Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue our second reading debate on Bill C-23, the legislation that would give us the opportunity to provide faster, charter-protected travel for Canadians. These crucial updates to the pre-clearance framework would enhance security, improve cross-border flow, and produce substantial economic and travel benefits for Canadians.
We have already benefited from over six decades of successful pre-clearance. It has been beneficial for businesses, for the economy, and for the ordinary traveller. We are now in a position to implement an agreement with the United States that would make these advantages available to more Canadians in more parts of the country.
We have heard supportive voices for the expansion of this bill from business, from chambers of commerce, from the tourism industry, from municipalities, from other levels of government, and from ordinary Canadians. Most recently, before we adjourned last week to spend time in our ridings, we heard from many members of this House that Bill C-23 would bring economic benefits and ease travel restrictions while protecting Canadian rights. It is on this note that we think we are on the right track to continue the legislative process.
However, we have also heard concerns from some members. Many of these concerns have already been addressed, both during debate in the chamber and through the technical briefing provided to journalists last week by Public Safety Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency, and live-streamed by the media. This was on top of technical briefings provided to parliamentarians last year. However, to ensure that there is clarity on some of these issues, I would like to focus my remarks today on two specific topics: travellers' rights and reciprocity between Canada and the United States.
First, on rights, we all know that both Canada and the U.S. set and enforce their own rules with respect to who or what enters their countries. However, for Canadians undergoing U.S. customs and immigration procedures while still in Canada, Bill C-23 would ensure that Canadian legal and charter standards would apply to that process. This is a distinct advantage over entering the United States at a border through a regular port of entry inside U.S. territory, where Canadian charter standards do not apply to the conduct of U.S. officers.
Let us take the example of withdrawal. If travellers wanted to withdraw from a pre-clearance site in Canada and not continue on to the U.S., they would be able to do so under Bill C-23, just as they can under the current pre-clearance agreement. The only adjustment here is that American officials could ask travellers to identify themselves and give their reasons for withdrawing. This is to avoid illicit probing of pre-clearance sites. The alternative would be to go to the United States and submit to examination by the U.S. authorities on U.S. soil. At that point, it would not be possible to withdraw from the process at all, because the person would already be in the United States.
I have heard some members argue that travellers are already protected under the current pre-clearance arrangement, and so no change is needed. The problem is that we have pre-clearance right now at only eight airports in Canada. If people are travelling from anywhere else, the protection of undergoing U.S. border procedures in Canada and therefore having the right to withdraw is not available to these people. With Bill C-23, we could begin expanding pre-clearance so that more Canadian travellers could enjoy the benefits and protections.
Another point that needs to be clarified regarding travellers' rights is that U.S. pre-clearance officers would not have the authority to enforce U.S. criminal law or make arrests in Canada. If U.S. pre-clearance officers have reasonable grounds to believe that a traveller has committed an offence under Canadian law, they can detain that traveller without making an arrest, but only in order to transfer the person to Canadian authorities right away. This is not new. Rather, it is part of the existing pre-clearance framework that has been in place since 1999.
In other words, contrary to what has been speculated, there is no compromise here on rights and values. On the contrary, Bill C-23 would expand the protective umbrella of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms so that it can apply to Canadians flying out of airports such as Billy Bishop and the Jean Lesage airport in Quebec City. They are not currently covered. It would also be applicable for the first time to Canadians travelling using other modes of transportation, beginning with train routes in Montreal and British Columbia.
Canadians expect us to make sure that their rights and values, and the protections afforded by the charter, our Bill of Rights, and the Canadian Human Rights Act, are front and centre in all legislation we consider in this House. By making charter protections more widely available, Bill C-23 is a step forward for the rights of Canadian travellers.
The second issue I would like to address concerns the question of reciprocity. It must be stressed that the updated and expanded approach to pre-clearance being discussed here would be absolutely and fully reciprocal. There would be no authorities conferred on the border officers of one country that would not be conferred on those of the other.
Each country, as well, would retain primary jurisdiction over most criminal offences that might be committed by an officer in the course of his or her duties, while the host country would retain primary jurisdiction for the most serious crimes. As such, fears that this bill constitutes the ceding of our sovereignty are misplaced. Rather, Bill C-23 would implement a mutually beneficial agreement that would impose the same obligations and confer the same authorities on both parties.
The bill would improve safety and security for both countries. It would make travel and trade more efficient and expeditious. Also, as is clearly laid out in article II of the agreement with the United States, it would ensure that each county's laws and constitutions would apply to all pre-clearance operations. This means that U.S. officers operating in Canada would have to abide by the charter, as would Canadian border officers in the United States.
I cannot reiterate enough that more than 400,000 people flow across the border every day. There is close to $2.5 billion in two-way trade that moves between our two countries each and every day. It is therefore mutually beneficial for both countries to build on the success of existing pre-clearance operations while simultaneously protecting, even enhancing, the rights of Canadian travellers. This is the backbone of the bill before us today.
I encourage all members to support Bill C-23.