Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise toward the end of this evening's debate to talk about this important piece of legislation. Bill C-23 will implement the agreement reached with the United States to expand pre-clearance operations to new locations and modes of travel, and it opens the door to cargo pre-clearance as well as Canadian pre-clearance operations in the U.S.
I am pleased that throughout the course of today, and over the last week or so, we have seen lively debate about Bill C-23. However, I do think it is important that as we study and discuss this proposed legislation, we ensure that we are working from a sound understanding of the bill, and a full appreciation of the significant benefits that we stand to gain from expanding our pre-clearance operations with the United States.
After the many hours of debate that have taken place for this bill, we certainly know by now what pre-clearance is, and we know that it works. We have heard how it has been a part of the Canada-U.S. border management success story. Many of us have been pre-cleared ourselves before boarding flights to the United States. As has been noted, we have been operating pre-clearance successfully in the air mode since the 1950s.
In terms of volume, we know that Canadian pre-clearance facilities process 12 million passengers headed to the United States annually. We know that the eight airports that have pre-clearance operations are far more competitive than they would be without them. With pre-clearance, Canadian airports have special direct access to non-international U.S. airports. For example, Canada is the only country serving Reagan airport with direct air services. Without pre-clearance, Toronto Pearson airport, for example, could only serve 27 U.S. cities instead of the 50 that it serves now. Pearson is the fourth-largest point of entry into the United States worldwide.
It is not only in air travel where we have seen the benefits. As members have heard, some pre-inspection sites serve rail and cruise ship businesses on the west coast. The cruise ship industry brings $435 million in economic benefits to British Columbia's coastal region, including 4,600 local jobs. Pre-inspection, which is a kind of partial pre-clearance, is important to that success. The legislation before us will enable full pre-clearance operations for those sites, with considerable advantages for the tourism industry on the west coast. Therefore, it is not surprising that there is a clear demand for more pre-clearance facilities and that both the current and previous administrations in Canada and the U.S. have been working diligently together to put the legal frameworks in place to make that happen. With the legislation before us, we will be able to further expand on these unquestionable economic benefits by paving the way for additional sites in all modes of travel and in both countries, as well as the pre-clearance of cargo.
We have heard the concerns raised about the protection of Canadians' rights, and we are certainly all sensitive to that. That is why I am proud to highlight that the protection of Canadians' rights and the requirement for compliance with Canadian law and the charter are central elements of this bill.
Pre-clearance operations in Canada must be conducted within Canadian law. It is explicitly set out in part 1 of the bill, which sets out the powers, duties, and functions of U.S. officers under the act. It states:
A preclearance officer must exercise their powers and perform their duties and functions under this act in accordance with Canadian law, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
This includes powers of questioning, examination, search, seizure, and detention, powers that already exist in the current pre-clearance arrangement. Similarly, Canadian officers conducting pre-clearance in the U.S. would also be bound by the charter. That is specified in article II of the agreement with the U.S. being implemented by this bill, Bill C-23.
By undergoing U.S. customs and border procedures while still on Canadian soil, Canadian travellers will be protected by our laws and the Canadian Constitution.
I know that certain members of the opposition have argued that because this is already the case in eight Canadian airports, Bill C-23 is unnecessary. However, pre-clearance is not in place at all Canadian airports or at train stations and marine ports. Bill C-23 would pave the way for travellers in those locations to have legal and constitutional Canadian protections that are unavailable to them now.
For those who remain unconvinced of the benefits of this, I would ask that they consider the alternative. Without pre-clearance, travellers are required to submit to immigration and customs processing once they arrive on American soil. That processing is done entirely on American soil and therefore on American terms.
Another concern that has been raised is the issue of withdrawal from pre-clearance areas. It must be noted that should travellers change their minds about entering the United States and wish to leave the pre-clearance area, withdrawal will be allowed under the new act. Officers will have limited latitude to question withdrawing travellers as to their identities and reasons for withdrawing. Without this, people of ill intent can approach, enter, examine, and then leave these controlled areas, potentially weakening our border security.
To conclude, I simply wish to reiterate that pre-clearance is a crucial border management tool for Canada, both economically and from a security perspective. It also has the added benefit of allowing Canadian travellers to undergo American border procedures while protected by Canadian law and the Canadian Constitution, including our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. By adopting this important piece of legislation, which is necessary to implement the Land, Rail, Marine and Air Transport Preclearance Agreement with the United States, the advantages of pre-clearance would become available to many more Canadian travellers and businesses.
I urge all hon. members to keep these significant benefits front of mind as we further examine and study this bill, and I look forward to more constructive debate in the House.