Mr. Speaker, the vital importance of the Canada-U.S. border and the very special long-standing relationship it protects came into sharp focus for the citizens of both nations on September 11, 2001. What many of us may have taken for granted in the past suddenly took on a much greater significance. We began to understand that a strong, secure border was essential to our personal health and safety as well as the economic well-being of our country.
We fully grasp that Canada and the United States are linked, not only by geography but also by shared values and a social interconnection. Ensuring the security of the border is in our mutual best interests.
The events of 9/11 cannot be ignored, however, the challenge is much more than the Canada-U.S. border. We live in a global neighbourhood that brings benefits like increased international trade and intercultural exchange, yet it also presents unprecedented challenges from terrorism and cyber crime, to trafficking in illegal weapons and migrants, to globe-trotting viruses that kill people, and infestations of beetles that kill our forests. All these challenges pose a threat to our cherished way of life.
Mr. Speaker, there is no role more fundamental for government than the protection of its citizens. That protection includes, but extends beyond, their physical safety. It encompasses the security of our economy and society at large. It also recognizes our social interconnection with citizens of other countries.
The Canada Border Services Agency, the CBSA, has been created to provide integrated border management. The agency's role is to facilitate legitimate cross-border traffic and support economic development while protecting Canada's sovereignty and stopping people or goods that pose a threat to Canada. It is the first line of defence in managing the movement of people and goods into and out of our country.
The CBSA has been designed to improve and accelerate protection initiatives already in place and to develop more strategic approaches to border security that keep pace with new and emerging threats coming at us on all fronts.
The Canada Border Services Agency can more effectively identify and intercept threats so that we can get on with the business of growing the economy and strengthening Canadian society.
The bill before us today establishes the Canada Border Services Agency as a corporate body and defines its mandate, powers and authorities. The bill's key objective is to implement the government's decision of December 12, 2003, to create a border services agency.
Establishing the CBSA as a legal entity is a government machinery change aimed at vesting in the CBSA the same powers and authorities that existed in the three legacy organizations: the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Furthermore, this machinery change reflects a more strategic approach by the government in dealing with border issues. The legislation also includes consequential amendments to various statutes to reflect changes which are generally of an administrative nature.
The Canada Border Services Agency builds on the legacy of the departments and agencies that form it. The new organization is the result of a merger of border-specific responsibilities of three equal partners. It includes customs responsibilities previously vested with the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, as well as portions of the appeals and compliance branches that support customs.
It has assumed the intelligence, interdiction and enforcement programs and the immigration program at ports of entry from Citizenship and Immigration Canada. In addition, it includes the import inspection at ports of entry program, previously with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, to achieve a truly integrated port of entry.
Collectively, the personnel of the CBSA now administer and enforce 90 laws governing trade and travel, as well as international agreements and conventions that were once divided among the three organizations.
The CBSA will provide integrated regulatory services and controls at Canada’s border, implementing legislation and programs on behalf of other government departments and agencies.
The agency also works to advance Canadian economic competitiveness and social and humanitarian interests, both nationally and internationally, through our networks and partnerships.
One of the key objectives of the CBSA is to build on the substantial progress already made under the Canada-U.S. smart border declaration to advance our two nations' shared twin goals of public safety and economic security.
The CBSA takes a multi-faceted approach to border management that builds on the experience and expertise of its founding members. Having all border services centred in one agency means we can share the right information at the right time among ourselves and with our domestic and international partners.
At the same time, the CBSA is committed to upholding Canadians' privacy rights guaranteed under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The collection and use of personal information under this bill will be managed in accordance with the law.
By strengthening interoperability and intelligence, we can more readily identify high risk arrivals and speed up the processing of the vast majority of people and goods legitimately moving in and out of the country. This is a crucial function within the larger Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada portfolio, operating under the national security umbrella but firmly focused on the border.
The agency is led by a president and executive vice-president, as well as other vice-presidents responsible for the agency's various branches. They report to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada. In turn, the minister reports to Parliament.
The mandate of the Canada Border Services Agency includes the following: promoting and facilitating a level playing field of legitimate travellers and traders; ensuring that all travellers coming into Canada are admissible and comply with Canadian laws and regulations; processing all commercial shipments that cross our ports of entry to ensure that Canadian laws and regulations are adhered to, that no illegal goods enter or leave the country and that related trade statistics are accurate; making sure all applicable duties and taxes are paid; detaining those who may pose a threat to Canada; removing people who may have been determined inadmissible to our country, including those involved in war crimes or crimes against humanity; and finally, ensuring food safety and plant and animal health by identifying and interdicting high risk regulated commodities arriving at our air, land and sea ports.
To carry out this mandate, the CBSA employs about 11,000 public servants who serve some 170,000 commercial importers doing roughly $2 billion in cross-border trade daily, as well as more than 92 million travellers each year.
The agency's employees are engaged in everything from preventing contaminated goods from entering the food chain to reuniting more than 100 missing children with their families each year, to referring roughly 2.5 million people for secondary immigration inspections, to handling over 11 million commercial releases and 24 million courier shipments, and to conducting seizures of illegal drugs worth in excess of $400 million on the street.
The Canada Border Services Agency operates in a real-time environment, providing service at over 480 air, sea and land ports of entry, 24 hours a day seven days a week at some of its busiest locations, and at 39 locations overseas. This enables us to deal more quickly and effectively with trade and security concerns, both here at home and abroad.
To give Canadians a sense of just how extensive these responsibilities are, consider that there are nearly 1,400 Canada border service locations across Canada, including air, land and sea crossings.
Regardless of where they are located, Canada Border Services Agency employees apply a risk management approach to the work they do. By this I mean that the agency operates on the basis that the vast majority of people and companies wants to comply with the law.
Our employees work hard to ensure that these people are able to quickly enter or leave our country so they can go about their business. However, they take strong enforcement action against high risk individuals and businesses that endanger our health and safety or the economy. They do this by getting as much advance information as possible to expedite the passage of people and cargo crossing the border.
The agency has a broad range of pre-approval programs that let us speed up the processing of low risk legitimate travellers so we can concentrate on those who pose a risk.
There is a variety of initiatives aimed at businesses to ensure the fast and secure passage of their cargo, which is absolutely essential to businesses in these days of just in time delivery. The majority of the initiatives were developed in consultation with and are carried out in partnership with the business community.
Similarly, there are numerous pre-screening programs for frequent travellers at our airports and land border crossings. Many of these initiatives use advanced technologies that increase the speed and accuracy of identification so we can quickly process those we know and trust.
This lets us focus on high risk arrivals, whether terrorists or travellers with highly contagious new diseases that put our personal and national security at risk and undermine the confidence of our trading partners.
Another way that CBSA reduces the risks to Canadians is by “pushing the borders out”. Borders are no longer limited to lines between countries. In the 21st century, a multiple border strategy is required in order to interdict high risk travellers and cargo even before they arrive in Canada.
The agency works closely with international partners, including the United States and the European Union, to address threats at the earliest opportunity. This work, which is largely carried out by the Canada Border Services Agency officers abroad, includes collaboration on visa policies between our embassies and host governments. We also have a responsibility to our international partners and the broader international community to ensure the security of our border.
It is important to understand that while the Canada Border Services Agency is vigilant in protecting our citizens and economy, it manages our borders in a way that reflects Canadians' values, the rule of law, equality of opportunity, fairness and compassion.
We are not prepared to compromise Canada's international reputation as an open society. We will continue to fully respect our international obligations with regard to persons seeking protection.
Yet neither are we willing to endanger our society by being complacent with respect to high risk individuals and organizations who would exploit our generosity.
The Canada Border Services Agency understands that facilitation and security are not mutually exclusive but equally essential and interdependent. Striking the right balance between facilitation and security will enable Canada to achieve its immigration goals and enhance the North American security agenda.
It is also important to recognize that the CBSA deals strictly with security matters at our ports of entry when it comes to the processing of people.
Refugee advocacy groups may continue to express concern with the move of Citizenship and Immigration Canada's port of entry operations, as well as its enforcement branch, to the Canada Border Services Agency. I recognize their concerns with regard to this issue and offer assurances that those individuals who arrive in Canada seeking protection or admission will be treated fairly and in accordance with our international and legal obligations.
While the Canada Border Services Agency is responsible for the ongoing delivery of immigration operations at ports of entry, Citizenship and Immigration Canada maintains responsibility for functional guidance and policy development.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada will continue to focus on citizenship, selection, settlement and integration of immigrants, while also offering Canada's protection to those in need. It will continue to issue visas and to develop admissibility policies for immigrants, refugees and temporary residents.
The CBSA, on the other hand, will focus on its role with regard to the management and operation of our nation's borders. Part of this role is to prevent people who should not be in Canada from reaching our borders, to detect those who are in Canada but who are in contravention of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and to ensure these individuals are removed in a timely manner. It is the CBSA's business to protect Canadians and those who need protection arriving at our borders.
There is no question that, to facilitate the movement of low risk travellers and trade and screen out and remove potential threats, we need to be able to access, collect and exchange information. However, there is also no question that the Canada Border Services Agency is committed to doing this in the utmost accordance with the law.
The advantage of amalgamating the various border programs and services into one organization is that our procedures are now streamlined and harmonized.
The bill before us today enables the CBSA, the Canada Border Services Agency, to be firmly established in order to provide integrated border management. It provides the management structure and the legal authorities to get the job done.
Make no mistake. This legislation is absolutely critical to our ability to meet the challenges of securing Canadians’ safety in the rapidly changing world in which we live.
New and emerging threats make protecting our borders and managing movement across them both a challenge and a national priority. The bill would give us the tools we need to implement innovative border management programs and services that would ensure Canada is better able to anticipate and respond to these emerging challenges.
I urge my hon. colleagues to speedily pass the legislation.