An Act to amend the Federal Courts Act (international promotion and protection of human rights)

This bill was last introduced in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2019.


Peter Julian  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Defeated, as of June 19, 2019
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Federal Courts Act to provide for the jurisdiction of the Federal Court over civil claims brought by non-Canadians in respect of alleged violations outside Canada of international law or a treaty to which Canada is party.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


June 19, 2019 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-331, An Act to amend the Federal Courts Act (international promotion and protection of human rights)

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

June 19th, 2019 / 3:25 p.m.
See context


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

Pursuant to order made on Tuesday, May 28, 2019, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-331.

The House resumed from April 29 consideration of the motion that Bill C-331, An Act to amend the Federal Courts Act (international promotion and protection of human rights), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

June 13th, 2019 / 6:25 p.m.
See context


Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues who spoke in favour of the bill. Obviously the bill has withstood the parliamentary scrutiny of the discussions and debates we have had over the two hours that have been accorded to it.

First, there have been a number of small technical issues, but they can be easily resolved through amendments. I want to make clear to all members, as I have in letters to every member of Parliament, that I am open to amendments and technical changes.

Second, we have heard from the government that this is not needed at all and that a bunch of people would apply. There is an obvious contraction there. If the bill is not needed, then victims will not come forward in the federal court. If victims come forward, it is because the bill is needed.

Just as we saw in the debate on the bill from the member for Scarborough—Guildwood about corporate responsibility, I suspect, after hearing the government members speak, that what is being heard here are the voices of corporate lobbyists. Corporate lobbyists are saying that no action should be taken on corporate responsibility. Corporate lobbyists are saying that victims should not be heard.

I would like to note in these final minutes of debate on this issue, before the important vote held next Wednesday, that other voices should be heard on the floor of the House of Commons when we cast our votes next Wednesday.

The voices that should be heard are those of the victims, like the victims of forced slave labour at Nevsun Resources in Eritrea. These people were forcibly conscripted, held as slaves and beaten. Their voices need to be heard on the floor of the House of Commons. They can only be heard by a yes vote on Bill C-331.

We should hear the voices of Adolfo Ich Chaman's family members. He was the activist who was shot and killed on the Hudbay Minerals property in Guatemala. There is also German Chub Choc, a local youth activist who was speaking out against mining operations. The voices of those in surviving families need to be heard on the floor of the House of Commons.

We need to hear from the victims of the appalling sexual violence taking place in Papua New Guinea. This happened on the grounds of the Barrick Gold operations. Those voices, those victims need to be heard on the floor of the House of Commons.

There are the surviving members of the family of the Salvadoran environmental activist, who was found murdered at the bottom of a well, his finger nails pulled out. That family needs to be heard on the floor of the House of Commons.

Those voices need to be heard, not those of corporate lobbyists. We should hear from the victims of these appalling human rights abuses taking place worldwide. In each of these cases, there can be no justice in those countries, because their judicial systems are corrupt and will not hear victims' pleas for justice.

Other voices need to be heard. There are the more than three million Canadians whose organizations have endorsed the bill and have called on members of Parliament to vote yes on the bill next Wednesday. Those voices need to be heard, as well as the voices of Canadians across the length and breadth of the country.

Poll after poll has shown that the vast majority of Canadians believe in corporate responsibility, believe in justice and believe that Canada needs to be a voice in the world for human rights and justice. We can accomplish that by a yes vote next Wednesday.

Canadians have said very clearly that they want parliamentarians to vote yes on the bill. I would urge Canadians to contact their members of Parliament in the coming days. The vote is next Wednesday. Parliamentarians need to be called by their constituents, and their constituents need to tell them to vote yes on Bill C-331.

The victims' voices, the victims of appalling human rights abuses, of violence, of murder and of sexual abuse, all of them are calling out today for members of Parliament to vote yes on Bill C-331. I hope all members of Parliament will heed the call and vote yes next Wednesday.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

June 13th, 2019 / 6:20 p.m.
See context


Paul Manly Green Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for this opportunity to stand in support of private member's bill, Bill C-331. I would like to thank the hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby for his work on the bill. It is very important legislation.

Speaking from personal experience, as a Canadian, I have had experience travelling in Central America. In the nineties, I was in Guatemala. My younger brother was part of the Managua team with the United Nations. My parents and I were involved in a human rights accompaniment with trade union activists who were trying to organize maquilas, the factory workers in Guatemala, and also working with people who were taking forward human rights complaints.

I spent some time travelling around Central America. I had a Canadian flag on my back. I could see, in different places where I went in Nicaragua and El Salvador, there were Canadian flags on bridges that had been built with Canadian money. People thanked me for being Canadian, for being there, for our country and for the role we played after the civil wars in Central America.

In 2014, I went back to El Salvador to take part in a delegation on mining. I was doing research for a film on investor state dispute settlements and looking into the case of Pac Rim Cayman LLC v. Republic of El Salvador. In that case, five of the environmentalists who stood up against this mine that nobody in the country wanted, because it would destroy the watershed that provided water to 60% of the population, were murdered. People had to leave the country as refugees because of the thugs who were involved with the mining company.

I took part in a conference, with delegates from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. They all explained situations that were happening in their countries. They had photos and videos. I documented this conference and I put it up on my YouTube channel. However, the whole time I was hearing about how Canadian mining companies were involved in these projects in communities where they were unwanted. They ended up hiring thugs to intimidate local indigenous people and force them into accepting projects they did not want. They were destroying their communities, their local environment and their way of life. People were having to leave their homes under the threat of violence. People were being murdered, abused and sexually assaulted. To me, it was a very shameful experience. To know that we had companies abroad involved and engaged in these activities was very disheartening.

Therefore, I thank the hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby for this work. This is a very important bill. People in these situations should be able to seek redress in this country, get justice and ensure that Canadian corporations abroad are responsible for the behaviour of the people they hire and work with in those countries.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

June 13th, 2019 / 6:10 p.m.
See context


TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today during private members' hour to join in the debate on Bill C-331, and underscore our government's strong position on this bill.

Canadian companies have always had the ability to hold their heads up high when doing business around the world based on our reputation as a country, not only including our credibility from a financial standpoint but also given our strong record on human rights.

This government is a strong proponent of upholding strong human rights all around the world and is willing to work collaboratively with parties on all sides of the House to put strong legislation in place over the years to come to help strengthen those laws as well.

I am going to use this time to speak briefly about my riding as this will most likely be my last opportunity to speak in the House.

As my constituents and a lot of my colleagues are aware, I decided not to re-offer in the upcoming federal election. However, my feet remain firmly planted in my riding and I will be forever rooted in New Brunswick, my home and my future.

When I originally decided to run, I remember stating in my nomination speech that I was committed to building a great future for Tobique—Mactaquac and to work collaboratively with members on all sides of the House and all parties to do whatever was possible to help New Brunswickers, specifically those people in my riding. My willingness to work toward that goal has never wavered and I feel as committed to my riding today as I ever have.

My constituents are exemplary people who have shown time and time again to have the ability to not only perform but lead on the world stage. I am so incredibly proud of my province and very proud of my country.

I quickly realized as I took office the immense opportunities that ridings like Tobique—Mactaquac and other rural ridings across the country hold and continue to hold today. Not only in my riding, but from coast to coast to coast, the opportunities are endless.

It was once said that the reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is that it goes around wearing overalls and it looks like hard work. Believe me, I recognize opportunity. I have had immense opportunities in my life working in the private sector and it has been an immense privilege to have the opportunity to sit on behalf of the people of Tobique—Mactaquac here in the House of Commons over the last four years. Whether it involves wearing overalls or a three-piece suit, I certainly do not plan to stop seeing opportunities develop for all New Brunswickers and for those in Tobique—Mactaquac. It has been an immense privilege to have had the opportunity to work and be of service.

Over the past four years, we have made great strides in the right direction and yet there are so many opportunities left to come and so many people that have still been left behind. We all know those people: veterans struggling with PTSD; hard-working folks facing unemployment; young people burdened by student loans; seniors struggling on fixed incomes; sole-support mothers trying to make ends meet; aboriginal peoples facing discrimination and the legacy of residential schools abuse; persons with disabilities facing isolation and accessibility barriers in their own homes and communities; and new Canadians working hard to build their new lives. The list goes on. These people are our neighbours, our friends and our family. I am proud, along with my office staff, to have worked hard on their behalf but there is so much more that can be done and we need to continue to be mindful of these issues.

I personally ran to make a difference, to ensure that all kids have the opportunities here at home that truly reflect our amazing region, so that children in every family can excel and reach for their dreams, and to achieve true fiscal responsibility for big and small businesses alike, while recognizing that opportunities country-wide require federal leadership, especially when it comes to infrastructure renewal and new infrastructure. Our government has proven that it is capable of leading that charge. I am very proud of the developments that we have made as a federal government in terms of infrastructure over the last four years.

That is why I have worked hard as a member of Parliament over the past four years serving as chair of the all-party agricultural caucus and chairing the national Liberal rural caucus for a year. In the past, I sat as regional director for provincial ridings in Carleton—York, Carleton—Victoria and Victoria—La Vallée. I worked with the Rotary Club in my local riding. I think that self-service is one of the greatest gifts that we can give to this place. All this and more has made me passionate about public service and about representing my constituents.

As the member of Parliament for Tobique—Mactaquac, I have strongly advocated for continued supply management and investment in agricultural robotics; safe and responsible natural resource development; rural economic development; investment in rural infrastructure; accessibility and visitability, and I am very proud to have worked collaboratively with my colleagues in the House on this; a healthy local economy; improved stewardship of our environment; better, more affordable education; open, fair and strong democratic representation; and the list goes on. I have never pretended to have all the answers. I believe it is more important to ask the right questions and then work to find solutions.

I would like to cite one of my favourite quotes that first came to me from an agricultural producer in my riding. He used to say that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. I believe that public service means giving one's time and talents and providing the resources necessary to improve the lives of others. This approach was adopted by my office from the outset and as the member of Parliament for Tobique—Mactaquac, I have always strived to meet this as a public servant.

I hear what people want and need from their representatives: public engagement, a voice that understands and truly reflects them and a willingness to work across the aisle with those who oppose or are different from us on certain issues. Partisan, divisive politics drives us apart, distracting us from the real priorities and the real work ahead. In New Brunswick, our communities are often close-knit and small, sometimes isolated and struggling. As politicians, our focus should always be on the kind of service that starts in our own homes and grows to embrace our communities and strengthen the general public good.

Serving as the member of Parliament for Tobique—Mactaquac has been so much more than a job. It has been one of the greatest privileges of my life and I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to provide a strong, independent New Brunswick voice on behalf of my constituents. I cannot express enough thanks to the residents of my riding for placing their trust in me. I am fortunate to have been part of policy changes and legislation which will leave a lasting, positive impact in the lives of so many constituents and Canadians, in general.

It has been said that there is no bad seat in the House of Commons and I honestly believe that to be true. I would like to acknowledge the friendships and dedication of the members from all sides of the House and the Senate as we worked together on the important issues facing Canadians. We may have had a few disagreements regarding process and policy, but I never had cause to question our collective objective of providing responsible and compassionate governance.

New Brunswick is my home and the place that I love most. I have always dedicated so much of my service advocating for rural economic development, small business growth, rural infrastructure, accessibility and a host of other issues that are important to New Brunswickers. I am proud of our accomplishments. I look forward to continuing to work with and advocate on behalf of New Brunswick businesses and the growth of our local economy. Small and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of the economy and I know I can continue to play a role in their success and contribute to economic development for the benefit of those not only in my community but for New Brunswick as a whole.

I would like to thank all of the volunteers and those who have shared their time, concerns and advice with me and those who attended events and reached out to my office with their concerns around the issues that are important to them. I thank them for their support and encouragement. It is my intention to continue to work tirelessly on behalf of the people of New Brunswick and my constituents until the federal election. I look forward to the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead and thank all of the people of Tobique—Mactaquac for placing their trust in me. I would like to thank my family, my friends, my colleagues and all of the people who have made this journey possible for me, a worthwhile journey, indeed.

I would like to close by citing an old Gaelic blessing, one that my grandfather used often:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

June 13th, 2019 / 5:50 p.m.
See context


Greg Fergus Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree that these are valid and important concerns, but Bill C-331 would not make Canadian companies more accountable and would not help award damages to victims.

The Federal Court is a statutory court, which means that it has only the jurisdiction explicitly conferred upon it by statute. In lawsuits against individuals and corporations, the court can only hear claims for relief arising in the federal domain, such as patent infringement or collisions at sea, which fall under Canadian maritime law. Such cases are explicitly provided for in federal law.

That is why lawsuits such as Araya v. Nevsun Resources Ltd. and Choc v. Hudbay Minerals Inc. were heard in provincial superior courts, which have jurisdiction over matters involving Canadian companies' actions abroad and, more generally, those with a real and substantial connection to the province.

Some provinces have also recognized the forum of necessity doctrine, which allows courts to assume jurisdiction in situations where the victim cannot be forced to initiate proceedings in the jurisdiction where he or she was harmed. The doctrine was applied in Bouzari v. Bahremani, an action for damages in respect of acts of torture in Iran.

Accordingly, there is no gap in domestic jurisdiction that Bill C-331 needs to fill. The provincial Superior Courts have adequate jurisdiction to address this type of claim. When Superior Courts decline to exercise jurisdiction, it is in application of well-settled rules of private international law or based on considerations of international comity.

The common law evolves gradually, incrementally taking into account developments in other jurisdictions. Recent decisions applying the doctrine of forum of necessity show that the common law can and does evolve to address accountability concerns of the kind reflected in Bill C-331.

It is worth noting that Bill C-331 is modelled on the U.S. Alien Tort Statute, which is the only legislation of its kind in force today.

The Alien Tort Statute provides, in full, “'The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” Belgium experimented with similar legislation starting in 1993, but repealed it 10 years later, in 2003.

The Alien Tort Statute is something of an anomaly. It was enacted by the first United States Congress in 1789 and lay dormant until the 1980s. It is a controversial and much litigated legislation. Its scope has been narrowed by successive decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, most recently last year when the court decided that foreign, that is, non-American, corporations could not be sued under that law.

Bill C-331 is likewise an invitation to costly and protracted litigation. As with the Alien Tort Statute, the scope of the bill is not clear and it would not assist victims in obtaining reparation.

In particular, Bill C-331 does not create any new remedies, that is, any new right of action, under federal law that the Federal Court could enforce. Rather, it merely allows the court to exercise jurisdiction where one of those violations of international law can be framed as a type of conduct that is already actionable under federal law.

Similarly, the bill does not change the private international law requirement of a real and substantial connection between the forum and the subject matter of litigation. As such, Bill C-331 would not allow foreign victims to sue foreign companies that did not carry on business in Canada in respect of their conduct abroad. The real and substantial connection test would lead a court to decline jurisdiction in such cases. This test was developed by the Supreme Court of Canada, notably in order to prevent jurisdictional overreach by the courts.

Finally, the bill would do nothing to enable claims against foreign states, which would continue to enjoy immunity pursuant to the State Immunity Act with respect to their sovereign activities outside Canada.

The victims this bill is meant to serve would not be any better off if the Federal Court had jurisdiction over their cases. On the contrary, they are more likely to find justice through the superior courts, where the law is clearer and more predictable.

Instead of providing the same remedies that can already be sought from the superior courts, this government created the ombudsperson for responsible enterprise, a world first. In April 2019, the Minister of International Trade Diversification appointed Sheri Meyerhoffer to the position.

For the victims of human rights abuses, the ombudsperson is a real and effective alternative to litigation. More specifically, the ombudsperson's mandate is to review alleged human rights abuses arising from a Canadian company’s operations abroad and to propose corrective actions, such as victim compensation. This mechanism complements the legal remedies available to victims.

In January of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the Araya v. Nevsun case. The respondents were Eritrean refugees who allege that they were forced to work in an Eritrean gold mine, 60% of which is indirectly owned by the B.C. company in question.

This case raises questions directly addressed by this bill. For example, would Eritrea be the appropriate place to initiate the proceedings? What would be the scope of the act of government, which would prevent the court from ruling on the legality of a foreign state's sovereign acts within its own territory? Furthermore, the bill addresses the application of the customary standards of international law.

The Supreme Court will rule in the coming months. It would be prudent to wait for the court's ruling in this case, since the ruling could affect the content of this bill.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

June 13th, 2019 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Hull—Aylmer Québec


Greg Fergus LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-331, an act to amend the Federal Courts Act with regard to the international promotion and protection of human rights.

This bill would amend the Federal Courts Act to provide for the jurisdiction of the Federal Court in civil matters involving claims for relief in respect of certain violations of international law.

The bill's sponsor, the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, believes this bill is necessary to hold Canadian companies accountable when they are involved in violations of international law abroad and to compensate the victims of these violations, especially in countries where there is no rule of law and there are no remedies to be had.

I agree that these are valid and important concerns, but Bill C-311—

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

June 13th, 2019 / 5:40 p.m.
See context


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a great pleasure to stand in this House to speak to Bill C-331, brought in by the member for New Westminster—Burnaby.

I know this particular issue has been very dear to him over many Parliaments. It is really great to see that we are in the second hour of debate on Bill C-331, which means it is probably going to come to a vote next week. We will finally see where members of this House actually stand on this issue, because it does matter to a lot of people.

The long title of Bill C-331 is An Act to amend the Federal Courts Act (international promotion and protection of human rights). The reason this is so important is that, at present, human labour and environmental rights are subject to few concrete, effective enforcement mechanisms. This bill fills this need for the victims of international rights violations when there is no forum available to them in the country where the violations are taking place.

By way of addressing my Conservative colleagues' concerns, this is not going to result in a flood of people coming to Canada. It is really just providing a forum in Canada when no such legal option is available to the person in the place where the violation happened.

Specifically, Bill C-331 is going to allow non-citizens to bring a civil suit against anyone for gross violations of the rights of indigenous peoples, and for basic labour, environmental and human rights violations when they are committed outside the country. Furthermore, judges on the Federal Court would have to satisfy themselves that their court is an appropriate forum to hear these cases.

This legislation, if enacted, is not going to force the court to hear every single case. It still specifies within the bill that Federal Court judges will have the ability to judge the merits of each case before them, and whether in fact there is enough evidence to proceed with trial.

When we look at Bill C-331 in detail, it is an amendment to the Federal Courts Act. The bill would add a specific section 25.1 after the existing section 25. Some of the claims listed within the bill are genocide; a war crime or a crime against humanity; slavery or slave trading; extrajudicial killing or the enforced disappearance of a person; torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment; prolonged arbitrary detention, and so on. These are crimes that really speak to some very horrible actions that take place around the world.

We are so very lucky to live in Canada under the rule of law. We have a judicial system that we place a lot of trust in. Generally, when people see police on the streets, we know they are doing their job. We have a lot of trust in those institutions, not only to keep us safe but also to hold people to account. In many places in the world, this is a luxury or simply does not exist.

Canadians, by and large, are fairly detached from some of the horrors that go on internationally. The unfortunate fact is that a lot of Canadian-based companies have actually been responsible for some of the worst behaviour around the world. We know some Canadian mining companies have been implicated in brutal crackdowns on local populations, because they were daring to protest a mining operation. They have employed paramilitary guards who have used sexual violence as a weapon. They have violated environmental rights by dumping mining tailings into a local drinking supply. These are companies that are based in Canada.

The issue here is to basically hold those companies accountable. We want to ensure that we are not engaging in a race to the bottom for economic reasons, while neglecting those very important rights.

We have corporations based here in Canada that generate a tremendous amount of wealth. That wealth is not equally distributed. Often, the wealth that is being generated is coming directly from the so-called global south and from countries that are rich in natural resources that are being exploited by companies, but the wealth is being unevenly distributed.

Therefore, corporate social responsibility should not be a voluntary thing. This is something we need to have firm legislation around and firm accountability. I believe that Bill C-331 is a step in the right direction.

If we look at Global Affairs Canada, we see, as I mentioned earlier, that 50% of the world's publicly listed exploration and mining companies are headquartered in Canada. If we look at the TSX, it is quite evident.

The federal government, just recently, in April, appointed Sheri Meyerhoffer as the first Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise. Before I receive any applause from my Liberal colleagues, they may want to listen to the next part of my speech.

This is what the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability stated when that office was announced:

The government announced that it would create an independent office with the power to investigate. Instead, it unveiled a powerless advisory post, little different from what has already existed for years.

United Steelworkers Canada national director, Ken Neumann, said:

With today’s announcement...of the appointment of a special advisor, without the powers of an effective ombudsperson, this government has again disappointed thousands of Canadians who were expecting serious action on human rights.

Again, we cannot just create the office and then walk away without giving it the necessary powers, the legislative framework and the resources necessary to actually act on these particularly egregious crimes against humanity. As listed in Bill C-331, these are some of the worst crimes imaginable.

I am proud to be a member of a party that has long demonstrated a keen interest in this particular issue. The member for New Westminster—Burnaby, as I said in the introduction of my speech, has been pursuing this through multiple parliaments. Our former colleagues, Paul Dewar and Alexa McDonough, and the Liberal member for Scarborough—Guildwood also saw this as an important thing. Several parliaments ago, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood presented Bill C-300, which unfortunately ran aground because not enough Liberals showed up at a key vote.

It is important that we act on this. It is a signal to citizens of countries where these rights do not exist. This is a signal to the world that Canada actually means what it says when talking about human rights, labour rights and environmental rights. Furthermore, we are actually going to provide a forum for the affected party to come here and use our Federal Court system to pursue justice. I can think of no better signal to the world than Canada actually standing by what it says and showing, through this proposed legislation, that it is going to follow through with it.

We have some great endorsements for this proposed legislation, and the endorsements have kept on coming from the member for New Westminster—Burnaby. We have the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers, the National Union of Public and General Employees and the B.C. Teachers' Federation. It is great to see Canadian civil society, and indeed international actors as well, come behind this legislation to recognize its importance.

To conclude, I am particularly and personally attached to this bill, because it is following in the same vein of what I am trying to do with my own private member's bill, Bill C-431, which would amend the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act to make sure that our public pension monies are no longer invested in entities that are guilty of human rights, labour rights and environmental rights transgressions. It is particularly shameful, when we ask the Library of Parliament to do research, that we find the Canada pension plan still invested in companies that are committing these kinds of rights transgressions around the world.

I am happy to see that we are going to put force behind our words, as New Democrats always do. I congratulate the member for New Westminster—Burnaby on this important bill, and I look forward so very much to next week, when I can stand in the House and vote on it on behalf of my constituents.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

June 13th, 2019 / 5:30 p.m.
See context


Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-331, which was brought forward by the member for New Westminster—Burnaby.

I will talk about the bill and what it purports to do, and then I want to talk about the state of the nation in terms of the Federal Court system, because this bill proposes to make changes there.

The bill's intent is “[to amend] the Federal Courts Act to provide for the jurisdiction of the Federal Court over civil claims brought by non-Canadians in respect of alleged violations outside Canada of international law or a treaty to which Canada is party.”

The intent of the member who brought forward this private member's business was to address instances where, for example, Canadian companies operating in other jurisdictions are not being good corporate citizens and are violating in some way the human rights of individuals there.

In the member's speech, which I reviewed, he had a number of examples of companies. A lot of them were mining companies, such a Nevsun Resources, which had a gold, zinc and copper mine in Eritrea, where there were allegations of forced labour, slavery and torture of workers. Another case was the one of Hudbay Minerals in Guatemala, where people were shot and killed. The intent of this bill is to allow people who may not be Canadians and who have had things happen to them outside of Canada to come and use the Canadian Federal Court system to pursue civil actions.

The issue I have with that, first of all, is that the Federal Court system, as it is today, under the current Liberal government, is in tatters. The former justice minister did not appoint a sufficient number of judges, so court cases were backed up and there was a huge logjam. As a result of that, many murder cases and rape cases were being tossed out of court because they had been in the queue for more than two years, and according to Jordan's principle, these people, guilty of heinous crimes, have gone free.

The government has continually eroded the execution of justice in Canada with a weakening of the rules. The government introduced legislation such as C-75, which took some very serious crimes, such as the forcible confinement of a minor, and reduced them to summary convictions, which means a penalty of less than two years or a fine. There was a whole list of charges in that bill that took serious crimes and brought them back to something that was minor in nature. I would argue that a fine for the forcible confinement of a minor is like a slap on the wrist for something that I think all Canadians would agree is heinous.

We also saw the situation with Tori Stafford's killer, Terri-Lynne McClintic, who, even though she viciously participated in the murder of a child, was allowed to go to a healing lodge, where there was no security and she was in the presence of parents who had their children with them when they came to work.

I am concerned that we need to strengthen our Federal Court system as it stands today, not weaken it, and the Liberal government has not done that. I am concerned that if we open it up to non-Canadians in other countries, they would come and bring an extra caseload of court cases to a court system that is arguably already under stress and not delivering. There are Canadian crimes that we are not able to adequately prosecute on time. That is a real difficulty.

Within the bill, there are 17 different types of cases that could be brought forward. I will go through a few of these and talk about incidents that have occurred during the 42nd Parliament, to give members an idea of the volume of these cases that could come before the Federal Court.

First on the list is “genocide”, which everyone knows is a very serious crime. If we think about some of the genocides that have happened during this Parliament, the Yazidis come to mind. Yazidi women were brought to Canada after the genocide where those people were exterminated by ISIS terrorists. That is one. There are still outstanding actions to be taken on Rwanda. That is another genocide that could come our way.

Another item on the list is “slavery or slave trading”. Human trafficking of someone under 18 is also on the list. Human trafficking is a huge issue in Canada. In my riding of Sarnia—Lambton, which is a border city, we see a huge amount of human trafficking happening. There is an actual network between Sarnia and Toronto that couriers people, and not just people from out of the country. Young Canadian boys and girls are lured into this and trapped in that lifestyle for years. There is no doubt that it is a heinous crime, but when I think about the number of these cases in Canada today and the fact that we do not have the resources to adequately prosecute our own, I am concerned about opening that up to the rest of the world.

Any “extrajudicial killing or the enforced disappearance of a person” is on the list. Let us think about the Saudi Arabian journalist who was exterminated. Let us think about the two Canadian men who were killed in the Philippines.

Also on the list is “systemic discrimination”. This opens it way up. When I was the chair of the status of women committee, we had visits of people from countries all over the world where women were being systematically discriminated against. They came to see what we were doing here in Canada. Some would argue that we are still seeing systemic discrimination within our own country. LGBTQ is another group that sees a lot of systemic discrimination across the world. If all of those cases came and flooded our courts, we would be very busy indeed.

The human rights violations that we are seeing right now in Hong Kong come to mind. There are 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong, and the Chinese government is trying to bring in extradition rules that would allow it to take anyone from Hong Kong and bring him or her to China. I am very concerned that if this bill came into force, there might be a lot of non-Canadians who would want to take advantage of the Canadian court system to pursue some civil charges there as well.

Child soldiers are another item on the list. We know that in every battle we are seeing from ISIS, child soldiers are being raised up. We see that in a bunch of the wars that are happening in Africa and similar places. That would open it up to a huge number of people, as well, who may want to take action and get some civil reward from the Canadian court.

“Rape” is also on the list. Rape is rampant in Canada. The data says that one in three Canadian women will experience sexual violence during her life. When we think about how many cases we have, and how many of those are being kicked out of court, we really do not have the capacity to take others on.

“Forced abortion” and “forced sterilization” are on the list. We heard testimony today at the health committee about forced sterilization and the thousands of women in Canada who are undergoing this. It is horrible, but, once again, there are lots of cases of our own to take care of.

Issues like pollution have been put on the list. Let us think about plastics pollution by non-Canadians. We know that 95% of ocean pollution is happening from eight rivers in Asia and two in Africa. Again, that is a huge volume of complaints that could be brought forward.

“Environmental emergency” has been added. That could be like the climate emergency that the Liberals brought in debate. The debate was never brought back, so it must have been a non-urgent emergency. Climate emergencies and environmental emergencies like that could also make the list.

I know the member was well-intentioned in bringing the bill forward and wanting to address those Canadian corporations, for example, but the bill needs to be narrower in scope, and I do not think we have the capacity in the Federal Court system. I would encourage the government of the day, or, on October 21, the Conservative government, to restore the federal justice system.

The House resumed from April 29 consideration of the motion that Bill C-331, An Act to amend the Federal Courts Act (international promotion and protection of human rights), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Human RightsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

May 14th, 2019 / 10:10 a.m.
See context


Wayne Stetski NDP Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise with a second petition in support of Bill C-331, the international promotion and protection of human rights act. It is a positive bill in that its purpose is for Canada to maintain, promote and enhance its role in the international community as a country committed to upholding human rights and environmental sustainability worldwide. We have not always acted in the best interests of the societies or the environment where we have been involved internationally. This bill provides the opportunity to provide responsible international corporate standards and to allow pursuing legal recourse within Canada to deal with some of these infractions around the world.

The signators and supporters of this petition represent three million Canadians across Canada. They are asking the government to support Bill C-331.

Human RightsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

May 14th, 2019 / 10:10 a.m.
See context


Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition today with signatories from central Ontario, Peterborough, Otonabee and Lakefield, Ontario, who are adding their voices to the thousands of Canadians and organizations representing more than three million Canadians that support and call upon the Government of Canada to support Bill C-331, the international promotion and protection of human rights act, which would create a new civil cause of action that would allow Canadian federal courts to hear and decide claims for violations of international law that occur outside of Canada.

The petitioners believe very strongly in Canada's commitment to human rights, and Canadian companies have been involved in human rights abuses abroad. The petitioners call on the Government of Canada to support my bill, Bill C-331.

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

April 29th, 2019 / 5:35 p.m.
See context


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to rise in the House to speak to the opposition motion moved by my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona. I would like to approach this issue from a slightly different angle. I will begin by reading the preamble to the motion:

That, in the opinion of the House, corporate executives and their lobbyists have had too much access to and influence over the Government of Canada, setting working Canadians and their families back...

The preamble is crucial. The rest of the motion lists examples of how that influence is exerted, but the fact that there is undue and excessive influence on the part of corporate executives and their lobbyists is a growing problem here in Canada.

This is interesting because we started the day off with a debate on my colleague from New Westminster—Burnaby's Bill C-331, which is about giving Canadian courts the power to hold Canadian mining companies responsible for things they do in other countries. That makes perfect sense to me because they are Canadian companies. How interesting that the government was besieged by lobbyists representing the Mining Association of Canada and its members, who did not want the new ombudsperson for responsible enterprise to have more power over them. Although we still do not know exactly what the ombudsperson's duties are, we do know the position is vital to holding mining companies accountable, which explains why, even before the mandate was defined, there was a barrage of lobbying aimed at neutralizing the position.

There are many more examples. We have heard a lot about SNC-Lavalin, so I will not spend much time on that. Instead, let me talk about the web giants, also known as GAFA. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, while we were talking about them being given unfair advantages in Canada compared to Canadian companies, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Netflix were unrelentingly lobbying the Liberal government.

Amazon lobbyists and executives had 99 meetings with the Canadian government in 2016-17. Google had 337 registered contacts. Microsoft, for its part, had 35 registered contacts. Netflix had 16. While all this was going on, we were debating whether companies like Google, Netflix, Facebook and Twitter should collect sales tax on their products and advertisements and pay income tax on their revenues. I did not include Amazon in this list, because Amazon Canada collects sales taxes.

This goes beyond lobbying. These companies have had privileged access to members of the government. For example, Google hired former Liberal chief of staff John Brodhead to run a program. Leslie Church, who worked as director of communications at Google, became the chief of staff to the then heritage minister.

As for Microsoft, its national director of corporate affairs used to be the director of operations and outreach for the then Liberal leader, who is now the Prime Minister. There are really a lot of ties between these people. Ultimately, the upshot of all this is that the status quo continues for telecommunications companies and American web giants. Nothing changes. Why? Because this lobbying is highly effective, and these companies can afford it.

My Conservative friends should not feel too smug, because they have some questions to answer about their own history with lobbying. The examples of Arthur Porter and KPMG have been raised in the House.

While CPA Canada, the organization that represents Canadian accounting firms, was seeking to intercede on behalf of its KPMG members, it signed a deal with the federal government to have a say in potential changes to CRA programs and services. This happened under the Conservative government.

Does anyone believe for one second that the whole SNC-Lavalin affair would not have happened under a Conservative government? We know that SNC-Lavalin secured a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition and several other MPs. That meeting was specifically about issues related to law and order and the administration of justice. It was clearly about the situation that has been making headlines for the past few months.

In 2012, I stumbled upon a CBC article published online under the following headline:

“Enbridge lobbying of Harper government a 'success story'.”

At that time, everyone was talking about the northern gateway pipeline. Apparently, there were dozens of meetings between the government and Enbridge lobbyists. In fact, in 2011-12 alone, meetings were held with 12 different lobbyists. In 2006 and in 2010, 27 different lobbyists lobbied the Conservative government to try to make northern gateway a done deal.

I find that interesting, because one of the groups that lobbied the government is called the Clean Air Renewable Energy Coalition, made up of groups as diverse as Enbridge, Shell and ConocoPhillips Canada.

I am not trying to blame anyone in particular, but rather point out the undue influence of the corporate sector in Canada. It is undue influence because it is not transparent and because these companies usually get whatever they want. If we really want to ensure transparency, we need to go further than just the registry of lobbyists. It is estimated that Canadian companies spend about $300 million a year on lobbying activities. Since this is considered to be part of their business activities, they are given tax credits worth about $100 million. This means that we are paying companies so that they can engage in lobbying in the hopes of influencing the government.

Perhaps that does not seem like a lot of money. Every year in the United States, roughly $2.6 billion are spent on lobbying. I want to illustrate just how much that is. That is more money spent on lobbying than is spent on funding the United States House of Representatives and Senate combined. American companies spend more money to appeal to and influence U.S. Congress than U.S. Congress budgets for its own operations. That shows just how powerful a force lobbying is in North America. That is true in the United States and it is true in Canada. Yes, we have the lobbyist registry, but no one knows exactly how much is spent. No one knows exactly how much money has been invested.

Our saving grace is probably the fact that we have a limit on contributions. Companies and corporations cannot contribute directly to campaigns, which makes our system different from the U.S. However, our lobbying system is not better than the U.S. There is more accountability and more transparency with respect to the lobbying that is done in the U.S. than there is in this country.

I will be voting in favour of the motion and I invite other members of the House to do likewise. The reason is simple. We need to be able to examine for ourselves the impact that lobbying has on the life of Parliament and the impact it has on the balance of forces in Canadian society. We do not talk about this enough, and we take for granted that the current reality cannot be changed. It is our responsibility to change that reality, to restore the balance that no longer exists, and to ensure that Parliament, the House of Commons, represents what it is supposed to represent, namely all of the ridings across Canada, not just the economic interests of corporations that are only looking out for number one.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

April 29th, 2019 / 11:50 a.m.
See context

Parkdale—High Park Ontario


Arif Virani LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and to the Minister of Democratic Institutions

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today to Bill C-331. The international promotion and protection of human rights is something I take great interest in as a representative of a very engaged community of global citizens in Parkdale—High Park and as someone who was a former war crimes prosecutor on a Rwandan genocide tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania. I thank the NDP member opposite for moving this bill and prompting this very important discussion this morning.

Under existing law, the superior courts of the provinces and territories can hear lawsuits involving events that occur outside of Canada if there is enough of a connection to Canada. This was raised by the member for St. Albert—Edmonton. Lawsuits alleging that Canadian companies have been involved in violations of international human rights abroad that involve claims for negligence or other violations of Canadian or foreign law are based on existing bodies of law.

The question of whether the common law also allows a person to claim damages in a superior court specifically for a violation of customary international law is the issue in the case of Nevsun v. Araya, which was heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in January. That decision is under reserve, and it is important that we hear from the court on this particular issue.

Unlike the superior courts, the Federal Court generally does not handle cases against companies or individuals for actions taken outside of Canada. The Federal Court's jurisdiction is limited both by the Federal Courts Act and by the Constitution.

The Federal Court mostly hears cases involving judicial review of decisions of federal boards and tribunals, lawsuits against the federal government, and cases involving patents or maritime law. Civil claims between private parties don't usually end up in Federal Court, except in those areas.

The bill would amend the Federal Courts Act to provide that the court may exercise jurisdiction over certain cases involving violations of international law outside of Canada. As the member for New Westminster—Burnaby has said, this bill was modelled on the U.S. Alien Tort Statute, or ATS. It provides, in full, that “[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”

The ATS has been controversial in the United States, and there has been a great deal of litigation about its scope. This has included disagreements about what kinds of claims are covered and about the application of the statute to foreign defendants and corporations, again something that has already been mentioned in the course of this morning's debate.

Bill C-331's main provision is a little more complicated than the ATS, but the idea and the targets are similar. I want to make three observations about the kinds of cases in which the Federal Court would have jurisdiction.

First, Bill C-331 appears to give the Federal Court jurisdiction over existing types of legal claims and would not create new ones. It would provide that the Federal Court would have jurisdiction to hear cases involving claims respecting conduct that “arises from a violation of international law”.

Jurisdiction delineates the scope of the court's authority, either in terms of territory or in terms of subject matter. Jurisdiction is not the same thing as the right to a legal remedy, and that is an important distinction. For example, the Federal Courts Act gives the Federal Court “jurisdiction in all cases in which relief is claimed against the Crown.” However, that does not mean that the Federal Court can address any complaint a Canadian might have about the federal government. The act gives the court jurisdiction, but the court can only give a remedy if one is provided for by Canadian law, such as the law governing Crown contracts if the claim is one of breach of contract.

Second, the bill grants jurisdiction to the Federal Court rather than to the provincial Superior Courts. The Supreme Court of Canada has held that the Federal Court can only hear certain kinds of cases. It needs permission from Parliament, in the form of a statutory grant of jurisdiction. In addition, the case must also be governed by an existing body of federal law.

Accordingly, Bill C-331 will allow the Federal Court to hear cases based on federal law, rather than on provincial law or foreign law. This could include cases where there is a violation of both international law and a federal statute, such as the Carriage by Air Act.

The third point I want to make is that lawsuits under Bill C-331 would appear to involve only defendants who are subject to the jurisdiction of Canadian courts. According to the State Immunity Act, as well as international law, foreign governments and their officials generally cannot be sued in Canadian courts. Because Bill C-331 would not amend the State Immunity Act, these rules would remain in place. Similarly, Bill C-331 would not modify the principle that Canadian courts only hear cases that have a sufficient connection to Canada. That nexus was elaborated on again by the member for St. Albert—Edmonton.

In summary, Bill C-331 could allow the Federal Court to hear some new cases involving violations of international law abroad. However, it appears that those cases would need to fit within existing legal remedies or pre-existing causes of action. They would need to be based on federal law, and they would need to have a sufficient connection to Canada.

I would also like to speak briefly to two procedural aspects of the bill. Bill C-331 would provide that the cases to which it applies would not be subject to limitation periods provided in federal law. This would allow people to bring certain old claims even if they missed the deadlines that ordinarily apply. For example, claims against the Crown in respect of matters outside of a province are ordinarily subject to a six-year limitation period. This limitation period would no longer apply under the bill.

Bill C-331 would also specify when the Federal Court could stay proceedings to allow a case to go forward in a different court. This would roughly echo the principle of forum non conveniens, which Canadian courts use to decide when to stay a lawsuit because it would be more appropriate for it to proceed in a different court.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the sponsor of the bill for bringing this important issue before the House, and I look forward to hearing more of the second reading debate on this bill.

I would also like to take this opportunity to highlight the recent appointment of the first Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise, Ms. Sheri Meyerhoffer. The Minister of International Trade Diversification appointed her on April 8, 2019. The ombudsperson will review allegations of human rights abuses arising from the activities of Canadian companies abroad.

This is a role that I have heard extensively about, and not just from my constituents in Parkdale—High Park but from people around the country who share the concern of the member for New Westminster—Burnaby about ensuring that international human rights are protected not just in Canada but abroad, including when Canadian corporations are involved.

For companies found to be involved in wrongdoing abroad, the ombudsperson can recommend measures, which could include the withdrawal of certain government services, such as trade advocacy. The ombudsperson can also make specific recommendations to companies, including in relation to compensation, an apology or corporate policy changes.

Giving the ombudsman's role some enforceable powers and some teeth is a critical aspect of this mechanism.

The appointment of this ombudsperson underscores Canada's commitment to advancing responsible business conduct by Canadian companies abroad and respect for the fundamental rights of people around the world.

That is exactly the type of reform that we need more of in this country. It is the type of reform that I am sure the member for New Westminster—Burnaby would share with us, as all parliamentarians should, in terms of promoting the understanding and enforcement of international human rights obligations.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

April 29th, 2019 / 11:30 a.m.
See context


Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-331, an act to amend the Federal Courts Act, introduced by the hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby.

The legislation seeks to amend the Federal Courts Act, to provide the Federal Court of Canada with jurisdiction to hear claims brought by foreign claimants with respect to causes of actions that took place outside of the territory of Canada, where the acts or omissions alleged contravened international law or a treaty to which Canada was a party. Without more, there are a number of problems with Bill C-331.

To begin with, the legislation would radically transform the mandate and jurisdiction of the Federal Court of Canada.

When the Federal Court of Canada was established, it was established to deal with certain types of matters that fell within the legislative jurisdiction of the federal government. The legislation would fundamentally change that. The Federal Court of Canada would be transformed into essentially an international court dealing with international claims brought by international claimants with little to no connection to Canada whatsoever.

Aside from the issues and principles such as the presumption against extraterritoriality, comity and the principles respecting the sovereignty of foreign states under customary international law, all of which are implicated by Bill C-331, from a practical standpoint, there is a question about the appropriateness of the Federal Court of Canada becoming such an international forum.

By virtue of the international actions that would be invited to be brought forward to the Federal Court of Canada, such actions would necessarily implicate the interests of foreign states. As such, the court would be required to consider questions relating to foreign affairs, international human rights law and international commerce. This is far outside the jurisdiction and mandate of the Federal Court and its area of expertise. Moreover, the legislation would completely upend Canadian and international law respecting the assertion of extraterritorial jurisdiction.

The universal test for the assertion of jurisdiction is a bona fide substantial connection between the subject matter and the source of jurisdiction. As the Supreme Court of Canada stated in the Hape decision, citing the Permanent Court of International Justice in the Lotus case:

...that jurisdiction “cannot be exercised by a State outside its territory except by virtue of a permissive rule derived from international custom or from a convention”...According to the decision in the Lotus case, extraterritorial jurisdiction is governed by international law rather than being at the absolute discretion of individual states. While extraterritorial jurisdiction — prescriptive, enforcement or adjudicative — exists under international law, it is subject to strict limits under international law that are based on sovereign equality, non-intervention and the territoriality principle.

Moreover the Supreme Court in the Terry decision stated:

This Court has repeatedly affirmed the territorial limitations imposed on Canadian law by the principles of state sovereignty and international comity.

The Supreme Court in the Hape decision did make clear, at paragraph 68, that it was within the jurisdiction of Parliament to pass laws that would have the effect of asserting jurisdiction over non-Canadians outside the sovereign territory of Canada. However, in doing so, the question would become whether it would “violate international law and offend the comity of nations.”

Parliament has passed legislation that would have an extraterritorial effect in some very narrow and limited circumstances.

For example, Parliament has passed the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act. Pursuant to section 6 of that legislation, every person who commits genocide, a crime against humanity or a war crime outside of Canada is guilty of an indictable offence. However, under section 8 of that act, to be prosecuted, the accused person would have to have some substantial connection to Canada. More specifically, section 8 provides that an individual can be prosecuted only if at the time of the offence the person was a Canadian citizen or a citizen of a state engaged in armed conflict against Canada; or the victim was a Canadian citizen or a citizen of a state allied with Canada in an armed conflict; or, if after the time the offence was committed, the person was present in Canada.

Additionally, section 7 of the Criminal Code contains a number of provisions that deem certain acts that occurred outside of Canada to be deemed to have occurred inside of Canada, including attacks on internationally-protected persons and UN personnel. However, to be prosecuted under those sections of the Criminal Code, the act must be deemed to have been committed in Canada only if the accused was a Canadian citizen or normally resided in Canada.

However, the legislation clearly is inconsistent with any basis for a real and substantial connection that is the basis for the lawful assertion of extraterritorial jurisdiction. Indeed, claimants could bring civil suits in the Federal Court of Canada with virtually no connection whatsoever to Canada.

Additionally, there is some question about the basis of whether it is consistent with international law to permit civil actions against foreign corporations. This issue was considered recently in the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Jesner, which was considering the alien tort statute. In the Jesner decision, the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether common law liability under the ATS extended to a foreign corporate defendant. In considering that question, Justice Kennedy, writing for the court, determined that he was not satisfied that it would be consistent with international law or at least that it was not established that it was so. Justice Kennedy stated that:

It does not follow, however, that current principles of international law extend liability—civil or criminal—for human-rights violations to corporations or other artificial entities. This is confirmed by the fact that the charters of respective international criminal tribunals often exclude corporations from their jurisdictional reach.

In so stating that, Justice Kennedy cited the Nuremberg tribunal as well as the statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the statute of the international tribunal for Rwanda, as well as the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court, all of which are limited to natural persons.

Justice Kennedy concluded:

In the American legal system, of course, corporations are often subject to liability for the conduct of their human employees, and so it may seem necessary and natural that corporate entities are liable for violations of international law under the ATS...But the international community has not yet taken that step.

Therefore, for these and other reasons, I cannot support Bill C-331.