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View Gagan Sikand Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to add to the debate of Bill C-3 today.
An independent review and complaints mechanism for the Canada Border Services Agency would fill an important gap for our national security agencies. This is not a new issue for parliamentarians. Members will recall that similar legislation was introduced and debated in the last session, as Bill C-98. That bill received unanimous consent just eight months ago, and since that time our government has had the benefit of considering comments made on previous legislation. With its introduction as a new bill, it is reflective of many of the comments and recommendations previously made.
CBSA oversight is not a new idea. In fact, Bill S-205, introduced by former Senator Moore in the other place a few years ago, proposed a CBSA review body. That was, in part, in response to a previous call by senators to create an oversight body through the 2015 report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. Many parliamentarians, academics, experts and stakeholders have made similar calls over the years. That is largely because Canada is the only country among our closest allies not to have a dedicated review body for complaints regarding its border agency. Furthermore, the CBSA is the only organization within the public safety portfolio without such a body. Bill C-3 would change this environment.
Canadians need to be confident that their complaints are handled and addressed appropriately and independently. They deserve enhanced reporting on how border services operate, which the bill also proposes. To expand on that, under Bill C-3, the new body would be able to not only report on its finding but also make recommendations as it sees fit. Those reports would include the PCRC's findings and recommendations on everything from the CBSA's policies and procedures to its compliance with the law to the reasonableness of the use of its powers.
This is about accountability and transparency. To parse why this is so important, we must take a look at the rapidly-changing context of the CBSA.
On a daily basis, CBSA officers interact with thousands of Canadians and visitors to Canada at airports, land borders, crossing ports and other locations. To put that in numbers, that is 96 million interactions per year with travellers and $32 billion per year in duties and taxes, according to the 2017-18 statistics. That is 27.3 million cars, 34.5 million air passengers and 21.4 million commercial releases. All of that happens at 13 international airports, 117 land border crossings, 27 rail sites and beyond. This will only increase. That is why the government introduced a federal budget last year proposing investments of $1.25 billion for the CBSA to help modernize some of our ports of entry and our border operations. After all, we know that business at the border never stops and is growing year after year.
As hon. members know, ensuring that business continues while protecting Canadians requires CBSA officers to have the power to arrest, detain, search and seize, and the authority to use reasonable force when required. We know that Canada's over 14,000 CBSA officers are truly world class, providing consistent and fair treatment to travellers and traders.
However, as business grows along with demands for accountability, the CBSA cannot reasonably be expected to handle all the complaints on its own, nor should Canadians expect it would. Currently, complaints about conduct and the service provided by CBSA officers are handled internally. If an individual is dissatisfied with the results of an internal CBSA investigation, there is currently no mechanism for the public to request an independent review of these complaints. Bill C-3 would neatly remedy all of this. For example, such an individual would be able to ask the PCRC to review his or her complaint. At the conclusion of a PCRC investigation, the review body would be able to report on its findings and make recommendations as it sees fit. The president of the CBSA would be required to respond in writing to the PCRC's findings and recommendations.
The PCRC would also accept complaints about the conduct and service provided by CBSA employees from detainees held in CBSA facilities. These could include complaints related to treatment and conditions in detention.
On the rare occasion that there be a serious incident involving CBSA personnel, Bill C-3 would legislate a framework to not only handle and track such incidents, but also to publicly report on them. It would in fact create an obligation for the CBSA to notify local police and the PCRC of any serious incident involving the CBSA officers or employees. As I have noted, the legislation would also allow for the PCRC to review, on its own initiative or at least at the request of the minister, any non-national security activity of the CBSA.
National security activities would be reviewed by the new national security intelligence review committee, which is the National Security Intelligence Review Agency, or NSIRA. As colleagues know, the NSIRA is responsible for complaints and reviews relating to national security, including those relating to the RCMP and the CBSA. Members will see provisions in Bill C-3 that would facilitate information sharing and co-operation between the PCRC and NSIRA.
I would point out that the PCRC would not have the authority to review, uphold, amend or overturn enforcement, trade or national security decisions made with the CBSA, nor would it consider complaints that could be dealt with by other organizations, such as the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages or the Office of the Privacy Commission. What it would do is provide a reasonable, long-sought-after framework to build accountability in our public safety agencies and trust among Canadians.
As I close, I would like to point out that this is the latest in a line of recent measures to enhance accountability in our national security apparatus. The former Bill C-22 led to the creation of the now operational National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, which has a broad mandate to review national security and intelligence organizations.
The former Bill C-59 led to the creation of the NSIRA. NSIRA now has the authority to review any activity carried out by CSIS or the Communications Security Establishment and any national security or intelligence-related activity carried out by federal departments and agencies.
All of this amounts to unprecedented enhancements in our national security accountability, on top of the government's creation of a national security transparency commitment, which is all about integrating Canada's democratic values into our national security activities.
These measures build on the government's broad national security consultations in 2016, which sought to engage Canadians, stakeholders and subject matter experts on issues related to national security and the protection of rights and freedoms. In those consultations, four-fifths, or 81%, of online responses called for independent review mechanisms for departments and agencies that have national security responsibilities, including the CBSA.
This outline should provide some rationale for bipartisan support for Bill C-3 by parliamentarians, academics, experts and stakeholders alike and other Canadians. Our security and intelligence communities must keep pace with evolving threats to the safety and security of Canadians and with a rapidly changing border environment. They must do so in a way that safeguards our rights and freedoms, and the people's trust in how the government works. That is why I ask the House to join me in supporting Bill C-3 today.
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