Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in debate on Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Customs Act, formerly Bill C-43, which was tabled in the last session of Parliament but did not make its way through the system.
Customs changes are worthy of engagement, especially at the committee level. There are elements of the bill that are very important for the men and women who are on the front line of defence for Canada with regard to our border situation. They face an extraordinary job, and the tasks at hand of balancing the issue of trade and security. They generally do a commendable job on a regular basis.
In my area, our customs officers not only protect but actually serve at times, even without the proper equipment and training. A number of years ago they had to borrow bullet-proof vests because there were not enough available. Now there are some better supports there and I am glad for that advancement.
The bill is important because it lays out the framework for our border crossings. There are 119 border crossings between Canada and the United States. Of those, 24 are international bridges and tunnels. Of those 24 international bridges and tunnels, two are privately held: one in Fort Francis and the other in Windsor, Ontario.
I will not go down that road just yet, but it is unfortunate because of that private ownership model, we pay incredible taxes. We have seen the owner-operator of that facility basically board up homes by buying them up in the adjacent area, which has led to social grief and also diminished property values at the expense of the community. That is surely a tragedy because there are other consequences.
Of the 119 crossings, approximately 29 of them have 80% of the traffic on a regular basis between our nations. When we look at the amount of volume of trade, over $1 billion a day, it is interesting to note that 40% of that happens along the Windsor-Detroit corridor. For those who are not familiar, there are four crossings that have that concentration in a two mile length of river front.
There is the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, owned by the city of Windsor on the Canadian side and the city of Detroit on the American side. They have a long-term lease agreement with Macquarie International. The CP Rail tunnel was built at approximately the same time, about 76 years ago. There are two single sleeve tunnels that are small. One has been expanded modestly but cannot accommodate the triple stackers. It can accommodate some train traffic, but a smaller amount.
Ironically, CP Rail inspection workers were basically fired from that location and moved up the rail line, which is a real travesty, because recently in a Transport Canada document I was able to obtain, it showed that during the inspection period process, 36% of the trains needed to be shopped out or failed the inspection, and there are pictures of derailments and so forth. This will be detrimental when we talk about the issues of border delays and issues around security, of which the bill has some elements.
When the United States learns of this change of policy, it will be very much concerned. We are concerned on the Canadian side because during that inspection process, we could not even get real numbers. There was also a leak of hazardous material from one of the tankers during that process. Now none of those trains will be inspected from Windsor pretty well all the way to Toronto and Montreal.
It is important to note that the trains involved in the derailment in Mississauga affected 200,000 people who had to be evacuated. Interestingly enough, that was before Katrina. That was the largest evacuation in North America up to that time. Those trains came out of Windsor, so we are really concerned about rail safety operations.
Past the CP Rail facility there is the Ambassador Bridge, which is owned by a private American citizen. Once again, this facility has the vast majority of truck and vehicle border crossings in this country. It has the highest fares too over most areas. It is double what the Blue Water Bridge charges in Sarnia. Then past that, there is the Detroit-Windsor truck ferry service, which is owned by a private American operator. It transports hazardous materials between our countries. Ironically, that operator has been recognized by the department of homeland security and has actually received grants because of its safe operation.
Interestingly enough, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge is grandfathered, so we pay for his customs officers. This is about the customs issues in the bill. Canadian taxpayers pay for that customs facility. Ironically, the hazardous material ferry operator actually had to go to court and finally settled with the federal government and has to pay for some of the services, inconsistent services in many respects, as the bridge has taken priority.
One of the good things we are dealing with in this bill is the ability to transfer information in advance for some vehicles, drivers and the trade merchandise so that it can be expedited through the system. It is an important improvement to diminish lineups and improve productivity.
There has been some good debate on these issues and whether this makes a difference. However, sadly enough, when there is a lack of staffing at the actual border facilities then we have a significant problem. We could have all the best products and policies in place and we could provide those powers but if we do not have the operators in place to do the work, then we defeat the whole purpose and we further frustrate those elements of commerce. This bill has to get to committee so we can study it more.
More economic development is looking at the border. Many operations have to decide whether they want to reinvest, especially in the manufacturing belt in Ontario and Quebec, which has been extremely vulnerable. The policy of artificially inflating the Canadian dollar because of an addiction to oil and gas as a revenue stream has really eaten away that base.
On top of that, as we have the thickening of the Canada-U.S. border, elements of business are questioning whether they should open up a plant in Ontario, in Indiana or somewhere else. The comments made by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano are really disturbing. They further heighten the issue of the border and are part of, I believe, a politically motivated movement to turn the Canada-U.S. border into one which is similar to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Public policy affects some of these things and how we respond to them. The imagery is being created. I would point out that in my region of Windsor-Detroit, there are gunboats on the Detroit River and the Great Lakes, because of a treaty that the Liberals allowed to move forward, and which the Conservatives have supported. U.S. Coast Guard vessels have autocannons on them that fire 600 bullets a minute. I am not sure what type of threat would come from Canada that would require 600 bullets a minute, but those are the coast guard vessels that are actually operating along the border.
We are very fortunate to have defeated a proposal to allow 40 different testing zones for firing ranges on the Great Lakes. Interestingly enough, I made a submission against that and the government made a submission. However, it made its submission against that two days after the deadline, so it was not even given actual consideration. The government basically allowed this process to go forward without any type of input. However, we were able to defeat that with some progressive forces, including hunters and fishers who are concerned about the firing ranges, and also environmental groups because the bullets have lead casings.
Blackhawk helicopters have been added to the area, drone planes, security cameras, and spy towers that oversee the area. We are seeing the militarization of the border and it is becoming more like the Mexican-U.S. border versus what it really is, a trade facilitator, which is the model we need to deal with. As the thickening of the border happens and businesses decide to avoid the border altogether, it will erode our economic base if we do not take measures like this.
One of the things that this bill does is it provides regulations to have timeframes and so forth for information coming forth on the border. It can increase productivity by having those practices in place. That is the advance commercial information component of this bill. That will actually allow CBSA to see the information not only from the point of the original supplier but it will also allow it to see the information about the contents and the driver. It is going to facilitate things right across the border.
It is very important that we get that change. It is one of the most important things we can do because, as I have mentioned, all these other barriers are being put in place. It might seem like a small thing in some respects, but at least it is a counterbalance to what is happening.
For example, with the implementation of the western hemisphere travel initiative, anyone who wants to get into the United States, including Americans who have left the United States, will need a passport. Luckily, some states have moved forward on the advanced driver's licence. There is going to be confusion.
All these things are taking place at a time when there is a lot of confusion. We need to put in some policies that are going to help to counterbalance for trade purposes. The WHTI will come into effect and there will be other elements. It is going to thicken the border. We just do not have the needed infrastructure at some of our crossings.
I want to talk about what is happening at the Windsor-Detroit crossing because the bill would allow customs agents in customs controlled areas to do further interventions. There will be greater accountability of the activity of those interventions at the plaza locations. Hopefully there will be better procedures so that when those problems do occur, there will be ways to deal with them that are a little more proper in terms of the way the areas are laid out. That is important. The older facilities do not have the space to pull over certain trucks, to question people, and so forth. If they cannot clear that out, it creates further congestion, back-ups and delays. It defeats the whole purpose of some of the measures we are putting in place here.
What is happening in the Windsor-Detroit corridor is very important, two miles west of the current Ambassador Bridge, and it would extend from four to five crossings within four kilometres. A new publicly owned bridge is going to span the Detroit River and create some redundancy in the system. If there were a problem with one of the current infrastructures, there would be an additional site located there.
The plaza development is very important, because it creates the ability to manoeuvre around new issues such as this. When we are looking at new policies and ways to enforce border security, that can be designed into the actual plaza. I am hoping to see from the designs and the government development of this some flexibility for those plazas for the future, so that there can be some reaction if there is implementation of other measures from the United States.
The United States has added a whole series of new procedures which we would not have dreamt of a number of years ago. Recently with the Bioterrorism Act, a Chilean peach from the 1980s suddenly became a security risk and threat in the year 2000. It led to additional paperwork for commercial trucks carrying fruits and vegetables into the United States. It just creates productivity loss and complications in crossing the border.
A series of these things has been implemented across the table unilaterally, often not even by the political heads but by the departments, such as the Department of Homeland Security and others that are emboldened to do these things. It creates a real problem for us.
I mentioned before about the advance pass information. It is important in many respects, not only in terms of the economic commerce that I am talking about, but also the safety and security of the general public and the men and women who work at the border plazas. Whether we like it or not, the reality is that there are illegal goods, services and materials on a routine basis not just going from Canada to the United States, but also coming from the United States to Canada. Just as our auto industry is integrated with that in the United States, ironically, sometimes there is an integrated criminal activity base for drugs and weapons that go back and forth at the border.
CEUDA, the customs and excise union, drew up what is called the Northgate report. This is a really good report that lays out some of the challenges being faced by the officers at the border. It offers some suggestions.
CEUDA did a survey. I want to go through some of the questions asked. Some individuals believe that when people come to Canada there is no problem, but that is not true. We have to vet these things. That is why the officers need these extra powers. One of the questions on the survey was:
Have Officers at your LAND BORDER CROSSING ever found themselves dealing with someone at Secondary they discovered was considered Armed and Dangerous after searching CPIC [their computer system] but was not cautioned as such either by PALS [their operating system] or when the traveller was otherwise referred?
Thirty of the respondents indicated yes. That is high considering that individuals had been pushed into secondary inspection to begin with and there had already been some contact.
Another question was:
Have Officers at your LAND BORDER CROSSING released a known Armed & Dangerous person up the road in keeping with CBSA's Release and Notify Policy?
Eighteen respondents said yes, ninety-three said no, and eight had no answer.
We know that we have to change some of these policies so people are not set free. That is critical for public safety.
In the Windsor-Detroit area, a couple of peculiar cases came up that really prompted my interest in this legislation.
A Detroit police officer came over to Canada and was pulled over for secondary inspection. He had hid his gun and accidentally shot himself in the knee. He lost his job in the U.S. but was given no penalty here.
These are important things that we need to look at.
A more extreme case occurred on January 7 at an Alberta crossing, where 10 semi-automatic handguns, including one semi-automatic machine pistol, 11 high-capacity magazines and 300 rounds of ammunition were seized. An Edmonton resident was smuggling these items back and forth across the border.
These types of situations are dealt with on a regular basis. The infrastructure needs to be set up properly so we can deal with these kinds of things. We also need to have the powers in the legislation to deal with them.
I want to touch on something that is incredibly important and that is the issue of United States' confidence in Canada with respect to security issues. As we go through the bill we will see some recurring elements. We heard some debate about this earlier.
Some wonder whether the bill will really make a difference because the U.S. is just going to ignore stuff anyway. I think the bill would make a difference because we are dealing with some of the operations on the Canadian side that we can control.
We need to do better with respect to the things that we can control. We need to provide more resources. If our border communities do not get the infrastructure money they need as well as the policies to go with it, then we are doomed for failure.
This summer, we will be moving to armed officers as part of the regular procedure, and therefore, students will not be used to fill those positions as they have in the past. The government will not be filling these positions. This summer we will not have the staffing component that we had before. This will create greater lineups and greater problems. This will defeat the purpose. This has to come hand in glove, resources and procedure.