New Laws

Bill C-21: Securing Canada’s borders with a coordinated entry/exit system

Bill C-21 enables the collection of basic biographic information about people leaving Canada, while respecting individual privacy rights.

Background

During Canada’s state visit to Washington in March 2016, Canada and the United States reaffirmed an earlier commitment to establish the entry/exit initiative, which would allow one country’s entry records to serve as the other country’s exit record for information sharing purposes in order to improve border management. Canada also committed to establish an air exit system, along the same lines as the one already in place in the U.S., which would enable air carriers to provide basic information from passenger manifests to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) prior to outbound flights. Bill C-21 was introduced in the House of Commons in June 2016, proposing to enable the collection of basic biographic information about people leaving Canada, while respecting individual privacy rights. Among other goals, the legislation was crafted to improve Canada’s ability to deal with human trafficking, Amber Alerts and illegal travel by terrorists, as well as to better facilitate the administration of immigration programs. Further, it aimed to help prevent the smuggling of controlled and prohibited goods from out of Canada, and to protect taxpayers by making it easier to identify fraud and abuse of social benefit programs with residency requirements.

The Senate’s Role

During study of the bill at the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, Senators heard from Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien. He suggested that for greater certainty, wording in the legislation should be altered to specify that data collected by the CBSA should be retained for a maximum of 15 years. The committee responded with an amendment to replace the phrasing “shall be retained for 15 years” to “shall be retained by the Agency for a period of not more than 15 years.” Senator Mary Coyle, who sponsored the legislation in the Senate, told the Red Chamber during her third reading speech in December 2018: “I have personally verified with Mr. Therrien regarding the wording of the amendment agreed to by the committee and he agrees it captures his concern regarding the retention period for the CBSA.”

The Result

Karen McCrimmon, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, expressed support for the Senate amendment, which reflected similar concerns raised during the House of Commons debate on the bill. “Our government understands the need to provide Canadians reassurance that information-sharing initiatives have proper safeguards and review,” she said during a speech in the House of Commons. The bill received Royal Assent on Dec. 13, 2018.

Bill C-21: Securing Canada’s borders with a coordinated entry/exit system