Today, I am accompanied by Lara Ives, acting director general, audit and review, and by Rebecca Shepherd, legal counsel.
First, thank you for the invitation to talk to you about Bill and the entry-exit initiative.
The Beyond the Border action plan committed both Canada and the U.S. to the establishment of coordinated entry and exit systems for all travellers crossing the land border, and for Canada to establish an exit system similar to the U.S. in the air mode.
My office has held constructive and ongoing consultations with the Canada Border Services Agency, Public Safety Canada, and other various federal departments implicated in the various phases of the entry-exit initiative.
Since 2013, the Canada Border Services Agency has been collecting biographical data and travel history on non-Canadians and permanent residents principally for the purpose of immigration enforcement and border integrity.
The purpose of the bill before you is to provide lawful authority for the collection of exit information on Canadian citizens as they leave Canada, which will allow the final phases of this initiative to be realized.
The government has indicated that, at full implementation, the entry-exit data will help Canadian officials to better manage our border, combat cross-border crime, including child abductions and human trafficking, respond to national security threats, ensure the integrity of our immigration system, and reduce fraud and abuse of certain federal programs with residency requirements, such as employment insurance or old-age security benefits.
Collection of information in the land mode between Canada and the United States at a customs office is based on an automatic exchange between both countries. The record of entry into one country is considered a record of exit from the other.
In the air mode, Canada will establish a system similar to the U.S., under which airlines will be required to submit passenger manifest information to the Canada Border Services Agency for all outbound international flights.
As provided under the bill, exit information will include, first, the surname and first name, the date of birth, the citizenship or nationality, and the sex of the person. Second, the information will include the type of travel document that identifies the person, the name of the country or organization that issued the travel document and the travel document number. Finally, the information will include the date, time and place of the person's departure from Canada and, if the person arrives in the United States, the date, time and place of their arrival.
Throughout the earlier phases of this initiative, my office has consistently called on the federal government to be transparent about how it uses personal information collected from travellers and to ensure that the collection and use of this information is justified from a privacy perspective. Based on our discussions with the institutions involved and the information provided to us so far, I am generally convinced that there are important public policy objectives that this initiative is trying to address and that the personal information in question is not particularly sensitive.
That being said, there is a vast range of retention schedules being proposed across the various institutions that intend to use the information. In some cases, the information will be purged immediately where it does not meet a certain threshold. I understand this to be the case with employment insurance, for example. The biographical exit data will be shared with Employment and Social Development Canada, but will be purged immediately in instances where there is no match. However, in other cases the data could be subject to very lengthy retention periods—over 100 years, in some cases—depending on the institution receiving the information and what they are using it for. It has not always been clear to us what the rationales are behind these varying retention periods.
While we accept that collection and sharing is necessary to achieve specific public interest objectives, once these objectives are achieved, the information, in our view, should be destroyed. For that reason, I intend to carefully review retention schedules, and will request that clear justifications be provided by departments.
I am keenly aware that this type of initiative presents challenges for individuals to fully understand who has their personal information, for how long, and for what purpose. So I urge the Government of Canada to remain open and transparent, to limit the use of this information to that which is necessary, and to ensure that information-sharing agreements are in place, that privacy impact assessments, or PIAs, are conducted, and that retention periods are minimized to the extent possible.
All institutions, I'm happy to say, have committed to providing my office with privacy impact assessments 120 days in advance of implementation. We look forward to seeing more complete details of program-specific uses of the data, the safeguards, and the rationales for retention periods proposed. I also ask that we be consulted on the privacy safeguards to be included in information-sharing agreements at the earliest possible opportunity.
In conclusion, since 2013, 20 million exit records have been generated and exchanges between the U.S. and Canada now take place in “near real time”. The underlying purposes for this exchanges are reasonable, in my view, but means to ensure that information collection, sharing, and retention are privacy sensitive is very important. That is why we would expect to be consulted on a timely basis regarding the PIAs and information-sharing agreements.
Thank you for your attention. I look forward to answering your questions.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today as your committee reviews Bill , .
My name is Jean-Pierre Fortin. I am the national president of the Customs and Immigration Union.
Our union represents Canada's front-line customs and immigration officers, investigations, intelligence, and trade customs officers and hearing officers, as well as support staff who work at the Canada Border Services Agency.
CIU has a long history of involvement in border security and immigration enforcement issues on behalf of its members. We seek to offer our members' operational insights to identify areas of concern and, where possible, to offer what we believe to be informed improvements.
Over the past decade and more, CIU has offered these concerns and suggestions to CBSA management and government ministers, and in appearances before both House and Senate committees. It is in that context that CIU is pleased to appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security with respect to Bill .
As committee members are aware, Bill is the legislation that will complete the implementation of the Canada-U.S. entry/exit initiative, which was itself part of the original 2011 Beyond the Border agreement and action plan.
At the outset, it should be noted that as the national union representing front-line operational law enforcement officers, we recognize that legislative and policy changes can have an impact on our members and the public we serve. We focus on what the operational impacts will be and whether we can actually deliver what is now being authorized. We also examine proposed policy changes and consider if they support and enhance our dual mandate, which on the one hand covers security, and on the other hand trade and travel facilitation.
Also of interest to us is the clarity provided in the legislation with regard to any new enforcement authority. Our members appreciate that they are enforcing public regulation of defined activities to support the public interest. In our experience, clarity supports public confidence.
Let me turn now to some specific issues that merit examination.
As you know, Bill will create new sections in part V of the Customs Act that will expressly authorize CBSA officers to gather biographical information from all persons who are leaving Canada, including Canadians. Proposed section 94 will create a legal obligation on persons leaving Canada, in whatever fashion, to present themselves to an officer when requested to do so and to answer truthfully all relevant questions, in accordance with the officer's duties.
The actual details on how that information is collected or provided to the agency is not specific in Bill . Instead, this is to be prescribed by regulation. It is unclear to us why the government has chosen this approach. It appears to mean that these potentially important details will not be subject to the same parliamentary review as Bill C-21. The committee may wish to clarify why this approach has been taken.
Proposed paragraph 92(1)(c) also appears to confine the collection of departing passengers' arrival information to the United States. The committee may wish to confirm this with the new minister and verify if the new paragraph will result in a prohibition on gathering and retaining departing passengers' arrival information to other countries, as this is an issue of enhanced importance in today's security environment.
The committee should also try to determine how—or if—CBSA intends to use the proposed section 94 authority with regard to persons departing Canada at land border crossings. Presumably, the goal is not to create lineups for people leaving Canada. Lineups already exist for those entering or returning to Canada, primarily because of continuing personnel shortages, which is another critical issue for this committee to consider.
We would urge the committee to explore the issue of how CBSA will use the information it gathers and receives under the entry/exit program. As you may recall, a previous report from the Auditor General identified approximately 44,000 outstanding arrest warrants under IRPA for persons who have failed to appear as required. Will this information now be used, as we suggest it should, to identify those persons as having left Canada so the agency does not waste scarce resources looking for people who have already left our country?
Additionally, will this information be used to create a more accurate lookout database for persons who are inadmissible to Canada in the future, especially on past criminality- and security-related grounds? We urge the committee to raise this with CBSA.
The committee should also ask CBSA for details regarding its liaison arrangements with domestic and U.S. law enforcement to ensure that the potentially important intelligence that can be gathered by the entry/exit initiative enacted in Bill is shared, as authorized under Canadian legislation, including the Privacy Act, to achieve public safety improvements. It is our understanding that the government has committed to requiring privacy impact assessments for all involved departments and agencies, the status of which the committee may wish to confirm.
Another general area of importance in Bill is what appears to be an expansion of CBSA's authority to examine goods intended for export. Deficiencies in this operational area have also been noted by the Auditor General, and CIU fully supports this enforcement mandate clarification. The committee may wish to query CBSA with respect to what operational changes it foresees undertaking as a result, and how, specifically, these will impact the deficiencies reported by the Auditor General of Canada.
The committee should also be aware of the underlying cause of these and other operational gaps at CBSA, as the issue requires immediate attention. As a result of the 2011 deficit reduction action plan, DRAP, there has been a loss of over 1,200 positions at CBSA, including those of screening, enforcement, and intelligence officers. These cuts have led to reduced operational capacity, which has resulted in the closing of ports of entry and reduced hours of operation, as well as increased pressure on officers to process more cases. An example of this is taking place in Quebec and Manitoba, where our members are being forced to screen faster the people who are illegally entering Canada between ports of entry, to avoid backlogs.
We are concerned that while Bill creates appropriate new screening and enforcement tools, the intended result cannot be effectively achieved without restoring the 1,200 positions cut under DRAP. We urge the committee to raise this issue of operational personnel shortages with both CBSA management and the .
In conclusion, it is my hope that this presentation will assist the committee in its important work, especially regarding the restoration of the necessary personnel who perform their duties on behalf of Canadians and whom I am proud to represent.
Thank you. I am looking forward to questions.
The entry/exit program needs to be examined from a broader historical perspective.
It is important to remember that in the past, democratic countries did not collect information on the exits of their citizens. This was related to the freedom of movement of citizens, and the government didn't control this kind of activity.
Following the events in September 2001, several countries imposed the collection of information or gathered information for border management and national security purposes. Canada was among the last to do so.
To date, the information collected has focused on non-Canadians for border management and national security purposes. According to the Bill , the gathering of information and the sharing of information will also apply to citizens.
It is important to understand that we are crossing a boundary. Historically, democratic countries did not collect this kind of information about their citizens. However, things have changed as a result of the events in September 2001, and it is now a widespread practice that also aims to ensure the integrity of social programs. We are moving in this direction.
Given the importance of combatting fraud involving these programs, and the relatively limited and non-sensitive nature of the information, this seems reasonable. However, it must be understood that this evolution in the history of democratic countries has occurred.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to meet with you and to present this morning. I am Abram Benedict, the Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, which is a community about an hour southeast of here, right on the Canada-United States/Quebec-Ontario/upstate New York border. I felt that it was important that we request to meet with you. I want to thank the secretary and the chairman for the quick response and the opportunity to present to you on an issue that I believe is very impactful for our community.
I'm joined this morning by Dwight Bero. He is one of our researchers at the aboriginal rights and research office, the office that assists my office, the community, and the organization of the Mohawk Council with border issues, research issues relating to land claims, and other such issues. I'm glad that he's able to join me today.
I have some speaking notes, which we've circulated. I'm not sure if they've gotten to you. I will use those as a bit of a reference, but I'm also interested in dialoguing a bit or answering some of the questions the members may have.
The community of Akwesasne is greatly impacted by the international border and, more specifically, by the legislative impacts of the Customs Act, as well as some of the proposed amendments that are being considered in regard to this act.
Our community is unique, as I described earlier. It's a community in Canada, the United States, Ontario, and Quebec. The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne is the federally recognized first nation governing body on the Canadian portion of Akwesasne, with a membership of about 12,500 people.
We are geographically landlocked by the St. Lawrence River, as illustrated by the map we have here. Two parts of our community, shown as the yellow portions on the map, are landlocked by the United States border. In order to transit to those two parts of our community, we must go through the United States and then come back into the two portions. The two portions are part of Quebec. The orange portion shown is part of the province of Ontario, and the green portion is part of New York state.
As we move about our daily lives, our community members transit across the border several times a day. From personal experience, the amount of times that I have to transit.... I live in the orange portion and daily I have to go through the green portion and back up into my office, which is in the yellow portion. For those two yellow portions, there are no border inspection stations, simply because those portions of our community are landlocked by the St. Lawrence River and the United States. There's nowhere you can go; you can go in, but you can't go any further into the mainland of Canada.
Specifically, as I was mentioning, when I cross daily, I provide a piece of identification to the Canada or U.S. border inspection stations to be able to be processed and go. Several years ago, when I took my daughter, who is 16 years old now, to one of the other border crossings down in the Windsor-Detroit area, I presented at that time my passport to the U.S. inspections officer. He swiped it and, with a blank look in his eyes, asked, “Why is it that you cross the border so many times?” In the few moments that I had to speak with him, I explained to him that I live in Ontario and work in Quebec but have to go through New York state every day to get to my office. As you know, the systems that are in place track how many times you cross the border. As somebody who wasn't accustomed to seeing people crossing so frequently, he was stunned by the fact that, according to the system, I had crossed probably three times daily, at least five to six times a week. That is the reality of the community.
The amendments that are being considered today in proposed paragraphs 92(1)(a), (b), and (c) fail to consider the unique geographical challenges our community faces, especially in regard to being a border community like Akwesasne, whose residents must cross the border on a regular basis for work, school, and/or recreational events.
The Cornwall port of entry is the 10th busiest entry point in Canada, with approximately 2 million vehicles crossing annually, but 70% of the people who cross that border are Akwesasne members. Seventy per cent of those who cross at the 10th busiest border crossing in Canada are Mohawks of Akwesasne, indigenous people of Canada.
In the two districts I've outlined, it equates to 1.4 million trips through the Cornwall port of entry, most times represented, again, by Akwesasne people. Take the two districts in which Akwesasne communities are considered. That represents three million crossings if we take the number of times you have to cross into the United States, back into Quebec to be in the office, back again into the United States, and then back into Ontario as a regular day of being in Akwesasne.
We have worked diligently to minimize the impacts of the international border. For example, we have students who cross the border every day—from the yellow portion going to the orange portion, and vice versa. We've been able to work with the local ports of entry on exemptions with regard to providing identification every day. A bus full of little children carrying certificates of Indian status or passports is something that's very difficult to manage. These buses cross at a minimum twice a day, and hold about 30 children. About 600 children move across the international border line daily.
Emergency vehicles—police, ambulance, and fire—have been able to come to an agreement that upon entering one of those districts for emergency purposes, they do not have to report forthwith, as prescribed under the act. The reason is that they must be able to provide the services needed by the persons in distress. They respond first to the emergency situation and later to the requirements.
The Mohawk Council as an employer has nine departments, with upwards of 1,000 employees. As well, 80% of the people who work for the Mohawk Council and deliver services daily are Mohawks of Akwesasne.
Regulations that are developed must consider the unique geographical location of our community. Akwesasne continues to experience the negative consequences of being the only community designed in a mixed-traffic corridor. Because of the unideal location of Canada Customs on the mainland, in the city of Cornwall, people entering into our community—coming from the green portion, which is the United States—must report to the city of Cornwall port of entry. As they go through there, they enter through the mixed-traffic corridor. The legislation has resulted in Akwesasne being one of only four border crossing pilot programs in Canada. We have been pushing for alternative reporting from the Canada Border Services Agency.
The reason I bring up the mixed-traffic corridor, which is not being considered in these amendments but is a piece of the legislation that you fine people deal with, is that we are the only community that is greatly impacted by the mixed-traffic corridor. What this means is that any traffic that has not actually left the country of Canada, but that goes through Canada Customs because they have to go through that to get to the city of Cornwall, can be subject to inspection through the powers derived from the Customs Act itself. Specifically, paragraph 99(1)(f) gives a border officer the power to search vehicles. It also is a piece of the legislation that allows for examination of domestic travellers when most border crossings across Canada process only international traffic. The Cornwall border processes domestic and international traffic, and in large numbers.
One of the things I can't stress more is that there are many border communities across the country. There is no doubt about that. But this one is compounded by, first, being indigenous, and second, 70% of the users being Mohawk people. As well, two million cars cross there daily. It's not a small, slow border crossing.
The Mohawks of Akwesasne must be specifically consulted on the U.S.-Canada border legislation that adversely affects our rights and existing agreements. That's one of the reasons we're here today—to actually present to you the impacts that entry/exit information will have on our community.
We completely understand that there is a reason these amendments are being considered, but because two parts of our community are not processed by a border agent or customs, theoretically you could leave Akwesasne, Ontario, the orange island shown on our map, go back around to my office in the Quebec portion, which is shown in yellow on the map, and never be processed by the Canada Border Services Agency for months on end. You could simply choose to go into the United States to do your daily business, whether it be shopping, services, or anything else, without being processed by a CBSA station.
This means that if these amendments are considered, the system would tag you as leaving the country and not coming back for a long time, when in fact you could be residing continuously in the Canadian portion of Akwesasne, which is landlocked.