The House resumed from January 29 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for laying down the law.
This bill changes the name of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP to the public complaints and review commission. Under this new name, the commission will also be responsible for reviewing public complaints against the Canada Border Services Agency.
The bill follows on a promise made by the Liberals to ensure that all law enforcement agencies in Canada are monitored by an oversight group. We agree that all Canadian law enforcement agencies must have an oversight group. Canadians must be respected and protected from potential abuse of power. We must all make sure that the agency does its job to the letter and in compliance with Canadian legislation.
Our party’s vision of Canadian security has always prioritized maintaining the integrity of our borders and making sure that the CBSA has appropriate resources in terms of staff and equipment. A public complaints review commission will undoubtedly improve general oversight and help the CBSA exercise its duties and powers more effectively.
I have spoken at length with border services officers and listened to the union president. It is obvious that the problem at the border is not due to a lack of training or will on the part of the officers. On the contrary, the problem stems from a blatant lack of resources to support officers in their work.
When Bill was first tabled, the government had not even consulted the union. We raised this point in the debate on Bill C-98, but we got nowhere, since the government was in a rush to move forward. There was not enough time for the bill to be passed by the Senate. Today, the government is coming back to us with Bill .
Even if we support the bill, we need to take the time to consult the union representing the CBSA and the RCMP, which we will probably do in committee. It is a good idea to create an agency to monitor the officers' work and give Canadians some power. We are completely in agreement with that, but the officers also have something to say. That is why I think it is important to listen to the union. There needs to be a balance between the two.
Since 2015, our Liberal friends have constantly said that they consult Canadians on various issues. However, in the case of Bill , there have been no consultations.
I would like to talk about the challenges faced by the Canada Border Services Agency. A lot has been said in recent years. Members will recall the ’s famous tweet from January 2017. At a time when the United States was in turmoil, the Prime Minister tweeted to the world that Canada would welcome everyone with open arms. That created a situation at the border that is still ongoing. Close to 50,000 people who read the Prime Minister’s tweet came to cross the border at Roxham Road in Quebec. Some came through Manitoba, but most came through Roxham Road. These people crossed our border believing that they would be welcomed with open arms.
The RCMP had to mobilize enormous resources. In 2017, officers from across Canada were sent to Roxham Road. The CBSA also had to mobilize resources to receive the people who thought they would simply be welcomed to Canada.
The problem is still going on. The government is trying to make us believe that nothing is going on, but that is not true. Every day, 40 to 50 people cross the border at Roxham Road. The financial and human resources costs are massive. In a report last year, the Office of the Auditor General examined all of the federal agencies involved, including public safety, immigration and other federal services. In three years, we have spent more than $1 billion on federal services alone. That figure does not include costs to the provinces.
Quebec calculated its costs for the first year. Just for costs associated with receiving the asylum seekers, Quebec applied for a reimbursement of $300 million. Ontario followed suit. Quebec was reimbursed before the election campaign because our Liberal friends knew that this was a very sensitive subject for Quebeckers.
We Quebeckers are a hospitable people. We like people, but we also like order. Now we are in a situation where there is no order. No one, myself included, can understand why people are being allowed to enter our country, and specifically Quebec, illegally.
That being said, the Conservatives have often been called racists in debate and in question period. It is very upsetting to be called a racist. The people who come to the border are of different ethnic origins, but that does not make us racist. We are simply asking for effective border control. That starts with a duly completed immigration application. Of course Canada welcomes refugees, as it always has. Even when the Conservatives were in power, we always supported taking in refugees from UN camps around the world.
Let us get back to our officers. We are going to pass a law that will allow the public to file complaints against RCMP and CBSA officers. We should try to see things from our officers' perspective. They are being asked to do things that they may find distasteful. I remember going to Roxham Road three or four times to watch our officers at work. I saw police officers there, RCMP officers, whose job is to enforce law and order.
People arrived with suitcases, knowing full well that they were entering Canada illegally, but they were taking advantage of a loophole in the Canada-U.S. safe third country agreement. The warm-hearted RCMP officers carried the people’s suitcases across the border to help them enter Canada illegally. This created a conflict in the officers’ minds. On the one hand, since they have big hearts, they have no choice but to help children, as is only right. On the other hand, their job is to enforce the law.
I would remind members that the created this situation on Roxham Road, which has been going on for exactly three years now. People do not realize that the government has even built a building there that is equipped with systems and all the necessary technology. When people get out of a taxi at Roxham Road, they can walk down a small road that leads directly to this reception centre, which is the equivalent of a regular border crossing.
That makes no sense, and we are in this mess because the Liberals cannot negotiate with the Americans to change a rule that prevents us from putting an end to the situation. Let's not forget the financial repercussions for Canada, which are huge.
In addition, our officers have to deal with another serious problem, namely drugs and weapons being smuggled across the border. The RCMP and CBSA officers find their work very hard and complex. In addition to their working conditions, which are obviously less than ideal, the rules in effect and the way the boundaries are delineated sometimes prevent the officers from doing their job properly, despite their best efforts.
We share a border with certain indigenous reserves and with the United States, and international rules make our officers’ work far more complicated. This means that a lot of illegal drugs and weapons are entering Canada and contributing to crime.
It is important to understand that criminals, especially Toronto gangs, get their weapons illegally. Huge numbers of weapons cross the U.S. border or arrive by ship in Montreal or Vancouver. We are therefore asking the government to invest major human and financial resources to fight this type of crime.
The influx of drugs like fentanyl is a serious threat to officers' health. At Canada Post, CBSA officers randomly inspect packages entering Canada, and those packages may contain extremely dangerous substances. A tiny dose of fentanyl or any opioid can be fatal. We need to keep in mind that this kind of work can be hugely stressful for individuals, just as it is for members of the military.
This bill will make it possible for members of the public to complain about deliberate or accidental conduct on the part of RCMP or CBSA officers.
Still, we need to understand the position we are putting these officers in and be judicious. That is why we have to listen to what the officers' union has to say.
The examples I gave earlier illustrate situations in which officers have to make decisions. They have to face dangerous situations. Sometimes, if they react reflexively or have to make snap decisions, they may say or do things they should not.
For this reason, I hope that the commission that reviews the complaints will have a balanced approach. I find that the blame too often falls on officials, police officers and the military. When I was in the army, we were often aware of this during operational deployments. I remember very well that, during the war in Bosnia, we often had to follow UN rules and send soldiers into a conflict zone and tell them that, if they made a mistake or did something wrong, we would not be there to defend them. They would be responsible for their actions.
We were representing our country, going to a war zone in a foreign country, but, at the same time, we were being warned to be careful not to get into trouble, otherwise we would be on our own.
This type of situation often causes psychological stress for RCMP officers and border service officials. At some point, these people wonder whether or not they should take action. If, for fear of reprisal, they decide not to take action, this may create a situation that will cause problems elsewhere. In the case of drug control, for example, if the official is afraid to take action, the drugs will end up somewhere else. I do not have any concrete examples to give, but I believe that everyone listening to us can understand what I am trying to say.
I would also like to briefly address our correctional services. I know that correctional services are not covered by Bill . However, I would like to remind the House that, when we discussed Bill during the last Parliament, there was talk about the various resources available to Canada’s penitentiaries.
First, I would like to talk about syringes. Syringes were not part of Bill C-83. However, penitentiaries were asked to give prisoners syringes. The government provides prisoners with syringes, and they inject drugs illegally obtained in prison. It can be difficult to accept and understand how drugs could be illegally obtained in prison and how syringes could be provided so that prisoners can inject these illegally obtained drugs.
Ideally, we should be preventing prisoners from obtaining drugs in prison. There is an easy way to do so, as set out in Bill C-83, and that is to acquire body scanners. Body scanners like the ones in airports, but more sophisticated, can detect 95% or more of anything hidden on a visitor’s body, whether drugs or other contraband. I will not list all the things that can be carried in a human body, but a body scanner can find them. That way, the government could avoid having to provide prisoners with syringes.
At the moment, I can say that there is a great deal of concern within the correctional service. Officers who work in penitentiaries are concerned for their own safety. Despite the fact that there is supposedly a syringe control system in place, needles can, for all sorts of reasons, end up somewhere else, and prisoners can use them to create weapons and do various things.
We expect the government to make this investment and deploy the 47 scanners that are required across Canada as soon as possible.
There are policies for the Border Services Agency. I can say that I am proud of what was done by the former Conservative government. In debates over the past few years, we were blamed for cutting $300 million from the Border Services Agency budget. That is absolutely false. There have been budget cuts in administration, but line officers have never been affected by the cuts. We have evidence, reports from the Library of Parliament complete with exact figures.
I am also proud of the measures taken by our government at the time. Officers were asked to be alone at guard posts at night. Officers were completely alone, left to their own devices. It was excessively dangerous, so we saw to it that there would now be at least two people on duty. We also armed our border officers. They had no weapons previously. How is it possible to intercept someone or take action in dangerous situations without a weapon? That is why we took steps to ensure that Canada is better protected.
Beyond Bill , which will give the public access to a complaints mechanism, our hope is to continue to work to improve border control and enhance Canada's overall security.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
As it is my first time rising in the 43rd Parliament, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the constituents of Richmond Hill, who bestowed on me the honour of representing them in the House. I thank my campaign manager, my riding association executive and the over 100 volunteers and friends who worked so hard to help me get re-elected.
I would especially like to acknowledge and thank my wife Homeira; my daughter Nickta and my son Meilaud, who have supported me in my political life over the past five years.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to rise at second reading of Bill . The bill proposes to create an independent review and complaint mechanism for the Canada Border Services Agency, the CBSA. I would like to highlight five significant components of the bill.
First, it would provide for civilian oversight.
Second, it would strengthen the accountability and transparency of the CBSA.
Third, it would ensure consistent, fair and equal treatment to all when receiving services.
Fourth, it would complement and align with other measures being taken by our government to create independent review functions for national security agencies.
Fifth, it would close a significant gap with the other Five Eyes international border agencies.
Such mechanisms help to promote public confidence by strengthening accountability. They ensure that complaints regarding employee conduct and service are dealt with transparently. CSIS, the RCMP and the Correctional Service of Canada are already subject to that kind of accountability.
Among the organizations that make up Canada's public safety portfolio, only the CBSA does not currently have a review body to handle public complaints. Bill would fill that glaring gap and build on recent accountability and transparency reforms introduced by the Government of Canada.
One of those reforms is the newly created National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. This new body addresses a long-standing need for parliamentarians to review the government's national security and intelligence activities and operations, including those involving the CBSA. Its members have unprecedented access to classified information.
As the has said, it “will help us ensure that our national security agencies continue to keep Canadians safe in a way that also safeguards our values, rights, and freedoms.”
The government has also brought into force a new expert review body, thanks to the passage of Bill , called the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency.
This new agency will greatly enhance how Canada's national security agencies are held to account. It will establish a single, independent agency authorized to conduct reviews on national security and intelligence activities carried out by departments and agencies across the Government of Canada, including the CBSA.
The legislation before us today would go one step further by establishing an independent review and complaints function for the CBSA's other activities. Those activities play a critical role in our country's security and economic prosperity. They facilitate the efficient flow of people and goods across our border to support our economy, while protecting the health and safety of Canadians.
In keeping with its sweeping mandate, the scale of the CBSA's operations and the number of people and goods it deals with are enormous. CBSA employees deliver a wide range of services at more than 1,000 locations, including 117 land border crossings, 13 international airports and 39 international offices.
The agency's employees are diligent and hard-working. In 2018-19, they interacted with more than 96 million travellers and processed more than 19 million commercial shipments and 54 million courier shipments.
The vast majority of the CBSA's interactions and transactions go off without a hitch. However, when dealing with more than a quarter of a million people each day, and nearly 100 million each year, the occasional complaint is inevitable. Each year the CBSA recourse directorate receives approximately 2,500 complaints concerning employee conduct and services.
Last summer, as I was knocking on doors in my riding of Richmond Hill, I talked to many residents, Canadian citizens and permanent residents alike, who regularly crossed the borders to and from the U.S. They shared their challenges with wait times, extensive and intrusive repeated questioning and the feeling of inferiority that it left them with. Repeatedly, they raised their concern about their inability to get answers about the way they were treated and their frustration with the lack of an independent body to raise their concerns.
However, as I noted earlier, there is currently no independent review body that people can turn to when they are unsatisfied with the level of service or the conduct of an officer at the border. That accountability gap has generated considerable public interest and been regularly raised by parliamentarians.
On that note, I would like to recognize and thank the now-retired Wilfred Moore for his advocacy on this issue with the introduction of Bill in the other place.
There have also been numerous calls by stakeholders and NGOs to improve CBSA accountability and transparency. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said that it considered “such a gap as being incompatible with democratic values and with a need for public trust in such an important agency.”
According to the late Professor Ron Atkey of York University, the lack of CBSA oversight presented “a problem in the makeup of the current security intelligence review mechanism”. He added that the creation of the committee of parliamentarians should not be considered as a substitute for independent expert review bodies, which he suggested should be extended to cover CBSA.
That is exactly what Bill would do. It proposes to establish an independent review mechanism for the CBSA by expanding and strengthening the existing Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, or CRCC. The CRCC is currently the review agency for the RCMP.
To reflect its proposed new responsibilities under Bill , it will be renamed the public complaints and review commission, or PCRC. The proposed new PCRC will be responsible for handling reviews and complaints for both the CBSA and the RCMP. The PCRC will be accessible to anyone who interacts with CBSA employees and has complaints about the conduct of CBSA officers and the quality of services.
The PCRC will also have the ability to conduct reviews of the CBSA on its own initiative or at the request of the . Those reviews could focus on any activity conducted by the CBSA, with the exception of national security matters.
With the passage of Bill , the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency will be responsible for complaints and reviews relating to national security, including those involving the RCMP and CBSA. The PCRC will work in a complementary manner with the proposed new National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. Provisions in Bill will facilitate information sharing and co-operation between the two bodies. If the PCRC were to receive those types of complaints, it would refer the complainants to the appropriate body.
By providing an independent arms-length mechanism for people to be heard, Bill would make them more comfortable to come forward with a complaint. That, in turn, would help ensure that Canadians would remain confident in the system of accountability for the agencies that work so hard to keep them safe.
That is why I urge hon. members of the House to join me in supporting this important legislation at second reading.
Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks, I would like to say it is wonderful to see you in that chair again. I am looking forward to following the great work that you have been doing in this Parliament and many others in the past.
I welcome the opportunity to add my voice to the debate of Bill at second reading. This bill would establish a public complaints and review commission by making amendments to the CBSA Act and the RCMP Act.
This is a tool for people to be heard. It would build on the existing Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, which is the independent review and complaints body for the RCMP. This new commission would then consider public complaints about both CBSA and RCMP employee conduct on service issues, except those related to national security. The review of national security activities is conducted by the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency.
For nearly 16 years, the CBSA has been an integral part of how we protect Canadians and maintain a peaceful and safe society. The over 14,000 women and men of the CBSA provide trusted, fair and equal treatment to the public they serve every day.
Most, if not all, of us here in the House interact with CBSA employees multiple times a year, if not every week. That might occur at one of the 117 land border crossings CBSA manages, at one of the 13 international airports at which it operates, at one of Canada's numerous marinas or major ports, or at one of 27 rail sites across the country.
In fiscal year 2018-19 alone, CBSA employees interacted with over 96 million travellers, conducted over four million traveller examinations, processed over 21 million commercial shipments and 46 million courier shipments. Their jobs include interdicting illegal goods, protecting food safety, enforcing trade remedies and removing or detaining those who may pose a threat or are otherwise inadmissible. I know I speak on behalf of all of us in the House when I commend their professionalism and dedication.
If I ever had a complaint to lodge against any government agency, I would like to be assured that the complaint was investigated and assessed independently. That is what citizens of our peer countries have come to expect, and it is what Canadians should expect as well.
Bill would fill a gap in our security review landscape. The CBSA is the only organization in the public safety portfolio without its own review body. The review mechanism we are proposing has long been sought after.
Allow me to take a look at the support for creating such a body. The Canadian Human Rights Commission has said, “we have joined the call for independent monitoring and oversight of the Canada Border Services Agency in relation to migrants and other foreign nationals in detention.” That is on top of similar calls to action from civil liberties associations and refugee lawyers, to name just a few. That is on top of numerous calls to enhance CBSA accountability and transparency.
In December 2015, the Hon. Senator Moore introduced Bill in the other place, proposing the creation of an inspector general to consider such complaints. In that same year, the report by the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, entitled “Vigilance, Accountability and Security at Canada's Borders”, made a similar recommendation. The committee recommended that the “Government of Canada establish an independent, civilian review and complaints body for all Canada Border Services Agency activities.”
We took that one step further. With respect to national security activities, we have brought into force a separate National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. That agency has the authority to review national security and intelligence-related functions across government, including the CBSA. To be clear, Bill would allow for independent review of non-national security activities only.
The new public complaints and review commission would not only be required to investigate complaints it receives, but would also be able to conduct its own investigations, self-initiate complaints and produce an annual public report on its findings. These are all welcome and long-sought-after changes.
Indeed, it is difficult to imagine any major contentions with this bill. It fills the critical gap in providing an independent review for complaints relating to CBSA employee conduct and service. It ensures all immigration detainees have access to an independent complaints mechanism. It provides ongoing capacity for conducting reviews that can lead to organizational enhancements. It clarifies the framework governing CBSA's response to serious incidents. It enhances accountability and transparency, and promotes public confidence. It brings us in line with our Five Eyes allies in other developed countries and their processes.
Our government is committed to creating robust accountability and transparency mechanisms that ensure the public is confident in our public safety institutions. That is important for Canadians, including for the trade and travel communities within Canada. It is also important for the CBSA. The proposed new public complaints and review commission would be accessible to all individuals who interact with CBSA employees. This would impact thousands of people daily and tens of millions annually.
Bill is thorough, comprehensive legislation that neatly responds to the calls to action of many over the years. I encourage all members to join me in supporting this bill and moving it through Parliament in this sitting session.