House of Commons Hansard #69 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was human.

Topics

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Edmonton Southwest, AB

Madam Speaker, if you check the record, you will see that I have not yet had the opportunity to speak to Bill C-20.

As my colleague from Yellowhead pointed out, this is one of the most important bills that we will deal with in this Parliament because it deals with one of the most fundamental issues of any state or society, which is the protection of children.

We know that the most fundamental purpose of any state, according to any political philosopher throughout history, is the protection of it citizens. The protection of citizens and their property is the foundation of civilization and the first purpose of any state. We can take that further. The protection of the most vulnerable citizens of society is even more important.

I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-20, which is an act to amend the criminal code, protection of children and other vulnerable persons and the Canada Evidence Act.

For the record, I would like to go through exactly what the bill would do. To be fair, we in the opposition should recognize that there are some good intentions behind the bill in trying to address the protection of children. However, we obviously feel that the bill does not go far enough in truly addressing those needs. Therefore, I would like to describe what the bill does.

The bill amends the Criminal Code to, first, amend the child pornography provisions with respect to the type of written material that constitutes child pornography and child pornography defences. This is an issue that has certainly risen to the public's attention in accordance with many of the recent court cases in which people feel that people are using defences that should not be used in the possession of child pornography. On this side of the House, we feel that even the possession of child pornography is exploitation of children and that should not be allowed to happen.

Second, the bill amends the Criminal Code to add a new category to the offence of sexual exploitation of young persons and makes additional amendments to further protect children from sexual exploitation.

Third, the bill increases the maximum penalty for child sexual offences, for failing to provide the necessaries of life and for abandoning a child.

Fourth, it makes child abuse an aggregating factor for the purpose of sentencing.

Fifth, it amends and clarifies the applicable tests and criteria that need to be met for the use of testimonial aids, for excluding the public, for imposing a publication ban, for using video recorded evidence for appointing council or for a self-represented accused to conduct cross examination of certain witnesses.

Finally, it creates an offence of voyeurism and the distribution of voyeuristic materials.

We in the Canadian Alliance have a few main problems with the bill. The legislation is complex and needs to be studied in detail, which I am sure members will do at committee.

We have two main concerns. First, there is no substantial difference between the existing defence of child pornography which, for the record, is artistic merit, educational, scientific or medical purpose and public good. What the legislation does is reduce it to the single broad defence of public good. In our view, this is not sufficient. The previous defence of the community standards test was not sufficient and was in fact rendered ineffective by the Supreme Court in the 1992 Butler case . We think this is the most serious flaw in the legislation because it is not addressed.

The community standards test, just like the public good defence, was concerned primarily with the risk of harm to individuals in society. There is no positive benefit in recycling laws that have already been discredited by the courts.

That raises the important relationship between Parliament, where we make laws, pass laws, debate and amend them and the judiciary, which interprets the law. Therefore, when the judiciary has already rendered a decision on one law and found it to be ineffective, we in Parliament should take that as counsel that we ought not to then use the same type of defence.

The courts in this case have made a decision. One can agree or disagree with that decision, but we certainly have to respect it and with this legislation obviously move beyond that defence to be truly fulfilling the purpose of protecting children.

The second concern I want to raise is this. It is clear that the artistic merit defence, while it may have been eliminated on paper or may be missing on paper, may still apply in practice. We obviously have some serious concerns with people using that defence for the possession of child pornography. In our view the minister has simply renamed and repackaged the artistic merit defence.

Additionally, I want to raise a point about the age of sexual consent because the bill does not raise the age of consent for sexual activity between children and adults, and it is important to be specific. The bill creates a category of sexual exploitation with the intended aim of protection of children between the ages of 14 and 18, but it does not raise the age of consent for sexual activity between children and adults. On this point, I do not understand the government's hesitancy in introducing age of sexual consent between children and adults and moving it up to 16. I do not understand the opposition to this.

We have raised this during question period many times. I see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice is here. Some of the defences I do not understand, such as the concern about how it would impact cultural considerations in different cultural communities and that we would have to take this into account. I was astounded and did not understand that response to that series of answers by the justice minister and others.

In conclusion the bill does not go far enough, particularly with regard to the artistic merit defence in the possession of child pornography and the age of sexual consent. We need to go much further if we are to fulfill the basic responsibility of the state to protect its citizens, particularly the most vulnerable, our children.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The Chair is prepared to rule on the amendment that was moved by the hon. member for Yellowhead. The fact is that it was worded as an amendment, “be amended”. A subamendment cannot be applied to an amendment that has already been negated by the House.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-20 because I am pleased to be recorded as standing up for the young people in this country. They are wonderful, naive, innocent and darling young people. They are cherished, not all the time, but most of the time our children are that way. We go through the terrible two's and stuff like that, but apart from that we want to protect our children because they are innocent and vulnerable.

There are perverts out there who take advantage of our young people in the most despicable ways. They do despicable acts against our children. They make videos, photographs, and other material so they can continue in their warped, senseless mind to derive some kind of enjoyment from what they perpetrate on these innocent young people. It is shocking. I have never seen any of that stuff myself. I have only heard that it exists. I cannot imagine how bad that stuff is, and how shocking and revolting it must be.

One would think that in a democratic society that cherishes the values and the human rights of our people, and the fact that we have a charter of human rights which guarantees our freedoms and protects us, there would not be a debate in the House about protecting our children. My colleague from Wild Rose has worked on this issue for many years. He has been trying to get the government to move the agenda forward. This has been worse than pulling teeth for my friend from Wild Rose. The government then comes along with a little bill that, when analyzed by our critic, is neutral on the family impact assessment. It does not move the ball forward and it does not move it back; it is neutral. That is shocking.

We depend upon the courts to protect society. There was a case in Vancouver a couple of years ago where the pervert who produced child pornography was told by the court that because it was artistic merit it was okay for him to possess it.

Photographs, videos and all that stuff was created by some little kid's pain. It was created to give some guy with a warped mind some kind of titillating enjoyment. I cannot understand why we must keep asking to shut this down. We should just shut it down. It is fairly clear to me that if there is some kind of offence against a child, be it a photograph or a video depicting a child in some kind of demeaning situation, be it violent or brutal or some kind of sexual exploitation, that is wrong and illegal. The individual involved should be prosecuted and sent away for a long time. It seems fairly straightforward.

As responsible adults we have been charged with writing the laws for this country. Why do we have this big problem with protecting our children? The perpetrators know it is wrong. We know it is wrong and the courts know it is wrong. Somehow or another the courts did get it wrong because they said this guy's rights were violated because he was being prosecuted for owning this stuff. How many kids were violated in order for him to produce that stuff? It was artistic merit so therefore he was entitled to keep it.

We have allowed this society to get pretty sick. Maybe society is getting a bit too perverted and tolerant of the anything goes lifestyle where any kind of sexual lifestyle is tolerated. Perhaps we are even going to give it the blessing of some kind of legal status. If we end up with same sex unions and other kinds of unions, the next thing we know it would be polygamy and people would say it is their right to have two wives, five wives or ten wives.

If it is okay for people of the same sex to have some kind of legal union, what is wrong with people saying that they would like to have two or three wives? They would say it is their right to have that too. The court would say yes, and then we would have turned full circle. We would be right back to exploitation and domination of women which I had thought we had left behind.

I cannot understand why the government cannot just say if it involves kids, it is pornography. It is wrong and illegal, and that is it. There is no defence. It is that simple. We must protect our kids and I hope the government gets the message.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
Private Members' Business

February 27th, 2003 / 5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should take the necessary steps to ratify the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to Motion M-239, which asks that the federal government take the necessary steps, as soon as possible, to ratify the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

On January 20, 2000, the final text of the Cartagena protocol on the prevention of biotechnological risks related to the Convention on Biological Diversity was agreed to during an extraordinary conference of the parties to the convention.

The objective of the Cartagena protocol is to protect the environment and to ensure the safe transfer, handling and use of living genetically modified organisms resulting from biotechnology, according to the precautionary approach.

Moreover, the protocol would allow countries to implement rules and procedures holding developers accountable for the costs and responsibilities of potential damage to health and the environment.

Finally, it would establish controls, as well as advanced agreement procedures on international exchanges of GMOs.

The adoption of the final text took more than four years of difficult negotiations and is a major move toward protecting global biodiversity. So far, 44 countries have ratified the Cartagena protocol; the number of countries necessary for the agreement to take effect is 50.

We must condemn Canada's attitude throughout these negotiations. The Canadian organization for civil societies said, and I quote:

As the main speaker for the Miami Group, which includes six member countries, Canada has given the impression that it valued its perceived economic interests in the export of genetically modified agricultural products more than the protection of world biodiversity and public health. This attitude significantly tarnished Canada's reputation among convention signatories and, more generally, among members of the United Nations Environment Program.

So far, the main producers, namely those of the Miami Group, have preferred to react with a surprising move forward. So, in the absence of rigorous biosafety requirements, over the past six years, they have multiplied by 30 the areas set aside for transgenic crops, from 1.7 million hectares in 1996, to 52.6 million in 2001. In 2000, already close to 16% of the world's cultivated areas were transgenic, with 30 million hectares in the United States, nine million in Argentina and three million in Canada.

Moreover, since these first generation GMOs are primarily made up of soybean, with 58%, corn, with 23% and canola, with 6%, they were introduced as oil, lecithin or starch in over 60% of North America's industrial foods, this unbeknownst to consumers, who are becoming increasingly suspicious.

I should also mention that genetically modified wheat will soon be introduced, even though its development and marketing have taken longer than those of the other major crops, namely corn, canola or soybean.

While many types of transgenic corn are currently being developed, it is the Monsanto wheat, called spring wheat, which could be the first one to be marketed. Incidentally, Monsanto recently applied to Agriculture Canada for approval.

There is already a major movement opposing the introduction of transgenic wheat, including spring wheat. That movement includes, among others, a number of stakeholders who are known for their moderate views.

Many farmers are strongly opposed, furthermore, to the introduction of Roundup Ready wheat. They fear having serious problems with weed control despite the claim that Roundup Ready wheat will make weed control easier. Consumer and environmental advocacy groups are worried about potential damage to health and the environment.

Implementation of the Cartagena protocol would also help connect the distribution of genetically modified organisms or living modified organisms to the precautionary principle in order to allow countries to ban GMO imports, if they believe that there are health and environmental risks.

Many countries including Croatia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Korea have been threatened by the United States with trade sanctions from the World Trade Organization for having included the precautionary approach in their GMO import legislation.

More recently, the United States asked for Canada's support in a future challenge of the World Trade Organization following the European Union's banning of GMO imports. We believe that, in considering the possibility of teaming up with the United States, the federal government is working against the interests of farmers and consumers in Quebec and Canada.

What the Americans are trying to do is block implementation of the Cartagena protocol, which is not under the auspices of the World Trade Organization and which the United States never needed. The United States tried to bypass negotiations on biosafety and to get trade in GMO products to go through the World Trade Organization.

Attempts by both the United States and the Miami Group failed. Implementation of the Cartagena protocol would prevent threats of WTO challenges by certain countries against others wishing to ban GMO imports based on the precautionary principle.

On November 2, 2000, the Quebec ministers of the environment revenue, and the national capital region, as well as its international relations minister, Louise Beaudoin, announced the Quebec government's decision to support Canada's signing of the Cartagena protocol on biosafety.

Both ministers also announced that work has started in order to provide Quebec with a strategy for enforcing this protocol. Noting Quebec's commitment to implement the Cartagena protocol quickly, the minister at the time, Mr. Bégin, said: “Today the Government of Quebec is the first government in Canada to formally indicate its support for signing the protocol, and implement a concrete mechanism for developing a government strategy to prevent biotechnological risks”.

Minister Beaudoin said that “the Government of Quebec intends to implement the protocol in Quebec, in addition to playing a prominent role in the final stages of this important international agreement that sets out rules governing the circulation, manipulation and use of genetically modified organisms”.

Moreover, Quebec's Department of the Environment has been given responsibility for coordinating the work of the Interdepartmental Committee on Biodiversity.

Today, with strong support from the Réseau québécois contre les OGM and Greenpeace, I am calling on Canada to ratify the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, as proposed in the motion which I am sponsoring and which is being debated today in the House.

By ratifying the protocol, the federal government will acquire an effective legal tool for regulating the manipulation of living organisms modified in Canada and guaranteeing the accountability of developers for possible harm caused to health and the environment.

There is currently no rigorous biosafety legislation in Canada, while genetically modified crops cover an area of 3 million hectares. It is extremely difficult to guarantee full segregation of GM crops that can contaminate neighbouring crops at any time during transportation, handling or cross pollination.

Implementation of the Cartagena protocol will help decrease the risks of contamination caused by GM crops.

Motion M-239 being debated today is supported by Greenpeace, as I indicated, and the Réseau québécois contre les OGM, which is a network of roughly twenty organizations. Eric Darier, the network's spokesperson, said this morning:

—that the federal government must not be as hesitant about ratifying the Cartagena protocol as it was with the Kyoto protocol.

He is right.

Mr. Darier added:

—that the Prime Minister will add ratification of the Kyoto protocol on biosafety to his political legacy. It is important to put an end to the dissemination of GMOs in Canada. In the meantime, the government could start by imposing mandatory labelling of GMO containing foods, as 90% of Canadians are demanding.

In this connection, I would like to remind hon. members that, on October 18, 1999, my colleague, the hon. Bloc Quebecois member for Louis-Hébert, Hélène Alarie, got a parliamentary motion adopted calling upon the government to make the labelling of genetically modified foods mandatory and to carry out indepth studies on their long term effect on health and the environment. This was a first in the Canadian Parliament and opened up a debate among MPs on this issue so vital to environmental health.

A few years later, with his Bill C-287, the hon. member for Davenport hearkened back to the position of the Bloc Quebecois. We are in favour of mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods so that the consumer can have freedom of choice. As well, inspection and in depth testing to assess the long term effects of GMOs on human health and the environment are necessary. Finally, there needs to be strict legislation on the safe use of GMOs and an independent structure of public information and education.

On January 20, 2000, the Minister of the Environment made the following statement:

We believe that a strong Biosafety Protocol under the Biodiversity Convention is in the interests of all nations.

He added:

Canada wants a system that allows every country to feel secure as these technologies develop. All nations should be able and encouraged to make their own decisions regarding the importation of living modified organisms or LMOs with the help of a strong protocol.

That is what the Minister of Environment Canada had to say on January 20, 2000.

I will close by making it clear that the government has a unique opportunity today to honour the commitments it made in January 2000 on the occasion of the signing of the Cartagena protocol. It has a unique opportunity to honour its commitments by supporting my Motion M-239, which calls upon the government to ratify the Cartagena protocol on biosafety.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

York South—Weston
Ontario

Liberal

Alan Tonks Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion and I thank the hon. member for putting the motion forward.

The government is definitely supporting the Cartagena protocol on biosafety, its objective of protecting biodiversity, and its value to the global community. The protocol focuses on transboundary movement of living modifying organisms, or LMOs.

As evidence of our support, Canada signed the protocol in April 2001. The protocol is not yet in force. However, it has been signed by 110 countries and ratified by 43. It will enter into force 90 days after 50 countries have ratified it, probably some time in 2003.

Biotechnology holds great promise for the well-being of man, but as with any new technology there are risks to be managed, so it is critical to maintain public confidence in our regulatory system and in the benefits that these technologies, including biotechnology, bring to Canadians.

Increasingly we see a world concerned with global scale effects on the environment. One such example is the degradation of our biodiversity and the resultant negative impact on the social, cultural and economic fabric of communities, just the opposite direction of where we should be going.

Canada played a major role in the development and negotiation of this protocol. Canada did so by finding pragmatic solutions to problems and by bridging the gaps between the different points of view brought to the table.

Our objective was to develop a protocol that could be supported by Canadians. This protocol is a win-win result for both the environment and the sustainable use of this transformative technology. The core of the protocol is advanced informed agreement prior to importation for intentional introduction of LMOs into the environment, for example, spraying or planting. The protocol ensures that an importing country has the information and the capacity necessary to reach an informed decision on the LMO prior to importation.

Developing countries showed us that grains and oilseeds imported for food, feed or processing often wind up being planted by their farmers. Therefore the protocol calls for documentation on these products.

The protocol must be implemented by the countries that ratify it in their domestic legislation and regulations. Canada already has a world class biotechnology regulatory system to protect our environment. We will continue to use our current regulatory regime to make decisions to protect our environment and biodiversity.

We already do more than the protocol calls for and we are continuously improving our regulatory system. We do so by acting on the advice of expert bodies such as the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee. Other countries look with envy to the system we have put in place. Our biodiversity is already protected. We would, however, have to put in place regulations to implement our obligations with respect to our exports, such as for advanced informed agreement and documentation.

Since the protocol was adopted in January 2000, Canada has worked very hard to ensure that it will be both workable and effective in meeting its objective of protecting biodiversity. However we must ensure, and I am sure the member would agree, that this does not come at the cost of an unjustified impact on trade. Canada has participated actively and in many instances played a leading role in the many meetings to prepare for the entry into force.

In 2001 Canada co-hosted with Cuba the formative workshop on capacity building. At this workshop, developing countries, donor countries and international development assistance agencies such as the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations agencies all developed an action plan to enable developing countries to implement their biosafety frameworks and the protocol.

Canada has supported the implementation of the protocol by developing countries through our contributions to the Global Environment Facility and the leading multilateral fund for global environmental issues. The third replenishment of the Global Environment Facility concluded in August 2002 with the largest ever replenishment in its history. Canada has agreed to provide nearly $180 million Canadian over four years to the Global Environment Facility, a substantial increase from our last contribution, which was $122 million over four years. We are doing our share.

The biosafety clearing house and the international information exchange mechanism are at the core of the protocol. Canada has been very active in the development of the clearing house and we are not waiting for the ratification to move ahead on this important element. We are in the process of making operational the Canadian part of the biosafety clearing house. Documentation to accompany transboundary movements, that is, trade of commodity LMOs intended for food or feed or processing, has been the most difficult aspect of this protocol.

Canada has taken the lead in finding an approach that is acceptable to all stakeholders. Canada proposed and hosted jointly with France a series of expert meetings on documentation. At these meetings, experts from several countries provided for consideration their best advice on how the documentation provisions should be implemented.

Both the Canadian government and the Canadian industry agreed with this advice. This government promised that we would ask Canadians for their views before we reached a decision on the next steps. Throughout the month of September, the government held public consultations in six cities across Canada. Over 300 organizations representing industry, academia, public advocacy groups, aboriginal organizations and the public were invited to participate. In addition, we established an open Internet-based website and asked the public to provide us with their views on the question of ratification as well as on the draft regulations required to put the protocol into effect upon ratification.

We also consulted with provincial and territorial governments to obtain their views. We have heard a range of views from those who participated in these consultations. Unfortunately, despite the hard work since adoption of the protocol, there still remain legitimate concerns on some issues. The protocol is not a finished piece. There is a need for greater certainty on some of the key issues that could affect what Canadians have to do once the protocol enters into force.

Some issues will be considered for a decision in the immediate future at the first meeting of the parties to the protocol, which will be held after the protocol enters into force, probably in the spring of 2004. We are continuing to work on these issues with a view to providing the level of clarity that we need and that the stakeholders have demanded.

The government is proceeding with an action plan to establish support for Canadian positions and to influence prospective parties to reach decisions on implementing the protocol in a manner that attains its objective but is both pragmatic and effective.

Other issues of concern relating to implementation of the protocol are longer term and will only be resolved over the next several years through the ongoing intergovernmental process. The government will consider adoption and ratification of decisions on these issues at the appropriate time.

Canada, quite correctly, is viewed as a society that cares about protection of biodiversity and that applies reason to our decisions. On reaching a decision on ratification, and for the reasons that I have just given, the government is taking the appropriate amount of time to reach the right decision in collaboration with the best advice that it can get from all stakeholders.

We are still consulting with Canadians to develop solutions to address their concerns. We continue to work with the international community and with our major trading partners to achieve a higher degree of clarity on the issues on which we still face uncertainty and which could have a significant effect.

I hope that this has met some of the concerns that the member has raised and that he is now fully aware that we are--

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The hon. member for Yellowhead.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak on this important motion as the health critic for the Canadian Alliance. When we look at this from a health perspective, we must say that we have to protect our citizens as much as we possibly can. As for the whole area of what has happened in biodiversity and with the genetically modified foods, we look at it with some degree of skepticism because we are not 100% sure that all that is out there is safe. Yet on the other side of it, we have to take a due diligence look and find out for sure whether that is in fact the truth or if that is just a phobia that we sort of build upon.

When we look at this protocol we have to look at all the factors. Is it a safety issue? Is it a health issue? Does it have economic impacts? Could it be used as a weapon against us as far as trade barriers are concerned? All of these have to be looked at.

I would like to look at those three issues in particular, individually, to try to discern whether we should carry on and ratify a protocol that we have initiated, started and signed. If we are going to ratify, I think it is very important to first understand the repercussions it might have on the agriculture industry in Canada, which is one of the number one drivers of our economies from coast to coast to coast but is going through a very difficult time. In 2001, agrifood exports from this country were worth $26.5 billion. That is not a small number. That is a significant number. It is a significant part of the driver of our economy. In fact, we are the third largest agrifood exporter behind the United States and the European Union, so we have to discern how this protocol will affect us.

It is interesting to hear my colleagues across the way say that they consulted with a number of groups from across the country. I know that Canada's Agri-Food Chain, an umbrella organization representing numerous Canadian agriculture organizations, has issued a letter to the Minister of Agriculture outlining several concerns with the protocol. I am hoping their plight and their recommendations are listened to, because it is very important that we not stomp, let us say, on our agriculture community any more than we as a country probably have already. It is very important that we support this industry because it is very fragile, particularly at this time.

I come from an area in western Canada where we went through one of the most significant droughts in history. We are dealing with the foreign subsidies that are plaguing our ability to compete on an international stage with our exports as it is. We have seen the government really just turn its back on agriculture in so many ways. That is certainly the feeling of the people in my riding and in western Canada, and I am sure it is the same in agricultural communities across the country.

We had a drought last year that was so significant and so severe and we saw a government that really just turned a blind eye and allowed the agriculture industry itself to ship hay west so we would be able to deal with the significant drought. Yet with a massive surplus, we hoped we would see in the budget more injections of cash into the whole area of agriculture to support an industry that is going through its most difficult time in history. Yet when we look at this budget we see that there is actually a cut of a half billion dollars this year compared to years past. Half a billion dollars less: It is unbelievable.

Let us look at how it might affect us and affect the industry internationally. Our largest trading partner, the United States, has not signed on to the Cartagena protocol, nor have Australia or Argentina, all significant competitors or trading partners of Canada when it comes to the whole area of agriculture. If we are going to move ahead and actually ratify something, we surely have to look at the repercussions it will have.

Is economics the only thing that should drive our decision? Absolutely not. We absolutely have to look at whether this is a health risk, whether genetically modified foods are a health risk, even as far as growing them within our own boundaries is concerned. In fact, many members were very concerned about this, such that last year about this time the health committee received a letter written by three different ministers who suggested that the health committee take a look at genetically modified foods to see whether they are truly safe and whether we should be labelling them or what we should be doing with regard to easing the feeling in the general population about whether this was a safety issue or not.

That is actually what happened. We did a very extensive study. Many witnesses came forward to describe to the committee exactly what they felt were the risk factors in genetically modified foods. Witness after witness came forward and said that there is not a genetically modified food now on our tables in Canada that is any kind of a health risk whatsoever.

Looking ahead at some of the things that could potentially be modified, I think we have to walk very carefully and be very prudent about due diligence in allowing those things to come on the market without affecting the health and safety of Canadians, absolutely. This is taking place at the present time and it is very important that we continue to do that.

However, when it comes to the economic driver that agriculture is to our economy and how this protocol might affect that, we certainly have to look at whether it is something that we would want to sign.

When it comes to these genetically modified foods that the committee looked at, it was interesting, because at about the same time another piece of legislation was dropped in the committee's lap: the pesticides review bill. It was the first time since 1966 that this bill was even looked at, so there was a review of pesticides at the same time that we were dealing with genetically modified foods.

I grew up in an agricultural background. I farm at the present time. My son has taken over the family farm. I have grown genetically modified foods. I have grown conventional foods and organic foods. I am aware of all of that and more, and I can tell the House with every assurance that if I have a fear of whether a genetically modified food or a pesticide is a safety issue, I would come down on the side that genetically modified foods are much safer than the use of pesticides on our foods.

In regard to the pesticides and the review of some of the chemicals we are using, although there are safer ones that need to come on to the market faster than they are, and even though the pesticides we are using now are deemed to be safe by certain standards, we know that they are not totally safe. I know that when I use some of those pesticides I sense that these are dangerous products and we had better respect them. Using genetically modified foods reduces the amount of pesticides that has to be applied. In fact, the pesticides that go onto genetically modified foods are not only less product but a much safer product.

We have to take a good look at the whole idea of genetically modified foods. We know that in Canada over 75% of processed foods have some degree of genetically modified foods. I agree with the whole idea that consumers should be allowed to understand and have labelling so that they understand whether a food is genetically modified, but I think the only way to achieve that is to identify products that have absolutely no genetically modified foods, so we would label the organic food products. This is a growing industry and I applaud them. I think there is nothing wrong with that. It gives true choice to the consumer.

When it comes to genetically modified foods, we have to make sure that they are safe. From a safety perspective that is the way we should proceed. Many people will say that genetically modified foods have not been tested enough, that we do not know whether they are safe or not. I think that is absolutely false. I think there were studies that came out of Europe last year, one a 15 year study, saying that they are even safer than the conventional foods because of the pesticides, as I said. There is a precautionary approach in the Cartagena protocol and we have to be very careful that it is not used as a weapon, to be a trade barrier.

In closing, I think of these three things: the economic impact on our agriculture industry, the safety of the GMOs that are grown in this country, and the caution that the precautionary approach under this protocol does not destroy us and get used as an international trade weapon rather than what it really should be. To that end, I would say that we should be cautious as we move forward and we should not be ratifying this protocol at this time.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Fundy Royal, NB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to enter remarks on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada on the motion before the House at this time which has been brought forth by the young and articulate environment critic of the Bloc Québécois, my friend from the riding of Rosemont.

The motion states that in the opinion of the House the government should take the necessary steps to ratify the Cartagena protocol on biosafety.

The language that the member has used with respect to the necessary steps is very measured. It is language that indeed can be supported. However, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment has pointed out, there is a fair amount of work that needs to be done from a domestic perspective for us to be in a position to ratify the accord. However, having a motion that engages the public policy makers is a constructive initiative.

This relates very much to the debate on the mandatory labelling of GMO foods in a Canadian context. We are all aware that the future success of biotechnology depends upon an informed and supportive public. Measures are urgently required to build public trust and gain the public's confidence in the safety of food made using genetically modified plants and animals.

The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada has made a commitment to helping further the much needed public debate about the labelling of genetically modified foods in a Canadian context. We stated in the 2000 election platform that:

A Progressive Conservative government would initiate broader public discussion of the ethical issues of biotechnology and ensure greater public consultation in the setting of biotechnology policy and regulations.

A Progressive Conservative government would work toward a law requiring the labelling of all genetically modified foodstuffs and products for human consumption.

A Progressive Conservative government would continue its tradition of working closely with provincial partners, industry and the large number of consumer stakeholders interested in the question of biotechnology generally, and genetically modified organisms in particular, to find ways to reconcile and address the industry's needs and the public's real concerns about the health and environmental safety of genetically modified foods.

When it comes down to mandatory labelling, it could only occur if it is done in a cost effective way in concert with food labelling policies of other major producing and trading countries. That is where the protocol comes into play.

We believe biotechnology, or mandatory labelling of foodstuffs, is not a matter of concern from a human health perspective but is a right for consumer choice. If we have confidence in the product from a biotechnology perspective, that it is safe for human health, which we believe is the case, then we should have the courage to actually label it. There is nothing wrong with taking that very measured approach in that regard.

The member from the Canadian Alliance who spoke a few moments ago pointed out that we, as an exporting nation, one that has fostered a very vibrant biotechnology industry, have an obligation to protect our farming community that utilizes these crops. In order to do that we must ensure that before we ratify the Cartagena protocol itself we build an alliance, a coalition. We note that no major exporting countries are expected to ratify the protocol at this time. Canada must form an alliance with these countries to resolve the outstanding issues in the protocol before we proceed with ratification.

There are some issues that we need to approach. One theme that we need to deal with with respect to genetically modified foods is segregation.

We have a responsibility to ensure that we maintain and preserve biodiversity from a crop perspective by adding a capacity to only use grains and oilseeds that would not jeopardize the biotechnology or the biological integrity of other crops. We must have a process to ensure that, in fact, that segregation and separation occurs.

Also on that theme, we must ensure that we have the physical infrastructure in Canada to separate GMO grains and oilseeds from non-GMO grains and oilseeds. Until that infrastructure is put in place, it is very difficult for us to go down the track that would follow the exact approach that the biosafety protocol provides. It contains rules that apply to the transboundary movement, transit and handling, and the use of all living GMO foods that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking into account the risk to human health.

In short, we know this is where Canadians are at. There is a clear consensus that Canadians want to have confidence in their food products. They want to have that choice. Most polls indicate that 90% of Canadians want to have mandatory labelling of GMO foods. The labelling aspect is a component of the protocol itself. It is our responsibility to move fast and develop that law, work with industry partners, and develop the infrastructure and the Canadian context to do that. It reflects to an item our party had in our platform in November of 2000.

Mandatory labelling is the track that we must follow. We must build more public and broader support for the biotech industry itself, which is done by having the courage to label. If the product is safe, label it. We must ensure that we do that in the context of an international standard, which the European Union is developing and which is a component of the protocol itself.

Given that the motion at the moment is not votable the measured language the member used when he stated that the government should take the necessary steps to ratify the Cartagena protocol on biosafety is a reasonable approach, but there is much work to be done before we can actually ratify. That means investments in infrastructure for our farming and industry individuals. We must ensure that we have an international regime in place so that we can have mandatory labelling as well.

I would encourage the Government of Canada to move fast on fulfilling the obligations of the protocol, but above all, the message I would like to send to the government is that before we ratify the accord, we must ensure we do not put any more arduous or regulatory burdens on our farming community who have been battered and bruised by a myriad of factors, whether it is mother nature with the unprecedented drought in our western provinces, or that many of our trading partners have an obscene level of subsidy with respect to their agricultural products which jeopardizes our capacity to be competitive from an agricultural perspective.

The last thing we want to do is inflict an arduous process on our farming community. From a domestic perspective, the first thing we should do is have the courage to have mandatory labelling of GMO foods done in concert with the industry. A lot of work must be done in order to do that. It should not be a made in Ottawa solution. It should be done in concert with our industry partners, but it also has to be an international regime which speaks to the spirit of the protocol itself.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois, the member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie. He has done a lot of work on the environment and it is good work. The motion that he has moved tonight in the House is an example of this.

Some of the other parties this evening have been giving justification for going slow or doing nothing, which has actually been the approach of the government for some time on this issue. The protocol and the debate around it in the country remind me of what we went through with the Kyoto protocol.

We have to be clear that Canada has committed to it. We signed on and expressed our intent to proceed with this. The expectation around the globe was that this would be done in 2003, that it would be completed and the 50 countries required to sign on would have signed on by now.

We have an international commitment that has to be met. Further dallying is no longer justified. It is also not justified on the basis that because we are doing nothing, because we are not proceeding with mandatory labelling or with the prohibition or the regulation of GMOs, we are exposing our farming communities to the very serious risk of being shut out of international markets. Europe has already done that in effect. It appears that India has or will. We do not have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines. We have to take an active role.

If we look at what has happened with other countries, we are not exactly alone in our concern if we ratify. India has ratified. The European community has ratified. In fact a number of countries that are major exporters, whose economies are based on exports as much as Canada's economy is, have already signed on, such as Sweden, Norway, the whole European Union, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Forty-three countries have come on side. I believe these numbers are up to date as of this week. We are only seven away. Canada should be one of the seven.

The protocol itself is one with which Canada should be proud to be involved. It provides a regulatory framework at the international level to deal with modified organisms. It provides a framework within which the international community is capable of dealing with these organisms country to country. It also has a very important precautionary principle to be used as a guideline when dealing with the organisms within the country and within the international market.

Also important is it is one of the few times that the environment and sustainability, the purpose of the protocol, is not, I repeat not, subordinate to the World Trade Organization. By putting that provision in, the international community is saying it is one of the few times that international trade, profit and money are not to be the guiding principles, but that the protection of human health, natural ecosystems and the environment generally will take priority. None of these organisms, however modified, will be allowed into the natural environment. None of these organisms will be allowed to be exposed to the human species or other species, unless we are absolutely certain it will not cause harm to human health or to the natural environment.

It is a major step forward. It is one that we need to apply both domestically in this country and in a number of other protocols.

It was interesting this past summer, when my colleague and I were in Johannesburg, that the use of the precautionary principle came up repeatedly. We could see that there were a number of attempts by multinational corporations that had a financial interest in turning back the clock and preventing the use of that principle. They were constantly trying to change some of the protocols that we were working on so that the precautionary principle would not apply and that monetary and economic issues would continue to be primary. They had mixed success and we as the human species as a result had mixed success in fighting them over that principle.

There are a couple of more issues that the protocol addresses. It provides for the provision of assessment of liability and compensation should communities be negatively impacted with these organisms. That again is a major step forward. I believe it is the effective way of controlling and regulating the use of these organisms in the economic sphere. It is a way of saying to companies or even countries that if they are to use these organisms, they must understand that if they cause damage, they will have to compensate the victims of that damage. Again, that is a very important principle to be applied.

In interpreting both the precautionary principle and the risk assessment, which is one of the tools that will be used to assess whether these organisms will be allowed into the international market, there is a provision in the protocol that socioeconomic considerations be taken into account. The importance there is that it is socio and economic. It is not just economic.

Therefore, if it will have a major negative impact to a society, for example if a country is emerging from poverty and it will negatively impact on its development because the use of these organisms will destroy part of its farm crops, that will be taken into account as to whether the organism will be allowed into the country. I believe for the purposes of the countries that are underdeveloped, it is a major step forward in terms of applying that type of principle.

Following along the same lines, it allows and encourages the wealthy part of the international community to assist in capacity building so that countries that are underdeveloped or undeveloped will be provided with services and resources from the developed world to assist them to move ahead in developing their economies.

We only need 50 signatories on this protocol. We have 43. As I said earlier, Canada must be one of those other seven and it must do it now.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will use my five minutes to comment on my colleagues' speeches. I want first to comment on what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment said. He told us during the debate that it was important to clarify a number of things before ratifying the protocol.

I want to warn the government, because we must keep in mind that 44 countries of 50 required have now ratified the Cartagena protocol, Cameroon being the latest. If six other countries were added to the list, the protocol would take effect. This would mean that, if Canada had not ratified it, it would be excluded from the first conference of the parties to the Cartagena protocol.

I am truly convinced that Canada must not be absent from this first conference of the parties. I cwarn the government that, if it does not confirm the ratification of the protocol, it might be excluded from the first conference of the parties on the Cartagena protocol. The parliamentary secretary told me that his measures are based on information provided by the Royal Society of Canada.

The government is doing exactly the opposite, since the research on the impact on the health and the environment is all being conducted by the private sector. Yet, the Royal Society of Canada has told us that Canada or Health Canada should commission independent studies to truly judge the potential impact of the use of living modified organisms on the health and environment. But no, the government would rather let private studies shape the government decision making process. It is rather disturbing.

There is also another aspect. The burden on trade should not be too great. What the Cartagena protocol tries to do is distinguish between a conventional and a transgenic product. Inasmuch as Canada respects the precautionary principle, as it did in Rio in 1992, it has to act in a consistent way and ratify the protocol, which favours the precautionary principle.

The government has also told us that it contributed greatly to the signing of the Cartagena protocol on biosafety. Nothing could be further from the truth. Canada was the mouthpiece for the six grain exporting countries in the Miami Group, which has done all it could to slow down the negotiations on the Convention on biosafety and the negotiations leading up to the protocol.

To the contrary, as I said in my remarks, civil society in Canada has condemned the attitude of the Canadian government in this matter, since it was the mouthpiece of the six countries of the Miami group.

My Canadian Alliance colleague told us the economic dimension should be taken into consideration. He is right. We should take into account the economic dimension of agriculture, because different markets and countries want assurances concerning the products already on the market.

What foreign countries want, especially in Asia, is wheat that is safe, and not the transgenic wheat being considered for approval by the government.

I think the precautionary principle is essential, and should inform the government's decisions. It is included in the Cartagena protocol and we would like the government to take that into consideration.

To conclude, I would like ask for the unanimous consent of the House to make Motion M-239 a votable item.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Does the Hon. member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie have the unanimous consent of the House to deem Motion M-239 votable?

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos

The hour 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.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.