MASSE IN THE HOUSE: On Border Issues
April 27th, 2009 - 7:16pm
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today on this important subject matter that has been proposed as the Liberal opposition day motion.
It is important that we look at context as well as talk about what is happening not just with regard to Napolitano's comments from the Department of Homeland Security but also the WHTI, the western hemisphere travel initiative, the passport issue in particular and how it is going to change the relationship of our countries. It already has had what I would say is a cancerous effect on our relationship, one that is causing considerable economic grief for border communities.
I would also argue that a social cultural change is going to happen. When our citizens engage with the United States, we have to remember that often they could be cousins or direct marriage relatives and there are business and personal contacts now that are being snuffed out. Those relationships are being extinguished. By talking to different people, we will discover that they have given up trying to cross the border on a regular basis.
My uncle and aunt live in the United States. They come to Canada on a regular basis and it is a good part of my family's life that they have been able to visit every week with my grandmother. It has put much more strain and pressure on them and we are lucky they continue to put up with it. At the same time, I know other Canadians have simply given up. The loss is very significant because it undermines the social fabric which made Canada and the United States such great friends.
I think our citizens really get it. We hear commentary in the media, for example, a FOX News journalist recently or in Canada in the past when Liberals stomped on a doll of the president, and citizens do not really engage that much in it. They just say politicians are being silly or the comments in the media are stupid. When they meet their friends, family and business partners, they recognize the real breadth and depth of their relationships and support it. However, that is going to change with the implementation.
It is important to note that this goes back farther in time than the last number of months. For those who are not aware, I am from Windsor, Ontario. I basically walk down the steps of my house, look to the left down the street and see the Detroit River and the city of Detroit. I grew up and lived near the border and crossed on a regular basis as a child, an adult and now as a father. It is part of our relationship in terms of things we do for business and the way we construct our social relations. I worry about losing that aspect, a real benefit for our relations at the end of the day.
The first time I got really upset was during the former Chrétien government. I was in Washington, D.C. lobbying for softwood lumber. We had a meeting with the ambassador at that time. We had just learned that the U.S. was going to start to implement what was called the NSER program. There were 35 countries that were originally on the list. It was the first time in history that people who were not American citizens had to be fingerprinted and photographed as they entered the United States.
The Canadian position at that time was non-existent. There was no discussion by the ambassador, there was no discussion whatsoever. What was interesting was on the list were Canadians who happened to be born somewhere else and were going to be registered as if they were not Canadian citizens. That is what has happened.
An example is people from Pakistan. There have been people from Pakistan in my community for over 100 years. Ironically, they are doctors and lawyers who go to the United States every single day to save lives. They have been in Canada for 30 or 40 years, most of the entire lives, and they were going to be treated differently by the Americans because of their places of birth.
What was interesting was our government of the day refused to challenge that. They basically let the United States unilaterally say, “Certain aspects of your citizens are going to be a threat. We don't care if they're doctors, we don't care if they're nurses, we don't care if they're workers or engineers in the automotive industry, they are going to be treated differently than the rest of your citizens”. The U.S. has the right to do that. I am not saying it does not. The United States is a foreign nation, a sovereign nation, but at the same time our government should have defended our citizens and said, “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian”.
If we go through our vetting process through immigration, which originated 20, 30 years ago or whatever it might be, people are valued as a Canadian citizen with the same rights as someone else. That program has turned into the U.S. visit program, a much more comprehensive program. The U.S. is moving this even further, to have an entry and exit system to access the country in a general way, not just in terms of those who register any more.
That is going to create more border issues. It is important to recognize that, because that was one of first times the government decided to not even challenge it. That was the previous government, the Chrétien government that did that. I have not heard a prime minister to date, not Prime Minister Paul Martin nor the current Prime Minister, say that once Canadian citizens have been vetted through our process should be treated the same way.
That is a message that is important to actually get out there, because it complicates our border situation, making it really difficult in terms of not only just those individuals who have to go through these different processes but also the processing itself and the delays that are happening quite significantly.
I want to touch on another subject that is really important. We watch this changing relationship and again the government is not doing anything. This is related to a treaty dating back to 1817. Following the war of 1812, there was a treaty between Canada and the United States that there would be no gun boats or armed vessels on the Great Lakes system.
What ended up happening in 2003, out of the hysteria that was happening, is the United States proposed, and wanted to bring in, gunboats are actually now on the Great Lakes. Let me describe these gunboats. They have auto cannons on them. The auto cannons can fire up to 600 bullets a minute. I cannot imagine a threat coming from Canada that requires something like that. If someone is hit by 600 bullets in a minute, there is nothing left. That is the type of auto cannon we have there.
Once again it was the Liberals at that time that allowed and adjusted this treaty. So now we have a situation. The agreement is interesting when we start to delve into it. There is a history here where they simply say, “Okay, well, we are not going to actually engage, and we have an agreement right now we can chase across the boundary in pursuit, for whatever different reason. The RCMP can do it, the coast guard can do it. Back and forth on both sides”.
Apparently what is supposed to happen is that these auto cannons, if they are in hot pursuit, they are actually going to stop, tear down the actual auto cannon, put it away and then go back into Canadian waters. I have a hard time believing that.
What was phenomenal about that is the issue that came out of it later. It shows the complications as we allow this militarization. They want to set up 40 different gun ranges on the actual Great Lakes system, where they were actually going to have practice and targeting.
What is important about that is the issue over national security and the concerns we really want to make sure are taken care for the American point of view, but how they can really change the nature and relationship of the beautiful aspect of a relationship, sharing one of the most important treasures of the world, the Great Lakes fresh water tributary system, which is so important for our ecological habitat and ourselves as a human population, and this world, this planet.
What they want to do is they propose to put 40 different gun boat ranges on there for practice and targeting. Now this is one of the busiest waterways in the world. There are tankers, sport fishing, all kinds of things there.
We fought that. I raised questions here in the House of Commons. The government of the day just fluffed it off. Interestingly enough, I made a submission on behalf of the New Democratic Party in November 2006 because there is a process to make applications of interest into the American system. We signed this, all of our caucus colleagues at that time. I believe we are the only political party to do this.
What happened was interesting. The government's response in 2006 came after the deadline of submissions. Here the whole Great Lakes system is going to be turned into live firing range areas, and they submitted their submission two days after the actual hearing process was to be completed.
Basically it really showed the disinterest that this Canadian government had with regard to these relations. We see how these things start to ramp up. In that time period, as well, there was the agreement of the Canadian government moving towards these operational centres, the first one in Great Falls, an air wing branch, where what we have done now is we have allowed the introduction on our border of not only just surveillance drone planes but we have black hawk helicopters, we have chinooks, one was flying by my house the other day. I cannot image what the threat was. We also have, once again, the gun boat ranges. We also now have watchtowers with security surveillance that Boeing is putting up.
We have allowed all this stuff without real analysis or engaging the Americans and asking, “What is it that you really want to get at that is important here?” We all agree on security. We want to make sure there is going to be a decrease in smuggling and illegal immigration, a whole series of things.
We have allowed the hype to happen. That is why we have someone like Ms. Napolitano. It is quite political. This is quite clear. What they are doing is they are shifting the debate about the southern border of Mexico and the United States to be about the northern border down here.
Both the previous government and the government of the day have been very much asleep at the switch, not protecting the interests of Canadians because we have allowed this myth and now the physical entities are there at this point in time.
We could have actually engaged in a study. We could have engaged in something of a practical approach to this, or at least had that out there for them during this process. When one talks to the spokespeople of the Department of Homeland Security and their media people, their response to the Black Hawk helicopters, gun boats, surveillance and drone planes is that they do not know what is out there, so that is a threat. Until they determine what it is out there, it is a threat. That is not really a logical way to try to find and reduce the things we really want to get at the border. It allows the intervention of the idea that we have an unsecured northern border and that is just not the truth.
The problem with 9/11 was that they got hold of American passports and other documentation, legally and illegally, and were able to carry out a terrorist attack that has changed the globe. There is no doubt that we need to be conscience of that. However, at the same time, are the objectives we are adding today actually making us safer? I would argue that they are not. Looking at the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative in particular, I would say it is not going to have the net effect we want for counterterrorism. I think it is going to create greater economic harm than we are even imagining right now. That is going to hurt our ability to compete in the world and provide the funds for the security we want to get at. That is a critical thing to note.
The Ambassador Bridge and the other border crossings are two miles from my house. Along the two miles in the area that I represent are the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, the CP Rail tunnel, the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor ferry, which has its material wastes. This carries about 40% of Canada's trade with the United States every single day. We have a lot of scrutiny on ourselves there. They check the trucks. They do gamma x-ray inspection.
Interestingly enough, I remember a campaign with a previous administration where we had a gamma ray facility. For those who are not aware of it, the rail cars go through a system where gamma ray technology is used to find illegal substances, bombs or something else. Ironically, when this was debated in our community, the CBSA had agreed to put this next to a high school. I fought a campaign to stop that and to move it away. We were successful. We were told it was going to be moved. Later on, they started the construction right by the high school because the Department of Homeland Security told CP Rail to do it there. The platform is still there to this day. We finally got it moved back again, but that just shows the influence they have over here.
We have that screened as well. The rail cars go over to the United States. That is all important stuff. We agree with a lot of it, but it has significant economic consequences. When we look at what is going to happen next with WHTI, we need to go back to the beginning of it. It is going to be a new world for us when it comes into effect in just over a month. This was announced back in April 2005. That is when the Department of Homeland Security announced that they were going to bring in passport legislation. We have to wonder whether Canada did a good enough job with regard to this. I would say that we failed the test and continue to do so because we do not happen to have any programs or support systems that are significant enough to deal with the challenges.
The previous government cannot be blamed for that situation in terms of being late off the mark. I asked David Emerson, the Minister of Industry at that time, about the issue of tourism two days after that. The government understood it was a concern. That was his response to me and we took that at faith, but we followed up with a testimony across to the Department of Tourism in Canada a couple of days after that.
The response by Canada to one of the biggest challenges we are facing now was that we were going to put together a $50,000 study to find out the effect of having passports to enter the United States. We spent $17 million that year to instead move the head offices from Ottawa to Vancouver. That was the government's priority at that particular point in time. That was clearly political. It is something that gives me concern. Later on, we did get the government to increase the study amount. There has been some response to it, but it is very frustrating.
We raised this issue as New Democrats a number of times in the House of Commons. It finally culminated in a House of Commons debate on October 24. We had a debate here about the fact that Canada did not have a position at that time. Canada finally submitted a position to the United States. We did it on October 31, which was the last day we could make submissions to have commentary on the WHTI.
The very last day was when we actually got our submission in, and it was only after we had a vote here in the House that we got it done. I had previously made a submission on behalf of the New Democratic Party. It was signed by all caucus members as well, but it is important to recognize, as we are starting to enter this next chapter, that we did not take it very seriously and the government today still does not have its head around it. There has been a lot of evidence out there that shows there should have been a better response.
I have put together a Canadian tourism strategy and I am going to mention parts of it a bit later, but I want to mention some of the great work that has been done out there that really validates the problem we are facing here right now.
The Canadian Tourism Commission finally tabled a report which showed that there are going to be significant short-term and long-term effects. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and the Detroit Regional Chamber commissioned a report in October of 2005. Once again they were calling for a balance to be struck between national security and WHTI, but the fact of the matter is that we could not find that balance.
The Ontario ministry of tourism actually had a study on this and estimated the number of U.S. visits to Ontario will decrease by 13.6%, or 3.2 million visits, in 2008. It is interesting because we have already seen the visitation from the United States into Canada drop to record lows. Not since 1972 have we seen the erosion of this type of exchange.
Once again it is really important to re-emphasize the fact that this exchange is not just purely about economics. There is a social fabric element that is incredibly important which binds us as neighbours and partners in a relationship that is very important for our democracy and for our social cultures.
I will point to my area again, where we actually have a whole bunch of people who come in from the United States to see the markers of their relatives, because we are at the end of the underground railroad. When the United States had slavery and Canada was free, we had people who would swim or boat across the Detroit River at that time, before it was channeled, so it was much easier to do so than today. They would come over to Canada and establish lives. There are relatives and friends over here. People from all over the deep south and other areas will trace their heritage by coming right through the actual underground railroad and into Olde Sandwich Towne.
We are going to lose out on some of those people. They can get into Canada without a passport, but getting back into the United States is going to be a big challenge. They will need other documentation or they could be held. They could be turned away, which would be interesting. If someone with an American passport comes to Canada, and then it is declared that they cannot re-enter the United States because they are a security risk, do we allow them to come in our country again because they are a security risk? Do we lock them up or send them back to the United States because we are not going to take a security risk?
It is an interesting quandary that will develop out of this. We are going to have border agents making independent decisions all along the line, but the main point is that we are going to miss out on the social-cultural exchange.
The Conference Board of Canada has also issued a study which shows that the implementation is going to have a negative impact. There is also a very good Zogby International survey of U.S. border-state voters and Canadians about new border regulations. In its interesting findings, 51% of Americans feel that these rules will not keep terrorists out, 60% of Americans and 70% Canadians do not think there is a need for an alternative border crossing card, and 86% of Americans and 75% of Canadians drive when they cross the border annually.
I want to conclude by emphasizing that what we need a very aggressive strategy out there. The Prime Minister in particular has to show leadership in this. I have laid out over the last 20 minutes the history of what has been happening. There has been an evolution of our border to become militarized and also to become thickened with the United States.
I have not even touched upon other elements of trade, such as the Bioterrorism Act, where a Chilean peach from 1986 all of a sudden requires a big charge or fee for service another 10 or 15 years later. There are all kinds of others such as the atheist fee that is going to be brought in on our vehicles in terms of transported goods coming in. There is a whole series of them out there.
We need a Prime Minister who is going to stand up and say that the Canadian border is different than the Mexican border, that it has different challenges, that we want to deal with those challenges, but at the same time, there is a responsibility in our trade agreements and there has to be a better way to provide safety and security for all of us.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his work in Sault Ste. Marie. There is actually a project that needs to get going and some support there would be very important. One of the best things the government could do is actually move the project's facility ahead there.
My colleague is exactly right. I had to recently go to Washington in the United States. I was presenting to a number of different trade organizations. We were only three cars deep in the lanes and it took over one-half hour to get through the process.
I have no problem with checking out the documentation, my vehicle and everything else. They were fine with me, but it would be good if there was some overnight scrutiny. If they are going to detain vehicles for long periods of time they should move them to secondary inspection.
That is one of the reasons I believe we need to start advocating an overall border position. In my region we do not even have a border authority. Despite the fact that we have a key part of Canada's land border trade we do not actually have any border authority for the region. That is different than Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Sault Ste. Marie, Fort Erie. All those places have that. I would actually advocate to monitor that. People are getting discourages and turning away.
It is interesting when we look at what is happening on our north-south border. It is totally different in terms of inspection versus cargo coming into the country from the ports. I think it is 5% of cargo that is actually inspected. Meanwhile we could have auto parts for say the mini-van in Windsor that will go across the border six times before it is actually in its final compact form. I would encourage people who use their stimulus to buy a mini-van from Windsor right now. They are good deals.
At any rate, that will have a lot more scrutiny than some of the cargo coming from overseas in containers which is really incredible because we have an integrated industry.
Mr. Brian Masse: It is going to be significant. NEXUS is a good example where we actually have NEXUS lanes that do not even have staffing or NEXUS lanes at certain times where they are pulling every vehicle aside and actually checking them which defeats the whole purpose. They also have NEXUS lanes where people cannot get their car to because there is not enough space in the physical print of the actual border. Therefore a lot of work needs to be done.
On the reciprocal point, which I did not get a chance to get into and is really important and the government really has not woken up to this yet. We have the summer coming which is a challenge. I know right now that border and customs availability is diminishing and we are going to have longer lineups coming into Canada which is going to create a significant problem.
Before we would have students at certain border points that were trained and were part of the border process, interviewing people entering the country. Those positions are being eliminated as well and there has not been a backfill of them.
Therefore we have a significant problem coming up with not having the proper customs facilities at the border points and it is being raised by businesses already.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that question by the member. It is an interesting and important part that has not had a lot of discussion but is critical especially at international airports.
If we do not have the staffing component there it can be quite frustrating for the tourism industry. Interestingly enough as well, and I shared this with my American colleagues, now that Canadians are being forced to get a passport they are also choosing other destinations. Before they chose to go into the United States and now Canadians are making other changes because when one has a passport one is looking at travelling the world versus just the United States.
I have been hammering away with the message to them and they are taking an interest in that, especially the members from Florida and California who before relied upon that captive audience.
The hon. member is right. If we do not have that reciprocal staffing component by the United States and Canada and we do not have the monitoring of it, its diminishment will create problems. I also hear many complaints at different times on how they are treated at the border facilities in these airports. There is a critical component and now with air travel diminishing there will be the temptation to lower the amount of staffing at these facilities.
I hope that is not the case. Business travel as well as other travel is there. That is why I believe we should be making sure that we reinforce the civil service as opposed to taking it away. If we do, more people will get frustrated and stop taking trips, business or personal travel and will find other means. I think that diminishes opportunities.
For all that is said for web conferencing and so on. there is till nothing like the human to human conversation and a commitment together in a business opportunity that really important. I view this as very critical for our future. It connects us to the rest of the world. If we do not have that capability, if people pull back out of frustration we will lose another opportunity.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, the reality is that we need to deal with this in a much broader sense. Ms. Napolitano's comments are nonsense and hurtful and they create a lot of confusion. To make a suggestion that they had a good chuckle over them is very insensitive to Canadians who are losing their jobs every single day because American companies are deciding to relocate their facilities back to the United States because the Canadian government will not do anything about it. That is the consequence. It is scaring off some of the investment and not only is the economy bad now, many companies have to decide about where they are going to invest in newer technologies as they upgrade their facilities. One of the things they are deciding to do is look at the border again.
I will give the government credit for one thing, the fact that it actually has a good location and we actually have a decent plaza location for the next border crossing in the Windsor-Detroit area. It has been a long fought campaign. There are some problems with what is proposed but at least there is something happening there and I will give it credit for that.
However, we need an overall strategy and we are proposing that we need an overall border position that would be responsible to harness this in. We have to start saying quite unequivocally to the United States that all Canadians should be treated equally and at the same time that we have some of the best security in the world.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, NEXUS is really important. We do have some very successful ventures with it, and some businesses, but some of the medium and smaller businesses have a more difficult time finding the time and the process to go through the NEXUS.
What I would like to see is a government program that is based on a certain time period to roll out an aggressive approach to get people to sign up into NEXUS and facility management, to help people re-enroll, and also to get through the process. We could also have a waiving of the fee, or a partial waiving of the fee. There needs to be that assertive approach to move forward. That would be very helpful especially when we look at some of the medium-sized businesses that have not fully engaged in NEXUS or that do not have the capability to o follow through because they have cut back so much or they are just basically run by one or two operators. To me that would be one of the things that we could do in the short term that would be very advantages; it would not only move that individual customer's border material through but would also ensure that it opens up lanes for other people, and that is a combination.
That is something I have been pushing any of the levels of government to do since we have had this program because we hear from different people in the constituency and also across the country that they would like to do NEXUS but they cannot find the time, or they do not want to go through the paperwork, or they do not even know whether it would be worthwhile. This is one of the things we have to sell them on that because I think it is worth it for us all.