moved that Bill S-233, An Act to amend the Customs Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (presentation and reporting requirements), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Sarnia—Lambton for seconding this bill. I am here today to support a proposed amendment to the Customs Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to request the support of my fellow members in the House of Commons.
Bill S-233 aims to amend cumbersome and overly restrictive regulations to allow small pleasure craft to enter Canadian waters freely, so long as they do not intend to anchor or come ashore. As the regulations currently stand, American boaters who even knowingly drift into Canadian waters without reporting to the Canada Border Services Agency can face hefty penalties, which seem grossly disproportionate to the harm that is done. These include the immediate and permanent seizure of the vessel, humiliating physical restraints, and fines from $1,000 up to $25,000. The payment of such fines is often demanded on the spot with the threat of being towed to Canadian shores, and made to lie face down on the boat's floor for the duration of the trip. This is not how Canada should be treating our closest allies.
The current regulations found in the Customs Act were implemented during prohibition in order to stop the smuggling of alcohol across the Canadian border. An update is clearly long overdue as our rules should reflect the fact that we have made more than 80 years of progress toward the great relationship that we have with the United States today. Amending this legislation would not only strengthen our relationship with America but would also promote tourism to Canadian destinations by presenting Canada as a welcoming and fair destination. The U.S. already offers certain small crafts an exemption from formal reporting because such vessels are classified as low risk.
Canadians, therefore, are extended the trust to drift in and out of American waters, so long as they announce their intention to do so just once during the entire boating season. In contrast, many boaters from the United States feel unable to fish in certain regions out of fear that they might accidentally drift too close to the border and face severe penalties from Canadian authorities. Even in my own riding of Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, long-time fishers and boaters have expressed frustration that they are unable to navigate the Thousand Islands waterway because Canadian laws are severe, unclear, and inconsistently applied.
Checking in currently requires either a trip to a CBSA checkpoint, which is costly in time and fuel, or the use of a cellphone, which is an unreliable service which has already resulted in the wrongful punishment of one family who made multiple attempts to call in, but still faced $3,000 in fines for what should have been a pleasant day on the water. Even when cellphone signals function offshore, which is far from guaranteed, boaters are not always spared from reporting to a checkpoint, an unnecessary inconvenience which often leads Americans to choose locations far from Canada's borders.
We share border waters with 10 states, in which more than 3.2 million small pleasure craft are registered, giving this bill the ability to have a positive impact on many lives, including those of Canadians. Not only do the boaters impacted aim to share our beautiful scenery, but they also contribute to our economy by purchasing Canadian fishing licences and encouraging travel to Canadian destinations. In fact, United States citizens purchased 331,327 Ontario fishing licences in 2015 alone. In this way, less restrictive regulations are of mutual benefit. The provinces receive extra funding and the tourism industry thrives on both sides of the border, all the while strengthening the relationship between Canada and the United States.
Unfortunately, our regulations have already done some damage. Americans who have already been subjected to the unfair treatment outlined in the Customs Act say they are no longer willing to buy Canadian fishing licences nor will they promote visiting our country at all, dealing damage to our tourism industry. In one such case, an American citizen, Roy Anderson, who had been fishing in Canada all of his life, was punished for breaking regulations he did not even know existed. After Anderson was heavily fined and briefly detained, he vowed that he would never again purchase another Canadian licence and stated that his friends would not even dare approach the border for fear of losing their boats or being subjected to massive fines.
Anderson even made the statement that, in his eyes, Canada clearly does not want Americans entering our country. Anderson's story appeared in the press dozens of times as Canadians and Americans alike criticized the actions of Canada Border Services Agency and repeatedly called on these regulations—which they viewed as antiquated, outrageous, and unfair to the American people who so kindly grant us access to their water—to be changed.
This is not the image of Canada that should be portrayed in the media. Canadians are kind, welcoming, and fair. We are not aggressors who feel the need to harass harmless fishermen on a day out with their families. We have a great country with many things of which to be proud. The media should have no shortage of happy and positive stories to write, but these stories are being overshadowed by policies that do not reflect the image of the Canada we know today. If we want the media to write kindly about us, we must always strive to give them reason to do so. With each story that portrays Canada in a negative light, fewer American citizens feel welcome in our country. We cannot stop the press from writing about us, but we can give it reasons to write kindly.
The first step is making things right in our own regulations and understanding that, if we do not change the way we treat our visitors, they are unlikely to continue coming back. As it is, businesses and fishing associations in Canada and the United States have already begun to complain about our treatment of U.S. citizens. The St. Lawrence River Walleye Association in New York State has expressed concern that our policies could put a serious damper on relations between our countries, as its members feel unwelcome and threatened by our current regulations. After hearing stories in the media, many fear drifting too close to the Canadian border and incurring fines that they cannot afford to pay. Many simply choose to stay home.
Similarly, Scott MacCrimmon of Ed Huck Marine in Rockport, Ontario, has called the regulations one more barrier to visiting the Thousand Islands and feels that our unwelcoming attitude toward American citizens is creating a division between the countries and preventing Americans from doing business in Canada at all. MacCrimmon stated that the frustration and confusion that stems from these regulations is harming relations between Canada and the United States. From his perspective, as Americans come to feel unwelcome in Canadian waters they are less likely to visit at all, a great source of concern for those working in the tourism industry who rely on seasonal visits from American citizens to stay afloat.
A number of Canadian chambers of commerce have also echoed these concerns, even pointing out the devastating impact that these regulations are having on their marketing efforts. The Gananoque chamber of commerce even stated that the proposed amendments would aid in the promotion of not only the Thousand Islands but every Canadian market town bordering the United States. It further stated that, given our 150th anniversary, Canada should be doing everything possible to promote our natural beauty, rich history, and cultural diversity.
We should therefore aim to be ever more accommodating and inviting to the southern neighbours who treat us so kindly. The days of prohibition are over, and it is also time that we do away with old regulations intended to solve an issue that is long gone. There is no longer any need to check every boat that happens to cross into our territory, and it is therefore excessive and unnecessary to make these requirements of American boaters. Small pleasure craft pose little to no threat to Canadian safety, so long as they steer clear of our shoreline. It is therefore imperative that we begin treating our American neighbours as friends and not criminals.
This bill has already passed the Senate of Canada. Senator Bob Runciman worked with the government on some of the technical amendments that it wanted to see in this bill. It did pass the Senate unanimously. I am looking forward to seeing this bill move through the House of Commons and on to committee in the hopes that we could see this bill through before our boating season gets into full swing. We know that we are coming up on the long weekend here, across Canada, and traditionally it is the start of the boating season, but it really gets into full swing as we move toward Canada Day. This would be a great way to celebrate Canada Day, to see this burdensome issue go away.
It really is an issue. We have Patty Ritchie, who is a New York State senator, who has come to also testify as a witness in front of the committee in the Senate, as I did myself. I really think it is overdue that this bill pass this House and that we get this fixed. Let us bring our legislation into 2017 and do away with regulations that do us no service.