Interventions in Committee
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View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I will endeavour to be judicious in my responses, to adhere to your direction.
It's a pleasure to once again have the opportunity to join the committee to discuss the 2019-20 main estimates. These estimates will include authorities for measures that, of course, were announced in budget 2019.
I'd like to take the opportunity to focus on some of the important measures that will fall within my mandate of ensuring that our borders remain secure and leading efforts to reduce organized crime. On the latter, as I've noted to this committee previously, taking action against gun and gang violence remains a top priority. We've seen an increase in gun violence across the country in recent years. Guns are still getting into the hands of people who would commit crimes with them. While I think the measures in Bill C-71 are exceptional and will go a long way to reversing the trend, I also believe there is more we can do.
Earlier this month, we issued a report outlining what we heard in an extensive cross-country engagement on this issue. In the meantime, funding through these estimates and budget 2019 can and will make a real difference right away.
I've noted before that the $327 million over five years, which the government announced in 2017, is already beginning to help support a variety of initiatives to reduce gun and gang activity in our communities across Canada. Over the past few months, I have been pleased to work with provinces, territories and municipalities as we roll out their portions of that funding specific to initiatives in their regions.
The Government of Canada is investing an additional $42 million through this year's estimates in the guns and gangs initiative. This is a horizontal initiative, which is being led by Public Safety Canada, and it is working in partnership, as always, with the Canada Border Services Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
With respect to policing more specifically, in this year's budget there's substantial funding for policing, including $508.6 million over five years to support the RCMP in strengthening policing operations. Of that $508.6 million, there is $96.2 million allotted for the RCMP policing operations in the estimates provided today. The RCMP is, of course, absolutely key to protecting our national security, to reducing the threat of organized crime and to supporting prevention, intervention and enforcement initiatives right across Canada.
The CBSA supports the RCMP and other law enforcement partners in Canada to counter organized crime and gang activity. Investments made through the estimates and budget will support new technologies, increased detector dog teams, specialized training and tools, and an augmented intelligence and risk assessment capacity. All of this will help to enhance the CBSA's operational responses to better interdict illicit goods, such as firearms and opioids, from crossing our borders. I'm confident the funding we're providing will help all of our partners keep Canada's evolving safety and security needs in place and include addressing gun and gang challenges.
With respect to the border security aspects of my mandate, I'm pleased to report that the government is making significant investments, through the budget and these estimates, to better manage, discourage and prevent irregular migration. Budget 2019 provides $1.2 billion over five years, starting this year, to IRCC, IRB, CBSA, RCMP and CSIS to implement a comprehensive asylum reform and border action plan. While IRCC is the lead on this action plan, the public safety portfolio has a very significant contribution to make.
As the committee is aware, the CBSA is responsible for processing refugee claims, which are made at official points of entry and at their inland offices. The funding approved under budget 2019 will enable the CBSA to strengthen its processes at our border, to help increase the asylum system's capacity and to accelerate claim processing. It will facilitate the removal of individuals found not to be in need of genuine protection from Canada in a more efficient and timely way. The strategy, supported by that funding, will guide these efforts.
Before I close, I'd like to take the opportunity to highlight one further item. Canadians have been hearing a great deal lately about money laundering, terrorism financing and tax evasion happening within our country, and they are rightly concerned. Money laundering is not only a threat to public safety, but it also harms the integrity and stability of the financial sector and the economy more broadly. The government is not waiting to take action to protect Canada's safety, security and quality of life. I'm pleased to note that in budget 2019, the government will invest $24 million over five years for Public Safety Canada to create an anti-money laundering action coordination and enforcement unit, or ACE. This is a pilot project that will strengthen inter-agency action against money laundering and financial crimes.
In addition, a further $68.9 million will be invested over five years, allocated to the RCMP, to enhance federal policing capacity, including the effort to fight money laundering, beginning with $4.1 million allocated in this fiscal year.
In addition, $28 million over five years is being invested in CBSA to support a new centre of expertise. The centre will work to identify and prosecute incidents of trade fraud, as well as potential cases of trade-based money laundering to be referred to the RCMP for investigation and prosecution.
As always, these are just a few examples of the important and vital work that the public safety portfolio and, in this case, the many departments that support my mandate are doing to protect Canadians.
Once again, I thank the committee members for their consideration of these estimates and for their ongoing efforts.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I look forward to members' questions.
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
Yes. Thank you very much, Ms. Dabrusin.
Guns that end up in the hands of criminals and are used to commit violent crimes in our community have a number of different sources. There are various estimates available from the various police services and agencies across the country that are determining the source of those illicit guns. It's quite clear that a significant portion of the guns used by gangs to commit criminal offences in our communities across Canada are illicitly imported into Canada across our borders. CBSA, of course, has a very important role in interdicting that supply.
I had the opportunity on the weekend to go down and visit the Point Edward CBSA facility and had the opportunity to speak about some of the work they're doing there, with the use of new technologies, the dog teams and, frankly, some really extraordinary and dedicated individuals—
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
Yes, real dogs. I actually met the dog. His name is Bones.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Hon. Bill Blair: They showed me how he searched a car. It's a really extraordinary use of even that. It's low-tech, but it works, and it works really well.
They were able to also share with me some of the extraordinary successes they've been able to achieve, including, for example, the seizure of a very high-powered assault rifle over the May 24 weekend, along with a number of large capacity magazines and ammunition. There is some excellent work that's taking place across our borders.
I will also tell you that there's an acknowledgement within CBSA and within the law enforcement community that to interdict the supply of guns coming across the border from the United States.... The United States is essentially the largest handgun arsenal in the world. There are many firearms there. Criminals know that if they can bring those guns across our border, they can be sold at a significant premium above what would be paid in the U.S., because they're not as readily available in Canada. It's a crime motivated by profit.
The police and CBSA understand that you can't just interdict the supply at the border, so there are some extraordinary efforts taking place. We are investing in the RCMP and municipal and provincial police services right across Canada that work in integrated border enforcement teams and conduct organized crime investigations to identify the individuals and the criminal organizations who are responsible for purchasing these guns in the United States, smuggling them across the border and then subsequently selling them to criminals in our country.
We have seen some extraordinary successes as a result of that partnership as well, but the work continues and is ongoing. We are making significant investments in this budget in CBSA and in law enforcement's capacity to conduct those investigations to improve the quality of the intelligence they gather and how they use that data to effect good success in their investigations and successful prosecution of the individuals who are responsible.
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
We identified a number of ways in which guns were getting into the hands of criminals. As I've already mentioned, a portion of those—some estimate 50%, some estimate as much as 70%—are in fact smuggled across the border. We also know that a number of those firearms that are subsequently used to commit criminal offences in Canada are domestically sourced.
Essentially, there are a number of reasonably well-identified ways in which that takes place. With regard to the first one, there have been a significant number of large-scale thefts where guns have been stolen either from a gun retailer or from an individual Canadian gun owner. Those guns are then subsequently made available on the street, sold to criminal organizations and used in criminal acts across the country. One of the things I heard, and we discussed very extensively, was how we might improve the secure storage of firearms to prevent those thefts, to make it harder for criminals to steal those guns and subsequently for them to go on the street.
There were also a number of cases where firearms were identified that had been purchased legally in this country, but then subsequently diverted into the criminal market by an individual with the intent of profiting by resale of those guns. It's a process that is sometimes referred to as straw purchasing. Essentially, it's an individual who has the legal authority to purchase a handgun, who sometimes tries to conceal its origin by removing the serial number, and then resells it on the street to somebody at a significant profit.
We identified in conversations across the country, and particularly with law enforcement, the importance of improving the tracing of those firearms that are used in criminal offences, so we can determine their origin of sale and better identify—and by detecting, thereby deterring—and hold accountable those individuals who are involved in that criminal activity. There were a number of other measures that we also heard about on interdicting the supply.
I've also heard from a number of people who have expressed concern that certain types of weapons, frankly, are a significant risk, and that additional steps should be considered in making them less available to those who would use them to harm others.
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
Ms. Dabrusin, much of my earlier comments were with respect to interdicting the supply of guns that get into the hands of criminals. However, our government recognizes that you also have to reduce the demand for those guns, so we are also making significant investments in communities and in kids. We are working particularly with municipalities, but I've been to each province and we're providing resources to each of the provinces and territories to make investments in their communities and in those community organizations that do an extraordinary job of working with young people to help them make better choices, safer and more socially responsible choices, to avoid getting involved in gangs in the first place.
There are also a number of initiatives that we are supporting, working with young people who have already been involved in gangs, to help them leave that gang lifestyle and to not engage in violent criminal activity that causes so much trauma in our communities across the country.
There's no one single response. Frankly, it requires very significant investments, and also looking more broadly—
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
Perhaps I will have the opportunity to come back to some of the other things we're doing that are making a difference.
Thanks, Mr. Chair.
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
Of course, I'm telling you the truth, Mr. Paul-Hus.
I was acknowledging the exceptional work that's being done by CBSA and by the RCMP, the police, provincial and municipal, right across the country. Given the resources and support they have had available to them, I think they do an extraordinary job.
We recognize that more needs to be done. It's precisely why we're making significant new investments and increasing their capacity to conduct these very complex investigations. For example, we recognize the importance of all law enforcement and departments and agencies working more collaboratively together. It's one of the reasons we're establishing for the money-laundering thing an action, coordination and enforcement centre.
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
Could you be specific about which Auditor General's report you are referring to, sir?
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
I'm sorry, I was referring to guns and money laundering. If you're talking about asylum claimants, one of the things that was identified, I believe, in that report was the work that was being done in security screening by CBSA.
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
Do you want an answer to that?
Sir, I'm happy to try to answer your question.
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
If there are any other questions you don't want answered, let me know.
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
I believe the Auditor General concluded his report and his estimates on what was required last spring, in 2018, and since that time our government.... First of all, budget 2018 made significant new investments in the IRB and CBSA, and of course, in the budget we've just presented before you today, which is $1.18 billion....
Just as an example, we're increasing the capacity of IRB from where it was when the Auditor General conducted his report. They had the ability then to do about 26,000 hearings per year. Under these new investments, by the end of next year, they'll be at approximately 50,000, so it responds very directly to the deficiency that was identified as a result of understaffing and underfunding that had previously been experienced. We made those investments in budgets 2018 and 2019.
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
I've listened very carefully to Minister Goodale's response and even his response earlier today, and I have exactly the same information as he provided to this committee.
It is a direct result of information provided by our agencies. I believe he did confirm that CBSA has determined that the number of inadmissibility cases for the period was 238 and also mentioned that we have been unable to determine any evidence that suggests—
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