Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to discuss Bill C-23, which would provide the necessary authority under Canadian law to implement the land, rail, marine, and air transport preclearance agreement, thereby expanding U.S. pre-clearance operations in Canada and, for the first time, enabling pre-clearance of cargo and Canadian pre-clearance operations in the United States.
Pre-clearance makes travel faster and easier for tourists and business travellers alike, and makes it faster and easier for Canadian companies to do business with Americans. It also allows Canadian travellers to undergo U.S. border procedures while under the protection of Canadian law and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The proposed expansion of pre-clearance enabled by Bill C-23 has been greeted with enthusiasm by chambers of commerce across the country, by the tourism industry, which is in fact extremely important in Laurentides—Labelle, by the trucking industry, and by government partners, among others. For example, the mayor of Quebec City has called it a great victory for his city.
Pre-clearance operations for passengers have been a success story for more than 60 years, but they currently exist in only eight Canadian airports, and they do not exist for cargo at all. It is time to build on that success.
The proposed expansion to new locations and modes of travel requires an agreement with the United States. That agreement has been reached, and the United States has passed the legislation needed for implementation in their country with unanimous support in both houses of Congress. However, if we do not pass Bill C-23, the agreement will come to naught, and the benefits of pre-clearance will remain limited to those Canadians who already enjoy them.
Nevertheless, throughout this debate, the NDP members have been advocating in favour of the existing legislative framework. According to the member for Vancouver East, the current pre-clearance system is working well. The member for Beloeil—Chambly has said that the current pre-clearance system works just fine. The member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke said that pre-clearance is working very well already. In addition, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh said that she understood that pre-clearance is a process that exists today and it works.
Yes, it does, and I agree that the current legal framework, which has been in place since 1999, has served Canada well, but the NDP support for it is interesting because, in 1999, when this legal framework was proposed, the NDP had a very different take.
At the time, the member for Winnipeg—Transcona, Bill Blaikie, said that the bill raised questions about privacy protection. Mr. Blaikie stated reservations concerning the power of U.S. authorities to detain people, in particular, and he was afraid that U.S. law would be applied on Canadian soil. This sounds somewhat familiar.
The then member for Winnipeg Centre, Pat Martin, said he had serious reservations about the bill. He said it was too “intrusive” and “a breach of Canadian sovereignty”. He was worried that foreign officers would have the right to hold people and stop people from leaving. He argued that by passing the bill, the House was granting foreigners powers on our soil, which the NDP did not think was necessary. He went on to declare that the NDP remained firmly opposed to the creation of Canadian offences for resisting or misleading a foreign pre-clearance officer. He accused proponents of the bill, a group that now seems to include the NDP caucus, of being ready to trample on Canadian sovereignty. The best part is that he said that the bill opened up such a can of worms that it should be sent back to the other place for them to try again and take into consideration such basic things as national pride.
Clearly, a couple of decades later, the NDP realizes that its concerns back then were overblown, not to say unfounded, but here we are again. A new legal pre-clearance framework is again being proposed and the NDP is again sounding the alarm about perceived threats to Canadian sovereignty and perceived powers granted to foreign officers. It will not surprise me if 20 years from now New Democrats leap to the defence of Bill C-23 while insisting that any changes to it would mark the demise of the sovereignty of Canada.
Let us be reasonable. In many respects, Bill C-23 is very similar to the current framework. As concerns authorities to detain, question, search travellers, and seize goods, Bill C-23 is either identical to the existing law or very nearly so.
The same is true regarding penalties for obstructing or lying to an officer, and the right to withdraw from a pre-clearance area is maintained. A traveller just has to say who they are and why they are leaving.
The totality of U.S. pre-clearance operations in Canada would be subject to Canadian law, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Canadian Human Rights Act. That is an improvement over the present situation, where travellers arrive in the United States and clear customs without any of those protections.
The motion put forward by the member for Beloeil—Chambly asks us to reject Bill C-23 because of what he referred to as the climate of uncertainty at the U.S. border, but it is precisely with legislation like this that we are best able to reduce uncertainty for Canadian travellers.
The bill provides a clear legal framework governing the actions of U.S. officers on Canadian soil and requires U.S. officers in Canada to adhere to Canadian legal and constitutional standards.
Today, for instance, a Canadian taking the train from Montreal to New York has to disembark after crossing the border and submit to U.S. customs and immigration processes without any Canadian legal protection. With Bill C-23 in place, that traveller could be processed at the train station in Montreal with Canadian constitutional safeguards in force and with Canadian authorities on site.
In other words, not only would the legislation bring about substantial economic benefits and make trips to the United States quicker and more convenient for Canadian travellers, it would also enhance constitutional and legal protection for those very travellers.
That helps regions like mine. In my riding, we have the Mont Tremblant International Airport at La Macaza, where flights coming from outside Canada land. At present, it is very difficult to get customs services at that airport, even though it is a port of entry, since it is very costly to bring customs officers from Mirabel.
In the long term, it would help us if U.S. airports already had Canadian customs officers, since they would be able to go to any airport in Canada. That would save a lot of time and improve the economy in the Laurentians. It would solve a problem that has existed for a very long time: the fact that La Macaza is unable to accommodate enough flights from outside Canada, since the costs associated with customs services are too high.
I therefore think this bill is very important for the Laurentians region. I hope it will pass and we will see a number of U.S. airports offering Canadian services. I think that will benefit our entire economy. I know of a number of situations where it will save a lot of time.
When I was younger, I often travelled to the United States. I attended secondary school there, and I took the train or drove to get there. If I had had the option of clearing customs before getting on the train, I would have saved a lot of time. The train left Toronto at 7:00 a.m. and arrived in Buffalo at 2:00 p.m., when the trip by car took less than two hours. That enormous waste of time was caused by customs procedures.
Often, when the train gets to the border as it leaves the country, whichever direction it is going, customs officers check exports, and that takes an hour and a half. Then, when the train gets to the other side of the border, customs officers check imports, and that takes another hour and a half. That means that, altogether, passengers spend three hours at the border, something that simply would not happen if that checking were done at the outset.
Bill C-23 is an improvement over the existing situation. It gives Canadian officers on American soil the same rights as American officers on Canadian soil. It will also improve the economy in all of Canada’s tourist regions.
I am very eager to see this bill come into force.