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Bill C-42, Aeronautics Act

 

Hon. Michael L. MacDonald moved second reading of Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act.

He said: Honourable senators, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act. Before I begin, I would like to take a moment to recognize the very important work that has already been done on this bill in the other place. I would like to commend all honourable members for their work and suggestions, which have helped make Bill C-42 the strongest legislation possible.

Honourable senators, much has already been said about Bill C-42. It is, however, not a complex piece of legislation. Put simply, Bill C-42 will allow Canadian business people and tourists to continue to fly to places such as Mexico and the Caribbean in the most cost-effective and time-efficient manner possible.

This amendment will allow Canadian air carriers to comply with the law of another country — a law which, I might add, all nations, including the United States and Canada, are perfectly within their rights to implement, as several witnesses at committee hearings, including Canada's Privacy Commissioner, have noted.

The U.S. has the sovereign right to control who enters its airspace; that fact is not in dispute. Secure Flight is not optional. If we do not act now to allow compliance with the Secure Flight Program, while at the same time complying with Canadian privacy law, all flights that currently enter U.S. airspace — say, a flight from Ottawa to Cancun — could be forced to fly around continental U.S. airspace to get to their destination.

As we have heard from representatives of the Canadian air and tourism industry at committee, this would have a crippling effect on their business. Longer flights mean more fuel used, higher operational costs and higher flight prices — all at a time when the air travel industry continues to struggle to remain competitive and in the black.

There remain, however, some persistent inaccuracies surrounding the legislation and what it will mean in practice. I am happy to have the opportunity today to dispel some of the ongoing myths that have been repeated during debates and in committee hearings in the other place.

It is important for all honourable senators and all Canadians to fully understand what this bill will do and what it will not do.

As honourable senators are aware, our government has placed a high priority on maintaining a productive dialogue and a collaborative approach with the United States' authorities on all matters relating to aviation security. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has made several important changes to their aviation security regulations, including the requirement that all air carriers landing planes on American soil must provide passenger information to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.

Here in Canada, Bill C-44 came into force in 2001 to amend the Aeronautics Act and to allow Canadian air carriers to provide passenger and crew information to the United States when the flight was ending on U.S. soil.

In 2004, the United States passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. This act, among other things, laid out requirements for the U.S. government to take over responsibility for checking passenger manifests against the U.S. No Fly List and selected lists from airlines. Subsequently, in 2008, the Secure Flight Final Rule was published to provide details on how the U.S. government would implement this regulation.

As I mentioned at the outset, the key change in this rule that impacts Canadian air travel is the requirement that airlines provide personal passenger information on all flights from Canada that pass through continental United States airspace to a third country, even if they are not landing on U.S. soil.

Honourable senators, the U.S. government did not make these regulations optional. Secure Flight is a legally mandated requirement which all nations and all airlines must comply with if they want to fly into or through United States airspace.

During the development of the Secure Flight Final Rule, we worked closely with the United States to remind them of the important work that has already taken place in our two countries to bolster aviation security on both sides of the border. We also stressed to them that any regulations set out under Secure Flight must protect the rights and privacy of Canadians, as enshrined in Canadian law, and we stressed that personal passenger data not be retained for longer than absolutely necessary.

Honourable senators, I am proud to say that our efforts helped to influence the final rule. As well, we have gained a crucial exemption for Canada and that is this: That all Canadian domestic flights are exempt from the Secure Flight Final Rule.

By way of example, if one was were flying from Vancouver to Toronto, and the flight passes through U.S. airspace, the air carrier does not have to provide one's personal information to the United States. This is clearly indicated in Bill C-42 and in the Secure Flight Final Rule. Let us put that misunderstanding to rest once and for all.

I will now address some of the other key misconceptions about Bill C-42.

We have heard from honourable senators in committee that, under this bill, the United States will collect excessive personal information about passengers. We have heard figures ranging anywhere from 30 pieces of information up to an unlimited amount of personal data that will be provided to the U.S.

It has been said in the committee hearings in the other place that airlines will have to provide data to the U.S. on everything from one's meal choice and health issues to one's itinerary on the ground, and even one's race or religious background. This is simply not true, and I would like to clear up exactly what will be collected.

According to the U.S. Secure Flight Final Rule, there are 20 pieces of data that are being requested by the U.S. if passengers are flying into or through U.S. airspace to a third country. In the regulations, it stipulates that air carriers must collect three mandatory pieces of personal data — full name, gender and date of birth of all passengers and crew.

It goes on to say that, if available, air carriers must also provide to the TSA an additional 17 pieces of data. These include items like passport number, redress number, flight number, and date and time of departure and arrival. Honourable senators, this is far from the numbers we have heard bandied about in the other place.

Another myth is that personal data will be saved by the United States for 40 years. Again, this is incorrect. In most cases, the personal information sent to the United States will be held for 7 days, not 40 years. It is then permanently deleted from their data bank.

The only time that passenger information might be held for longer than seven days is if a passenger's name is thought to match a name on the No Fly List, or it raises concerns about a specific link to terrorism.

I will conclude with one final pervasive myth about this legislation. It was said in deliberations in committee in the other place that personal information of Canadian passengers will be shared with other countries that Canadian airlines overfly. As we have informed committee members, this is simply not the case. Over-flight information will be shared with only the United States.

Thanks to the good work of all parties, we have added specific wording to the legislation before us, which indicates that only the United States will receive our information. We were happy to amend the legislation in this way and to ensure that it is very clear to all Canadians that there is no risk of their personal information being shared by Canadian airlines with other nations that they may be overflying.

Honourable senators, I said at the outset that we greatly appreciate the efforts we have seen from honourable members in the other place to discuss Bill C-42 in a thoughtful and instructive manner. However, the urgency to pass this legislation is growing, as the United States wishes to implement this Congress-mandated program as soon as possible. I therefore ask that all honourable senators ensure the speedy passage of Bill C-42.