Politics

Bill to give border agency an independent oversight body comes back to the Commons

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair introduced Bill C-3 today to bring in an oversight body for the CBSA. A previous version of the bill did not clear the Senate before the end of the parliamentary session.

Previous bill did not clear the Senate before the end of the last parliamentary session

A bill that would expand the mandate of the civilian body that handles public complaints about the RCMP to also cover the Canada Border Services Agency was reintroduced in the House of Commons today. (Toby Talbot/The Associated Press)

A proposal to create a review body to keep tabs on misbehaving border agents is not dead yet.

Last spring, a bill that would have expanded the mandate of the civilian body that handles public complaints about the RCMP to cover the Canada Border Services Agency died when it failed to clear the Senate before the end of the parliamentary session.

Today, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair resurrected the legislation as Bill C-3, "an act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and the Canada Border Services Agency Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts" — something Blair was asked to do in his mandate letter.

The bill would create a Public Complaints and Review Commission to review complaints about the conduct of CBSA officers.

"Ensuring that people have an independent, trusted review body for comments or complaints ensures the public can continue to expect consistent, fair and equal treatment when receiving services at the border," said the minister.

The new commission also would have the ability to review — on its own initiative or at the request of the minister — any non-national security activities of the CBSA, similar to how the RCMP commission already functions.

The CBSA has internal mechanisms to handle complaints from the public, but critics have long argued the agency shouldn't be allowed to investigate its own agents.

The 2019 budget put aside more than $24 million over five years to bolster the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission following years of high-profile incidents.

Before the election, then-public safety minister Ralph Goodale, who eventually lost his Saskatchewan riding, promised the Liberals were still committed to the idea of independent review.

While the Liberals will have to steer the new legislation through a minority Parliament, the previous bill did receive support from the opposition benches. NDP public safety critic Jack Harris welcomed the bill's return.

"We're glad they brought the bill back and we're looking at it very carefully," he said. "We want to see oversight for the CBSA. Oversight of these agencies has been long overdue. We look forward to the bill being debated."

Last  year, CBC News reported that the agency investigated around 1,200 allegations of staff misconduct between January 2016 and the middle of 2018. Alleged offences in the records released to CBC News included sexual assault, criminal association and harassment.

Canada employs about 7,000 border officers to enforce laws on trade and travel and to intercept potential threats at the border. They work at land crossings, airports, marine terminals, rail ports and postal facilities, and are in charge of enforcing laws and regulations related to everything from security to agriculture to commerce.

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