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View Pam Damoff Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to Bill C-3, which seeks to establish a new, independent public complaints and review body for the Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA. This represents another step forward in the government's commitment to ensuring that all of its agencies and departments are accountable to Canadians.
As a member of the public safety committee during the last Parliament, I am quite proud to have participated in legislation that made remarkable change and took the number of measures we took to ensure greater accountability of our security agencies and departments.
Two years ago, our Bill C-22 received royal assent, establishing the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. That addressed a long-standing need for parliamentarians to review the Government of Canada's activities and operations in regard to national security and intelligence. It has been in operation for some time now and is a strong addition to our system of national security review and accountability. As members will know, the committee has the power to review activities across government, including the CBSA.
To complement that, our committee studied our national security framework, as well as Bill C-59, which allowed for the creation of the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, or NSIRA. NSIRA is also authorized to conduct reviews of any national security or intelligence activity carried out by federal departments and agencies, including the CBSA. All of this is on top of existing review and oversight mechanisms in the public safety portfolio.
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP investigates complaints from the public about the conduct of members in the RCMP, for example, and does so in an open, independent and objective manner. The Office of the Correctional Investigator conducts independent, thorough and timely investigations about issues related to Correctional Service Canada.
Bill C-3 would fill a gap in the review of the activities of our public safety agencies. The existing Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, which is responsible for complaints against members of the RCMP, would see its name change to the public complaints and review commission and its mandate expanded to include the CBSA. It would be able to consider complaints against CBSA employee conduct or service, from foreign nationals, permanent residents and Canadian citizens, regardless of whether they are within or outside of Canada. Reviews of national security activities would be carried out by NSIRA.
Here is how it would work in practice. If an individual has a complaint unrelated to national security, she or he would be able to direct it either to the commission or to the CBSA. Both bodies would notify the other of any complaint made. The CBSA would be required to investigate any complaint, except those disposed of informally. The commission would be able to conduct its own investigation of the complaint in situations where the chairperson is of the opinion that doing so would be in the public interest. If an individual is not satisfied with the CBSA's response, the commission would be able to follow up as it sees fit.
The new PCRC would also be able to produce findings on the CBSA's policies, procedures and guidelines. It would also be able to review CBSA's activities, including making findings on CBSA's compliance with the law and the reasonableness and necessity of the exercise of its powers. Indeed, the commission's findings on each review would be published in a mandatory annual public report.
Bill C-3 not only fills a gap in our review system. It answers calls from the public and Parliament for independent review of CBSA. Most significantly, the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence, in its 2015 report, encouraged the creation of an oversight body. I would like to acknowledge Bill S-205 from our last Parliament, introduced in the other place not long after the government took office, which proposed a CBSA review body as well.
Certainly we have heard from academics, experts and other stakeholders of the need to create a body with the authority to review CBSA. During testimony at the public safety committee on December 5, 2017, Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International, said, “how crucial it is for the government to move rapidly to institute full, independent review of CBSA.” This was reflective of much of the testimony we heard, and I am pleased the government is acting on this advice. I would also like to acknowledge my colleague from Toronto—Danforth for her efforts and advocacy for the establishment of a CBSA review body.
The CBSA has a long and rich history of providing border services in an exemplary fashion. It does so through the collective contribution of over 14,000 dedicated professional women and men, women like Tamara Lopez from my community, who is a role model for young women looking for a career in the CBSA.
The CBSA already has robust internal and external mechanisms in place to address many of its activities. For example, certain immigration-related decisions are subject to review by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, and its customs role can be appealed all the way up to the Federal Court.
That said, when it comes to the public, the CBSA should not be the only body receiving and following up on complaints about its own activities. Indeed, some Canadians might not be inclined to say a word if they do not have the confidence that their complaint will be treated independently, objectively and thoroughly. Bill C-3 would inspire that confidence.
The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that all of its agencies and departments are accountable to Canadians. Bill C-3 would move the yardstick forward on that commitment. It would bring Canada more closely in line with the accountability bodies of border agencies in other countries, including those of our Five Eyes allies.
The accountability and transparency of our national security framework has improved greatly since we were elected in 2015. This bill would continue these efforts by providing border services that keep Canadians safe and by improving public trust and confidence. Bill C-3 would ensure that the public continues to expect consistent, fair and equal treatment by CBSA employees. That is why I am proud to stand behind Bill C-3 today.
In the last Parliament, the House of Commons unanimously passed Bill C-98, which was a bill to bring oversight to CBSA. Although that bill died in the Senate, it is my hope that all parties will again come together to pass this bill.
I listened to the member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner speak earlier in this debate. He spoke at length about firearms and his petition opposing our promise to make Canadians safer by enhancing gun control. I would remind him that almost 80% of Canadians support a ban on military-style assault rifles according to an independent Angus Reid survey.
I know he and his party supported oversight of the CBSA in the last Parliament. I hope he and all members will join me in supporting oversight in this Parliament under Bill C-3 and assure the bill's passage this session.
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