House of Commons Hansard #168 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was physical.

Topics

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

April 15th, 2002 / 11 a.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

moved that Bill C-429, an act to amend the Criminal Code (destruction of national flag), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I will take the opportunity as we open this debate to clarify for everybody andthe audience out there as well what the bill is all about and what the intent is of Bill C-429. Through this initiative I am trying to make a change to section 56 of the criminal code, which would state as follows:

56.1(1) Every one who, without lawful excuse, wilfully damages or destroys in any manner, burns, defaces, defiles, mutilates, tramples upon or otherwise desecrates the national flag is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction--

That is really what we will be debating here today. Within the initiative are two subclauses, one for a first time offence and one for a second offence. I will not elaborate on them but I will explain what the exception is within this initiative. It is as follows:

56.1(2) No person is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) if the person disposes of a national flag described in subsection (3) because the national flag has become worn, soiled or damaged.

That is the exception.

I also feel obliged to talk about the definition of national flag, as was asked of me during the subcommittee presentation I made in regard to what this includes and what it does not. I would like to clarify that now. The bill states as follows:

56.1(3) In the present section, “national flag” means the national flag of Canada, the official flag of a province or territory in Canada or the national flag of another country.

As members know, this is not an issue that is coming before the House for the first time. Not too long ago, my colleague from Haldimand--Norfolk--Brant debated this same issue in the House. We talked about the merits of bringing forward such legislation. I am also well aware that another colleague, from the Alliance Party, the hon. member for Souris--Moose Mountain, has a similar bill before the House. Why am I saying this? It just goes to prove to colleagues and the nation as a whole that this is something that we and our constituents have been talking about. It is not a partisan issue. It is not whether it is the Liberals, the Conservatives, the Alliance or the NDP: This is an issue that affects each and every one of us, Canadian or not, citizen or not.

Let me also point out, especially to my colleagues in the Bloc who have asked certain questions about the definition, that sometimes we do something and realize a month or a year down the road that we should make an effort to fine tune, refine, et cetera. I went further with this initiative than previous initiatives did to make sure that we would include all the flags representing, first, Canada and then each and every province and territory. That of course satisfies each and every Canadian no matter where they live.

It seems so appropriate that my bill is before the House today, just two days before we will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the charter and the repatriation of the constitution. I cannot help but relate this debate to why we have the charter.

In past debates I went further and said how we make laws to protect various parts of our environment, to protect us as individuals. We make laws to protect nature, to protect endangered species, to protect our waters and to protect our children. As well, I know that there is now an effort underway by all party members in the House to ask that the criminal code be tightened with respect to child pornography and the Sharpe case in B.C. We are not happy, and rightfully so, with that, so what are we doing? We are taking a specific law that is in the criminal code and tightening it up, hopefully. What are we doing here? We are trying to create something that is not there.

As we are about to celebrate the charter, I want to take the opportunity to ask my colleagues and Canadians from coast to coast, what the charter does for us. The charter is meant to protect people from overzealous government actions and oppressive laws. The charter guarantees that certain fundamental rights will be protected, including freedom of expression, religion and association; the right to a fair trial; minority language protection and equality rights; freedom from cruel and unusual punishment; and security for person. I underline for person. Why do I underline that? We make laws to protect us. Who will make the law to protect our national symbol that cannot speak for itself?

It is okay to proudly display our national symbol when we are at the Olympics. We have taken it into battle. Our peacekeepers proudly display it. It is recognized proudly throughout the world. However it also seems to be okay to take the flag and burn it. I do not agree.

What are we doing as a people? The charter is there to protect persons. If that is the case and laws are made to protect people, then the people have an obligation to make laws to protect national symbols, to protect endangered species, to protect the environment, et cetera. As the debate unfolds today I encourage people to add their voices.

We know the bill may not be pursued beyond this debate but at least we are kick-starting the debate. I hope other people who will be speaking in the House will express that view, as Mr. Alexandre Cyr did in his letter to me not too long ago.

Mr. Cyr was a Liberal member of parliament from Gaspé between 1963 and 1984. He sent me a letter saying “Keep plugging away. Good work”. He also sent me a copy of the pledge to the Canadian flag, which reads as follows:

To my Flag and to the country it represents, I pledge RESPECT and LOYALTY

Wave with PRIDE from sea to sea and within your folds, keep us ever UNITED

Be for all a symbol of LOVE, FREEDOM and JUSTICE

God keep our FLAG

God protect our CANADA

If God is there to protect our flag then we have an obligation to make sure that the means and the ways are in legislation to protect this symbol that cannot speak for itself.

Some members and some governments might not wish to pursue this thought today, but when the charter came in 20 years ago there was much criticism. I read in the paper just the other day how all of a sudden the percentage of support for our charter is growing. It is at the highest it has ever been. It is over 92%. Young Canadians today are saying that it is a good thing and a right thing. If we had asked the same question 20 years ago I am willing to bet others would have said, no, that it did not do this and it did not do that or it is too much of this and too much of that.

By commencing this dialogue today through my bill, Bill C-429, I am hoping that the debate will carry across the country and that people who genuinely care will send in their letters to the minister to move ourselves emotionally.

I have often heard that while there was an initiative in the United States, it was contested. How many other laws do we have today that are being contested and or changed? Does that mean we should not try? If Marconi, Edison or some of the previous inventors had not tried we might not have some of the technology that we have today.

I am not saying the bill is perfect. Maybe some of the language has to change in the future but I am willing to bet that if the minister of justice in any government moves forward on this at some point in time down the road we will find the way.

It pains me to see certain demonstrations. I believe in people's right to demonstrate but I do not believe they have the right to destroy private property while demonstrating, such as a window display or a car. If people wish to demonstrate they should make their placards and demonstrate. The flag, our national symbol, is not what people demonstrate for or against.

It is not only post-September 11 that has caused us to be more concerned. It has caused us to be more concerned but we had demonstrations pre-September 11. We saw what happened in the battle in Seattle. We saw what happened at the conference in Quebec and other parts of the world. Flags were being burned. All that does in my view, and I am sure I speak on behalf of the majority of Canadians, is raise rhetoric and animosity and cause people to move apart as opposed to gathering around the table and creating dialogue for resolution.

Mr. Speaker, I know you will remember well when the then right hon. prime minister John Diefenbaker brought in the bill of rights in 1961. It was the right idea at the right time. It was a different world and we had different thoughts. We did not have this global village in which we now live. We did not have the World Trade Organization, the G-7 and G-8. We did not have all these forums. We also did not have the hostility we have seen in most recent years on earth.

I commend Mr. Diefenbaker for bringing in the bill of rights at that time but it was not part of the constitution. As a result it did not have the supreme law of the land to back it up. It was the right thing. It started something and perhaps that is why we are here today. By bringing forward the charter we all of a sudden took it a notch higher: more protection, more rights.

I commend former Prime Minister Diefenbaker and all my colleagues who in the past spoke to the bill introduced by my colleague from Haldimand--Norfolk--Brant. I know there is another bill coming from the Alliance Party and I commend it for bringing this type of private initiative forward to the House.

I hope each and every member in the House as well as those who are in committee or in other offices will read Hansard tomorrow or the next day to see my comments and the comments of others that will be put on the floor over the next little while.

I hope the machinery that is there will find the means and the ways to bring forward some kind of legislation that will send a signal to those who wish to demonstrate that, yes, they can demonstrate but that they should honourably protect the dignity of our first symbol, that being the Canadian flag, and each and every flag that represents our provinces and territories because they too are reflective of Canadian citizens who live in different parts of the country. They too deserve as much respect as our Canadian flag.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Peter Goldring Edmonton Centre-East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak in favour of the member's bill regarding legal protection for our national flag, our nation's symbol at home and abroad for Canada's beliefs and freedoms.

Canada's flag stands for the people of the world who have found a new country in Canada, a country shared by beliefs and aspirations, truly a nation of nations.

In March 2000, I stood in the House to speak in favour of a previous bill brought forward by my colleague from Prince George--Bulkley Valley to protect our flag. I agree with the member opposite that there have been several instances of bills being brought forward. I surely do encourage the House to act on one of these bills because it is of the utmost service to Canadians to provide this long deserved protection for our national symbol.

In March 2000, I rose in the House with a Standing Order 31. I wish to just repeat that today because it is very appropriate. My statement read:

How a nation views itself is a measure of its pride and self-esteem. How a nation is viewed by the world is a reflection of its collective deeds. How a nation projects this image is through its national symbol. Our nation is known throughout the world for its deeds in war and peace. Canada's symbol is its flag, which floats majestically over this very House. Our flag is the embodiment of our nation's heart and soul. To desecrate Canada's flag must be forbidden by law. To defile the symbol of our nation must have due consequence. The House will soon decide the importance of our flag. The member for Prince George--Bulkley Valley wishes to add the significance of a cloak of law to protect our flag. I ask for all to support his stand.

Today I ask that we support the member opposite's bill too for equal importance.

I would like to give a little history of the flag for people to review and look at.

The maple leaf is the latest flag to fly over what has become Canada. In the 15th century, John Cabot raised the cross of St. George, the English flag at the time, over Newfoundland. Thirty-seven years later and several hundred kilometres further west, Jacques Cartier planted the royal fleur-de-lis and claimed the land it stood in for the king of France. The fortunes of war saw the colony of New France ceded to England and the arrival of the royal union flag, the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew, after 1759. Following the act of union in 1801 in Britain, the cross of St. Patrick was added and the royal union flag became the union jack.

It was not until 1924 that the image of a maple leaf officially graced a flag representing Canada. The shield of arms of Canada, consisting of the lions of England, the lion of Scotland and the harp of Ireland, the three lilies of France's old regime and a sprig of three maple leaves was added to the red ensign, a flag originally created in 1707 for the British merchant marine. Referred to as the Canadian red ensign, an unofficial version was flown in World War I and officially later flown by Canadian troops during the second world war. Both the Canadian red ensign and the union jack were supplanted by the current flag in 1965.

The search for a uniquely Canadian flag began in 1925. In 1946 a parliamentary committee called for designs to be submitted. Though more than 2,600 were received, parliament was never asked to vote on a design at that time.

In 1964 Prime Minister Pearson renewed the search by striking a special committee which held 46 sittings and heard from heraldic experts, historians and ordinary citizens.

The Alberta government still officially recognizes the union jack and flies the flag over the Alberta legislature.

The committee endorsed the single maple leaf design and the House of Commons approved it on December 15, 1964. Two days later the Senate followed suit. Canada's national flag was proclaimed by Queen Elizabeth II on January 28, 1965, and inaugurated on February 15 of that same year.

The maple leaf is an enduring symbol that can be traced to the very beginnings of Canadian history. The aboriginal peoples in eastern Canada were aware of the food properties of maple sap and harvested it every spring. This was a skill soon learned by the European settlers.

As early as 1700 the maple leaf was referred to as a symbol. In 1834 the first St. Jean Baptiste Society adopted the maple leaf as its emblem. Fourteen years later in 1848 The Maple Leaf , an annual Toronto literary review, declared the maple leaf to be the emblem of Canada. The symbolic status of the maple leaf was recognized by its incorporation into the badge of the 100th Regiment Royal Canadians.

To celebrate Confederation Alexander Muir composed the patriotic song, The Maple Leaf Forever . The maple leaf figured in the coats of arms of the new provinces of Ontario and Quebec. At the 1904 Olympics all Canadian athletes wore a red maple leaf on a field of white.

It was during the wars that it had the most significance. During World War I Canadians fought under both the Union Jack and unofficially under the Red Ensign. The maple leaf was also included in the badges of the Canadian expeditionary force.

In the choice of the national flag's colours history once again was to be a prominent factor. The combination of red, white and red vertical stripes was first formally recognized in Canada's first war veterans' medal ribbon issued by Queen Victoria to Canadian war veterans of the Fenian raids and Red River expedition of 1870. In 1921 King George V proclaimed that red and white were Canada's official colours.

The flag of Canada, wherever it flies, represents for all time the English and French linguistic duality in a great land of aboriginal beginnings that were blessed by a global culture within a shared union called Canada. Today I ask my colleagues in turn to support the legislation. I can appreciate the importance of legal protection for our flag, our country's logo to the world that has cost so much in human toil.

Two million have served Canada in uniform since Confederation and 110,000 died in service to the flag of Canada, our crown and country. Canada's flag is to be held in trust by our country for the efforts of our ancestors and for the benefit of our citizens.

I agree with the previous bill sponsored by the member for Prince George--Bulkley Valley. I agree with the bill of the member opposite today. It is high time and long overdue that our country stands forward to defend its flag and enacts a bill to protect it.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Northumberland
Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this important issue, one that involves freedom of expression and dignity. It is about one of our important national symbols. In other words it is a debate over values.

This issue deeply touches all Canadians. The Canadian flag symbolizes, as we have heard today, democracy, freedom, liberty and Canadian unity. The Canadian flag and all it represents is the pride of all Canadians.

To better understand the issue before us it is important to recall the origins of our national flag. The significance of our national flag has occupied discussions on various occasions. The words that best describe our flag are those spoken by the Hon. Maurice Bourget, Speaker of the Senate, in February 1965 during the inauguration ceremony held on Parliament Hill before parliamentarians and thousands of Canadians. Unknowing of the issue that would one day arise before us he rightly stated:

The flag is the symbol of the nation's unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion.

It is to this last item that I draw the attention of the House. Canadians are proud to be a tolerant and respectable people. We value our diversity of culture, religion and belief. We have incorporated into our constitution the fundamental principles of this wonderful country.

One of these, derived from tolerance, is freedom of expression. It is well understood that the actions to be prohibited by Bill C-429 amount to the expression of a political opinion by act or gesture. As troubling as that may be to some or perhaps even to most of us as Canadians there are other fundamental values that need to be protected which our flag represents.

I propose that what really upsets us is the message conveyed by the bill. The reality is that the message transmitted, a disagreement with government policy, is disturbing, but however disturbing the message may be putting limits on the expression of political opinion is nothing to take lightly.

We cannot justify criminalizing an act because we do not like the message it conveys. As a matter of principle criminal law in a free and democratic society such as Canada must be reserved for wrongful acts that seriously threaten our fundamental values of society. The freedom to express dissent is a fundamental value and Bill C-429 would limit that expression.

These acts simply do not amount to actions that require a criminal sanction. We must keep in mind that expressions judged distasteful by the majority are not in and of themselves a basis for restricting free speech in a free and democratic society.

Other countries have refrained from criminalizing the desecration of their flag, such as Ireland and the United Kingdom. The United States has attempted in the past to do so but the legislation was judged to be unconstitutional. It would be very likely that the proposed legislation represented by Bill C-429 would not survive a charter challenge in Canada. Freedom of expression is protected by section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and flag burning is recognized as a form of political expression.

In short, Bill C-429 would go against the fundamental values that our nation's flag stands for, that is, representing Canadians without distinction as to belief or opinion.

I share the views of the vast majority of Canadians that desecrating our national flag is truly an offensive behaviour. Those who commit such acts do nothing to forward their cause. However, while it is objectionable behaviour, because it is a form of political expression, it is protected by the charter and cannot be criminalized.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate today. I congratulate the hon. member for Scarborough Centre for bringing this issue to the floor of the House of Commons.

It is an issue of merit and fraught with emotion for many members of parliament and many Canadians. It is an issue that stems very much from our values and great desire to protect and preserve our symbols of national unity and symbols of importance to all Canadians.

The spirit and intent of the bill is to cause Canadians and parliamentarians to engage in an introspection and to talk about the vision for greater protection of our country and the symbols that represent our country. The intent of the bill is to highlight the importance of the growing sense of patriotism that we have in this young nation.

We are sometimes hesitant to engage in patriotism and acts which celebrate our country's accomplishments and place in the world. There are times when we identify with the flag and wrap ourselves in that symbol to the betterment of all and to the betterment of a sense of bringing people together.

We in the Progressive Conservative Party wholeheartedly support the intent of the bill to bolster the flag as a symbol of national unity and to protect that symbol. We support efforts to dissuade those who may engage in efforts and acts to desecrate, destroy and denigrate that great symbol.

I find myself in the somewhat uncomfortable position of agreeing with some of the arguments put forward by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice. By criminalizing those acts we would enter into a new realm where one would have to question to some degree the proportionality of the response. Yes we all frown upon those kinds of actions and want to do whatever we can to protect that symbol of Canadian pride and unity. However by invoking the use of the criminal code we would be using a blunt instrument to hammer home the desecration of the flag.

In my opinion it does not merit that type of response. The use of a criminal sanction would result in what I would describe as a further disproportional response. It could hamper a person's ability to partake in the opportunities that exist in Canada and would run against the very grain of the member's intent in preserving the sanctity of the flag.

The argument that has been put forward in the House with regard to freedom of expression does enter into this issue. Sadly, there are some who choose demonstrative acts of aggression toward the flag to make a political statement. Certainly no member of our party or any party in the House would condone those acts.

The reality is that sometimes it is an outlet for individuals to display their aggression, disdain and distaste for government policy or for countries of any origin. Some would suggest that aggression is far better taken out in the form of an act toward a symbol rather than an act toward an individual or a person's property which some would say is of greater monetary value, for example, a person's home or automobile.

Very often we see political demonstrations where a message is being sent through the destruction of a flag. This is not a scene which veterans or athletes or anyone who has donned the flag are pleased to see and who in fact cringe upon those occasions. That is a form of protest that has existed for some period of time.

The parliamentary secretary mentioned the Americans. There are probably many, myself included, who point to the Americans as among the most fervent patriots in the world. Yet they tolerate this act of aggression toward their flag. That action has been taken through their courts and it has been found, although wanting in terms of the act itself, to be within their constitutional boundaries.

It is important to note that section 430 of the criminal code, which deals with mischief to property, currently permits police in some circumstances to charge a person for the desecration and destruction of a flag, particularly if that flag belongs to another person, or an embassy, or an individual or an organization. However It does not preclude somebody from purchasing a flag or owning a flag and destroying it.

We also know that there are occasions when a flag is destroyed by way of a ceremony because the flag has become so faded or ripped that it is destroyed out of a sense of respect rather than a sense of disrespect.

It is somewhat difficult to make this a black and white issue by criminalizing the destruction of a flag in every instance. I note that the wording of the motion, by adding section 56(1) to the code and making it an offence to damage or destroy the flag, also includes the provincial, territorial or national flags. I am glad to see that the member included that because we know that there have often been acts of disrespect, and provocation between provinces. I am speaking specifically of the fleur-de-lys and the occasions where there have been attempts to enrage sentiments among provinces and to bring out the worst of those sentiments by displaying disrespect toward the symbol of a province, and similarly another country.

There would be some perverse irony in that a person might be charged in Canada with destroying an American flag or a flag of another nation if they were permitted to do so in their own country. That would be somewhat incongruous if we were to criminalize that act in our country.

There was mention that in Ireland and Great Britain the current case is that those flags are protected with such criminal sanctions. In the context of the unrest that exists in particular between the people in northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the acts of aggression that have occurred historically in those countries, I think we know that in those circumstances it was necessary. Perhaps even more so we have to emphasize the intolerance and the symbolism that results from any sort of desecration of the Irish national flag or the flag of Great Britain, the Union Jack. I think it was in the historical context that I would deem a rather extreme step was taken in criminalizing it in those circumstances.

Under section 430, our code permits criminal charges to be laid for mischief against property, which a flag certainly would be, and allows for sanctions which are aimed at general deterrence and specific deterrence for those who engage in that type of act.

Rendering the property dangerous, useless, inoperative or ineffective would certainly fit that definition when it comes to destroying a flag. It would also allow for sanctions when somebody interferes with the lawful use or enjoyment or operation of property. Removing a person's flag from his or her property would allow for criminal sanctions to follow. Obstructs, interferes or interrupts the lawful use enjoyment of said property again would fit that description.

When looking at the overall effect of the bill versus the overall intent, I would have to say that we err on the side of not criminalizing acts of aggression toward the flag. By virtue of having this debate and bringing attention to it, raises the standard and consciousness and the respect and deep esteem that we should have for our symbols, in particular our flag, particularly when we talk, as the previous member did, about the long, deep history felt by veterans in the country and by our Olympic athletes.

Today we will be honoured with the presence of our Olympic and Paralympian athletes in the House of Commons who so proudly displayed that flag, yet there was a very dark incident where the American women's hockey team trampled on the Canadian flag. In that very instance it would have been disproportionate to lay a criminal charge against those individuals.

Yes, it goes against the Olympian model. It goes against everything about fair competition and all that we want to invoke in sport, but a criminal charge would be disproportionate.

While I agree with the intent of the hon. member's bill, I regret that, given certain legal restrictions, we should not pursue it in this fashion.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we close this debate, let me take this opportunity to thank the members who spoke to Bill C-429. I will close by referring to some of the words that my good friend from the Conservative Party said. He said it has created dialogue. This really is the intent here.

The member of the Alliance who spoke earlier said that there was a previous initiative from the Alliance party and that there will be another coming from that party. As well there was one from my colleague from Haldimand--Norfolk--Brant, along with my own. I also appreciate the words from the parliamentary secretary as well.

When members refer to the legislation that is in use in the United States, I agree. What the Americans did though was brought forth legislation which was challenged. If we go back, there were certain acts at that time of defacing, destroying and burning of American flags. The Americans brought in legislation even though the law had been challenged and struck down. Today or in the most recent years I do not think one sees that type of activity unfolding in the United States.

Should we have legislation in place or make amendments to the criminal code? It might be challenged and struck down, but between now and then a certain message would put out that this type of activity would not permitted. If it was challenged, then we could approach the challenge at that time.

The most important thing for me, and I know I speak for many members in the House and for many Canadians, is that the dialogue has commenced and the issue has been raised. Rest assured the issue will continue to be there and will keep coming back. I will be the first person to say that my private member's initiative is not perfect, but it is a start and it is something on which to build.

I would like to thank all hon. members. I will not use the tactics of asking for unanimous consent. I refuse to do that. I brought forward Bill C-429 knowing that I would commence dialogue with all parties, so that the voices of my constituents and of all Canadians could be heard on the floor of the House. Members also could rightfully express the pros and cons of this type of an initiative, and I fully appreciate that. I think all of us have learned something today. As other members come forward in the future, I am confident that we will learn more.

I thank all my colleagues who participated in this debate.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Given that private members' hour has been short, I will suspend the House until 12 o'clock when we will resume work.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11.45 a.m.)

The House resumed at 12 noon.

The House resumed from April 9 consideration of the motion that Bill C-53, an act to protect human health and safety and the environment by regulating products used for the control of pests, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Pest Control Products Act
Government Orders

Noon

Liberal

Karen Kraft Sloan York North, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I began my portion of the debate on this very important topic, I reminded members of the House and indeed Canadians who might have been watching, that the Pest Control Products Act was 30 years out of date.

The new PCPA that amends and would replace the Pest Control Products Act is a very important act and is long awaited. No doubt science has improved in the past 30 years as well as has our understanding of developing an appropriate regulatory regime. We are very pleased that the minister has brought this act forward.

I also identified a number of things in Bill C-53 that I supported. I would like to make an additional comment on this and that is there will be a mandatory special review of any pesticide that has been banned or voluntarily withdrawn by an OECD country as we recently saw in the United States. I identified a number of positive things in the act, and I want to remind members of the House and people watching that, less I be accused of being too cheery, I believe there are some shortcomings to Bill C-53; instances where the environment committee's recommendations are not reflected in the bill.

I am currently the government vice chair of the environment committee that undertook a one year study of pesticides and the regulatory regime in Canada around them. I am optimistic that the health committee can address some of these shortcomings, but I would like to focus on just a few now.

For example, the committee called for a clear and unequivocal statutory mandate to be given to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. The PMRA, although currently not an arm's length agency, has all the attributes of one. We felt therefore, that clearly identifying the de facto decision maker would be an important step in making the regulatory process more open and transparent. This has not been done in Bill C-53. The agency is not even mentioned in the bill.

The committee also called for a clear definition and application of legislation of the so-called substitution principle as is used in Sweden's environmental code. This would require that older pesticides be replaced with newer, less toxic products and non-chemical alternatives as they became available. This has not been done.

While I am talking about principles, a popular theme these days, let me address the question of the precautionary principle. The committee recommended the precautionary principle be enshrined in the bill's preamble as it is in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act or CEPA and this was not done.

The committee called for the precautionary principle to be enshrined in the bill's administrative section as it is in CEPA and this was not done. The committee also called for the precautionary principle to be enshrined in the operative sections. Under the bill, the minister may invoke the precautionary principle in the course of a re-evaluation or a special review. Unfortunately, it is not mentioned. At a minimum, and in the interests of cross-statute consistency, Bill C-53 should reflect CEPA in this matter. The result is a weak acknowledgment of the precautionary principle.

Finally, the committee recommended that the new legislation contain measures that would allow for the broadest public disclosure of information to the public similar to those requirements in sections 51 to 53 of CEPA. However sections 42 to 44 of the bill, which outline the proposed access to information, are not equivalent to the CEPA provisions. Again, for the sake of cross-statute consistency, this should be addressed.

The committee recommended that so-called confidential business information be narrowly defined in the new legislation to encompass only information that would be truly prejudicial to the financial or competitive interests of the person to whom it belongs. Unfortunately Bill C-53 uses too broad a definition. I hope this will be addressed when it moves to the health committee.

In closing, I look forward to working with my colleagues on the health committee in the weeks to come on this important legislation. During the environment committee's study of the pesticide regime I learned first-hand how passionately Canadians feel about the issue. I am optimistic that at the end of the day the minister and the government can deliver a modernized Pest Control Products Act that will protect the health of all Canadians, particularly children and other vulnerable groups.

Pest Control Products Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, as the other vice-chair of the environment committee it is my pleasure to speak to the bill.

As we have heard from my hon. colleague across the way, I was not part of the environment committee when Bill C-53 was discussed so I am not familiar with all the work put into it during that year. However I will add a few comments that might be helpful to the health committee as it looks at the bill.

My involvement with environmental issues dates back to my reading of Silent Spring , Rachel Carson's book that pushed into the forefront the issue of pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and so on and the impacts they might have. In those days a lot of mistakes were made. A lot of chemicals were developed that were effective, but no one looked at what they might do to our water and wildlife down the road. No one looked at the cumulative effects they might have for future generations.

I am pleased this piece of legislation is being revised. As the hon. member across the way mentioned, it has not been updated since 1969. An awful lot has changed in the area of chemistry regarding what works, what does not work and all the problems I mentioned.

I recognize the pressure on farmers trying to make a living who have had to deal with low commodity prices, increased input costs and so many environmental concerns. Other legislation before the House, Bill C-15B, is causing major concern regarding the definition of animal and the rights animals should have. We are all against cruelty to animals. However by taking the issue to the extreme we could put an awful lot of pressure on our agriculture community. Bill C-5, the endangered species legislation, could put even more pressure on farmers as it comes through the House later this week.

Now we are discussing pesticides. A lot of farmers are afraid the government will come after them and attack the very things that constitute their way of life and means of income. We want to make sure members of the farm community understand that Bill C-53 would not target them. It would simply modernize a piece of legislation that has not been touched since 1969. I know many farmers who do not like using chemicals. They would rather not have to use them. However using various fungicides, herbicides and pesticides is a matter of survival for them.

Bill C-53 says the federal government would not interfere in the urban use of pesticides. It would leave it to the municipalities. That is a wise decision. It would allow each city to listen to its grassroots and make its own decisions. The most important emphasis for the health committee will be to look at the effect pesticides would have on children, animals and people in the community.

The new farming methods depend fairly heavily on the use of new herbicides and pesticides. Direct seeding is very common across most of western Canada. Saving fuel, reducing CO

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and preventing erosion are all important when it comes to the new farming techniques. The downside is that farmers are fairly dependent on herbicides and pesticides to keep down weeds, insects and so on.

There is the matter of the runoff of these chemicals into our dugouts, streams and lakes and the effects it might have. We need a full study of water and the implications of pesticide and herbicide use on our water supply. The government has talked but has come forward with very little action regarding the survey of water.

We need to understand our aquifers. We need to understand the environmental implications on a much bigger scale than we now do. That is in the realm of federal concern. The federal government needs to show the provinces it wants to work together to develop a water inventory which includes the runoff of chemicals into our water supply. We have gone far too long without doing adequate studies to know what this means.

As I mentioned, the technology has improved. The modernization of chemicals and use of safer chemicals is all part of the new R and D. Chemical companies know they must have safe products. Because we have had such outdated legislation Canada has been pretty lax in the use of new chemicals. Bill C-53 would move us along those lines.

As has been mentioned before, when an OECD country says a chemical is suspect because it does not do the job it is supposed to and has other effects, Canada will start to look at that. This is a positive move. We need to register these chemicals. We need to understand their implications. These are all positive aspects of Bill C-53.

A big concern I have and that our agriculture and health critics have spoken to is that we need to put this piece of legislation into committee where we can make amendments and so on. However I am a little tainted and unhappy because that is exactly what happened to Bill C-5. Government members, opposition members, environmentalists and so on all found fault with it. It went to committee. We worked for nine months to improve it. All members of the House worked hard and co-operatively on that piece of legislation.

When the government got the legislation back from committee it decided to reverse most of the amendments we had won in committee. If that is the sort of thing that happens with Bill C-53 I will question what the committee is doing or whether it is wasting its time with the amendments. I will get over it. However when I see something sent to committee and have great hopes for amendments, I hope the government will listen to the committee. Committees listen to hundreds of witnesses before making recommendations to make better pieces of legislation.

When we talk about pesticides we should also talk about labelling. All of us have experienced difficulties with labelling. Whether we spray a chemical on our lawn or on a bug we do not want in our roses, we sometimes have difficulty reading the labelling. I have always thought that needed a lot of improvement.

The labelling sometimes talks about the mixing of quantities but talks about spraying only one rose bush. This does not mean much to the user who may not be dealing with only one rose bush. Sometimes it is very unclear what one is supposed to do to safely use a chemical. Farmers have the same difficulty when mixing batches of pesticide. Clear labelling is needed. Anything the committee can do to improve labelling for the use of pesticides would help.

We need to speed up the registration process whether for drugs or the use of pesticides. We need to learn from others. We need to look at what the EU, the Americans and other countries are doing. We need to see why they are outlawing certain chemicals and bringing in new ones. Many new chemicals are cheaper, more effective and do a much better job. We need to be able to speed up the process. Again, I hope the committee deals with the issue of registration.

As I mentioned, the mandatory review of any chemical banned by an OECD country is a good move because it means those 50 some countries have done their research. If they find a reason to ban a certain chemical it is good to evaluate the information. However we want the evaluation to be based on sound science and not the whims or lobbying of chemical companies and agricultural groups. This is something the committee could amend and improve in Bill C-53.

When we put forward a piece of legislation like this we need to recognize that farmers are in competition with members of the European Union and their American colleagues, and that the competition is real. There is an awful lot of work we can do. As long as the committee is given the freedom to bring in the witnesses it wants and put forward the recommendations it wants, and as long as the government is committed to listening, we will go a long way toward having an improved piece of legislation.

As my party's agriculture and health critics have said, we will support this piece of legislation. We will take it to committee. We look forward to getting amendments with respect to labelling, use, evaluation and so on. Provided that all comes together, we look forward to supporting Bill C-53 when it comes to report stage and third reading.

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12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague the hon. member for Red Deer summed up the issue pretty well. However I have a question for him.

I am a farmer. Our farm has belonged to my family since 1911. Pesticides and insecticides are part of the tools we use to manage our farm. If our competitors have a product we do not have, why can Canada not be a bit more progressive in trying to harmonize our products with those of the United States, our closest neighbour and one of our biggest competitors in agriculture? If the United States goes through a review process why should Canada have to conduct the same review process all over again, which may delay the availability of the chemical to Canadian farmers for up to five years afterwards?

Is there not a method of harmonizing the tests required for new chemicals so that once they are approved for farmers in the United States they are approved for farmers in Canada as well?

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12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague has touched on the turf war within some of our departments which feel they must do the same research over and over again for no other reason than to protect jobs. It is time we opened the issue up.

There is enough work for everyone although it might be different kinds of work. I cannot understand why 300 million people can afford a lot more research and development than 30 million people. Some 700 million people in the European Union can afford a lot more research than can 30 million people in Canada. It comes down to having the good of all of us at heart rather than protecting the pyramid of bureaucracy we sometimes deal with.

There is no reason we cannot take advantage of the research and development of other countries. We can lead in certain areas. In our military we have broadened our base so greatly we cannot do anything really well. It is the same for research and development with regard to pesticides, drugs and so on. Let us do what we do best. Let us not try to do everything. Let us not try to duplicate all the research going on around the world.

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12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, further to the issue that my colleague from Red Deer addressed, the matter of sharing information on these pesticides is a significant one insofar as we share a long border with our American cousins. Pesticides applied in Canada may well have an impact on the river systems in the United States. I wonder what sort of co-operation there may be in the offing on this issue. It seems to me that there is reason for Canada to work closely with the Americans on these matters, not only from a cost point of view but also from a practical point of view because of the border we share.

The second thing I would like him to comment on is the notion that the bill requires as part of the approval process that manufacturers show that their chemicals are effective. This as well seems to be an expense that we could do without.

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12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think harmonization is the big issue. In studying many environmental issues I have been shocked at how little we work between the U.S. and Canada even though we share water, we share aquifers and we share our borders. I think anything we can do, as he suggests, will be of benefit.

As far as the chemical effects are concerned, I might tend to disagree a little with him in that usually in its advertising a company will target what the effect will be. Again, the committee needs to look at that to see what extra expense there is, but companies should be able to justify that it will be effective for what they say it will be.