Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Customs Act

September 18, 2017

Bill C-21 Speech

Mr. Speaker, this legislation is important to all of us. All Canadians stand to benefit when this legislation is ultimately passed.

In my riding we have two automotive assembly plants, one of which is unfortunately on strike today. Traffic across the border, both ways, is so crucial for all of our ridings, for a variety of reasons.

I would just say that in June 2016, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness introduced Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Customs Act. The bill amends the Customs Act to authorize Canada Border Services Agency to collect biographical information on all travellers, including Canadian citizens as they leave Canada. CBSA will have a discretionary authority, which means it may collect the information, however it is not required to do so.

This proposed piece of legislation is part of the beyond the border action plan, which was jointly declared in 2011 by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper and then President Barack Obama establishing a long-term partnership respecting perimeter security. For those in the House not aware, let me outline the key areas of co-operation between Canada and the U.S. as set out in that joint declaration. They are addressing threats early, trade facilitation, economic growth and jobs, integrated cross-border law enforcement, critical infrastructure, and cyber security.

This beyond the border action plan, also known as the entry-exit initiative, was to be implemented by June 2014 under the original mandate. Almost two years after this initiative was to be implemented in March 2016, the current Prime Minister first announced the agreement with the United States to fully implement a system to exchange basic biographical information. It is good to see the Liberal government recognizing and following through on the hard work which began under the previous Conservative government and taking border security seriously.

According to the government, the entry-exit initiative will respond to the outbound movement of high-risk travellers and their goods prior to their actual departure from Canada by air; respond more effectively in time-sensitive situations, such as responding to amber alters, which is very important in helping find abducted children and runaways; and help prevent the illegal export of controlled, regulated, or prohibited goods from Canada.

If adopted, Bill C-21 will amend section 159 of the Customs Act to make it an offence to smuggle or attempt to smuggle out of Canada any goods that are subject to duties. The proposed amendments will authorize officers to require goods exported from Canada to be reported despite exemptions and give CBSA the power to examine goods being exported. The Conservative Party recognizes the potential to inspect goods actually in the country to deter criminals from smuggling illegal and controlled goods out of the country.

I am pleased to see the government move forward with this entry-exit initiative, as this piece of legislation addresses the long-standing Conservative priorities regarding border security and ensuring that entitlement programs are not abused. If enacted, Bill C-21 would allow verification of travel dates to determine applicable duty and tax exemptions and continued entitlement to social programs. With the verification of travel dates, this legislation has the potential to save an estimated $20 million per year from those who are unduly receiving entitlement programs well out of Canada.

Changes proposed to the Customs Act will support our law enforcement and national security operations through the exchange of traveller information. The Conservative Party knows how important and difficult it will be to ensure the information collected by federal officials reach the national security and law enforcement officials throughout the country who need access to this information in a timely manner.

Our Conservative Party believes this initiative is good news for the hard-working taxpayer as it will cut down on employment insurance and benefit cheats. The Canada Border Services Agency will be able to identify individuals who do not leave Canada at the end of their authorized period of stay and provide decision makers with an accurate picture of an individual’s travel history.

The legislation would focus immigration enforcement activities on persons still in Canada and eliminate wasted time and resources spent on issuing immigration warrants and conducting investigations on individuals who already have left the country. This information collected on travellers will verify whether applicants for permanent residency or citizenship have complied with residency requirements.

While benefits of this program may include the strengthening of Canada’s immigration border management, nation security, law enforcement, and program integrity, there are still a few details that need to be addressed. As one of the goals of these changes is to help prevent the legal export of controlled, regulated, or prohibited goods from Canada, it is key that we ensure CBSA has the resources required to carry out the inspection of goods existing the country.

We recognize that it is important to Canadians that their personal information be secure and their privacy protected. While Bill C-21 would give CBSA direction to collect biographical data on travellers as they leave Canada, the government must take measures to ensure our agencies are not overloaded with too much data, rendering the data collection useless, despite the fact they must also ensure data protection and security.

Bill C-21 follows a similar path as the legislation put forward by the Conservative government in 2011.

These amendments are welcome improvements to the Customs Act and will raise the level of co-operation between Canada and the U.S. in order to address threats early, facilitate trade, and integrate cross-border law enforcement. If the Liberal Party wants to continue putting forward legislation from previous Conservative initiatives like the beyond the borders action plan, it will be welcome to it.

Mr. Speaker, there is a variety of good points in the legislation. The member asked a question a few minutes ago about one of those points, that being amber alerts and people who would cross the border. It is tremendously important that we know. From the criminal aspect it is not about what we know about people but it is about knowing where they are, for example, people who we think are still here but who have already left the country. We can determine that. The legislation would eliminate the need for warrants for the apprehension of people who are illegally in the country.

There is a whole raft of things in the bill in addition to it being good for trade.

Mr. Speaker, it is always a concern when we add additional duties to the responsibilities of those people who are tasked with keeping our country safe.

There is going to be some other legislation coming forward and the police community has already expressed a real concern about the lack of training and so on. That would be the case with this legislation in some respects.

We should not hold up the legislation but we should move forward in funding the things that are required.