Mr. Speaker, I would like to split my time with the hon. member for Niagara Falls.
I am very pleased to take my turn at expressing support for Bill C-18, which will give Revenue Canada customs officers the additional powers they require to enforce the Criminal Code at the border. It will be recalled that Bill C-89 ought to have been passed last March, but the elections intervened and it was put off.
This bill will have a positive impact for all Canadians, particularly those in Beauce, where we have the Armstrong border crossing. It will allow us to fill in a gap in enforcement which currently prevents our officers from intervening at border crossings to control criminal behaviour, such as impaired driving, child abduction, the possession of stolen goods. It also gives officers the power to arrest and detain any individual for whom there is an outstanding arrest warrant.
Bill C-18 will reinforce Revenue Canada's commitment to protect Canadians. Thanks to our position at the border, we have a unique advantage in identifying and intercepting criminals. We want to take advantage of our advantageous position. The bill will transform enforcement of the Criminal Code at the border considerably. It will in fact allow us to intercept criminals at the border and consequently to provide the communities in our country with better protection.
We can assure Canadians that we will provide customs officers with training that will equip them to perform their new duties in a fair and responsible manner while remaining within the law.
The government's position is that there is no need to have personnel at the border carry firearms, as this could, moreover, escalate violence instead of helping resolve conflicts. Customs officers perform their jobs effectively without firearms, and everything leads us to believe that this is the way it will always be.
What it means is that they will be able to intervene without waiting for the police when they believe someone has committed, or is in the act of committing, an offence under the Criminal Code. They will, for instance, be in a position to take the following steps: detain impaired drivers; take a breath sample, hand over to the police those whose alcohol level is high enough to justify their taking a breathalyser test; detain or arrest suspected child abductors; arrest or detain persons against whom a warrant for arrest has been issued under the Criminal Code. Customs officers will hold suspects in detention until the police can intervene. This makes a huge difference in the enforcement of the Criminal Code at the border.
It is essential to bear in mind that customs officers will use these powers only within the framework of their duties at entry points. They will not take part in investigations under the Criminal Code. With the exception of testifying in court, they will not take part in investigations once the police have intervened.
At present, customs officers have the power to arrest and detain persons for offences under the Customs Act and the Excise Act. But when they observe Criminal Code offences, the only line of action open to them is to notify local authorities. The purpose of the bill put forward today is to confer on designated officers the power to arrest and detain persons who contravene the Criminal Code. This means that customs officers will have the power to perform arrests for such offences as impaired driving, child abduction or, as I said, possession of stolen goods.
It is important that this bill be passed as quickly as possible so that selection and training can start. We hope to implement this program within six to nine months after the bill is passed. We intend to apply the program at all ports of entry, starting with those with the heaviest traffic and the largest number of Criminal Code offences.
Every manned border crossing will have designated officers responsible for enforcing the Criminal Code. We are glad that the various police forces at the municipal and provincial levels, as well as the RCMP, welcomed this change. With this legislation, the police will be able to rely on customs officers to arrest and detain at the border any person suspected of a Criminal Code offence, which will make a big difference in the workload of the police.
We plan to continue discussions with the provinces and with our federal colleagues to finalize the implementation plan.
Designated officers will be vested with the powers required to arrest or detain persons suspected of violating the Criminal Code. These officers will work at ports of entry across Canada and will have direct contact with travellers wishing to enter Canada. Immediate response powers will only be granted to those full time customs officers who have received appropriate training. That is why I am pleased to support Bill C-18 today.