March 5, 2008 – Late Show on Border / Ambulance

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to raise another aspect on the border. I know we had a blood pressure competition in the previous engagement but I will start by laying out some of the facts and, hopefully, encourage the government to take some action on a very serious issue.

In the past there were arrangements with emergency service provisions on Canada-U.S. borders in many communities. Before 9/11 there was often the exchange of patients to hospitals, as well as fire and rescue services that helped each other out. The city of Windsor, for example, was prevented from burning because Detroit firefighters came over. We have reciprocated as well during different emergencies.

There was a troubling incident on November 12 when Mr. Rick Laporte was being transported to an American hospital for heart surgery It was a very delicate matter and he was detained for five minutes because of the border procedures. Actually, an automatic system triggered that stopped him from going forward and that was very dangerous to Mr. Laporte's condition. Fortunately, he has recovered and is doing well. We wish him and his family the best.

We have seen, and this was my question to the minister at that time, a pattern of behaviour. The week before the incident with Mr. Laporte, firefighters from Quebec who were going to assist in a fire at the Anchorage Inn in New York were detained for 15 minutes and the inn burned to the ground.

We have been trying to get the government to establish a formal protocol and policy with the United States and to engage them at that level. The minister has refused and it has been very perplexing.

We know that many mayors across the country have asked for support. Mayor Bradley from Sarnia has been pushing this issue in particular and doing a very good job of it because there are protocol arrangements with firefighters in Port Huron. The minister wrote back to the mayor.

One has to understand that it is not just about Sarnia, Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie or Fort Erie. There is a whole series of communities that have these types of protocols or had them in place that are now endangered.

The government said that each municipality or service should negotiate its own agreement with whatever department in the United States, and that is ridiculous. This is an issue where we need some leadership from the Minister of Public Safety and to show some conviction and address this issue.

I was really concerned that the minister did not bring in Mr. Chertoff or Mr. Wilkins, the American ambassador, to discuss this issue at a high level, to get the political will from the Department of Homeland Security and other border service agencies in the United States to get their heads around this. We do not need municipal services in jurisdictions all across this country trying to do one off negotiated agreements. We need a strong set of rules in place because it is important for these services to interchange.

Living on a border that is traversed by thousands of people every single day, I see the heightened elevation of probable problems. For example, after we learned of Mr. Laporte's case, we discovered that in the last number of years 10 ambulances have been stopped. We know it is possible, for example, for Windsor to send in information and so forth to the department to get the clearances but at the same time we do not need separate municipal agreements across this country with different services. It is not supportable.

I am asking the government to look at the situation and for the minister himself to show leadership and conviction on behalf of all municipalities to put these agreements in place.

Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, it is important to note that the minister himself has recently written to a number of different border operators, people in the community and so forth, one of them in particular being Mayor Bradley, and basically has said that it is up to them to figure it out for themselves.

That is unacceptable. We need to have at least some support from the minister to make sure that there is going to be the adherence of a policy for everything from emergency vehicles, as well as to fire and rescue and so forth. That reciprocal arrangement is very important from the leadership level because we have seen different departments in the United States basically run roughshod over the government.

The Department of Agriculture has introduced new policies, and the Department of Transportation and Homeland Security all at different times have introduced things without even consulting the government.

What we need is for the Minister of Public Safety to live up to his words. He recently tabled a bill to amend the Customs Act, and the Minister of Public Safety said:
Stopping illegal activity and protecting Canadians from threats to their health, safety and security is a key priority for this Government.

If it is a key priority, why does the minister not show some leadership and make sure he is going to do it for all--