Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in support of these legislative amendments proposed in Bill C-21, which would amend the Customs Act to enable the Canada Border Services Agency to collect exit information from all travellers leaving Canada.
We all understand the importance of collecting basic biographic information on people coming into Canada, such as who they are, where they are from, how long they are staying. That is just basic security, but there is also value in keeping track of travellers who are leaving Canada. In this regard, Canada is quite a bit outside the mainstream. In fact, we are laggards in this regard.
While most other countries collect basic information on everyone who enters and exits, Canada collects information on only a small subset of people who leave our country. This means that at any given moment we cannot say for sure who is in this country. We know that they came in, but we do not know where or when they left, or if they ever left.
Consider that right now with no means of identifying precisely who is exiting our country, we cannot know if dangerous individuals may be leaving Canada to escape justice. Nor for example do we know whether we are expending valuable immigration enforcement resources trying to track down someone who has been ordered to leave Canada when that person may well have already left the country on their own.
Not collecting exit information also limits our capacity to respond to Amber alerts or suspected abductions in a timely way, among other shortcomings. This is an obvious and unacceptable security gap and one that many of our international partners have already closed. We need to catch up.
Let me be clear. We are not talking about the collection of reams of personal information from people leaving Canada. We are talking about basic biographic information, the so-called tombstone data that appears on page 2 of everybody's passport, including name, date of birth, citizenship, gender, travel document type, document number, and the country that issued the document.
The only other information that would be collected would be the location and time of departure, and the flight number in the case of people leaving by air, in other words, the same information that people volunteer when they enter Canada or any other country. That is it. No new information would be collected. Notably, no biometric data, such as photographs or fingerprints, would be collected or exchanged as part of the entry-exit initiative and travellers will not notice a difference. That is important.
This is how it would work. For people crossing the Canada-U.S. border by land, border officers in the country they enter will simply send that passport information and departure details back to the country they just left. In this way, one country's entry is the other country's exit and vice versa. The exchange of information in the land mode would occur on a near real-time basis following a traveller's entry to either country, usually within 15 minutes.
The exchange would take place through an existing secure electronic channel between Canada and the U.S., the same system that is used to transfer information between Canada and the U.S. under the Nexus, FAST, and enhanced driver's licence programs currently in place.
For air travellers, no new exchange of information between countries would be required. The information would come directly from airline passenger manifests. To obtain an exit record in the air mode, for example, the CBSA would receive electronic passenger manifest details directly from air carriers, with information on passengers scheduled to depart Canada aboard outbound international flights.
This information would be received up to 72 hours prior to departure to facilitate the identification of known high-risk travellers attempting to leave Canada by air. This is a key point for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it would help Canadian authorities recognize when someone with links to violent extremist groups was preparing to leave the country and stop them from travelling abroad to participate in terrorist activity. In fact, Bill C-21 would help border officials deal with a number of threats they currently lack the tools to address.
The CBSA is our first line of defence against threats originating overseas. It uses a system called “lookout” to identify persons or shipments that may pose a threat to Canada. Lookouts are based on information in the CBSA's possession or that may come from sources, including the RCMP, CSIS, Immigration officials, and local or international law enforcement agents. While lookouts are effective for identifying inbound threats, the absence of exit information means that they are not effective for identifying outbound threats. However, Bill C-21 addresses that shortcoming.
In a global threat environment with dangerous individuals leaving or trying to leave peaceful, stable democracies to join extremist organizations, collecting reliable exit information has never been more vital to support Canada's national security. We must equip the Canada Border Services Agency with the statutory authority to collect the same information on outbound travellers that it does on inbound travellers.
With the passage of these legislative amendments, CBSA's lookout system would be strengthened, allowing the agency to notify partners if and when a known high-risk individual intends to leave or has just left Canada. This information would close the loop on an individual's travel history and fill a gap that has been exploited by people trying to evade the law.
As a final note, it is important to recognize the care that has been taken to ensure that this initiative is designed to respect and comply fully with Canada's privacy laws and obligations. The communication and collaboration between the CBSA and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and the design and implementation of the entry-exit initiative has been extensive, productive, and instructive in protecting privacy rights. The protection of those rights is paramount, and this bill would ensure that those rights are indeed protected. It is a shining example of the balance between security and privacy.
There is no question that this bill would enhance the security of Canada and its allies. I urge my colleagues to support its swift passage and ensure that the women and men of the CBSA have the resources and tools they need to do their job of securing our border and facilitating the free flow of legitimate trade and travel.
Trade, of course, is important to Canadians. This bill would help facilitate trade between Canada, the U.S., and our other international partners. Bill C-21 is required and necessary to close a gap to make sure that Canada is in line with our international partners. It is a good piece of legislation that would do good work. I urge all members to support this bill.