Madam Speaker, I appreciate having this chance to add my voice of support for this worthy legislation.
The Canada Border Service Agency operates at 1,200 service points across Canada and nearly 40 locations abroad and employs over 14,000 public servants. Since its inception, the Canada Border Service Agency has been working to integrate and build on the many risk management strategies and processes adopted by their legacy organizations, the Canada Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The proposed legislation will enhance our ability to manage risk and improve border operations by strengthening the systems for obtaining advance data on goods and people arriving in Canada and by better managing the risks existing at air and sea ports. Indeed, the provisions of the legislation help us to address some of the concerns of the Auditor General of Canada, identified in her November 2007 report entitled, “Keeping the Border Open and Secure”.
It is clear that free nations, including Canada, cannot guarantee absolute safety against border threats. For example, Canada welcomes more than 95 million travellers to Canada every year and approves the entry of over $400 billion in imported goods annually. Therefore, our focus must be on risk management.
CBSA's risk management is multi-layered. Operations are based on three fundamental strategies: pre-approval programs to facilitate low-risk people and goods; advance information on what and who is coming to the border; and intelligence using partnership networks, sophisticated science and technology.
The development and deployment of science and technology is crucial in supporting these strategies: electronic commerce systems to receive advanced trade data; biometrics for identifying trusted travellers; and sophisticated technologies to detect radiation, drugs, guns and other contraband and potentially dangerous goods.
During the past five years, the Canada Border Service Agency has developed a robust and sophisticated border management regime with a scientific approach to risk assessment and detection, and the results are impressive. Consider that over 10,800 drug seizures were made in the 2007-08 fiscal year, 5,700 weapons were seized, including 671 firearms prevented from entering Canadian communities. Over 7,000 items of child pornography, hate propaganda and obscenities were stopped at the border. In 2007-08 the Canada Border Service Agency removed 12,349 individuals who were inadmissible to Canada, including 1,664 criminals who posed a high risk to our country. That is a 40% increase from 2002-03.
The CBSA is now engaged in important initiatives that will further transform and modernize border management, including arming border guards and eliminating situations where they are working alone, implementing a new manifest system, which will provide advance electronic reporting for goods at the land border, and working with our U.S. counterparts to ensure that the western hemisphere travel initiative is implemented as smoothly as possible and does not impede travel and cross-border trade.
While the Canada Border Service Agency has increased its ability to detect and respond to security threats, the Customs Act has not changed since substantially since 2001. The proposed changes will ensure that the CBSA continues to evolve, while strengthening its officers' abilities to combat internal conspiracies and organized crime at ports of entry.
To combat internal conspiracies and organized criminal activity at ports of entry, the government created the concept of customs controlled areas in 2001. These zones are designated areas where international travellers and goods not yet released by the CBSA may come into contact with port of entry workers and other travellers. Implementation of the custom controlled areas concept has been impractical due to legislative constraints.
The current legislation gives Canada Border Service Agency officers the authority to examine goods and question and search people only as they exit the customs controlled area, including persons working inside the area who would otherwise not have to present themselves to the CBSA.
The proposed amendments will provide border service officers with greater flexibility to patrol and monitor these controlled areas. In particular, they will have the authority to question and search people, as well as examine their goods both within customs controlled areas and when they exit these designated areas. This initiative will improve the security of Canadians as it will act as a deterrent to internal conspiracies at points of entry and decrease the risks posed by organized crime and national security threats.
The proposed changes to the Customs Act will also enable the CBSA to implement its eManifest initiative. The eManifest initiative is the next planned phase of the advanced commercial information initiative, which currently provides border services officers with electronic air and marine cargo information in advance so they are equipped with the right information at the right time to identify health, safety and security threats before goods arrive in Canada.
The eManifest initiative will require that businesses involved in the import trade chain, including those from the highway and rail modes, provide electronic data on their shipments before they reach Canada. The CBSA is working closely with industry and stakeholders to ensure a smooth, cost efficient transition to the new reporting requirements.
Extensive consultations on project requirements with stakeholders were held throughout the first two phases of the advance commercial information project. The CBSA continues to use these strong consultative networks as a forum for dialogue, input and guidance in the development of the eManifest initiative.
The Canada Border Services Agency consults with members from all facets of the trade community, including carriers, freight forwarders, importers, customs brokers and bridge and tunnel operators, regarding the design, development and implementation of the eManifest initiative. Various working group meetings have been held over the past two years with member of the trade community to ensure that eManifest design and development activities are coordinated with those of the external community.
As a result of this legislation, the Canada Border Services Agency will be better able to make informed decisions about the admissibility of goods, including identifying unknown and high-risk threats before the shipments arrive. The Canada Border Services Agency will be able to focus its resources on those goods that pose the greatest risk to Canada's security and prosperity. As well, low-risk shipments will be processed in a timely and efficient manner, which is vital to Canada's prosperity and economic competitiveness.
There are some additional elements within the proposed legislation that will further strengthen border security. The advance passenger information/passenger name record program collects and analyzes information in advance on air travellers coming into Canada in order to identify persons who may pose a safety and security risk.
Advance passenger information includes the traveller's name, date of birth, citizenship or nationality, passport or other travel document data. Personal name record data includes the travel itinerary, address and check-in information. This information is gathered by the airlines in their reservation, check-in and departure control systems.
Changes to advance passenger information provisions in the proposed legislation will require passenger and crew data to be provided to the CBSA before a conveyance arrives in Canada, allowing the CBSA to conduct a more timely risk assessment and addressing a gap noted in the November 2007 Auditor General report.
As carriers are already required to submit advance passenger information/personal name record data to the CBSA, the proposed legislative change will not have an operational impact on them and will make the Customs Act consistent with CBSA policy. In fact, the information carriers provide to the CBSA is the same information that they already collect for their own business purposes.
The data collected under the advance passenger information/personal name record program is protected under the Privacy Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The CBSA has consulted the Privacy Commissioner and has implemented strict administrative policies and guidelines to protect the privacy of personal information, including the number, collection, access, retention and use of this information.
Another part of the bill proposes to amend the present act to permit a regulation made under it to incorporate material contained in another document without reproducing that other document word for word within the text of the regulation itself. Incorporation by reference, as this process is called, can help simplify the regulatory process and is often used to incorporate material of a technical nature.
Material which is incorporated by reference is reviewed by the Department of Justice in a manner similar to a draft regulation. It is carefully reviewed for adherence to the law generally and, in particular, to the charter.
It is worth noting that when the bill was considered in the other place, an amendment was made. The amendment removed the statement to the effect that material incorporated by reference is not a statutory instrument for the purposes of the Statutory Instruments Act. The removal of that statement addressed the concern that was raised about wider government practice in this context. To the extent that members of the House might share such concerns, I hope they too will be supportive of this amended language.
More technical changes are proposed within the legislation. Housekeeping amendments will align the act with Canada's obligation as a signatory to the 1994 agreement on the implementation of article 7 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. These amendments would improve the alignment of the Customs Act with the World Trade Organization evaluation agreement by which the value of imported goods is determined.
Inconsistencies will be fixed between the existing French and English versions of the act. The Government of Canada is moving forward on key initiatives that increase Canada's border security and support economic prosperity. The proposed changes to the Customs Act would give the Canada Border Services Agency the information, tools and flexibility it needs to better detect threats and tackle crime at the border.
I urge my hon. colleagues to speedily pass this legislation.