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View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
moved that Bill C-3, 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, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise in this House to begin the debate on Bill C-3, concerning an independent review for the Canada Border Services Agency.
The Canada Border Services Agency ensures Canada's security and prosperity by facilitating and overseeing international travel and trade across Canada's borders. On a daily basis, CBSA officers interact with thousands of Canadians and visitors to Canada at airports, land border crossings, ports and other locations. Ensuring the free flow of people and legitimate goods across our border while protecting Canadians requires CBSA officers to have the power to arrest, detain, search and seize, as well as the authority to use reasonable force when it is required.
Currently, complaints about the service provided by the CBSA officers and about the conduct of those officers are handled internally. If an individual is dissatisfied with the results of an internal CBSA investigation, there is no mechanism for the public to request an independent review of these complaints.
The Government of Canada recognizes that a robust accountability mechanism can help ensure public trust that Canada's public safety institutions are responsive to the law and to Canadians. That is why I am honoured today to initiate debate on Bill C-3.
I want to take the opportunity to acknowledge the excellent and extraordinary work of two former parliamentarians: former senator Wilfred Moore and my predecessor, former public safety minister Ralph Goodale, who worked tirelessly to advocate for effective CBSA oversight.
This important piece of legislation that is before us today would establish an independent review and complaints mechanism for the Canada Border Services Agency. This will address the significant accountability and transparency gap among our public safety agencies and departments here in Canada
Among our allies, Canada is alone in not having a dedicated review body for complaints regarding its border agency. The CBSA is also the only organization within the public safety portfolio without its own independent review body.
The resolution of conduct complaints is critically important to maintaining public trust. We already know that many CBSA activities, such as customs and immigration decisions, are subject to independent review. Unfortunately, as of yet, there is no such mechanism for public complaints related to CBSA employee conduct and service.
I will provide some context for my colleagues and for Canadians. The agency deals with an extraordinary and staggering number of people and a huge volume of transactions each and every year. For example, in 2018-19, CBSA employees interacted with over 96 million travellers to and from Canada and collected on behalf of Canadians $32 billion in taxes and duties. Behind these extraordinary numbers is the story of all of us, Canadians in all walks of life and in all parts of our country who rely on the services of our border services agencies. Together, we expect that in the majority of cases we will receive, and do receive, a high degree of professionalism when travelling abroad for work and for leisure. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many members of the Canada Border Services Agency for their service to Canadians and for their professionalism they give their duties.
It is a fact that when dealing with that many travellers it is inevitable that some complaints may arise. That is why, in order to maintain the public trust in our system and to strengthen accountability for the important role that the border service officers perform for us, it is imperative that we have an independent review body to ensure that any negative experience is thoroughly investigated and quickly and transparently resolved.
Currently, if there are complaints from the public regarding the level of service provided by CBSA or the conduct of CBSA officials, they are handled through an internal process within the agency. Our government has taken action in recent years to rectify gaps with respect to the independent review of national security activities.
We have passed legislation to create the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians which recently published its first annual report. With the passage of Bill C-59, our government has also established the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. With these two initiatives under way, now is the time to close a significant gap in Canada's public safety and national security accountability framework. This is exactly where Bill C-3 comes in.
The existing Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, or CRCC as it is commonly known, is at the heart of this proposed legislation. The CRCC currently functions as the independent review and complaints body for the RCMP. Under Bill C-3, its responsibilities would be strengthened and it would be renamed the public complaints and review commission, or PCRC. The new PCRC would be responsible for the handling of complaints and conducting reviews for the CBSA in addition to its current responsibilities with respect to the RCMP.
When the PCRC receives a complaint from the public, it would notify the CBSA immediately which would undertake the initial investigation. This is an efficient approach that has proven to lead to a resolution of the overwhelming majority of complaints. In fact, in the case of the RCMP, some 90% of complaints against the conduct or service of the RCMP are resolved in this way.
The PCRC would also be able to conduct its own investigation to the complaint if, in the opinion of the chairperson, it is in the public interest to do so. In those cases, the CBSA would not initiate an investigation into the complaint. In other cases where the complainant may not be satisfied with the CBSA's initial handling of the complaint, the complainant could ask the PCRC directly to begin a review of it. When the PCRC receives such a request for review over a CBSA complaint decision, the commission could review the complaint and all relevant information, sharing its conclusions regarding the CBSA's initial decision. It could conclude that the CBSA decision was appropriate. It may instead ask that the CBSA investigate further or it can initiate its own independent investigation of the complaint.
The commission also would have the authority to hold a public hearing as part of its work. At the conclusion of a PCRC investigation, the review body would be able to report on its findings and make such recommendations as it sees fit. The CBSA would be required to provide a response in writing to the PCRC's findings and its recommendations.
In addition to the complaints function, the PCRC would be able to review on its own initiative or at the request of me or any minister any activity of the CBSA except for national security activities. These, of course, are reviewed by the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency which is now in force.
PCRC reports would include findings and recommendations on the adequacy, appropriateness and clarity of CBSA policies, procedures and guidelines; the CBSA's compliance with the law and all ministerial directions; and finally, the reasonableness and necessity of CBSA's use of its authorities and powers.
With respect to both its complaint and review functions, the PCRC would have the power to summon and enforce the appearance of persons before it. It would have the authority to compel them to give oral or written evidence under oath. It would have the commensurate authority to administer oaths, to receive and accept oral and written evidence, whether or not that evidence would be admissible in a court of law.
The PCRC would also have the power to examine any records or make any inquiries that it considers necessary. It would have access to the same information that the CBSA possesses when a chairman's complaint is initiated.
Beyond its review and complaint functions, Bill C-3 would also create an obligation to the CBSA to notify local police and the PCRC of any serious incident involving CBSA employees or its officers. That includes giving the PCRC the responsibility to track and publicly report on all serious incidents such as death, serious injury, or Criminal Code violations involving members of the CBSA.
Operationally, the bill is worded in such a way as to give the PCRC flexibility to organize its internal structure as it sees fit to carry out its mandate under both the CBSA Act and the RCMP Act. The PCRC could designate members of its staff as belonging either to an RCMP unit or a CBSA unit. Common services such as corporate support could be shared between both units which would make them more efficient, but there are also several benefits to be realized by separating staff in the fashion that I have described.
For example, staff could develop a certain expertise on matters involving these two agencies, their operational procedures and other matters. Clearly identifying which staff members are responsible for which agency may also help with the clear management of information.
Bill C-3 would also make mandatory the appointment of a vice-chair for the PCRC. This would ensure that there would always be two individuals at the top, a chairperson and a vice-chair, capable of exercising key decision-making powers. Under Bill C-3, the PCRC would publish an annual report covering each of its business lines, the CBSA and the RCMP, and the resources that it has devoted to each.
The report would summarize its operations throughout the year and would include such things as the number and type of complaints, and any review activities providing information on the number, type and outcome of all serious incidents. To further promote transparency and accountability, the annual report would be tabled in Parliament.
The new public complaints and review commission proposed in Bill C-3 would close a significant gap in Canada's public safety accountability regime.
Parliamentarians, non-government organizations and stakeholders have all been calling upon successive governments to initiate such a reform for many years. For example, in June 2015, in the other place, the committee on national security and defence tabled a report which advocated for the establishment of an independent civilian review and complaints body with a mandate to conduct investigations for all CBSA activities. More recently, Amnesty International, in Canada's 2018 report card, noted that the CBSA remains the most notable agency with law enforcement and detention powers in Canada that is not subject to independent review and oversight.
National security expert and law professor Craig Forcese is quoted as saying that CBSA oversight is “the right decision”. Government expert Mel Cappe said that it is “filling the gap”. I would importantly note that the proposed legislation before the House benefited from invaluable advice proposed to the government by Mr. Cappe.
To support this legislation, we have allocated $24 million to expand the CRCC to become an independent review body for the CBSA. With the introduction of Bill C-3, proper oversight is on track to becoming a reality.
In the last Parliament, this bill received all-party support in the House in recognition of its practical contents that seek to maintain the integrity of our border services and to instill confidence in Canadians that their complaints will be heard independently and transparently. Though the bill was supported unanimously at third reading, it unfortunately did not receive royal assent by the time the last Parliament ended.
We have heard concerns from many members in this House about the date of tabling, and we are now reintroducing this bill at our very first opportunity as part of the 43rd Parliament. This will be the third consecutive Parliament to consider legislation to create an oversight body for the CBSA. It is overdue.
For all of these reasons, I proudly introduce Bill C-3. I am happy to take any questions my colleagues may have.
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