Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's debate on Bill S-233, an act to amend the Customs Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, regarding the presentation and reporting requirements.
I would like to begin by acknowledging the hard work of the member for Beloeil—Chambly, who serves as our critic for public safety. His great work in the House and his dedication to his riding has made me proud to have him as a colleague.
I am very pleased to see Bill S-233 come up for debate, and I am also grateful that the member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes has sponsored this legislation. I know the member is also the sponsor of his own private member's bill, Bill C-273, which is quite similar to Bill S-233. I have read Bill C-273 and I spoke with people in my riding about it a number of months ago.
My riding of Essex has many kilometres of shoreline along beautiful Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, and the issues that Bill S-233 seeks to address are certainly important to the concerns of the people that I was elected to represent. This legislation seeks to modernize Canadian requirements for boaters who cross from the United States into Canadian waters but who do not land, anchor, or moor.
Currently, people out fishing or pleasure cruising who cross into Canadian waters have an obligation to report to the Canada Border Services Agency, even if they have no intention of stopping or coming ashore. They are allowed to do so by phone or in person at one of the border security checkpoints. Those who do not report to CBSA can face hefty penalties, including the immediate and permanent seizure of their vessel, physical restraints, and fines of $1,000 to $25,000. These penalties seem grossly disproportionate to the harm done.
There have been media reports of American boaters unintentionally entering into Canadian waters, then being fined and forced to pay the fine on the spot to avoid having their boat seized. Every summer we see cases like this of people being fined. These stories spread and they deter both Americans and Canadians from enjoying our shared bodies of water and participating in activities that are important economic drivers for our communities, like in the town of Belle River, close to where I live.
This is why this legislation is so important to me. Essex is home to three significant bodies of water. To the north, we have Lake St. Clair, a freshwater lake that we share with Michigan. There are many boating and sailing clubs and marinas located along these shores, as the lake is very popular with recreational users. In fact, I live only a couple of blocks away from this beautiful lake.
To the west, we have the Detroit River, a heritage river that flows from Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie. It is an important transportation route and a major element of our international border with the U.S. It also played a significant role in the prohibition era, which contributed to our rum-running history, where liquor was frequently smuggled across the river into Detroit. In fact, we can still find many heritage homes with hidden rooms. Various books have been written about this interesting period in time.
To the south, we have Lake Erie, a beautiful Great Lake where fishing, agriculture, and tourism are all important economic activities for our region.
In the summer months, boaters from both sides of the border are active users of our shared bodies of water.
In Windsor-Essex, many of my constituents use I-68s, which are permits issued under the Canadian border boat landing program that is operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The program allows boaters that are citizens or residents of Canada or the U.S. to enter or return to the U.S. by pleasure craft with only one inspection conducted by U.S. customs per year. People in Essex will apply each year at the beginning of the boating season. I-68s allow them to travel by pleasure craft within 25 miles of the shoreline along the U.S. border with Canada for up to 72 hours without being inspected. Without an I-68, boaters must present themselves for inspection.
However, Canada does not have a similar program that allows boaters to spend time on our shared bodies of water without worrying that they may have unintentionally crossed the border and are subject to a heavy fine for failure to notify CBSA. Instead, we have overly bureaucratic requirements that can be very frustrating for people in my riding of Essex as well as for other Canadian and American boaters.
Over the past year, many people have contacted my office with questions about the in-transit exemption and confusion over the reporting rules for Canadian boaters who enter U.S. waters, but do not anchor or touch shore, and then re-enter Canadian waters.
Sometimes people receive conflicting information, and from year to year, how authorities interpret and apply the rules seems to differ greatly. This lack of consistency is understandably frustrating for people who want to enjoy the water without fear of facing fines for inadvertently breaking the rules.
I am currently advising my constituents to get their NEXUS cards, report in with CBSA before re-entering Canadian waters, and ensure that all adults and children in the travelling party carry their proper identification. If the rules are not clear, people should contact CBSA or U.S. customs before they even head out onto the water.
As I have outlined, boating is an important activity for people in my riding, and the legislation we are debating today will have a direct impact on my region. Bill S-233 may not fix all the confusion or inconsistencies surrounding the rules for Canadian boaters, however, it makes important changes to modernize Canadian legislation, and ensure that our laws are effective in promoting the goals they were intended to.
I spoke earlier about the Detroit River and the region's rum-running history. Canadians may be surprised to learn that many of Canada's existing boating rules were put in place over 80 years ago during the prohibition era to stop the smuggling of alcohol through Canadian waters. Clearly, it is time to take a fresh look at the rules and modernize them to reflect today's realities and more closely align our requirements with our friends in the United States.
In fact, the existing rules have damaged our relationship with the U.S., and have negatively impacted Canada's tourism sector. I know this is true in my region of Windsor-Essex, as well as in my colleague's region of the Thousand Islands. People in my region have been working hard to convince our American boater friends to return to our marinas. After 9/11, there was a significant downturn in U.S. visitors. Our region has been working steadily to turn this trend around. More visitors means more economic benefits for our region.
I have discussed boating requirements with the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce. It strongly supports legislative action that strengthens our marine industry and encourages American tourists to visit our region, which has so much to offer for other visitors. We have outdoor activities, including fantastic cycling trails and waterfront trails. Point Pelee National Park and Pelee Island are internationally renowned. Wine tours are a popular activity, as we are home to many different wineries that produce quality wines year after year. We have some great museums that chronicle our region's rich history, from the War of 1812 to the prohibition era and the Underground Railroad.
I speak often in this place about the strong trade relationship between Windsor-Essex and Detroit. People cross our border every day for work and play. Our regions and our economies are deeply integrated. However, the relationship is not static and we must always work to strengthen it in ways that benefit the people in our communities.
That is why I am pleased to offer my strong support for Bill S-233. It is time to remove the impractical, unnecessary reporting requirements for U.S. boaters. This is an important courtesy that we can extend to our American neighbours and that will no doubt benefit Canadian boaters and communities like mine in Essex.