Mr. Speaker, I am proud to join the debate on Bill C-23. I will share my time with my colleague and very good friend from Mégantic—L'Érable.
I always begin with a Yiddish proverb, and I have one today: The door of success is marked by push and pull. I think this Yiddish proverb speaks about the relationship Canada has enjoyed with our friend, the United States, this long-standing relationship that predates Confederation, both our trade and military relationship, and families crossing the border back and forth.
This agreement, this legislation that would actually ratify the agreement and make it Canadian law, is part and parcel of that push and pull we have experienced on the door of success. Our economies are intertwined. America's success is Canada's success, and we would deepen that relationship through this agreement.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that a great part of this agreement and this piece of legislation was accomplished by our colleague on this side of the House, the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, a member I had the distinct honour of working for many years ago, when he was first elected to this House, so I know the amount of work he puts into everything he does on behalf of his constituents and for this great country of Canada. This agreement is thanks to him. He did the majority of the work in getting it here. Now we see the fruits of his labour in this legislation to implement the agreement.
We know that pre-clearance of travellers already happens. It would be extended, thanks to this agreement and this legislation, to air, land, rail, and sea. There would be a greater opportunity for us to deepen our relationship with our American friends. It would also reduce congestion and delays in land travel, which, as we know, declined back in 2001, in the post-9/11 period, and it has never really recovered since. Individual passenger travel across the border has never really recovered. I have a piece of data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics that shows that 34% fewer vehicle passengers actually entered the United States in 2014 compared to the year 2000. It has gone down significantly.
Most people choose to fly, and that is where they experience pre-clearance. This would expand to other ports of entry into the United States.
The relationship we have with the United States very few other countries get to enjoy, with the preferential access we as Canadians have to the American market. As the member of Parliament for Parry Sound—Muskoka said earlier today in debate, the earliest agreement we actually have for the border crossing dates back to the 1970s. It is a long-term relationship we have had with our friends to the south, despite the disagreements we have had over the years, whether on foreign policy, economic policy, or social policy. We do not let them get in the way of deepening our relationship so it can increase trade.
We know that many jobs are dependent on our trade with our friends in the United States and that 35 states have Canada as their number one trading partner. A lot of that is thanks to the goods we ship to them and vice-versa, the goods they ship to us.
In February 2014, as part of deepening the relationship, we tried things. We tried pilot projects to track cargo. A pre-inspection pilot was launched at the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ontario. The pre-clearance tested in that situation could facilitate legitimate trade and travel.
An existing bilateral air transport pre-clearance framework makes air travel much more efficient for 10 billions-plus passengers, and every year, at Canada's eight busiest international airports, we get to experience that pre-clearance.
For the rest of the time I have, I want to go through different sections of the bill, which I think address some of the concerns I have read in the news and in some of the emails I have received from constituents who have expressed concerns about the bill. I will try to address them as I go through it.
Bill C-23 has many controls in place, and oversight does exist. As many members have already mentioned, a lot would be constrained, so the powers border officers would be given would be constrained by Canadian law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The power and performance of any duty or function would apply to U.S. pre-clearance officers just as much as to Canadian officers who would be there to help them, and they would be subject to Canadian law. We see in part one of the summary of the bill that the law would apply, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights, and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Part two of the summary says it “extends the application of other Canadian legislation that relates to the entry of persons and importation of goods into Canada to those preclearance areas and preclearance perimeters”.
Again, the preamble does the same thing. It mentions the concept of oversight. In the legislation, we see that powers would be given and then would be constrained through the law and through references to the charter or references to other pieces of legislation that would constrain the actions pre-clearance officers can take in the execution of the duties they would be granted through the legislation.
As an example, to ensure their security, Canadian and U.S. pre-clearance officers will be able to carry the same regulated items that the host country officers have in the same environment. In Canada, this means that U.S. CBP pre-clearance officers would be able to carry firearms at land, rail, and marine modes, but not when they would be conducting the pre-clearance of air passengers. Currently, Canadian law enforcement officers on duty during CBP hours of operation are able to assist, if required, in the eight Canadian airports with pre-clearance operations. That is freely available online on the government's website, so it should be pretty easy for most people to find.
One thing constituents have asked me is whether U.S. pre-clearance officers have the authority to make arrests on Canadian soil. Again, no, not in this situation. As with the existing air transport pre-clearance agreement, they would not have the power of arrest, only the power to detain. If they are asking more questions, they have to get assistance from a Canadian officer. That is again part of the oversight and accountability format that allows for detention, not arrest, and a Canadian official has to be involved if an arrest has to be made. It is part and parcel of this deepened relationship, where we trust our American partners to the south to make good decisions and use good judgment. We trust in their training.
It will not be perfect, and I say that to everybody. I have had bad experiences at the American border, just as I have had bad experiences at foreign borders, much worse. It happens in certain situations and is sometimes unavoidable. They are people, and people make mistakes. That happens in all countries. It has nothing to do with the specifics of the law, which provides sufficient powers and then limits those powers in a reasonable way.
When I have travelled to other countries, there have been limitations placed on me or I was asked questions I did not want to answer. However, I am always free to say I do not want to answer the questions and remove myself. It can happen.
Like I mentioned before, the preamble of Bill C-23 refers to this constraining of the powers through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. One thing I will mention, because it is quite unusual in debating legislation here, is that the powers, duties, and functions found in the bill include such headings as, “Frisk search — concealed goods”, “Strip search”, “Monitored bowel movement” in section 23 of the act. I find it quite unusual to have these kinds of headings in legislation, but, again, we are trying to be as specific as possible in detailing the types of powers being given and the limitations on the powers.
I have seen a lot of legislation come before the House which includes greater certainty clauses. There is one in this bill, clause 9, which states, “For greater certainty, Canadian law applies, and may be administered and enforced, in preclearance areas and preclearance perimeters”. I have seen these greater certainty clauses in different legislation proposed by one of my colleagues, I believe it was Bill C-225, and in the physician-assisted dying bill as well. These greater certainty clauses give the indication to judges, should it ever get to that point, what exactly the legislation is trying to do. In this case, it clearly states that Canadian law applies equally to Canadian border officials and U.S. border officials in the process of applying their judgment to the functions they have been given, and that it is not unlimited, that it is absolutely constrained by reasonable limits.
Another limit in clause 10(2) states, “A preclearance officer is not permitted to exercise...any powers of questioning or interrogation, examination, search, seizure, forfeiture, detention or arrest that are conferred under the laws of the United States”. There is again that concept of limitation. We give them certain powers, but they are limited in other areas and constrained in the actions they can take.
Every officer goes through very intensive training before becoming responsible for border control. Through that process, officers learn about the different laws, what they can and cannot ask, what they can and cannot do, and how they are supposed to do their jobs. That is true for every occupation and profession throughout Canada and the United States. We are giving them certain powers, but then we are limiting them. It is part of the concept that with the agreement we sign, we will have expectations of border guards fulfilling their duties, as well as expectations of our own officials in the United States undertaking their duties. I am sure the Americans are having very similar debates on why they are allowing Canadian officers certain powers at their borders.
The bill is the culmination of work by a previous Conservative government and it should be celebrated. Through this agreement, we will be deepening our relationship with our partners to the south and that deeper trade in 20 or 30 years will absolutely create more jobs. I look forward to the bill going to committee. Then we can hear more specific concerns from witnesses. My constituents have shared some concerns with me and I look forward to having that back and forth through emails with them, explaining portions of the bill to them, and hearing what they have to say as well.