Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to rise and address Bill C-26, an act to establish the Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA. The House will be aware that our party is supporting this legislation.
However, I want to state that I am unimpressed with the government over the timing of the bill. The administration created the CBSA in December of 2003, more than a year and a half ago and, perhaps even more disturbing, during the last Parliament. Time and again we see the government creating new departments and agencies and spending money before Parliament has authorized those actions.
Liberals demonstrate no respect for this institution. This is nothing more than sheer arrogance on the part of the government. Nevertheless, the bill represents an important step forward in the effort to bring our antiquated system of national security into the 21st century.
Creating a single agency to provide border services and security at ports of entry is a logical and long overdue action. Of course, providing our border services officers with the resources, training and equipment they need to do this job is another matter entirely, and it has become quite clear to me that the government has failed to deliver on this critical aspect of the plan.
Yes, the government has made spending announcements and even provided for such spending in recent budgets, yet the reality is that those resources are not getting to the front lines.
The famous Peace Arch crossing is in my riding of South Surrey--White Rock--Cloverdale. As a border MP representing the riding with western Canada's busiest land crossings, I regularly receive reams of information about border ports that are understaffed, under-equipped and completely unprotected.
That leaves our unarmed border services officers vulnerable. Often, the closest armed police presence is many minutes or even hours away. That is unacceptable. I want to share a story as it has been relayed to me by people at the front lines:
Regarding the currency seizure of $292,125 USD in early April - there is no secure manner in which to count proceeds of crime. Pacific Highway Traffic office is made primarily out of windows. During that currency seizure, as with most, the money was counted in an unsecured room with windows on three sides, looking out into the lanes of traffic and the public areas. During the day the windows are somewhat opaque. At night the windows became completely transparent because the office lights are on. Pedestrians who were walking into Canada were able to observe the goings on of the Inspectors inside the office as well as the counting of almost three hundred thousand dollars, which took about 7 hours. The Mounties attended for about an hour, then left. Management views Proceeds of Crime seizures as commodity seizures plain and simple. They must not understand the “Crime” part of Proceeds of Crime and that we are dealing with a high risk seizure with many individuals having a vested interest in the smuggled cash.
The proof of what I hear is to be found in the constant reports of vehicles speeding through land crossings, with 1,600 last year alone. This is not just a matter of a union complaining for the sake of its workers, although they are certainly right to push for safer conditions. This is about national security. What were those vehicles carrying? Were they carrying narcotics, weapons, contraband cigarettes and liquor, or even fugitives from justice? Who knows?
The Deputy Prime Minister has boasted about the work of the integrated border enforcement teams. That is great, but it is only part of the solution. Those teams can crack down on smuggling at isolated spots on the border, but if we are allowing hundreds of vehicles to simply zip across the border on the highways, unchecked, then are we any further ahead? I think not.
It is now the policy of the CBSA to wave through suspects who are known to be armed and dangerous instead of confronting and arresting those who are a threat to Canada when we have the opportunity to do so. We simply wave them through and hope that the police will catch up to them later in our neighbourhoods. This Liberal policy is so confused that it would be laughable if it were not so dangerous.
The other comment I want to make about national security concerns the gaping hole the Liberals created when they disbanded the ports police in 1994. It is quite clear, from reading criminal intelligence service reports and other reports, that smuggling through Canada's ports is a major problem that remains largely unaddressed, despite a minor police and CBSA presence at many ports. Even if we were to tighten up on the cars and trucks that make land crossings, our national security appears to be something one could still drive a ship through.
In an internal RCMP intelligence assessment, Canadian ports have become a haven for organized crime. According to the report, customs and police feel threatened, while workers are coerced to do crimes. Organized criminal involvement in the smuggling of drugs, humans and counterfeit products at Canada's biggest marine ports is so pervasive that customs officers and police have been intimidated and even independent thieves will not dare to work alone.
The Liberal's newly appointed ambassador to the United States has affirmed what our border officers are saying. He made it clear last weekend that our borders were not adequately protected. Frank McKenna made it clear that we have a major problem with narcotics and weapons making it into Canada. Even senior Liberals are now admitting to the government's failure to address this issue adequately.
We can pass the bill, and we will, but let us be clear that this is not the solution to our national security problems at the border. It is only the beginning.
It is because we have such problems at our border that I have taken steps myself to address these questions. In December of last year, I was joined by border MPs from every party in the House and from every part of the country in founding the parliamentary border caucus.
Our co-chairs, the member for Sarnia—Lambton, the member for Windsor West, the member for Saint-Jean and myself have led this non-partisan caucus in addressing matters of national security and trade.
We spent time meeting with the employees and managers of the border services agency and their union leaders. We have travelled to see the problems that exist at our border crossings in different parts of the country firsthand. It is obvious to us that Bill C-26 is not the only action that needs to be taken.
For example, our caucus recently met in Windsor, Ontario, the site of the world's busiest border crossing, to discuss with representatives of the U.S. congressional border caucus, including their co-chairman representative, Bart Stupak, the importance of moving on a new crossing in that area.
Forty-four percent of Canada-U.S. trade crosses at Windsor. If there is a main artery in our economy, this is it and yet, after 12 years of Liberal government, there is no enabling statute to even facilitate the creation of a new crossing. Bill C-44, elements of which could be of some assistance in making a new Windsor crossing a reality, languishes at first reading, and the Liberal government has not even given it an hour of debate since introducing it this past March.
Also, waiting times at some border crossings, especially for commercial traffic, are unacceptable, and the cost to the Canadian economy, not to mention to truckers and their families, is millions of dollars in lost income. Some of this is a result of security measures put in place on the U.S. since 9/11, which Canadians have not fully adapted to yet, but some of it is a matter of inadequate facilities and infrastructure on our side.
The issue of a passport requirement for all travellers to the U.S. was raised recently in the media. While the U.S. legislation requiring secure ID does not specifically require passports, the possibility has raised concerns on both sides of the border.
I have personally travelled to Washington, D.C. on more than one occasion to meet with congressman James Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the U.S. judiciary committee, to work on an acceptable resolution. However I do not believe the hasty response of the Deputy Prime Minister, that Canada might require passports as well, has done anything to help the situation.
By all means, let us pass Bill C-26, but I would urge this government, at a bare minimum, to begin to provide proper protection, support, resources and equipment for our border services officers and provide the resources to apprehend suspects at the border.
Let us move on enabling legislation for creating new bridges and tunnels to the U.S. Let us work with our counterparts in the U.S., as the border caucus has already been doing, to reduce waiting times, protect trade and maintain our privileged access to the world's largest market.