Thank you, Mr. Chairman and honourable members.
I appreciate the opportunity to take part in your consultations on Bill . I will be brief so that we have lots of time for questions.
The Business Council of Canada represents chief executives and entrepreneurs from approximately 150 leading Canadian companies in all sectors and regions of the country. Our member companies employ 1.7 million men and women, account for more than half the value of the Toronto Stock Exchange, contribute the largest share of federal corporate taxes, and are responsible for most of Canada's exports, corporate philanthropy, and private sector investments in research and development.
Our country's economic health depends heavily on the ease with which goods, people, and investment move back and forth across the Canada-U.S. border. In the words of Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of President Donald Trump's strategic and policy forum, the Canada-U.S. trade relationship “is really very much in balance and is a model for the way that trade relations should be.”
As the committee knows, Bill delivers on a key element of the beyond the border action plan, the intent of which was not only efficiency but also security. Passage of this legislation presents an opportunity to solidify the progress made today under beyond the border, an initiative our council strongly supports.
Can the United States have mutual interest in ensuring that legitimate travellers and goods can cross the border as efficiently as possible? Our safe and secure border is a competitive advantage for Canada over every country in the world. While air pre-clearance isn't restricted to Canada, the opportunity for expansion to the land, rail, and marine modes is. It's an opportunity unique to our country, and we should take advantage of it.
My friends at Rocky Mountaineer have already spoken to the benefits of this at our last meeting, but as we all know, travellers search for the path of greatest convenience and least resistance in air travel. The ability to pre-clear in our home country, step off the plane and hop into a cab or make a connection, is a tremendous advantage for Canada and Canadians doing business or visiting the United States. Expanding this resource to other airports and modes of travel just makes sense to us. Additionally, giving Canadian border personnel the ability to conduct pre-clearance in the United States offers Canada a competitive advantage.
Given our country's desire for increased trade investment and tourism, especially in the year of our birthday, it's clearly in our economic interest to make it easier to cross our border safely. Going further, Canada can and should use this legislation as a springboard to develop additional cargo pre-clearance capabilities that will enhance our economic competitiveness while relieving pressure on existing border facilities.
We know that this is a particularly complicated endeavour, given the multitude of U.S. agencies that have a role to play in cargo pre-clearance, but it is in Canada's economic interest to make it work.
In closing, we believe that this legislation sets the stage for an innovative risk-managed border that should be the model for the rest of the world.
With that, Mr. Chairman, I conclude my remarks, and I'm happy to take any questions.
One recommendation that we provide—and by the way, to answer Mr. Clement's question from the other day about recommendations, by now you should have our full brief in translation, with recommendations in it—is that it needs to be made clear that the refusal to answer any question asked by a pre-clearance officer doesn't in and of itself constitute grounds for the officer to suspect that an offence has been committed. Certainly, refusing to answer questions is germane to whether or not they want to let you into the United States, and that's their sovereign right, but someone's discomfort with answering certain questions isn't on its own, for our purposes, suggestive of an offence having been committed.
We note that a number of the standards have changed for doing certain things. Previously, in terms of someone being detained, if they weren't withdrawing, they could be detained by U.S. officers if it were believed—I believe it is—on reasonable grounds that they had misrepresented themselves to the officer or that they had obstructed a U.S. pre-clearance officer or had committed an offence under any act of Parliament. Bill expands this, or really just takes away those particulars and says that a U.S. officer is entitled to detain someone:
If a preclearance officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a person has committed an offence under an Act of Parliament,
We find this to be overly broad. It's not particular to when in time that offence happened. I don't suppose that U.S. officers will want to be on detention sprees, detaining people simply because of some conviction 25 years ago, but there may be some who would detain people on grounds that we might not find palatable, and this doesn't make it particular enough. When does the offence have to have been committed? Is it any offence under any act of Parliament? By the way, they took out the summary conviction or indictable offence piece. Does this mean administrative offences are now grounds for possible detention, however long ago they may have been committed?
We recommend that those be tightened up to state that U.S. pre-clearance officers should have the power to detain if they have “reasonable grounds to believe that the traveller has committed an offence under an act of Parliament, punished by indictment or summary conviction in connection with the travel”, or some wording that links the offence to the act that they're undertaking, to the pre-clearance of their travel.
That's very good, Mr. Chairman. Thank you and members of the committee very much.
I am pleased to join you for a second week in a row.
This time I will tell you about the important work of the Public Safety portfolio and about our funding priorities, as set out in the Main Estimates 2017-18.
With me at the table, Mr. Chair—I think most members of the committee will know these familiar faces—are Malcolm Brown, deputy minister of public safety; Bob Paulson, commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; Michel Coulombe, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service; Don Head, commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada; Tina Namiesniowski, executive vice-president of the Canada Border Services Agency; and Harvey Cenaiko, chair of the Parole Board of Canada.
The weighty task of ensuring that Canada is well placed to address the public safety issues that we face falls, in large part, to these people and to the women and men under their direction. I'm sure all members of the committee would join me in offering our gratitude for the service they perform.
I also note that this may be the final committee appearance on the estimates for Michel Coulombe, who is retiring as the director of CSIS at the end of next week, and also for Bob Paulson, who retires as commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at the end of June. These are two of the toughest and most important jobs in the public service of Canada. I want to thank both Bob and Michel for their dedication, their courage, and their skill in discharging their heavy burden of responsibility to all Canadians.
In recent days we have been witness to the impressive work of another key unit within my department, and that is the government operations centre, known affectionately to everyone as the GOC. This is the unit that has been coordinating the federal response to the flooding that has swept across several provinces. The government operations centre performed this same function exactly a year ago now, when we were combatting the fires around Fort McMurray. Indeed, whenever and wherever there is an emergency situation in Canada, the GOC is on duty.
The deployment of more than 2,400 Canadian Armed Forces personnel across Quebec was probably the most visible dimension of the federal response to this year's flooding, as coordinated by the government operations centre. The Canadian Armed Forces were welcomed and widely praised for their timely and skilful help.
Several other federal departments were also engaged, including Environment and Climate Change Canada; Natural Resources Canada; Transport Canada; the Canadian Coast Guard; Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada; the Canada Border Services Agency; the Public Health Agency of Canada; Public Services and Procurement Canada; and, of course, the RCMP.
The GOC also works very closely with all relevant provincial governments and provincial emergency response agencies, as well as critical auxiliary organizations such as the Red Cross, in a whole-of-society effort to respond to these emergencies.
While conditions appear to be improving across the country generally, we should note that well over 5,000 people were displaced from their homes because of flooding this spring. They will have a very mucky mess to face upon their return and recovery, and we know they will need our ongoing support and assistance.
We also extend heartfelt condolences to the loved ones of those who tragically lost their lives in the raging waters in both Quebec and British Columbia.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank both the RCMP and the CBSA, particularly their officers on duty in Emerson, Manitoba; in Lacolle, Quebec; and in a number of other border communities. They have been managing the spontaneous and challenging arrival of asylum seekers in a professional and measured way, enforcing the law and keeping Canadians safe. Their work has earned them the praise of many local people, as well as the United Nations, and they certainly deserve our praise, as well.
Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Emerson to thank the officers, both CBSA and RCMP on duty, and to thank the community. It is not an easy situation. There are no easy solutions, but we are dealing with it in a firm, measured, and responsible manner.
In the context I have just outlined and at all times, Canadians expect everyone within the public safety portfolio to keep Canadians safe, while at the same time safeguarding our rights and freedoms. Our role as government, and as parliamentarians, is to ensure these agencies have the resources they need to get the job done. That brings us directly to the subject of the numbers before us in the main estimates for 2017-18.
As members will have noted in reviewing the estimates, on a portfolio-wide basis, total authorities being sought will result in a net increase of $209.4 million, a 2.5% augmentation over 2016-17 for a total of $8.7 billion. Across the whole portfolio, the most substantial increases include $64.1 million for the settlement of class action lawsuits against the RCMP, $44.1 million to the CBSA to maintain and upgrade federal infrastructure assets, and $41 million to Correctional Service Canada, mostly due to the growing cost of prescription drugs to treat hepatitis C and the cost of contracted community beds for mental health care.
More narrowly, for the Department of Public Safety, its 2017-18 reference level reflects a net decrease of about $44.4 million, and most of that results from the completion of contributions to the province of Quebec for the response, recovery, and decontamination costs associated with the train derailment and explosion at Lac-Mégantic. Since that disaster occurred in 2013, a total of $120 million, identified under the financial assistance agreement, has been paid out, and my department is now working with the province to address any additional eligible requests.
Mr. Chair, I had some comments to provide with respect to supplementary estimates (A), but I will save those for another time when you return to that topic.
I would like to mention briefly a few of the other priorities not specifically connected to the estimates that my portfolio is working on. First of all, I want to thank the committee once again for its report on Canada's national security framework. The recommendations are being very carefully monitored as we move forward with additional measures to keep Canadians safe and safeguard rights and freedoms. The tens of thousands of public contributions to our consultations on this topic are also informing our way forward and they are, all of them, available for public review online.
Another matter of collective concern is the quality and seriousness of sexual assault investigations. Recent reports have highlighted issues regarding the way various police forces across the country investigate this crime. I raised this matter with the commissioner of the RCMP and on February 9, Commissioner Paulson directed each of his provincial and territorial commanding officers to review past sexual assault cases, work which is now complete.
National headquarters has also reviewed a sample of historically unfounded cases, or at least the label of unfounded was attached to those cases. The RCMP's contract and aboriginal policing branch at national headquarters is reviewing all of those divisional reports, as well as the sample of historical unfounded cases to understand the national picture, and to develop an appropriate and coordinated response to address the issue. The RCMP has committed to sharing the results of its review with Canadians once it is completed. I want to thank the force for being proactive in this regard.
The bottom line is that no victim of sexual assault should ever fear that their case won't be taken seriously by the investigating authorities.
On a related noted, budget 2017 included $100.9 million over five years to establish a national strategy to address gender-based violence. The strategy will include measures implemented by the RCMP, among other things, as well as a centre of excellence within Status of Women Canada.
Finally, before I take your questions, I want to quickly highlight a few of the other important investments proposed in budget 2017 that would support some key priorities for the Public Safety Canada portfolio. That includes $57.8 million over five years, starting in 2017-18, and then $13.6 million per year thereafter, to expand mental health care capacity for all inmates in federal correctional facilities. This is part of our commitment to implement the recommendations of the Ashley Smith inquest, with additional measures yet to come.
The budget also pledged $80 million over four years, with $20 million then ongoing, starting in 2018-19, to support the establishment of the community heroes award to support families of public safety officers who have fallen in the line of duty. Public safety officials are working diligently now to finalize the program's design.
The budget also doubled the funding for the security infrastructure program, which helps vulnerable communities better protect themselves against hate-motivated crimes.
As one final thing I would note, there is a meeting scheduled in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, toward the end of this month to deal with the issue of emergency measures and emergency planning. All federal, provincial, and territorial ministers responsible for these things are expected to attend. We will be very much going over the lessons learned from Fort McMurray last year and from the floods this year to make sure that we have the very best possible emergency management framework, strategy, and plan in place—federal and provincial, seamless across the board—to be able to react to these circumstances in an efficient and effective way that keeps Canadians safe.
All of this furthers the overarching objective of the public safety portfolio, keeping our communities safe and secure, while at the same time protecting the rights and freedoms of Canadians and the values of openness, inclusion, and diversity that make our country an example for the world.
With that, my officials and I would be happy to try to answer your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Goodale.
I would like to move on to another topic, one that I call sexual safety.
This issue obviously affects women more than men. It can certainly happen to men, but in terms of the numbers, it happens to women more often.
Mr. Goodale, we are in a country where, it must be said...
You referred to it. You have even begun a process to review sexual assault complaints and to ensure that, if those complaints were deemed unfounded in the past, they are properly examined to determine whether they are founded. So a review process is under way.
What I am saying is that we have to go much further than that.
Mr. Goodale, as I said, women experience this much more often than men do.
We must ensure the sexual safety of Canadians. Our system of government was devised in the 19th century and smacks of the Middle Ages. The reality is that sexuality and sexual development are experienced in a different way in the 21st century. The concept of consent has also evolved.
Should action not be taken to reflect this reality so that women can come and go in the world and develop sexually without the fear of violence, assault or any kind of force directed against that freedom they have?
It's extremely important, Mr. Spengemann.
I had the opportunity to meet, not long ago, with the cross-cultural round table, which is a group representing the vast diversity of Canadian society. The membership changes from time to time, but the principle of the committee has been in place since about 2002 or 2003, somewhere in that period of time. Around the table, there were representatives of various faiths and ethnic and cultural heritages. They all made the point, I think unanimously, that a far more serious effort needs to be made at counter-radicalization to violence, and that there are interesting lessons to be learned from other countries and from academics about what works and what doesn't work. They applauded the government's commitment to create a new national office.
There are various local initiatives across the country. The City of Montreal has a particularly good one. Calgary has one. Toronto has another way of doing it, Edmonton, and so forth, but they all tend to operate in isolated silos. It would be more useful to the country if we found a way to link all these networks together, so we proposed to establish a national office. We are, hopefully, now in the final stages of attracting the senior adviser who will be the face and voice of that office.
The objective is to get the very best techniques from Canada and around the world that can help us identify who is vulnerable to being enticed into a pattern of behaviour that ultimately leads to a descending spiral, and at the end of it, violence. It takes a lot of good, solid scientific research, and we intend to fund that. It's an initiative that will be done in close collaboration with several federal departments and agencies, and also our counterparts provincially and municipally.
The goal is to make Canada the very best in the world at recognizing it and then knowing how best to intervene at the right place, with the right people, at the right time, to head off a tragedy before it happens.