Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak this afternoon to Bill C-42 and to follow my colleagues who have spoken so eloquently and thoughtfully on this bill, particularly the critic for our caucus, the member for the Western Arctic who understands this public business in a way that many of us could only hope we could.
He made his own excellent speech making a case for slowing this process down, really thinking it through and perhaps finding other ways of responding to some of the very real challenges and threats that are out there today that do not require throwing this huge net out to catch so many people for absolutely no reason and cause them all kinds of inconvenience when they want to go on a vacation or go to another country for a wedding or funeral.
I have seen in this place over the last number of years, from particularly the present government but the previous government as well, where we get brought into a culture that is developing in the United States, particularly since 9/11. We understand the difficult situation and the reality of 9/11. We know there needed to be a response but the response that we made and continue to make is one that I believe indicates that the terrorists won. If the terrorists wanted to throw a cloud over society, over the free movement of people and goods and over the kind of relationship that we were developing in North America between Canada, the United States and Mexico, they could not have done it better.
We keep buying into a culture of paranoia, fear and, as so many of my colleagues have said here over the last couple of days, of misinformation.
How many times do we need to hear another American politician say, very publicly and in the media, without any thought whatsoever it seems, that the terrorist who hit the United States on 9/11 came through Canada's borders and that we were somehow responsible, that we somehow played a part and that we somehow were negligent with the security that we implement at our border?
We know that is just not true in each incident. Thank god we have good ambassadors to the United States who pick up on those things and go after those misinformed American politicians who go out there, probably for personal political gain, to make these statements that are so wrong and so false and cast us in this very difficult, challenging and problematic light.
We heard another U.S. senator just last week make the very same statement. After all of these incidents, after challenging them so publicly, after our ambassadors went after those folks and told them they were wrong and after us making our case time and time again, we still have another American senator saying very clearly and confidently that somehow the terrorists of 9/11 came through U.S. borders from Canada and that somehow we had a responsibility for that.
This culture of fear, paranoia and misinformation does not serve any of us well. We see it in our own ridings, particularly those of us who have to deal with constituents who find themselves crossing the border to go into the United States.
I live in a border community and I see many constituents not being able to get across the border anymore. It is not because they have done anything wrong or that they are bad people. It is not because they have a track record of misbehaviour or criminal activity. It is because sometimes there is a mistake or they have the same name as somebody else born on the same date and information pops up on the computer, because everything is computerized now it seems, that indicates a red flag.
Some of those people in Sault Ste. Marie are often on their way to a medical appointment in London and go down through Michigan and over through Sarnia. They may be on their way to a family wedding or even a funeral of a loved one or a friend and they are challenged at the border and must come back. Oftentimes, these people come to my office asking me to deal with this in a matter of half an hour or an hour. Sometimes if I write a letter assuring the border officials that these people are legit, bona fide, and plead with them to give these people a break, cut them some slack and allow them to go across to the wedding, or whatever it is they have to do, and I give my personal assurance that they will return to Canada, they can sometimes get through.
Just as problematic and difficult is putting together these lists that we are calling for in Bill C-42. It is frightening. People who cross the border from Sault Ste. Marie to get to Michigan were perhaps in their teens back in the sixties and may have smoked a little grass. Those people may have a record, some may even have been pardoned but all of a sudden there is a red flag on their record and they cannot cross the border. After 20 or 30 years of good living, hard work, getting up in the morning and feeding their kids, paying their rent, paying taxes and being good citizens in our country, they are all of a sudden fearful, because of this culture of paranoia, that they will not be able to cross the border anymore.
People would be totally surprised at the insignificance of some of the incidents that pop up and that these people get challenged over. I could tell stories that would make people cry in terms of the treatment or the challenge that people confront, or the heartbreak because they cannot get across for a day or two to attend some personal event that is happening in the life of an individual or family. That is wrong.
We need to sit down with our neighbours to the south to figure out how we can catch people who may have wrongful intent, and we can do that. As a matter of fact, we have always done that and we have been very successful at it. That is why the terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 did not come from Canada. They were from inside the United States. We do a good job of looking after our border. We know who is living in our country and we have good people working in our security systems.
However, we continue to buy into more and more of what is often referred to as the thickening of the border, more and more of this new way of gathering and sharing information and the new technology that comes with that which is creating more and more inconvenience for ordinary citizens who just want to go about their business and are now afraid.
I have dealt with the problems of several people who came to my constituency office who were on the infamous no-fly list. We were successful in most cases but it took us forever.
People are absolutely stunned when they arrive at the airport and ask for their boarding pass and are told by the person behind the counter that there is a red flag and that they are on the no-fly list. They have absolutely no idea why. Sometimes they lose out on a trip they were going to make with their wife and family, a trip often paid for but one for which they cannot get their money back, because they are on the no-fly list and cannot get across the border.
That is just the beginning of it. To try to get them off that list is almost a Herculean task. What an effort. It goes on forever. First we have to find out who is responsible for the list and to whom we should talk in order to get the person's name off the list. We would think that after we had done it once or twice, we would have it figured out and there would be some kind of a shortcut to take to get this resolved, but no, that is not the case. In every instance, it is this long, drawn-out, prolonged, difficult, back and forth exercise. Sometimes it seems as though we are involved in espionage simply in trying to clear the name of a constituent. We are talking about members of the community who have lived the good life, who have kept their noses clean, have gotten up every morning to go to work, have paid their bills and taxes. We are talking about people who simply want to go through American airspace to another country for a little vacation or on business and who now may find themselves, even more than before when there was just a no-fly list, on another list that will stop them from doing what they want to do.
Someone asked just a few minutes ago what the problem is here, that we all have passports and we can just show our passports and away we go. I have to say that the experience in my office is that even with a bona fide Canadian passport, people can still get stopped. People can still get challenged at the border. People can still get turned back, because somebody somewhere has found something else that pops up, that is above and beyond the passport. With this new regime that we are considering here today, who knows what else might be out there waiting to catch people?
Some people may remember the western hemisphere initiative. We can tell this to our kids some day and they will wonder what we are talking about. There was a time in the relationship between Canada and the United States when people could actually flow freely back and forth across the border. People could go from Sault Ste. Marie, Canada to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. People married each other; because of the free flow we almost thought we were of similar citizenship. We really did. We were neighbours. Then all of a sudden one day we woke up and we were told that in a year or two we were going to need passports. We had to plan for that and it was a difficult experience.
I remember all the trips that colleagues from my caucus made to Washington to speak to senators, to tell them how foolish this was, how it was going to catch so many people and how it was going to affect the free flow of people and trade. We were told not to worry, that it will all be okay, that it will sort itself out, that in time we will not even notice that we have to show a passport. In my own instance and in my own community, this has become a huge problem.
Just with the traffic that flows back and forth nowadays on the bridge in Sault Ste. Marie from Ontario to Michigan, the numbers have plummeted. They have gone down significantly. I suggest it is because of some of this new public policy that we and our neighbours to the south have put in place.
I am sure it affected other industrial sectors, but it has certainly affected the tourism industry. We have a ski hill in Sault Ste. Marie with the best snow in the whole of the U.S. Midwest and into Canada. Searchmont ski hill used to bring in between 50,000 and 70,000 people a year to ski, particularly if it was a good winter. They are not coming as readily anymore because even though Canadians have become more and more accustomed to using a passport, our American friends have not, and they are not coming across the border. They are not coming here to ski, to stay in our hotels and to spend money anymore.
The snow train in Sault Ste. Marie used to bring in 100,000 people a year. We are lucky now if we get 40 people and the number is going down. It is terrible. It is shocking.
This is our economy. This is our bread and butter. This is what puts food on the table for workers in our neck of the woods. They work on the train. They keep the tracks clear. They provide the entertainment. It is a huge industry in Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma, and it has deteriorated significantly over the last couple of years as we have begun to experience the infamous western hemisphere initiative. Tourism is down.
I expect that if we bring in what we are talking about here under Bill C-42, right now it is Americans who are not coming here, but if people from other countries have to pass through American airspace and have to get on a list and be prior approved, the numbers will plummet even further.
What happened to the notion of free trade and fair trade, the free flow of people and the free flow of goods and services for a tourism industry in Canada and in northern Ontario that is as good as, if not better than, anywhere else in the world?
We are creating regimes here of public policy, of oversight, of throwing nets out that are catching people who perhaps we did not intend to catch. It is affecting us in a very negative and hurtful way.
We continue to make it more and more difficult. More and more with our public policy we are moving toward an integration with this American culture of paranoia, fear and misinformation.
We started out following on the coattails of the Americans as they were paranoid about the possibility of being attacked by other rogue regimes that might have rockets and nuclear weapons. They came up with the star wars idea which they wanted us to buy into. We said no. We looked at it and thought about it and looked at what it was going to cost and how successful it might be in the end. Some thoughtful, intelligent people look at it, and thankfully as a country we said no to star wars and it went away. We do not hear much anymore about that anti-missile net that we were going to set up to catch missiles from rogue countries.
Then we were invited by the Americans, again in their heightened state of true paranoia, to join them in the war in Iraq that was about weapons of mass destruction. At the end of the day we found that the weapons did not exist. Thankfully, we can give credit to the hundreds of thousands of people across this country who marched, rallied and gathered in town squares to say that this was not the right thing for Canada to get involved in. They were telling the Americans not to do it. They were telling the Brits not to do it. More important, they were telling our government not to follow suit, that it was not in our best interest and it was going to turn out bad.
After a few years of assessing that incursion, that war on Iraq by the Americans, we have decided that it probably was not the world's best moment. It probably was not the Americans' best moment.
It turned out that it was probably a good and smart decision, in keeping with the tradition of Canada as peacekeepers in the world, as a third entity that can bring a position to the table that might resolve conflict as opposed to adding to it.
Then we went on from there to passports. Now we are looking at--