House of Commons photo

Track Ralph

Your Say


Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is rcmp.

Liberal MP for Regina—Wascana (Saskatchewan)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 55% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Public Safety February 24th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, the approach by the hon. member would simply blow up Canada's border with the United States. How would that be good for the 400,000 people who cross that border every day? How would that be good for the $2.5 billion in trade that crosses that border every day? How would that be good for the refugees who are seeking refuge when they cross that border every day?

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has said that Canada is handling the situation appropriately, and so has the Canadian Council for Refugees. It has praised our approach to dealing with this situation.

Public Safety February 23rd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, the point is simply this. Under the pre-clearance system improved by the legislation in Bill C-23, more Canadians will be able to clear customs in Canada before they cross the border, under the full umbrella of Canadian law, the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the protection of the Bill of Rights, and the protection of the Canadian Human Rights Act. That is obviously a far superior process.

Public Safety February 23rd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, immigration detention is a measure of absolute last resort. That is why we are investing $138 million to both improve the system and minimize its use. We want to avoid the housing of minors in detention facilities as much as humanly possible.

I would note that the report the hon. member refers to said this:

CBSA has embarked on several new programs to improve transparency, alternatives to detention, and infrastructure.... the total number of children in detention across the country...has decreased significantly....

Preclearance Act, 2016 February 21st, 2017

Madam Speaker, I am grateful to have the observations that were just made by the member representing the NDP, in which he raised concerns about legal protections, and I would like to draw his attention to two particular clauses in this legislation and to ask why he finds these clauses deficient. I refer to subclause 10(2) that says, in reference to a U.S. pre-clearance officer in Canada:

is not permitted to exercise any powers of questioning or interrogation, examination, search, seizure, forfeiture, detention or arrest that are conferred under the laws of the United States.

Then clause 11 says that U.S. pre-clearance officers:

must exercise their powers and perform their duties and functions under this Act in accordance with Canadian law, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

I just wonder how much clearer we could possibly be.

Preclearance Act, 2016 February 21st, 2017

Madam Speaker, with respect to NEXUS, in fact, within a very short time of that issue arising a couple of weeks ago, we did obtain clarity with respect to the NEXUS rules and the applicability of those rules, especially in relation to permanent residents. When points of dispute or concern arise, the best way to deal with them is to confront them directly, raise them directly with counterparts, and work very hard to get satisfactory answers.

On the issue of the hospital exchanges, that would, I suspect, be primarily under provincial jurisdiction, but I am more than happy to pursue that issue, to examine its current status.

With respect to Bill C-23 itself, though, from the perspective the hon. gentleman represents of why it would be wise to have this arrangement as opposed to not having this arrangement, by having the arrangement in place, it would mean that more and more Canadians would go through the process of clearing American customs and immigration procedures while they are still in Canada, before they cross the border. Therefore, being in Canada, they would have the protection of Canadian law, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

What is the alternative if we do not have that protection? It means that people would be cleared on the American side under complete American jurisdiction, with no protection of Canadian law. Clearly, pre-clearance is a better way to do it.

Preclearance Act, 2016 February 21st, 2017

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned in the course of my remarks, when we look at the statistics, it is obviously in the interests of both countries to have a successful border relationship. In terms of the volumes of people and goods and services that flow back and forth every day, every hour, and every minute, quite literally, it is important to both countries to make that relationship successful.

The beyond the border initiatives actually stretch way back to the time of John Manley and Tom Ridge, when the first arrangement was put together. The current arrangement is coming to the end of its life cycle. There are a number of things that need to be accounted for to finish off the previous work that was agreed to by previous administrations, and it will be important for Canada to pursue with the United States where this process now goes from here: for example, are there future opportunities to carry on the work to make the border efficient and expeditious, as well as fair in the way it deals with people, while at the same time make the border secure and safe in both directions?

I have had one opportunity so far to raise this in a face-to-face fashion with the new Secretary of Homeland Security. That was a good conversation, but it was a preliminary conversation. Obviously, a lot more detail is required. Within the next three or four weeks, I hope to have the opportunity to carry on that conversation to examine exactly where we wish to expand our opportunities in relation to the border.

Preclearance Act, 2016 February 21st, 2017

Madam Speaker, with respect to the pre-clearance areas within various airports, they are obviously areas that need to be very secure because they deal with sensitive cross-border issues. The powers that would be provided under Bill C-23 are very similar to what exists at the present time under existing legislation. The hon. gentleman makes the suggestion that, in his view, the change with Bill C-23 is large and drastic, and I would beg to differ. I do not see it as a major alteration in the law that presently exists.

The safeguard that the member referred to that is embedded in these particular clauses of Bill C-23 with respect to people wishing to withdraw from the pre-clearance area, that safeguard is extremely important. They can withdraw. They may be asked questions to identify themselves. They may be asked questions for their reasons for withdrawal in order to protect the integrity of that zone, but the whole process is subject to a strong limitation. It cannot “unreasonably delay” the traveller; those are the words in the act. The concept of reasonableness is a concept that has long jurisprudence attached to it and would undoubtedly be applied assiduously by Canadian courts.

Preclearance Act, 2016 February 21st, 2017

moved that Bill C-23, an act respecting the pre-clearance of persons and goods in Canada and the United States, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, from this government's first day in office, we have been focused on the various drivers that will grow the economy, create good, solid jobs and genuine opportunity for the middle class and all those working so hard just to get there. That is why we cut middle-class taxes and bolstered family incomes with the new Canada child benefit. That is why we increased federal support for students, skills, and learning. That is why we are investing in innovation and infrastructure. That is also why we are seizing meaningful opportunities to expand international trade through new and improved trade agreements, trade missions and marketing, and initiatives that help move both people and goods across international boundaries in faster, easier, and more efficient ways, all while maintaining our safety and security and respecting our rights.

Bill C-23, an act respecting the pre-clearance of persons and goods in Canada and the United States, is very much aimed in this latter direction. The legislation would allow more Canadians and Canadian businesses to enjoy the convenience and economic benefits of clearing American customs and immigration procedures in Canada before entering the U.S.

Expanded pre-clearance will strengthen Canada's economic competitiveness by accelerating the flow of legitimate trade and travel while enhancing the security of our border. Moreover, it will allow more Canadian travellers to complete U.S. border procedures while under the protective umbrella of Canadian law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canada and the United States are each other's top trading partners and the cross-border economy is essential to our shared prosperity. Nearly $2.5 billion in goods and services cross the Canada-U.S. border every day. In fact, some $1.5 million worth of goods and services have crossed that border since I began speaking about two minutes ago. Our exports to the United States constitute more than 20% of Canada's GDP, and two and a half million jobs rely on those exports to our southern neighbour.

There is more. In 2015, over 600,000 Canadian jobs were directly attributable to tourism and Americans represented over two-thirds of the nearly 18 million overnight visitors Canada received in that year. In all, more than 400,000 people cross our land border every day. Border benefits flow both ways. Some nine million U.S. jobs depend directly on trade with Canada and Canada is the primary export destination for 35 American states. Clearly, the movement of people and goods across the border is vital to the dynamism of the North American economy and a powerful engine for growth and job creation in both countries.

However, border delays and concerns about potential delays can be a very significant impediment to economic growth. Our government is committed to addressing that. A central element of our campaign platform was a commitment to build a solid foundation for greater trade, stronger growth, and more job creation by working to reduce the barriers that limited trade and promoting a steadier flow of people and goods.

Some years ago, Canada and the United States began working on a new legal framework for the pre-clearance system between the two countries, but it was not implemented and did not include a definite business plan for the expansion of pre-clearance. Through this past year, we tackled those deficiencies, building on more than six decades of successful pre-clearance experience between Canada and the United States.

Our expansion plans will begin with new pre-clearance services for air passengers at Billy Bishop island airport in Toronto and Jean Lesage airport in Quebec City, and for rail passengers heading into the United States from Montreal Central Station and on the Rocky Mountaineer railway in British Columbia.

We have also agreed to regularize pre-clearance operations at certain rail and marine sites in B.C. that currently offer a partial service. This improvement will be especially significant for the west coast cruise ship business.

One of the steps on the path to all of this expansion is the adoption of new legislation in both countries. The requisite American legislation was signed into law last December, after being adopted by Congress with, unusually, unanimous support in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The related Canadian legislation is what we are examining today.

Before I get into some of the details of Bill C-23, let me take a moment to discuss what exactly pre-clearance is and what benefits Canadians can expect from its expansion.

Pre-clearance simply means that rather than customs and immigration procedures happening just after we cross the physical border or after landing at a U.S. airport, they happen in advance. Canadians who have flown to the U.S. from one of the eight airports in our country where pre-clearance is currently conducted, and that is Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto Pearson, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax, are very familiar with how pre-clearance works and what the advantages are.

Travellers are cleared for entry into the United States by U.S. border officials before they board the plane, which means they avoid lineups and delays after they land. They can also fly directly to any U.S. airport, including airports like LaGuardia airport in New York City or Reagan airport in Washington, D.C., which do not have full customs facilities and ordinarily receive only domestic U.S. flights. Pearson airport in Toronto, for example, presently offers direct flights to 50 American destinations. Without pre-clearance, that number would drop to 27.

Pre-clearance makes it easier, not only for Canadians to travel to the United States, but for Canadian businesses to attract American tourists and business travellers to Canada, which is obviously a major benefit for local economies. That is why there has been so much support for the planned expansion, which we announced last spring, that will be enabled by the bill before us now.

Following the announcement last spring, the president of the Chambre de commerce et d'industrie de Québec stated that we had reached a historic milestone in terms of the region's accessibility.

According to Mayor Régis Labeaume, the arrival of preclearance at Jean Lesage airport is a great victory for his city. In the words of the president of the Quebec City airport authority, “this grand project will forever change the face of the airport by considerably reducing travel times to the United States and by enhancing the client experience of our passengers”.

The president of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce has said that the agreement to expand pre-clearance will help businesses grow and avoid spending time in border lineups.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has welcomed the expansion because pre-clearance operations, which have existed in one form or another for over 60 years, have been, in the words of the chamber “a massive success” that “greatly reduce congestion at the border and allow for streamlined processing of trusted trade and travel”.

In short, Bill C-23 will be good for business all over the country, good for tourism, and good for ordinary Canadian travellers as well.

The first part of Bill C-23 sets out the Canadian legislative framework that will govern American officers conducting pre-clearance in Canada of people and goods bound for the United States. In general, travellers already familiar with the way pre-clearance works will not notice any difference.

As is already the case, American pre-clearance officers will be authorized to collect the same information from travellers that is collected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at regular U.S. points of entry; and in many other respects including search authorities, detention authorities, and penalties for lying to an officer, Bill C-23 is generally similar to the law governing pre-clearance that is currently in effect and has been so since at least 1999.

I know there are always concerns about the authorities that U.S. officers would have in Canada just as there are always concerns across the border about the authorities Canadian officers would have in the U.S. I can assure the House that our government takes very seriously the need to protect the rights of travellers and to ensure that they are treated fairly and in accordance with the rule of law.

I will therefore take just a few moments to address some of the concerns that have been mentioned in public.

First, with respect to searches, the current law allows a U.S. pre-clearance officer to conduct a frisk search if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a traveller is hiding something or carrying something dangerous. This would not change under Bill C-23.

If there is a need for a search requiring the removal of clothing, the current law obligates U.S. officers to request a Canadian counterpart to conduct the search. This, too, would remain the same. The only difference under Bill C-23 is that the U.S. officer could conduct the search if no Canadian officer is available. This would be extremely rare, and any such search would be subject to the same legal and constitutional protections as would apply to a search done by a Canadian officer.

Further, historical experience over the past 60 years would indicate that any conflict in relation to those rules governing searches would have happened exactly zero times based on the experience over six decades.

With respect to detention, U.S. officers would not have the power to arrest or charge travellers in Canada. Rather, as is currently the case under existing law, a U.S. pre-clearance officer who has reasonable grounds to believe that a traveller has committed an offence must turn the traveller over to Canadian authorities as quickly as possible. With no exceptions, only Canadian authorities would determine whether charges should be laid.

With respect to travellers wishing to withdraw from a pre-clearance area, they would be entitled to do so, but they could be required to identify themselves and give their reasons for withdrawing. This is simply to prevent the illicit probing of pre-clearance sites by people trying to find weaknesses in border security before leaving the pre-clearance area undetected.

With respect to the arming of officers, U.S. officers in Canada would only be entitled to carry the same weapons as Canadian border services officers do in the same environment. For example, because Canadian officers do not generally carry firearms inside airport terminals, U.S. officers would not be authorized to carry firearms there either.

Most importantly, the bill says explicitly that American pre-clearance officers must exercise their powers and perform their duties under this act in accordance with Canadian law, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights, and the Canadian Human Rights Act. As I said earlier, the alternative is for travellers to be processed entirely in the United States with no Canadian legal protections.

The pre-clearance agreement between Canada and the United States provides for full reciprocity, so that too is laid out in Bill C-23. No power or privilege is conferred upon the officers of one country and not the other. This is an important point to bear in mind as Canada studies and pursues future opportunities to set up Canadian pre-clearance services in the U.S. for people and goods that are bound for Canada.

Expansion of the service also includes pre-clearance of cargo. During the Prime Minister's recent visit to Washington, Canada and the U.S. both recognized the success of the existing pre-clearance operations for travellers, and we declared our mutual commitment to establish cargo pre-clearance in order to make trade across our border faster, easier, and more secure.

All of this fits within our government's overarching objectives of growing the economy and creating jobs, and it upholds our platform commitment to foster a productive relationship with the United States in the interests of our mutual prosperity and security, all while safeguarding our Canadian rights and freedoms.

Since I began my remarks about 20 minutes ago, over $25 million worth of goods and services have been traded across our border with the United States and more than 5,000 people have travelled across that boundary. However, the potential for even more trade and travel between our two countries and for greater economic growth is strong. We can and we must make the border flow of people and goods faster, easier, and more secure. That is what Bill C-23 would achieve, and it would do so while allowing more Canadian travellers to enjoy the protection of Canadian law and the protection of the charter when going through U.S. customs procedures.

This is an important debate. I thank the House for its attention this afternoon. I look forward to the constructive input that I am sure hon. members will offer during today's debate and throughout the legislative process on Bill C-23.

Public Safety February 21st, 2017

Mr. Speaker, may I repeat, first of all, the thanks and congratulations to the hon. gentleman's constituents for the manner in which they have responded to this situation. As Commissioner Paulson told the hon. member earlier today, the RCMP, the CBSA, the IRCC, and other Canadian agencies are working seamlessly and relentlessly together to achieve the objectives of border integrity and public safety. If they require more resources to do that, they will certainly let us know.

Public Safety February 21st, 2017

Mr. Speaker, the CBSA and the RCMP are constantly scrutinizing the situation. They have already made some adjustments within their internal resources to ensure that they have the personnel and the tools in place to enforce Canadian laws, to keep Canadians safe, and to attend to the safety of the asylum seekers as well. One thing we will not do is what the previous government did in eliminating the health benefits available to asylum seekers and making the condition of vulnerable people even more vulnerable.