Mr. Speaker, thank you for laying down the law.
This bill changes the name of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP to the public complaints and review commission. Under this new name, the commission will also be responsible for reviewing public complaints against the Canada Border Services Agency.
The bill follows on a promise made by the Liberals to ensure that all law enforcement agencies in Canada are monitored by an oversight group. We agree that all Canadian law enforcement agencies must have an oversight group. Canadians must be respected and protected from potential abuse of power. We must all make sure that the agency does its job to the letter and in compliance with Canadian legislation.
Our party’s vision of Canadian security has always prioritized maintaining the integrity of our borders and making sure that the CBSA has appropriate resources in terms of staff and equipment. A public complaints review commission will undoubtedly improve general oversight and help the CBSA exercise its duties and powers more effectively.
I have spoken at length with border services officers and listened to the union president. It is obvious that the problem at the border is not due to a lack of training or will on the part of the officers. On the contrary, the problem stems from a blatant lack of resources to support officers in their work.
When Bill C-98 was first tabled, the government had not even consulted the union. We raised this point in the debate on Bill C-98, but we got nowhere, since the government was in a rush to move forward. There was not enough time for the bill to be passed by the Senate. Today, the government is coming back to us with Bill C-3.
Even if we support the bill, we need to take the time to consult the union representing the CBSA and the RCMP, which we will probably do in committee. It is a good idea to create an agency to monitor the officers' work and give Canadians some power. We are completely in agreement with that, but the officers also have something to say. That is why I think it is important to listen to the union. There needs to be a balance between the two.
Since 2015, our Liberal friends have constantly said that they consult Canadians on various issues. However, in the case of Bill C-3, there have been no consultations.
I would like to talk about the challenges faced by the Canada Border Services Agency. A lot has been said in recent years. Members will recall the Prime Minister’s famous tweet from January 2017. At a time when the United States was in turmoil, the Prime Minister tweeted to the world that Canada would welcome everyone with open arms. That created a situation at the border that is still ongoing. Close to 50,000 people who read the Prime Minister’s tweet came to cross the border at Roxham Road in Quebec. Some came through Manitoba, but most came through Roxham Road. These people crossed our border believing that they would be welcomed with open arms.
The RCMP had to mobilize enormous resources. In 2017, officers from across Canada were sent to Roxham Road. The CBSA also had to mobilize resources to receive the people who thought they would simply be welcomed to Canada.
The problem is still going on. The government is trying to make us believe that nothing is going on, but that is not true. Every day, 40 to 50 people cross the border at Roxham Road. The financial and human resources costs are massive. In a report last year, the Office of the Auditor General examined all of the federal agencies involved, including public safety, immigration and other federal services. In three years, we have spent more than $1 billion on federal services alone. That figure does not include costs to the provinces.
Quebec calculated its costs for the first year. Just for costs associated with receiving the asylum seekers, Quebec applied for a reimbursement of $300 million. Ontario followed suit. Quebec was reimbursed before the election campaign because our Liberal friends knew that this was a very sensitive subject for Quebeckers.
We Quebeckers are a hospitable people. We like people, but we also like order. Now we are in a situation where there is no order. No one, myself included, can understand why people are being allowed to enter our country, and specifically Quebec, illegally.
That being said, the Conservatives have often been called racists in debate and in question period. It is very upsetting to be called a racist. The people who come to the border are of different ethnic origins, but that does not make us racist. We are simply asking for effective border control. That starts with a duly completed immigration application. Of course Canada welcomes refugees, as it always has. Even when the Conservatives were in power, we always supported taking in refugees from UN camps around the world.
Let us get back to our officers. We are going to pass a law that will allow the public to file complaints against RCMP and CBSA officers. We should try to see things from our officers' perspective. They are being asked to do things that they may find distasteful. I remember going to Roxham Road three or four times to watch our officers at work. I saw police officers there, RCMP officers, whose job is to enforce law and order.
People arrived with suitcases, knowing full well that they were entering Canada illegally, but they were taking advantage of a loophole in the Canada-U.S. safe third country agreement. The warm-hearted RCMP officers carried the people’s suitcases across the border to help them enter Canada illegally. This created a conflict in the officers’ minds. On the one hand, since they have big hearts, they have no choice but to help children, as is only right. On the other hand, their job is to enforce the law.
I would remind members that the Prime Minister created this situation on Roxham Road, which has been going on for exactly three years now. People do not realize that the government has even built a building there that is equipped with systems and all the necessary technology. When people get out of a taxi at Roxham Road, they can walk down a small road that leads directly to this reception centre, which is the equivalent of a regular border crossing.
That makes no sense, and we are in this mess because the Liberals cannot negotiate with the Americans to change a rule that prevents us from putting an end to the situation. Let's not forget the financial repercussions for Canada, which are huge.
In addition, our officers have to deal with another serious problem, namely drugs and weapons being smuggled across the border. The RCMP and CBSA officers find their work very hard and complex. In addition to their working conditions, which are obviously less than ideal, the rules in effect and the way the boundaries are delineated sometimes prevent the officers from doing their job properly, despite their best efforts.
We share a border with certain indigenous reserves and with the United States, and international rules make our officers’ work far more complicated. This means that a lot of illegal drugs and weapons are entering Canada and contributing to crime.
It is important to understand that criminals, especially Toronto gangs, get their weapons illegally. Huge numbers of weapons cross the U.S. border or arrive by ship in Montreal or Vancouver. We are therefore asking the government to invest major human and financial resources to fight this type of crime.
The influx of drugs like fentanyl is a serious threat to officers' health. At Canada Post, CBSA officers randomly inspect packages entering Canada, and those packages may contain extremely dangerous substances. A tiny dose of fentanyl or any opioid can be fatal. We need to keep in mind that this kind of work can be hugely stressful for individuals, just as it is for members of the military.
This bill will make it possible for members of the public to complain about deliberate or accidental conduct on the part of RCMP or CBSA officers.
Still, we need to understand the position we are putting these officers in and be judicious. That is why we have to listen to what the officers' union has to say.
The examples I gave earlier illustrate situations in which officers have to make decisions. They have to face dangerous situations. Sometimes, if they react reflexively or have to make snap decisions, they may say or do things they should not.
For this reason, I hope that the commission that reviews the complaints will have a balanced approach. I find that the blame too often falls on officials, police officers and the military. When I was in the army, we were often aware of this during operational deployments. I remember very well that, during the war in Bosnia, we often had to follow UN rules and send soldiers into a conflict zone and tell them that, if they made a mistake or did something wrong, we would not be there to defend them. They would be responsible for their actions.
We were representing our country, going to a war zone in a foreign country, but, at the same time, we were being warned to be careful not to get into trouble, otherwise we would be on our own.
This type of situation often causes psychological stress for RCMP officers and border service officials. At some point, these people wonder whether or not they should take action. If, for fear of reprisal, they decide not to take action, this may create a situation that will cause problems elsewhere. In the case of drug control, for example, if the official is afraid to take action, the drugs will end up somewhere else. I do not have any concrete examples to give, but I believe that everyone listening to us can understand what I am trying to say.
I would also like to briefly address our correctional services. I know that correctional services are not covered by Bill C-3. However, I would like to remind the House that, when we discussed Bill C-83 during the last Parliament, there was talk about the various resources available to Canada’s penitentiaries.
First, I would like to talk about syringes. Syringes were not part of Bill C-83. However, penitentiaries were asked to give prisoners syringes. The government provides prisoners with syringes, and they inject drugs illegally obtained in prison. It can be difficult to accept and understand how drugs could be illegally obtained in prison and how syringes could be provided so that prisoners can inject these illegally obtained drugs.
Ideally, we should be preventing prisoners from obtaining drugs in prison. There is an easy way to do so, as set out in Bill C-83, and that is to acquire body scanners. Body scanners like the ones in airports, but more sophisticated, can detect 95% or more of anything hidden on a visitor’s body, whether drugs or other contraband. I will not list all the things that can be carried in a human body, but a body scanner can find them. That way, the government could avoid having to provide prisoners with syringes.
At the moment, I can say that there is a great deal of concern within the correctional service. Officers who work in penitentiaries are concerned for their own safety. Despite the fact that there is supposedly a syringe control system in place, needles can, for all sorts of reasons, end up somewhere else, and prisoners can use them to create weapons and do various things.
We expect the government to make this investment and deploy the 47 scanners that are required across Canada as soon as possible.
There are policies for the Border Services Agency. I can say that I am proud of what was done by the former Conservative government. In debates over the past few years, we were blamed for cutting $300 million from the Border Services Agency budget. That is absolutely false. There have been budget cuts in administration, but line officers have never been affected by the cuts. We have evidence, reports from the Library of Parliament complete with exact figures.
I am also proud of the measures taken by our government at the time. Officers were asked to be alone at guard posts at night. Officers were completely alone, left to their own devices. It was excessively dangerous, so we saw to it that there would now be at least two people on duty. We also armed our border officers. They had no weapons previously. How is it possible to intercept someone or take action in dangerous situations without a weapon? That is why we took steps to ensure that Canada is better protected.
Beyond Bill C-3, which will give the public access to a complaints mechanism, our hope is to continue to work to improve border control and enhance Canada's overall security.