Mr. Speaker, I rise once again regarding this bill, of which I have already spoken at other stages. It is as industry critic for the Bloc Quebecois that I am taking part in this debate. I used to be human resources development critic and, as such, I may have had more opportunity to deal with issues that have to do with workers, employment insurance and things like that.
In this case, I think that this is a bill that deserves our support. Indeed, it is the result of several years of work as well as the result of the tenacity of certain members of this House. The involvement of members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights was mentioned. The work that led to this bill was initiated by NDP members. They were the ones who were closest to those who went through this terrible experience.
As was mentioned earlier, this bill follows several bills that were brought forward by individual members. Basically we realized, following the explosion at the Westray mine in Nova Scotia, that we did not have the necessary tools to conduct a thorough inquiry.
This could also have a preventive effect so that, in future, people would not engage in more or less acceptable behaviours for which they could not punished previously. Now, with this legislation, before engaging in such behaviours, people will know that there are consequences, and chances are that they will choose not to go in that direction. Indeed, they will have been warned in advance that it is very dangerous to engage in these types of behaviours.
First, let us go back to Bill C-468, which was introduced in February 1999. The purpose of this bill was to establish in certain circumstances the criminal liability of corporations for criminal acts or omissions carried out by their officers or staff and to create a new offence in the Criminal Code for corporations that do not provide a safe workplace.
This bill was also aimed at making it easier to establish the criminal liability of directors and officers, something that was missing from the legislation and the Criminal Code. It was impossible to clearly put the blame on those who were actually responsible for these situations.
After Bill C-468 died on the Order Paper in June 1999, a motion was presented to amend the Criminal Code and other federal legislation to hold corporate managers and administrators responsible for workplace security. At that time, the Bloc was in favour of such an amendment. The members of the Bloc Quebecois took part in the work needed to ensure that the end result would be as good a bill as possible and one that would solve the problem at hand.
The bill was introduced again in October 1999, as Bill C-259. Once again, it died on the Order Paper. In February 2001, the bill was introduced again. At that time, the hon. member for Laurentides spoke in favour of the bill while explaining that Quebec already had such an agency—the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail—that oversees the safety of employees. Thus, in Quebec, we already had a framework for dealing with such situations. Nevertheless, that did not correct the weaknesses of the Canadian Criminal Code. Thus, the Bloc Quebecois thought it relevant to push for the adoption of a satisfactory bill.
For example, in the House on November 11, 2001, the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve expressed his support for such a bill. For him, it was important to pass this bill as a kind of legislative corrective measure, and especially important to strengthen the Criminal Code in order to prevent loss of life among workers.
Finally, it was the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that began to deal with the issue. It held hearings on the issue in the spring of 2002 and tabled its report in June 2002. It recommended that the government introduce legislation in the House on criminal responsibility of corporations, managers and administrators.
That has been the legislative process so far. Beginning with a private member's bill, facing many challenges, we have finally, through sheer tenacity, ended up with a government bill. In the end, the government had almost no choice but to introduce something. We started with a vague private member's bill, and ended up with a recommendation from the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, telling the government that it must act. And that is how Bill C-45 came to be introduced in the House.
The main changes pertain, first, to the use of the term “organization”, rather than “corporation”. This will take in more institutions, including institutions that otherwise would not have been covered and could have continued to engage in inappropriate behaviour.
The bill also says that a company can be held criminally liable for the acts of employees who are not necessarily senior officers in the company. We know that with the multitude of hierarchical levels, under the current Criminal Code there would be no way to ensure that someone who committed a reprehensible act could be prosecuted accordingly and forced to assume the consequences of what he had done. Part of this is corrected in the current bill.
The material aspect—the act of committing a crime—and the moral aspect—the intent to commit a crime—of criminal offences attributed to companies and other organizations no longer need be the work of the same person. It is possible that in an organization where a criminal act has been committed, that someone utters the intent to commit the crime and directs someone else to do it. Now this distinction can be made in charges and in the how the behaviour of people involved in this type of situation is judged.
When it comes to criminal negligence, the moral aspect of the offence could be attributed to the organization insofar as it can be attributed to one of the organization's senior officers. For these aspects, it is essential that fault be attributable to one of the senior officers of the organization.
With regard to mens rea, the organization could be held responsible for the actions of its senior officers if a senior officer is party to the offence or directs other employees to commit an offence or if a senior officer, knowing that an employee is about to be party to an offence, does nothing to stop them.
I would say that this is the crux of the bill. It was truly this side of it that had major flaws and blame could go back and forth without anyone ever having to take responsibility.
The bill also explicitly imposes an obligation on those with the authority to direct the work of other employees to take the necessary steps to prevent bodily harm to those individuals.
The bill also establishes sentencing principles and conditions of probation for organizations. It was important to have clear and specific penalties, so that people would know exactly what the consequences of their actions would be. This did not exist previously in the Criminal Code, which led to the Westray mine situation, where it was impossible to establish liability and to ensure that it was assumed correctly. This gave a very bad example for the future and created legal precedents. This is why it was necessary to legislate.
We know that, in Canada, the conditions under which a corporation can be held criminally liable are essentially based on jurisprudence. Therefore, it was important to have adequate legislation as a basis for jurisprudence.
The bill also amends current legislation so that organizations other than corporations can be held criminally liable. Indeed, under this bill, the term organization includes a public body, body corporate, society,company, firm, partnership, tradeunion or municipality. Let us hope that we did not forget other types of organizations that could be placed in such situations. The definition appears to be broad enough to cover all those who should be covered.
The bill also says that the term organization includes any association of persons thatis created for a common purpose,has an operational structure, andholds itself out to the public as anassociation of persons. We see that the legislator really wanted the definition to be as broad as possible. It is not only the employer that is included but any other type of organization, so as to prevent the same kind of situation from happening again. The government is ensuring that the legislation was not corrected only to cover a certain type of organization or employer, but all the different types of associations.
The bill also deals with the issue of safety in the workplace when it says, with respect to section 217.1, that every one who undertakes, or has theauthority, to direct how another person doeswork or performs a task is under a legal dutyto take reasonable steps to prevent bodilyharm to that person, or any other person,arising from that work or task. This new provision will make it possible to charge people in positions of responsibily who have failed to meet this obligation with criminal negligence.
Again, this measure comes from the impact analysis of the tragedy at the Westray mine. Of course, it will not bring back those who died in that terrible accident and are still mourned by their families.
However, this bill at least gives those families the assurance that legislators have learned their lessons and are trying to ensure that such a tragedy never occurs again.
Sentencing these organizations is another issue on which we put a lot of emphasis. The bill would add new sections and expand existing sections to take into account, during sentencing, factors that are characteristic of organizations. A specific section is also added to regulate the probation conditions applicable to organizations.
Overall, this bill seems to solve one of the problems linked to the tragedy at the Westray mine. For all these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois supports the principle of Bill C-45.
Given the current state of the law, we believe it is important to establish a regime of criminal responsibility for businesses that is effective and takes into account the differences between an individual and an organization.
However, I would like to voice a concern regarding offences. Indeed, mens rea is required, in other words, to prove that intent is above and beyond that required for criminal negligence. A first look at clause 22(3) leaves questions as to how effective this clause will be when it is applied to a specific situation.
We have reached a level of proof that, in practice, might be difficult to achieve. We made these comments in committee and at other stages. This has not been corrected, but let us hope that with respect to jurisprudence, we will not end up in a situation where we have to amend the legislation because it was not accurate enough in the first place.
I want to reiterate that Bill C-284, which had been presented by the NDP, proposed a solution to this difficulty by including the possibility of reversing the burden of proof for corporations. Reversing the burden of proof would work as follows: once it has been established that the employees of an organization have committed an act or made an omission leading to the commission of a crime, that organization would have to prove that it neither authorized nor tolerated such behaviour.
Thus, it would be a kind of preventive measure to avoid that kind of situation. We also should note that the bill does not in any way make it possible to impute criminal responsibility to administrators of corporations, unless the corporation itself has committed a criminal act.
Perhaps this amendment was not included in Bill C-45 for constitutional reasons. Still, it remains open to interpretation, which I hope will not leave an opportunity for people with bad intentions to commit a criminal act without being subject to the appropriate sanctions.
Certainly, the entire bill must be examined very carefully to ensure that it is effective; still, its objective remains valid and necessary in order to make organizations answer for their acts.
I believe that this is the kind of law on which we will look back in 10, 15 or 20 years and say that it brought in real improvements to prevent unacceptable behaviour. It will have corrected something that had caused a great deal of pain in the past, particularly to the families of the victims of this accident.
Nevertheless, it will be clear that the measures that legislators in this field have taken will have helped correct the situation. We can hope that this kind of situation will never happen again and that there will be no need to intervene before the courts to obtain convictions. The way the bill has been written and the information that will be provided to various organizations are intended to make people in all kinds of organizations aware of the fact that they will be held responsible for the consequences of their actions. Thus, we hope to avoid a repetition of the terrible accident at the Westray mine.
In conclusion, I want to express my wishes, and those of many members of this House, that we will be able to pass this bill and that it will come into effect as soon as possible.