Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today to speak to Bill C-23 and to argue in support of the reasoned amendment by my colleague, the member for Beloeil—Chambly. His amendment instructs the House to decline to give second reading to the bill because of several important reasons, which I will be happy to explore later in my speech.
I also want to note that it is very unfortunate we are conducting this debate today under a time allocation passed by the Liberal government earlier today.
The tone of this debate on the legislation has heated up considerably over the past few days during which it has been debated. In particular, there have been some misleading and grossly exaggerated statements from Liberal members of Parliament. There has been a general mischaracterization of the NDP's concerns, combined with over-the-top and fiercely partisan attacks, which have at times sunk this debate to a new low.
I hope to raise the tone of this debate with reasoned arguments against letting Bill C-23 pass at second reading.
Let me make one point perfectly clear. The New Democrats are in favour of measures that will facilitate fluid movement across the U.S. border, but not at the expense of human rights, respect for privacy of Canadians, and Canada's sovereignty.
I support pre-clearance as it currently operates. In fact, I have used the service several times in my life at the Vancouver International Airport when travelling to the United States, and it certainly works well as it currently exists.
I understand that pre-clearance is an important part of the Canada-U.S. relationship and to the free flow of trade and travellers between our two countries, but the provisions contained in Bill C-23 are too problematic for me to give my support.
Bill C-23 neglects to take into account the climate of uncertainty at the border following the discriminatory policies and executive orders of the Trump administration. Canada and the United States signed the agreement on land, rail, marine, and air transport preclearance on March 16, 2015, under the previous Harper government.
Bill C-23 was introduced by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness on June 17, 2016. There was little fanfare at the time, as Parliament was more consumed by Bill C-14's progress through the Senate, and we were certainly all looking forward to the upcoming visit of then President Obama and his address to the House of Commons, which I think we can all agree was a tremendous speech.
The times have changed dramatically since that time, and they provide an even starker contrast to the reasons why this bill is so problematic. The Liberals are moving ahead with the agreement signed under Obama's presidency as if everything was simply business as usual. However, we must take into account the change in U.S. leadership.
The legislation was problematic before the inauguration of President Trump, but recent discriminatory orders and invasions of privacy now leave no doubt about the potential dangers and abuses that will result from the agreement. This is a president who excels at making statements with no empirical evidence to back them up. The most recent example is his shocking allegation that former President Obama ordered wiretaps on his phone during the election.
This man has little understanding of what a warrant is, of the checks and balances of the United States system, the constitution, and he has undermined the judiciary of the United States on repeated occurrences.
The U.S. customs and border protection agency is the largest federal law enforcement agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security. It is an extremely powerful arm of the executive branch of government, but it is now headed by someone who I do not think is fit for that office.
Agencies take their cue from the people at the top. This is a fact. Bill C-23 is proposing to give more power to foreign agents that are lead by an administration that routinely uses fear, lies, and personal attacks on its political opponents to advance its agenda. I cannot, in good conscience, support such a bill.
The third point I wish to address are the increased powers that Bill C-23 would provide for U.S. officers on Canadian soil, provisions regarding carrying of firearms, the power to conduct strip searches, detention, and interrogation.
In particular, I feel strongly that it is unacceptable to see officers of a foreign country who are in a position of authority bear and ultimately use firearms in the performance of their duties on Canadian soil. As is provided for in the summary of the bill, part 3 of the enactment makes related amendments to the Criminal Code to provide the United States pre-clearance officers with an exemption from criminal liability under the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act with respect to carriage of firearms and other regulated items. Bill C-23 would violate our precious Canadian sovereignty by increasing the powers of American pre-clearance officers on Canadian soil with respect to carrying firearms and by not properly defining a criminal liability framework.
There are those within the Liberal and Conservative ranks who dismiss this concern or see it as simply irrelevant. In fact, repeated speakers from the Liberal Party have used rather poor reasoning, in that U.S. agents would only be granted firearms if their Canadian counterparts were similarly armed in the same area. This sidesteps the issue and avoids the question as to why this measure is necessary.
I fully realize that with the combined Liberal and Conservative support for the bill, it is most definitely going to pass second reading. The troubling thing for me is that not one Liberal or Conservative MP has bothered to raise any concerns about this erosion of Canadian sovereignty.
The Liberals like to call themselves the party of the charter, but not one of them has addressed Canadians' concerns about being interrogated, detained, or turned back at the border based on race, religion, travel history, or birth place, as a result of policies that may contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Liberals have also failed to speak up about the lack of provisions protecting the rights and freedoms of transgendered persons during strip searches, in spite of the government's support for Bill C-16.
The Conservatives like to wrap themselves in the flag, and they talk a good game when it comes to protecting our border and our sovereignty, but not one of them has stood to address the fact that we would be giving more powers to agents of a foreign government on Canadian soil.
The final point I want to make is that Canada Border Services agents and the RCMP are filled with great men and women, who do their job in a most capable way every day. They are required to take the oath of allegiance before they can assume their duties as uniformed officers. Allegiance is given to the crown and other institutions that the sovereign represents within the federal and provincial spheres, including the state, its constitution, and traditions. On the other hand, U.S. customs and border patrol agents give their oath of allegiance to the United States Constitution and promise to faithfully discharge their duties in the office that they are about to enter, which is fully an institution of the United States government. This is the crux of the problem. United States officials operating on Canadian soil owe their allegiance to a foreign government, and yet we are prepared to give them powerful new measures, such as carrying firearms on our sovereign soil.
I think that borders matter and that they certainly need to be treated with respect. Also, sovereignty matters and precedents matter. Therefore, I think this is a slippery slope. If we pass Bill C-23, if we allow agents of a foreign government to operate on our soil in this matter, what more demands will be presented at a future instance from the United States government?
All I ask hon. members to do is pause and think about the wishes of their constituents. Did their constituents send them to this place to pass legislation to give agents of a foreign government the power to carry firearms on Canadian soil? This is a real sticking point for me, and I know from the correspondence that I and many of my colleagues have received that this is a major concern. We will certainly be raising it at every opportunity that we can.