Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-3, in the last Parliament being Bill C-98, which was introduced in its last days.
I will say at the outset that I will be supporting this legislation. I believe the majority, an overwhelming number of members in the House, will be doing that.
To start off my comments in the House today, as I have listened to the debate not only today but over the course of the last few weeks in this legislation, I think members of the opposition have rightfully questioned some of the processes for this.
Again, as I mentioned, this is something that I believe many communities have been asking for. I will get into the specifics of my riding of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, but it was very frustrating to see the legislation tabled at the last minute, only a few weeks before the end of the last Parliament, but of course I am happy to see it now back in this Parliament.
We have heard some concerns from the customs and immigration national union about those who are on the front lines not being consulted, yet wanting to make sure that they are consulted in this process. Of course, it is an oversight body of their work. I think that, as a part of the consultation, it would be a natural body for the government to bring in and include when talking about a piece of legislation such as this.
From a technocratic perspective, over the last few weeks as this was being debated I have done some interventions and made comments related to making sure that this oversight body works. I mean that in the sense of being timely and responsive to the resolution of the complaints or challenges that come forward.
Very frankly we have seen this before with different government departments or oversight bodies. If individuals who file complaints are not getting their issues resolved in a timely manner, their confidence in the oversight body will not exist. They may not complain when valid complaints should come forward. We have to question the effectiveness of this.
I think that a lot of members who have raised that issue want to ensure that this legislation goes through. When it does, for lack of a better word, we will be the oversight of the oversight, to make sure that it achieves what we want to do.
I want to focus on my riding specifically of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry and the importance of this legislation. I will make the bold statement that this legislation may impact my riding the most of any riding in the country. I acknowledge that this involves oversight for both the RCMP and CBSA, but I will focus on the CBSA aspect.
As members may be aware, my riding is home to a port of entry in the city of Cornwall that travels through a first nations community: the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.
We have a bit of a unique geographic set-up with our port of entry. Cornwall Island for many years hosted the port of entry. In 2009, there was some back and forth with some challenges there, and the border was shut down for several months while a new location was worked out.
What happened was that the port of entry moved from Cornwall Island to the city of Cornwall. The challenge that it presents now is that first nations community members, people who are visiting Akwesasne or coming from Akwesasne to the city of Cornwall or the counties and out past there, have to go through a port of entry to enter into Canada.
This is the number one issue when I speak with the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne in my riding, the grand chief and council members. We are working on myriad different issues together, and I have appreciated their co-operation as I have reached out. We are working on some issues with Canada Post, land claims and economic development, but the port of entry is the number one concern.
I had a conversation recently with Grand Chief Abram Benedict about this piece of legislation. The council provided a letter almost four years ago to the previous minister of public safety, Ralph Goodale, that spoke about the need for this type of legislation. In the letter is a statistic that says 70% of the daily traffic that goes through the port of entry in my riding, and that deals with CBSA officials on the front lines, are members of Akwesasne who are actually Canadian citizens and may be going to the city of Cornwall for groceries, gas, dinner or other services.
As my colleagues can imagine, it is a very frustrating situation for residents. I have echoed what the grand chief and council have said, that it is a physical barrier between Cornwall Island, the city of Cornwall and the rest of Canada. If one is accessing the 401 it is a physical barrier, but it is also a social, cultural and economic barrier in terms of ease of traffic.
I bring that back to talk about the importance of this bill because the members of Akwesasne and CBSA have thousands of interactions on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, over the course of the last 10 or 11 years, there have been some incidents and complaints, and there has not really been that oversight process to have those concerns addressed and resolved in a timely manner.
I will note the continued progress of the advocacy that the council has done on this. There was news in my riding at the beginning of the year that the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and the CBSA have partnered for a better border experience. It was covered in the Cornwall Seaway News and the Cornwall Standard Freeholder in my riding. While that is a step in the right direction, in terms of that dialogue and process, this oversight agency is something that has been asked for by my community.
I should clarify it is not just the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and the residents of Cornwall Island who are asking for this. Leaders in the city of Cornwall are asking as well.
People who are business owners want to see a proper, smooth flow for economic and social reasons. While this is a step in the right direction, I am going to be making sure in my riding and my community that, as complaints arise about experiences and exchanges that happen on the front lines of CBSA, those issues are addressed through this channel in a timely manner.
If resolutions come out of these recommendations to do better and to change processes at the port of entry, in Cornwall for example, those are done and followed through in a timely manner.
The relationship the CBSA workers have with the community in the Cornwall area is strong. I want to finish by thanking the CBSA workers on the front lines, not just in the city of Cornwall and the port of entry there, but across the country.
They have a very challenging job to do, very often in trying circumstances. We debate issues of a national portfolio here in Ottawa. For example, we talk about guns smuggled in from the United States, and about drugs and human trafficking. There are so many issues that our CBSA officials have to deal with to protect our country on a daily basis.
My message, as I wrap up my comments here today, is to thank those front-line workers. This oversight would be a win-win for them in terms of some of the protections they would have as well. I want to thank Grand Chief Abram Benedict for reaching out and chatting with me recently about this legislation. I want to thank him for putting this on the radar and sharing the local experience of what we have in my riding and our port of entry and how this legislation can go about.
I am looking forward to this. I think, by the sounds of the debate over the course of the last few weeks, this will go through. I am looking forward to it going to committee. After my conversations with the grand chief, I am hoping that he may be a witness. He can make sure that members of the committee who review the legislation understand the support for it from my riding, but also understand some of the challenges we specifically have.
We will find ways to make sure that the intention is always there, through legislation, to do better and to make sure this is actually working, that the complaints process responses are timely, that there are resolutions and that there are outcomes.
We will make sure that this is not just a forum to say we have complaint resolution without resolving some of the challenges we face. We certainly think it is in the best interests of all Canadians, including the people in the city of Cornwall and the first nations community of Akwesasne. For the flow of the relationship, when we talk about reconciliation, this is a very tangible item that could help move us another step forward.
I am pleased to speak to this today, and look forward to the questions and comments from my colleagues.