Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by revisiting something that my colleague from Parry Sound—Muskoka mentioned. I completely agree with him. The NDP does have a different way of thinking relative to the Liberals and the Conservatives.
I must say that that is key to this debate and to our thoughts on Bill C-23. The New Democrats will always be in favour of making it easier to access and cross the border, but never at the expense of Canadian rights, and particularly not when those rights are compromised on Canadian soil. That is the key issue for us today.
We acknowledge the explanations that the minister gave. It is true that pre-clearance can make more destinations available to travellers. Take for example, a person who is departing from Montreal and travelling to the United States. The fact that he or she can go through pre-clearance at the Montreal airport means that there are many more destination options available. Why? Because the destination airports do not have to have American customs facilities.
The bill before us and the associated agreement were initially presented to us as a way to increase the number of destinations available to travellers. There would be then more airports in Canada with pre-clearance capability, for example, the Jean Lesage airport in Quebec City. There would also be Canadian customs officers on the American side of the border for the first time, which would simplify the process even more. However, this bill goes much further than that.
It is not just about expanding the number of destinations from which Canadians can go through pre-clearance or even having the presence of Canadians on American soil doing the same work that up until now had not been done, an option that was not available, which changes things in a positive way.
However, it is more than that. It is the powers that are given to American agents on Canadian soil that really give us pause. As with many of the debates that we have had in the House over the last number of weeks, since we came back to Ottawa after the holidays, this is another issue where the government cannot ignore the reality that the new American administration is just not the same. We are dealing with a situation that is unpredictable and rapidly evolving. Despite assurances from the government, despite the fact that the Liberals gave each other high-fives because no bad news was good news after the Prime Minister's visit to Washington a week ago, there are some serious concerns about what will happen moving forward.
Allow me to provide some examples.
There is an executive order that went relatively unnoticed because another one got all the attention, President Trump's discriminatory order that targets certain communities whose members are trying to escape a horrible situation, seek refuge, and rebuild their lives elsewhere. That is the order that grabbed everyone's attention. However, another order changed the way the law applies to protecting the private information of citizens who are not American.
Why does that matter? Because we live in a digital era where technology changes quickly. As everyone knows, there are two ways in which technology plays an increasingly important role at the border. The first has to do with our cell phones. We bring them with us to the United States. Access to international plans allows us to have a certain amount of data and minutes. These days, almost everyone travels with their cell phone.
Why is that important? Because we are seeing more and more stories now of uncertainty around what legal protections Canadians will have crossing the border when it comes to, for example, their cellphones. How does this relate to Bill C-23?
There is an example from this past weekend, which was covered in Daily Xtra. A Vancouver man was turned away at the border because he was asked for the password to his phone, and the agents went through his phone. The individual, who is a member of the LGBTQ2 community, was turned away because he was suspected of being a sex worker. Why? Because when they looked through his phone, he had dating apps and things like this, which many people have on their phones. It is is nothing unusual.
We could talk about discrimination based on the person's sexual orientation, but I will put that issue aside for the moment. The other issue was that he was told he had cleared his phone. What does that mean? It means a person has erased his or her text messages, browsing history, and anything else that could be used to profile a person or be used to be turn someone away. We do not want to name communities, but we certainly can think of which communities would be looking to do this with their cellphones, because they would be profiled at the U.S. border by a U.S. agent.
Why is this a concern with Bill C-23? Because this would be happening on Canadian soil. There are no guarantees, despite affirmations to the contrary, that the government can give us of how this would be charter compliant. We have lawyers who are raising this issue, wondering under what legality American agents would be able to apply executive orders coming down from the President on Canadian soil.
Beyond the issue of digital data and cell phones there is also the matter of the technology that the Americans want to put in place.
I commend the minister on one thing: he was proactive. He is currently talking to his U.S. counterpart about not implementing certain technologies at border crossings, such as fingerprint scanners. We are hoping for a positive outcome.
When it comes to a bill like Bill C-23, the question is what we will do when the Americans want to set up this type of technology. Will they do it? We have no idea.
The same goes for a citizen who would want to leave the pre-clearance facility. I asked the minister what assurances he could give us about providing citizens with the necessary protections. We were assured with the words “reasonable timeframe”, but what exactly does that mean?
The minister can cite precedence, but the fact remains that this is a rather open and vague term that allows a person to be detained and questioned for hours without any guarantees.
Why is this concerning? Because the situation has changed. American agents are being given powers over Canadian citizens on Canadian soil when they leave a pre-clearance zone. The minister is assuring us that it is simply to ask questions and understand their motives to ensure that no one is analyzing the pre-clearance zone. Certain security concerns need to be addressed and I understand that. However, this raises several questions.
Why is this needed now, when it was not needed in the past? Pre-clearance zones already exist, so there is no need to grant this power. Why does it have to be an American agent? Why could it not be a Canadian agent? How do we avoid the profiling that will inevitably result from this?
The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security heard from witnesses who spoke to exactly this issue, in the context of Bill C-23.
I would like to quote Madam Safiah Chowdhury, who is a representative of the Islamic Society of North America. She was at the public safety committee. Without being questioned by any member of the committee, she proactively brought up this bill as a specific example of some of the issues that concerned people about how we were broadly expanding the powers given to American agents at the borders, on Canadian soil, without taking time to ask ourselves what the consequences would be. She said:
Right now when I travel through, say, Pearson, if I am questioned in a way I don't like or I think infringes upon my rights or I think is trying to put me in a position that makes me answer questions that typecast me in a certain way, I have the opportunity to leave and go back to my home. However, under these provisions that are being presented, there will not be that opportunity. I will be forced to enter as a Canadian on Canadian soil and to answer these questions, especially given the climate in the United States. This is really worrying.
There are also concerns about how it disproportionately affects permanent residents, particularly of Muslim backgrounds, and how this may impact their ability to come back to their home country, the country they have adopted as home.
That last point is important. I know the minister will reassure us and say that these folks will not be detained indefinitely, that they are allowed to come back. However, we have to ask ourselves a real question, a question that has been raised by immigration lawyers.
For someone who is not yet a citizen, who is only a permanent resident, and who is undertaking the steps that we as members of Parliament have regularly witnessed through our work as we accompany our constituents when they go through this process, which is already, and rightfully so, a long and complicated process, what happens then? What kind of black mark is being left on the files of people because they have been questioned and potentially led down a path by an American agent, not a Canadian one, for the simple fact they are perhaps going to visit a sick family member in the U.S., or because they might have work obligations, or they might be entrepreneurs and have obligations through trade and other things?
This is a serious question and nothing we have heard from the government reassures us that this is not going to happen. When we hear testimony like that, it should give members pause. It certainly gives us pause.
Another very important issue is that of carrying firearms. I have already raised this with the minister. In fact, Bill C-23 amends the Criminal Code to allow American agents to carry firearms on Canadian soil. We were told that this is an example of reciprocity, in other words, these agents will only be allowed to carry firearms under the same circumstances as Canadian agents. That answer is satisfactory, if we take it at face value.
However, this raises another question, to which we have not received a satisfactory answer: where is this written in the act? In fact, the Liberals are quoting agreements that have no legal restrictions.
Memoranda of understanding are just not enough when it comes to something as serious as allowing American agents the right to bear arms on Canadian soil. The question has to be asked. Why is this new provision needed when pre-clearance already happens in many airports, and at the port of Vancouver, for example, in Canada. What requires this change? We do not have the answer to that.
Considering all the problems this will cause at the border, this is not just about human rights. It also has financial implications.
I want to share something we heard from the president and CEO of Jean Lesage International Airport in Quebec City, an airport that could benefit from this agreement because it would have pre-clearance. Not all of the locations have been chosen yet. If we are looking for an example of where this could have a positive impact, that is the perfect example.
Gaëtan Gagné, president and CEO of the Jean Lesage International Airport in Quebec City, said that the people of Quebec City are not “second-class Canadian citizens”.
What he meant by that was that the people should not have to pay for a service that is free in airports such as Montreal's. There is a financial factor in play here, and the federal government has obligations. We hope that the minister will be able to provide some answers during this debate.
I just want to come back to the question of biometrics, which I raised earlier in my speech, because I do want to quote, from the public safety committee, Mr. Alex Neve, who is the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada. We asked about the concerns regarding biometrics, and I want to qualify that. I recognize the minister's efforts with his American counterpart to not have these types of technology implemented, at least not at a rapid fire pace, but again it begs a question. If these technologies are implemented by the U.S. government, what impact will that have in the pre-clearance zone? I want to use this quote to raise that particular concern while we talk about the border. Mr. Neve said:
...we certainly have signalled the very real potential that there are serious human rights violations that can ensue if, for instance, those new technologies aren't used responsibly. That's number one. Number two, they do not have effective safeguards in place, so it often comes down to questions of safeguards and review and oversight, and we know, for the large part, that Canada's national security framework is lacking on that front.
Given that uncertainty, it begs the question as to what would happen under those circumstances.
Peter Edelmann, who is a lawyer and a member of the executive of the section of the Canadian Bar Association dealing with immigration law, said he is concerned about the application of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He asked how we can be assured that the U.S. CBP pre-clearance officers will be subjected to the charter. The bill does not specify their status as agents of the state.
The other aspect that I want to raise is very troubling. To return to something else I mentioned in my speech, I would remind members that on Friday, in the House, I asked a question about the possibility of U.S. border agents asking more frequently for people's cell phones to gather information about social networks and other information on phones. I said that a cell phone contains much more personal information than a suitcase, for example. Consequently, searching the suitcase of a law abiding citizen, which contains his razor and clothing, for example, is not the same as searching his cell phone.
The parliamentary secretary answered that everything was fine since there are directives in place for Canadian officers. However, we still have questions about the obligations of U.S. officers. It is a matter of culture.
We know that our men and women in uniform follow procedures to ensure our safety in Canada, and we are very proud of that. Though we cannot go so far as to challenge American procedures, we can still ask questions.
In cases of violations committed by American pre-clearance officers, the inspecting party, in other words, the United States, will have primary jurisdiction over most offences, except murder, aggravated sexual assault, and terrorism.
That seems fine, but what about assault in general? That is an important item that is missing from the list of exceptions. What sort of practices can be used during an interrogation? We do not know, but should assault be committed during an interrogation, there is nothing in the law to ensure that the American officer in question is subject to Canada's jurisdiction.
There are other concerns that I could mention, but I would like to conclude by saying that, although these concerns are nothing new, they are becoming increasingly important given the rapidly changing reality. Unfortunately, the government does not seem to be able to stand up and oppose President Trump's human rights violations and discriminatory policies.
With the time that is left to me, I do want to propose the following amendment:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
“the House decline to give second reading to Bill C-23, An Act respecting the preclearance of persons and goods in Canada and the United States, because it: (a) neglects to take into account the climate of uncertainty at the border following the discriminatory policies and executive orders of the Trump Administration; (b) does not address Canadians’ concerns about being interrogated, detained, and turned back at the border based on race, religion, travel history or birthplace as a result of policies that may contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; (c) does nothing to ensure that Canadians’ right to privacy will be protected during searches of electronic devices; and (d) violates Canadian sovereignty by increasing the powers of American preclearance officers on Canadian soil with respect to the carrying of firearms and by not properly defining a criminal liability framework.”