The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to finally have the opportunity to contribute to a long-awaited debate on an oversight body for the Canada Border Services Agency. It has been over a decade since Justice O'Connor recommended that there be an independent oversight for the CBSA. Since then, a chorus of voices have consistently and persistently called for accountability for the CBSA.
I will state very clearly that the NDP supports Bill , as this is something the NDP and stakeholders have been calling on the current Liberal government to act on for a very long time.
In fact, back in 2014, the BC Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, issued a joint press release and called for an independent review of all of CBSA's national security enforcement and border policing activities.
The CBSA is the only major federal law enforcement agency without external oversight. CBSA officers have a broad range of authority. They can stop travellers for questioning. They can take breath and blood samples. They have the ability to search, detain and arrest non-citizens without a warrant. They can interrogate Canadians. They also have the authority to issue and carry out deportations on foreign nationals. Many of these authorities are carried out in an environment where charter protections are reduced in the name of national security. However, despite these sweeping powers, it is astounding that there is no independent external civilian oversight for complaints or allegations of misconduct for the CBSA.
Without a doubt, the overwhelming majority of CBSA officers carry out their duties with the utmost respect for the individuals they engage with and recognize that the authority provided to them is to be used responsibly. However, stories of horrific misconduct have also come to light, and the complaint mechanism is anything but open and accountable.
Joel Sandaluk, a Toronto immigration lawyer, said, “CBSA, for many years, has been a law unto itself.”
Mary Foster of Solidarity Across Borders said, “We have enough experience to know that making a complaint to the CBSA about the CBSA doesn't really lead anywhere.”
It is my understanding that between January 2016 and the middle of 2018, the CBSA investigated around 1,200 allegations of staff misconduct. The alleged misconducts are wide-ranging. They include things like neglect of duty, sexual assault, excessive force, use of inappropriate sexual language, criminal association and harassment.
In 2013, there was a case where a woman, reportedly fleeing domestic violence, died in the CBSA's custody. An inquest into the death concluded that there is “no independent, realistic method for immigrants to bring forward concerns or complaints.”
In 2016, two more people died in the CBSA's custody within a span of just one week.
With incidents such as these, it is vital that there is accountability and transparency to ensure that procedures are respected and that there is no abuse of power. That means it is critical that there is an independent oversight body in the event that complaints are lodged.
Right now, if there is an incident where travellers, whether Canadians or foreign nationals, feel something is not right, be it harassment or use of force, the only recourse is to submit a complaint to the CBSA, which undergoes an internal review. We must keep in mind that the nature of the power imbalance that exists between border authorities such as the CBSA, and travellers, especially those in a foreign country, makes lodging any sort of complaint very difficult. Some people elect not to file a complaint. There are real fears, especially if the process is not well known and the body looking into the complaint is not an independent body. People fear, for example, that future travel could be impacted. People are afraid that by speaking out against mistreatment, they may be punished the next time that they try to travel.
We should keep in mind that for some, such as temporary residents and visitors to Canada, they simply are not around long enough to file a complaint or to see it through. We have a responsibility, especially as a nation that welcomes millions of tourists a year, has our own citizens exploring the world and welcomes hundreds of thousands of newcomers who immigrate here each year, to ensure that people feel safe, respected and protected by our border officials. This is why it is critical that there is a public, independent, civilian oversight body for the CBSA.
The BC Civil Liberties Association has studied this issue closely and has done a report on it. From its report, “Oversight at the Border: A Model for Independent Accountability at the Canada Border Services Agency”, it has recommended “two separate accountability mechanisms for the CBSA, one charged with providing real-time oversight of CBSA’s policies and practices, and one charged with conducting investigations and resolving complaints.”
I would be very interested to hear what it and witnesses say about this proposed bill, and whether or not they feel it meets the call for independent oversight and accountability measures for the CBSA.
I must note that while we debate Bill , another bill, Bill , is currently moving to third reading stage at the Senate. We expect we will see that bill return here in the near future.
Bill introduces a review agency, the national security and intelligence review agency, or NSIRA. This new body would replace the Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner and the Security Intelligence Review Committee, as well as the national security review and complaints investigation functions of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. This means that the new body would have jurisdiction over activities that fall under the umbrella of national security. As for what remains as the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, it will continue to have the external investigative body that reviews complaints from the public about RCMP conduct. However, the bill before us today would rename the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission to the public complaints and review commission and expand its mandate to have a similar review function to the CBSA.
As a result of these changes, depending on the nature of the complaint against the CBSA, a different body with different authorities will be the reviewer of conduct. This will undoubtedly cause confusion at times. Therefore, one wonders why this approach was taken and why it is being done in two separate bills.
However, more concerning is the lack of lack of consultation and the last-minute nature of this proposed legislation. Too often we have seen the government consult and consult, and then do nothing, but then in areas where consultation and study are vital to ensuring that the legislation is what it needs to be, the process is short-changed.
The Customs and Immigration Union, which represents over 10,000 Canadians working on our borders, was not consulted on Bill . This makes no sense to me. Why would the government not be seeking out the views of those individuals on the front lines who are doing the work and who would now have a new body reviewing them and their representative organization? This is not a good way to proceed.
Sadly, as the NDP critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, I have become incredibly familiar with the Liberal government's failure to follow through on its promise on good governance.
As we have seen in Bill , the budget implementation act, the Liberals have decided to ram through dangerous changes to Canada's refugee determination system and put vulnerable lives, especially women and girls fleeing violence, at risk. I suspect that the Liberals are feeling the pressure from the right and want to be seen as being tough on asylum seekers. With an election six months from now, they are jamming draconian changes through in an omnibus budget bill.
I suppose, at least in this case with Bill , while the measures for the changes for the CBSA complaint process were announced in the budget, they at least are tabled in a separate stand-alone bill, Bill .
That is more than I can say about the changes to the refugee determination system, which are being rammed through with minimal study in the omnibus budget bill. In a rush to look tough on borders and caving to pressure and misinformation campaigns by the Conservatives, the Liberals again, without consultation, made very sweeping changes to the asylum system in the budget. Experts immediately called for the provisions to be withdrawn or, at the very minimum, to table them as a separate stand-alone bill. The Liberal government refused.
Some 2,400 Canadians wrote to the calling for the same action. That too fell on deaf ears. Its advice, as recently reported by the Auditor General, was that the 1.2 million calls to the IRCC last year did not get through to the government. I will say that Bill is at least a stand-alone bill.
With that being said, it must also be recognized, given that the Liberals have failed to take action until the eleventh hour, that there is a chance this bill might not receive royal assent prior to the election. If that occurs, this would then represent yet another broken promise by the Liberal government, another broken promise through its failure to act.
I do wonder what took the government so long to table this bill. Why did it wait until there are only five weeks left in the sitting of the House to bring Bill forward? I suspect that the Liberal government would employ time allocation measures to limit debate, a tool that Liberals consistently spoke against when the Conservatives were in government. I fear that they will once again have our debate in this place limited because the government could not get its legislation in order in a timely fashion.
The risk that this represents with a bill of this magnitude cannot be ignored. The government, in the rush to table it before the session ends, has failed to properly consult the experts on what the bill should look like. Now, in a race against the clock, the Liberals, if they want to be able to claim that they followed through on their promise, will need to limit the democratic debate of this bill. That is what I expect will happen.
This is not a good recipe for good legislation. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The government has stated that in 2017 and 2018, over 96 million travellers were engaged by CBSA employees, which is over 260,000 per day. They processed more than 21 million commercial shipments, which is over 57,000 per day. They processed over 46 million courier shipments, which is over 126,000 per day. This is a serious matter and deserves thorough debate.
It is our hope that the government will allow for a thorough study of this bill at committee. I also hope that the government, upon hearing from stakeholders and experts at the committee stage, will be amenable to any amendments that expert witnesses put forward. I hope that the government will allow for that work to be done in a proper fashion and is open to input by stakeholders.
This bill has been long awaited for by the community. I regret that the government has waited this long, until the eleventh hour, with only six months until the election and only five weeks of sitting in this place, to table Bill . Canadians deserve to have an independent, external civilian oversight process for the CBSA. The government should have done this work much earlier to ensure that the proper process is in place for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, we have just seen a classic example of people not being able to get out of their partisan lanes.
We now know that the Liberals, the Conservatives, the NDP and the Green Party agree that Bill is a good bill and that it should move forward. However, what are we going to do? We are going to spend the rest of today, and possibly into the next sitting of the House, talking about a bill that we all agree is a good bill.
Every day that we talk about it here is a day we cannot talk about it in committee, which means that we cannot hear witnesses on the very issues the member for raised. We cannot deal with the issues the previous speaker raised, and we cannot bring in witnesses who have useful things to say about the operation of this bill.
This is a classic example of some dysfunctionality in this place at a level that is really quite distressing. Everyone agrees that this is a bill that needs to be passed. This is a bill that needs to hear witnesses. It is going before a committee that I have the great honour of chairing and that functions at a very high level. The member for is a very helpful and co-operative member, as is the member for . Both are vice-chairs of the committee who help with getting legislation through. I daresay that there is not a great deal of distance between the government's position and the opposition parties' positions. The situation continues to evolve.
As the member for said, this sounds like an egregious set of facts for which there is no oversight body. That is why we are here. It is to get an oversight body put in place for the CBSA.
The CBSA apparently interacts with between 93 million and 96 million people on an annual basis. That is about three times the population of Canada on an annual basis. Some are citizen interactions, some are permanent resident interactions, some are visitor interactions and some are refugee claim interactions. I daresay that with 93 million to 96 million interactions on an annual basis, not every one will go well. That is something we are trying to correct.
There is something in the order of 117 land border crossings, some of which are fully staffed, such as at Toronto Pearson International Airport, Montréal-Trudeau International Airport or wherever, but others are simply a stake in the ground. There are about 1,000 locations across this long border over four time zones. The CBSA facilitates the efficient flow of people and goods, and it administers something in the order of 90 acts and regulations. It administers some of those acts and regulations on behalf of other levels of government.
In addition to having 93 million to 96 million interactions on an annual basis, the CBSA collects about $32 billion in taxes, levies and duties over the course of the year.
This is an enormous organization. It has enormous numbers of interactions with people, services and goods, and I dare say, not every one of them goes the way it should, as much as we would like to say otherwise. Hence the bill before us as we speak.
I heard the other speaker say that we have not had enough consultation, and the speaker before that said that all the government does is consultation. They cannot have it both ways. Either there is too much consultation or there is too little consultation.
All I know is that we have very little legislative runway left. We are speaking on a Friday afternoon about a bill that we all agree on, and by speaking on it, we are in fact preventing the bill from proceeding to committee, where it could be dealt with. I would be absolutely delighted to give up my time in order to let debate collapse and allow us to go to the vote, but there does not seem to be a huge amount of enthusiasm. Therefore, regrettably, members are going to have to listen to me talk for the next 15 minutes about a bill that we all agree on.
The unusual part of the situation in which we find ourselves is that unlike the case with the RCMP, unlike CSIS, unlike various other security services, there is no actual oversight body. That is a clear gap in the legislation.
Bill , which I had the honour of shepherding through the committee, is an extraordinarily complicated piece of legislation.
I know, Mr. Speaker, that you love flow charts and appreciate the way in which legislation proceeds, and I commend you. The flow chart produced by Professor Forcese on Bill C-59 shows that Bill C-59 is extremely complicated in making sure that there are enough supervisory bodies for the various functions of CSIS, the RCMP, CSE, etc., spread over quite a number of agencies. There are at least three ministries responsible, those being defence, public safety and global affairs. It is an extraordinarily complicated piece of legislation. We anticipate and hope that it will return from the Senate and receive further debate here—though hopefully not too much—because it is really a revamping of the security architecture of our nation.
One of the gaps, as has been identified by other speakers, is the absence of an oversight body with respect to the activities of the Canada Border Services Agency. I expect to have an interaction with the Canada Border Services Agency in about two hours. Many of my colleagues will similarly be having interactions with the Canada Services Border Agency within a very short period of time, and I am rather hoping that my interaction and all of their interactions will go well, as I dare say they probably will.
The committee is now in place, and I want to talk about one further piece of legislation that has passed and is functioning, Bill , which established the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. In addition to its reporting function to the , there is a reporting function to the public safety committee. I know you, Mr. Speaker, were present as the chair of that committee presented his first report to the public safety committee. I have to say that while listening to the interactions with the chair of that committee, I felt that the questions by the members of the public safety committee were of quite high calibre and gave very pointed and useful insight into the work of that committee.
Bill fills a gap. It is being strengthened and renamed the public complaints and review commission, or the PCRC, and will have, in effect, a joint responsibility for both the RCMP and the CBSA. If the PCRC were to receive a complaint from the public, it would notify the CBSA, which would undertake an initial investigation. I dare say that this would resolve a great percentage of the complaints the public may have. In fact, 90% of RCMP complaints are resolved in this way.
The PCRC would also be able to conduct its own investigation of a complaint if its chairperson was of the opinion that it would be in the public interest to do so. In those cases, the CBSA would not start an investigation into the complaint.
Therefore, in effect, there is an ability on the part of the CBSA to say it is not going to refer it to mediation or some further investigation, but to simply assume the jurisdiction and move forward with it. To make that request, the complaint would have to be made within 60 days of receiving notice from the CBSA about the outcome of the complaint. The idea here is that the complaint does not just languish.
When the PCRC receives a request for a review of a CBSA complaint decision, the commission would review the complaint and all relevant information and share its conclusions regarding the CBSA's initial decision. It could conclude that the CBSA's decision was appropriate, it could ask the CBSA to do a further investigation or it could assume the jurisdiction and investigate the complaint itself.
The commission can also hold public hearings as part of its work. At the conclusion of the PCRC investigation, the review body would be able to report on its findings and make recommendations as it sees fit, and the CBSA would be required to provide a response in writing to the PCRC's findings and recommendations.
In addition to its complaints function, the PCRC would be able to review, on its own initiative or at the request of the minister, any activity of the CBSA, except for national security matters. I think that is an important thing to take note of, because we do not want national security matters dealt with in an open and public forum, if at all possible. Then it would be reviewed by the national Security Intelligence Review Committee, under Bill , which hopefully by then will be passed and brought into force.
PCRC reports would include findings and recommendations on the adequacy, appropriateness, sufficiency or clarity of the CBSA policies, procedures and guidelines, the CBSA's compliance with the law and ministerial directions, and the reasonableness and necessity of the CBSA's use of its power. On that latter point, the members previously have indicated instances where one would reasonably question the use, reasonableness and necessity of the CBSA's interactions with members of the public. Hopefully, with the passage of this bill and the setting up of the PCRC, those complaints would be adjudicated in a fashion that is satisfactory to both the service and members of the public.
With respect to both its complaint and review functions, the PCRC would have the power to summon and enforce the appearance of persons before it and compel them to give oral or written evidence under oath. It would have the power to administer oaths and to receive and accept oral and written evidence, whether or not the evidence would be admissible in a court of law. That provides a certain level of flexibility. As this is not a criminal case, we are not asking for a standard of beyond reasonable doubt; rather, by passing this legislation and giving these authorities, we are trying to create an environment in which issues can actually be resolved.
It would also have the power to examine any records and make any inquiries that it considers necessary. However, beyond its review and complaint functions, Bill would also create an obligation on the CBSA to notify local police and the PCRC of any serious incident involving CBSA officers or employees. That includes giving the PCRC the responsibility to track and publicly report on serious incidents, such as death, serious injury or Criminal Code violations involving the CBSA. Hopefully, we could reasonably anticipate a reduction in these incidents by virtue of just the very existence of this entity because, as has reasonably been said by speakers previously, there is nowhere to go when one has a complaint with the CBSA.
Operationally, the bill is worded in such a way as to give the PCRC the flexibility to organize its internal structure as it sees fit, and to carry out its mandate under both the CBSA Act and the RCMP Act. The PCRC could designate members of its staff as belonging either to the RCMP unit or the CBSA unit. Common services, such as corporate support, could still be shared between both units. There are several obvious benefits that can be generated by operating in this fashion. For example, expertise could be shared between the RCMP and the CBSA. Hopefully, by doing so, the agency would be strengthened. Clearly identifying which staff members are responsible would also help with the management of information.
In addition, a vice-chair and chair will be appointed to the PCRC, which would be mandatory. It would ensure that there will always be two individuals at the top who are capable of exercising decision-making powers.
Under Bill , the PCRC would establish and publish an annual report covering each of its business lines, the CBSA and the RCMP, and the resources devoted to each. The report would summarize their operations throughout the year, such as the number and types of complaints and any review activities, and would provide information on the number, type and outcomes of serious incidents. I am hopeful that this will be a readily accessible report, transparent to all, so that those who follow these issues can operate from the same set of facts.
The annual report would be tabled in Parliament by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Presumably, the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security would be able to review that report, call witnesses and examine the functionality of the entity.
The new public complaints and review commission proposed under Bill would close a significant gap in Canada's public safety accountability regime.
As I said earlier, the number of interactions we have with Canadians, visitors, landed folks, refugee claimants and others is quite significant, because Canada is open to receiving not tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, but millions of people crossing the border on an annual basis. The legislation is long overdue.
I would urge my colleagues to get out of their partisan lanes and let the bill move to committee. The complaint seems to be that the bill is last minute and will therefore never see royal assent. Well, the bill will certainly never see royal assent if the chamber holds it up. All parties are responsible for House management, and I would urge all party representatives who are responsible for House management to let the bill move to committee sooner rather than later.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to follow my friend from , who has had millions of minutes in this chamber. However, I am at a loss to ascribe any real substance to those minutes, despite the fact that I hold him in great affection. He has been very helpful on some projects related to veterans, and on that matter, maybe he can help get the Afghan monument finally done.
I share the comments from a lot of people today in that I have frustration with when the bill is being put forward. I think all members of this chamber have tremendous respect for the men and women who wear the uniform of the RCMP or wear the uniform of the Canada Border Services Agency, CBSA, who would be impacted by the bill. Nothing shows a lack of priority like introducing bills when the tulips are coming up here in Ottawa. This is when we are in the final weeks of the parliamentary sitting, and so when the government introduces something in this time period, it shows how much it has prioritized it. If the Liberals are doing that in the fourth year of their mandate with literally a few weeks left in the session, it actually shows disdain for the underlying issues of the bill when they have had four years related to it.
My friend from was suggesting that we needed to stay in our partisan lane and was bemoaning the fact that we are decrying the lack of consultation and lack of prioritization by the government, but the Liberals have left us no choice. We do not even think, at the pace things are going, that this will be substantially looked at in committee, despite his nice offer to take phone numbers of union members who were ignored in the preparations behind the bill. We will not even be able to get time to hear from them, and that is amiss, because our job as an official opposition is to hold the government to account, critique and push for better. I should remind my friend, the Liberal deputy House leader, that better is always possible, and this is an example.
The bill was introduced on May 7, 2019, literally in the final weeks of Parliament, much like Bill , another public safety bill, which was introduced in the same month. What is shocking is that these are areas the Liberals have talked about since their first weeks in government. In fact, the marijuana pledge is probably the only accomplishment of the in the Liberals' four years in government, and they are putting the cannabis records suspension bill to the House in the final weeks. Who have they not consulted on that? It is law enforcement, which is really quite astounding.
Canadians might remember that in the first few months of the Liberal government, back in 2015-16, the Liberals were fond of consultations, which I think my friend from and others have made note of. In fact, there were little vignettes created saying, “We're going to consult. We're going to have public consultation.” I guess after that the Liberals stopped doing it entirely.
My real concern in the matter of public safety and security bills is that the CBSA alone will be swept into elements of Bill and the 14,000 people in that department, including the almost 7,000 uniformed people at 1,200 locations across this country, should be consulted on a substantive piece of legislation that would impact them. They were not. In fact, the Customs and Immigration Union has been demanding to be consulted, and not at the committee stage in June, a few days before Parliament may rise and go into an election. They should have been consulted prior to drafting the legislation. That is the real problem I have with this.
It is the same with the cannabis record suspension legislation, which is another public safety bill being thrown into the mix in the final weeks. The Canadian Police Association was not consulted. Tom Stamatakis, the president, had this to say:
Were we directly consulted? Not in an extensive way. We had some exchanges, but we didn't have a specific consultation with respect to this bill.
It is the same now with Bill . The underlying people impacted by it, including members of the Customs and Immigration Union, were not consulted on the bill.
We also see other important pieces of public safety legislation still lingering in the legislative process. For example, Bill , legislation to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, is now at committee. That committee is already charged with other legislation from the final year of the government.
A lot of us are watching Bill as well, a quite comprehensive, almost omnibus bill on national security. It is in the Senate committee. I have been advocating on that bill with regard to the no-fly list, supporting the good work done by the families of the no-fly list kids to make sure that we can have a system to remove false positives and remove children from this list, which is ineffective in terms of public safety if it has tons of erroneous and duplicative names on it.
It is also substantially unfair to Canadians, especially young children, when they are impacted by being on the no-fly list. We need a mechanism for them to take themselves off the list. That is in Bill . I am publicly urging Senate colleagues to make sure they do a proper review, but get it done quickly.
As we can see, there is already a backlog of public safety and security legislation in Parliament now, not to mention a number of other bills being introduced in May.
Stepping out of the public safety area for a moment, it should also concern Canadians that some of the signature issues for indigenous Canadians also had to wait until the final months of the government. They include child welfare legislation, which I think I spoke about in this place maybe 10 days ago, and the indigenous language bill, which was also tossed in at the end of the year when the flowers are coming up here in Ottawa.
That is a lack of respect. It shows there is a priority given to speech, imagery and photos with the , and a lack of priority given to action on public safety issues and on issues related to reconciliation. Governing is more than lofty language. It is delivering on the priorities for Canadians and the things they need.
To review, I would like to see substantive committee time for Bill so that the Customs and Immigration Union can be properly consulted. The same goes for the RCMP. In fact, I was the public safety critic before I took a little diversion and a national tour to get into a leadership race. We actually worked with the government on Bill , which was the RCMP union bill. We have tried to work with the government, particularly when it comes to uniformed service members. In fact, we pushed for amendments to Bill so that there would not be a hodgepodge approach to workers' compensation for our RCMP men and women and so that there would not be different standards in different provinces. These are important bills, and people should be consulted.
I would also urge the former chair who spoke, the member for , to make sure that adequate time is given. Despite the government's claim that it would never use time allocation and never use omnibus bills, we have seen it use these measures literally by the week. The appears to relish it now. My friend the wishes he could erase all the speeches of outrage he gave in opposition about the use of time allocation and omnibus legislation, because now he is part of the team that the member for blamed for the delay that we have with these bills, and he uses it with relish.
Let us make sure we have the proper committee time to look at the changes to the RCMP Act and the CBSA Act to make sure we are doing a service to the people who will be impacted by them, whether it is on a public complaints process or other elements in Bill . The consultation should have been done first, but to do this properly, the committee debate time cannot be rushed. We will work with them, but we want to make sure the people impacted are part of the committee review process.