Minister says he hopes bill to create watchdog for CBSA will pass before summer travel season
Bill C-20 would also introduce more accountability for RCMP
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says he's hoping a bill that would allow Canadians, immigrants, tourists and other travellers to complain about mistreatment by border officers will pass before the busy summer travel months.
"My sincere hope is that by doing the work, that we will be able to pass this bill this time," he told a parliamentary committee Tuesday evening.
Mendicino is the third Liberal minister in seven years to promise a watchdog body to oversee the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Previous versions of the bill got multi-party support but died on the order paper.
Mendicino introduced Bill C-20 almost exactly a year ago. The bill would create a Public Complaints and Review Commission that would give the existing RCMP watchdog the additional responsibility of handling public complaints about the CBSA.
The bill is now at the committee stage of its path through Parliament — but is running out of runway before the House rises for the summer break.
The border agency remains the only public safety department without an outside civilian review body, despite the power border officers wield. Border officers can carry firearms and are empowered to search, detain and arrest travellers.
For now, an internal unit handles complaints from the public while the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) and the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency can examine national security-related matters.
Access to information requests show that, behind the scenes, Canadian border officers have been reprimanded for hundreds of acts of misconduct over the past two years — including preferential treatment, harassment and abuse of powers.
But critics have long argued there is no accountability when the CBSA investigates itself.
If passed, Bill C-20 would also require the heads of the RCMP and the CBSA to report annually to the public safety minister on progress in implementing commission recommendations.
The bill also promises to codify deadlines and would require the RCMP to respond to complaints within six months. The RCMP sometimes takes years to properly respond to complaints lodged by members of the public with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission.
NDP MP Peter Julian said that after years of delay, his party wants to see the bill passed swiftly but would like to see some amendments to increase funding and improve Indigenous representation at the commission.
Conservative MP Raquel Dancho said her party is likely to support the bill all the way, "notwithstanding any curveball, sneaky amendments from any other party."
The idea of an independent body to review the CBSA's activities dates back to at least 2006. It was one of the recommendations made by Judge Dennis O'Connor following an inquiry into Canada's involvement in the extraordinary rendition of Maher Arar, who was then tortured in a Syrian jail.