The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour to participate in a debate in this chamber.
Also on many occasions, as we have come to expect in this place, it is not uncommon for members of the official opposition to debate in opposition to a government bill.
I am afraid that will not be the case today. I am participating in the debate on Bill , an act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and the Canada Border Services Agency Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. I will support this measure.
I have been asked why, as a member of the opposition, I would participate in a debate on a bill that I support.
It is a fair question. The answer, from my perspective, is why I am here today to take part in this debate.
For my first term of office I was elected in a riding that is very close to the U.S. border. Some parts of the riding I currently represent are a very short car ride to the Canada-U.S. border.
As other members of this place will know, when one's riding is either very near or includes a Canada-U.S. border crossing, one will deal with some significant and challenging border issues.
I want to share one of these challenging border issues with the House.
Not long after I was first elected, the provincial MLA in my region contacted me, a newly minted MP. The priest at a temple in the area, who legally lives in Canada, had gone on a weekend jaunt to the United States.
Upon return to Canada, at the Canadian border, the priest was detained for a period of time before ultimately being released with a seven-day deportation order.
The reason given by the Canada Border Services Agency for the deportation order was that the priest was not legally living in Canada. There was a problem, however. For whatever reason, the officers dealing with the priest that day wanted nothing of it. The MLA who had first been alerted to the situation tried to intervene on behalf of the priest.
To put it bluntly, that member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia was blown off. When the issue hit my desk, there were just four days before the deportation. From reviewing the paperwork, it was very clear an injustice had occurred, but what was the recourse? Where was the accountability?
It was, from my perspective, an alarming situation.
Because his paperwork had not been reviewed, because he had been issued a deportation order without a valid reason, and because I find it very troubling that power was being exercised with no oversight, I ended up sharing my concerns directly with the minister at the time.
From my experience, I have come to know that there are those ministers who run their departments, and there are also those ministers who are run by their departments. Fortunately, the minister at the time knew that department inside out and had the courage to tell the department they had made an error.
An injustice was remedied and the deportation order was cancelled. I am proud to announce that the priest is still in Canada and that he is now serving the city of Merritt. His family is proud of his new country. I am not here to take the credit. If anyone should get the credit it is the provincial MLA who reached out to me and is now retired.
Of course I will fully credit the minister for not hiding behind the department, as some ministers are prone to do.
While ultimately this was a quiet, good-news story at the time, there was one further bit of troubling information for me.
I learned that the CBSA officers involved in this case were able to change the facts afterwards. In other words, the facts were changed after the incident. They were changed in such a way that the reasons for the deportation order were completely different than the reasons given initially. Although I am pleased with the outcome for the priest, the matter is engraved on my memory. I often wonder about this situation.
What would have happened if this man was not a fairly well-known priest who called his MLA for help?
What would have happened had the MLA refused to help him and said that it was a federal jurisdiction?
What would have happened if the MLA was a member of the opposition party?
At that time, I was on the same side of the House as the government. What if the minister in question was one who hid behind the department, as some like to do?
We could make many other assumptions, but practically none would result in a situation where justice is served.
I think we all know that there never really has been serious accountability at the border crossing, and this applies to both sides. Will this bill be the answer?
It is difficult to say. We shall see.
We all know that if the bill passes, the public complaints review commission would be created and would incorporate the existing Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, the review agency for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This would be a large oversight body with two different mandates between the RCMP and CBSA.
Given the challenges in the very complex review process of the RCMP, it remains to be seen how adding CBSA into the fold would work. However, this process deserves the opportunity to attempt to succeed.
There is no question in my mind, and from what I have heard today from many in this room, that more accountability is needed at border crossings. While I do not mean to belittle us as members of Parliament, we cannot always hope that a member of Parliament is the solution for incorrect events that occur at the border.
For these reasons, I am prepared to support this legislation. I believe the legislation is a reasonable and needed effort to provide more accountability for what occurs at our border crossings.
I appreciate your presence today, Mr. Speaker, and I appreciate all the members of this great House, and I would like to thank them for listening to me so intently. I look forward to hearing both their questions and comments, and hopefully we can share something to the benefit of the Canadian public.
Mr. Speaker, I am very grateful today to have the opportunity to debate Bill , which would create an independent oversight body, the public review and complaints commission, to review CBSA officers' conduct and conditions and handle specific complaints. This body would be a welcome addition to the strong accountability and oversight bodies already in place.
As I have seen, the bill has broad support in the House. I welcome the previous speaker's support and also that of the hon. member for . He said:
Public servants across the country must be held to the standards expected of Canadians, which is to uphold the integrity of people who are visiting or passing through our country, while ensuring our laws and international laws are upheld.
He went on to add, “This bill will align well with the values of many Canadians” and the values of his party's team.
I also welcome the comments from the member for , who expressed his gratitude for the bill being introduced. Likewise, the member for provided supportive words, noting that his party would certainly be supporting the bill at second reading.
This multipartisan support is very encouraging, and I thank all members for helping to ensure the bill is as strong as it can be moving forward.
One thing that all members of the House agree on is the quality of the work that our border service officers do at the CBSA. The CBSA processes millions of travellers and shipments every year at multiple points across Canada and abroad.
Let us just look at some of the numbers. I know they have been mentioned in the chamber already in this debate, but it warrants repeating: 97 million travellers, 27 million cars, 34 million air passengers, 21 million commercial releases. Every day at 13 international airports, 117 land border crossings, 27 rail sites and beyond, CBSA officers provide consistent and fair treatment to travellers and traders.
This is particularly important because, as we know, travelling can be very stressful. For those who are more vulnerable, for asylum seekers, for those who do not speak either of our official languages, for those with disabilities, for those on the autism spectrum and for travellers who are travelling for the first time, it can be intimidating and even frightening to cross a border point.
As the has said, the CBSA officers' professionalism when dealing with people crossing our borders is of the utmost importance. He has said that they are the most public of public servants, and they truly are the face of Canada.
For visitors, newcomers or Canadians returning home, our border officers are their first encounter. However, much more than that, they are responsible for upholding the integrity of Canada's borders. That means their work is integral to Canada's well-being. We are at a junction where border management and enforcement are truly front and centre for the government and for Canadians.
Nearly one year ago, the government introduced a federal budget, proposing investments of $1.25 billion for the CBSA. That funding includes support to modernize some of our land ports of entry and border operations, with the goals of ensuring efficiency and enhancing security. Members will recall that budget 2019 provided funds to close this important gap.
The idea has been to expand the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, or the CRCC, to act as an independent review body for the RCMP and the CBSA. That is why the government introduced Bill last year, which received all-party support at third reading. It is why we are now introducing Bill , with more time for debate and discussion. This bill aligns well with our commitment to accountability and transparency.
Under the proposals, the PCRC would handle reviews and complaints for both CBSA and the RCMP. Whether the complaints are about the quality of services or the conduct of officers, the PCRC would have the ability to review, on its own initiative or at the request of the minister, any non-national security activity of the CBSA. The PCRC would be available and accessible to anyone who interacts with the CBSA or RCMP employees and who seeks recourse. That includes Canadian citizens, permanent residents and foreign nationals, including immigrant detainees. The commission would investigate and offer its conclusions as to whether procedures at the border are appropriate or not.
These proposals would bring the CBSA in line with the rest of our security agencies, including CSIS and the RCMP, which are currently subject to independent review.
These accountability functions for border agencies are common in our peer countries and this bill would help us join that group. All of us would like to ensure that the public can continue to expect the world-class treatment the CBSA provides.
The CBSA has worked to ensure it has the resources and infrastructure in place to support this new review board. It already holds its employees to a high standard of conduct, and I am confident it will continue to uphold that standard.
As I have mentioned, this is coming at a time of renewed focus at our border. The agency is operating in a complex and dynamic environment. It must be responsive to evolving threats, adaptive to global economic trends and innovative in its use of technology to manage increasing cross-border volumes. Let us remember that some of those threats and trends are some of the greatest challenges facing parliamentarians and Canadians today.
The opioid crisis continues to pose a serious threat to the safety of Canadians, for example, and the CBSA plays a key role in detecting opioids at the border through new tools and methods. We have also seen rising rates of gun and gang violence in recent years. Again, the CBSA is front and centre here, remaining vigilant in combatting the illegal smuggling of firearms. It is keeping pace with rising volumes in the supply chain, including the growing prevalence of e-commerce. It is central to our economy and to our country's overall prosperity and competitiveness. It is undertaking all of this hugely important work in an environment where its clients demand a high level of accountability and transparency.
The professional men and women at our borders would be well served by an independent review function for the CBSA. Canadians deserve it as well. That is why I encourage all members to join me in supporting Bill today.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me to stand in the House today to give my maiden speech.
I would like to thank my constituents in Port Moody—Coquitlam, Anmore and Belcarra for electing me and allowing me the privilege to serve as their member of Parliament.
I would like to thank my volunteers for knocking on thousands of doors through pouring rain and sweltering heat, and walking up many flights of stairs and steep hills to help me be here today. I am also grateful to my campaign chairs and managers, our EDA and generous donors for their incredible support.
From the idyllic Como Lake to the deep cedar forests of Anmore, the misty blue and green of Rocky Point and the pastel sunrises of Bedwell Bay, I am blessed to be part of a caring and diverse community that lives in the midst of breathtaking natural beauty.
As I was door knocking during my campaign, constituents expressed their concerns on affordability, housing, home ownership, bureaucratic red tape that hinders businesses from thriving, better access to mental health care, employment, the environment, infrastructure and many more issues. Today I want to renew my commitment to my constituents to keep working hard and do my best to ensure their needs are heard and dealt with.
I am blessed because of the prayers and encouragement of friends who cheered me on to the finish line and who continue to nourish my soul on this political path. I would like to thank my parents for their unconditional support and the values of sacrifice, perseverance and hard work they instilled as I watched them struggle to settle into Canada as first-generation immigrants. I would like to thank my sisters for their support as we continue to journey closely together through thick and thin.
I am here today because of the people who shaped me, the circumstances I have lived through, the choices I have made and a measure of providence. In 2008, after seven years of working for the public school system, I came to a crossroad very much like the one alluded to in Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken. I was grateful for the opportunities I had every day to make a positive impact on my students as a high school English and music teacher, but I felt a longing to explore more of what life had to offer.
My hunger for greater purpose and meaning in life compelled me to leave my permanent job and sell my home. I was then ushered into a wilderness journey of living within limited means, serving the hurting and the marginalized, and learning about the complexities of the human condition as I served as a missionary in different urban centres. I found myself listening to a lot of stories from the homeless, impoverished families, young drug addicts and adult survivors of childhood trauma. My heart broke and expanded as I came to a better understanding of the depth of human suffering, the cycles of dysfunction and the power of hope. I found joy in serving. I discovered that my life work is to help restore people's lives.
I am here today as a member of Parliament to continue working through the life assignment I discovered in the wilderness. I come with a vision of individual and national prosperity and filling in the gaps to make that vision possible.
I am grateful to be serving with a dynamic team of MPs and leaders in Her Majesty’s loyal opposition. I am coming to love each member as a brother or a sister. As a pianist, composer and supporter of the arts, I am particularly grateful for my appointment as deputy shadow minister of Canadian Heritage. My view of the Canadian heritage portfolio is to strengthen the patriotism and unity of our diverse nation through the cultural institutions of our country. I look forward to the work I will be doing with the ; shadow minister, the —
I apologize, Madam Speaker. It was a rookie mistake.
I look forward to working with ministers and my colleagues across the aisle on this unique and dynamic portfolio.
When I look around this room at other members, I see passion for people and passion for causes. Whether or not we share the same views, we are all here because we have a part in a greater purpose. That greater purpose is to serve the people of Canada and their well-being, and to steward well the land we live on. I value the role of different political parties as important parts of a greater ecosystem to prune, refine and balance our mandates as lawmakers.
I hope we will always look to the people we serve as the heartbeat of our work and do so with the integrity, common sense and unity that Canadians expect of us and deserve. So many times at the door my constituents expressed their longing to see the parties working together for the greater good. They say more would get done.
I trust the 43rd Parliament we are serving in will provide ample opportunities for us to hit the reset button on Canadian politics and build a culture of honour that allows public discourse to unfold in a safe manner that allows transparency and constructive discussions to thrive.
On that note I would like to thank the Liberal government for bringing forward Bill for consideration. I support the bill because issues pertaining to the protection of Canadians in our communities is of great importance.
From what I have learned, Bill was introduced in the 42nd Parliament and reintroduced in our current session with slight modifications as Bill . Bill C-3 proposes to repurpose and rename the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP to the public complaints and review commission.
I would like to thank the RCMP and CBSA members for their service of hard work to protect Canadians.
Public servants across our nation must be held to a standard to uphold the integrity of people who are visiting or passing through our country, while ensuring our laws and international laws are upheld. Therefore, an oversight agency, as used by police services across our nation, including the RCMP, is agreeable and long overdue.
Budget 2019 proposes to invest $24.42 million over five years starting in 2019-20, and $6.83 million per year ongoing, to expand the mandate of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. It is good to know that a budget has already been allocated.
Where I would like more certainty is on the efficacy of how the government will implement Bill in practice.
Oversight is a good thing. People need assurance that there is someone who will be able to look into actions that are not consistent with the law. The implementation of the bill should not be another expansion of bureaucracy. The public complaints and review commission should have investigative powers and the ability to review situations, provide feedback and determine the course of action and its scope and scale with anyone who violates our laws.
Bill would provide a mechanism for complaints about inappropriate actions by border officers. Police agencies have had civilian oversight and review for decades. It is common practice around the world to provide mechanisms for overseeing law enforcement.
However, to my knowledge, the bill is not clear on how officers who violate the law, code or principle will be held accountable. It is only clear that the public complaints and review committee can examine evidence, call witnesses and write a report.
Without clarity on how the officers will be heId to account, we run the risk of creating bureaucracy that appears to provide a mechanism of assurance for Canadians but that, in practice, will not resolve the issues addressed.
While I support this important legislation, I look forward to seeing how the House and the committee will examine the bill with proper scrutiny to provide certainty that it will be a bill that will be very practical and steer us toward just actions and resolutions, rather than giving the appearance of protection to Canadians.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate on Bill , which is an uncontroversial starting place for this Parliament, given the fact that there is quite broad support.
Clearly, an independent review body for the Canada Border Services Agency is a significant and welcome proposal. This is not only because it strengthens accountability and trust among Canadians, but also because it improves Canadians' overall experience with our world-class border services.
In travel and trade, Canadians have come to expect exceptional service at the border. For the overwhelming number of people who cross our borders each day, that is what they receive: exceptional service. With 96 million interactions with travellers each year, there will inevitably be a few mistakes made. We have all heard that it is relatively small, in terms of the number of complaints, but still significant enough that it merits an independent review body.
The other thing I would like to say is that lots of activity at our border is a testament to what we have achieved in Canada. It marks a healthy country and a healthy economy.
When it happens that there are complaints, we need to ensure that our system is as accountable as it can be for Canadians. Internationally, when we are compared to our closest allies, Canada is alone in not having a dedicated review body for complaints regarding our border agency. In fact, the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand all have these independent review bodies. Domestically, the CBSA is the only organization within the public safety portfolio that does not have an independent review body.
While most CBSA activities, such as customs and immigration decisions, are already subject to independent review, that is not the case when dealing with public complaints related to CBSA employee conduct and service. When thinking of large service organizations, and I have worked for a few, it is quite common to have these independent review mechanisms. People can provide feedback; it is really crucial for constant improvement in public service, and I would say it is considered a best practice.
That is why Bill is the next logical step. We have made major inroads in ensuring the accountability and review of our public safety agencies, including CSIS, RCMP and the Correctional Service of Canada. Under these proposals, if we are once again able to secure all-party support, as Bill did just eight months ago, we will welcome the newly minted public complaints and review commission, PCRC. This would be an important new tool for Canadians, building on the existing Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.
The PCRC would have the strong mandate of reviewing public complaints about both CBSA and RCMP employee conduct or service issues, with the exception, of course, of national security issues. What does that mean? That means Canadians can continue to expect fair, consistent and equal treatment at our border. This builds public trust, which I know we all believe in. It would mean more opportunities for the CBSA to enhance its services, developing service standards that broadly cover our Border Services Agency.
I know that everyone in this House would agree that these proposed new measures are critical for an organization that deals with an incredible volume of travellers and trade around the clock. I would like to remind members that complaints could come from a wide variety of issues, not just the conduct of officers. For example, let us say I have had an excessive wait time, long lineups or security checks that are improperly conducted. I could then, with this initiative, register a complaint. The PCRC would be there to ensure the complaint was heard, processed and examined in a thorough and timely way.
I would also like to remind the House that it would not just be a mechanism for receiving complaints; it would also review non-national security activities carried out by the CBSA and RCMP, providing Canadians with public reports on those activities. For example, it would help us find answers to key questions like whether the CBSA's policies and procedures are adequate, appropriate and sufficient; whether the CBSA is compliant with the law and with ministerial directions; and whether the CBSA is using its authorities in a reasonable and necessary way.
When the proposed new PCRC reports its findings on these matters, the CBSA must respond. This is a critical tool to have in place. Independent review processes are well known and create the objective third party mechanism to encourage the reporting of any misconduct and any other feedback. I think that is important.
Particularly, as I mentioned before, as we move toward the border of the future, Canada's airports, for example, are faced with growing numbers of air travellers as business and leisure continue to globalize with volumes rising across all lines of business. Security and international considerations are becoming more complex. Technologies like blockchain are developing and changing rapidly, with a wide impact on border services.
The border of the future will allow for faster processing of goods and travellers, better intelligence and more seamless travel for everyone. Whatever the future brings, the CBSA understands the need to think and act broadly and to be responsive to the needs of Canadians and the world. It also understands that when problems arise in this changing environment, it cannot be expected to review them all internally. An arm's-length, independent review body must be put in place. That would allow the CBSA to focus on consistent and fair service for Canadians as it meets the challenges of the future and it would give the public confidence that they have recourse when problems do arise, however few they may be.
Bill would bring Canada more closely in line with other countries' accountability bodies for their border agencies, including those of our Five Eyes allies. This is all about providing border services that keep Canadians safe and improve public trust and confidence. This bill would ensure that the public can continue to expect consistent, fair and equal treatment by CBSA employees.
I encourage all members of the House to join me in moving this important bill forward.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the Conservatives for sharing this time with me so that I can speak to this important bill. As other members have pointed out, this has been a long time coming, and it is something civil society organizations and citizens have been asking for.
CBSA officers are on the front lines at our borders and do important and valuable work. CBSA officers interact with 95 million travellers every year. It is important that the work they do is recognized and that the people who step up to do that job are respected and recognized for the work they do. My sister was a police officer in the OPP for 24 years. My uncle served in the RCMP. I spent time with them on ride-alongs and saw the work they do. I have talked with their colleagues and documented some of the work they do. Just like the folks who are here to serve and protect us as part of our parliamentary security, these are people who step up to serve and protect our communities, and it is important to respect the work they do.
However, there can be complaints that come forward to the media. The last time we were debating this topic as Bill , there was a complaint brought forward to the media by a woman who had been mishandled by the CBSA. She had been strip-searched, felt the whole process was arbitrary, and did not have the confidence to complain to the CBSA about what had happened to her. In 2016 to 2018, there were 1,200 cases of alleged misconduct by CBSA employees. These are the things that can taint an organization that employs many people. There were 228 cases of neglect of duty, 183 cases of discreditable conduct on duty, 59 cases of harassment, 38 cases of criminal association, 25 cases of abuse of authority, seven cases of assault, five cases of intimidation, five cases of uttering threats, five cases of sexual assault and four cases of smuggling. There have been accusations of racism and other things happening at the border.
Most people do not realize that when they cross the border, they are in a legal no man's land and have very few rights. The CBSA has extensive powers to take blood and saliva samples, to access data on computers and ask for passwords, to conduct strip searches, to detain people and to arrest non-citizens. We have had 14 deaths since 2000 in CBSA detention centres, and there has been no independent review of these deaths or any potential criminal implications for any wrongdoing. It is very important to bring the CBSA into the same process that all of our other security forces have with respect to oversight bodies, so having a public complaints and review commission is really important.
There are a couple of things in this bill we would like to see adapted and changed.
The RCMP Act, under the ineligibility paragraph at subsection 45.29(2), excludes current and former members from serving on the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. Under the act, “member” has a specific definition, and means an employee of the RCMP. Presumably, this should be amended so the current and former agents of the CBSA should also be excluded from sitting on the public complaints and review commission. It is incumbent that it be independent, because somebody who has served with the CBSA may have colleagues who are being called forward with respect to a complaint. Therefore, it needs to be completely at arm's length if we do not want this continued relationship.
When one is in these security organizations as a police officer, it is like a brotherhood or sisterhood. These people think the best of their officers, and they want to believe the best of them.
This was the case for my sister when she was in the OPP. She was at the Ipperwash inquiry, looking into the wrongdoing of fellow officers. At first, she had trouble believing they could be involved in the wrongful death of Dudley George. In that inquiry, some of the worst behaviour of certain members of the OPP came out. It is important that it is an independent body that looks at these behaviours and reviews it properly.
Another thing we would like to see changed is some notification for people who are to be deported. There is a case of a gentleman named Richard Germaine, who is an indigenous man. He was born in California, lived his whole life in Penelakut Island, which is in the Cowichan—Malahat—Langford riding. He is married. He is a community leader.
Right before Christmas, without any warning or knowledge that his citizenship papers were in any sort of disarray so he could take some steps toward it, CBSA officials showed up at his home. They put him leg irons and took him away in front of his wife, who is a residential school survivor. This traumatized her, their children and their grandchildren. They took him in a van to a detention centre in Vancouver, where he was ordered to be deported as quickly as possible. He had no idea what was happening to him.
Fortunately, he was working with an ethnobotanist at the University of Victoria. The member for helped, working with the minister, to ensure Germaine was taken out of detention.
I realize that some people might cut and run with a notification, but in this case, it clearly shows that just showing up right before Christmas, putting somebody in leg irons and dragging the person away is not appropriate. That is another aspect we would like to see amended.
We share concerns about how this will be funded to ensure the public review complaints commission has adequate funds to do its work.
However, we think this is an important legislation to pass. CBSA should have the same kind of oversight that other police agencies and security agencies have in the country.
Madam Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to add my voice to the debate of Bill at second reading. This important piece of legislation would amend the Canada Border Services Agency Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act to establish a new public complaints and review commission for both organizations. This would give the CBSA its own independent review body for the first time.
Transparency and accountability are extremely important in any context. That certainly includes the public safety and national security sphere. Canadians need to have trust and confidence in the people and agencies that work so hard to protect them. Right now, among the family of organizations that make up the public safety portfolio, only the CBSA lacks a full-fledged independent review body dedicated to it.
The RCMP has had such a body since 1988, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. The CRCC reviews complaints from the public about conduct of RCMP members and conducts reviews when complainants are not satisfied with the RCMP's handling of their complaints. This process ensures public complaints are examined fairly and impartially.
Canada also has an office of the correctional investigator, which provides independent oversight of Correctional Service Canada. The correctional investigator essentially serves as an ombudsman for federal offenders. The main responsibility of the office is to investigate and try to resolve offender complaints. The office is also responsible for reviewing and making recommendations on CSC policies and procedures related to those complaints, the goal being to ensure areas of concern are identified and appropriately addressed.
The CBSA really stands out in this context.
Before I go any further, it is important to point out that a fair number of CBSA's activities are already subject to independent oversight through existing bodies. Customs-related matters, for example, are handled by the Canadian International Trade Tribunal. With the passage of Bill , the CBSA's national security-related activities are now being overseen by Canada's new National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. This agency is an independent, external body that can report on any national security or intelligence-related activity carried out by federal departments and agencies. It has the legal mandate and expertise to review national security activities and serves an important accountability function in our democracy.
However, a major piece is missing in the architecture of public safety and national security oversight and accountability. There is currently no mechanism for public complaints about the CBSA to be heard and considered. That is a significant oversight, given the scope of the agency's mandate and the sheer volume of its interactions with the public.
CBSA employees deal with thousands of people each day and tens of millions each year. They do so at approximately 1,200 service points across Canada and at 39 international airports and locations. In the last fiscal year alone, border officers interacted with 96 million travellers, both Canadians and foreign nationals, and that is just one aspect of its business. It is a massive, complex and impressive operation. We can all be proud of having such a professional, world-class border services agency.
In the vast majority of cases, the CBSA's interactions with the public happen without incident. Our employees work with the utmost professionalism in delivering border services to those entering the country. However, on rare occasions, and for whatever reason, things go less than smoothly. That is not unusual. People are human and we cannot expect everything they do will be perfect all the time. However, that does not mean there should not be a fair and appropriate way for people to air their grievances. If people are unhappy with the way they were treated at the border, or the level of service they received, they need to know that someone will hear their complaint in an independent manner. Needless to say, that is currently not the case.
The way things currently work is that if a member of the public makes a complaint about the CBSA, it is handled internally. In other words, the CBSA investigates itself. In recent years, a number of parliamentarians, commentators and observers have raised concerns about this problematic accountability gap. To rectify the situation, they have called for an independent review body specific to the CBSA. Bill would answer that call.
Under Bill , the existing Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP would be given new powers and remain the public complaints and review commission, or PCRC. The newly established PCRC would consider complaints related to conduct or service issues involving either CBSA or RCMP employees. Those who believe they have had a negative interaction with a CBSA employee would have the option of turning to the PCRC for remedy and would have one year to do so.
The same would continue to be the case with respect to the RCMP. This would apply to Canadian citizens, permanent residents and foreign nationals. That includes people detained in CBSA's immigration holding centres, who would be able to submit complaints related to their conditions of detention or treatment while in detention.
The complaints function is just one part of the proposed new PCRC. The commission would also have an important review function. It would conduct reviews related to non-national security activities involving CBSA and the RCMP, since national security, as I noted earlier, is now in the purview of the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. The findings and recommendations of the PCRC would be non-binding. However, the CBSA would be required to provide a response to those findings and recommendations for all the complaints. I believe that combining these functions into one agency is the best way forward.
The existing CRCC already performs these functions for the RCMP, and the proposals in the bill would build on the success and expertise it has developed. Combining efforts may also generate efficiencies of scale and allow for resources to be allocated to priority areas. On that note, I certainly recognize that additional resources would be required for the PCRC, given its proposed new responsibilities and what that would mean in terms of workload.
That is why I am pleased that budget 2019 included nearly $25 million over five years, starting this fiscal year, and an additional $6.83 million per year ongoing to expand the mandate of the CRCC. That funding commitment has also been positively received by stakeholders. With Bill , the government is taking a major step toward enhancing CBSA independent review and accountability in a big way.
I was encouraged to see an apparent consensus of support for this bill in our debate so far. As we know, just eight months ago, the previous form of this bill, Bill , received all-party support during third reading in the House during the last Parliament. In reintroducing this bill, we have taken into consideration points that were previously raised by the opposition parties, and we hope to rely on their continued support.
The changes proposed in Bill are appropriate and long overdue. They would give Canadians greater confidence in the border agencies that serve them and they would bring Canada in line with international norms in democratic countries. That includes the systems already in place with some of our closest allies, such as the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.
I am proud to be supporting this important piece of legislation. I will be voting in favour of this bill at second reading and I urge all of my hon. colleagues to do the same when the time comes.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to join the debate on Bill today. I imagine all the masses sitting at home huddled in front of their TVs watching this on CPAC are quite surprised to see every party stand up and support the bill. I am pleased to support it in general as well. The 18 people at home watching on CPAC probably outnumber those at home watching CBC right now.
Before I get into my general speech, I want to make some comments regarding the oversight committee and its independence from the minister.
A couple of days ago we were debating an opposition day motion about doing a review of the Parole Board and the Parole Board process for appointees, in light of the release of a previous killer into the streets to kill again.
I bring that up because during the debate, some government members intervened and put through an amendment to change that to condemn not the Parole Board, which knew about the situation of the man visiting a prostitute, but to condemn the parole officer and make the officer the scapegoat, rather than blaming the Parole Board in general.
I worry that instead of focusing on the process in general and the lack of training and the lack of resources, the new oversight committee will go after individual CBSA officers, so I look forward to the bill getting to committee and seeing this issue being brought up so that there is a clear delineation between the government and the board. I hope the oversight committee is appointed through a transparent process and not through patronage appointments of underskilled people, perhaps like the people on the Parole Board who released that murderer.
There is another thing I want to bring up, and I am really glad that so many people have it brought up already. I want to thank CBSA officers who are working to protect and serve Canadians.
CBSA has been one of our best government departments in hiring veterans. A rule was brought through by the Conservatives stating that if anyone serves on our military and is released for medical reasons, that individual will go to the very top of the hiring charts in the public service. After that, before anyone else, is the individual who retired from the military after serving three years in uniform.
We brought in legislation as well that recognized their seniority. If someone has served Canada for 15 years, perhaps served overseas or served five years in Afghanistan, that time serving Canada would be recognized when the individual joins the public service. These seniority rights would count towards vacation and in work scheduling.
We have a lot of problems with getting government departments to hire veterans, but CBSA is probably at the top and has done the greatest job. However, we heard that the Liberal government bargained away seniority rights from veterans who had been medically discharged and had joined the public service.
It is nice to hear members of all parties in the House today praise the CBSA and all the workers, but I hope they put their talking points aside and stand with the CBSA veterans who served our country overseas, those who were perhaps medically discharged or who served in uniform and then found a job with CBSA. I hope members stand together and demand the Liberal government bring back seniority rights for those veterans who are now working with the CBSA.
That said, I want to get to Bill itself.
The backgrounder says that CBSA ensures Canada's security and prosperity by facilitating and overseeing international travel and trade across Canada's border and interact with thousands of Canadians and visitors to Canada at airports, land border crossing ports and other locations, ensuring a free flow of people and goods across the border.
It continues to say that “the government recognizes that robust accountability mechanisms can help ensure that the public trusts Canada's public safety institutions.”
I want to make sure that we actually have robust oversight of the oversight. It is kind of like the Watchmen comic book, “Who's Watching the Watchmen?”. I want to make sure that these are not just people fulfilling some government agenda, as was suggested during the debate on the opposition day motion, when there was an attempt to make the parole officer the scapegoat instead of addressing the general issues at large.
Bill would also legislate a framework for handling a serious incident regarding CBSA personnel. This includes giving the PCRC responsibility to track and report on serious incidents. That is great, but I want to come back to the CBSA officers.
As I mentioned during a previous intervention, we have serious issues with the cultural structure of the CBSA. I mentioned how the government stripped veterans' benefits from those serving in CBSA. During the most recent employee survey within CBSA, 63% of the members said they do not believe they can bring up concerns without fear of reprisal.
Remember, this is the same government that, when it was presented with a unanimous report from all three parties in the last Parliament to strengthen whistle-blower protection to protect public servants, Scott Brison threw it in the garbage.
We had an operations committee on TV, with a commitment from Scott Brison to come back to explain what his government was doing. He did not come back. For five months before he left the House, left Parliament, he refused to come back. I hope the new will come back and explain what the government is going to do to protect public servants.
Think about it. Almost two-thirds, 63%, of people at CBSA are afraid to come forward for fear of reprisal. In the operations committee, we heard what some of these reprisals were. Lives were destroyed, people were thrown out of work or blackballed from work. We heard of someone who brought up an issue, and the government actually sued the person.
When the whistle-blower blew the whistle on the Liberal government's payout to Omar Khadr, Liberals were not concerned about paying a confessed murderer $10.5 million. They spent tens of thousands of dollars investigating and going after the whistle-blower.
We have all the parties in the government saying CBSA officers are valued workers. The CBSA workers are saying they do not trust their senior managers or the government. We have a serious issue and I hope we will address these issues in ongoing legislation.
Another issue that came up is that 57% do not have confidence in senior management. These are the same workers who we are expecting to be exposed, in a way, and held to trial, in a way, by this new oversight process. It does not mention the oversight of the management, nor does it mention the fact that perhaps there is a culture of fear within the department. Again, I look forward to these things being hashed out at committee so we have a proper system.
Also, 51% do not believe senior management act ethically. Think about it. These are the people who are supposed to be stopping smuggled goods, protecting us from bad people coming across the border and dealing with hundreds of billions of dollars of trade throughout the year. However, 51% do not believe their managers act ethically, and 63% do not believe they can come forward to the government to bring this up without reprisals against them. Again, I hope these issues are brought up.
We have a lot of problems at CBSA. This is from the departmental plan the government tabled as part of the estimates process. Ralph Goodale tabled it last year, but these are some of the Liberals' goals for the coming year.
The percentage of high-risk commercial goods targeted by CBSA examined at the border was 94%, and 96% under the Conservatives. The Liberals' goal for this year we do not know. It actually says “to be decided”. Last year, the government put the goal for this year as “to be decided”.
For the percentage of threats identified that lead to an enforcement action or inadmissibility recommendation, the goal was 18%. They are saying only 18% of the threats identified would actually be held to enforcement. They are saying 80% of threats identified, they are not going to go after. This is a problem.
The percentage of high-priority foreign nationals removed for issues such as war crimes is 80%. They have dropped their goal from previous years, so their goal is only to remove 80% of war criminals from Canada.
The reason I bring this up is that it is a serious problem. If we look at the same departmental plan tabled by the government, over the next two years the Liberals are cutting $410 million from the budget, according to their plans. This is on top of $150 million that was cut from last year to this year.
The government wants to do this, this and this, but it is actually doing something completely opposite. I hope the government will get on track and support CBSA, and we will get on track and support this bill if it does so.
Madam Speaker, I want to assure the member for , since we are flying out of Ottawa at almost the same time today, that I have looked online and his flight to Winnipeg is on time. I was hoping that would be his question.
I was not quoting statistics earlier, I was quoting facts. These cuts are directly from the Public Accounts. The Speaker was on the public accounts committee, so she knows full well that these are actual numbers. These are not made-up numbers like the Liberals throw around all the time, like saying they have housed 100 million people in their housing program, which is not true, or that they have created this or that. These are actual, truthful numbers.
When I quote from the departmental plan, showing that it is reducing funding to CBSA by $410 million over the next couple of years, that is from its own plan on which its minister signed off. These are not made-up numbers. One side can say whatever it wants, but these are actual numbers.
As for what I would like to see put forward, although I am not on that committee, I would like to see a very strong overview plan so we protect Canadians who have legitimate complaints. However, I also do not want us to scapegoat the CBSA.
My colleague across the way mentioned there was support for this around the entire House. There was support from every party for our motion about a proper review of the Parole Board, but the government tried to change it to scapegoat the Parole Board officer and not the general problem.
I hope that in committee the members will look at a system that protects Canadians and protects CBSA officers and workers in general, but that it is not used for perhaps scapegoating someone to further the government agenda.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today on this stormy Friday in Quebec. Obviously, as usual, everything is going smoothly here in the House with no sign of a storm.
We are here on this Friday afternoon to talk about Bill , an act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and the Canada Border Services Agency Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. Essentially, this bill would create a committee that would oversee the operation of these two organizations. It is also the logical next step to a bill that was introduced and passed in the previous Parliament, Bill .
As members probably already heard from some of the previous speakers, the official opposition is in favour of this bill. I wanted to say that right off the top. However, we have some concerns that we will raise during the debate at first and second reading and in committee.
First, I would like to take this wonderful opportunity to pay tribute to those who work for the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency. Every day, they work to protect, sometimes at the risk of their own lives, our security both within Canada and at our border crossings.
We do not think about this often enough, but we are extraordinarily privileged to live in such a safe country. That is due to millions of Canadians, of course, but above all to the people whose job it is to protect us all. That includes the members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It also includes the officers who protect border crossings across Canada, both those working on the ground, right at the border, and those working in our airports and ports. We must not forget that we share the longest land border in the world with the United States, and we can be very proud of it because we know it is well guarded by these officers. We owe them so much.
As I was saying, this bill flows from another piece of legislation from the last Parliament. Members will recall that in 2015, the current government got itself elected by saying it would table a bill addressing the concerns this document is about.
Today, we can see that the people on the government side seem surprised that things are not moving along as fast as they hoped. I would remind them that, despite getting elected on that promise back in 2015, they did not table Bill C-98 until the very end of their first term. If they really thought it was so important, so integral, so essential, so vital to their commitment, they could have tabled that bill much sooner.
I will not mention certain promises that were not kept during the Liberals' first term, such as the “modest deficits” and the return to a balanced budget in 2019. However, this also proves that this government, which got itself elected on the strength of certain promises, did not accomplish what it said it would.
Since we are talking about border services, I want to share a sad episode in Canada's history, perhaps the saddest episode in the history of our border services. Unfortunately, this episode was not provoked by our workers, our employers, our public servants, our RCMP officers or our border services officers, but by the Prime Minister of Canada himself. He is the one who is fully responsible for the refugee crisis we have had and continue to have in Canada. We are sad to say that it has been nearly three years since the Prime Minister himself unwittingly created a crisis.
It was the evening of January 28, 2017. I remember because I got a Twitter alert on my smart phone indicating that the Prime Minister had just tweeted something.
The Prime Minister, who was all too happy to tweet something to outdo the Americans, but especially to give himself some brass and prestige on the world stage, wrote a tweet that essentially said, you are all welcome here in Canada. The Prime Minister's tweet came on the heels of the U.S. government's announcement that it was closing its doors to all refugees from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
That tweet set off a border crisis the likes of which we have never seen in this country. Over 40,000 people entered Canada illegally at Roxham Road, showing complete contempt and disregard for the honour and hard work of other people from around the world who followed the rules and dreamed of coming here to enrich Canada with their presence. Unfortunately, those 40,000 people got the Prime Minister's green light to come into Canada through the back door, which is illegal.
I am choosing my words carefully because I know that there is a war of words going on. Some people call it “irregular”, not “illegal”. If it is indeed irregular, why is there a huge sign at the entrance to Roxham Road saying that it is illegal to cross the border except at an official crossing?
Once something illegal has been done, how can it then be considered “irregular”?
This is a big deal. This is why those guys, the Liberals, are talking about irregularity instead of illegality. My colleagues and I have been asking the government for the last three years why there is a huge sign at the entrance of Roxham Road that says it is an illegal entrance. People cannot go there. It is illegal.
If the Liberals cannot accept what their own government is writing on signs they should resign, but they will not.
That is the problem with this government. It likes to crow about its lofty principles, wears its heart on its sleeve and brings everyone to tears talking about how Canada is the most beautiful, most wonderful country on the planet, a country that will welcome every last living creature with open arms.
The actual fact of the matter is that Canada has laws and rules that must be obeyed, not because one leans left or right but because everyone needs to follow the rules and the rules apply to everyone.
When we were in power, we took in 25,000 refugees. Unlike the current government, we did not make a big show of it when people arrived at the airport. We did not convene the media, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the minister of this, that and the other thing and an opposition member to please everyone and get some air time.
We focus on being a serious, rigorous and humanitarian country that cares about individuals more than those TV appearances the Liberals like to use to show that they are the best and the nicest. Our serious Conservative approach allowed 25,000 refugees from around the world to come enrich our country.
Refugees and immigrants contribute to our country's wealth. I know what I am talking about. This is a bit of a conflict of interest for me because my parents came here in 1958 as immigrants. It is important to disclose any conflicts of interest, and I just did. I cannot thank Canada enough for welcoming my parents in 1958.
Some 40,000 people have crossed illegally into Canada at Roxham Road. I remind members that this sparked a battle with the Government of Quebec, which had to wait three years to get reimbursed for all this.
What is worse, these illegal crossings were an insult to the thousands of people from around the world who follow the rules and contact various embassies, consulates and border services. As members of Parliament, we know how this works, since we see all kinds of cases at our riding offices. These people were not fortunate enough to see the Prime Minister's tweet, take Roxham Road and automatically gain access to Canada.
On April 3, 2018, the National Post reported that the first secretary at the Canadian embassy in Mexico warned the government that the Prime Minister's tweet was causing all kinds of problems.
In conclusion, I want to sincerely thank all of the RCMP officers as well as all the Canadians, from both the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency, who keep us safe.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise, but unfortunately the previous member got cut short. I am sure he had more to say. He is such an eloquent speaker and it is always a pleasure, but always a challenge to follow someone like him.
It is rather fitting that this bill is up for debate this month. Some members may be aware, but I do not think most are, that February 1, 2020, was the 100th anniversary of the forming of the RCMP in Canada. It is an exemplary police force. I heard a member today say she had worked for the RCMP for a number of years before coming to this House. I know we have members on both sides who have served in police work, the RCMP and so on.
My brother-in-law entered the force back in the early 70s. He got transferred out to where we lived in North Okanagan—Shuswap. He met my sister and, even after the rough time our older brothers gave him, they decided to get married. He spent many years in the force and retired from the force from the audit department.
That audit department is internal in the force. They go in and review all the cases in the detachments. He travelled throughout western Canada and spent many years doing that, a very honourable but sometimes challenging role because he was reviewing his fellow officers' work.
I speak about the RCMP and the honourable role it has had. I am also fortunate we have a retired RCMP commissioner, the first female RCMP commissioner. She went through the first female recruiting class at Depot in Regina in 1974 and was posted to Salmon Arm in my community of North Okanagan—Shuswap. She served many years with the RCMP and eventually retired as commissioner, but chose the North Okanagan—Shuswap area as her retirement home.
Many people may not be aware, but she is now appointed as senator from B.C. to the upper chamber of the Senate. It is a great honour. We have gotten to know her, her husband and her friends over the past few years. She is a very honourable person and a great fit in our legislative system here in Canada.
There is so much honour in the roles of the people within the RCMP and CBSA. Unfortunately, we have the odd person who many not be as honourable, and that is why we need these review processes. I would not want to see the entire CBSA be tainted and for the public to think we have to review everyone in that department. That is certainly not the case.
I mentioned that February 1 was the 100th anniversary of the formation of the RCMP. In the town of Vernon, we had a couple of fellows form a small committee to do an RCMP Appreciation Day. I went home last weekend and took part in that at the Vernon Museum and Archives. It was a great representation there.
One of the greatest pieces was they also had two brand new RCMP recruits, who had arrived in the last 48 hours, take part in that ceremony as part of that recognition. Later that night, they were in their red serge and came out on the ice to help drop the puck at the Vernon Vipers hockey game. That honour and tradition was there. Senator Busson was there in her regalia and the members were there in their red serge, showing the honour that is there.
Many of us travel through airports. I do regularly, back and forth in travel from B.C. and North Okanagan—Shuswap. We have seen many instances of those CBSA workers in the airports being challenged by unruly, impatient and sometimes impaired passengers.
I was passing through Calgary around Christmas and saw an incident take place. I have to congratulate the CBSA guards and security people who were on duty at that time. They handled the situation very professionally.
We also run the risk that guards and members will be set up because of all the tools and technology out there with cellphones. Some want to act unscrupulously so they can initiate an incident and only perhaps record part of it to attack a department or person.
That is where I think this review process will be very beneficial, as long as it is open and transparent. We have heard discussion today about an annual report to the minister. We want to make sure that the report is transparent, that it is not redacted by the minister and that Parliament gets to review it in full.
A review process needs to be open, transparent and fair. It also has to find a balance between national security and an individual's right to privacy and security. We have heard concerns about access to cellphones and personal data on cellphones. Many of us keep our personal information, like passwords and so on for our accounts, on our cellphones. For border guards to have access to that basically without restraint is very troubling for some. It should not be for those who live their lives in a respectful manner, but marginal people may have a lot more issues with that.
I also want to touch on an issue that I heard just this week about outdoor tourism. People from outside of the country come to Canada for guided fishing or hunting trips, and some are being challenged at the border because of offences from many years in their past, sometimes when they were teenagers. They come to Canada as seniors, and because of impaired driving charges earlier in their lives or minor criminal offences in the U.S., they are being barred from coming into Canada.
There has been some great debate on Bill and I look forward to seeing it move to committee.
We are all heading into a constituency week, so I want to wish everyone well. I will be heading back to my riding of North Okanagan—Shuswap to the biggest winter carnival in western Canada: the Vernon Winter Carnival. It named its Queen Silver Star and her princess last night. There will be proclamations, parades and snow sculptures. Unfortunately, the hot air balloon fest will not be happening this year. There will also be parka parties and many other events in my riding over the next 10 days.
I am certainly looking forward to being back home, as I think many members are as well, as we move into a constituency week to go back to our ridings to talk to our constituents.
Madam Speaker, Bill is about accountability. One of the government's first pieces of legislation in this Parliament is to increase civilian oversight for our law enforcement agencies. This is a bill that Conservatives are generally supportive of. However, we do find some irony in the fact that the government's immediate priority is to strengthen the accountability of somebody else when the biggest problem we have is with the government's lack of accountability, its failure to be accountable for its many terrible decisions and the impact that is having on Canadians.
Let us start with the Liberals' lack of accountability today in question period, when my colleague from a neighbouring riding, the member for , asked important questions about the Teck Frontier project. She asked what the government was going to do about this project, which is vital for our national interest. If this project were to be arbitrarily rejected by the government, it would likely create a new larger unity crisis.
She asked those questions and the refused to be accountable and explain the government's thinking. All he said was that there is a process and that there will be a decision made at some point.
Meanwhile, leaks are coming out indicating that the government is thinking of an aid package, as if Alberta had been hit by some kind of natural disaster. The disaster hitting western Canada is not a natural disaster; it is very much a disaster made by politicians here in Ottawa.
Let us end the disaster. We do not need disaster relief. We need to end the disaster by approving projects that are in our national interest, supporting the Teck Frontier project and supporting pipelines.
The government needs to be accountable for its own failures, and perhaps it should prioritize being accountable itself before bringing forward legislation to make somebody else accountable.