Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise before the House to promote this very important piece of legislation, a bill to create an innovative border management organization that will strengthen our capacity to respond swiftly and effectively to risks and threats to our country.
Security is the cornerstone of our society. When this country was formed, our descendants made a conscious decision to establish a nation that would be founded on peace, order and good government for Canadians. Successive governments and generations of Canadians have upheld that ideal with the result that Canada has become one of the most successful countries on the earth.
However, the repeated and unprecedented challenges we have faced since the millennium began have identified weaknesses that could endanger our way of life.
The events of 9/11 drove home that point in a tragic but tangible way. The shocking reality is that terror knows no boundaries and respects no life. No one is immune to the damaging effects of these forces in our increasingly interconnected world. This was an especially hard lesson learned by Canadian businesses which depend on a free and open border for $2 billion daily in cross-border trade and millions of travellers who once took border crossings for granted.
To protect our citizens, economy and society, we have to better anticipate and be prepared to address any and all hazards arriving on our doorstep. Terrorism, illegal migration, organized crime and other threats must be combated. That is why the public safety and emergency preparedness portfolio was created, to bring together key national agencies dedicated to public safety, including the Canada Border Services Agency, Correctional Service of Canada, the RCMP, CSIS, the Canadian Firearms Centre and the National Parole Board.
The CBSA has been set up to build on progress already achieved since we signed the Canada-U.S. smart border declaration with our American neighbours in the aftermath of September 11. A smart border is one that makes a distinction between low risk and high risk travellers and cargo arriving at the border, letting the former move through quickly, while taking the necessary time to take a closer look at those who pose a threat.
The CBSA will accelerate this work by aligning complementary security activities previously spread among three government organizations into a single, streamlined unit. The new structure allows the agency to take a more integrated and multifaceted approach to border management to improve the quality, effectiveness and affordability of border services.
Proposed Bill C-26 will allow us to move forward with an integrated and multifaceted approach to border management, which is a key component of our national security policy. Members of the House will recall that this policy focuses on three core national security interests: protecting Canada and Canadians at home and abroad; ensuring Canada is not a base for threats to our allies; and contributing to international security.
Thanks to the integration of the main activities of border security and intelligence, the Canada Border Services Agency is already in a position to better protect Canadians, while facilitating the free flow of admissible persons and goods.
In less than a year since its launch, the agency has accelerated a number of progressive measures undertaken by its predecessors. For example, it has made every effort to improve border flow and to expand the NEXUS and FAST programs for pre-approved low risk travellers and commercial traffic.
FAST, the fast and secure trade program, NEXUS, and many other smart initiatives put in place in recent months and years depend on pre-screening people and cargo to separate those who pose a threat from those who do not. While the vast majority of clients comply with law and regulations, we have put in place risk management strategies to identify, detect and interdict high risk people and goods.
Pre-approval makes it possible for CBSA officers to speed up the processing of legitimate travellers and businesses with good track records, particularly those that have been pre-cleared. However, the CBSA denies the use of Canadian territory to anyone involved in terrorism or serious criminality and prevents the entry of goods, including animals, plants or food products, that threaten the safety of Canadians.
Knowing how effective this approach to border management is, the CBSA has expanded FAST to expedite the movement of low risk cargo and truck drivers. It is now in effect at 19 of the largest and highest volume land border crossings.
The NEXUS program fills the same need by simplifying land crossings for pre-approved low risk frequent travellers. It also continues to expand. By last November we had over 70,000 people registered in the program using NEXUS sites at 11 locations across the country.
The launch of the NEXUS air pilot program at the Vancouver International Airport this past November allows pre-approved travellers to clear customs and immigration in Canada or in U.S. pre-clearance by simply looking into a camera that recognizes the irises of their eyes as proof of identity.
Of concern to all constituents, we have also ensured that Canadians are exempt from the U.S. visit program. An entry and exit system has been established in the United States to record the identity of people entering or leaving the country. Canadian and American citizens are not subject to this new policy.
As well, we have established Canada's National Risk Assessment Centre, which became operational on a 24/7 basis in January 2004. We can now share automated lookouts with the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. The centre will also serve as the focal point for managing and coordinating national and international watch lists, including lists of lost and stolen passports and other travel documents, to stop high risk travellers upon their arrival in Canada.
Our countries have also agreed to share advance passenger information and passenger name records on high risk travellers destined for either country.
The recent budget tabled by this government provides additional funding for the container security initiative that would allow CBSA to enhance Canada's marine security program. The primary goal of the container security initiative is to protect the global trading system and to keep the trade lanes open between foreign ports and Canada by targeting and interdicting potential terrorism threats before they reach our shores.
The government has invested in the marine security initiative to ensure that Canada is meeting international standards and can harmonize our regulations with those of our global trading partners. The agency takes a multi-layered, risk based approach to security at marine ports, which includes the advance targeting of high risk vessels and goods, the use of new technology and increased cooperation with our partners.
There is much more the CBSA will do in the months ahead with the passage of this bill. In partnership with other federal departments and agencies, it will develop a new partnership of smart border initiatives involving the U.S. and Mexico and expand smart border principles around the globe.
Few issues matter more to the welfare of our nation than making sure we are ready and able to detect and respond to new and emerging threats to our society, threats that endanger the competitiveness of Canadian business as well as the health and safety of the public.
I am confident that the CBSA will be an effective first point of contact as it manages the movement of people and goods into and out of Canada. All members of this House should give this legislation speedy passage.