Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I stand in the House today to speak to Bill C-21, an act to amend the Customs Act.
Before I go any further, I would like to once again thank the leader of the Conservative Party for appointing me to his shadow cabinet as critic for public safety and emergency preparedness. I look forward to working with our leader, my cabinet colleagues, and our entire caucus so as to ensure that the concerns of all stakeholders within the public safety and emergency preparedness portfolio are heard and addressed.
I also hope to work productively with the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. I am very pleased that we can begin today by discussing a bill that we believe is a step in the right direction for Canada's public safety.
One of the major stakeholders in public safety is the Canada Border Services Agency. This is an agency, as I will explain later, that will be directly affected by the bill we are discussing today.
CBSA employs nearly 14,000 individuals, including 6,500 uniformed CBSA officers who provide services at approximately 1,200 points across Canada and at 39 international locations. While most Canadians will be familiar with this agency from the interactions they have with its officers at the border crossings on land, air, and sea, they may not know just how busy this agency really is.
The CBSA's responsibilities include detaining those people who may pose a threat to Canada and removing people who are inadmissible to Canada, including those involved in terrorism, organized crime, war crimes or crimes against humanity. The CBSA also stops illegal goods from entering the country, and protects food safety, and plant and animal health.
I want to thank the people at CBSA for the hard work they do every day. I thank them for everything they do and for the work that happens behind the scenes that international travellers are unaware of. We certainly know that the CBSA agents are there working hard to protect us.
Given the state of the world today there is no role more important than to work every day on finding the best ways to enhance public safety for all Canadians.
With terrorism on the rise in many countries around the world, including Canada, unfortunately, the unspeakable crimes involving human trafficking and the pain and suffering of the victims' parents, and organized crime destroying individuals and entire families, we cannot afford to be lax in our efforts to keep Canadians safe.
What is human life worth? What lengths should we go to in order to protect our sons and daughters? How far should we go to make our children and families feel safe at home and in their community day and night?
We know that our Constitution affords rights to criminals, but it also provides rights to law-abiding citizens. Can we not balance the two?
I sometimes feel that in dealing with criminals, the rights of law-abiding citizens are taken lightly and justice is not properly served. Recently we saw the current government bend over backwards to provide long-term financial support to a young man who gladly and passionately fought against our allies. The government gave him up to $10 million for his trouble but had very little to say about the soldier's widow or her children.
I raise this point because from time to time, the Prime Minister speaks more passionately about non-Canadians and acts in ways that make every Canadian stop and think to themselves: is this Prime Minister speaking for me or for someone halfway around the world? Who does he really care about?
We agree and share the compassion of many Canadians who follow current events and see the struggles of people in faraway lands. We can never agree, though, that their interests, desires, or even hopes can be placed above the Canadians who fulfilled their duty and elected us to office to come to this place and speak on their behalf. We must remember that we speak on their behalf, so it worries me when we have cases like the recent payout to Mr. Khadr. We find the Prime Minister absent, the details of the payout secret, and Canadians left feeling uncomfortable living out their daily lives knowing that the government has made a criminal wealthy and free to walk the streets of our compassionate country.
I am all for gathering together, as we are today, to talk about bills that will make criminals and smugglers think twice about their activities. I am also strongly in favour of any bill that will make it difficult or even impossible for people to abuse or illegally benefit from our generous benefit programs.
Bill C-21 is part of a broader initiative called beyond the border, which was created in 2011 by our previous Conservative government. It is good to see that the Liberals are following in our footsteps and making this action plan a reality. The action plan includes key areas of co-operation, such as addressing threats early; trade facilitation, economic growth, and jobs; cross-border law enforcement; and critical infrastructure and cyber security, which is very important.
This bill is part of an action plan that seeks to maximize the benefits we derive from our close relationship with the United States. By moving forward with a perimeter-based security approach and by working together both inside and outside the borders of our two countries, we can improve security and expedite the legitimate flow of people, goods, and services between the two countries.
The declaration made in 2011 includes the establishment of an entry-exit system for the two countries. Bill C-21 is an important part of the initiative I just mentioned. To make such an entry-exit system possible, it must include the exchange of relevant entry information by the relevant government so that documented entry into one country serves to verify exit data from the other country.
While at this time the Government of Canada currently collects biographical information about travellers entering Canada, it has no reliable way of knowing when and where travellers leave the country. Bill C-21 would help Canada implement phases 3 and 4 of the entry-exit initiative. It would help Canada and the U.S. exchange basic biographical data on all travellers, including Canadian and American citizens using land ports of entry.
The CBSA already collects biographical exit data on all air travellers leaving Canada by obtaining electronic passenger manifests from air carriers. Such practices are not uncommon around the world. In fact, the Australian government uses movement records to track arrivals and departures at its borders. Movement records may include name, date of birth, gender, relationship status, country of birth, departure and arrival dates, travel document permission, and travel itinerary.
In 1998, the U.K. government ended its collection of paper-based exit controls and in 2004 introduced a more sophisticated approach by collecting advance procedure information for inbound and outbound air passengers. In 2015, the government also introduced embarkation checks, which are to take place at all ports to the U.K. Information collected under this legislation includes passports or travel documents and biographical information.
The Government of New Zealand has a passenger departure card system in place for outbound travellers. Before going through customs, travellers have to fill out a departure card under the country's 2009 immigration legislation. These cards are used to collect information such as a passenger's travel itinerary, nationality, passport information, date of birth, occupation, country of birth, and current address.
Since 2008, the United States has been requiring air and marine carriers to provide border police with an electronic list of all passengers and crew members before any international flight or departure under the advance passenger information system. This information must be provided before departure so that the manifests can be compared to the terrorist watch list and the information can be added to the data base.
The bill we are looking at today, which I am proud to say was originally introduced by the Conservatives, is first and foremost aimed at combatting terrorism. That is why we must not oppose it. We believe this bill will build on the good work we have already started with our American partners.
That being said, I must ask the minister to clarify one thing. Over the past year, a troubling trend has emerged. We are seeing more and more people entering Canada through unofficial crossing points, coming through fields or forests, in the depths of winter and the height of summer, steering clear of Canada's official ports of entry. We therefore welcome this bill for what it will do to strengthen border security. The border is not just a single crossing with a lineup of people waiting; it stretches from one end of the country to the other.
Our concern is that other topics like unofficial ports of entry are also relevant to our discussion today. Although this government is implementing some excellent border security initiatives that originated under the Conservative government, it does not seem to care about securing the border between official ports of entry.
I hope the minister plans to clarify this contradiction, not only for us in the House, but also for the men and women who work for CBSA and the RCMP. We have always known that the Prime Minister was not too concerned about the danger posed by criminals, and now he appears even less worried. The Prime Minister recently ordered budget cuts at the Canada Border Services Agency, and did so very quietly. On the one hand, the Liberals talk about increasing security, but on the other, the Prime Minister quietly orders budget cuts.
I recently received a call at my office from a woman who told me that CBSA services at the Oshawa airport and at the commercial office in Barrie have been completely eliminated. The Liberals are just talking out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, they say they are here for Canadians, but on the other hand, they make cuts.