Bill C-21, an Act to amend the Customs Act

Opening Statement to the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence

Bill C-21, an Act to amend the Customs Act

26 November 2018

Martin Dompierre, Principal
Nicholas Swales, Principal

Madam Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss Bill C-21, pertaining to the Customs Act. My name is Martin Dompierre, and joining me at the table is Nicholas Swales. We are both principals responsible for 2 audits that touched on the subject matter of this Bill.

In 2016, we issued a report on the Beyond the Border Action Plan, and in 2015, we issued a report on controlling exports at the border.

Madam Chair, we will summarize for the Committee our relevant audit findings related to the Customs Act; however, it is important to note that our audit work on the Beyond the Border Action plan was completed in September 2016, and our audit work on controlling exports was completed in August 2015. We have not conducted further work on these topics since then.

In December 2011, Canada and the United States released the Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan—better known as the Beyond the Border Action Plan. The Action Plan consisted of 34 initiatives aimed at establishing a long-term partnership between the 2 countries to enhance security and accelerate the legitimate flow of people, goods, and services across the border.

We estimated that these initiatives had a total planned spending of over $1.1 billion, of which approximately $585 million had been spent as of March 2016.

The audit examined the progress made by departments and agencies in meeting the commitments set out in the Action Plan, and in achieving results toward the intended benefits. We also looked at how Public Safety Canada reported on progress, performance, and costs in its annual reports.

The Action Plan had several initiatives that focused on enhancing security. Of the $700 million that departments and agencies had planned to spend on them, approximately $410 million was spent as of March 2016. However, departments and agencies faced challenges in completing a number of the initiatives, and they could not demonstrate that they had improved security at Canada’s borders.

Even when departments and agencies met their commitments for certain initiatives under the Action Plan, they achieved limited results toward the intended benefits. They also had few performance indicators to use in assessing results.

One of the security initiatives that was not completed was the Entry/Exit initiative. This initiative, which has a budget of $121 million, is intended to allow the Canada Border Services Agency to track who enters and leaves the country. It was initially planned to be completed by June 2014. As of March 2016, $53 million had been spent, but the initiative could not be fully implemented under current legislation, which does not allow the exit information of Canadian citizens to be collected, used, or disclosed.

Without new legal authority, the Canada Border Services Agency cannot achieve the initiative’s security benefits. For example, the current ability of the Agency and law enforcement to identify and prevent high-risk travellers from leaving or attempting to leave Canada is limited.

Let me turn now to the issues of controlling exports. Exports are vital to Canada’s economy, but some are controlled to achieve a range of policy objectives, such as protecting Canadians’ safety and security. Although several federal entities play a role in controlling exports, the Canada Border Services Agency is the last line of defence to prevent goods that contravene Canada’s export laws from leaving the country.

Our audit focused on whether the Agency had the necessary information, practices, and controls at the border to enable it to implement its enforcement priorities, prevent the export of goods that contravened Canada’s export laws, and facilitate legitimate trade.

We found weaknesses in the information, practices, and authorities the Agency applied to assess export risks, assign its resources, and act on its priorities. As a result, the Agency missed opportunities to stop some goods that did not comply with Canada’s export control laws from leaving the country.

Limitations on its authorities posed a particular challenge for the Agency in examining shipments that were not reported on export declarations. The Agency could not open such parcels at random, as it could for imports or exports reported on declarations. Agency officials believed this reduced their effectiveness in preventing the export of illegal drugs. The inability to open shipments at random also meant the Agency could not assess the level of compliance for non-reported shipments.

The Bill before you today includes provisions about the 2 legislative limitations we raised in our reports.

Madam Chair, this concludes our opening remarks. We hope that our audit findings will be of assistance to the Committee in its current review. We would be pleased to answer any questions the Committee may have. Thank you.