Mr. Speaker, I want to thank members of the Conservative Party for organizing their speeches to allow me to have a portion of their time.
I am very pleased to see this bill come forward. We worked on it in the 42nd Parliament as Bill C-98 when it had a different name, but there are some concerns.
I would like to split up my time to talk about what the Canada Border Services Agency is, what it does, what the problems are and whether this bill would fix them. I will try to move quite smartly through that description.
We have in Canada national security agencies, such as the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Communications Security Establishment, which is a bit of a different animal, and the Canada Border Services Agency. They essentially are a collection of national security intelligence agencies that work with each other. As of now, the Canada Border Services Agency is the only one that operates without either oversight or a complaints process, yet it does have extraordinary powers.
The Canada Border Services Agency's powers at the border are superior to those of the police. They have powers to arrest, detain and remove people from Canada. This is a profound power, the ability to have someone deported. I want to underscore this for members because we need to get a review of our immigration and refugee law on another occasion. This bill does not have the scope for it. The previous government under Mr. Harper changed the deportation rule from deporting people as soon as is practicable to as soon as it is possible. That has resulted in a lot of people being thrown out of Canada more quickly than I think most Canadians would find fair, and certainly with disastrous consequences on a humanitarian ground.
The CBSA authorities can prevent people from entering Canada. They can conduct interviews with refugee claimants when they have lost their first opportunity to explain why they wish asylum. They can detain refugee claimants on any number of grounds. They can issue removal orders and send a person out of Canada without an admissibility hearing. In other words, they have enormous powers. By the way, a review of the agency, which I found extremely informative, was issued in 2017 by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
The question is whether, with all of these powers, everything is going very well. It is not perfect by any means. There are literally, as we have heard from other speakers, hundreds of complaints every year, but many of them are of a rather routine nature. They are unpleasant but they are accusations of racism and unpleasant comments.
I know that we want to thank the vast majority of members of the Canada Border Services Agency at the borders. We need them to be focused on stopping the flow of illegal drugs. We need them to stop the flow of illegal handguns. I think it would be well worthwhile as a public policy matter to stop having it be a priority to find people whose citizenship is irregular and deport them in a hurry. A lot of families are ripped apart by this and it would be much wiser to focus on those things that we know we want to stop at the border, such as drugs and guns, not necessarily people.
This brings me to one of the most tragic of many tragic stories. This one led to an inquiry. Unfortunately, it was in the form of an inquest because the woman in question died.
Her name was Lucia Vega Jimenez. She was stopped at a transit stop in Vancouver and transit police thought there was something unusual about her. It has been alleged it was her accent. It turned out that her citizenship papers were irregular. They turned her over to the Canada Border Services Agency and she was incorrectly advised. The inquest proved that she had been incorrectly advised that she had no hope of avoiding deportation and that there were no appeals. That was not correct. She hanged herself in her cell. The inquest then was able to find that there was a lot of discussion within the agency of how to cover this up, what to do if people found out. It is long overdue to have this kind of a complaints commission.
We now have another change that is worth looking at because we are in a new era of national security law. We have the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. It has the ability to have oversight over what all the agencies do, but it does not take complaints in the same way that this complaints commission would take complaints.
The public complaints and review commission, which is renamed from the public complaints commission that only looked at the RCMP, would now take on the Canada Border Services Agency. I will be voting for this bill at second reading. I do want to see this bill get to committee.
However, the concern I have is that there are a number of excluded areas that the complaints commission cannot look into. We need to look at those and recognize that while the larger agency, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, can give a summary and an overview of how the CBSA has been performing in these areas, people cannot make complaints in the same way.
Complaints cannot be made about the agencies in Bill C-3 that we are debating today. They cannot be made about decisions made by CBSA employees under statutory authorities. This of course includes one of the key areas where abusive behaviour has been reported and is of greatest concern, where people are detained and can die or could be deported and die in a country they should never have been sent back to: the statutory authorities under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and under the Customs Act.
It cannot receive complaints about matters that could be more appropriately dealt with by other bodies, such as the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Commissioner of Official Languages, and the Privacy Commissioner.
This one is really disturbing. It cannot receive complaints on the conduct of part-time employees at detention facilities where CBSA detainees are being housed. That is particularly concerning, because it goes on to actually say that the CBSA would not even be required to investigate complaints that relate to part-time employees.
We need to look at the whole scheme of things where things can go wrong and make sure that in this legislation we fix it as much as possible.
The other matter that is added to Bill C-3 which was not there in the previous Bill C-98 is that national security matters cannot be the source of a complaint.
There is good reason for that in policy because, after all, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency can look at the overview of what CBSA has been doing on national security matters. That is quite a different matter from saying someone cannot complain. The complaints are direct. They are personal. They deal with an actual incident. The review agency is going to look at the whole of the conduct as best as it can as an oversight agency.
I would be very interested to know if we cannot look at the CBSA in this bill and consider whether amendments would not be wise to say that any of the activities of the CBSA and its agents can come before the complaints commission. The complaints commission, if it knows of a better place, could make sure that takes place, as opposed to sending someone away, someone who has been traumatized by an episode at the border and sent away.
People may not know. Even if they are told to take the complaint somewhere, they may just stop. They may not want to go through a revolving door. The complaints commission could have a positive obligation not just to inform a person where to go but to actually take it on, organize the hearing and make sure it is started, make sure complaints are not ignored.
On the matter of national security complaints, I am very concerned about this. One of the places where the CBSA was first studied was in the context of the Arar commission of inquiry. Mr. Justice O'Connor, who was the commissioner in the Arar inquiry, commented:
The CBSA often operates in a manner similar to that of a police force. There is a significant potential for the CBSA’s activities to affect individual rights, dignity and well-being, and much of the national security activity undertaken is not disclosed to the public.
I am concerned that we not inadvertently miss an important piece of oversight, an important piece of justice to anyone who happens to be, and I certainly do not think it happens routinely, traumatized.
In my own experience, I had no idea there was a detention facility under the Vancouver airport where people are deported quite quickly, until the family of an indigenous man from Penelakut Island, not in my riding but nearby, reached out to me for help. It was in 2014. The issue was that CBSA agents had shown up at the door of his home. He is a grandfather, an indigenous man, living on Penelakut Island, whose wife was a residential school survivor. Without warning, they arrested him. They had sent him notices that he had missed. They put him in leg irons. They drove him in a van on that December night all the way to the Vancouver airport, where he was told it was hopeless and that he would be deported the next day back to the United States where he had been born. They did not say there was something called the Jay Treaty regarding indigenous rights. They just said that was it.
Fortunately, we were able to stop the deportation but it was not easy. It did give me an insight into what goes on.
I want to make sure this legislation will work. It needs amendments.