When the House of Commons fall sitting opens today, we’ll begin debating Bill C-21, which will help us better manage our border, combat cross-border threats, ensure the integrity of our immigration system and protect our social programs.
C-21 is aimed at a core problem. Unlike many other nations, Canada has never had a comprehensive system in place to note when someone leaves our country. We know who enters, but we don’t know who departs. That creates a security gap we need to close.
Because we’re not sure who remains in Canada or for how long, the Government cannot conclusively know when someone has overstayed their visa, when a wanted criminal has left the country, or when someone is receiving a social benefit they are not entitled to because they didn’t declare their absence.
To close this gap, the Government is proposing that travellers’ “exit information” be recorded when they leave the country. The data is limited to the basic, non-intrusive facts that appear on page two of everyone’s passport (plus the location and date of departure, and, if applicable, the flight number).
It will be a seamless experience for travellers. For those crossing the Canada-United States border by land, the country they enter will simply send that basic information to the country they left—one country’s “entry” is the other country’s “exit”. For those travelling by air, no exchange of data will be necessary because airline passenger manifests will be used to obtain the records.
Exit information is already collected by the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and other countries; the European Union is working on its own system. Over several years Canada and the United States have been phasing-in the exchange of basic exit information at land border crossings for third-country nationals, permanent residents and American citizens. To complete this system, C-21 will enable the collection of exit information for everyone leaving the country across all modes of transport.
Having basic departure information will strengthen our immigration system. We’ll be able to identify those who do not leave the country at the end of their authorized stay, and ensure that no resources are wasted chasing those who have already left. With a complete and accurate travel history, we will know if permanent residents meet their residency requirements, and be able to faster process their applications for citizenship.
While Canadian law enforcement has robust measures in place to keep the public safe, C-21 will help with time-sensitive situations such as missing children. When there’s an Amber Alert, police will be notified that a missing child or a suspected abductor has left Canada at the border, and alert American authorities—or if they’re on a flight, police could intercept them at the airport before departure and rescue the child. The same principle applies to high-risk travellers leaving the country, such as child sex offenders, radicalized individuals or drug smugglers.
While the vast majority of Canadians receiving social benefits do so legitimately, exit data will provide a tool to investigate potential abuse by a few who do not meet the residency requirements. To be clear, it will not affect snowbirds’ access to Old Age Security benefits: anyone who has lived in Canada for a combined total of 20 years after age 18 has full access to the program wherever they choose to live around the world during their golden years.
Our government is committed to protecting Canadians’ privacy, which is at the forefront of the plan. Just like “entry” records, the use of “exit” records is restricted to specific purposes by law. Only those who need the information to do their job have access, which is rigorously monitored and audited. Data is not shared with provinces or territories. The Privacy Commissioner was engaged early on in the process and his advice prompted several changes to strengthen privacy protection.
Bill C-21 will help us close a security gap and better manage our border—with all the robust safeguards Canadians expect.