Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise again to speak to Bill C-23. I had an opportunity to illuminate many of the great benefits the bill would bring to Canadians in my speech at second reading.
I want to begin my comments by thanking all the members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for their work. It is evidenced by the fact that our government adopted all of the committee's amendments, including the NDP amendment for a five year review. There is an excellent relationship between the committee and our ministry in making sure we have the most effective bill possible. It has been a pleasure to work with the committee members, and I want to take the opportunity now at third reading stage to thank them.
It is appropriate that we are speaking to Bill C-23 on the eve of summer. Many Canadians are getting ready for their travel plans, visiting family, or taking a vacation. One of the things they do not want to deal with on vacation is long lines, hassles, and problems getting to where they want to go.
Preclearance would help us facilitate the movement of goods, services, and people, making sure people are avoiding long lines, and that they can expand the number of destinations they can go to. In fact, some 12 million passengers each and every year in the airline sector alone already use preclearance. Some people may use preclearance, and not even realize they do. People flying out of Pearson have the opportunity to go through customs before landing on U.S. soil, which not only accelerates the opportunity for them to get to work, see family, or start their vacation, it also means they get to have that process happen on Canadian soil. I will get back to that in just a moment.
On the range of airports, it means there are a vast number of airports that suddenly open up to airline passengers as if they are domestic travellers. If people want to go to Nashville, for example, in the absence of preclearance, they will be in for a lot of transfers. With preclearance, they get to go there directly, roughly doubling the number of cities they can travel to as Canadian citizens. That is certainly a big benefit as a traveller.
The other point, which is incredibly important, is that often in this debate, we have a discussion in abstraction about whether or not there will be issues with moving preclearance on this side. Aside from the fact that it has already been happening for six decades, there is the point that someone who is already travelling to the United States gets to have that process happen on Canadian soil. The great benefit of that is that individuals have the opportunity to have the full protection of the Canadian charter, the Canadian Bill of Rights, and Canadian law, generally, so that if something were to happen that they did not agree with, there is the opportunity in the process to have that protection on Canadian soil.
It is important to look at this in conjunction with the work we are doing on oversight, more generally, to ensure as we look at our oversight mechanisms more broadly, when someone does have problems, CBSA has independent oversight. Members can see what is proposed with oversight more generally with Bill C-59, which was tabled just yesterday. It was the largest update of our security intelligence framework since the creation of CSIS. It would put in place rigorous and effective oversight, both in the form of a security and intelligence review body, but also in the form of a committee of parliamentarians. I was very pleased to see the Senate adopt BillC-22 without amendment yesterday. It will allow us to bring forward that committee of Parliament.
Therefore, it can be seen that we are looking at oversight, and making sure that the laws and powers that are extended have rigorous oversight. Of course, one of the great advantages of having preclearance happen on Canadian soil is the leverage. If something were to go wrong, there is the opportunity to have discussions bilaterally with our U.S. neighbours to ameliorate that.
There have been some questions about different elements of the bill. For example, if people walk into a detention area, they have to explain why they are there. Some people have taken issue with that, saying there should not be unnecessary delays. Of course, that is exactly the language of the bill. One should only be detained for a limited period of time, and it should only be to ascertain necessary information. Some people have asked, why? Very importantly, we could imagine that if somebody walked into a detention area, was just looking around, casing out a preclearance zone, and then made a decision to leave, we want to know why they were there, why they showed up. Asking questions in that regard is extremely important.
I spoke to many of these matters when we were at second reading. I want to come to the testimony we heard at committee. The committee had an excellent opportunity to hear from a very wide array of witnesses as to the economic and other benefits that would come as a result of Bill C-23.
We are all aware of the aspirations of the Jean Lesage and Billy Bishop airports. It is important to enumerate and talk about some of the other witnesses we heard from in terms of the benefits of this bill. In conjunction with that, technical briefings were provided to parliamentarians by Public Safety Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency that expanded upon some of the concerns, and I hope answered them.
I would like to go to the individuals from a variety of sectors such as tourism, Canada-U.S. trade, airports, and others. They told the public safety committee how preclearance would benefit their businesses. On that basis, I am going to begin with the tourism industry.
Rocky Mountaineer, one of the sites included in preclearance expansion, spoke to committee about how the current customs process works at their station in Vancouver, B.C. With routes that run between Vancouver and Seattle, Rocky Mountaineer currently uses post-clearance customs and immigration processes.
For example, on a southbound journey, U.S. customs and border protection officers conduct customs proceedings on arrival in Seattle. It can take 30 to 45 minutes to clear an entire train upon arrival. With preclearance, passengers would be cleared as they arrive to the train station, similar to the experience they go through at one of the eight Canadian airports with preclearance operations, some of which I was referring to earlier. Instead of a large group of people arriving simultaneously to be cleared, passengers could be managed as they arrive, and check in for their trip. It would be a more comfortable and manageable experience for passengers, and much more efficient for customs and immigration officers. That is the primary goal of Bill C-23 more broadly, to make the traveller experience more efficient, while maintaining security standards at the border.
As the Business Council of Canada pointed out during its testimony to committee, travellers seek out the path of greatest convenience and least resistance in air travel. It is not just the convenience factor, but there is a major economic benefit to the changes being talked about today. As Canadians or others are contemplating what kind of travelling they may want to do this summer, or any point in the year, they are going to choose the options where they are least inhibited, and are going to be dealing with the least number of headaches. Helping facilitate that is only in our best interest, particularly when we are thinking of foreign visitors who may be attempting to travel in and around North America.
preclearance would give Canada a competitive advantage. It would increase the number of destinations Canadians could travel to directly. I gave examples earlier, and Reagan airport in Washington is another great example. Without preclearance facilities, a traveller from Ottawa would not be able to fly directly to Reagan because it does not have customs and immigration facilities. I gave the other example earlier of Nashville.
Once travellers would be pre-cleared in a Canadian airport, they would arrive in the United States just like any other domestic travellers in the U.S. It would let them step off the plane immediately, make a connection, head to a meeting, or begin their vacation, all because they were able to pre-clear at the start of their travels in Canada.
The Business Council of Canada further stated that our country has a great desire for increased trade investment in tourism, and expanding preclearance would give a tremendous competitive advantage. It is worth noting that, in an age when there is so much competition for trade and commerce, anything we can do to eliminate obstacles and red tape, and move people, goods, and services in a better fashion is only to our advantage. Where we do not put it in place, we have a competitive disadvantage that is incredibly inhibiting. What we heard in testimony is how important it is to have preclearance go through to make sure we continue to have a strong competitive advantage.
Billy Bishop Airport also spoke specifically to this advantage. It has worked extensively to bring preclearance to the Toronto Island Airport over the last several years, and would work to implement preclearance facilities at its airport with the passage of Bill C-23.
I have had the opportunity to meet with the folks who are responsible for Billy Bishop, and they are ready to go. They foresee enormous economic benefits, not only for that airport, but for the entire greater Toronto region, and of course for the Canadian economy.
Billy Bishop welcomed 2.7 million passengers in 2016 alone, generating $2.1 billion as an economic impact per year. It is a huge amount, and that is before it has preclearance. It is the sixth-largest departing airport for U.S.-bound passengers, and the ninth-largest airport in Canada. Expanding preclearance to Billy Bishop will promote speed, access to increased destinations, and efficiencies, all without compromising security or safety of the border. In fact, from my earlier comment earlier, it would enhance them. It would make sure that Canadians are getting their preclearance done on Canadian soil under the full protection of Canadian law.
Toronto Pearson International Airport is the original example of the benefits of preclearance, as the original airport to be granted preclearance. As the Greater Toronto Airport Authority testified before committee, each new link or flight route is an opportunity for trade and jobs, something I do not think anybody in this House wants to stand between.
Toronto Pearson has become the fourth-largest air entry point into the United States. It pre-cleared six million passengers last year alone. It has had a 30% increase in preclearance traveller growth in the past five years. Quite simply, these numbers demonstrate the undeniable need for expansion and preclearance. If we see the benefit and impact of preclearance at Pearson, and we imagine Billy Bishop and all the other locations that are contemplating preclearance, and we magnify that increase in travel and that increase in commerce, it is not hard to get to a very significant number and the billions of dollars in increased activity for our economy.
The Tourism Industry Association of Canada spoke to these benefits as well. It noticed last year that $91.6 billion was generated from tourism revenues in Canada alone. Over 627,000 Canadians are employed in the tourism industry. It is a massive number of people who are counting on us to have a regime that works for them, and facilitates movement of people, goods, and services.
As Canada's tourism industry grows, we must ensure that we are doing all we can to modernize and expedite the flow of people and products across our border with the United States. Not only does preclearance attract tourists, but it can attract the air service, and allow airports to offer enhanced connectivity in an incredibly competitive global industry. It is a huge boon for both travellers and airports.
Canadian airports connect and manage over 133 million passengers each and every year. Of those, 9.8 million are tourists to Canada. In 2015, 12 million travellers were pre-cleared in Canadian airports to travel to the United States. The expansion of preclearance to additional airports and other modes of travel, such as rail, will build on the success of preclearance operations. The economic and traveller benefits cannot be overstated. As we heard from many in the tourism, airport, rail, and Canada-U.S. trade industries, these changes are absolutely vital. Bill C-23 would ensure that more Canadians have access to preclearance, while making border travel and trade easier, more profitable, and more secure.
Perhaps in the closing time that I have, I can go over some of the concerns that have been raised, and how we think those concerns can be fully addressed. One of the concerns that was raised, both during the committee proceedings and outside of them, was the ability for officers to conduct strip searches of travellers in Canada.
The rules governing searches by U.S. preclearance officers will be almost the same under Bill C-23 as they are right now. A U.S. officer will still have to ask a Canadian officer to conduct a search involving the removal of clothing. The only difference is that in a rare circumstance that a Canadian officer is unavailable, the U.S. officer would be able to conduct the search. Any search by an officer of either country would be subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is important to note just how rare a circumstance that would be, that a Canadian officer would not be present, but also how important, that if there were not a Canadian officer, that search could still take place.
Sometimes individuals have something on their person that could represent an immediate risk and danger to officers, and if officers are unable to conduct that search, it could put them at great risk, so it is something that cannot be deferred or simply held back.
Some people have asked what protections would exist for a transgender traveller being strip-searched by a U.S. officer. I can say that CBSA has policies in place allowing exceptions to the rule that strip searches must be conducted by an officer of the same sex as the traveller. For instance, in the case of a transgender person, searches of this nature by U.S. preclearance officers in Canada would be conducted in accordance with CBSA procedures and Canadian human rights jurisprudence. U.S. officers would be provided training to ensure that their conduct met these standards. This is yet another benefit of undergoing U.S. border procedures on Canadian soil.
I think I have explained why people have to identify their purpose when they arrive in a preclearance zone, so I will not talk about that any further.
Some people have questioned the term “unreasonable delay”. They have suggested that “unreasonable delay” of someone in a preclearance area is overly vague. Liberals would disagree. The concept of reasonableness is used widely in legislation and case law and usually means that other people in the same situation would reach the same conclusion or behave in the same way.
With respect to officer authorities, it has been used to refer to generally accepted standards. In fact, when the existing preclearance law was being debated in 1999, the NDP at that point argued in favour of adding the word “reasonable” to the section on the use of force as a way of limiting officer authorities. Certainly the NDP, in 1999, agreed that the term was specific enough to provide the protection and coverage required.
Others have questioned whether Bill C-23 would entitle U.S. officers to carry guns in Canadian airport terminals. The answer is no. Let me be very clear on this point. American officers would carry the same weapons as Canadian border officers in the same environment, without exception. Canadian border officers carry firearms at land, rail, and marine ports of entry, so U.S. preclearance officers would do the same. However, Canadian border officers do not carry firearms in airport terminals, so neither would Americans.
The same principle of reciprocity would apply to Canadian officers conducting preclearance in the U.S. One of the important tenets of the agreement reached with the Americans is the element of reciprocity. We would never see U.S.border officers with guns or comporting themselves in ways that would not be applied in the U.S. under similar circumstances.
It is worth mentioning that our hope and aspiration in passing this bill is that not only would preclearance be vastly expanded to include more locations across Canada but that we would see the same economic benefits and the benefits of the rapidity of travel we saw at YYZ . However, we hope, and have every reasonable expectation to believe, that the Americans will themselves also engage in preclearance in the opposite direction, which would have tremendous economic benefits and is something we would open by adopting Bill C-23.
The last question put to us was the question of permanent residents of Canada being denied entry by Canadian preclearance officers in the U.S. That is not a concern. In almost all cases, permanent residents would be treated exactly the same way in preclearance areas as they would be at any other entry point in Canada. The rare exception would be where there was a major issue of inadmissibility, such as serious criminality. Such individuals would still come to Canada, subject to the usual admissibility rules, at an ordinary point of entry. They just would not have the benefit of preclearance.
I hope I was able to outline for the House the tremendous benefits we have before us with Bill C-23. We need to get moving on this so we can help our tourism industry, trade, and Canada more generally.