Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion dealing with the Senate's amendments to Bill .
The story of Bill is long and highly problematic, not to say sordid. I will read some excerpts, but first I would like to say that I am naturally in favour of the Senate's amendment. I will explain why.
The story of Bill is an interesting one, because it was a bill tabled almost three years ago.
It is unfortunate. I am thinking in particular of the No Fly List Kids, a group well known to members of this house. It is a group of parents who have children on the no-fly list who are false positives, because they share a name with an individual on this list who has been flagged.
The reason I raise this issue is that when these parents originally came to Parliament Hill and asked the government to respect commitments that had been made to fix this issue, they were told by the government, and the more specifically, that they would have to lobby the , because it needed money to the redress system. They did that. They talked to the Minister of Finance. It was fantastic. The money was announced in the last budget. It was a non-partisan effort I was proud to be part of.
Then what happened? We heard that Bill needed to be adopted, an omnibus piece of legislation dealing with a whole slew of national security elements, one chapter of which, in a bill hundreds of pages long, dealt with the no-fly list. Conveniently, we were saying that the bill needed to be facilitated at the time the bill arrived in the Senate, and it was being held up there.
How does this connect to Bill ? Allow me to explain. The 's press secretary made one thing clear to the media: the money is there, and Bill must be passed.
As the months passed, Bill , which was introduced in the House nearly three years ago, also got held up in the Senate. A month or two ago, at the same time the parents of the no-fly list kids were lobbying the Senate to quickly pass Bill and fix this horrible problem, the same spokesperson for the said that Bill also needed to be passed more quickly. After three years, and one year in the Senate, the bill finally passed.
I do not want to cast doubt on anyone's good faith, but there is a problem, because I see nothing in Bill to address this scourge, which has been around for too long and makes life hard for these parents whenever they take their kids to the airport. This debate gives me the opportunity to say this to the House, because even though these parents are a non-partisan group, I am a partisan politician, and so I have no qualms about criticizing the government for trying to exploit this problem to rush its legislative agenda through. If it had done its work properly, the bill would not have gotten held up in the Senate the way it has.
With that point made, I want to address more specifically the amendments from the Senate. I am pleased to see that the Senate has improved on an amendment I presented at the public safety committee that was supported by all colleagues. My amendment was to actually prescribe a retention period for the data Bill would deal with at the border.
Just to give the background on this, the New Democrats opposed Bill , despite some things in the media I read in June saying that the bill quietly passed in the House. No, we opposed this bill, and we raised some serious concerns about it at committee.
One of the concerns raised by the Privacy Commissioner was the fact that we would be collecting entry and exit data at the border and sharing with the Americans “tombstone“ data, as the morbidly calls it. That data is concerning, because what we are seeing in the national security field, and CBSA is no exception, is a larger net being cast over the type of data we collect. The minister listed a bunch of laudable goals for collecting data dealing with kidnapped children in, for example, horrible custody cases, dealing with human trafficking and cracking down on people who are abusing EI and the OAS system. We will get back to that in a moment.
These goals, certainly on paper, sound laudable. However, that should not diminish the privacy concerns being raised, particularly with respect to the current administration we see in the U.S. collecting this type of information. What civil society tells us about these issues is that there is a web of inference. In this large net being cast in the national security field, data that might seem innocuous, collected for legitimate purposes, can be easily shared with other agencies through this information-sharing regime for a variety of objectives that might not necessarily be the intent of the legislation.
In that context, we heard the concerns that the Privacy Commissioner raised about the data retention period, which was essentially unlimited. The amendment I presented set a time limit of 15 years and was based on a recommendation from the commissioner himself. I read in the media that civil society felt that period was too long. I understand their concerns, but ultimately, we relied on the Privacy Commissioner's expertise.
After my amendment was adopted and the bill was passed by the House, in spite of the NDP's opposition, the Senate heard testimony from the Privacy Commissioner. He pointed out that the wording of the amendment as adopted could be interpreted to mean a minimum of 15 years rather than what we actually intended, which was a maximum of 15 years. He himself said that this might not have been the committee's intent.
The Senate therefore made a correction and improved an amendment that I was pleased to present. I was also pleased to have the support of the other parties on the committee. Obviously, we support the Senate amendment.
The amendment put forward by the government today also supports that amendment. Accordingly, although we oppose the bill, we do support today's motion to adopt the Senate's amendment.
I want to take a moment to address this. I raised some of the concerns at the time on Bill . Earlier I enumerated some of the things the minister said. However, there is another piece, and that is the issue of OAS and EI.
We had the appropriate ministry representatives at committee. They talked about all the great savings they were going to see and about the abuse of the EI and OAS systems. I find it fundamentally offensive to talk about savings in systems and programs that are there to help the most vulnerable in our society. The officials at committee even acknowledged that they believe in the good faith of the people who are claiming EI and receiving OAS.
Here is the problem. I will refer to some news articles that appeared in June of this year. For example, the Canadian Snowbird Association talked about its concern about the kind of information, or lack thereof, being shared, the personal information being shared, in an effort to potentially crack down on supposed abuses. For example, a situation as innocuous as people overstaying a day in a condo they own in the U.S. could mean that they would have their OAS payments or other government programs docked when they came back to Canada, in some cases. On the flip side, with the IRS in the U.S., people are being turned away at the border when they try to return to the U.S. to visit friends or family or to stay in a secondary residence they might have there. Certainly, there are concerns being raised.
I want to open some parentheses here and say that the NDP certainly understands and agrees that we do not want to see these systems abused, because essentially that would mean money is being stolen from those who actually need it. However, we also have to understand that when we are talking about information-sharing in an effort to crack down, I think there need to be more robust parameters in place with respect to how we are communicating with those individuals who could be affected.
Another concern I have obviously has to do with the employment insurance system. I am sure my colleague from and my colleague from Churchill—I apologize, but I forget her riding's full name, which is long—can attest to how badly the EI system needs to be improved.
We are talking about the spring gap, the notorious 15 weeks, the problems that still have not been solved despite the government's rhetoric. What does the government do? It sends officials from the department in question to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security so they can boast about all the money being saved by sharing additional information on travellers with the Americans.
I do not mean any disrespect to our interpreters, but I am going to repeat what I said earlier in English. I completely understand that the government wants to stop the abuse of the system and make sure that the money is going to the right recipients. At the same time, I also understand that priorities seem to be a problem for this government.
It is funny that I talked about the no-fly list at the beginning of my speech. The minister was bragging about the fact that very few identifiers are shared in the system that Bill is proposing. He talked about basic information and said that that information appears on page 2 of the passport. This creates another problem, because when there are not enough identifiers, it can be very difficult to identify an individual in the context of a government program, the Canada Revenue Agency, and so on.
I need to look no further than in my own family. My younger brother's spouse has a twin sister with the same first initial, but a different social insurance number. They have the same surname, the same birth date and the same first initial, but a different SIN. What happens? They have to fight on a regular basis to have their identity recognized when undergoing a credit or background check. They have all kinds of problems with the CRA, government programs and banks. In short, they have had problems in the past. Unfortunately for them, they will continue to have these problems throughout their lives. Still, I hope they will not.
I am pointing this out because having only a few identifiers, as the minister reassures us, can create problems. For example, someone receiving EI who has not travelled to the United States, but who shares the same name and date of birth with another person who has, could be incorrectly identified by the department, which is not even the same one that receives the information. The Canada Border Services Agency receives the information, which it then passes on to the Department of Employment. As members, we work often enough with government agencies to know that mistakes can be made along the way. I say this with all due respect for our great public service.
Those mistakes are even more troubling for a variety of reasons. First, I specifically asked those representatives in committee about EI, OAS and other payments. I asked them what they would do if there was a mistake, or what if people had their EI cut off because they were told they had gone to the U.S., but they had not. The response I got, if people can believe it, was that they would need to take it up with CBSA.
What happens with CBSA? It is the only national security agency in the country that does not have a dedicated oversight body. Is that not convenient? That is extremely problematic and a far from satisfying response when the most vulnerable, who desperately need EI benefits, are cut off all because of a mistake was made in an effort to share even more information with the U.S., at its request. This whole system stems from that.
Moreover, I pointed out that there was a complaint system built into the law, but CBSA needed the proper oversight. The minister has promised that time and again over the last three years, since he has responsibility for this portfolio, and it has not happened.
Bill , for example, would result in the biggest overhaul to our national security in the last 30 years. Despite all the reassurances about the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, the new oversight body, colloquially called the super-SIRC, would only deal with CBSA in the specific context of national security. CBSA is always deals with national security at our borders. However, the question could be posed whether it is an issue of national security when people have their EI cut off because of information collected by CBSA. That question remains unanswered. The fact that it is unanswered is exactly why we have a problem, among other things, with Bill .
I want to raise one last point. Representatives of the Akwesasne First Nation came to both to the House committee and the Senate committee. The community lies across border. Representatives explained to us that they had children who were born in upstate New York and then lived in Canada. They had folks who sometimes worked in the U.S. Sometimes they needed to start in Canada, go through the U.S. and come back to Canada just for the commute home because of the geography of their location. I am pleased to hear they can cross those borders, because those borders should not be imposed on them as the first peoples of this land.
They already deal with certain difficulties, based on the information CBSA shares with appropriate ministries for different government benefits, with receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. Therefore, we can imagine that under a regime like that proposed in Bill , those problems could be exacerbated. Unfortunately, there is no special dispensation for folks like that in the legislation, and that is also a concern.
In conclusion, I am glad I was able to reiterate the reasons for which the NDP opposes Bill . We understand the desire to improve the flow at the border, work with our allies, and ensure that nobody abuses our social programs. However, we believe that Bill allows for yet more information sharing, despite inadequate protection for citizens' rights and privacy.
We should all be particularly concerned about the fact that Bill is the first stage of what could become a more extensive information sharing regime in the coming years. The Prime Minister and the U.S. President committed to enhancing border co-operation, but this is not going to make things better. This is about fingerprinting people, searching cell phones, and possibly even having our officers and theirs work in the same space. That came up during talks between the U.S. President and the .
All of these plans are still in their very early stages, and I do not want anyone telling me I am getting worked up and scared, but we have every reason to be concerned, especially considering how the current U.S. President behaves and how we protect our citizens at the border and on our own soil when they need social programs they are entitled to.
The bill's intentions are honourable, but the execution is poor. We support the Senate's amendment, but we still oppose Bill .
Madam Speaker, I just want to say something to my colleague from , who said a few moments ago that the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security is perhaps one of the most collegial of all the House committees.
I am pleased to say that the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food is also a very good committee, where people of all political stripes work well together.
Unfortunately, as is wont to happen, we sometimes do not agree with our colleagues and things can escalate and become a bit more tense. However, our role, the role of parliamentary committees and the role of the House is to express our views in committee.
I can say that I am very proud of the work my Conservative colleagues do on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. They do excellent work on all the files. I think that is worth mentioning.
A large part of our work as members of Parliament happens not just behind the curtains, but in rooms other than the beautiful House of Commons. All kinds of things are done in committee rooms for the good of all Canadians, and I think it is worth taking a few moments to mention this work every once in a while.
Bill , as members know, has to do with customs and borders. I cannot start talking about Bill C-21 without first taking a few minutes to talk about the extremely important border issue of illegal migration, which is a problem we are currently facing.
Members will soon see why I think it is appropriate to talk about this issue now, during the debate on Bill C-21.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has released a report on the cost of illegal border crossings. In his report, the Parliamentary Budget Officer provided clarifications on the crisis at the Canada-U.S. border. Since 2017, a total of 38,000 people have crossed into Canada illegally. I say “illegally” because on this side of the House, we like to use the right words.
The signs posted at the border and on Roxham Road clearly indicate that it is illegal to cross the border at that location, yet many people cross anyway. In fact, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, 38,000 people have done so. That is why we, the Conservatives, refer to those individuals as illegal migrants. Since 2017, 38,000 people have illegally crossed our borders. They entered our country illegally, not only at Roxham Road, but that road has seen the largest number.
The has failed to address this crisis, and quite frankly, he is the one who created it. Who can forget the Prime Minister's infamous tweet in January 2017, his welcome to Canada tweet. That tweet had quite an impact around the world, so much so that it resulted in 38,000 illegal border crossings.
There have been other repercussions besides the number of people who illegally entered Canada. The Parliamentary Budget Officer's data show that the cost of welcoming someone who crosses the border illegally is more than the gross annual salary of Canadian workers who earn minimum wage.
By 2020, if the continues to do nothing to address this crisis, it is going to cost Canadians $1.1 billion, not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs for the provinces.
I am talking about this today for two reasons. First, the premiers and the Prime Minister are meeting today in Montreal. Second, we learned today that the Quebec government estimates that it will have to ask Ottawa for $300 million in compensation for accommodating the illegal immigrants who arrived in response to the Prime Minister's tweet from January 2017. It is asking for $300 million.
What answer did we get today when we asked about this request? We were told that $36 million had been given to the Quebec government to pay for the illegal immigrants' immediate housing needs.
I think the government is trying to play games here. It says it is going to pay the cost of housing illegal migrants, but it knows full well that almost all the social costs of accommodating these illegal migrants fall on the Quebec government.
Since it was the himself who created this crisis, it is inappropriate for the government to try to shirk its responsibilities by saying it has spent $36 million to address urgent housing needs. The Quebec government has asked for $300 million. I hope the federal government will provide a prompt and appropriate response to that request. That $1.1 billion was not included in the budget and will not be used to meet Canadians' needs. This is yet another failure.
This situation shows what a failure the Prime Minister is at taking action on the international stage. The trade deals and the tariffs imposed on our softwood lumber, steel and aluminum prove it. He is also unable to fix the durum wheat crisis. The topic of customs and borders encompasses many different elements and issues. We on this side of the House are working hard to show Canadians that the government is getting everything wrong on the issue of illegal immigration.
Another border-related issue is going to come up next week when the signs the United Nations global compact for migration. This UN initiative establishes standards and international responsibilities with respect to migration. It is worth taking the time to consider the consequences of signing the compact.
The Prime Minister's actions since January 2017 suggest that he does not really like borders. He does not like it when people are prevented from entering Canada illegally. Unfortunately, the UN global compact for migration seems to align with the Prime Minister's approach since January 2017.
Conservatives believe that Canada should control its own borders and dictate who gets to enter the country. That is why we oppose Canada joining the global compact for migration. That is no secret. Canadians, and only Canadians, should decide who enters the country and under what circumstances, not foreign entities such as the UN. I wanted to take two seconds to talk about that before diving into the bill before us today, Bill .
As we debate Bill , an act to amend the Customs Act, I would like to remind members that the introduced the bill in the House on June 15, 2016. This bill will authorize the Canada Border Services Agency to collect biographic information on all travellers, including Canadian citizens, when they leave Canada. The agency would have new discretionary authority and could collect information if it wanted to, but it would not be required to do so.
The law would authorize officers to require goods exported from Canada to be declared, despite exemptions, and give them the authority to examine them. Bill C-21 will also add two exemptions for exported goods. First, goods on a conveyance that enters and leaves Canadian waters do not need to be declared. Goods on a conveyance that proceeds from one place in Canada to another place in Canada do not need to be declared.
The bill will also make it an offence to smuggle or attempt to smuggle, whether clandestinely or not, any goods that are subject to duties or any goods the exportation of which is prohibited, controlled or regulated.
There is a reason the Conservative Party will support the bill. We already supported it and we have no objection to supporting the Senate amendment. The reason is that the bill is part of the beyond the border action plan that was announced jointly in 2011 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama. That initiative established a long-term perimeter security partnership. I would like to spend a moment on the joint statement. It listed the following key areas of co-operation between the United States and Canada.
The main goal was to identify threats early on so as not to be caught unaware by things that could have been avoided when it is too late. The key areas of co-operation are: trade facilitation, economic growth, jobs, cross-border law enforcement and, of course, essential infrastructure and cybersecurity.
According to the action plan's original schedule, the information-sharing initiative was supposed to be implemented on June 30, 2014. In March 2016, after his first official visit to the United States, the announced the agreement with the United States to fully implement a system for sharing basic biographic information.
It is now December 2018. Why has the government taken so long to pass this bill, which just makes good sense to us?
This bill has the authorization, the approval, of both countries' administrations, so it should have been passed more quickly. It is important for keeping Canadians safe and preventing people from here or elsewhere from taking undue advantage of the system and spending their time in warmer climes, under the Florida sun, while abusing our social security system. For all of these reasons, this is obviously a bill that needs to be passed as soon as possible.