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Results: 1 - 9 of 9
View Jack Harris Profile
NDP (NL)
View Jack Harris Profile
2020-02-07 10:46 [p.1079]
Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I get the enthusiasm of the member wanting to talk about matters dealing with the oil industry in Alberta, but I am just wondering what relevance it has to Bill C-3, which is the matter we are debating in the House today.
View Jack Harris Profile
NDP (NL)
View Jack Harris Profile
2020-01-29 16:14 [p.644]
Madam Speaker, the early presentation of the bill has not given a lot of time to study it in detail as a newly elected member, but I am looking forward to further discussion and debate.
I note that when the Senate was dealing with this issue of oversight of the CBSA, it proposed a different piece of legislation, which was not supported by the government. That legislation called for an oversight body using an independent investigator, which would provide oversight to the agency, not just the complaint side. This was rejected by the government implicitly.
Further, there was concern that in the RCMP complaints commission, there was already a backlog of over 2,000 cases. Now we have, instead of creating a separate board, a combined board with two functions and possibly two investigative teams.
Are we going to end up with a situation where we are just having reviews of internal investigations or are there going to be separate independent hearings? What kind of oversight can this body actually provide in the absence of an oversight body of the organization?
View Jack Harris Profile
NDP (NL)
View Jack Harris Profile
2020-01-29 16:39 [p.648]
Madam Speaker, I was interested in the comments of the member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner on this issue, particularly on the issue of the management of committees. I do not think he was here then, but during the years of 2008 to 2015 when I was here, the management of committees was particularly egregious, with things called one day and demanded to be passed on a particular evening. I am glad to hear there is a bit of change of heart on the other side about how committees should conduct their business.
I understand that the hon. member welcomes the legislation. However, it was resisted by parliamentarians in two former Parliaments, when the NDP Party called upon this type of oversight to be brought forward. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Federation, the Canadian Bar Association and other groups were calling on the need for independent oversight.
Why did the former Conservative government resist this?
View Jack Harris Profile
NDP (NL)
View Jack Harris Profile
2020-01-29 16:58 [p.651]
Madam Speaker, would the member agree, in looking at the nature of the oversight being provided by this bill, that as the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association suggests, two separate accountability mechanisms should be available? One would provide real-time oversight of the policies and practices of the Canada Border Services Agency and the other an accountability mechanism for conducting investigations and resolving specific complaints, as we are talking about, such as specific incidents of potential misbehaviour.
One mechanism would look at the policies and practices, while the other would deal with individual complaints related to a particular incident. Would the member's party support the notion that there really is a need for two kinds of oversight, even though this arrangement may not be contained in the bill?
View Jack Harris Profile
NDP (NL)
View Jack Harris Profile
2020-01-29 17:03 [p.651]
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to 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 appreciate the introduction by the minister responsible.
I would like to say, first of all, that the Canada Border Services Agency carries on very important work for the safety of Canada and its citizens, and it enforces some 70 different regulations and pieces of legislation that have been passed by Parliament or enacted through proper processes. It is an important piece of work that the agency does. There are at least 7,000 agents, and they operate at 130 different border points, so the work they do is very important.
They also, in conducting this work, have pretty extraordinary powers, probably greater than many police and law enforcement agencies. They can arrest and detain people who they believe are in Canada illegally. They can arrest with or without warrant. They can arrest people who they suspect are in violation of the act and detain them for, in some cases, indefinite periods.
As has been pointed out, with 96 million travellers in and out of the country, we do not have 96 million complaints, obviously, so it is pretty clear that the work that they are doing is, for the most part, not subject to complaint.
I appreciate that when we talk about the complaints that are made, we are talking about exceptions to proper behaviour, potentially. The complaints may not end up being found to be valid in some cases, but we know that there are sufficient numbers of valid complaints to have a cause for concern that this enforcement agency is not immune to bad behaviour and improper conduct. We know that this has happened, because complaints have been founded by investigations conducted by the CBSA itself.
There has, for a long period of time, been cause for concern that there was a lack of oversight of this body. Justice O'Connor in 2010 recommended that this oversight take place, but it did not take place. We raised this issue as a party in the Conservative years, in 2010, after Justice O'Connor and before, and up until we joined the last Parliament as well. I was not here, but I know my colleagues have done so, and they were not the only ones. Recognized and respected public bodies, such as the Canadian Bar Association, Amnesty International, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and others, have recognized and pointed out significant deficiencies in the activities and behaviour of the CBSA in the enforcement of its legislation.
It is kind of a given that this should happen. “Long overdue” are the words that have been used by the minister himself, recognizing that this legislation, or something like it, should have been brought forward a lot sooner than it was. It is unfortunate that this gap has not been addressed before this date, but we are heartened by the fact that it is here today.
I must say it was a half-hearted attempt by the Liberal government in the last Parliament to bring this legislation forward in the dying days of Parliament, several weeks before Parliament was to rise. It was passed over to the Senate on the 19th of June, the day before they were to rise, with no hope of any particular consideration there. The Liberal government deserves some blame for not bringing this legislation forward earlier to provide an opportunity for full discussion and debate.
There are some changes that have now been made. I did not get the sense from the minister's remarks, when he was asked about consultations, that any significant consultation has taken place with the union that was involved. Its members appeared before the committee. The customs and immigration union does have something to say about this. I think the union is generally supportive of the idea that there ought to be accountability, because it also provides an opportunity for officers who may be the subject of a complaint to be exonerated if the complaint is not founded, and it can be done in a public way.
All that being said, we do have to look carefully at some of the provisions of this legislation. Is it going to simply be a review of internal complaints or internal investigations that have been made? To what extent is it going to provide for an independent investigation? The power exists there. The practice is something that we have to be concerned about.
Are we going to be in a backlog situation, as we have seen with the RCMP civilian review system? Additional monies have been provided, and I see provisions for standards of performance in terms of dealing with complaints. Whether those standards can be met by just establishing standards of performance and whether the government is committed to being responsive to requests by the agency for sufficient funds or more staff as needed to meet those standards is the problem sometimes with agencies that have this kind of oversight. We want to have a good look at that to see what is going on when these things take place.
The NDP supports this legislation in principle and we will certainly be supporting it at second reading. We will look to see whether the minister is willing to consider amendments during consideration in committee. I am not proposing any here today, but I do want to see that the minister is prepared to consider arguments that may be made to bring about changes that would enhance the legislation and make it more effective.
We have heard specific concerns as well from the legal community in terms of how the practices of the agency have affected solicitor-client privilege, and there are concerns about solicitor-client privilege. We want to make sure that these concerns are addressed if they have not been addressed already, and I am not sure they have been addressed.
We would also want to see the opportunity, and I raised this with the member for Saint-Jean, to be involved in the policy and practices side of it. I note that in the legislation there is an opportunity for the committee itself to initiate reviews of specific practices. Whether it is going to be a robust effort on the part of the committee interests me. I suspect it may depend on who the committee members are.
I would want to see an opportunity for those kinds of reviews to take place through the initiative of someone else. For example, the Canadian Bar Association might want to see a review of a particular practice as it might affect a problem area, whether having to do with solicitor-client privilege or having to do with incidents that have come forward on a number of occasions. Other outside bodies as well might come to this body and ask it to conduct a review. I note that reviews can be done at the direction of the minister as well. That is something that may answer some of the concerns.
I am pretty sure this is not a perfect instrument, and I do not think it has been suggested that it is. It is a way forward, though, and NDP members supported it in the last Parliament because it was a step forward from what was in existence up until right now. There is no form of civilian oversight of this organization, and the lack of that kind of oversight has been noted for many years.
Enforcement officers have enormous powers, and they are a necessity. Officers deal in many cases with people in vulnerable circumstances, people who are refugees. Forty-one thousand refugees crossed into Canada during the last Parliament. These people are vulnerable. They are susceptible to being unable to complain or to feeling that complaining would potentially cause them problems, so vigorous oversight is needed there. It is important for us to ensure that this oversight takes place. There may be a need for third parties to approach the committee to make sure that the policies and practices that are in place adequately meet the required standards when enforcement officers are dealing with civilians whom they are entrusted to look after while also ensuring that the law is enforced.
Those are some of the concerns that New Democrats will be looking at carefully in committee. I am disturbed to hear that the examination of what happens in detention is excluded from this bill, but I am going to be looking very carefully at that. We do note, as was noted before in one of the speeches, that since the year 2000 there have been at least 14 deaths of people while in detention. I am not suggesting that these deaths were the result of negligence or improper behaviour, but the question remains. These were not able to be investigated by any outside agency specifically in relation to the behaviour toward and treatment of individuals who may have had ill treatment in custody. Whether or not there was in these individual cases, I am obviously not in a position to say.
However, the public must have confidence, ultimately, that there is a sufficient degree of transparency and oversight in order to believe that CBSA officers are acting not only in the public interest and for the safety of Canada, but also in a proper way when they are dealing with individuals, and that they are not abusing their position of power and trust. People must know they have recourse with a proper, independent, robust and accessible process that will make sure justice is done following any violation of proper and appropriate behaviour.
As was mentioned earlier, this is not something the union of the employees involved rejects. This is something it regards as proper and appropriate as well.
Having said all of that, New Democrats support this legislation being brought forward at second reading. We look forward to having an appropriate period of time to consider it and bring forward witnesses who can help with the analysis of it and offer their recommendations and opinions.
View Jack Harris Profile
NDP (NL)
View Jack Harris Profile
2020-01-29 17:17 [p.653]
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the minister's expression of willingness to meet with the representatives of the workers and not only hear from them in committee but also meet with them in person to hear what they have to say. That is encouraging.
There is also the openness to hear what is said in committee. We had a situation in the previous Conservative government. My experience then was that there was a resistance to amendments of any kind, even ones that the Conservatives finally had to make themselves when they realized that if they did not make them, the legislation would not work. I hope we will see a spirit of co-operation in committee when we have recommendations from good sources so we can see some changes.
View Jack Harris Profile
NDP (NL)
View Jack Harris Profile
2020-01-29 17:19 [p.653]
Madam Speaker, my colleague's question is an important one because there was a significant backlog in the RCMP complaints procedure. There was a backlog of 2,000 complaints, which is awful. If someone makes a complaint and it takes two, three or more years to deal with it, that is totally inadequate.
There were some performance standards mentioned in the bill, and we will have to look carefully at them to see whether they are talking about what the board does when it has a complaint finished, or whether there is actually a timeline that says that when someone makes a complaint there has to be a response to that individual. We should look into that carefully, and I plan to do that. I am looking forward to seeing what can be done to make sure that complainants have a response time that is adequate and reasonable.
I want to thank the hon. member for bringing that to the attention of the House.
View Jack Harris Profile
NDP (NL)
View Jack Harris Profile
2020-01-29 18:12 [p.662]
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the new member on his election to Parliament and on his first speech in the House. I am encouraged by his support for oversight of this law enforcement agency.
However, I wonder if the member shares the concerns expressed here today about the exclusion of consideration of complaints about the detention of people. Border agents have the power to arrest and detain people, with or without warrants. That seems to be excluded from the oversight.
Does the member have any concerns about that, since the border agents could arrest and hold children as well as adults without the possibility of complaints being dealt with?
View Jack Harris Profile
NDP (NL)
View Jack Harris Profile
2020-01-29 18:24 [p.663]
Mr. Speaker, I do have a concern, as has been mentioned earlier, that there are exemptions in this legislation for the ability to make complaints.
One is the action of CBSA agents in trying to identify suspected illegal immigrants in public. There have been allegations of agents identifying people based on profiling and asking them to prove that they are Canadian citizens.
The second exemption that was raised here today is the power to detain, sometimes indefinitely, children and their families without the oversight that this legislation would provide.
Does the member for Brampton North have any concerns that these types of activities, which are part of the enforcement provisions of agents of the CBSA, will be unregulated, in the sense that such complaints will not be considered by this complaint committee?
These are very serious matters that do need oversight, because complaints have been made about them.
Results: 1 - 9 of 9

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