Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill C-45 concerning the criminal liability of corporations. Before getting into the pith and substance of the legislation, I would like to say that I examined this bill as my party's industry critic to see what impact it would have on the industry sector, while recognizing the fundamental merit of plugging a loophole in the Criminal Code that absolutely had to be plugged.
Unfortunately, a terrible situation existed where it was later realized that liability could not be correctly assigned and that measures had to be taken accordingly.
I am also speaking as a former director of personnel. In a previous life, before I was elected to this place, I was the director of personnel and secretary general of the CEGEP in La Pocatière. I have lived though various labour relations situations. Organizations obviously have a major moral responsibility to take. The absence of any clear indication of how to deal with these things in the future created a loophole that absolutely had to be plugged.
The last aspect I wanted to raise was the process for improving the legislation. People often wonder whether the efforts made by lawmakers, that is the hon. members, ever pay off. In this case, the result has been a government bill, which was introduced on June 12 by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
The purpose of the bill is to review the principles of law concerning the criminal liability of corporations and other organizations. But to get there required sustained efforts. I want to acknowledge in particular the efforts of the members of the NDP.
If we look briefly at the history of this bill, it was based on Bill C-468 and Bill C-259, put forward by the NDP in the thirty-sixth Parliament, and on Bill C-284, put forward by the same party in the first session of the thirty-seventh Parliament.
This goes to show that the NDP kept up the pressure following the public inquiry into the causes of the explosion at the Westray mine in Nova Scotia. We all remember this tragic accident. Without going into the evidence of the case, it was realized that, basically, this accident was caused by neglect. Efforts were made to clearly identify who was responsible. Under the current code, it was impossible to really hold responsible those who ought to have been held responsible.
From that point, steps were taken to establish, under certain circumstances, the criminal liability of companies for omissions or criminal acts by their directors or employees and to add a new offence to the Criminal Code for companies that fail to ensure a safe workplace.
In the mining industry, this was more evident than ever. It is an industry where all problems absolutely have to be eliminated from the outset. Negligence has very significant direct consequences. This aspect needed to be corrected and broadened to incorporate all employers and organizations that, until then, could slip through the cracks. This aspect of liability needed to be defined.
This has to do with the criminal liability of companies for omissions or criminal acts perpetrated by their managers or employees. We are trying to have a new offence added to the Criminal Code for companies that fail to ensure a safe workplace.
In addition, there is everything that is not criminal in nature, but results in accidents. However, in this case, we are truly talking about situations where an act can be recognized as being criminal.
Initially, the bill that was introduced by the NDP was designed to facilitate establishing the criminal liability of company administrators and directors. The bill died on the Order Paper at the end of the first session of the 36th Parliament, in September 1999.
The NDP raised the issue once again. In June 1999, a motion was moved to review the Criminal Code and other federal legislation so that company executives and administrators could be held responsible for workplace safety.
At that time, the Bloc Quebecois, which was in favour of such a review, supported the motion. This motion was moved in 2000 and the Bloc Quebecois voted in favour of it. There were also motions brought forward in 2001 and 2002 on the same subject.
In October 1999, the NDP reintroduced its bill, which also died on the Order Paper.
There has therefore been continuity in the desire to regularize this situation, not only because of the difficulties identified in the Criminal Code in connection with past situations, but also and particularly for future situations, in order to ensure that a dissuasive effect is created and that employers and organizations are well aware of the potential consequences if they do not fulfill their responsibilities properly.
In the same vein, the fact that these past actions are today culminating in Bill C-45 is very good news indeed.
Obviously, the bill needs to be examined carefully. Perhaps some corrections will have to be made in committee, as my colleague suggested earlier. Basically, however, this is a positive bill.
On November 11, 2001, the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve indicated his support for a similar bill. He felt that it was important to pass such a bill in order to improve the legislation and particularly in order to tighten up the Criminal Code to prevent any workers from losing their lives. As I was saying, through prevention and increasing employers' awareness of their responsibilities, there is more likelihood that the approaches adopted will be what they need to be.
Most employers, like most members of the public, are honest. Unfortunately, the Criminal Code is there for those who are not. That is the purpose pf this bill.
The member for Laurentides also spoke out in favour of this bill. In expressing her support, she indicated that Quebec already has in place a body, the CSST, or Commission de la santé et de la sécurité au travail, to ensure worker safety.
We wanted to ensure that the bill did not interfere with the responsibilities of the CSST. In this case, this being an amendment to the Criminal Code, it can be considered that this is really a federal responsibility. As a result, we feel it is appropriate to move ahead with this bill.
What is also significant is that Bill C-284, the previous version tabled, was withdrawn before Bill C-45 was arrived at. There had been an agreement to examine the matter in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human RIghts in February 2002.
The committee held hearings and presented a report. It asked, and I quote:
that the Government table in the House legislation to deal with the criminal liability of corporations, directors, and officers.
Bill C-45 is the result of all these actions. I think there is still room to make improvements as we study the bill, so that we end up with legislation that is exactly what is requested to eliminate the shortcomings in the Criminal Code.
Quickly looking at the main issues addressed by Bill C-45, we first notice the use of the term “organization” instead of “corporate body.” This is a way to truly include all possibilities. For example, the definition of “organization” is:
(a) a public body, body corporate, society, company, firm, partnership, trade union or municipality, or (b) an association of persons that (i) is created for a common purpose, (ii) has an operational structure, and (iii) holds itself out to the public as an association of persons;
This very broad definition, will cover all situations that might arise. Of course, when the bill is passed, all associations and organizations must be informed about the implications of the law, in order to ensure they are aware of it.
A company can also, according to the bill, be criminally liable for acts carried out by employees who are not necessarily highly placed in the company. Previously, it was absolutely necessary to have a manager who was in an untenable situation. That concept is now being extended to ensure that no one can slip through the safety net. The organization could consider that these people were not really under its control. The safety net will be tightened up, so that organizations will feel more responsible for all of their employees and so that employees will act with propriety.
The bill also mentions the categories of persons whose actions may actually constitute a criminal act for which a corporate body or any other organization is liable. This has been broadened to include all employees, representatives or contractors.
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.
Therefore, this section ensures that, in the case of criminal negligence, someone is responsible and that liability is tied to one of the organization's senior officers.
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.
Obviously, it must be noted that the actions of this senior officer must seek to benefit the organization.
The bill explicitly imposes a duty on those with the authority to direct the work of other employees to take steps to prevent bodily harm to those individuals.
The bill also adopts sentencing principles and probation conditions for organizations, because, in fact, persons cannot be sentenced, when an organization is sentenced, in the same way as if it were a person.
Currently in Canada, it is essentially jurisprudence that determines the conditions under which a company can be held responsible for a criminal offence.
In the case of criminal offences that require mens rea or the intent to commit a crime, companies are only responsible for acts or omissions by persons who may be said to constitute the directing mind of the company. In fact, according to the identification theory, persons who constitute the directing mind of a company personify its intentions.
The bill also amends, in different sections, the types of institutions, and establishes an organization's criminal liability. It integrates the notion of who can be a “representative”. Earlier, it was mentioned that liability was being extended not only to senior officers, but in many cases to other employees. For example, a “representative” essentially includes any person working for or affiliated with the company. This could be a director, an employee or a member, agent or contractor. A “senior officer” is any representative who plays an important role in the establishmentof the organization’s policies or is responsiblefor managing an important aspect of theorganization’s activities.
This bill, specifically clauses 22.1 to 22.3, contributes to changing the current state of the law by introducing new elements to the identification theory. In terms of what are essentially acts of criminal negligence, we could, under clause 22.2, hold an organization criminally liable in cases where the physical offence—the act of committing a crime—is perpetrated by a representative in the scope of tht person's authority, and fault lies in the hands of a senior executive.
To prove that a senior executive acted at least partially to benefit an organization, it would have to be confirmed that they participated in an offence in the scope of their authority by having someone else knowingly commit an offence or by knowing that someone else was committing or was about to participate in an offence and the executive failed to take the necessary actions to prevent it.
There is nonetheless a framework that would prevent peculiar situations from being subject to the prosecution under the Criminal Code based on new sections resulting from Bill C-45.
In terms of sentencing an organization, the bill suggests adding new sections and completing existing sections to take into account, during sentencing, factors that are characteristic of organizations. Therefore, a specific section was added for organizations to regulate the probation conditions applicable to organizations, which are not of the same nature as those for individuals.
The bill increases the maximum fine for an organization when a guilty plea is entered by summary conviction or for a less serious offence, increasing it from $25,000 to $100,000. This provides a very clear incentive not to repeat a situation whereby the organization's liability could be determined and the organization could be convicted.
Currently there are no limits for fines for criminal acts or more serious offences, and this is not being changed by the proposed legislation. If there is a very serious situation, the sum could be determined based on the seriousness. This will continue to be the practice.
This bill is the result of a series of steps taken by several parliamentarians in this House. The Bloc Quebecois is in favour of the principle of this bill.
Given the current state of the law, it is important that a criminal liability regime be established for businesses that is effective and takes into account the differences between an individual and an organization.
We will see in committee if the bill could not be improved where it deals with offences, and it is said that an intent must exist which goes beyond criminal negligence. The suggestion was made to reverse the burden of proof, that is to say that when it has been established that an act or omission was committed by the personnel of an organization, resulting in a criminal act taking place, the onus will be on the organization to prove that it did not authorize or condone such behaviour. When we hear witnesses in committee, we will be able to see if this would not be a better approach than the one put forward in the bill as it now stands.
Note also that this bill does not allow directors, executives or a corporation to be held liable if they did not physically and personally commit a criminal act. This may tie in with the constitutional issue, but it deserves nonetheless to be examined further to ensure there are no loopholes which, we will find out in a few months or years, ought to have been plugged when Bill C-45 was passed.
I should point out also that the penalties that may be imposed would have no effect on a business that has declared bankruptcy. This touches on the whole issue of a big organization taking some action which results in its going bankrupt because it has lost its business name and can no longer sell its product. In this case, when penalties are paid, it will be too late, and the fact of the matter will be such that the business will not be able to assume the costs.
While particular attention must be paid to a number of things in Bill C-45, as this was explained, for the system to be effective, the fact remains that the purpose of this bill is valid and necessary to ensure that organizations are held accountable for what they do.
I believe we are making an addition here that does not fix what happened at the Westray mine, but at least for the families of those who died in the mine, for the entire community that was affected and for the future also, I think that we are taking an appropriate, responsible step, as parliamentarians, in proposing that this bill introduced by the government be passed.