Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour to participate in a debate in this chamber.
Also on many occasions, as we have come to expect in this place, it is not uncommon for members of the official opposition to debate in opposition to a government bill.
I am afraid that will not be the case today. I am participating in the debate on 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. I will support this measure.
I have been asked why, as a member of the opposition, I would participate in a debate on a bill that I support.
It is a fair question. The answer, from my perspective, is why I am here today to take part in this debate.
For my first term of office I was elected in a riding that is very close to the U.S. border. Some parts of the riding I currently represent are a very short car ride to the Canada-U.S. border.
As other members of this place will know, when one's riding is either very near or includes a Canada-U.S. border crossing, one will deal with some significant and challenging border issues.
I want to share one of these challenging border issues with the House.
Not long after I was first elected, the provincial MLA in my region contacted me, a newly minted MP. The priest at a temple in the area, who legally lives in Canada, had gone on a weekend jaunt to the United States.
Upon return to Canada, at the Canadian border, the priest was detained for a period of time before ultimately being released with a seven-day deportation order.
The reason given by the Canada Border Services Agency for the deportation order was that the priest was not legally living in Canada. There was a problem, however. For whatever reason, the officers dealing with the priest that day wanted nothing of it. The MLA who had first been alerted to the situation tried to intervene on behalf of the priest.
To put it bluntly, that member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia was blown off. When the issue hit my desk, there were just four days before the deportation. From reviewing the paperwork, it was very clear an injustice had occurred, but what was the recourse? Where was the accountability?
It was, from my perspective, an alarming situation.
Because his paperwork had not been reviewed, because he had been issued a deportation order without a valid reason, and because I find it very troubling that power was being exercised with no oversight, I ended up sharing my concerns directly with the minister at the time.
From my experience, I have come to know that there are those ministers who run their departments, and there are also those ministers who are run by their departments. Fortunately, the minister at the time knew that department inside out and had the courage to tell the department they had made an error.
An injustice was remedied and the deportation order was cancelled. I am proud to announce that the priest is still in Canada and that he is now serving the city of Merritt. His family is proud of his new country. I am not here to take the credit. If anyone should get the credit it is the provincial MLA who reached out to me and is now retired.
Of course I will fully credit the minister for not hiding behind the department, as some ministers are prone to do.
While ultimately this was a quiet, good news story at the time, there was one further bit of troubling information for me.
I learned that the CBSA officers involved in this case were able to change the facts afterwards. In other words, the facts were changed after the incident. They were changed in such a way that the reasons for the deportation order were completely different than the reasons given initially. Although I am pleased with the outcome for the priest, the matter is engraved on my memory. I often wonder about this situation.
What would have happened if this man was not a fairly well-known priest who called his MLA for help?
What would have happened had the MLA refused to help him and said that it was a federal jurisdiction?
What would have happened if the MLA was a member of the opposition party?
At that time, I was on the same side of the House as the government. What if the minister in question was one who hid behind the department, as some like to do?
We could make many other assumptions, but practically none would result in a situation where justice is served.
I think we all know that there never really has been serious accountability at the border crossing, and this applies to both sides. Will this bill be the answer?
It is difficult to say. We shall see.
We all know that, if the bill passes, the public complaints review commission would be created and would incorporate the existing Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, the review agency for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This would be a large oversight body with two different mandates between the RCMP and CBSA.
Given the challenges in the very complex review process of the RCMP, it remains to be seen how adding CBSA into the fold would work. However, this process deserves the opportunity to attempt to succeed.
There is no question in my mind, and from what I have heard today from many in this room, that more accountability is needed at border crossings. While I do not mean to belittle us as members of Parliament, we cannot always hope that a member of Parliament is the solution for incorrect events that occur at the border.
For these reasons, I am prepared to support this legislation. I believe the legislation is a reasonable and needed effort to provide more accountability for what occurs at our border crossings.
I appreciate your presence today, Mr. Speaker, and I appreciate all the members of this great House, and I would like to thank them for listening to me so intently. I look forward to hearing both their questions and comments, and hopefully we can share something to the benefit of the Canadian public.