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[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Thursday, October 4, 2001

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The Chair (Mr. Maurizio Bevilacqua (Vaughan—King—Aurora, Lib.)): I'd like to call the meeting to order and welcome everyone here this afternoon.

As everyone knows, the order of the day is Bill S-23, an act to amend the Customs Act and to make related amendments to other acts.

We have the pleasure to have with us, from the Customs Excise Union, the national president, Serge Charette. Welcome.

Mr. Serge Charette (National President, Customs Excise Union): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Chair: You've appeared in front of committees before, so I don't need to tell you how this works. Take the time you need to make your introductory remarks and then we'll engage in a question and answer session.

Mr. Serge Charette: Excellent. Thank you very much.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for agreeing to hear the testimony from CEUDA on Bill S-23.

Before I start, I'd like to apologize for the fact that our notes are available in English only. The reason for that is I only found out this morning that we were scheduled for this afternoon, and we were still working on a draft of our presentation. So I apologize to the francophone members of the group. However, if you have questions or comments you can feel free to present them in French and I'll try to respond.

The reality that brings us here today has been loudly echoed in weeks past by Canadian media across the country, by the Canadian public, by many members of Parliament in the House of Commons, and especially by American senators and members of the United States Congress.

Yesterday we heard the minister refer to the dual and, in my view, conflicting mandate of customs: facilitation versus security. Clearly both are linked. Yet they are at opposite ends, like opposing spheres of this hourglass. Increased facilitation, Mr. Chairman, results in a decrease in security, and vice-versa. I think this hourglass really portrays that in a very visual manner.

Bill S-23 does a lot of facilitation, especially in terms of speeding up the flow of goods and people entering Canada. In fact, we see this as the prime reason for Bill S-23. It is actually the product of consultation with the trade and tourism sectors.

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At the same time, it does address some issues that we consider to be positive. A new penalty structure, the new equipment controls over export mail, customs control areas at international airports—we see those as positive.

Customs officers at Canadian border points have expressed frustration with the current lack of proper computer equipment, the antiquated state of some of it, the lack of training, understaffing, and other problems also identified in the Auditor General's April 2000 report.

Long before the terrible events of September 11, the Auditor General at the time, Denis Desautels, said that with more than 100 million travellers a year entering the country at 147 border points and 13 international airports, the risks to Canada's safety and security were high. Speaking about customs officers, he wrote that The main role now is to protect Canadians against illegal activities such as smuggling of contraband or unlawful entry of inadmissible people. He said their audit raises some concerns about how well these risks are being managed.

While admittedly Bill S-23 promises some improvements over and above facilitation, like us, politicians, police forces, Canadians, the media, and many Americans at all levels are convinced we need to reconsider our enforcement policies. Though I agree with those who say American politicians find it convenient to deflect criticism by blaming Canada, some of their concerns echo those CEUDA has been voicing for many years.

The Canadian Police Association even warned this week against perpetuating a false sense of security. It called for staffing increases and a more serious approach to enforcement. We echo those sentiments, in particular as they relate to the Canada-U.S. border. The Auditor General's report said relations between customs, immigration, and other agencies and departments at many ports of entry are strained. Crucial intelligence information is not always shared, and tools such as licence plate readers and computers are slow and antiquated, making them unreliable. We hope this too will be addressed with Bill S-23, since high-performance equipment and access to current data would make our members that much more effective.

Desautels also said students and short-term contract employees receive inadequate training and that additional training for full customs officers needs to be increased, especially for specialty skills such as targeting, which requires a sophisticated blending of on-the-spot and computerized intelligence information to determine whether someone presents a risk. Given the nature of customs operations and the changing environment for enforcement, ongoing training is essential to keep skills up to date, he wrote. However, apart from the initial 14 weeks of induction training—which is, by the way, eight weeks now with further training based on modes—many long-term staff we interviewed had not received refresher training in the functions customs performs.

The fact is that volumes of work are such that staff could not be spared in order to get more training. Some had to wait years in order to get even the basic 14-week course, which is now eight weeks and averaging a failure rate of about 15%. But students continue to be trained the very same way, two weeks on average, three under the best circumstances, and they, together with about 300 term employees who also only have two weeks training, at times make up more than half the customs workforce in the travellers stream during the busiest months of the year, July and August.

We also hear a great deal about the establishment of a North American perimeter. The way we understand this concept, what is called for is for a more rigorous enforcement program for travellers coming from outside North America. Our members have been concerned about their decreased enforcement role for years. Obviously, this is something we would agree with, but not if it means reduced enforcement at the Canada-U.S. border.

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Enforcement at the Canada-U.S. border is not only concerned with terrorists; we also look for weapons, pornography, drunk drivers, North American criminals, cheap cigarettes, liquor, wine, and beer. We look for contaminated agricultural products and travellers who appear sick. We ensure radioactive and other dangerous goods are properly marked and transported safely.

One of you referred to customs as a speed bump yesterday. Just remember, speed bumps save lives. It was also mentioned yesterday that Canada should strive to become the gateway to North America. Would this not become that much more difficult if we had a North American perimeter?

With the Americans moving to triple their border guards along the Canadian border, and pumping some $25 million to $50 million into equipment like night vision goggles and motion detection sensors, talking about advanced access to passenger lists from airlines, secure customs zones in airports, and more programs like CANPASS just does not appear to be sufficient. It's not that these initiatives are not good; they simply pale in comparison with what we believe needs to be done.

CANPASS, for example, is very good in theory, but it is only good if it is backed by a number of verifications. We understand the recent report on CANPASS, internal to the agency, uncovered some rather startling facts about the program. It is yet to be made public, but members of this committee may want to ask the minister for a copy. It outlined a number of security and enforcement problems. It noted, for example, that more than 15% of the addresses we have for CANPASS card holders are inaccurate. Moreover, the minister expects that the new initiatives provided for under Bill S-23 will free resources by spending less time on low-risk goods and travellers and that those resources will be reinvested in high-risk areas.

This is what customs officials tried to do with CANPASS. And the Auditor General found that cost savings have not yet been achieved, and that the original objective of CANPASS, to free up resources that could then be reallocated to high-risk areas, has not yet materialized. According to the Auditor General, the main reason was lower than expected use of CANPASS by Canadians.

Any idea that CANPASS and similar programs will result in increased efficiency and security at our borders is guesswork at this time. These types of programs are mostly unproven concepts that may tend to create a false sense of security. I hope the minister is right, but we will only be able to know this in the long term. Perhaps the committee will keep this in mind and ask the minister to provide regular progress reports over the next year or so.

Another concern we have is that of one-person ports. The minister said yesterday that one way to address this concern would be to institute a greater use of joint facilities. We have a few of those already in place, and I agree with the minister, it has gone a long way toward relieving security concerns for officers involved. The problem is that this is a long-term solution, and we have an immediate problem. Could we not look at doubling up officers until joint facilities can be provided? In light of the current state of affairs, simply allowing individuals to proceed into Canada does not appear to be in the best interest of Canada or Canadians.

As you can note, our members have some serious concerns. The balance between security and facilitation has to be reconsidered. It has moved considerably towards facilitation over the years—too much, in our opinion. We see glaring problems and deficiencies.

The minister told you yesterday that risk assessment is done on a daily basis to account for changes in the environment. Bill S-23 was drafted before September 11, and if it has anything to do with managing risk, we believe it could not have taken into consideration the world reality we face today.

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When an American senator holds up an orange rubber traffic cone in committee and says this is our answer to border security with Canada in some locations, and we know we do the same on our side, we believe more questions need to be asked. An orange cone is not security. You can't have a secure border unless all of your border is secure.

In closing, CEUDA proposes the following options to the committee. We would like you to study national security in more detail and hear testimony from a mix of experts and witnesses on all sides of the issue. Ask Minister Cauchon to strike a consultative committee to study issues and concerns of security in the same manner he studied facilitation, by consulting organizations with a stake in this issue. Agree to call the minister, CEUDA, and others as witnesses to appear before this committee within the next six months to a year to hear testimony on security matters related to customs. By then we should have acquired some knowledge about the implementation status of Bill S-23 and its effectiveness in dealing with security. The Auditor General will have tabled her report assessing risk in the commercial stream of customs, and hopefully, we will have a much clearer picture of what the Americans have done at the border.

Thank you very much.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Charette.

We'll now go to a question and answer session, a ten-minute round for Mr. Jaffer.

Mr. Rahim Jaffer (Edmonton—Strathcona, Canadian Alliance): Thanks, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you for your presentation today, Serge.

It's interesting, because yesterday in my line of questioning to the minister I raised this issue of the dual mandate of enforcement and the revenue side of customs. It seems ever more clear, from some of the things I'm seeing in your presentation and some of the people we're talking to, that there is a real concern about trying to deal with that dual mandate effectively. Obviously, in this particular bill we are looking at expediting the process of goods and services much more effectively. Even though there may be some problems, I think most agree it's a step in the right direction. However, on the side of security, an area I think you've identified and we here in the opposition have been concerned about, we need to deal with addressing those issues effectively.

As one of the things that becomes almost a clear solution in trying to deal with that dual mandate situation, wouldn't it make sense to take customs from the revenue portfolio, put it under Solicitor General, and give back its mandate of enforcement, because that's something that's obviously missing in its current mandate?

Mr. Serge Charette: That concept was already suggested, I believe, under the Conservatives maybe six or seven years ago, perhaps longer—I forget now. At that time the Customs Excise Union fully supported that concept for customs officers. We do see customs officers as being a group of individuals that is becoming more and more oriented towards enforcement. In fact, the approval of Bill C-18 in 1998 has made that even clearer, and we would definitely consider that to be a step in the right direction.

Mr. Rahim Jaffer: One of the questions that was raised from your presentation was the problem, to some extent, of training with some students. I think the minister has addressed that in the House, where he's talked about the importance of continually supporting youth employment strategies, and I don't think you'll find much opposition to that. But obviously, one of the fears we have with lack of training or lack of attention to the summer student program is that it could result in some incidents at the border that potentially cause security risks. So I'm wondering specifically if with this reduction in training, you have any examples or anything you can point to that resulted in incidents at the border because of the problem with summer students not having the right training.

Mr. Serge Charette: There aren't that many examples that I can relate. The main reason is that basically, the students report to superintendents, and to my knowledge, they don't even prepare an assessment of the work they perform during their limited time with the agency. So it's somewhat difficult.

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The only recent thing that comes to mind is an event where, I understand, a student was examining a loaded weapon and trying to remove the cartridge from the weapon. He was having some difficulty doing that. Apparently, he handed it back to the traveller, asking him to remove it. While he tried to remove it, the shot went off. We know for a fact that a seasoned customs inspector, trained to deal with weapons, would not have done that. First, he would have been able to do it himself. Second, you never hand back to the client a loaded weapon.

Mr. Rahim Jaffer: Did it result in any damage?

Mr. Serge Charette: No, the shot just went astray. There were no injuries.

Mr. Rahim Jaffer: One of the questions I had yesterday for the minister, which he didn't quite answer, was on the issue of the redirection of resources. That's maybe a place where you could shed some light for the committee, especially regarding the movement in Bill C-23, as you mentioned, of focus from low risk to high risk, the changes that are being proposed here. We assume we have more resources to put towards high risk scrutiny at the border. What I asked concerned specifically the number of man-hours that may be transferred to high risk and what types of resources resulting from Bill S-23 are going to give the tools for increased resources for high risk attention. Maybe you could shed some light on that from your perspective.

Mr. Serge Charette: That's one of the concerns I expressed. We don't really see at this time a significant transfer of resources from facilitation to enforcement. The example we gave was CANPASS, where the Auditor General, in his review, clearly established that CANPASS had not generated the results that were expected. At the time of the audit it was still impossible to determine the amount of resources that could have been reallocated. My understanding is that it's not because the program itself is not available, it is. But Canadians are not flocking to use this particular program.

Mr. Rahim Jaffer: Is it because of the lack of resources, then? Because it seems to me that it's supposed to help to make things move quicker. It seems odd that people wouldn't buy into it. One of the concerns that was raised is that at the borders the fact is that the resources needed to improve the infrastructure, to allow the transfer of that sort of traffic, haven't been created along with these particular legislative changes. Could that be the reason there is the lack of buy-in?

Mr. Serge Charette: There could be a number of reasons for it. I know in some sites where CANPASS has been implemented, we don't have a separate lane dedicated for the licensed CANPASS users. They still have to get in line with normal traffic. When they get to the booth, they show us the card, then they're allowed to proceed. So there's minimal gain at a port like that. That would require a redesign of the facility and probably an expansion, so that there would be an additional booth or an additional lane. Individuals could then go to that special lane. At this time that's one of the concerns.

I guess with improvement, it's feasible that the program could evolve and become more successful than it is now.

Mr. Rahim Jaffer: I have one final question. With Bill S-23, do the customs officials have enough staffing to deal with the proposed changes, as it currently stands? What sort of infrastructure is going to be required for extra officials or what have you at the border?

Mr. Serge Charette: In our opinion, throughout the nineties we've been trying to do always more with less. I found that basically, when you have less, you can't do more, you actually do less. So what you do you try to do in the most effective way possible, you try to identify areas that need more attention. That normally means you're not looking at something else.

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Basically, at this time we don't think the staffing levels are adequate. We would prefer to see a significant increase, particularly if we're going to continue the increased vigilance that is in effect now.

Mr. Rahim Jaffer: Thank you.


The Chair: Mr. Perron.

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron (Rivière-des-Milles-Îles, BQ): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Hello, Mr. Charette, and welcome. First of all, I would like to check with you and see what happens when someone wants to cross the border and enter Canada. You may correct me if I am wrong, because what I know comes from rumours that I have heard. I am not an expert like you.

Is it true, Mr. Charette, that when a car comes to a border crossing—whether in the month of August or at any other time of year, whether it is at a busy time or not—you stop the car and regardless of the number of people inside, you have 30 seconds to decide if the car can move on or whether a more in-depth search should be done?

Mr. Serge Charette: We do, in fact, have little time to make that decision at busy crossing points, and I would say that 30 seconds would be about the average.

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: Are you obliged to do this work in 30 seconds, or approximately 30 seconds?

Mr. Serge Charette: It is not a question of a prescribed period of time. Thirty seconds represents the average. We have what we call regulars, for example people who work in Detroit but who live in Windsor. These people cross the border five days a week. Therefore, our employees are used to seeing them coming back from work at the same time every day. In such a case, we would ask the person the two or three basic questions and then afterwards, we would let them through. This leaves us a little extra time to inspect another vehicle that could prove to be a more unusual or complicated case, if there are two or three people in the car for example. We try to maintain an average of approximately 30 seconds per vehicle.

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: Do you really believe that 30 seconds is enough?

Mr. Serge Charette: We do not feel it is. We have always maintained that it is not. At the beginning of the 90s, there was an exponential increase in the number of travellers. At that time, we were obliged to limit our activities, to change the way we questioned people, because before that, the line-ups had become never-ending.

Consequently, the changes started at that time. Throughout the 90s, we tried to do more with less, and we were never able to go back to our pre-1991 methods.

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: I would like to ask another question. Is it true that at some border points, for example at Lacolle and Windsor, certain passwords make the officers' jobs easier? For example, if someone arrives and says that he is going to the casino, that's practically an automatic pass: Go ahead.

Mr. Serge Charette: Yes, but let's say that—

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: Or to the bingo.

Mr. Serge Charette: Yes, these people are a part of the group I refered to as our regulars earlier on. The case of Windsor and its casino is a very good example. If some Americans arrive at the Windsor border and tell us that they are going to the casino for a little evening's gambling, that represents a perfectly valid reason to us.

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: Therefore, if I am a terrorist or a drug smuggler and I know how you operate, I get into a car that is going to the casino and I can get through.

Mr. Serge Charette: That is a possibility, but a terrorist arriving at the Windsor border would probably come in a rented vehicle. He would not use his own car.

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: But he could be accompanying a person using their own vehicle.

Mr. Serge Charette: Yes. If you wanted to give the impression that you were going to the casino, knowing someone who is a resident of Detroit who is using his own car could make things easier.

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: Have you seen anything in Bill S-23 that would allow you to work in a different way? I don't want to cast aspersions on anyone, but I am alarmed to hear such things, 30-second inspections, passwords, etc. It gives me goose bumps. In other words, anyone, anything can enter Canada.

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Mr. Serge Charette: It's not a matter of passwords as such. There are key words, rather. In such cases, it seems perfectly logical. If someone arrives in a vehicle and is appropriately dressed, at a sensible time, then we are probably dealing with someone who is going to the casino. The customs officer therefore presumes, in such a situation, that there is not a high risk. On the other hand, if we see someone in jeans, in a rented car, and that person tells us they're going to the casino, we are automatically suspicious, because we know that to go to the casino, you have to be properly dressed; they don't let just anyone in. A rented car would arouse our suspicions as well.

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: Can Bill S-23 settle the security problems? I believe we have security problems. We do not assess the risk level. Are we faced with a low risk, a high risk, or an unknown risk? We now have a new term to indicate a high level of risk: the unknown level of risk.

A Voice: Yes.

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: Can Bill S-23 help us to deal with the shortcomings?

Mr. Serge Charette: In my opinion, certain aspects of S-23 could help us to solve certain problems, for example the list we will be asking the airlines to provide. This is a step in the right direction, insofar as the information on the list is correct, because you have to understand that the carriers are not in business to provide information to Revenue Canada. They are in business in order to move the largest number of people possible. That is why they are satisfied if a person has paid for their airplane ticket and they represent no risk to the plane or to the airline. Then they feel they have done their job.

In my opinion, the effectiveness of S-23 will depend on the degree to which the information given us has been checked. I believe we will have to invest resources in the verification of this information.

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: Your answer is not very satisfactory. I am trying to understand what S-23 brings to the level of risk assessment. How are we going to determine if Gilles Perron represents a low risk, a high risk or an unknown risk? What criteria are we going to use to determine the level of risk that Mr. Charette represents?

Mr. Serge Charette: I believe that S-23 proposed some steps that will allow us to check certain information before the arrival of some people. On the other hand, if someone reports to customs at the border in a car, very little information will have been provided beforehand. We will essentially do the same job we usually do. We will have to ask question and try to find things out.

On the other hand—

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: And take more than 30 seconds to do your inspection.

Mr. Serge Charette: We would like to take more than 30 seconds, but we take the time that we have at our disposal.

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Perron.


We'll go to Sue Barnes, John McCallum, Nystrom, Brison, and then back to the Liberal side.

Ms. Barnes.

Mrs. Sue Barnes (London West, Lib.): Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. And thank you, Mr. Charette, for appearing before us today.

I just would like some information. The technology, the computer programs that Canadian customs have to scan licence plates and give you information, how does that compare to U.S. information and programs they have?

Mr. Serge Charette: I don't really know how effective the equipment is on the American side. I can tell you that according to studies we've seen, that piece of equipment is 70% accurate on the Canadian side when the weather is cooperating. In a snow storm or heavy rain or at dusk or if the sun happens to be shining the wrong way, it could have a false reading.

Mrs. Sue Barnes: Okay. I'm talking about whether or not they have the same capability for the same access from a scan. Do you know that?

Mr. Serge Charette: My understanding is they do, but I can't compare it, because I haven't seen any kind of review.

Mrs. Sue Barnes: All right.

I listened to your remarks about needing the Canadian border, as opposed to this so-called perimeter. One of the things I recall from a number of years ago, when I worked in this area, is that guns were something customs officers routinely had to take off people and store, or they had to turn around Americans because they routinely brought them in, usually because of a lack of knowledge of Canadian law. Is that still going on?

Mr. Serve Charette: That's definitely the case. We seize thousands of weapons every year.

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Mrs. Sue Barnes: So that's a very good argument for keeping this line-drawing exercise as we have it right now, as far as you're concerned.

Mr. Serge Charette: We definitely think so.

Mrs. Sue Barnes: Okay, thank you.

On the student jobs, back in 1974 that was my summer job after I graduated from university, before I went into law school. It was probably the best job I ever had.

I don't think I can ever recall being unsupervised by permanent officers. In your knowledge, have you ever seen an instance where a summer student or any part-time student was unsupervised in their work?

Mr. Serge Charette: I can tell you that when I went to the Yukon this summer, I visited a port where there were six officers. The only indeterminate officer was on annual leave at that time, so the six individuals there had received about two weeks of training.

Mrs. Sue Barnes: That may be so. I think back in 1974 I probably received less than two weeks of training, but I can tell you that every student there was probably a graduate student, and was very conscientiously covered by and helped by the permanent officers. Would you say that has changed?

Mr. Serge Charette: I definitely am not suggesting that the students who work at customs are not conscientious. They do the job the best way they know how. The difficulty we see is that you have not only the customs legislation, but 70 different acts that you apply at the same time when you're at the border—at least you apply the primary of those. That's our concern. We don't see how, with two weeks of training, anyone can attain a working level or a fluency with 70 different pieces of legislation.

Mrs. Sue Barnes: There were some jobs back in those days that students didn't do, and I'm sure that still continues. Is that correct?

Mr. Serge Charette: My understanding is that is not the case. There are students who are unsupervised. Basically, the definition of supervision, as we understand it's now being applied, is if you have access to a telephone and you can call a superintendent or a seasoned customs officer, you are deemed supervised.

Mrs. Sue Barnes: I'm going to move on to your comments that I saw as supportive of the new regulation in Bill S-23 with respect to opening mail that is for export. You are supportive of this, and I'd like to get your reasons for your support on record, please.

Mr. Serge Charette: The reason for the support is basically because we know there are all sorts of goods that can be placed in small packages, such as computers. For a while, any computers that were sent to the eastern countries needed to be intercepted because they were considered to be prohibited goods for sale to those countries.

We never exercised the needed review of the mail stream on export; we do on imports. But we feel that would greatly enhance our ability to intercept goods that should not be exported to certain countries, as indicated on the lists.

Mrs. Sue Barnes: So in your opinion, would this be an essential part to keep inside this piece of legislation?

Mr. Serge Charette: I think it's a very good part and should definitely be kept.

Mrs. Sue Barnes: Thank you very much.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mrs. Barnes.

Mr. McCallum.

Mr. John McCallum (Markham, Lib.): I think I'll pass, Mr. Chairman, in the interest of time.

The Chair: Please, go ahead and ask your question.

Mr. John McCallum: No, I'll defer to those gentlemen.

The Chair: Well, this is a first.

Mr. John McCallum: That doesn't mean I'll give my time to them; it means less time.

The Chair: Go ahead, Mr. Nystrom.

Mr. Lorne Nystrom (Regina—Qu'Appelle, NDP): I'm very pleased he's calling both Scott and me gentlemen.


Welcome to our committee, Mr. Charette.


I want to ask you just a couple of questions. On the weekend I happened to be in Kenora, Ontario, which is on Lake of the Woods. It's a lake that goes into the United States and Canada. They tell me there are 14,000 islands on it. A lot of people there have told me they can take a little boat and cross to the United States anywhere at any time and be totally undetected. I asked the minister this question yesterday. Do you have any advice as to how we can tighten up screening in places like that, where it's very difficult?

I also, as you know, come from Saskatchewan, and we have many one-person ports across the prairies. The minister is talking about joining up with the American officers across the way. What other advice do you have? I understand police might be far away, if this person has a problem, and it might take half an hour or more for a police officer to come to help.

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Do you have any more advice you can give to the committee, in terms of trying to improve those two types of very unique situations?

Mr. Serge Charette: With regard to the first part of the question and the people using the lake, I guess we're in a different situation in Canada from the United States. The mandate of Revenue Canada representatives is to monitor what happens at border crossings, specifically. If we have a reason to go outside, we rely on what we call flexible response teams. But we don't have very many of those teams, and normally they do special operations at specific sites. They won't go outside of the site because for Canadians the responsibility for the border itself—not the border crossings, but the border itself—lies not with the agency but with the RCMP. It's basically their mandate to cover that particular aspect.

With regard to the second part of your question, I addressed that in my presentation. I acknowledged that was a very good suggestion, and one that is already being implemented in at least three sites I'm aware of. It has helped a great deal with the security concerns of the individuals working at those three ports, obviously because they're working with other people, who also happen to be armed.

Mr. Lorne Nystrom: Can you give us an example of how this might affect the ordinary person driving down from Regina to Plentywood, Montana, in terms of the classification, who might be a higher risk? Can you give us an example of the kinds of questions that might be asked of that person, who might be a higher risk? Will there be different definitions of the categories, where some person might not be a higher risk today but they will after this bill goes through? What kinds of questions might be asked, compared to in the past?

Mr. Serge Charette: I guess you would have to determine where they had been in the United States, because that would be part of the questioning—why they had been away, how long they had been away—and if something in that questioning didn't appear to be appropriate.... Also you would have to gauge what kind of reaction you were getting from the individual. If you were getting a nervous laugh, if the person were avoiding eye contact, if they appeared extremely nervous, then you would wonder why that was, so immediately that would increase the risk.

There are also a number of tools you could use if you had access to the various data banks. Some of our smaller ports don't. Then you could verify, using the licence plate number or the name of the individual, if they had a record or if there were any lookouts or other information in the system that might be applicable to that particular person.

It will continue to vary with each individual. It's very difficult to standardize and say that every time somebody shows up, we're going to proceed in a certain way.

Mr. Lorne Nystrom: So it's really a very subjective thing, depending on the individual and the person.

Mr. Serge Charette: Most definitely.


Mr. Lorne Nystrom: Will you be changing the kinds of questions you ask after Bill S-23 is enacted? Will there be any changes to your assessment of a situation where, for example, someone is smiling suspiciously, or something of the sort? Will your approach be different in a few weeks than it was last week?

Mr. Serge Charette: Not to my knowledge. In my opinion, we will be putting essentially the same questions as today. The customs officer will have the same discretionary power, at least according to what the minister said yesterday. He told us it was important to count on experienced customs agents. So he wants to keep the experienced ones.

Mr. Lorne Nystrom: Thank you very much.

Mr. Serge Charette: You're welcome.


The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Nystrom.

Mr. Brison.

Mr. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, PC/DR): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you very much, Mr. Charette, for your intervention.

Mr. Serge Charette: My pleasure.

Mr. Scott Brison: I have a couple of questions.

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I'm concerned that moving towards a more automated system gives us a false sense of security. Certainly it's easier for maybe 98% of travellers; it's going to facilitate greater ease of entry. But those people who can do what it takes to fall into the category of a low-risk traveller will find it significantly easier to move in and out of Canada than it is right now as a result of this legislation. So I have real concerns about the dubious prospects of moving toward a more automated process in a post-September 11 environment, and I would appreciate your feedback on this.

Perhaps we should be providing more resources. We certainly shouldn't be having some points of entry where there are only six students and no supervisory presence, as you described before. But my sense is that moving toward an automated system seems to create huge opportunities for increasing risk, not actually reducing it. What is your feedback on this?

Mr. Serge Charette: Well, my understanding is that the automation proposed in Bill S-23 is to provide additional tools for the officers to use to assist them in the work they do—to make more reliable information available to them, such as palm readers, for example. It's very difficult to classify someone's prints on a palm reader.

Mr. Scott Brison: You're not talking about one of those fortune tellers or something like that.

Mr. Serge Charette: A palm reader. Basically, I would put my hand on a palm reader and it would determine whether or not that palm print matches with Serge Charette's palm print. That's what we're talking about, additional tools to help identify the travellers. Bill S-23 is not an attempt to have computers determine whether or not certain individuals can enter the country or whether certain goods can be allowed into the country. It's more to assist.

Mr. Scott Brison: But won't it provide a sense of security and a greater ease of entry for most travellers? And in some ways it does pull trained personnel back from the process a bit, doesn't it? You're making assumptions based on—

Mr. Serge Charette: Well, yes, that's what I say in my presentation. There are a number of assumptions being made here, and only time will tell whether or not those assumptions are accurate. But our concern over this particular aspect is not as great. We are more concerned over the number of verifications or checks needed to verify or back up this particular automated system, like ACROSS for example.

One concern is that we're not verifying enough people when they come back and use their ACROSS path. We should be looking at more individuals, because after a while people know they're not going to be checked. Then it becomes a question of trying to guess when you will be checked, and if we are only checking one in a hundred, it becomes very easy to guess that you won't be.

Mr. Scott Brison: You say one of the problems identified with CANPASS in an internal report was that more than 15% of the addresses you have for CANPASS card holders are inaccurate. Can you give us some of the other problems with CANPASS identified in that internal report?

Mr. Serge Charette: I didn't see the internal report, per se. I received this information from someone who was told that it was confidential and should not be spread around too much, but I thought it was significant enough that members of this committee should be made aware of it.

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We are concerned, because this indicates that automation still carries with it an obligation on the part of the agency to verify that the information used to determine whether or not an individual should be granted a pass is still accurate and up to date. It indicates to us a significant flaw in the system. In my report I indicated that it would be good for the committee to request a copy of this particular report from the minister. I can't provide a copy of it.

Thank you very much.

The Chair: We'll go back for a second round to Mr. Epp, who has two questions.

Mr. Ken Epp (Elk Island, Canadian Alliance): Thank you very much.

I have a couple of quick questions for you. Can you give us a sense of the level of morale among the staff these days?

Mr. Serge Charette: Morale is very low, for several reasons. The biggest reason right now is that many customs inspectors are seeing in the press, hearing on radio, and seeing on television all of these reports saying that they're not doing their job. I can assure you that customs inspectors are a very proud bunch of professionals, and they take their job to heart. That's why they've made so many requests over the years for changes to be implemented.

The other aspect for a number of them is their disbelief that students can be used to replace them with only two weeks of training. They simply can't visualize how this could be possible, because they know the kind of training they had to go through. There's a 15% failure rate in Rigaud right now. When you go to Rigaud as a new recruit, you have to pass what we call the CIRTP, the customs training program. I forget what the acronym stands for right now.

Mr. Ken Epp: Are there rigid standards of training and they're just not being met, or do we have a lack of standards?

Mr. Serge Charette: The information transmitted to them during the courses is getting across, we feel. There is a distinct difficulty in the area of what are called competencies. When they are tested, there's a fairly high number—up to 15%—failing to demonstrate that they have what are considered essential competencies to perform the work. This contributes to the morale problem because students and term employees never have to demonstrate that they have those abilities.

Mr. Ken Epp: Then how do these people get hired? Normally if you hire people for a position that has certain requirements, they have to meet those requirements before they're hired.

Mr. Serge Charette: Yes.

Mr. Ken Epp: Now, I admit that this is a special case in the sense that one has to have had a certain amount of training, which one may not have had in some other job before or through a college course in how to be a customs officer. But surely you train them, evaluate their learning, and if they don't pass, they don't get the job.

Mr. Serge Charette: They go on boards, on competitions. They are selected from hundreds of candidates. There could be a board, say, in southwestern Ontario, where you could get 300 or 400 candidates, and they'll select about 100. When these individuals go for training—even though they're the cream of the crop, they're the ones who performed the best on the actual selection process—there is still a 15% failure rate at this time.

Mr. Ken Epp: Okay. In your estimate, what proportion of your resources—equipment, time, personnel—are used for administering the tax rules and import duties, as opposed to the security end?

Mr. Serge Charette: I would only be able to guess at that. I'm unsure because there are two components representing the employees within the agency, while there are more than two unions, in fact. Within the PSAC, there are two components. One represents the taxation employees, and the other the customs and excise employees.

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Out of the 45,000 employees at the agency, approximately 7,000 are involved in customs. Approximately 2,000 of those are at headquarters, leaving about 5,000 in the field. You can take maybe 1,000 out as managers and for other things, such as regional functions. Ultimately, we have approximately 3,500 customs inspectors on both streams, commercial and travel.

Mr. Ken Epp: Do you feel that generally you are ill-equipped to handle the security side of your work at the borders and the boundaries?

Mr. Serge Charette: We certainly think there is room for improvement. We would like firearms, certainly. We've been pushing to get firearms for about a decade now. We have just received batons and pepper spray for the ports where Bill C-18 is being implemented, the new arrest powers under the Criminal Code, but those are only 32 points of entry out of 160.

Mr. Ken Epp: Most of your work seems to be along the Canada-U.S. border. That has to be the bulk of it. Yet in view of our present milieu, we're much more concerned about a North American secure zone. Do you have any specific recommendations for our committee with respect to what should be done vis-à-vis people coming here from outside the continent?

Mr. Serge Charette: One of the suggestions I have made in the past—one I believe would be supported by our members—would be the introduction of special lanes identified for Canadian residents returning to Canada, perhaps even North American residents returning to North America, and lanes dealing more specifically with things like passports and immigration issues. We could ensure the individuals manning those particular booths or entry points had more training in those areas and were well equipped to deal with those specific concerns.

Mr. Ken Epp: Do you have specialized equipment to help you verify the authenticity of passports?

Mr. Serge Charette: We have passport readers.

Mr. Ken Epp: Are they good? Do they work?

Mr. Serge Charette: They work quite well.

Mr. Ken Epp: Do they reject an adequate number of the phonies?

Mr. Serge Charette: My understanding is they do, yes.

Mr. Ken Epp: Really? We were given the impression that you can just walk through the border with a false passport in this country.

Mr. Serge Charette: It all depends on what you mean by “walk through”. Are you talking about the international streams, like people from Europe coming to Canada?

Mr. Ken Epp: Yes.

Mr. Serge Charette: You can't actually walk through. The concerns being expressed in the news these days are more about immigration. What happens when somebody claims refugee status, or they—

Mr. Ken Epp: But they pass your points, too, don't they?

Mr. Serge Charette: Oh, they pass our points, but as soon as they claim refugee status, we no longer deal with them. We refer them to the immigration department. We only do the primary.

Mr. Ken Epp: Okay, then they're out of your hands.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Epp, for your two brief questions.

Mr. Ken Epp: I could have kept on going for another 12 or 13 questions.

The Chair: I'm sure it's a very interesting topic, but you'll have many more meetings in which to ask questions.

Monsieur Charette, we want to thank you very much for your very thoughtful presentation.

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: I have one question.

The Chair: Yes, you think you do, but you don't.

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: Only one.

The Chair: Is it going to be brief, or is it going to like—

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: Really brief.

The Chair: It's probably going to be a comment. Go ahead.


Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: Thank you, sir.

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There's a question I'm interested in. You didn't say anything about transporting goods, neither during your presentation nor in your report.

Mr. Serge Charette: Yes, and that's because we're not as concerned about goods as about travellers, right now. In view of the circumstances, we think it's easier to check goods after they've entered Canada. We know where they are. If we want to do a follow-up inspection, we can trace the goods and audit the documentation, and so forth.

The companies keep excellent records on goods. As for travellers, that's a horse of a different colour. When a traveller goes through customs, he can go wherever he wants in Canada.

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron: Thank you, sir.


You're really kind. Thank you. I appreciate it.

The Chair: Once again, thank you very much. Also, on behalf of the committee, thank you to all the people you represent for the job you do on the border. It's not always easy, but I'm sure you all try your very best, and for that we're very grateful. Thank you.

Mr. Serge Charette: Thank you very much.

The Chair: This meeting is adjourned.

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