The House resumed from February 22 consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, an act respecting the preclearance of persons and goods in Canada and the United States, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.
Ms. Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in the House to Bill C-23, an act respecting the preclearance of persons and goods in Canada and the United States. I also want to thank the member for Beloeil—Chambly for moving the recent amendment that is before us today related to Bill C-23.
I will outline the reasons I support the recent amendment against the background of where we are today. To do that, I must first point out that the conditions present when the bill was drafted and tabled simply are not the same conditions we are seeing today, and frankly, they are unlikely to revert back anytime soon. What are those changing conditions? Let me state the obvious for the government members, as they have chosen, in my view, to stick their heads in the sand and turn a blind eye to what is happening right under their noses.
As the NDP critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, I have been compelled on many occasions since the election of President Trump to speak out against the discriminatory immigration and humanitarian policies being enacted by our neighbours south of our border. Unfortunately, despite a welcoming plea to immigrants and refugees by the Prime Minister, the government has failed to match its words with action. Instead, the Prime Minister has chosen to turn a blind eye to the politics of fear and division the Trump administration is fanning against the immigrant and refugee community, most particularly the Muslim community. The government continues to remain silent. Worse, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship has gone so far as to suggest that nothing has changed. Anyone can see that plenty has changed since Trump was elected.
Hundreds of refugees have been forced to risk life and limb to cross illegally into Canada. In fact, the number has more than doubled, and in some cases even tripled, since Trump was elected. Since Trump was elected, there has been constant consternation about the situation, not just here in Canada but in the international community as well. One might ask why these refugees would risk their lives and limbs. They are doing it because they are desperate, because for them, the U.S. is no longer a safe haven.
Border communities are struggling to cope. Yesterday the Province of Manitoba announced that it will put resources into housing and resettlement for these asylum seekers. The Province of Manitoba has actually called for a federal, coordinated response, yet the federal government is missing in action.
Canadians are faced with racial profiling at the U.S. border, and the Prime Minister is busy, frankly, sucking up to Trump and will not even bring those cases to the President's attention. Instead, incidents of hate have reared their ugly heads, and we are seeing them in communities across this country.
The Prime Minister will not stand up and call out Trump's politics of fear and division. New executive orders are on their way, and so far, media reports suggest that these new executive orders will be strikingly similar to Trump's failed discriminatory orders. Perhaps the worst is yet to come.
It is with this information in mind that we must be examining Bill C-23, and not based on the situation when the agreement was signed under the Obama presidency. It is imperative that this legislation be examined under this drastic shift in conditions.
Let me say at the outset that while New Democrats will always be in favour of making it easier to access and cross the border, it must be noted that we feel strongly that this must never be done at the expense of Canadians' rights, privacy, and human rights. This is especially the case when those rights are compromised on Canadian soil. Many of my constituents are very concerned about Bill C-23 and are wondering what the implications are in practical terms, especially in the current troubling climate of uncertainty that has been created by the Trump administration.
Let me be clear. Bill C-23 would not address the concerns Canadians have regarding being interrogated, detained, and turned back at the border based on their race, religion, travel history, or birthplace as a result of policies that may contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In fact, Bill C-23 would increase the powers of U.S. officers on Canadian soil. Let me start with the issue of firearms. If Bill C-23 passes, it would mean that U.S. customs and border protection officers would be authorized to carry firearms in pre-clearance areas in land, rail, and marine stations. In fact, this bill could violate Canadian sovereignty by increasing the powers of American pre-clearance officers on Canadian soil with respect to the carrying of firearms and by not properly defining the criminal liability framework.
What we know is that the way U.S. customs and border protection carries out its national security mandate is very different from that of the Canada Border Services Agency. Many studies have shown that officers are trigger-happy, frankly, and use lethal force much too often. This should be a major concern for Canadians.
However, the authority that would be granted to U.S. customs officers would not stop there. The adoption of Bill C-23 would also mean that strip searches could be conducted by American pre-clearance officers. While U.S. customs officers would have to ensure that a CBSA officer of the same sex as the traveller was present during a strip search, if one was not available or declined to conduct a strip search, a U.S. customs officer would be authorized to do the search. This would be especially problematic during peak hours and the holiday season or when the CBSA was understaffed.
For those from the transgender community, Bill C-23 lacks provisions to protect their rights and freedoms, as the wording of Bill C-23 uses the term “sex” instead of “gender”. What does this mean? It means that those whose biological characteristics do not match their gender identity would be denied access to a pre-clearance officer of the same gender if they were strip-searched.
I will quote from the U.S. customs and border protection website regarding the procedure for searching transgender individuals. It states, “If the individual being searched has undergone the total transformation, the current gender of that person will dictate whether or not a male or female U.S. Customs and Border Protection...Officer performs the search”.
This language is discriminatory, because it ignores the reality of many transgender persons who do not want to, have not, or cannot undergo sex reassignment surgery.
What is more, Bill C-23 would also mean that people could be detained and questioned by U.S. pre-clearance officers on Canadian soil. Under the proposed legislation, travellers would no longer be able to exercise their right to withdraw from questioning. They could be detained and be obliged to answer any questions asked of them by U.S. officers. The act says that a traveller must not be “unreasonably” delayed. However, Bill C-23 does not clearly define what constitutes to “unreasonably delay” a traveller's withdrawal following a request to leave the pre-clearance area.
The implications of Bill C-23 does not stop there. We have seen that searches of electronic devices and requests to access the digital universe of travellers to the U.S. have been on the rise since the inauguration of Trump. In fact, a recent statement by the Trump administration suggests that an order requiring all travellers to disclose the contents of their electronic devices could be adopted. Bill C-23 would do nothing to ensure that Canadians' right to privacy would be protected during searches of electronic devices. While the government will argue that is up to people if they want to provide their devices to U.S. customs officers, the fact is that many travellers would be intimidated by them and would find it difficult to refuse such a request.
In addition, Bill C-23 would also mean that CBSA officers at a U.S. airport could prevent some Canadian permanent residents from boarding their flights if the officer somehow suspected that travellers had breached their permanent residency requirements. The bill also means, for refugees, that they could not make a claim for refugee status in the Canadian pre-clearance perimeter in the U.S.
To top it all off, Canadian officers would not be bound by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms when they were in positions of authority outside Canadian borders. This would mean that Canada Border Services Agency officers posted to pre-clearance areas in the U.S. could screen Canadian travellers under U.S. law, which is far more permissive in terms of the invasion of privacy.
Since Bill C-23 was first tabled, we have already seen significant developments outside our control with the change to the Trump administration. It is unquestionable that the Trump administration has attempted to quickly enact sweeping, significant, disturbing shifts in American immigration and border policy.
It is also unquestionable that these policies have already had a direct impact on Canadians, and incidents of racial profiling are already taking place. We have heard numerous stories reported in the media of Canadians being interrogated at the Canada-U.S. border. They have been asked intrusive questions about their faith and ethnic background, interrogated for hours, and ultimately refused entry to the U.S. and left humiliated.
Some of these Canadians, while Muslim, have had no connection to the countries included in the ban the Trump administration tried to impose. This was despite assurances by the Canadian government that they would not be impacted by Trump's attempt to bring forward discriminatory travel bans. Despite some of these discriminatory executive orders being suspended by the U.S. court system, we know that Canadians are being impacted already.
Media reports so far suggest that new executive orders from Trump will be strikingly similar to those he tried to bring forward that were struck down by the courts. While I hope that there will be a change in direction with the pending new executive orders from Trump, I am not holding my breath. I fear that the troubling direction the Trump administration has signalled will continue.
With this level of uncertainty, it is my view that it would be irresponsible of the government to move forward with this bill. My colleague, the member for Beloeil—Chambly, moved a recent amendment to Bill C-23. This is a call for the House to decline to give second reading to Bill C-23. The reasons are quite simple. Let me outline them specifically for the House:
|| (a) neglects to take into account the climate of uncertainty at the border following the discriminatory policies and executive orders of the Trump Administration; (b) does not address Canadians’ concerns about being interrogated, detained, and turned back at the border based on race, religion, travel history or birthplace as a result of policies that may contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; (c) does nothing to ensure that Canadians’ right to privacy will be protected during searches of electronic devices; and (d) violates Canadian sovereignty by increasing the powers of American preclearance officers on Canadian soil with respect to the carrying of firearms and by not properly defining a criminal liability framework.
Let me be clear, if Bill C-23 passes, the Canadian government will no longer be just complicit in the discriminatory treatment of Canadians at the border. If Bill C-23 passes, U.S. customs and border protection officers would be authorized to carry out these acts of discrimination on Canadian soil. It is unacceptable across the border, but it would become reprehensible if our government allowed this to happen within our own country. I urge all members of this House to reject Bill C-23 and support the reasoned amendment.
I would like to finish my time by sharing the concerns of one of my constituents who took the time to write to me regarding his concerns around Bill C-23.
|| I am one of your constituents...and a born-and-raised Vancouverite...I am writing today on an issue that is very important to me. For a number of years, I lived in the United States of America, legally. I had an H1B visa that was renewed for my job...I have travelled across the Canada-US border innumerable times in my life. I have also faced mistreatment from border guards on both sides. A lawyer in New York helped me with my immigration case throughout so I did everything by the book; everything above board – and yet I was still treated like a criminal on many occasions. Thankfully, I always had the right to rescind my application for entry and I also stood firm knowing the Canadian government would protect my rights, my safety and – frankly – my body from any infringements on my rights as a free, upstanding, law-abiding citizen. Bill C-23, as I understand it, would strip that safety net away from Canadians such as myself. It would leave us vulnerable to frightening searches and allow border guards to overstep the boundaries of ethics and accountability.
|| I understand strong border protection is of utmost importance but, as the bill is written now, I have to urge you to vote against it in parliament.
This one email is a sample of many emails I have received in my office. My phone has been ringing off the hook. People have grave concerns with Bill C-23.
Any time we debate legislation that has an impact on how Canadians leave and re-enter our country, it is vital that we take the utmost care in the examining of the details of the legislation, its broader implications, possible unintended consequences, and anticipated changes to the status quo outside of our control. We owe that to Canadians. It is our job to do exactly that.
Without adequate legislative assurances that Canadian rights will be respected in Canada, I simply cannot support the bill. I would urge all members to think about what that means for their constituents. We can hold off and see what will happen with respect to the Trump administration on the new order. We can ensure the government takes action right now to raise the concerns that many Canadians have already said need to be brought to the attention of the Trump administration.
Our government has refused to undertake that work to date. Now we are dealing with allowing increased authority to U.S. officials. It is simply wrong. When will we stand up and fight for Canadian rights and protect those rights? Bill C-23 must not pass. The recent amendment that has been tabled should be adopted. If we adopt that, it will give us time to examine the situation and then to ensure we bring forward measures that are appropriate for all Canadians and, most important, that protect Canadian rights on the border.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak to what I believe is a very positive piece of legislation, contrary to the last 30 minutes of listening to the New Democrats trying to position themselves on this. Canadians should feel comfortable in knowing that the NDP knows nothing about what it is talking about. Quite frankly, it is difficult to understand the position that the NDP is taking on Bill C-23. It makes no sense.
Allow me to expand on that. The member started off by talking about refugees and challenged the government's approach on refugees. No government in the last number of decades has been more proactively engaged in trying to assist refugees coming to Canada than this government and this Prime Minister. The numbers will clearly show that. I do not know why the member would want to start off the debate by talking about refugees, because our government has done so exceptionally well on that particular front.
What really set me back was that the member tried to give those who might be listening or following the debate a false impression. If we listen to the member, we should think of where we have pre-clearance today. It is at different airports, including the city of Winnipeg. After listening to the member, if one were wondering, one might think that these U.S. customs agents are going to have guns on their sides. If one were listening, it was a fear thing, that someone is going to walk into these airports and have U.S. citizens, known as customs officers and immigration officers, with guns on their bodies. That is not true. I do not know if the NDP realizes that. In the speech I heard from the member, it is just not true.
The reality is, with the legislation, they can have the same sorts of tools or equipment that Canada border control officers would have at the airport. I have a news flash for the NDP: Canada border control officers do not have guns at the airport facilities.
The member made reference to racial profiling. None of us supports racial profiling and all the nastiness that goes along with it. She talked about difficult questions that are going to be asked of Canadians and permanent residents going through these pre-clearance centres. She made it sound as if Canadians are going to go through a difficult time. Does the member and the NDP not realize what the concept of pre-clearance really is? The purpose of pre-clearance is to prevent individuals from having to go through clearance in the United States. I would much prefer to have pre-clearance here in Canada than to fly into the United States and then have to go through clearance.
The Liberal Party is the party that came up with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was Pierre Elliott Trudeau who introduced the Charter of Rights. The legislation we are debating today would in fact guarantee the Charter of Rights for every citizen and every resident at our airports.
If one were to listen to the New Democrats, one would think that the government would be abandoning the rights of Canadians and permanent residents if the bill were to pass. I do not know where they are getting their information. Can they not recognize the true value of it?
Let me talk about the Toronto international airport. It is one of those airports that generates hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity for the city of Toronto every year. If we did not have pre-clearance at that international airport, there would be only roughly 25 or 26 destinations where we could fly from Toronto to U.S. airports. However, because of pre-clearance, it gets closer to 50 destinations. That is a very strong positive. Many of those American cities where Canadians are choosing to fly do not have the full customs and immigration facilities. Therefore, if we did not have that pre-clearance at the Toronto international airport, they would not be able to fly into those communities.
If we fly from airports in Canada, Winnipeg, Halifax, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, to the United States, we have a sense of what pre-clearance is. I do not know if any New Democrats have actually participated in a pre-clearance at any of those airports, but I suspect if they checked with most Canadians, they would find it is a positive thing.
Some legislation that has passed over the years, I would classify as almost no-brainers. That is not to marginalize the issues, but if New Democrats have some legitimate concerns in regard to it, they can address those concerns at committee stage and raise them in second reading. However, I do not believe that they understand the difference between pre-clearance and arriving in the U.S. where they would have to go through the process.
It is important that we understand that. We need to understand that at the end of the day, Canada does a great deal of trade, economic commerce, and a great deal of tourism into the United States, and vice versa. Pre-clearance is not something new; it has been happening for decades. Even as governments have changed, governments have consistently looked at ways that they can enhance pre-clearance. We do that because we understand the special relationship between Canada and the U.S. The more that the Government of Canada and the Government of the U.S. work together on dealing with issues such as pre-clearance, whether it is people or cargo, the more both Canada and the U.S. benefit immensely by it.
It is estimated that there is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 600,000 direct jobs that come out of tourism. When we think of tourism, approximately two-thirds of it, from what I understand, comes from the United States. When I look at it, I see one of Winnipeg's golden gems, one of the things we truly appreciate as a tourist attraction, something called Folklorama. It is a celebration of culture and heritage of a wide variety of different ethnic groups. Typically, we have 50 pavilions that participate. I want to use this as an example of the importance of tourism.
The Minister of Small Business and Tourism, our government House leader, talked about what is important to small businesses and made reference to tourism. I believe that if members across the way, in particular New Democrats, recognize the importance of that industry, they should be supporting this legislation, not voting against the legislation. If I were to highlight tourism, I would go back to the Folklorama celebration.
Our Prime Minister often talks about one of Canada's greatest strengths, which is in fact diversity. It is our diversity that we recognize as Canada's greatest strength. We are in the time of Canada's 150th birthday. It is an appropriate time to have this kind of legislation on our 150th birthday. We should be encouraging more people to come to Canada, and those who are in Canada should be encouraged to check out many more of the Canadian sights that we have. I know this will be a very special year.
Getting back to Folklorama, it is a special celebration, which I have been attending for well over 20 years. What we can expect if we go to Winnipeg during the summertime, as many Americans do, is to participate in one of Canada's best multicultural events, and I would argue it is the best multicultural event. It goes on for two solid weeks.
Roughly 50 pavilions will participate, and each pavilion will have a full evening of activities for one solid week. There will be 26 in the first week and roughly 26 in the second week. What can people expect when they walk in the door? They can expect to see some great entertainment, things like shows, which will include cultural dances, singing, arts, and heritage set-ups by different communities. I highly recommend that people participate if they want a sense of what Canada is like in terms of our multicultural society.
Why do I use that as an example? It is because roughly 15 million to 18 million tourists will come to Canada and stay overnight. Imagine the number of hotel rooms that will be utilized by those individuals, most of whom will come from the U.S.
The economic benefits of pre-clearance speaks volumes with respect to the potential for growth in the future. The more we move in that direction, the better it will be for both Canada and the U.S. Canadians often fly to U.S. destinations and stay for a few nights. The convenience of being pre-cleared at a Canadian airport far outweighs clearing immigration or customs in an American city.
The member across the way and her party have referenced things like tough questions being asked and racial profiling. If we stop and think about it, I would rather be asked those tough questions and so forth on Canadian soil. Pre-clearance does that, in part. There is the opportunity for having things like Canada's Charter of Rights apply with respect to Canadian travellers. Other concerns have also been raised. However, when we look at the bigger picture, the millions of dollars in cargo that crosses our border every day, the thousands of individuals, we can agree, I am sure, that this legislation is a step in the right direction.
People should not be surprised. Since we have been in government, we have taken a proactive approach when it comes to trade and commerce. We encourage and support our middle class and those who aspire to be a part of it, and we do that in different ways. Trade matters for Canada. Canada is a trading nation. One of the reasons that we have the lifestyle we have today in Canada is because of trade.
I will go back to when our Prime Minister met with the president. Both acknowledged the benefits of our border and the importance of the trade that goes both ways. There is, generally speaking, goodwill for both nations to co-operate on facilitating that trade. Whether it is the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of International Trade, or their respective parliamentary secretaries, in fact the Liberal caucus as a whole, we are all proactive on that front. My home city of Winnipeg and every region of this country benefit immensely from trade.
The best buses in the world are made in Winnipeg. Some of the best tractors in the world are made in Winnipeg. If we want to talk about the aerospace industry, we need look no further than Winnipeg. I could go on about the pork industry, and so many other industries as well.
All of those industries are very much dependent on trade relations between Canada and the U.S., and more and more with other countries as well. This is one of the reasons we are not focusing on just one country. We realize the benefits. We have CETA with Europe, which is a very important economy. We can talk about the special relationship between Canada and Ukraine, which is another trade agreement. In recent weeks, we were able to push both of these agreements through the House of Commons.
I can talk about the canola oil issue. It is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but it was a controversial issue in China. As a government, we were able to deal with that, which was great news for our prairie farmers.
A great deal of things are making a positive difference. As the Prime Minister and the U.S. President have acknowledged, it is important that we look at that shared border, and if there are ways we can enhance it with issues like pre-clearance, then we should be doing it. In fact, as we are debating this bill today, the U.S. has already completed legislation of a similar nature, which is going through its process. I really do believe that there is the potential.
We have another community that is going to be seeing an expansion of the services. I am thinking of the Billy Bishop airport in Toronto, the Jean Lesage airport in Quebec City, and for some rail passengers heading into the United States, the Montreal Central Station and the Rocky Mountaineer railway in British Columbia. All would realize very tangible benefits.
The best example I could give, which I have already provided to members, is the Toronto Pearson International Airport. However, the same principle applies wherever we have seen pre-clearance being given, and it does make a difference.
We can talk to the Mayor of Winnipeg or any politician who follows the issue of the relationship between the U.S. and Canada. If they recognize the importance of trade, and of people going back and forth, then they will recognize how important it is that we have pre-clearance.
As I indicated earlier, pre-clearance has been around for decades, but we as a government have recognized that we can do better on this file. We have this legislation before us today because it would enhance Canada's opportunities going forward. It would ensure that Canadians and permanent residents, those who call Canada home, would have better access to the U.S. For small businesses and so forth, the opportunity to have items pre-cleared is becoming more and more of a reality. However, there is so much more that we can still do on the file. The Prime Minister himself will tell us that we can always do better, and we will strive to do better.
I would highly recommend that my New Democratic colleagues across the way revisit their decision on this bill. Every criticism they have levelled at the pre-clearance issue, this piece of legislation, would apply equally or more if we did not have pre-clearance for Canadians and permanent residents landing in U.S. airports. Their arguments do not seem to support the fact that they are voting against the legislation.
I will leave it at that, believing that at the end of the day Canadians would benefit immensely by the passage of Bill C-23. I highly recommend that all members of this House support it.