Madam Speaker, as we can tell from the comments of the member that just spoke, he is quite passionate about the subject, a passion which I share, because of the impact that the border has on our economy in the Windsor-Essex county area and on the livelihood of so many of our people. A good deal of that livelihood is being threatened at this point to a great degree because of inaction on the part of the government.
Specifically, the bill is part of an overall strategy by the government to consolidate services into one super ministry under the Minister for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. This is just one component of it. With this particular bill, which all parties agreed was an appropriate step for the government to take, we are consolidating the customs program, the customs investigations and appeal functions, and the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency. We are taking part of that agency, bringing in the intelligence interdiction and enforcement program, including ports of entry from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, and finally the inspection of ports of entry and the Canada Food Inspection Agency.
The NDP has been willing to support this because we believe it is important to focus attention on our border crossings and our ports of entry. All too often in the past, because these programs have been somewhat isolated within their respective departments, there has not been enough attention paid to the issues with regard to ports of entry. With regard to the security at ports of entry, and at the rest of the border crossings, a secure but efficient methodology must ensure that cargo and passengers are able to move back and forth without undue hindrance. This development, in terms of bringing this together, makes good practical sense.
When the bill came before the justice subcommittee, all parliamentarians sitting on that committee felt reasonably comfortable with it, but there were some amendments. I want to touch on those briefly.
One of them affected the reporting function. Although there was a modest reporting function, by the amendment that we introduced and passed in the subcommittee, we strengthened the responsibility of the minister to report. As we will see in a few minutes, when I conclude my speech, that is an important factor, and the need to strengthen it was equally important.
The other point that raised some concern with the employees at the border was that they were defined under the Criminal Code as peace officers. As a result of a decision that I believe came out of my region of the country, the charges that the employees at the border might lay under various pieces of legislation on a number of occasions had been challenged as to their capacity to lay those charges. In a couple of cases the charges were actually dismissed on what was seen as a technical problem.
The employees had been asking the government for the last five to seven years to amend the section of the Criminal Code, so it would be clear they had the responsibility and the jurisdiction to lay the charges. The government had not done that when the bill was introduced originally. The public service employees came forward with a very clear, concise and obviously persuasive argument as to the need for this amendment. It was taken up by all members of the committee, including, finally, the government members, and the amendments were moved, supported unanimously and passed. It is now in the bill which, with support from all parties, will pass and their job will become a little easier.
As an aside on this point, there has been an ongoing debate between the public service employees at the border, arguing that in a number of cases they need to have greater security for themselves.
We have heard of many incidents at border crossings where individual members were positioned there by themselves. There have been several incidents where people have suffered ill health and had no one to assist them. There have been other occasions where there were very clear security threats to them and they had no meaningful backup at all.
There is an ongoing debate as well as to whether border crossing guards should be armed. At this point they are not allowed to carry firearms in spite of some clear cases where that would have been of some benefit to them.
To be clear on this point I must say that this debate has been raised by employees themselves. A number of them have not been trained or properly prepared to carry firearms whereas others have. This is going to be an ongoing debate. A case just came down from the federal court with respect to wardens in our national parks and it may have some impact on this issue. We may be moving to that at some stage in the near future.
By consolidating the departments and more specifically these programs, we are going to have clearer information because we will get annual reports from the minister. We will be able to focus our attention on the actual issues confronting us at our border crossings and ports of entry. I hope and expect that an inevitable result of this consolidation will be greater security and more efficient use of our border crossings to move both cargo and passengers.
With regard to arming border guards and the security issue, major work still needs to be done. We hear reports that some containers coming in at our ports of entry on both the east and west coasts are not being inspected. A very small percentage are in fact inspected. This is worrisome from a terrorist standpoint because inspections are minimal. This issue must be addressed. Once this consolidation is fully in place and functioning, the government will see the need to provide additional services of a security nature at our ports of entry.
As we heard from the member for Windsor West, the border crossing between Windsor and Detroit is the busiest one in the country. It could be argued that it may be the busiest crossing of any place in the world as far as cargo is concerned. In spite of that fact, we cannot get the government to address a number of issues that confront our community.
There is a major issue concerning whether we need an additional crossing, and there seems to be overwhelming evidence that we do. However, the government has been extremely slow in responding to that need. That is having a major impact particularly on the auto industry, but generally on the manufacturing industry.
This is not just an issue with regard to the Windsor-Essex county area. We have heard substantive evidence about problems with regard to moving manufactured goods across our border and the backlogs this is creating. There are backlogs throughout all of southern Ontario, right into Quebec and all the way back to Montreal.
We expect these issues to be addressed in a much more efficient and responsible manner than they have in the past. We expect that the additional resources that are required to meet our security needs at our ports of entry and border crossings will be forthcoming in geographic areas like the Windsor-Detroit area. We expect that an additional crossing, when needed, will be addressed much more rapidly than it has been historically.
The NDP will be supporting Bill C-26. However, we will be watching the outcome once it is in place to see how these programs are functioning and we will be pressing very hard for them to be expanded.