community.

As members know, the policy of the Conservative Party is to develop a strategic partnership with the United States to ensure that both security and trade issues are resolved in Canada's best interests. We are hopeful that the creation of the CBSA will assist in achieving those goals.

The CBSA is responsible for the smart border program, including Nexus, which expedites pre-approved low risk travellers, and FAST, which expedites the movement of low risk goods.

For the transportation industry in my riding, border clearances are a giant headache. We have heard other members speak on that problem. According to the British Columbia Trucking Association, located in Langley, the typical trucker has to contend with the usual security check as well as completing the time consuming and complicated forms while waiting for the government agents to arrive so they can approve the truck's contents.

With increasingly frustrating waits at the border and a trucking industry that lacks enough personnel, the in-demand truckers now realize that they can afford to stop crossing the border and are considering just driving within Canada. If that were to happen, there would be a loss of international trade.

The Aldergrove border, which is in my riding, is currently closed from midnight to 8 a.m. The issue of opening Aldergrove to a 24/7 crossing needs to be considered. The Aldergrove crossing is at the south end of provincial Highway No. 13. At the north end of Highway No. 13, intersecting with Trans-Canada Highway No. 1, is a large Canadian industrial park known as Gloucester Industrial Estates. Along Highway 13 is Aldergrove's Department of National Defence military base. To add to that, we have the Abbotsford International Airport, which is only 10 kilometres to the east.

It is easy to see that if Canada-U.S. truck traffic were permitted to flow efficiently at this crossing, it would be of tremendous benefit to the economic future and life of Langley and the surrounding communities.

I would like to speak regarding illegal border drugs. Interstate 5 in Washington state, just to the south, is the west coast pipeline not only for trade but also for illegal drugs. The issue of illegal drugs crossing the border is a hot topic in Washington state.

Washington and B.C. share the third busiest border crossing in the country. Prosecutors and sheriffs in Whatcom County are currently seeking a $1 million U.S. grant to help deal with crime spawned by their border crossing with British Columbia. This money is needed to deal with a large range of offences, including drug prosecutions, money laundering and auto theft.

According to Dave McEachran, the prosecuting attorney with Whatcom County:

--we have a huge flow of B.C. bud coming down and we've got cocaine going up to B.C., along with laundered money and guns.

While law enforcement is involved in intercepting criminals on both sides of the border, U.S. authorities are lamenting Ottawa's approach toward decriminalizing marijuana and its link to organized crime in Canada.

It is unclear at this time how many immigration officers will be financed by the new Canada Border Services Agency to combat illegal immigration, people smuggling and trafficking. In fact, people smuggling is not just an overseas problem. In my riding, people smuggling is second only to drug smuggling. Immigrants from the Philippines, Mexico and Korea are paying smugglers to bring them across the border.

The bushes at the border are riddled with well-worn paths used by smugglers. Some of the trails are even named, including the most popular, the Ho Chi Minh trail, named by the local law enforcement. Security cameras in place on the border are not solving the problems, because there still is insufficient manpower in place to actually apprehend illegal immigrants.

Front line border guards must be resourced properly to do their jobs. We have heard that from other members. Canadian customs officers have asked for backup from armed police at some of the busiest airports and border crossings. Recent stories of border guards working alone have raised concern.

My hon. colleague from Kootenay—Columbia, who will be speaking next, has made it clear that two guards are needed at each crossing. This was tragically demonstrated after border crossing guard Adam Angel fell ill and then tragically died while working alone.

As well, a female border guard was forced to work alone with faulty communications equipment. None of her colleagues were able to notify her that a potentially dangerous felon could be on his way to her border crossing while she was working alone.

These types of stories should not happen in this day and age when we should put the safety of our staff as a high priority.

Appropriate staffing levels at Canadian border crossings should also be a priority for another reason: terrorism. The 9/11 attack was the impetus for the Anti-terrorism Act, the allocation of $8 billion for national security, and the implementation of the airline security tax.

With the establishment of this new Canada Border Services Agency, we must be under no illusions about the severity of terrorist attacks on Canadian soil. Our top national security adviser, Robert Wright, has stated:

Osama bin Laden has publicly identified Canada as a country he believes his followers should attack. He ranked Canada as fifth out of seven countries, and every other country on that list has already been attacked...So this is not someone else's problem.

In fact, an Ottawa intelligence report states that al-Qaeda apparently considers Canada a legitimate target because of the presence of our troops in Afghanistan. The report surmises that terrorists might attack Canada in retaliation for the arrest of a few alleged al-Qaeda associates, including at least one from Vancouver whose deportation is currently being sought. That does not just hit close to home; it lands in our front yard.

Another recent national security warning comes from Colin Kenny, chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence. Mr. Kenny criticized this Liberal government for ignoring a Senate report which concluded that most Canadian cities would not be able to cope with the devastating impact of a major terrorist strike.

Kenny said Ottawa has been lax in several security areas, including the protection of electrical transmission systems and oil pipelines. As well, we need better surveillance on our coastal waters, which stretch nearly a quarter of a million kilometres, making them the longest undefended borders in the world. Kenny says, “They are vast, they are vulnerable, and, unfortunately, they are largely unattended”.

There is much more to be achieved before Ottawa can claim to be able to defend itself against terrorism. According to Martin Rudner of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies:

--the government has not done nearly enough to address terror threats to our infrastructure--especially when it comes to the energy sector. It has failed to actively crack down on fundraising for terrorist and terrorist-affiliated groups, despite legislation to enable such a crackdown, and the Tamil Tigers--responsible for more of the world's suicide bombers than any other group--have not yet been outlawed by Cabinet.

Why not?

While somewhat improved, our intelligence agency still falls short of the necessary level of sophistication, mostly due to the lack of sufficient funding that also plagues the RCMP. Our immigration system, which has roughly 36,000 failed refugee claimants lingering long past their deportation orders, is simply not tight enough for any country that takes security threats seriously.

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5:30 p.m.


Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to again debate this particular topic. You may be aware that last week I had an opportunity as well to rise on this as a question. I see that the gentleman who had the opportunity to respond to my question is also in the House so perhaps we will be continuing our debate.

While we are in favour of going ahead with something that is already in place--it almost becomes redundant--I think it is important to take the opportunity to draw to the attention of the House this fact. Although we are going ahead with the necessary legislation to put this agency into effect, in fact and yet once again the government has brought us to a point where, although we have the necessity of a border guard, a border crossing control, for the sovereignty of our country and the security of the people of Canada, the government has turned around and completely under-resourced this absolutely vital entity.

Nothing makes this more profound than if I read to the House from the “CCRA Interim Policy on the Handling of Armed and Dangerous Lookouts”:

This memorandum is intended to disseminate to the Customs inspectors, the interim CCRA policy on the handling of individuals who are the subject of armed and dangerous lookouts.

Should a Customs Officer encounter an individual who is identified as being the subject of an armed and dangerous lookout, the Customs Officer should allow the individual to proceed and immediately notify the police and provide as much detail as possible to enable apprehension.

This interim policy will remain in effect until a longer term strategy on armed and dangerous lookouts is developed in consultation with our partners.

This is really quite pitiful.

I can relay two stories to members. One of them is from my constituency, which was relayed directly to me, and is about one of the customs officers who was on shift by himself in the middle of the night. Members may recall that this was the topic of my last debate, the fact that he should not have been on shift by himself, but he was.

He was confronted by two individuals in a vehicle who were about to proceed across the border at the border crossing of Roosville. The border crossing is an hour and a quarter away from Fernie, which is the closest RCMP detachment. It was three o'clock in the morning. The officer took a look at the two individuals in the car and came to the conclusion that they were pretty dangerous people. As a consequence, he waved them on through. He then called the RCMP in Fernie, as I say, an hour and a quarter's drive away, and was told by the person there, “Well, I can't do anything about it, because I'm on shift all by myself”.

There we had two people who the customs officer, and I have no reason to question his judgment, felt were very dangerous people. As a consequence of that, he called the RCMP, following this directive, only to be told there was nothing the RCMP could do about it either. That is the state that these Liberals have allowed us to get to here in Canada.

I have another story. Two customs officers noticed a car speeding through the Pacific crossing just south of Vancouver. It was in the middle of the day. As the car sped through, they recognized one of the people in the car as somebody who should have stopped; certainly they would have loved to interdict the person.

The two of them hopped into their vehicle and chased the car. They went down all the streets and through the freeways and, using their own personal cellphones, alerted the police to the fact that these two armed and dangerous people--they assumed they were armed and dangerous--were on the loose. Due to the customs officers shadowing the car, the police found these people, who indeed were armed, indeed were dangerous and indeed did have drugs in their car.

Everybody was really happy about this, because that meant these customs officers had done their job and the police had intercepted them so Canada was safe.

Do hon. members know what the reward was for the customs officers? It was a severe reprimand for leaving their border. Where is the common sense and logic to this?

At the Pacific crossing, contrary to Roosville and Rykerts and the other crossings in my constituency, which are undermanned, there is a certain complement of personnel at the border on the Canadian side at the Pacific crossing. What did the customs officers get for using their common sense, for using their courage and for having the conviction that they would pull these people over and indeed for getting the job done? They were seriously reprimanded and I believe even lost pay over the fact that they had left their posts.

What is wrong with this picture? Although the federal Liberals are constantly talking about the fact that they take our border security very seriously, they are not providing the resources. We are not only talking about money, but about the personnel that would flow from the money, and certainly not the equipment. On top of that, the border agents are in a position where they are not even integrating with sufficient backup and support from the RCMP and other police forces.

I do not understand a government that would be doing this to us at a time in our world's history when we are faced with some very malevolent forces in the world. Those forces could choose to come into our country at a time when we are trying to build a working relationship with our friends to the south, who are after all our biggest trading partner. Why is the government constantly underfunding and under-resourcing? The border agents are not only under-resourced in manpower and equipment, but, as I read in this interim policy, they are under-resourced in terms of this policy.

What drew this to my attention was the unfortunate passing of Adam Angel. Just to refresh everyone's memories, that occurred while he was working by himself. He should not have been working alone. He was ill the entire night long, to the point that by six o'clock in the morning he was literally on death's door. I do not know if he made it to the hospital. He was by himself. Why did he not contact anyone? I do not know the answer to the question about Adam Angel, but I know that 30% of the time the ability of these officers to contact anybody is either limited or non-existent.

Most of the time the information that is passed up the line from the U.S. side of the border is not even available to them. Other times, because of under-staffing, the backup and support they are supposed to be receiving from their supervisors, casting no aspersions on their supervisors, is not there because sometimes the telephones are not on. How seriously do the Liberals actually take Canada's border security? Not very seriously.

I also have in hand something called the “Canadian Customs Officers Critical Incident Summary Report”. In this particular instance, there was a situation at Rykerts, just south of my riding, where the border guards were actually taken hostage by people. There are over 200 incidents in this critical incident summary report. It was shut down by management because it did not want a continuation of the compiling of these critical incidents.

This legislation should be going forward, but I seriously question the actual seriousness of the federal Liberals about the safety and security of Canadians.

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5:40 p.m.


Werner Schmidt Conservative Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member who just spoke raised some very significant issues. I would like to ask him about the reference he made to the critical incidents that have been reported and that for some reason now they are not reported anymore.

I am wondering how the supervisor or the minister in charge would ever know exactly where the weakest spots were in the system if there was no way of finding out where the critical incidents happened, what the conditions were surrounding those critical incidents, and how those critical incidents could be avoided in the future or at least be treated in such a way to reduce the number of critical incidents. How would they know if they were simply saying that they are not going to find out whether there are any incidents? Who knows if there are more of these and if more lives are in danger?

These people, who are at the border, are there all alone in some cases, as the hon. member just indicated. They have families and they have people who depend on them. Can we imagine the terror that the wife or the family of a border guard is experiencing, wondering if this is the night that a critical incident will happen at that border crossing? I wonder if the hon. member could speak to that just a little further.

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5:45 p.m.


Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, indeed the whole issue of stopping the reporting of critical incidents is a very serious issue within itself. The Liberals are just trying to put their heads in the sand.

I could give an example from 1999 from the border at Rykerts. A subject appeared suspicious and the customs officer referred him to a secondary officer. The subject momentarily parked then fled. A 911 call was made to police who began the pursuit. The subject was stopped with a spike belt 150 kilometres away. When the subject exited his crashed vehicle, he began shooting at police officers. The subject was a U.S. felon who was fleeing apprehension in the U.S.

This is the level of the problem that we have. At the Ambassador Bridge, two fully automatic rifles, a .45 calibre handgun and a martial arts weapon were found undeclared on two men from Missouri. Both men were charged, convicted and given a 30 day sentence. In Patterson, two customs officers located a large weapons cache consisting of two rifles and four handguns.

These customs officers are doing a job for the security of our country and in return they basically get lip service from the federal Liberals. What the opposition is calling for, demanding, is that the federal Liberals step up to the plate with the proper resources, that we get to the end of this, and rather than, as my friend has said, shutting off the ability to come up with a critical incidents summary report, actually getting on with the job of giving the officers the ability to get the job done.

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5:45 p.m.


David Kilgour Liberal Edmonton—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, would my hon. friend give us more of his thoughts about what additional measures he would like to see in order to deal with this very serious problem that he has been discussing?

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5:45 p.m.


Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, the answer to the hon. member's question is more personnel. There must be more personnel in order to do the job. The second part of the answer is to have the proper equipment available that personnel. The third part of the answer is that we must have negotiation and cooperation between ourselves and the U.S.

Right now the federal Liberals are telling us that if there is a problem for a border guard who is working by himself, he can go across the border. The fact of the matter is that he cannot. There is no protocol. There is no agreement with the United States in the majority of the situations. It is only under the most extreme situation that there can be any actual physical cooperation. It would only be in an overwhelming situation that the U.S. border guards would actually be able to go back and forth.

I have one last point. In the case of Rooseville, there are 10 Canada Revenue Agency employees. Facing them immediately across the border, there are 29 on the American side. It just talks to the whole issue of resources.

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5:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Is the House ready for the question?