CBSA needs more accountability

Speaker: Ms. May
Time: 22/11/2022 13:18:21
Context: Debate

Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP): Mr. Speaker, I rise in this place acknowledging that we stand on the territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe Nation, unceded, and essentially this building sits on Algonquin land. To them, I say meegwetch.

I am very pleased that we have seen another incarnation of Bill C-20. The fundamental essence of this legislation, for those who may just be joining the debate, is to ensure that two really significant federal law enforcement agencies have mechanisms for civilian complaint.

Il y a deux agences: la GRC et l’Agence des services frontaliers du Canada.

The Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP interact with Canadians and foreigners on a regular basis. The RCMP has had a public complaints commission for many years. It has been inadequate. Initially, it did not have powers to subpoena to find out from RCMP officers what really happened in any event. The ability to summon witnesses is terribly important.

Les pouvoirs de la commission d’examen pour les plaintes contre la GRC sont plus faibles, mais c’était incroyable que nous n’ayons pas une seule agence pour les plaintes contre les agences frontalières.

The Canada Border Services Agency has never had any mechanism for anyone to raise a complaint or concern. I do not know about my other colleagues in this place, but certainly through COVID we had a lot of reasons to be concerned about the structure of the Canada Border Services Agency and the degree of powers granted to individual officers. It will be beyond the scope of this act to deal with some of these issues, so I place them before us now as we go through second reading debate. It is concerning for all of us, though I should not speak for all of my colleagues, but I have a hunch, because I talked to many, regardless of party, during the period of time that we were trying to help Canadians come home to Canada.

For instance, those married to permanent residents and not Canadian citizens had to make their pitch at the border to a Canada Border Services agent, whose decision was final and discretionary to that particular officer. This created no end of misery for Canadian families. I do know that cabinet at the time passed another order in council to try to alleviate the problem, but it is still the case that an individual officer can make a decision on the spot about anyone.

My stepdaughter once was going into the United States to take up a new job that she had in California. She had all her paperwork, but the Canada Border Services agent did like her. He said he did not believe her, he did not think she had a job and sent her back. There is no appeal. There is no place to go with that. We need to take a broader look at the Canada Border Services Agency.

Constituents, not my constituents, asked me for help. They happened to be a couple I know from Cape Breton Island, where my family lives and where I am from. The couple was at the New Brunswick border with Maine. They drove up to the Canadian kiosk to say they were going home and the border agent told the wife she could go home because she is Canadian, but her husband could not go home because he is still a permanent resident. They had to leave one spouse at the border with all the luggage while the other was allowed into Canada because they were not allowed to go back into the U.S. together. These kinds of things are nonsensical. We need to look at the Canada Border Services Agency and make some policy choices and raise some other issues.

We certainly know that we want, as a matter of policy, which I have heard from many people in this House today, the CBSA focused on stopping the smuggling of guns. We want the CBSA focused on stopping the smuggling of contraband drugs. We do not particularly want the CBSA at the border to terrorize racialized people from other countries.