House of Commons Hansard #20 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was victims.

Topics

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The vote on this matter is deferred.

(Bill C-15. On the Order: Government Orders:)

October 26, 2004--The Minister of the Environment--Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development of Bill C-15, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

November 2nd, 2004 / 10:35 a.m.

Willowdale
Ontario

Liberal

Jim Peterson for the Minister of the Environment

moved:

That Bill C-15, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Richmond Hill
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-15 which contains some important business left incomplete from the last Parliament. This bill will give us the capacity to curtail the killing of thousands of birds when ships far offshore try to save a little money or time by illegally discharging oily wastes overboard.

This bill is an overdue action to protect wildlife and represents one of the many tools that will comprise the ocean's action plan mentioned in the Speech from the Throne. The Speech from the Throne demonstrated a solid commitment to the environment. It had no fewer than 13 initiatives that will help us make our environment healthier, while at the same time making our economy grow stronger.

Environment, health and the economy are not mutually exclusive concepts. We should not think of the environment on one hand and the economy on the other. The environment is our life support system: the air, the water and the land, together with the natural resources and species that surround us.

The source of all our wealth lies in the environment. Those countries who work now to reconcile environmental issues with the need to maintain a competitive economy will become the global economic engines of the 21st century.

Canada, with its rich environment, its wealth of natural resources, and its technological know-how and vigorous economy is well suited to seize the moment and to become a world leader among those that succeed in creating a robust economy based on sound environmental principles.

With environmental values forming the core of what it means to be Canadian, it is understandable that Canadians become outraged when they see outright illegal activities that damage our precious natural resources go unpunished. Canadians will not stand idly by and let thousands of harmless and defenseless seabirds die when there is something that can be done to prevent it, least of all when the source of the problem is really just a minor inconvenience for a few ill-behaved ship operators.

The Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans have an important place in the Canadian psyche. It is by traversing the Bering Strait that our first inhabitants reached the shores over 10,000 years ago. The first European explorers and settlers reached this land by sailing across the treacherous Atlantic.

The oceans have always been a major source of food for Canadians. They also comprise the major commercial links between our country and the rest of the globe. The oceans are another source of national pride. We must keep our oceans healthy.

The bill I am presenting to the House today, Bill C-15, is tangible proof that the government is taking action to keep our environment clean.

In 1916 Canada signed the migratory birds convention with the United States. This historic agreement committed our two nations to ensure the protection of bird species that were threatened by human activity. Since the agreement was signed several Canadian environmental protection laws have been passed, including the Canadian Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1994, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, the Fisheries Act, and the Canada Shipping Act, which includes sections relating to the environment.

Almost 90 years after the Migratory Birds Convention Act was first passed, it is now clear that an updating of this tool, as well as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, is needed. It hardly needs stating that human activity can have devastating effects on the environment, whether due to intentional acts or as a result of a lack of awareness or understanding of the impacts of our activities.

I am addressing the House today to tell everyone about one controllable threat to wildlife resulting from human activity. The threat is real. It kills over 300,000 seabirds every year. The threat is the product of human activity and is in fact a wilful act of negligence.

The good news is that we have found a win-win solution to this problem. The proposed solution deals not only with the environmental impacts, but also has no impact on economic viability.

Let me explain the problem. Oil released in Canadian maritime waters by ship crews, whether through intentional discharges or accidental spills, can directly kill any seabird that it touches on the sea's surface. Crews that pump their bilge into the oceans pour hundreds of litres of oil into the water, at the same time leaving in their wake an oil slick several thousand square miles in size. These slicks, which often look like a sheen on the water behind the ships, become floating traps for seabirds. The slicks are deadly. All it takes is a single drop of oil the size of a quarter to kill one of our murres, puffins, dovekies or gulls.

The oil penetrates the natural defences of the bird affected and damages the unique structure of its feathers, which normally repel water and resist cold. The oil decreases the bird's insulation, waterproofing and buoyancy, leading to death by hypothermia or starvation. In addition, oil contains many harmful substances that when ingested or inhaled by birds, as they attempt to clean themselves, poison their internal organs and lead to debilitating or fatal consequences.

Once oiled, the birds carry on a desperate fight against the elements of the brutal cold and the ocean drains away their energy. It takes them days to die. It is a battle that they never win.

The main area where seabirds are oiled is off the southwest coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. More than 30 million seabirds and thousands of sea-going ships cross this sector every year.

The point I want to make clear is that this impact, this death of hundreds of thousands of seabirds every year, is completely avoidable. The technology exists today. Every major sea-going merchant ship must carry an oil separator on board. The separator allows for the oil to be separated from the water and then safely disposed of when it arrives in port.

Yet there are cases where this technology is not being used or is not being properly maintained. Time means money and sometimes a ship's operator may choose to dump oily wastes at sea rather than dispose of them in port. That would also save a small processing fee.

Yes, there can be fines when these offenders are caught. The record is not good. Ships continue to pollute and birds keep dying by the hundreds of thousands. Our legislation must have clear and practical enforcement powers, so the international shipping community will hear the message loud and clear, that Canada will not tolerate the senseless slaughter of birds by crews that hope to save a little time or money by flaunting international codes and Canadian environmental laws.

Currently, vessels that navigate our waters are subject to Canadian law. Canada has existing laws dealing with the potential environmental effects of ship traffic, including the release of oil into marine waters. These laws include the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, the Fisheries Act and the Canada Shipping Act.

However, recent court cases have revealed ambiguities in two parts of the legislative framework, making enforcement difficult. It is important that these amendments allow us to deal more effectively with law enforcement issues in cases of marine pollution and, in particular, the legislative measures that will provide clarity with respect to the new 200 mile exclusive economic zone by affirming that enforcement officers have authority in this area.

Second, we are increasing the fines under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, to a million dollars with this bill. The increased maximum fine brings the legislation into better conformity with the modern business of shipping, which is big business.

This bill is also aimed at fostering greater collaboration on law enforcement measures and will provide the means to pursue offenders and will provide sentencing guidelines so penalties will be imposed that appropriately reflect the damage done to the environment. The bill does not require us to create a new agency nor does it ask us to develop new policies. It is about saving birds and it is about doing the right thing. I would ask members in the House to support the legislation.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-15, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, introduced at first reading on October 26, 2004.

Note that this bill received very little consideration in the deliberations of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. The bill is the defunct Bill C-34, which was introduced in the 37th Parliament. The federal government wanted to pass the bill quickly by using the Liberal majority steamroller and without hearing testimony at the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development on the bill's repercussions and application.

I was a little surprised because a bill as important as this one certainly deserved special attention from the standing committee, which should have heard witnesses such as the Shipping Federation of Canada, or other representatives of the environmental sector. These witnesses could have explained how to improve Bill C-34.

The former Chair of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, the former member for Davenport, will remember a session at the time when I became enraged at the behaviour of the Liberal members. I remember this bill was rammed through, and the Liberal MPs did not even want to hear witnesses.

Why not? Because it was the eve of the election campaign, and the Liberal Party of Canada was trying to make us forget the fines that some courts had imposed on Canada Steamship Lines. The government also wanted to show that it had good faith by tabling Bill C-34.

Today, a new version of this bill is being presented as Bill C-15. We are in favour of the principle of this bill because on this side of the House we believe that the practices of some companies with respect to coastal oil spills are totally unacceptable for the protection of migratory birds and their habitat and ecosystem.

It must always be kept in mind, if we really want to protect species, whether endangered, at risk or otherwise, it is always vital to protect the habitat. When companies behave irresponsibly, we have a duty, as legislators, to face up to our responsibilities and to introduce a more stringent bill.

I will come back later to the real repercussions Bill C-15 could have. We have to do more than just introduce a bill, we have to ensure that the bill itself, and the spirit of that bill, are respected in its application.

As I have already indicated, we are of course in favour of this bill in principle because, from the environmental point of view, it makes it possible to impose far stricter sanctions on shipping companies that discharge toxic substances illegally at sea.

I hope, however, that our committees will afford us the opportunity to hear a number of witnesses on this subject, unlike our experience in committee during the last Parliament. Then, the majority government literally shoved the bill through, giving us no opportunity to improve it. Unfortunately, that bill met a sad end.

This bill is an amendment to the 1994 Migratory Birds Convention Act. We must place that in its proper context. We on this side of the House have always admitted that this legislation was indeed within an area of federal responsibility. When various bills were being considered, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act or Bill C-5 on species at risk, we always agreed that the migratory bird legislation and public lands were federal jurisdictions. The principle, the very spirit, of this bill confirms our willingness to respect an area that is, of course, federal.

We need much more rigorous legislation. Moreover, what the government is proposing is, in fact, harmonization, an adaptation of what is already done in the United States. We know that the laws there are much stricter than here in Canada.

In Canada, according to Environment Canada estimates, over 300,000 seabirds are killed each year off the coasts of the Atlantic provinces by ships that illegally dump their polluted bilge waters as they pass through these waters.

Under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, we needed to act quickly. Why go through the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994? Because this law applies in the exclusive economic zone of Canada, and because it is intended specifically to protect migratory birds from the effects caused by deposits of harmful substances in that zone. The provisions of the bill will now apply to vessels.

We should have taken action through more restrictive legislation. Nevertheless, some questions do arise about the actual enforcement and the desired effects of the bill before us. We must remember that in the past we have seen large-scale catastrophes, some of them on the east coast, in the Maritimes, that ended with fines of $20,000 or $30,000, sometimes up to $170,000 as in the case of the fishing boat Olga .

Measures were taken. What was the impact of these measures? One: we arrested the operators of the vessels. Two: we turned them loose. Three: fines were not paid to the federal government.

In short, I would like to tell the House that we support this bill in principle. We believe in more rigorous legislation. However, we must be sure that the measures that will be taken will have a real impact, so that the spirit of the law, that is, protection of our migratory birds, can take effect as soon as possible. We shall work in committee to improve this bill.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-15. I want to go through a bit of the history of the bill. I think I asked my first question on oiled birds in the Atlantic in 1995 or 1996. From there I drew up a private member's bill which basically dealt with this. From there I drew up a policy which I was able to recommend to our party and which became party policy regarding oiled birds.

First I looked at Bill C-34. That was introduced the day before the House prorogued. Needless to say I was pleased there was a bill but went rather ballistic in that the bill was introduced at a time when I knew for sure, and everybody else knew, it could not be passed and that it would simply die on the order paper.

I must say that I am pleased to see that Bill C-15 has now surfaced, at what I hope is a better time so that is has a greater opportunity of moving through the House and through committee. Obviously any minor amendments that are needed can be made during the committee process. We will finally have a piece of legislation that we hope will help stop the problem which has gone on literally for decades in our Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Today I stand somewhat with relief that after so many questions in the House and so much work on this issue, finally we have a piece of legislation which, while not perfect, does come closer than anything else we have in place.

I want to touch on a bit of the background and a few of the areas that concern me about the bill. I am sure they will also concern members on all sides of the House when they look at the bill.

We should recognize there has been a lot of documentation. I am holding in my hands a document to which most members could refer. Certainly there is the web page done by the World Wildlife Fund entitled, “Seabirds and Atlantic Canada's Ship-Source Oil Pollution”. It details a lot references and provides a background to some of the history of the problem and why passage of this bill by the Canadian Parliament is so essential.

As well we need to recognize that a tiny oil spot on migratory birds means death. A bird need not be totally oiled for it to die. One tiny drop of oil will break the bird's insulation and will result very quickly in hypothermia and the death of that bird.

I spent time in Newfoundland and did an hour and a half radio show. At one point I literally saw the thousands of birds that wash up on the shore. I talked to many of the local people and heard how troubled they were that this was happening over and over again and nobody was doing anything about it.

Today a documentary is being produced on that very issue and of course it fits right in with this legislation. I will not be cynical and say that one of the motivations for this bill to show up so quickly may have been that it is a fairly high profile documentary being done on oiled birds in the Atlantic.

Before I move on we should also remember that the same problem exists on our Pacific coast. The problem there as I understand it is it is more scientifically difficult to document because the birds sink. The wave patterns and current patterns are different and therefore not nearly the number of birds are showing up on the Pacific coast, yet we believe the problem is probably just as great, if not greater, in that part of the world.

We have heard lots about the Exxon Valdez and that sort of thing. However, it would be very naive to believe that there are not other more minor oil spills occurring that would affect the birds there as well.

The number used in the Atlantic is 300,000. That is a documented scientific number. The local people would tell us that it is much higher than that. Some people would use figures like a million birds a year. None of these populations can sustain that sort of death toll and expect to remain viable.

Certainly for the people of the area, and I think for all Canadians, they would like to have the seabirds remain a viable population for a long time into the future.

What is the real problem? Why does this problem exist? It comes down to dollars and cents for shipping companies. Many of them do not even dock in Canada, but simply pass through our waters from the U.S. and Europe on the pathway that they travel.

The ships have bilge oil which they need to get rid of. For the shipping companies it is a matter of having to go to port, having to pump it out in port, having to pay for that, but most important, the time it takes to do it. For many of the companies, time appears to be their biggest problem.

It is understandable, I guess, from the captain's perspective that if he is expected to get between point A and point B in a certain amount of time, rather than go to port to dump the bilge, he is going to dump it into the ocean. It would also be reasonable to expect that when he knows that surveillance is very minimal and even if caught the fine is very small, he will take that chance.

It appears that is what has been happening for decades. There are records of oil release right from the 1950s on up, if we look at some of the reference material, and they probably occurred long before that. Therefore, it is the cost factor and the time factor for these ships.

This piece of legislation I hope will fix those two basic concerns that we have. First, the fines are going to be higher and if we make them comparable to the U.S. fines, we could be looking at fines of up to $1 million. With fines like that, they would not run the risk. If the fine was $3,000, well, it would be worth it to take the chance because they probably would not get caught. If the fine was $1 million, as they have been in some of the U.S. cases, they would really think about that. They would probably not be captain of the ship after doing that, if the company took action. Obviously the fine structure will help.

The next thing that is important is that we provide adequate facilities for these ships to move as quickly as they can to get rid of their bilge oil so they can move on. Obviously, we would be asking questions in committee as to what facilities are planned. Are they adequate? Do we need more? Are they as modern as they should be? What is the cost involved? Who is going to pay for that? Obviously, we would hope that the user could pay for a great deal of this because it should be in the best interest of the shipping business to speed this up.

We then also have to look at the surveillance. How are we going to catch these people? We do not have the number of Coast Guard staff, planes and so on that we would need, but there is a technological way to do this. I am not a technician; I do not understand how radarsat works exactly, but I understand it is accurate enough to find out who did it and to send a plane out.

Finally, the enforcement of all of this becomes most important. We have to stop the turf wars within departments. When one of the ships, the Tecam Sea , was brought in, justice was fighting, the Coast Guard was fighting, the military was fighting, environment was fighting over who was in control. As a result, the ship sailed away without ever paying the fine.

That sort of thing has to end. We must have surveillance. The penalties must be there. We must have the facilities that these shipping companies can use.

We will be supporting the bill. We will be looking at where we might improve it in committee. I congratulate the government for bringing it back so soon in this session. It is a much needed bill.