Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to split my time with the member for Peace River—Westlock today.
I rise to speak in support of Bill C-23, for several reasons. I will start with an overview of what the bill would do. I have had a lot of questions in my constituency about the bill.
Bill C-23 seeks to carry out some of the items that were part of the beyond the border plan, which former Prime Minister Harper and former President Obama put together. The agreement was put together to ensure that the long-term, positive relationship Canada and the United States have shared was strengthened over time through certain measures on the integrity of our borders and the management of the flow of traffic.
As my colleagues on the government side have said, it is important to note the volume of trade that occurs across this border on a daily basis. More than $2.5 billion worth of trade in goods, services, vehicles, etc., cross the border on a daily basis. That is why it is very important for us to maintain positive relations with the United States within a framework that respects the sovereignty of both nations and the rule of law in both nations and that also ends up being a positive experience for all involved.
It is important to go back to the beyond the border agreement when looking at the context of the bill. I would encourage anyone who has heard some of the myths about the bill to look at that agreement. Those listening today might look at this as a reaction to Trump or as a result of the Trump presidency, which I will get to later.
The original beyond the border agreement was actually negotiated under the Obama administration. It addressed things like addressing threats early, such as threats against border security, and facilitating trade. It addressed cross-border law enforcement, critical infrastructure, and cybersecurity.
Something worth noting is that there is a formal development and a statement of principle on privacy. Former Prime Minister Harper, as well as former President Obama, actually signed, in 2011, a joint statement on privacy principles. It is worth looking through it, because I know there has been some concern about privacy with regard to the bill. I feel that the principles included in that statement would be upheld by this, including things like maintaining all reasonable efforts to ensure the accuracy of information and the continued right to have access and to request the correction of errors, etc. I encourage people to read this particular piece of information, because it provides good context as to why this particular bill is quite sound.
I want to address some of the issues that have been brought to the attention of my office by some of my constituents. I will refer to some of the statements the public safety minister made in his introductory speech on the bill.
One misconception about the bill that has been put forward is that Canadian citizens would be subject to strip searches in a manner that they were not before. The current law allows a U.S. pre-clearance officer to conduct a strip search if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a traveller is hiding something or carrying something dangerous. My colleague from Parry Sound—Muskoka said that should there be a wish to explore what “reasonable grounds” means, we certainly could look at it in committee. For that reason, I support the bill going to the committee stage.
The concept of a strip search certainly is not something anyone is excited about having happen, but it is worth pointing out that current law obligates U.S. officers to request that a Canadian counterpart conduct the search. This would remain the same. The only difference under Bill C-23 is that the U.S. officer could conduct the search if no Canadian officer were available, which would be extremely rare, and any such search would be subject to the same legal and constitutional protections that would apply to a search done by a Canadian officer.
In this very rare moment in the House of Commons, I agree with some of the comments put forward by the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, in that part of the benefit of the U.S. pre-clearance system is that these searches and these processes would be done on Canadian soil. Therefore, Canadian law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would apply to Canadians. To me, this is a win-win.
I am a frequent visitor to the United States of America. My father is an American citizen. I enjoy having pre-clearance. I think this is a piece of legislation that is going to both protect my rights as a citizen of Canada and respect the sovereignty of the United States and its laws. It is going to ensure that the flow of trade, travellers, and goods continues in a positive way.
The Minister of Public Safety said that historical experience over the past 60 years indicates that any conflict in relation to these rules governing searches has “happened exactly zero times”. I think that is important to know. That is a good piece of information.
I am concerned, and certainly there are a lot of people who are concerned right now about some of the changes that have happened under the American administration. I watched a very good interview with officials from the United Nations last night about how, with regard to the safe third country agreement, there have been calls for it to be rescinded. However, the American legal system has not changed overnight. The American asylum system has not changed overnight.
The United States of America is probably one of the most vibrant democracies in the world, with one of the most thriving economies in the world. We are very fortunate to share a border with this country. That does not mean we should not be vigilant in terms of ensuring that Canada's sovereignty is respected, but I really do not see anything in the form or substance of the bill that oversteps that.
Going again through some of the myths about the bill, I know there has been a lot of talk about Canadian citizens being able to be detained by U.S. border officers. The public safety minister stated:
U.S. officers would not have the power to arrest or charge travellers in Canada. Rather, as is currently the case under existing law, a U.S. pre-clearance officer who has reasonable grounds to believe that a traveller has committed an offence must turn the traveller over to Canadian authorities as quickly as possible. With no exceptions, only Canadian authorities would determine whether charges would be laid.
It is very important to note that Canadian law applies in this situation, and at no point in time could the United States all of a sudden supersede our sovereignty and our law in this situation. This is ensuring that our processes are well aligned. Again, I want to emphasize too that there is a choice made by someone who is entering a pre-clearance area or trying to gain entry into the United States. Should there be reasons not to allow people into the United States that they are aware of, that is something they have to be cognizant of when they are choosing to enter another country.
People have written my office to say that under this bill, if they walk into the pre-clearance area, they can no longer choose to leave it. Again, that is a myth. I will have to take the public safety minister's word on this, but I did review the bill. I read the bill the same way he did. He said, “travellers wishing to withdraw from a pre-clearance area...would be entitled to do so, but they would be required to identify themselves and give their reasons for withdrawing”.
The reason given for this change is to ensure that people are not entering the pre-clearance area to case it. I actually agree with this provision. It seems very reasonable. As stated, as the law is written, there would be no ability to simply detain someone ad hoc. People would be able to withdraw, but they would have to give their reasons for doing so.
Arming of officers has also come up. This was the example the minister gave:
...U.S. officers in Canada would only be entitled to carry the same weapons as Canadian border services officers do in the same environment.... because Canadian officers do not generally carry firearms inside airport terminals, U.S. officers would not be authorized to carry firearms there either.
The bill would actually expand the pre-clearance process to a variety of other ports and entry points. This is a great thing. The U.S. pre-clearance system in Canada facilitates the flow of goods and services. Certainly as a traveller with family in the United States, this is something I support.
Again, looking at the broader macroeconomic picture of trade and a continued relationship with one of our major trading partners, this is a fantastic continuation of relationships that have continued over political flavours of administrations. In the United States we have seen that change, but also in Canada.
This is a law that shows the endurance of Canadian–American relations in a positive way.
With that, I support this bill.