Politics

New bill would allow border guards to collect biographic data on those leaving Canada

The federal government has announced proposed changes to the customs act that would allow border guards to collect biographic information from everyone leaving Canada.

Liberals also plan to bring in legislation to create security oversight committee this week

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says changes to the Customs Act will help the government crack down on human trafficking, smuggling, terrorism and will protect the integrity of Canada's social programs. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The federal government has announced proposed changes to the Customs Act that would allow border guards to collect biographic information from everyone leaving Canada.

The move will help implement the final stages of the entry-exit agreement Canada signed under a joint border initiative with the U.S. in 2011.

The legislation proposed by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, titled "An Act to amend the Customs Act," is one of three public safety bills the Liberal government plans to introduce this week. A bill on pre-clearance for people crossing the border is expected tomorrow.

"Today we have introduced draft amendments to the Customs Act to allow the collection of basic exit information when anyone leaves our country. It might come as a surprise to a great many Canadians that this doesn't happen already," Goodale told reporters in Ottawa Wednesday.

The Canada Border Services Agency currently collects biographical information from everyone entering Canada, but Goodale said the government does not have a reliable way to track when and where a person leaves Canada. This bill will close the gap, he said.

The minister explained that the biographical information collected would not go beyond what Canadians would find on the second page of their passport: full name, nationality, date of birth, gender and issuing authority of the passport.

"Having this data will allow us to better respond to Amber Alerts, for example, on missing children," Goodale said. "It will help us deal with human trafficking. It will help us deal better with illegal travel by terrorist fighters, it will help John McCallum deal with immigration proceedings and visa applications and it will help us ensure the integrity of Canadian social programs."

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announces proposed changes to the customs act that would give boarder guards the ability to collect biographic data from people as they leave Canada. 0:34

Canadians who were required to be a resident of Canada to access benefits, for example, will no longer be able to "defraud taxpayers" by not meeting the residency requirement, Goodale said. The measure would mean a savings of "several tens of millions of dollars a year, perhaps more," he said. 

The measures would also help save money currently being spent by immigration enforcement officials who are wasting time trying to track down people who have already left the country. 

Goodale also said that the bill would also introduce a number of "technical amendments" to the act that would allow the government to better crack down on smuggling.

The minister said that while the new measures would increase security for Canada, it would not "impede the flow of people and goods across the border." 

Building on D.C. commitments

Goodale said no data will be collected from people leaving Canada by air, because the passenger manifests for each aircraft would serve the same purpose. 

The move to collect basic information from travellers also builds on a commitment Canada made to the U.S. during the state visit to Washington to deepen co-operation along the shared border. 

The changes would also bring Canada into line with the practices already employed by Canada's Five Eyes intelligence allies: the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc also served notice today that he will propose new legislation to create an all-party committee on national security. 

That bill, titled "An Act to establish the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts," could be tabled as early as Thursday.

The Liberals campaigned on a promise to create a committee tasked with overseeing all of Canada's national security agencies.

with files from Susana Mas