MASSE IN THE HOUSE: Masse Speaks on S-2, An Act to amend the Customs Act
May 4th, 2009 - 9:57am
Masse Speaks on S-2, An Act to amend the Customs Act
Hansard – May 4, 2009
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the United States has raised the issue of security of goods and services.
I would like the member to comment on one particular circumstance.
The bill would appear to improve some elements of accountability and public safety at the border, but at the same time the government has allowed CP Rail to basically fire 17 mechanical workers in the Windsor-Essex County area. These workers inspected trains coming into Canada from the United States.
The Mississauga derailment was the largest evacuation of people in North America before hurricane Katrina. Two hundred thousand people were evacuated. The trains involved in that derailment originated in Windsor where there is lots of hazardous waste materials. Trains coming from Chicago and other areas heading to Toronto will not get the same level of inspection as a result of CP Rail firing those mechanical workers. Those trains will end up on our rail system.
There is a contradictory message here. We are trying to improve land border stuff but there is a contradiction taking place on the actual rail elements.
It is important to note that Transport Canada looked at railcars that needed to be repaired and 36% failed. At the same time, Transport Canada could not even provide a percentage of the rail cars coming in from the United States.
This legislation sends a mixed message. Ms. Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security in the United States raised an issue about security at the border. The fact that we no longer have inspection service in southwestern Ontario is going to create a problem later on.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in debate on Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Customs Act, formerly Bill C-43, tabled in the last session of Parliament but did not make its way through the system.
However, customs changes are worthy of engaging in, especially at the committee level. There are elements of the bill that are very important for men and women who are on the front line of defence for Canada with regard to our border situation. They face an extraordinary job, and the tasks at hand of balancing the issue of trade and security. They generally do a commendable job on as regular basis.
In my area, our customs officers not only protect, but actually serve at times, even without the proper equipment and training. A number of years ago they had to borrow a bullet-proof vest because there were not enough available. Now there are some better supports there and I am glad for that advancement.
The bill is important because it lays out the framework for our border crossings. There are 119 border crossings between Canada and the United States. Of those, there are 24 international bridges and tunnels. Of those 24 international bridges and tunnels, two are privately held: the one in Fort Francis and the one in Windsor, Ontario. I will not go down that road just yet, but it is unfortunate. Because of that private ownership model, we pay incredible taxes. We have seen the owner-operator of that facility basically board up homes by buying them up in the adjacent area, which has led to social grief and also diminished property values for their own interest and at the expense of the community. That is surely a tragedy, because there are other consequences.
Of the 119 crossings, approximately 29 of them have 80% of the traffic on a regular basis, crossing the border between our nations. When we look at the volume of trade, over $1 billion a day, it is interesting to note that 40% of that happens along the Windsor-Detroit corridor. For those who are not familiar, there are four crossings that have that concentration in a two mile length of river front.
There is the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, owned by the city of Windsor on the Canadian side and the city of Detroit on the American side. They have a long-term lease agreement with Macquarie International. The CP Rail tunnel was built at approximately the same time, about 76 years ago. It is two single sleeve tunnels that are small. One has been expanded modesty but cannot accommodate the triple stackers. It can accommodate some train traffic, but a smaller amount.
Ironically, CP Rail inspection workers were basically fired from that location and moved up the rail line, which is a real travesty, because recently in a Transport Canada document I was able to obtain, it showed that during the inspection period process, 36% of the trains needed to be shopped out or failed the inspection, and there are pictures of derailments and so forth. This will be detrimental when we talk about the issues of border delays and those around security, of which the bill has some elements.
When the United States learn of this change of policy will be very much concerned. We are concerned on the Canadian side, because during that inspection process, we could not even get real numbers. There was also a leak of hazardous material from one of the tankers during that process. Now none of those trains will be inspected from Windsor pretty well all the way to Toronto and Montreal.
It is important to note that the trains involved in the derailment in Mississauga, where 200,000 people had to be evacuated. Interestingly enough, that was before Katrina. That was the largest evacuation in North America up to that time. Those trains came out of Windsor, so we are really concerned about rail safety operations.
Past the CP Rail facility there is the Ambassador Bridge, which is owned by a private American citizen. Once again, this facility has the vast majority of truck and vehicle border crossings in this country. It has the highest fares too over most areas. It is double what the Blue Water Bridge is in Sarnia. Then past that, there is the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry Service, which is owned by a private American operator, which transports hazardous materials between our countries. Ironically, that operator has been recognized by the Department of Homeland Security and has actually received grants because of its safe operation.
It is very important that we get that change. It is one of the most important things we can do because we have, as I have mentioned, all these other barriers that are being put in place. It might seem like a small thing, in some respects, but at least it is a counterbalance to what is happening out there.
We are seeing, for example, the implementation of the western hemisphere travel initiative, where anyone who wants to get into the United States, including Americans who have left the United States, will need a passport in order to return. Luckily, we also have some states that have moved forward on the advanced driver's licence, so we are going to have continued confusion on that.
What is important to note is that all these things that are taking place come at a time when there is a lot of confusion out there. We need to put in some policies that are going to help the counterbalances for trade practices. We will see the WHTI come into effect and we will see these other elements. Once again it is going to thicken the elements of the border, because we just do not have the infrastructure at some of our crossings.
I appreciate the notation about what is happening at the Windsor-Detroit corridor. I do want to talk about that because the bill would allow customs agents in customs-controlled areas to be able to do further interventions. There will be greater accountability of the activity of those interventions at the plaza locations.
Hopefully there will be some better procedures so that when those problems do occur, there will be ways to deal with them that are a little more proper in terms of the way the areas are laid out. That is important because the older facilities do not have the area to pull over certain trucks, to question people with different vehicles, and so forth. If they cannot clear that out, it creates further congestion, back-ups and delays, and defeats the whole purpose of some of the measures we are putting in place here.
What is happening in the Windsor-Detroit corridor is very important. Basically two miles are going to be west of the current Ambassador Bridge, and it would extend from four to five crossings on four kilometres. We will have a new publicly-owned bridge that is going to span the Detroit River and create some redundancy in the system. For example, if there were a problem with one of our current infrastructures, we would have an additional site location there.
The plaza development is very important as we plan that because it creates the ability to be able to manoeuvre around new issues such as this. When we are looking at new policies and ways to enforce border security, that can be designed into the actual plaza. What I am hoping to see from the designs and the government development of this is some availability and flexibility for those plazas for the future, so that there can be some reaction if we have new implementations of other measures from the United States.
The United States has added a whole series of new processes and procedures that we would not have dreamt of a number of years ago. Most recently there was the Bioterrorism Act, where a Chilean peach from the 1980s suddenly became, in the year 2000, a security risk and threat. It led to additional tax and paperwork on trucks of commerce carrying fruits and vegetables heading into the United States. Once again, it just creates another productivity loss and it creates complications when they actually cross the border.
We have seen a series of these things implemented across the table unilaterally, often not even by the political heads but by the departments, such as the Department of Homeland Security and others that feel emboldened to do these things. That creates a real problem for us on this side.
I mentioned before about the advance pass information which is going to be important here. It is important in many respects, not only in terms of the economic commerce that I am talking about, but also the safety and security of our men and women on the border plazas who are serving us and the general public. The reality is, whether we like it or not, that we do get illegal goods, services and materials on a routine basis, not just going from Canada to the United States but also coming from the United States to Canada.
Ironically, we have an integrated auto industry with the United States. We have sometimes an integrated criminal activity base for drugs and for weapons that end up going back and forth at the border.
Interestingly enough, the owner of the Ambassador bridge is grandfathered, so we pay for his customs officers--and this is about the customs issues in the bill. Canadian taxpayers pay for that customs facility.
Ironically, the hazardous material ferry operator that actually had to go to court and finally settled with the federal government actually has to pay for some of the services; inconsistent services, in many respects, as the bridge has taken priority.
One of the good things that we are dealing with in this bill that is very important is the ability to transfer information in advance for some of the vehicles, the drivers and the trade merchandise so that it can be expedited through the system, and that is important to acknowledge. That is an important improvement to diminish lineups and improve productivity.
I know there was some good debate with the previous speaker on the issues, where they were talking about whether it makes a difference. However, sadly enough, when we have, for example, a lack of staffing at the actual border facilities then we have a significant problem. We could have all the best products--this is in policies in place--and we could provide those powers but if we do not have the operators in place to do it, then we defeat the whole purpose and we further frustrate those commerce elements that are happening. I think it is important to recognize that this is bill has to get to committee so we can study it more.
However, more economic development is really looking at the border. They have to decide whether they want to reinvest some of their operations, especially in the manufacturing belt of Ontario and Quebec, which has been extremely vulnerable because of a policy of artificially inflating the Canadian dollar because oil and gas and, basically, an addiction to that as a revenue stream and has really eaten away that base.
On top of that, as we have the thickening of the Canada-U.S. border, we have those elements of business that are really questioning whether they should actually open up a plant in Ontario or in Indiana or somewhere else, and I think that the comments that are appropriate to talk about were Ms. Napolitano's, the department of homeland secretary chair. They are really disturbing in the sense that what they do is further heighten the issue of the border and are part of, I believe, a politically-motivated movement to turn the Canada-U.S. border into a similar border with Mexico.
Once again, public policy affects some of these things and how we respond to them. So the imagery is being created. I would just point to my region, the Windsor-Detroit region, where we have now gunboats on the Detroit River and the Great Lakes, a treaty that was allowed to move forward because of the Liberals and that the Conservatives have supported where they have U.S. Coast Guard vessels that have autocannons on them that fire 600 bullets a minute.
I am not sure what type of threat would come from Canada that would require 600 bullets a minute, but that is the actual operating coast guard vessels they have now as part of the border.
We are very fortunate to have defeated a proposal to allow 40 different testing zones for firing ranges on the Great Lakes. Interestingly enough, I made a submission against that. The government made a submission. However, it made its submission against that two days after the deadline, so it was not even weighted, in terms of actual consideration. The government basically allowed this process to go forward without any type of input. However, we were able to defeat that with some progressive forces, including hunters and fishers who are concerned about the firing ranges related to the practice of sport fishing, in particular, and also other environmental groups because the bullets have lead casings.
Blackhawk helicopters have been added to the area, security cameras, basically spy towers that actually oversee the area; and drone planes. What we have seen now is the militarization of the border, and that has shifted the debate to become more like the Mexican-U.S. border versus what it really is, a trade facilitator, which is the model we need to deal with. Because as the thickening happen and we see those businesses making decisions to avoid the border altogether, it erodes our economic base if we do not take measures like this.
One of the things that this bill does that is very important is it provides regulations to have timeframes and so forth for information coming forth on the border. It can increase productivity by having those practices in place. That is the advance commercial information component of this bill . That will actually allow CBSA to see the information not only just from the point of the original supplier but will also allow it to contact the chain along that line to be able to see the information about the contents and the driver and how it is going to facilitate it right across the border.
CEUDA, the customs and excise union, drew up what is called the Northgate report. This is a really good report that lays out some of the challenges being faced by them at the border and it offers some suggestions.
CEUDA did a survey and I want to go through some of the questions on it. Some individuals believe that when people come to Canada there is no problem, but that is not true. We have to vet these things. That is why these officers need these extra powers.
One of the questions on the survey was:
Have Officers at your LAND BORDER CROSSING ever found themselves dealing with someone at Secondary they discovered was considered Armed and Dangerous after searching CPIC [their computer system] but was not cautioned as such either by PALS [their operating system] or when the traveller was otherwise referred?
Thirty per cent of the respondents indicated yes. That is high considering the fact that individuals had been pushed into secondary inspection to begin with and there had already been some contact.
Have Officers at your LAND BORDER CROSSING released a known Armed & Dangerous person up the road in keeping with CBSA's Release and Notify Policy?
Eighteen answers were returned indicating yes and ninety-three said no.
We know that we have to change some of these policies so people are not set free. That is critical for public safety.
In the Windsor-Detroit area a couple of peculiar cases came up that really prompted my interest in this legislation.
A Detroit police officer came over to Canada and was pulled over for secondary inspection. He had hid his gun and accidentally shot himself in the knee. He lost his job in the U.S. but was given no penalty here.
These are important things that we need to look at.
I will tell the House of a more extreme case. On January 7th at an Alberta crossing, 10 semi-automatic handguns, including one semi-automatic machine pistol, 11 high capacity magazines and 300 rounds of ammunition were seized. An Edmonton resident was doing the smuggling back and forth.
These types of situations are dealt with on a regular basis. The infrastructure needs to be set up properly so we can deal with these kinds of things. We also need to have the power to do that in this legislation.
I want to touch on something that is incredibly important and that is the issue of U.S. confidence in Canada with respect to security issues. As we go through the bill we will see some recurring elements. We heard some debate about this earlier.
Would the bill really make a difference because the U.S. is just going to ignore stuff anyway? I think the bill would make a difference because we are dealing with some of the operations on the Canadian side that we can control.
We need to do better with respect to the things that we can control. We need to provide more resources. If our border communities do not get the infrastructure money that they need as well as the policies to go with it, then we are doomed for failure.
I would like to point out what is going to happen this summer. As a result of moving to armed officers as part of the regular procedure, students will not be used to fill positions as they have been in the past. The government will not be filling these positions, so this summer the staffing component like we had before will not be there. This is going to result in greater lineups and greater problems. This defeats the purpose. This has to come hand in glove, resources and procedure.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, I agree that it is a concern. We will have to see whether or not there is an intent to move some more prescriptive elements of the bill about what those situations are and how they would evolve, or whether it is going to be through regulation.
Giving the minister unvetted power can be very difficult, especially if it becomes more of a micro-management aspect of the bill. We have seen the same policy under immigration and a few other different elements where we have given those ministers power.
To my Liberal colleague, I would say he has been doing unilaterally that for the Conservative Party in the House of Commons, so we will certainly be looking forward to see how they might want to rein that in at committee.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, a lot of things have led to this moment, this time and place where we have seen the American border thickening. I would point back to one of the most significant changing points. In 2002, I was at the Canadian Embassy in Washington and the ambassador was there. We had just learned that the United States was going to bring in the NSEERS program which was a registry process to fingerprint and photograph non-Canadian entries from Canada, but also Canadian entries from a series of countries that they considered not secure, or not worthy of actual proper processing.
Ironically we have citizens from some of those countries who have been here in Canada for 30 years and in my community where doctors and nurses go into the United States every single day and save the lives of Americans and are part of their vibrant community.
Sadly enough the prime minister at that time never objected to that. Since that the U.S. visit program has been instituted and we have eroded those relationships. To me, it goes back as far as that. It hurts their society but also too, this country has to speak from one voice, that every single Canadian is vetted and they should be treated the same. Until we do that we will still have problems.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, I actually used to work at Community Living Mississauga, so I am a former Mississauga worker and wish all those at Community Living Mississauga all the best. I have relatives there as well. I point to that derailment because it is so real.
I thank the member for talking about the issues of those who work in the United States. There are so many of them over there along the border that it is incredible. It goes both ways. We have Americans working in Canada as well. That is part of the strength of our social and cultural relationships and it is good for business as well.
One of the saddest things, despite corporate tax cuts that the government has given, it has not taken up the movement of its own member, the member for Essex, on the social security bill.
This was done under the Paul Martin administration when the government taxed U.S. social security residents at a different level in Canada than before. There have been many promises on the Conservative side but the government has not even moved on the private member's bill of one of its members and we have the continued taxation of U.S. social security residents in Canada.
The reality is that we are going to continue hopefully to have some of those relationships. It is not just about the employment that takes place. It also about the research and development that we share among us.
A good example is today we saw that Canada is losing one of its top scientists to Florida in the United States because Florida has attracted him with the Obama administration's intent to have research and training move forward versus our Canadian government. However there will be some connection still with Montreal.
These are important aspects not only just in terms of the hard economy that we think of like automotive in my community but it is also related to research and development and also other types of problem solving around social issues.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, it is a very serious issue and I was going to make some comment but I will not. If the member is being pulled over so often, what I would do is I would try to find out if something is popping up on my record. It is usual to have that type of situation.
I do not know whether the member is being cross referenced with someone else. The member does not look suspicious to me and I am sure her children are not suspicious either.
However the member brings up a very interesting point. It does happen on our Canadian side too. I often talk to different people who are entering the United States and with people on both sides. I think it is one of the reasons that we should institute a border czar on both sides to work together on certain things.
It is ironic that we have all this material coming in from the ports that is never screened at all. It gets into our country. Some of its poisonous material, whether it be toys or food. Only 4% is checked.
Meanwhile at our land border crossings they pull over a minivan with a couple of parents and kids and send it through twice for security. Therefore I think it is a valid point.
Mr. Brian Masse: Nothing changes, Mr. Speaker. If an employee of CBSA is acting inappropriately, then someone should approach the supervisor. None that changes in this particular bill because there is nothing at this point that is proposed for that.