Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and committee members. I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to join you today.
As you can see, I am joined by senior officials from departments that play a very significant role in my responsibilities. I'm very grateful for their support today.
As you have stated, Mr. Chair, this is my first opportunity to meet with you in my new capacity as the minister for border security and organized crime reduction. I very much look forward to the opportunity to work with this committee. I see it as a valuable source of insight and advice that will assist me, the government and the responsible departments and agencies in their important work.
As the minister, my overarching goal is to help ensure that our borders remain secure and to lead cross-governmental efforts to reduce organized crime. I and my officials have been working hard to get a head start on the priorities under that banner, which have been entrusted to me by the .
The issues we are tackling are not confined to a single department or agency. They run across government, whether we're looking at cannabis, irregular migration, guns and gangs, organized crime or opioids. That is why the has asked me to work with the full support of all of the relevant departments to ensure a coordinated and effective approach to these very important critical issues.
I am fortunate to have already forged a solid working relationship with many of the departments with which I now work when I served as the parliamentary secretary to two ministers and had the opportunity to work across ministries on important issues. I look forward to working with all of my cabinet colleagues and fellow parliamentarians on both sides of the House.
I am pleased to provide some insight to you today as to how I intend to deliver upon my mandate.
First, I would like to begin by thanking this committee for their excellent and important work in their careful scrutiny of Bill , which yesterday, I am pleased to say, passed the House at third reading.
We cannot ignore the reality that offences involving firearms have been increasing over the last five years. I have seen that first-hand, not only in my city but in communities across the country. I am pleased that this crucial legislation makes common-sense proposals to keep guns out of the wrong hands, to improve licensing classification and to strengthen records commitments.
Thank you for your amendments. Thanks to those amendments, the bill was further strengthened to propose additional background-check criteria related to violent behaviour, which must be considered before a licence will be issued.
Additionally, you made helpful proposals to clarify non-restricted firearm transfers and to providing greater certainty that no federal registry will be created with the enactment of Bill when it becomes law. These are welcome additions to an already strong set of new measures aimed at reducing firearms-related crime in Canada. I am proud that I have been given a responsibility to support Minister as this bill moves forward through the Senate.
As my mandate letter has indicated, I have also been given responsibilities to examine ways to reduce gun crime involving use of handguns and assault rifles while not impeding the lawful use of firearms by lawful firearm owners. Therefore, I will be beginning a formal process of engaging with Canadians on this important issue. Over the next month, my parliamentary secretary and I will host round tables across the country.
I'll stop here and introduce my parliamentary secretary, who I believe is with us today, Mr. Peter Schiefke.
We will host a series of round tables across the country to hear from a wide range of expertise and opinions. We will also be soliciting feedback from law enforcement, municipalities and indigenous communities, and as well, of course, our provincial and territorial colleagues. In addition, we will create an online portal so that all Canadians can provide their thoughts on this important issue.
Our government is open to looking at any measure that will be effective in keeping our communities safe. We have already invested over $327 million in initiatives to reduce gun crime and criminal gang activities. The majority of this funding will be going to provinces and territories to bolster local prevention and enforcement programs.
I want to emphasize that we need to take a broad and all-encompassing approach to reducing violence in our communities. In my time as a police officer and a police chief, I learned that in high-crime neighbourhoods there tends to be only a small number of people who victimize law-abiding people who are struggling with disadvantage. Those neighbourhoods often have higher rates of poverty, poor housing, higher rates of problematic substance use, a lack of jobs, a lack of access to mental health and other services, a lack of opportunity and a lack of hope. These are what are sometimes referred to as the social determinants of crime and victimization.
I can tell you that in my city we made every effort to ensure that we had a robust and visible police presence on the streets, but we've always held that addressing the social circumstances that give rise to violence is the other important part of that equation.
In my experience, you cannot arrest your way out of these very complex social issues. Our government has taken steps to address these challenges. We've created the first-ever national housing strategy. We've implemented the Canada child benefit, which is addressing child and family poverty, and we have increased the amount of money that is available for youth employment. We will continue to work closely with all of our colleagues in all departments to make sure that the government is doing all that it can to address crime.
The same must go for our approach to opioids. The impact of opioids, as this committee well knows, is being felt in communities of all sizes in every part of Canada. In the last two years, over 8,000 Canadian lives have been cut short due to opioid-related overdoses.
I have been given the responsibility of leading our work in reducing the smuggling of opioids across the border. Canada has a four-pillar strategy—a national strategy for drugs—and an important part of that strategy is law enforcement. It is dealing with that issue of interdicting the supply of drugs, principally opioids, and some of the precursor chemicals used in their manufacture, as well as other materials.
Law enforcement is an important part of this puzzle, and it will be supported. As we work with partners to interdict the illegal supply, we also intend to do so in the context of the other pillars: demand reduction, harm reduction, and treatment and rehabilitation. This will involve a public health lens to address the illegal supply and distribution. It includes pursuing law enforcement activities to counter drug trafficking in a manner that also balances health and safety concerns.
Mr. Chair, in my experience, this is a transnational issue. I look forward to the opportunity to ensure that we are well equipped at our borders to maintain their security and that we are able to tackle this problem with a whole-of-government approach. It also necessitates—and I am familiar with—a strong collaboration between Canadian and American law enforcement and law enforcement around the world.
The illegal movement of narcotics and other poisonous drugs into our communities is a transnational crime problem, and it is one that requires a global response.
With respect to our other immediate priorities, we are, of course, only a few weeks away—22 days away as my colleague from Health Canada advises me—from the beginning of a transition to a legal adult-use cannabis regime in Canada. It is important to remember that the transition to legal cannabis will be a process and not a single event.
We will continue to work collaboratively with all of our cabinet colleagues on the implementation of this new form of effective cannabis control, and we are working collaboratively with the provinces, the territories, municipalities, law enforcement and stakeholders across the country to ensure an orderly and responsible implementation.
We believe that this new system will do a far better job than the failed current criminal prohibition in protecting our children from the harms of cannabis consumption and in protecting the health and safety of all Canadians, and it will take billions of dollars in profit out of the hands of organized crime.
With respect to my mandate commitments on irregular migration, the safe third country agreement and opportunities surrounding concurrence operations for travellers, I am keen to move forward quickly on these issues as well. I have discussed the former with the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I look forward to providing updates in the very near future. I feel that both Canada and the U.S. have an opportunity to demonstrate how our close partnership can help us adapt to evolving and complex migration challenges while managing the border effectively. To that end, I have written to the Secretary of Homeland Security to begin discussions about how the safe third country agreement can be improved and enhanced to the mutual benefit of both countries.
Through all of these commitments, Mr. Chair, I'm honoured to carry out the responsibilities that have been entrusted to me. I look forward to your continued advice and engagement in keeping our borders secure and our communities safe.
Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.
Last year, as you are all aware, Canada experienced a significant increase in the number of people who were seeking asylum who presented themselves irregularly at our borders, not at a regular border point but at various crossings. The issue impacted a number of communities but I think was most significantly impactful in the area of Lacolle, Quebec.
The government and the agencies responsible began very quickly to develop and increase their capacity to ensure that for people who were crossing at the border our Canadian safety was maintained. So the RCMP—and I would commend them for their excellent work; I've been to Lacolle and I've watched—ensure that anyone coming across the border at any place is subject to a vigorous security background check to ensure that there is no criminality or threat to national security.
They've been working very closely with the officers and agents of the CBSA and the IRCC in order to ensure that those people are properly processed.
We have also recognized that in the processing of those individuals there's a significant backlog because of the surge and the capacity of the IRB, the Immigration and Refugee Board, and the capacity of the agencies and departments responsible had been significantly limited by, quite frankly, a decade of underfunding. We have been restoring that funding. Some $173 million has been invested into improving the efficiency of the process by which we are now conducting these hearings to which people are lawfully entitled to determine their admissibility. We are also, after nearly $400 million in cuts at CBSA, restoring their capacity by investments of nearly $72 million to increase their ability to remove individuals who have been deemed inadmissible as quickly as possible.
Now we remain absolutely committed to upholding Canadian law and Canadian humanitarian principles, and we are starting to see some success.
We've also made significant efforts in reaching out to the United States, reaching out to NGOs and community groups that have been working with the people who present themselves at our borders, and we've seen some success.
For example, I had a conversation with our colleague, the member representing Emerson, Manitoba. I asked him about their experience, because in the winter of 2017 many people were irregularly crossing at a border near his community. I asked him what the current experience was, and he advised me that after the went to Minneapolis, met with the community groups down there, explained to them that presenting yourself at the border and seeking asylum is not a free ticket to permanent residency and that they were going to be subject to legal processes and subject to removal if they were deemed ineligible, that flow significantly reduced.
We've seen progress in these other areas, and so far in the last four or five months of the summer that has just immediately passed, we've seen a significant reduction of up to 70% fewer people who are presenting themselves at our border than was the case last year.
Thank you, Minister, and officials for being here today.
Minister, you have frequently referred to the idea that somehow law-abiding gun owners in Toronto are responsible for gun crime in Toronto. Your government has gleefully pushed the idea that half of crime guns in Toronto were diverted from the lawful stream, yet in reality, there is no surge in crime guns that can be traced back to licensed gun owners in your city, none. In fact, evidence from your former police service, the Toronto Police Service, suggests domestically sourced guns are closer to 10%, not the 50% that you are continuing to purport and misleading the Canadian public with.
There is, however, a continuous flow of smuggled U.S. firearms and prohibited guns that you can't buy in Canada anyway. Interestingly, last week, you were quoted as saying evidence will guide my decisions, our decisions, something you repeated again yesterday in the House, Minister.
Minister, do you actually care that there is no evidence to support a plan, your plan, to stop law-abiding gun owners from owning handguns?