Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-26, an act to establish the Canada Border Services Agency. I will take this opportunity to read the summary of the bill found on the back of the first page.
This enactment establishes the Canada Border Services Agency, which was first created by order in council on December 12, 2003. The Agency brings together the border services of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. The enactment sets out the responsibilities, mandate, powers, duties and functions of the Minister responsible for the Agency and its President. It continues the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency under the name of the Canada Revenue Agency and contains transitional provisions as well as consequential amendments to other Acts.
From the outset, I also want to share with you the position of the Bloc Québécois, which is in favour of Bill C-26. We were also in favour of it at second reading. However, we have some major concerns over two aspects. In other words, we will be closely monitoring its application, at third reading and during all subsequent discussions. There are two points that bother us.
The first point is the transfer of major functions from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to the Border Services Agency that is being created. In our opinion, this transfer could jeopardize the protection of the rights of immigrants and refugees.
The second point that we will be monitoring is the right to collect, retain, use and disclose of information that this agency possesses under the application of the act and, finally, the agreements that could be reached with other entities and other countries.
I will take the time to fully explain these factors that are highly important to us and that we will be monitoring in the legislative process of this bill in this House. We must always pay attention to the inconsistencies in speeches by the Liberal Party of Canada.
At the same time as this agency is being created, RCMP detachments in Quebec are being closed. At the same time that the federal government wants to create an agency to oversee the arrival of immigrants in Canada, it is closing nine RCMP detachments—which were staunchly defended by my colleagues in the House, both those affected and not affected by this legislation. Why? Because there is no double talk from us. We do not want to create, in new legislation, an agency to protect our jurisdiction from immigrants, while ignoring the need for border protection.
We must not forget that there are over 100 unguarded roads in Quebec. That is the reality. These roads used to be guarded, in part, by local RCMP detachments. And I am not even mentioning the ports. Earlier, someone said that, in some areas, 30% to 60% of containers are not inspected, not to mention individuals who may enter via our waterways.
So there is always double talk coming from the federal Liberals. They want to show that they run a big safe country, but they are slashing security services. That is the message the Liberals have sent us, particularly by closing nine detachments. Obviously, these are regional detachments, but they are in strategic locations: Lac Mégantic, Granby, Coaticook, Saint-Hyacinthe, Joliette, Roberval, Baie-Comeau, Rivière-du-Loup and Îles-de-la-Madeleine. These were all strategic detachments in terms of the arrival of individuals, immigrants and goods.
The government wants to create an agency, but clearly its focus will not be on customs officers. Furthermore, it will decide to eliminate all RCMP detachments in a jurisdiction as large as Quebec in order to prevent the smuggling of goods and, sometimes, humans. So this is double talk from the Liberal Party. Ultimately, this can be very confusing.
Some may find this extremely annoying. It is most disconcerting to see how the Liberal Party can do both one thing and its exact opposite. It has become an expert at that. It tables a bill to create the Canada Border Services Agency. By so doing, it is trying to tell the Americans “That way, we will be better able to monitor the entry of individuals”. Obviously, that is, provided they enter at border posts. They can of course enter at many other spots because RCMP officers have been removed from a number of places in Quebec and elsewhere. There will be no more RCMP stationed in the regions, so anyone wanting to get into Canada illegally need only avoid the official crossing points and take one of the hundreds of highways or cross by water. That is the Liberal Party's reality.
This is a problem for the nine communities I have referred to, which used to feel safe. I will take the time to list them again: Lac-Mégantic, Granby, Coaticook, Saint-Hyacinthe, Joliette — that is, Saint-Charles-Borromée —, Roberval, Baie-Comeau, Rivière-du-Loup and Îles-de-la-Madeleine. These all had the reassurance of an RCMP presence but the detachments are being moved.
Obviously, the RCMP Commissioner has admitted the risks. The problem is that there was insufficient manpower to keep these regional detachments manned. There was no money for it, yet the government has found money to create a new agency. More public servants, more red tape, which will of course be concentrated elsewhere than where the need is along the border. That is the reality.
We have trouble dealing with this two-sided Liberal strategy. They say they are going to step up security while, at the same time, they make cuts. That is what they have done in Quebec, and now they are going to create this agency.
We want to play fair, and will state right now that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the agency's creation, provided individual rights are respected. This is our first hesitation. The second concerns the information that will be kept by agency employees and can be shared with other bodies. There must be an assurance that no personal information will be involved and that the individual interests of citizens will be protected.
To conclude this aside, I wanted to point out the dichotomy of the Liberal message. The Liberal Party wants to create an agency to ensure security and to prevent individuals and immigrants from entering Canada in a manner that puts the public at risk. However, this same party has decided to close nine regional RCMP detachments in Quebec. Obviously, we can do nothing but criticize that.
To return to Bill C-26, it must be said that the Canada Border Services Agency was created on December 12, 2003. It is now comes under the Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness portfolio. When it was created, the role of Citizenship and Immigration Canada in information matters was unclear. Considerable criticism was levelled in this regard.
In order to calm fears, the Prime Minister said that Citizenship and Immigration Canada would remain responsible for immigration policy in order to protect the interests of immigrants and refugees. He felt the need, therefore, at that point to say that care had to be taken and the agency not given free rein. They would leave what Citizenship and Immigration Canada was responsible for. He did not make this statement just anywhere. He made it in the United States on December 13, 2003, at a conference he was taking part in and during his discussions with American homeland security.
Still, while he felt the need to announce the agency in December 2003, it was not until 2004 that it was established. Today, they are tabling the bill. Again, the message is the urgency in resolving security. The Liberal Party is always prepared. The problem is that things take a lot of time, given the wavering Prime Minister, Mr. Dithers, as some foreign observers have called him. From this bill, we see once again that no decision had been made and that all the time needed was taken. Therefore, the urgency of security matters has become so pressing with time that they introduced the bill.
I will read the text from the Internet site of the agency, which was established and began operations in October.
The CBSA provides an essential service as the first line of defence in managing the movement of people and goods into and out of Canada. All people and goods entering Canada, whether by air, land or sea, must report to the CBSA at a port of entry. With a workforce of approximately 11,000 public servants, the CBSA operates at 1,369 service points across Canada and 39 locations abroad. At some of its busiest locations, the CBSA operates on a 24/7 basis.
Among the threats addressed by the CBSA are terrorism; illegal migration; illegal trade of weaponry, drugs and unsafe goods and foodstuffs; and the attempted introduction of contaminants and threats to public health. The CBSA is also mandated to prevent the admission into Canada of persons involved in war crimes or crimes against humanity, to assist in combating money laundering, and to conduct the detention and removal from Canada of inadmissible persons.
Obviously that is the message from the agency. However, it does not say that in order to ensure this is respected and to be able to address terrorist threats, the people, with their goods, must declare themselves to the CBSA's service points. I mentioned that earlier. In Quebec, there are over 100 side roads that are not monitored and for which there are no agency service points.
That is what led the RCMP commissioner to close nine regional detachments in Quebec. The agency is clear on this. It provides protection by land and sea. That is all well and good, provided the individuals and goods go through the agency's ports of entry.
The problem is that the land is so vast that there are goods that enter elsewhere than by the service points. That is where the problem lies with the inconsistencies of the Liberal Party. It is creating an agency to prevent terrorism in our land, or threatening goods or people from entering Canada, as long as those people choose to cross the border under big signs that say, “Enter here”.
The other problem is that there are many places where people can enter Canada that are not covered by service points. The Liberal government decided to close nine RCMP detachments responsible for guarding the entire area not covered by the service points. So this is the message the Liberal Party sent. It will live with the consequences in Quebec, as far as we are concerned.
Bill C-26 will make the Canada Border Services Agency responsible for the following: examinations at ports of entry to ensure that individuals are admissible and comply with Canadian laws and regulations; the arrest, detention and removal of migrants considered inadmissible; establishing policies respecting the enforcement of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act; establishing policies on the inadmissibility of migrants on grounds of security, organized criminality or violating human or international rights; deciding whether an immigrant who meets the inadmissibility criteria can be exempt for lack of a threat to Canada's security; ensuring payment of duties and taxes; and identifying and intercepting goods prescribed as high risk at airports, border stations and ports.
It confers powers on the minister and the governor in council. That is why the Bloc Québécois supports this agency in principle. We agree in principle, as we strongly support maintaining an RCMP presence, particularly in the nine regional detachments that were closed.
The Bloc Québécois would have preferred that more officers were assigned to these detachments—instead of seeing them closed—in order to guarantee the safety of Quebec and Canada. That has been the message of the Bloc Québécois MPs. We will support Bill C-26, and we support maintaining and reopening the regional detachments in order to have more RCMP officers in Quebec. That was the Bloc's message in order to counter any threats to our borders, by sea, land, air and rail.
We want to be able to ensure a high level of security throughout the land, at any and all ports of entry. That was not the message the Liberals sent when they decided to close nine RCMP detachments in Quebec. With this bill, they are saying they want to protect our ports of entry with signs and beacons marked “Enter here” and “This way into Canada”.
That is how the Liberal Party chose to react. It wants to increase security at entry points. It is not its problem, however, if over 100 roads in Quebec are not supervised and if there are no designated entry points and if people can gain entry the entire length of the St. Lawrence, from the coast and elsewhere. The Liberal Party decided it did not have enough money. The commissioner said, in committee, that he was aware of the danger, but lacked the money to ensure security. To say one thing and then the opposite is the watchword of the Liberal Party. Indecision and inconsistency best describe the behaviour of the Prime Minister, whom foreign observers call Mr. Dithers.
That is the way things are. We have to live with it in this House, because we have to vote on this bill. In fact, we support Bill C-26, but we have to mention that the Liberal Party, even if it seems to want to increase security at selected points, has decided to reduce security where proper entry points have not been established. That is the message from the Liberal Party.
We have two comments, not negative ones, but they explain why we will keep a close eye on Bill C-26. One concerns the protection of refugees' rights. Clearly, we reject the principle that claimants must initially be considered potential threats to the country's security. Even on the website, they consider everyone a threat. We have a very hard time accepting that. Men and women want to immigrate to Canada, to settle here. It is not true that every person who enters should be considered a potential threat to the country's security.
This is why we want a fair process, not exclusionary thinking. We really want people to be treated fairly. Men and women who decide to enter Canada, who want to live in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada should be considered full citizens from the outset, having standards to meet and certain checks to be run on them. However, they must not be considered potential threats right off.
For the moment, the staff will be former immigration officers. We are in favour of that. In future, however, is there not a risk that the agency may hire people with a mentality of exclusion, whose background will mainly have been in investigation, deportation, harassment and terrorism issues? That is one of our main concerns. The initial premise is that anyone can constitute a potential threat. It is all very well to use officers who were already there, and doing a good job, and whose main criterion was to consider anyone wanting to migrate to Canada to be people with full rights. Would there not, however, be a danger when new people are hired, who may start off with a mentality of exclusion, of seeing anyone wishing to migrate to Canada as a potential threat? Instead of trying to make things easier, while requiring them to make the standard checks, the aim is to have them consider these individuals as a potential threat and to carry out an investigation. This leaves a potential for deportation and harassment in order to make sure no mistakes are made, given the ongoing threat of terrorism.
We feel it is important for the human rights of those entering Canada to be respected at all times. The Bloc Québécois can be counted on to be a watchdog over the federal Liberal government, which always has this habit of talking out of both sides of its mouth.
There is one final point I would like to raise concerning disclosure of information. We want to be sure that the way the agency collects, maintains, uses and shares information is fully respectful of individual rights and freedoms, because this information can be passed on to agencies in other countries.
We need to be extremely vigilant about how the rights and freedoms of individuals are respected.