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View Arif Virani Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Arif Virani Profile
2020-01-29 17:20 [p.654]
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Oakville North—Burlington.
I rise today to speak to the important debate about Bill C-3, which would entrench civilian oversight of the Canada Border Services Agency.
In following the debate thus far, I am very encouraged by the comments I have heard from the other side with respect to the importance of this kind of legislation, and its connection to the previous legislation that came forward in the last Parliament, notably Bill C-98.
Canadians know that the CBSA is an entity and an agency that ensures Canada's security and Canadians' prosperity by facilitating and overseeing international travel and trade across our border. What is important is that it ensures the free flow of goods and people across that border.
What is critical to understand is how vast the CBSA is in its scope. It has a staff of approximately 14,000 individuals operating a wide range of integrated border services. It operates in 1,000 locations at 117 land border crossings and 13 international airports, as well as in 39 international offices. It interacts with literally thousands of Canadians daily and millions of people yearly. In 2017-18, the statistics are quite staggering: 96 million travellers were processed in total during that one calendar year. That gives us a sense of the size and scope of the CBSA.
I am rising here today on behalf of my constituents in Parkdale—High Park, because there are extensive powers granted to CBSA officials, and that is for good reason. The agency needs extensive powers in order to operate and function effectively and carry out these important functions, but with extensive powers has to come extensive accountability.
This is what we would call a sine qua non, a critical component of what is required for any law enforcement agency in the country. What was lacking up until the introduction of this bill and eventual, hopefully, passage of the bill is that accountability piece.
Let us talk about those extensive powers. When they are protecting Canadians, CBSA officials have the authority to arrest, detain, search and seize, as well as the authority to use reasonable force when required. At the border, as many Canadians know, officers have the power to stop travellers for questioning, to take breath and blood samples, and to search, detain and arrest non-citizens without a warrant. These are very critical powers. These are very broad powers.
The list of powers I have just provided to the chamber underscores the critical need for oversight. The powers of detention, search and seizure and the use of force are important to the work that CBSA does. However, that work, which we want to ensure is successful, would be jeopardized if the Canadian public does not have the confidence that those extensive powers are being used legitimately and appropriately in conformity with the rights that are protected in this country.
There is a simple way to ensure that public confidence. In legal parlance, we talk about the administration of justice, or the administration of the regime, being held up to wide repute. That is to ensure that there is a transparent public oversight mechanism done by a civilian body.
That is what I hear about from my constituents in Parkdale—High Park. That is what I hear about in my role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice. People believe in entrenching law enforcement with certain powers because they understand the necessity of it, but there needs to be a counterbalance, which is a check on the illegitimate or inappropriate use of such powers which may occur in any policing body.
There is a cliché that applies to virtually everything that is done in law enforcement: The police should not be policing themselves. The investigators should not be investigating themselves. A body needs to be seen to be overseen by an external third party in order to ensure a measure of independence and a measure of neutrality. That is what we have critically with other law enforcement agencies in this country. That is what makes it so puzzling that we do not have it yet with the CBSA.
Let us turn to the RCMP, CSIS and Correctional Service Canada. They all have this independent form of review for their activities. It is critical. They have public trust in their institutions because of that oversight.
It is important that this bill would entrench that type of oversight, but is also important to think about who is supporting this kind of initiative. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers have pointed out in numerous situations the need for independent investigation. They have cited examples. They are few but they are important, because of the scope of that work. They interact with 96 million travellers within a given year. That is staggering in terms of numbers.
Nevertheless, incidents have arisen over the last 10 to 15 years which bear dramatic scrutiny and highlight the need for this kind of civilian oversight.
In 2010, Kevon Philip was beaten to death in Toronto's Don Jail while being held in immigration detention. In 2013, Lucia Vega Jimenez was taken into custody at the Vancouver International Airport. She was found hanging in a shower stall at the airport's immigration holding centre. Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan, a 39-year-old Toronto man, was granted refugee status in Canada after coming from Somalia in 1993. He died in June 2015 in a Peterborough hospital where he had been taken under police escort. He had spent four years at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay after serving a jail term for a criminal conviction and was issued a deportation order in 2005.
All told, since 2000, at least 15 people have died while in CBSA custody, including a 50-year-old woman who died in a maximum security prison in 2017. That track record has prompted Amnesty International, a well-known organization that all of us respect in this chamber, to call for an independent review body. That call has been echoed by my constituents and others that I have interacted with, not just in Parkdale—High Park but throughout the country. The call is simple: Let us pull back the curtain. Let us assure Canadians that the significant powers that have, of necessity, been granted to the CBSA to do its important work are at all times exercised appropriately, in accordance with the charter and with Canadians' fundamental rights.
Let us look at some comparisons with other law enforcement agencies in Canada. Independent civilian oversight ensures public confidence. Let us look at border services agencies in other allied countries that we want to compare ourselves to.
In the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and France, the border services agencies are all subject to civilian external oversight. In fact, Canada is one of the few developed countries that does not have an independent review body for complaints made about the conduct of border agency staff. When we look at the Five Eyes allies, the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, again, Canada is the only member right now without an independent review body.
The rationale is simple: Given the extraordinary powers granted to CBSA officers compared to all of the other public safety portfolio agencies as well as the Five Eyes international border agencies, there is currently a significant gap. It is a gap we had committed to close in the 2019 election after our previous attempts to do so in the last Parliament, as has been articulated by previous speakers, under Bill C-98, as it then was, were unsuccessful. However, the bill did receive widespread support in this House in the last Parliament, and I am very hopeful that it will continue to receive widespread support, because the simplicity of the rationale of this bill is there for everyone to recognize, understand and to get behind. It is a gap that needs to be closed, and a gap that we would close today.
I would like to outline how this is a user-friendly mechanism. This mechanism would ensure oversight in a manner that addresses things like the recommendations that were made by Justice Dennis O'Connor in 2006 under the Maher Arar inquiry, when he called for independent oversight of border services agencies, including the CBSA and the RCMP. It would have the ability to investigate complaints received from both the public and public interest bodies and have the power to self-initiate reviews, which is something that Justice O'Connor mentioned specifically in his Arar inquiry report.
Currently, people's complaints about the CBSA are handled entirely internally. We know that, all told, about 2,500 complaints are received by the CBSA on an annual basis, which is a significant number. However, the fundamental point to understand in this chamber for today's debate is that handling those complaints internally is one mechanism, but it is not the most robust mechanism, and it is certainly not the mechanism that is applied to other law enforcement agencies in this country.
It is critical that members of the public be able to take complaints to an external body. However, this external body, this new public complaints mechanism, should be able to initiate reviews of its own volition. Therefore, it would not require a complaint to be filed in order to pursue a matter.
Regarding the examples I listed at the start of my comments, it is critical that there be a serious incident protocol or a serious incident definition entrenched in this proposed legislation. This would include the actions of a CBSA officer that constitute an assault as well as serious injury or death, including death of a person in detention.
When we are dealing with those grave circumstances, it obviously goes without saying that the Canadian public and we, as parliamentarians, require a measure of accountability to be put in place.
That is the measure of accountability that is forthcoming with this legislation. That is why I am standing in support of it. I hope all of my parliamentarian colleagues will do the same.
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