Madam Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is very happy that this bill has been introduced. We were taken for a ride in the previous Parliament. Bill C-98 was introduced too late and unfortunately died on the order paper. I hope that we will have time to pass Bill C-3 before the next election, which is looming over our heads like the sword of Damocles.
The Bloc Québécois plans to vote in favour of Bill C-3, as it did with Bill C-98. There is no surprise there.
The current situation is untenable. The statistics are alarming. From 2016 to 2018, there were 1,200 complaints, including 59 allegations of harassment, 38 allegations of criminal association and five allegations of sexual assault. Those are striking figures. The Canada Border Services Agency is short-staffed. Complaints may not always be given the attention they deserve. We think that an independent commissioner should be appointed.
It is also not right that the CBSA itself hears complaints about its own services. That obviously does not meet the minimum legal requirements, whether under natural law or in accordance with the rights set out in our charters regarding an impartial hearing before those concerned. Since the commissioner would be a third party, we believe that he could deal with any complaints filed with his office in a serious, impartial, fair and independent manner—at least that is what we hope. We believe that creating the commissioner's office would make this possible.
This is nothing new. I looked at the statistics on the various complaints that were filed. In 2017-18 alone, just two years ago, there were reports of racist and rude comments. Officers allegedly searched cellphones without putting them in airplane mode, which is illegal. Searches can be conducted legally if the phone is in airplane mode, but not otherwise. In some situations, officers allegedly took photos of the information contained in cellphones. They also allegedly forced someone to open their banking app. All of these things are unacceptable.
Some people complained about rude treatment. Apparently an officer shouted and insulted travellers. In another case, people who had dealings with the CBSA were told there was no interpretation service available, which meant that they were unable to communicate with the officer. One officer was racist and told a client he was ugly. That is unconscionable. This is not a banana republic.
We think complaints should be treated with respect, as should all CBSA clients, whether they are right or wrong, which is a different story. At a bare minimum, these requests should be handled respectfully and attentively.
Last year, the member for Vancouver East quoted something Justice O'Connor said over 10 years ago. He recommended introducing a CBSA oversight mechanism. More recently, an immigration lawyer named Joel Sandaluk said this on CBC: “CBSA, for many years, has been a law unto itself. It's hard to imagine an organization with the size and the complexity and the amount of responsibility and authority of an agency like this would be completely without any kind of oversight.”
He added that the statistics may have been skewed, but temporary residents of or visitors to Canada were in fact not here long enough to file a complaint. Obviously, he did not even mention those who do not file complaints out of fear of reprisal. It is a troubling situation and according to Mr. Sandaluk, this is likely only the tip of the iceberg.
CBC mentioned the case of a woman deported to Guatemala who was allegedly pushed to the ground by an officer, who is alleged to have kicked her and dug his knee into her back. That is outrageous. When we read these reports, these statistics, we do not get the impression that this is a professional border services agency that serves a country like Canada and serves the people and the visitors of Quebec who have to deal with them.
More recently, just a few weeks ago, the Canadian Press reported some statistics. The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group of Toronto said that the definition of a founded complaint in the CBSA reports was too vague to allow adequate changes or adjustments to be made. This is just another situation that does not help to improve the services provided by the agency.
The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Daniel Therrien, told Radio-Canada that the agency and its customs officers had not followed acceptable practices for handling the personal information of Canadian citizens re-entering the country. It is not your ordinary Joe saying it, it is the commissioner himself. He added that the line had been crossed.
It is ridiculous. It is about time that we acknowledge and address this issue.
According to other information made public by Radio Canada, a CBSA officer apparently shredded his handwritten notes three days after receiving a call from one of the commissioner's investigators.
For all these reasons, we believe that Bill C-3 must be implemented as quickly as possible. Once again, they must not play the same trick on us that they did with Bill C-98, which was introduced before this bill. We believe that Bill C-3 should be referred to a committee right away.
In closing, I want to make it clear that the Bloc Québécois is not blaming the officers or the agency. That is up to the commissioner, if warranted, and if designated.
We believe that the Canada Border Services Agency has not had the benefit of adequate oversight, which it should have received from the proper authorities. Respectfully, the responsibility lies with the current Liberal government and its predecessor, the Conservative government. We believe that the time has come to address this issue and we are grateful for Bill C-3.
I would also like to add that the union representing the CBSA officers should appear before the committee when it studies the bill. We hope that the bill will be referred to a committee as soon as possible. The committee should make every effort to hear from experts, immigration lawyers who have worked with the CBSA and the officers' union. I am convinced that the union has important things to tell the committee about this issue.