Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak to Bill C-20, an act establishing the Public Complaints and Review Commission and amending certain acts and statutory instruments.
I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois supports this bill at second reading. This bill would give citizens recourse against the Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA, which can, on occasion, abuse its authority.
There is currently an independent oversight mechanism in place, but its mandate covers only matters of national security, so it needs to be expanded. Citizens who wish to file a complaint must do so directly to the CBSA, but the information is not public and, because the mechanism is internal, it is not totally neutral and objective.
As a result, there is no external review body to deal with public complaints against the CBSA, and that is what this bill seeks to correct. The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C‑20 at second reading because we believe that an independent complaint process is both necessary and good for the public. As my colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles said, it was in 2004, 18 years ago, that Justice O'Connor recommended that an independent process be put in place to handle public complaints against the CBSA.
For example, in early January 2020, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada found significant flaws concerning searches of travellers' electronic devices, which demonstrated the importance of having an independent body to review complaints. The bill must be referred to a committee quickly so that it can be studied and the concerns of different groups, including unions, can be heard. I will come back to this later to explain what this will change, and I will speak about the perspective of unions and victims.
First, this bill seeks to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and the Canada Border Services Agency Act to change the complaints process for citizens and provide the opportunity for travellers to file complaints against CBSA officers.
This bill is similar to Bill C‑3, which was introduced in the 43rd Parliament, and Bill C‑98, which was introduced in the 42nd Parliament. Both died on the Order Paper for the sole reason that they were never a priority for the government. All parties supported Bill C-98, but we never voted on Bill C‑3. We are wondering if this bill will now be a priority.
Bill C‑20 contains a number of things. It replaces the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with a new body called the public complaints and review commission, or PCRC. This new body will be mandated to review and investigate complaints concerning the conduct and level of service of RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA, personnel. It will also conduct reviews of specified activities of the RCMP and the CBSA.
The bill authorizes the chairperson of the PCRC to recommend the initiation of disciplinary processes or the imposition of disciplinary measures in relation to individuals who have been the subject of complaints. It amends the Canada Border Services Agency Act to provide for the investigation of serious incidents involving officers and employees of the CBSA.
The most important point of this bill is that it enables this new body to review the CBSA's activities and to investigate public complaints involving both officers and employees. Under Bill C-20, the public complaints and review commission can receive complaints from the public about the RCMP or the CBSA, but the complaints will generally be sent directly to the RCMP and the CBSA first for an initial investigation. If the complainant is not satisfied with the investigation of the RCMP or the CBSA, then they can ask the PCRC to look into it. Basically, here is what that means.
In such a case, the PCRC could present its findings and make recommendations. The RCMP or the CBSA would have to respond in writing to the PCRC reports by the deadlines set out in the acts and regulations. An external mechanism will therefore be put in place.
What is more, complaints related to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages or the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada will not be dealt with by the PCRC. However, the PCRC will forward any such complaints to the appropriate organizations.
The PCRC will be made up of civilians who are not former members of the RCMP or the CBSA. This is an independent external process. Another thing about this bill is that the response timelines for the RCMP will be codified, because many felt that the RCMP responded too slowly to the reports of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or CRCC. The bill will therefore replace the CRCC with the PCRC and a deadline will be imposed.
The bill also requires the commissioner of the RCMP and the president of the CBSA to submit an annual report to the Minister of Public Safety outlining what the organizations have done during the year to address the PCRC's recommendations. The minister will be required to share the report with the House of Commons and the Senate within 15 days.
There will also be a more targeted collection of information to determine whether racism against certain groups is an issue. It will be documented. The bill also calls for a public education and information campaign to inform travellers of their rights.
The PCRC will be responsible for tracking serious incidents—such as a death, serious injury or violation of laws—and making them public. It may send an observer to ensure that CBSA and RCMP investigations are conducted impartially. The PCRC may review, on its own initiative or at the request of the Minister of Public Safety, any RCMP and CBSA activity that is not related to national security. The reports would include findings or recommendations on RCMP and CBSA compliance with legislation and directives, and the adequacy, appropriateness, sufficiency or clarity of RCMP and CBSA policies, procedures and guidelines.
One difference from Bill C-3, which was a similar bill introduced in the 43rd Parliament, is that the PCRC will be established by a specific piece of legislation, whereas in the previous version, it was established by amendments to existing laws.
The PCRC will not be able to compel the CBSA and the RCMP to take disciplinary action, but both agencies will be required to report to the minister to justify their response to the recommendations, and these reports will be made public 15 days after the minister receives them.
The bill aims to create an independent process for reviewing complaints and the work of the Canada Border Services Agency. This new entity, the public complaints and review commission, will also replace the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This new commission, the PCRC, will deal with both the RCMP and the CBSA.
The new entity created by Bill C-20 will make it possible to file complaints directly with the CBSA and directly with the PCRC, depending on the complainant's preference. The complainant decides. If an individual is not satisfied with the response they get from the CBSA or the RCMP, they can ask the PCRC to review a complaint that has already been filed.
The process is nevertheless long and complicated. There is a good chance that most individuals will give up before the end of the process. For example, if an officer makes a sexist or racist comment towards a traveller, filing a complaint with the CBSA, waiting for a response and then sending the complaint to the PCRC could be more complicated and demanding for most travellers than just ignoring the comment, which is quite sad. The committee will have to examine whether the process proposed by Bill C‑20 is adequate or if it should be revised.
Creating this new external body is necessary, according to Mary Foster, from Solidarity Across Borders. In 2019, she said that “making a complaint to the CBSA about the CBSA doesn't really lead anywhere”. Having the option of challenging the findings of an investigation is therefore essential to maintaining public trust.
All parties supported Bill C‑98 in the 42nd Parliament, but, as I said earlier, a vote was never held on Bill C‑3.
Now we are once again discussing a bill that is good for the public because the existing system does not include an adequate complaint mechanism for people. Civil liberties groups have long called for the creation of an independent complaint-handling body like the one for the police.
For example, under the Access to Information Act, the Canadian Press obtained a list of complaints that travellers submitted directly to the CBSA.
According to the documents, in 2017-18, nearly 900 complaints were filed, about 100 of which were deemed founded, including cases of travellers being on the receiving end of border officers' racist or rude comments. Complaints against the CBSA are currently handled internally, with little transparency. That is the problem Bill C‑20 may fix.
Second, from the union's perspective, the Customs and Immigration Union's national president, Mark Weber, is concerned that Bill C‑20 could put more pressure on the labour-management relationship, which the union says is already strained. We have to keep that in mind.
He says that officers are placed on leave without pay, sometimes for a year or more, pending the outcome of investigations. He also notes that customs officers frequently work overtime and can be exhausted, which does not help. We need to ensure that customs officers have adequate resources, which the Bloc Québécois often asks for, considering the government's lack of interest in our borders. We have been asking for this frequently and for a long time. The Bloc Québécois would like the union to be involved in the process that leads to passing Bill C‑20, particularly in committee.
The staffing shortage at the CBSA is a well-known problem. This is causing delays and tension between officers and travellers. The government will also have to address this problem.
The CBSA has a great deal of power, including the power to detain and search Canadians and to deport people. It is therefore incomprehensible that the CBSA still has no external investigation mechanism.
In its legislative summary, the Library of Parliament cites the case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-Canadian citizen who was arrested during a layover in New York on his way home to Canada.
In 2004, a commission of inquiry into the Arar case led by Justice Dennis O'Connor suggested creating a new civilian agency to oversee the activities of both the RCMP and the CBSA, as I said earlier.
In other words, 18 years later, the CBSA still does not have one. Only the RCMP has this external oversight mechanism. However, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency is already responsible for overseeing national security activities, and only national security activities.
I want to make it clear that the Bloc Québécois is not putting the blame on CBSA or RCMP officers as a whole, nor is it putting the CBSA on trial. Rather, we feel the government is responsible for the lack of oversight over the CBSA and the lack of transparency, which is inappropriate for such an important agency. We think the Liberals and the Conservatives should be held to account for tolerating all this for so long.
As I said—