Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak. I certainly want to congratulate the member for Sarnia—Lambton, who did an outstanding on behalf of our government in describing exactly what the state of affairs is today, not anything around speculation, not anything around innuendo, but based solely on facts. That is how she works in her riding, and that is how she proves to be an effective member of Parliament here in Ottawa.
I certainly appreciate the opportunity to respond to motion from the member for Ajax—Pickering. I would like to comment on the degree to which the Canada Border Services Agency has implemented programs to improve border security and to expedite the flow of people and goods.
As other speakers have noted, the CBSA manages the border access of people and goods to defend Canada's sovereignty, security, health and prosperity. The border plays a dual role of assistance and security. In other words, efficient borders support immigration, trade and tourism; and smart and secure borders keep criminals and other dangerous elements out of our country. The challenge is to find the appropriate balance of border enforcement in a shifting and dynamic global environment.
The programs implemented or planned at the border reveal several strategies: First, they obtain advance information to permit risk assessment; second, they stream the low risk people and goods to allow border services officers to focus on higher risks; and third, they use technology to better identify people and examine goods.
Improvements to border programs are ongoing. In fact, the House has just received Bill S-2, passed through the Senate, that seeks to amend the provisions of the Customs Act to further support the government's strategy to strengthen security and emphasize and facilitate trade.
In the bill, two key amendments are being proposed that fully implement two programs: first, the advance commercial information initiative; and second, the customs controlled areas.
In 2004 and 2006, the CBSA implemented the advance commercial information initiative in the marine and air modes of transportation, requiring carriers to provide electronic information on cargo destined to Canada within advanced timeframes. In 2007, the CBSA commenced development of eManifest, the third phase of the advance commercial information initiative.
Amendments are being requested to the act to require that advance information be provided electronically and in advance by all participants or links in the trade chain. Requirements already faced by the marine and air modes of transportation will be extended to highway and rail carriers, freight forwarders and importers, allowing the CBSA to rigorously risk assess all cargo prior to its arrival at Canada's borders and minimizing the processing required upon arrival.
Bill S-2 also firms up requirements for the advance passenger information/passenger name record program, which allows for the pre-arrival risk assessment of traveller data that is transmitted by commercial air carriers.
The amendments will also provide border services officers the flexibility to examine persons and goods within the designated customs controlled areas, where most internal conspiracies occur. This will allow for a greater focus on areas of risk and of persons of interest. It will help improve the security of Canadians by enhancing the CBSA's ability to confiscate contraband and other illegal items on docks, airport tarmacs and rail yards before they reach the streets of all our communities.
Let me briefly outline other initiatives that have been undertaken to modernize border management and produce a safe, secure and accessible border.
The NEXUS program is a joint initiative of the CBSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. This initiative is designed to expedite the border clearance process for pre-approved, low risk travellers into Canada and the United States. NEXUS followed on the CANPASS programs, domestic initiatives that were similarly designed to streamline and expedite the border clearance process for pre-approved, low risk travellers into our country.
NEXUS continues to be a great example of what can be achieved, working with the U.S., to more efficiently process low risk travellers, allowing more focus on higher or unknown risk people.
NEXUS has now been implemented at all major Canadian airports and harmonized across the air, land and marine modes.
The CBSA's use of iris recognition technology and the NEXUS air system is on the leading edge. Members simply step up to a small kiosk where an innovative iris recognition tool can verify the traveller's identity based on 266 characteristics.
The CBSA is also developing biometric technologies, which are options to further assist our officers in verifying traveller identification through the capture of fingerprints and electronic photos.
The agency is looking at the use of biometric data capture for temporary resident visitors, students, and foreign workers requiring visas, to assist officers in the process of verification of traveller identification.
Fingerprints and photo data will be captured overseas at the time of the visa application. This biodata will be used to verify previous infractions against the applicant to assist in the application's approval or denial process. It will also be used at the time of actual applicant entry into Canada to confirm the visitor's identity to that of their actual visa.
Continuing this type of innovation, later this year CBSA will introduce new self-serve border kiosks at the Vancouver International Airport. These kiosks will pilot automated border clearance, a new, secure and innovative service designed to accelerate passenger screening and border processing.
A similar need, served by NEXUS for travellers, existed in the trade realm. With more than $700 billion in goods crossing the border every year, finding innovative ways to identify and efficiently facilitate low-risk goods is vital to Canada's prosperity and our economic competitiveness.
The customs self-assessment program accounts for approximately 20% of the national value for duty of imports and allows importers to use their own business systems and processes to trigger trade data and revenue reporting, saving them both time and money.
The free and secure trade program, or FAST, is similar to customs self-assessment but is the result of the smart border declaration between Canada and the United States. Under the free and secure trade program, both countries cooperated to simplify border crossing for pre-approved low-risk importers, highway carriers and commercial drivers.
Special attention is being placed on marine port security. The harmonized risk scoring and advanced trade data initiative is enhancing the CBSA's ability to identify risk within the marine commercial supply chain by developing brand new risk assessment tools.
The CBSA is harmonizing these requirements with U.S. customs and border protection to create increased border security without imposing competing sets of requirements on the North American trade community. We want security, but we want trade. We want a strong economy and we want to be able to continue to develop those with our partners in the United States.
The CBSA has invested significantly in detection technologies to meet the demands of securing Canada's border. Effective, non-intrusive inspection technology includes the application and development of mass spectrometry and other techniques to identify trace amounts of narcotics and explosives, density metres that discover hidden walls, counterfeit detection equipment, and remote-operated vehicles to inspect ships' hulls.
The mobile vehicle and cargo inspection system, a truck-mounted gamma ray scanning system that scans marine containers, rail cars or trucks quickly and safely, helps officers to detect hidden compartments, contraband, weapons and other potentially dangerous goods. We have one at our borders in the Greater Niagara area, both in Buffalo and it can be transferred from the Peace Bridge to the Rainbow Bridge, providing very effective use.
The Canadian government has stressed its support for these objectives underlying the U.S. western hemisphere travel initiative. The CBSA has been part of the overall federal effort on the WHTI file to ensure Canadians are well informed and prepared for new requirements, and that the WHTI is implemented as smoothly as possible. The government has also been supportive of provincial efforts to develop WHTI compliant enhanced driver's licences in our country.
In summary, the CBSA is a world leader in applying innovative solutions that assist in both improving border security and facilitating the flow of goods. We are good partners with our friends in the United States.