Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. It's my first time so I hope I do what's expected of me.
I have a few comments to make about the proposed legislative changes, which seem fairly innocuous and bureaucratic. When going through them, there didn't seem to be much to sink my teeth into to begin with, but further investigation suggested there are many things to be concerned about with these changes.
The reasons for the changes are not clearly set out in the legislation itself, but turning to the background document we get a sense that these changes are being proposed as part of the beyond the border action plan on perimeter security and economic competitiveness that was signed in December 2011 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama. The electronic system being proposed is to establish a common North American approach to screening travellers that will be in line with the electronic system for travel authorization, ESTA, that is already in place in the United States. Our ETA, electronic travel authorization, being proposed is very similar, I think, or is expected to be similar to the ESTA coming out of the U.S., so it's important to look at the relationship between these two processes.
I have several questions around the ETA being proposed, that we require a visa waiver for non-nationals travelling to Canada. The first questions are around the kind of information that will be collected.
Currently, carriers have to provide advance passenger information, which includes name, date of birth, citizenship or nationality, passport, and other travel documentation, as well as the passenger name record, which includes address, itinerary, and ticketing information. The question is what kinds of information in addition to this may be procured with the proposed ETA. There are big questions already around the ways information is being acquired and questions around its reliability.
Back in 2007 an Auditor General's report showed almost 40% of the passenger name record information that was being collected was not accurate. Another more recent report by the Canada Border Services Agency back in February 2012 also indicated great problems with the information being collected. This raises a big concern about the kind of information that is being collected already, and how this information may be used in this proposed new system.
The legislation also suggests an electronic processing system will be used, but it's not clear who will have access to this, whether this will be government driven, or whether the carriers will have access to it, and how this information will be shared among national agencies in Canada.
I'll turn now to the way the information may be shared with the United States. Since this is being introduced as part of the beyond the border plan, the big concerns are around the information sharing that may happen with the United States as a result of the ETA.
Again, the background paper identifies its aim is to establish a common North American approach to screening travellers. It's important to see what this means in light of the Canadian system around gathering information and how we understand visa waivers. Travelling may be coming more harmonized with that of the United States.
For example, we still have visa waivers for many former Commonwealth countries. Whether those will be sustained in the future or whether we will move more in line with the United States and their decisions around who requires a visa or not to enter the United States is yet to be seen. That's one concern, that as we move to greater harmonization around our processes, we'll also move to harmonization around the kinds of countries we require visas for.
Then there is the whole process around information sharing between Canadian and American agencies. The beyond the border agreement sets out the information that will be shared. A key component of the beyond the border agreement is that there be further information sharing between the two countries. There are big questions about how, when, and why that information will be shared, and under what circumstances it will be shared.
The American version, the ESTA, which was set up in 2007, is very vague regarding who has access to this information. The American version states:
||Information submitted by applicants through the ESTA Web site is subject to the same strict privacy provisions and controls that have been established for similar traveller screening programs. Access to such information is limited to those with a professional need to know.
That's all they say, so it's not clear what that “need to know” is, how that's decided, and on what basis.
It does say that the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, as well as federal, state, local, tribal, and foreign government agencies can have access to this information. There's a question in the Canadian case as to whether we also will have these different organizations having access to the information, and whether we will be making this information available to the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of State in the United States. I think that's a big question around how the information will be shared across the two countries.
We have many examples in Canada of information sharing that has gone wrong. The case of Maher Arar is always brought up as one key example. The federal inquiry did reveal many problems with the way the RCMP acquired information and how it was shared. The United Nations cited this as an example of human rights infringement around the information sharing that took place.
Also, privacy issues have been identified as a key concern in the limited public engagement that there has been with the beyond the border agreement. Privacy issues have been number one in issues identified by the public vis-à-vis the beyond the border agreement.
None of these are clearly set out in the legislative changes that are proposed. There is no sense of how these will be addressed or taken care of, so again I think we need to be very careful about how these things will unfold.
The other question is around inadmissibility criteria. Again, there are questions of whether there will be harmonization around the criteria for allowing someone who is part of a visa waiver country to come to Canada. The Canadian and U.S. versions are similar to a great extent, but they're not exactly the same.
Again, the question is, will we be taking on these different kinds of rules that the United States has? For example, they specify mental health issues. We do not specify mental health in the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Whether that is something that will be taken up is yet to be seen. There are examples of people already being denied crossing at the Canada-U.S. border because of mental health reasons. There are questions around how that information is being made available to border agents.
Between Canada and the United States, we have a joint statement of privacy principles that has been signed through this beyond the border agreement. Whilst this does set out a framework of common rules for approaching how we will share information in future, there is very little in terms of how this will deal with the distinct constitutional and legal frameworks that we have in Canada and the United States. It's very strong in principle and statement, but not very clear in terms of procedure.
Another big issue has to do with appeal and redress. There is no statement about how people will know why they are inadmissible if they are so deemed, how they will be informed about these reasons, and how they will make any kind of appeal or have opportunities for redress if they are not admissible to Canada under these new rules that are being introduced. I think that needs to be clarified in the legislation around appeal, which is something that we set out as due process in Canada—
I'm going to build on Professor Gilbert's observations. Rightly she pointed out that consumer protection is a requirement here. Privacy must be guarded.
I wish to highlight a problem that I've seen here. I'd like to ring the alarm bell about another group that will be adversely impacted by the proposed law: members of Parliament. When members of Parliament begin their multi-year journey serving Canada, some are unaware that a large part of their time will be dedicated to mobility issues, immigration issues.
I wish to caution that the absence of a framework for individual redress of the kind that already exists in the United States will lead to more work at the offices of members of Parliament. There is no federal consumer protection law allowing individual redress. Where will people go? To their member of Parliament, and it will always be an urgent crisis situation. They can't make their flight, or their relative can't come, or they're stuck somewhere.
I wish to point out that if there is no User Fees Act connection, it will be the members of Parliament who will provide the service that should be provided under the User Fees Act. I'll say a quick word and I'll close shortly. The User Fees Act is a friend. There is no better ally to a member of Parliament than the User Fees Act, because that law sets a service standard. That service standard is triggered by doing nothing on the part of the consumer or the member of Parliament. It is a save-work act. If this legislation goes through not connected to the User Fees Act, this will be a make-work act for members of Parliament, so beware.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to thank the committee for having me join you today for this important testimony. I'd also like to thank MP Rick Dykstra for his kindness and hospitality and Julie Lalande Prud'homme for organizing this for us.
I recently participated in a Center for a Secure Free Society forum called “The Future of North America”. We had it right there on Parliament Hill a few weeks ago. In fact, it was in that very room. We had Jim Gilmore from Virginia, a former governor; Roger Pardo-Maurer, one of my colleagues who is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the western hemisphere; Joseph Humire, the executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society; John Carpay, from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms; and Candice Malcolm, who organized it for us there.
It's good to be back just three weeks later to formally testify on the same topics we talked about there, which had to do with border security, immigration, economics, security, and the balance between liberty and security.
The U.S., Canada, and Mexico are inextricably linked. Whatever happens in one happens in another. The U.S.-Canada border alone is five and a half thousand miles long, and seven thousand if we count Alaska. With trade amounting to $1.5 billion a day and roughly $500 billion a year, our bilateral trade remains one of the key factors in our shared prosperity.
That said, we also have shared threats in the form of transnational criminal organizations, non-state actors like al Qaeda and the homegrown terrorists it inspires, and state-sponsored terrorism like Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah.
The U.S. and Canada remain engaged in valiant efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, fighting off the Taliban efforts to reconquer the government and turn the country into a terrorist safe haven. Radical Islam remains one of our chief shared threats, as correctly noted by .
We have been at war since 9/11, and it was not a war of our choosing. As long as we remain at war, the U.S. and Canada will remain targets of extremists. Plots are foiled continuously, and our law enforcement authorities must be right one hundred per cent of the time, given the severe consequences of mass terrorist attacks. Failure is not an option.
Also, we have to combat fraud, tax avoidance, human trafficking, and a shadow economy that immigration policy can help fix. The immigration policy remains a key component of strong security and fraud avoidance for both countries. Borders are important, and security at the borders is vital for us as well. It is the most obvious to the public. But so is the procedure for granting visas worldwide, monitoring who comes in, why they come in, how long they're here, and whether they leave.
The U.S. and Canada have made some mistakes in admitting terrorists and would-be terrorists into our countries. Algeria and Ahmed Ressam comes to light as a prime example. Here was a man who came to Montreal, Canada on a fake French passport in the early nineties. When it was discovered that it was a fake passport, he suddenly changed his story. He said that he was looking for political asylum, which was granted. Over the years he got involved in petty theft, crimes, and fraud. He eventually went to Afghanistan to join al Qaeda terrorist training camps at Khalden. Despite the fact that he went to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, he was readmitted into Canada.
In 1999 he tried to cross the border. He did cross the border, actually, from Victoria, B.C. to Port Angeles, which is up in the Olympic Peninsula across from Seattle, Washington. He had a trunk full of explosives 40 times more powerful than a car bomb. His destination was Los Angeles airport. He planned to blow it up on the millennium, the “Millennium Bomber".
In the U.S. we've had problems, as well. Most of those 9/11 hijackers should never have been in the country to begin with. We even had a more recent problem. A young Bangladeshi man named Quazi Mohammad Nafis was in the United States on a student visa. He planned to blow up the Fed in New York. We've had problems both in the United States and in Canada about who we admit to our countries.
We also have problems at our border with Mexico, of course. It's a little bit of a different problem, but some of the same issues overlap. At the Mexico border, we've implemented a system called “strategic fencing” at the places where we absolutely have to have it because people come in droves. There's generally a three-tiered fencing system in certain parts along the U.S.-Mexico border.
We've also increased the use of sensors and cameras, recently including surveillance drones. That's been a successful program.
We've been able to dramatically reduce the number of people coming across the border illegally.
We hope this is never necessary on the northern border with Canada, particularly given our better cooperation, I'd say, with the Canadian government, and just the length of the border that we would have to do that for.
I have three recommendations.
Number one is to improve pre-screening overseas. We have to really determine who is coming to the United States and who is coming to Canada, because they affect both of us. When Canada admits people on a political asylum basis or, say, under a student visa, that has an impact on the United States, because they could easily cross the border. At the same time, we have $1.5 billion a day in trade between our two countries, so we don't want to impede the free flow of goods between our countries. We don't want to make the border security checkpoints any more cumbersome. Pre-screening is the top recommendation I'd have.
The second recommendation would be to increase intelligence sharing. The U.S. and Canada have already shared a military command in the form of NORAD to protect our continent from the nuclear menace of the Soviet Union in days gone by. We still have NORAD and we still have a very strong military partnership and military alliance. I think information sharing between our two countries is absolutely vital.
The third recommendation I would have is that Canada take a whole-of-government approach whereby Parliament would have different committees to deal with not only immigration but also defence issues and trade issues and that they all come together and think about what is best for the country and for our continent to keep us secure. I think that the electronic travel authorization is warranted. I think it makes sense. It will help secure our countries and will help defeat fraud and ensure that people in Canada pay their fair share of taxes.
The last thing I would mention is that when I was the Pentagon spokesman for the western hemisphere, I served under Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary Gates for four years at the Pentagon.
One of the primary things I did was speak for the United States government regarding what was happening in Guantanamo. I've been there some 30 times, and I have brought seven or eight Canadian press there at least a dozen times. I got to know some of their thoughts about terrorism writ large in our hemisphere. One of the cases that really struck me as odd was the Omar Khadr case, in that Omar Khadr and his family, called the “first family of terrorism” by many in Canada, were able to get into Canada and stay there even though they fundamentally didn't show any respect for Canada whatsoever. Khadr's parents would stay in Canada to have children so they could enjoy the free health care and take advantage of the largesse and the kindness of the Canadian government and at the same time would go back to live in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan because, as Khadr's mother would say, she didn't want her kids growing up to be like Canadians. It was actually quite offensive. Most people there have probably already seen the interview on CBC in which they talked about that. We can get into that later, but I think Canada needs to take a hard look at who they admit and why they admit them. That way we'll be much safer as a continent.
Thank you very much.
I'm going to try to talk really fast.
Mr. Gordon, I'm going to direct my next set of questions to you. I thank you for sharing some of the stories. There was a passport that was discovered to be fake; he changed his story, turned to petty crime, fraud, went to Afghanistan, joined al Qaeda, all of these things, and then lo and behold, he was able to come back through the border, to Canada, the United States, and so forth. I thank you for bringing that particular case to our attention.
As you indicated, there were cases where serious criminals have been deported. You didn't mention deportation necessarily, but there are serious criminals who have been deported, failed refugee claimants, and then they've been allowed to re-enter Canada. I'm not sure whether you have the same problems as well.
Do you believe the electronic travel authorization, the provisions in the perimeter agreement between Canada and the U.S., will help prevent foreign criminals from abusing Canada's generous immigration system?
I want to thank all three presenters, two for coming in person. I know one's left the balmy coast of British Columbia to come here. I want to thank you for video conferencing with us today as well, Mr. Gordon.
We started the committee's study of this piece of legislation yesterday. Just so that everybody knows, the NDP supports the principle of electronic travel authorization systems. Just so we're clear, we're talking about electronic travel authorization systems for people coming to Canada as visitors, except U.S. citizens. That's my understanding of the way it's going to be applied.
At the same time as we support this, we also share some of the concerns of the Privacy Commissioner, who submitted a brief to our committee because she couldn't appear in person. Jennifer Stoddart has said in her brief that her office is concerned about the ETA program's lack of transparency and the degree to which the details of the program are deferred to regulation. Once again, we as parliamentarians are going to be asked to vote in the dark, without having the full road map in front of us. We share these concerns. We continue to have these concerns despite our discussions yesterday.
I'm not sure if you have read them yet, but I would like to get your take on some of her specific recommendations. I'm going to direct these questions primarily to Emily, but please, others, if you want to jump in, you will get an opportunity to do so as well.
Ms. Stoddart recommends that a privacy impact assessment be conducted well in advance of the implementation of the ETA. She recommends that in the interest of public transparency, these changes be codified in statute rather than in regulations, because regulations can be changed at the whim of a minister. She indicates that clarity is needed around information sharing between agencies and parliamentary oversight. She recommends that CIC should implement privacy training and policies so its workers understand the sensitivity of this information.
Do you concur with these recommendations? Do you have any of your own?
I'm going to throw the second question in there as well.
These small changes to IRPA are linked to the broader issue of establishing a common approach with the U.S. to the screening of travellers and implementing part of the beyond the border action plan.
Can you provide more background on the changing politics of the Canada-U.S. border, and what this will entail for Canadians with respect to mobility and privacy issues?
If we could start with Emily, that would be great.
I have a very limited time, so I would ask everybody to be succinct.
I think the recommendations that the Privacy Commissioner has made are excellent. They will take us to having some of those safeties in place around the concerns that I raised around information sharing and how people will have access to the information that's being used against them. I think that will help.
Questions around appeal and redress need to be made clear. As we've already heard, that could be added into those recommendations. That's something we should also be looking at.
Having more public debate on these questions to see how the Canadian public feels about these changes would also be useful. We haven't seen that happen, largely because this is rolled into an omnibus bill.
I'm losing my other point here, but there was another really good one and it will come back to me shortly.
In terms of the changing background around mobility, what we're seeing in North America as Canada and the U.S. work more hand-in-hand around security and immigration issues is that we have more hierarchical forms of mobility. Business people get expedited access across the border through pre-clearance programs like NEXUS that have been made possible through programs like NAFTA. Those people get to move more quickly. We have more and more people coming in on more regulated forms of migration, temporary labourers, who are much more scrutinized in terms of their ability to come to Canada and the conditions under which they stay. This is just adding another layer in terms of the scrutiny that we are putting in place around people who are coming to Canada without any clear sense of its effectiveness.
The U.S. has had a similar program in place since 2007. I'd like to see the information that shows this is really addressing the concerns that have been raised by other people in this committee around things like terrorism, etc. As far as I know, there's no clear evidence that's the case.
I come back to the two points that it depends on what information is being gathered and how it's being used.
If the information that is to be gathered is exactly the same that's being gathered already, but being brought together through an electronic system, that seems to be straightforward enough.
If there will be additional information built into it at a later date, whether it's biometrics or other kinds of other information, I think that is a concern. I think there are questions around, for example, the U.S. form, which I have looked at online. It does ask questions around mental health issues. How will someone answer those kinds of questions? Will we be asking those kinds of questions on our ETA as they do on the ESTA? What will be the implications for those individuals as to how they answer those questions? Are they relevant questions?
I think it comes down to what information we are gathering, and then how that information will be used.
On the example that was just given, about the Toronto 18 as homegrown terrorists, this has absolutely nothing to do with that kind of situation. I think what we're doing is pretending to be more secure by doing our pre-screening offshore in an attempt to show the United States that we are being more attentive to terrorist issues without actually looking at some of the clear ways we could deal with these things.
I apologize, but I'm going to answer in English because my French is very rusty.
The kind of criteria that I think may move towards greater harmonization are things related to the questions they are asking on their forms, which are slightly different from the questions we are asking. For example, there may be harmonization around mental health issues. That is one clear example we may move towards. I don't know if that's the case, but that's something we need to consider.
There may also be harmonization in terms of countries that are eligible for visa waivers and countries from which we require visas. There are some significant differences between Canada and the United States, particularly for Commonwealth countries and many in the Caribbean. We don't require visas from them. Currently that is a big difference from what the U.S. requires of those countries. I think we'll see harmonization in that way.
Also, I think there will be the information sharing that happens through the information that's collected. Again, we don't know the full extent of that, and I think that's something we need to have further clarification on before we move forward.
Thank you to the witnesses for appearing before us today.
What we are talking about is an extra tool in the tool kit to identify people prior to boarding a mode of transportation and coming to Canada. Security of Canadians is our priority. With all due respect, it trumps the privacy of foreigners. They have a choice as to whether or not they fill in the ETA before they come to Canada. If they don't want to fill it in, they don't come. Once we implement the system, that will be the system. For us and for Canadians, it is paramount that their security be protected. When we identify those people ahead of time, it facilitates the system for legitimate people, law-abiding citizens from other nations who come to our country.
Here's what Pierre Sabourin, the vice-president of the operations branch of the Canada Border Security Agency, said:
||With the ETA system, we will have the ability to inform the airline, before the flight has left, to not board that passenger....
||There are security advantages: people who would be deemed inadmissible would not be coming to the country. There are also advantages from a refugee perspective, which is that we will get fewer refugee claims.
I want to direct my first question to Mr. Gordon.
What do you think the consequences will be if Canada does not implement the ETA?
Ms. Gilbert, I think we were coming to the same conclusion in a way, that it is critical and important to understand what questions are going to be asked, based on what the purpose of the ETA will be over the next number of years. I and I think everyone would acknowledge that.
As a ministry official, Mr. Linklater made it painfully obvious to all of us that not only had the ministry met previously at great length with the Privacy Commissioner, but as we move forward in this process, they are going to continue to meet with her and her office. The process upon which we will come to our regulations will be in close consultation with her and with her office. I know that doesn't necessarily change your opinion.
I don't know whether you had a chance to see the committee hearings yesterday, but the ministry has gone to great lengths, not only to meet with the Privacy Commissioner, but in terms of detailed research and understanding how this program would work, to meet with officials in the United States as well as Australia.
You mentioned statistics, and I think it's important to relay a couple of them. There have been questions regarding what's going to happen to tourism and how tourism is going to be impacted. Are fewer people going to come to a particular country because an additional piece of, and yes, we'll call it security, has been implemented? What is the impact on tourism?
The World Travel and Tourism Council did an impact assessment of the visa facilitation on job creation, and also with the ETAs. It's fascinating, and perhaps you'd like to comment on it. Obviously, I'm not expecting you to have read this, but there are some really good statistics here:
||The ETA program was rolled out to qualifying origin markets over several years beginning in 1996. 21 source markets for which data were available were examined and outcomes were observed over the three year period after ETA was rolled out for each origin market. Actual arrivals averaged growth of 7.9% per year...over the respective three year period following the roll out of ETA for each country....
From an overall perspective, we do have Australia, for example, post its implementation in 1996, which experienced an increase between 8.9% and 9.8% in tourism. There is some proof there may actually be a connection, at least according to the World Trade Council, between a foreigner's visit to a particular country and that foreigner or tourist having a clear understanding that because of the ETA program the country actually may be safer to visit, and therefore, it moves up on their list as their first or second choice for destination sites.
I'd like to get all three of your comments on that, in terms of the overall potential of how that further feeling of security may enhance someone choosing our country as a destination.
I know it's interesting from my perspective. I agree, Ms. Gilbert, that in every decision that is made and in every result, a varying degree of factors have to be taken into account. You wouldn't have to be a mathematician to figure that out. One of the concluding remarks of the council was that these results show that the ESTA program did not have a negative impact on tourist arrivals from visa waiver countries, despite the perception of a more restrictive policy.
I think about that in a very pragmatic way, as I'm sure many of us do around this table. When I decide to get on a plane to visit a destination, time and money are two of the priorities I think about, Mr. Kurland. Another is that there are countries in this world that I have not travelled to and will not travel to because I'm concerned about my and my family's safety. I'm sure all of us make those same determinations. I would like to think we put ourselves in a stronger position as a country when we tell those who are visiting here that we are very concerned about Canadians' safety, but we're also concerned about their safety when they are here.
What we're trying to accomplish here isn't just a vision or a decision based on adding a line of bureaucratic detail. It's a very pragmatic and practical way of inviting people to our country, saying they are welcome to come here. On the other hand, if folks are going to visit this country, there's a very minimal amount of research or filling out a document.
Heck, every time I travel anywhere else in the world, I need to fill out a form as I sit on the plane coming back to Canada. When you look at that, especially from the United States, I find those questions to be extremely detailed and personal. Did I buy any cheese? I wonder whose business that is as I'm responding to this. I fill out the questionnaire and I hand it in. It goes to the CBSA official. I don't know what happens to that document. I don't know how long it sits there, five years, four years, three years, or two months. I think I have a sense of security when I fill that out. I understand no one is bringing anything into the country that could harm me or the country.
I just want to follow the line of questioning that Mr. Dykstra started a few minutes ago and pick up on a comment made by my friend, Richard.
Richard, as you said, this particular piece of legislation is not a magic bullet to solve any fears of terrorism. First, as you know, we don't even really know what data is going to be collected. We presume name and birthdate will be the minimum.
The other big concern we have is that, as you said, that which we desire for ourselves we also want for others, especially when it comes to our liberty and freedoms, and privacy is one of those issues. I'm one of those people who travel a lot and don't have an access card because I don't want to share a lot of my data, not that I have anything to hide, but I don't know where else it is going to go.
For me, one of the major concerns we have around privacy issues is that first, we don't know what data is going to be asked for, so it's hard for us as parliamentarians to go one way or the other. The second one is ministry officials who were here were very informative and upfront with their responses. Every time we asked whom this data would be shared with, they said that it would be shared with nobody at this time. You know that whenever you hear “at this time”, it's going to go somewhere fairly quickly. That remains as a major concern because other people will ask why you can't share a name and a birthdate, but we don't know if that's the only information that's going to be selected.
I'm also hearing a lot of confusion about citizenship fraud and all of those things. This piece of legislation is not going to address citizenship fraud. None of us wants to see citizenship fraud. We all want to see that cleared up.
For me the question always goes back to what we are trying to achieve with this piece of legislation. If it is simply to have that biodata, birthdate and name, don't we already have that on the passports? A person cannot enter our country without a passport. If it's somebody entering without a passport, ETA isn't going to stop them. What is it we're trying to achieve here if everything we need is on a passport, can be read off a passport, can be stored and is stored?
First, Mr. Chair, let me start off by saying how much the opposition appreciated the government side facilitating the hearings we've had over the last two days. It was an example of how, when the will is there, both sides can really work together. It is why the committee stage is so very critical to the parliamentary process. I mean it sincerely that this was much appreciated. I say a big thank you to everyone for facilitating that.
As you've said, the NDP has submitted no amendments, and we don't plan to submit any during the meeting today. We've raised specific concerns about privacy and the impact on tourism of the proposed ETA in the omnibus budget bill. We've also raised concerns about the fact that so much of the stuff is going to be in regulation and the fact that the fees are excluded from the parliamentary oversight they need to have. Our amendments will be going directly to the finance committee. They will reflect some of the concerns we have expressed here.
It was an unusual process we went through here, where one advisory committee asked other advisory committees to discuss this. Even though we could deal with amendments here, they would have no power, because the only committee that has the authority to deal with amendments to the omnibus budget bill is the finance committee. We thought that rather than have duplication, that's exactly where the amendments should go, so that's what we are doing.
Once again, I cannot express enough how much we all appreciated the ability to discuss and debate and to hear witnesses. I'm hoping it's a sign that we're going to continue to work like that on this committee.
The chair, as you know, takes suggestions at his will. My suggestion would be that the chair report to the finance committee that we have undertaken a study, outline what we heard, and inform them that amendments will be submitted by the official opposition, because we don't plan to bring them forward here.
With that in mind, if nobody else has amendments, we would be quite prepared to adjourn.
To a certain degree, I appreciate that we have been able to deal with one aspect of the budget bill. It would have been a horrendous mistake had we not had the opportunity at least to review what we have a responsibility to study.
Having said that, I also believe that it was a mistake for the , working with the , to have put this in the budget bill. I believe it would have been better as a stand-alone bill. That way, we would have done much more due diligence. There would have been more accountability and transparency about what the bill was going to do.
We need to recognize that this is going to have an impact on hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world, and I'm not convinced that the due diligence that's necessary has been done. That is a message that should be communicated.
We heard some fairly strong statements on incorporating the User Fees Act into what the ETA is all about, thereby guaranteeing a standard of service that would be much more acceptable. I'm thinking specifically of those individuals who will be denied. We're talking about tens of thousands of individuals worldwide who would be denied. We learned that from committee presentations.
I was quite concerned when the department officials came before us and they were not able to provide what I thought was basic information. We should have a sense of how much this is going to cost to implement. We are walking away from this committee not having any sense of those costs. That is the reason we don't know what the fee is going to be. We are going to allow passage of a substantial piece of legislation. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be collected, but exactly how much we don't know.
I'm not convinced that's the best way for legislation to pass. We know that now because we had presentations at the beginning of the committee and those types of questions were not answered. One would have thought that those types of questions would have been answered.
In the dying moments of a presentation, one of the presenters asked a profound question: what about those individuals who might want to create mischief for others? We are underestimating that aspect. The potential for mischief is phenomenal, yet we have had no discussion or dialogue on that issue.
As opposed to trying to talk at great length, I will draw my remarks to a conclusion by saying that much has been lost by our not doing the type of job we should have done had the bill come before the committee as a separate piece of legislation. It is a very dangerous road the government is taking, incorporating so much legislation that should be stand-alone legislation. It is not healthy for democracy. It's not healthy in many different ways. From my perspective, those types of comments need to be brought to the floor.
Realizing the politics of things, I hope that if these comments are not brought to the floor, my committee colleagues from all sides of the House will recognize the importance of what I have attempted to say and bring it up within their own caucuses.
With that, Mr. Chair, the Liberal Party will also not be introducing any amendments at this stage.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Through you, Chair, I have a couple of questions for our officials. They came all the way down here and it's not only for that reason, but the fact that they're here allows us to ask a couple of questions. I don't intend to take very long.
At the outset, I want to say that I do agree with Ms. Sims' comments in terms of our ability to undertake a specific study for a period of time about an impact that our ministry is going to have on the budget and is going to have on those who travel to this country. Obviously it's a step in the direction with respect to some more advanced security.
I do, however, disagree with Mr. Lamoureux's comments. This is our ability to process an issue that was directly in the budget. I've been here for seven years. The process that we undertook over the last two days was as in-depth of a review as I've ever done on a piece of legislation that was included in the budget. Clauses 308 to 313 are a very small part of the budget bill, and yet we allocated six hours' worth of committee time to reviewing five clauses.
There was mention about the politics, and there's always going to be disagreement from a political perspective on the government's decision to move forward with a budget and what is included in that budget. I understand that. I agree with that. It's part of the Westminster model of Parliament.
The other part that I acknowledge is our ability to study this regardless of which party to which we belong. This actually came to committee and we were able to review it to this extent. The officials were engaged in this process. This will give the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration a better understanding of how important this issue is to the committee members and members of Parliament regardless of which party they happen to come from.
I'm glad they're here at the conclusion of this study for a couple of reasons. They were able to listen to the observations that many of us made and also to the testimony of our witnesses. I also want to get a response on a couple of things.
From a privacy perspective, we received the letter from Ms. Stoddart. I heard both Maia and Les speak yesterday at great length about the care and concern they have around privacy issues. Perhaps, Maia, you could reiterate the importance of the work that you will do with the Privacy Commissioner and how you will proceed in terms of next steps.