Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of National Revenue and Secretary of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec), Lib.)
moved that Bill S-23, an act to amend the Customs Act and to make related amendments to other Acts , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill S-23, a bill aimed at modernizing the entire administration of Canadian customs operations. It addresses an action plan that will make it possible to have better risk management at Canada's borders and to meet the needs of the entire Canadian population in this modern age, that is the era of globalization, and its realities, of which we are all aware.
As I said earlier this week, it is particularly important that this bill be passed without delay so that we may have the tools we need to enhance our capacity to recognize high-risk individuals and goods at the border before they enter Canada and North America.
I wish to reiterate in the House that the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency takes the security of Canada's borders very seriously. We work in close collaboration with our federal and international partners, sharing information and technologies.
We also have a very close working relationship with our counterparts in U.S. customs and immigration. We are however also aware that border management is a constantly evolving process. That is why we have established a plan on which we have been working for some time.
Thanks to the changes proposed by Bill S-23, the agency will be able to focus its efforts on high risk travellers and goods while simplifying border crossings for those in the low risk category.
We will be in a position, before these reach the border, to combine risk management techniques and the transmission of information obtained with leading-edge technology and through the use of pre-arrival authorization mechanisms. This will bring about a fundamental change to the way the customs agency operates.
I must reiterate that prior to the tragic events in the United States and even more so since, the agency has always had as its priority the security of Canadians, protection of our border, the integrity of major trade corridors and reinforcement of the North American perimeter.
The risk management approach to border management called for in the customs action plan will enable the government to better uphold these priorities. While we must take measures to enhance the safety and security of Canadians and our border, let us not forget our other important responsibility of ensuring the prosperity of the Canadian economy.
International trade and tourism are considered the lifeblood of the Canadian economy. Let us not forget our accountability to Canadians to ensure their continuity.
In order to support the government's international trade agreements and its agenda for trade and tourism, the agency needs to modernize the way it carries out its customs operations.
In today's ever changing environment, one of our key goals is to maintain the flow of legitimate trade and travel across the border.
As we know, the final elimination of duties between Canada and the U.S. has further stimulated trade and enhanced both our economies. Over the past five years the volume of trade and travel has steadily increased. Every day we process 40,000 commercial entries representing well over $300 billion worth of import trade each year.
More than 100 million travellers cross our border each year and over 80% of these travellers come from the U.S.
The CCRA has met the challenges of the last decade in responding to globalization, changing business practices and advancing technology. All this economic activity has had a major impact on customs operations on both sides of the border.
We are in good shape today with a range of enforcement initiatives and services that support the protection of Canadians and the competitiveness of business. We are certainly proud of our successes so far.
However, we are also aware of the gap that is growing between the increasing workload and the resources we have available to achieve our goals. This has forced us to re-evaluate how we carry out our dual mandate.
By launching our customs action plan, we have already taken a huge step to meet this challenge. The next step takes place now with the passing of Bill S-23.
Our customs action plan is a crucial investment for the future. In proposing innovative solutions to today's problems, the plan ensures that our customs' processes will not stand in the way of Canadians' prosperity.
The action plan provides for a complete risk management system integrating the principles of pre-arrival data input and a system of prior approval, all thanks to technology.
To support this approach we are putting in place a fair and effective system of sanctions. We believe Bill S-23 provides practical measures to deal with non-compliance, from warnings to fines. These measures should have an impact on those who choose not to obey the rules.
Bill S-23 provides options that will facilitate border crossing and make it more productive in today's world. In essence, businesses and individuals with a good history of compliance should be able to benefit.
Compliance with the law is the key to the success of this approach. Bill S-23 aims at improving compliance levels. We believe that improved service and simplified processing will encourage voluntary compliance.
Naturally, in keeping with the other part of our mandate which is to protect Canadian society, we will continue random checks and monitoring periodically to ensure compliance with Canada's customs laws and regulations.
As part of the customs action plan, we will be implementing this fall the customs self-assessment program. This program is a direct result of our consultations with members of the business community who consider it their highest priority. The program is based on the principles of risk management which provide for agreements with proven clients.
Participating importers who have been rigorously selected prior to their approval, will be able to use their own administrative system to meet our requirements for receipts and trade data. This will be a comprehensive self-assessment system supported by our audit activities.
The program will also simplify the customs process by offering increased speed and certainty to pre-approved importers who use the services of pre-approved carriers and drivers to import low risk goods. There is no doubt this is a great step forward in border management.
The monetary penalties set out in Bill S-23 aim to establish fair rules for businesses in Canada. This comprehensive set of penalties will encourage people to observe the law, thanks to a series of penalties that will vary in severity depending on the type and severity of the offence committed.
In this context, the agency is aware that some of its clients may require a certain amount of time to familiarize themselves with all of the requirements with which they will need to comply. This is why importers will be given a transition period through April 1, 2002.
However, in the case of the customs self-assessment program, some of the penalties will take effect as soon as the program is implemented.
The passing of Bill S-23 would also bring exciting options for travellers. Many people will have heard of the CANPASS highway program which was pilot tested in a number of locations in recent years. Under this permit based program, travellers pre-approved by a rigorous training process are permitted to use designated lanes at border crossings.
Another example is the expedited passenger processing system for travellers. Under this new program, EPPS participants will be able to use an automated kiosk that will confirm their identity and membership in the program.
Another initiative is the harmonized highway pilot, also known as Nexus. Its goal is to provide a seamless service to pre-approved low risk travellers entering Canada and the U.S. at these border points using technology and a common card.
I believe these initiatives will serve Canadians well by improving the flow of people and goods across the border and by strengthening our ability to do job number one: protecting Canadians.
Amendments to the Customs Act proposed in Bill S-23 would allow for the introduction of advanced passenger information and passenger notification record. With those programs, customs officers will receive certain prescribed information from commercial transportation companies and drivers, crew members and passengers in advance of their arrival in Canada.
It is important to clarify to the hon. member that this is not new information. Customs officers can obtain the same information through questioning travellers and examining their travel documents. However, by receiving this information in advance, customs officers will be able to make enlightened decisions prior to the arrival of people thereby making it easier to identify high risk travellers and facilitating the movement of legitimate travellers.
The agency will continue to be vigilant and will conduct random customs examinations. The instincts of our well trained, experienced customs officers will continue to be our guiding force.
There are other examples that demonstrate the importance of this bill. This is why I cannot insist enough on the importance of moving forward with Bill S-23. I believe that this legislation is a bold and innovative step in the modernization and management of Canada's borders.
Bill S-23 will help Canadians compete and prosper on international markets. It will allow the agency to help maximize the flow of commercial cargo and travellers in good standing. The bill will also provide us with the tools we need to better protect our borders and our country and it will allow us to ensure the safety of our communities and our families. I am sure we all agree that Canadians expect nothing less.
Subtopic: Customs Act