Mr. Chair, it's an honour and a privilege for me to appear before this committee. I want to thank you for the invitation. I'm pleased to appear alongside my long-time friend, Gord Brown, on the bill, because this is a file we've worked together on for a number of years.
The bill, which amends the Customs Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, is the result of significant consultation and co-operation with 's office and the Canada Border Services Agency. I want to thank them for their help, and in particular, thank the minister for supporting this legislation.
Amendments suggested by CBSA and passed in the Senate have, in my view, made the bill simpler and more cohesive, and will strengthen border security.
Bill was introduced to deal with an overly bureaucratic requirement for boaters who cross from the United States into Canadian waters, but who do not land, anchor, or moor. Right now, occupants of a boat on a direct route from one place outside Canada to another place outside Canada do not have to report to Canada Border Services Agency when they cross into Canadian waters. Someone out fishing or pleasure cruising and who crosses into Canadian waters is required to report, even if they have no intention of stopping or coming to shore.
We have two sets of rules, depending on whether you are travelling directly from one place to another, or travelling in a loop by starting and finishing in the same place. The absurdity of the current reporting requirements became obvious approximately six years ago, when a fisherman from New York State was charged with failing to report to CBSA while drift fishing in the Thousand Islands area of the St. Lawrence River. He was threatened with the seizure of his boat unless he paid a $1,000 fine on the spot. Then he was driven to the border and had to phone relatives or friends to pick him up at the customs station on the Thousand Islands Bridge.
I have to tell you, as Gord and I both know, this caused an uproar on both sides of the border and has damaged cross-border relations. Although I don't agree with the approach that was taken in this case, I don't deny that the officers followed the letter of the law as it's currently written in the Customs Act.
That's why I introduced this bill, to bring Canadian law into line with the practice followed by United States officials, and to impose similar rules for those travelling directly from one place to another and those who might be just out sightseeing or fishing.
The current rules are confusing for both Canadians and Americans. Their enforcement in that infamous 2011 incident put a chill on relations between our two great countries and damaged the economy of the tourism-dependent region in which Gord and I live, the Thousand Islands.
Let me give you an example. According to Gary DeYoung, who is the director of tourism of the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council, the number of short-term and non-resident fishing licences sold by vendors in New York State's St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties—and these are the types of licences sold to tourists—was more than 18,000 in 2010, but dropped to less than 11,000 in 2015.
In the Thousand Islands area, the border isn't marked, and it zigzags around some 1,864 islands. It's not always possible to tell which country you're in, and a requirement to report to customs immediately after entering Canadian waters, if you have no intention of stopping or coming ashore, is impractical to say the least. Rather than risk arrests for unwittingly crossing the border, some tourists have decided to just stay away.
My area is not unique. The border intersects a number of other rivers and lakes across Canada.
My goal was to bring some common sense to the reporting requirements, but I knew that it was vitally important not to jeopardize border security while doing that. In my view, Bill finds the right balance between freedom of movement and security.
Clause 2 of the bill amends subsection 11(5) of the Customs Act to exempt boaters who cross into Canadian waters from reporting to customs as long as they do not land, anchor, moor, or make contact with another conveyance. In addition, they must remain continuously on board the conveyance while in Canada. This clause will offer a similar exemption from reporting to CBSA for Canadian boaters who leave and then re-enter Canadian waters, as long as they remain continuously on board while outside Canada, and the boat did not land, anchor, moor, or make contact with another conveyance while outside the country.
Clause 3 of the bill amends subsection 12(5) of the Customs Act to apply the same rules to goods on board a conveyance. However, and this is an important element for anyone concerned about security, Canada Border Services Agency officers have the authority to require reporting in individual cases, both under the Customs Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This discretionary or residual power to require reporting when necessary is important to allow border services to fulfill their mandates and to maintain border integrity. For example, it will allow officers to require exempted persons to answer immigration questions.
When I introduced this bill, I recognized that adding an exemption to reporting required safeguards. That's why I included the provision that the exemption applied only if the boat did not anchor, moor, or make contact with another conveyance. As a result of an amendment at committee, those safeguards now have been extended to direct “point A to point B” travel, as well as to what are known as the loop movements, which I described earlier, when a boater is just out for a ride and starting and finishing from the same spot.
This not only strengthens border security, because direct travel faced no such restrictions before, but it also simplifies reporting requirements. Whether you're taking the shortest route between two destinations or whether you are fishing or pleasure cruising, you don't need to report unless, again, you anchor, moor, or land, or unless an officer makes a demand. The exemption would apply equally to an American entering Canadian waters or a Canadian re-entering Canadian waters, and it applies both to persons and to goods. The exemption is extended to include international waters, another element that was not in my original draft, but was added at the request of CBSA. This will solve a problem on the east and west coasts by eliminating reporting requirements for whale watchers who leave from Canada, enter international waters, and then return to Canadian waters.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair, I realize this legislation has no impact on many Canadians, but for folks in Gord's region and my region of Ontario, who share the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario with our American friends—I should say all the Great Lakes—it has a profound impact on lives and livelihoods. On their behalf, I ask for your support for Bill and encourage its speedy passage.
Thank you very much.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to first thank the committee for moving this meeting up. I think it came very quickly. As many of you know, the House passed this bill a week or so ago, on a voice vote at second reading. A number of members spoke, including me, the , and the . It passed in less than an hour.
Thank you for the opportunity and the invitation to be a witness here today and to speak to this bill. I, in fact, had a parallel bill which I introduced in the House of Commons as a private member's bill, and Senator Runciman introduced this bill in the Senate at about the same time. He was able to move it through the Senate more quickly than I was able to move mine through the House, because we all know how one gets a private member's bill on to the order of precedence.
We were very happy that this went through the Senate very quickly. In fact, I attended as a witness over there a number of months ago.
I would like to briefly focus on my reasons for supporting this bill.
This bill will allow pleasure boaters from the U.S. to transit Canadian waters without checking in with the Canada Border Services Agency, if they do not stop or plan to anchor. It also amends other regulations, but from my perspective, this is the most important. Currently, boaters who cross the border on the river, where there are no markings to show that they have crossed the border, must report to CBSA.
Regardless of your political leanings, we all share the goal of promoting the best interests of the Canadian people and ensuring we put forward a positive image on the world stage. The bill at hand promotes tourism, updates Canadian laws, and protects the human rights of our American neighbours.
Our country has a proud history of protecting not only the rights of our own citizens but those of anyone who crosses our borders. Certain charter provisions even go so far as to extend constitutionally enshrined protection to everyone, including boaters who harmlessly drift or cross into our territory. Most important, these include the right to life, liberty, and the security of the person; the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure; and the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment, including the excessive use or abuse of force by law enforcement officials. You don't need to look far to find examples of where the current legislation has caused violations of these rules.
Senator Runciman referred to the case of Roy Anderson. Mr. Anderson, an American citizen, was searched, severely fined, and detained in a humiliating fashion for breaking laws he never knew existed, even though he had fished in Canadian waters all his life. In this particular case, he in fact had an Ontario fishing licence to fish in Canadian waters. What's worse, actually, is that all this occurred after CBSA officials determined that he did not have a criminal purpose, that he was just fishing.
While the Simmons decision at the Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged our right to control who and what crosses our boundaries, it does not excuse the treatment some have received. Canada has long abided by the notion that a guilty verdict requires both a guilty action and a guilty mind. It is impossible to justify threatening, physically restraining, and fining individuals for laws that they were not even aware existed.
As a progressive nation, we have a responsibility to ensure that we change laws like these, which have become outdated, ineffective, and discriminatory. While current legislation might have had an important purpose in the days of prohibition, that is no longer the case. Those who are aware of the laws are required to report to the CBSA without delay. They are allowed to do so by phone or in person at one of the border security checkpoints. While this may not seem like a particularly onerous request, it is often much more difficult than it seems. Cellphone signals, especially on the water, are often unreliable. In the case of the Thousand Islands, where the Canada-U.S. border intersects, many Canadian cellphone users are caught up in accessing AT&T, or other U.S. providers. Sometimes this is difficult to do.
Beyond this, the only other option available to foreign citizens, is to physically check in with CBSA. This can be done at one of their checkpoints, which often exist at locations which are not accommodating to those who wish to visit our waters. Physical reporting often involves U.S. citizens boating a great distance out of their way to check in, then returning to their intended trip. The check-in can often cause a lengthy delay. It is costly in both time and money, and some have even reported having to spend multiple hours in order to meet this requirement.
Unfortunately, it has caused a number of our visitors to conclude that cruising through Canadian waters is simply not worth the hassle. This is a troubling conclusion given the importance of the tourism industry in Canada. While boaters who are simply transiting Canadian waters are not essentially tourists, they easily become tourists when they decide to stop to check out a restaurant or marina that they may have seen on shore.
The success of international tourism is largely based on the effect of marketing the destination services and experiences that a country has to offer, and first impressions matter. We must work hard to ensure that our laws do us justice on the world stage. Canada tries to maintain the reputation of being welcoming, fair, and trusting toward our friends in the United States and, in fact, across the world. That reputation, coupled with our many beautiful destinations, such as the Thousand Islands, has helped us grow a tourism industry we can be proud of and should aim to protect.
In fact, the UN World Tourism Organization estimates that the number of international tourists will reach 1.6 billion by the year 2020. This is a promising prediction, given that 1.7 million Canadians rely on the tourism sector for employment, according to 2012 statistics.
These statistics show that these positions are often held by demographics which have historically had difficulty in seeking and maintaining employment. In 2012, more than half were occupied by women, 22% were occupied by immigrants, and 589,000 jobs were occupied by youths, ages 15 to 24, accounting for more than one-third of youth employment in Canada. Tourism not only provides jobs to Canadian citizens, but also promotes the growth of communities through its support of small businesses.
In fact, approximately 98% of Canada's tourism industry is made up of small and medium-sized businesses that rely on the patronage of international travellers to keep their doors open. Beyond these direct benefits to Canadian citizens, the tourism industry also generated $21.4 billion in tax revenues in 2011.
In order for Canada to reap these benefits, we must be perceived as a valuable destination and must demonstrate that we can offer more than a cheap vacation. This means teaching our history, sharing our culture, and being seen as a friendly and welcoming destination.
Although it's our closest neighbour, these messages seem lost on the United States. The Canadian Tourism Commission's 2014 U.S. summary report found that relatively few visitors from the United States would recommend visiting Canada on vacation. These travellers cited poor perceptions of Canada based on what they had heard from friends, family, and the media. Stories of American boaters being detained, fined, and forced to lie on the decks of their vessels have caused bad press in the United States. News stories discourage travel near our water borders due to unclear regulations, severe punishments, and prohibitively difficult check-in requirements.
What's worse is that some articles even state that our outrageous regulations indicate that we do not want American visitors at all. This is not the message that Canada should be sending. We need to modernize our legislation to ensure that our image is positive, inviting, and reflective of Canadian values, not only for our own citizens, but for anyone who happens to pay us a visit.
Briefly, on another note, it has been pointed out that it is really a waste of CBSA's resources to be checking every boat that is merely transiting our waters. This bill also clears up regulations for air travel and will help the whale-watching industry where currently those leaving Canadian waters and returning without getting off the boat have to check in with the CBSA.
My primary focus, as I have explained before, is on the effects on my region along the St. Lawrence River. In debate at second reading in the House, we heard from members from along the St. Clair River and from along the main New Brunswick border. We have similar issues up in northern Ontario and on the west coast of Canada, so I encourage the committee to move this along to the House. There is a great hope and anticipation, I know, among the folks in my riding that we could see this through the House of Commons and through third reading before the boating season gets into full swing this summer.
Thank you very much.
Mr. Senator, Mr. Brown, thank you very much for your visit and for introducing a bill that I think is quite interesting.
I would like to say something first. I don't think that when customs border officers apply the act and impose fines in the course of their work, they intend to humiliate people who report to customs. I understand the frustration that some travellers have.
You said that it's important not to send the wrong message and, in my opinion, the approach should also include sending a message of flexibility and rigour in the application of the legislation. In the past, this was recognized in customs officers, and it's still recognized today.
That said, given the frustration that seems obvious to me when people travel, I would like you to deepen your thinking and reassure us about certain aspects, to avoid grey areas and something falling between the cracks.
How will the back and forth of boaters and anglers be managed? During their trips, they don't anchor or land on the other side, at a fixed point; some bodies of water are still quite large. How are we going to prevent them from coming into contact with people and jeopardizing our borders? We think of illegal immigration, trafficking, smuggling, or any other activity covered under the act.
How can this bill reassure the committee on control measures, both commercially and with respect to security?