Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill S-238, an act to amend the Fisheries Act and the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, also known as the ban on shark fin importation and exportation act.
The Government of Canada remains strongly committed to managing shark populations worldwide, with conservation and protection goals a priority.
Shark finning refers to the practice of harvesting sharks and removing fins from the live animal, only to return the debilitated animal, alive, to the water. The maimed animal then drowns as it sinks, powerless, to the bottom of the ocean.
I hope that image causes distress. It should. Canadians have told us that they are appalled by it and that they want us to put an end to it. Bill S-238 aims to do that, and it is a good thing.
My House of Commons and Senate colleagues are probably all familiar with the film Sharkwater, which came out in 2007. This captivating documentary starring Rob Stewart and Paul Watson is at times so shocking that it is difficult to watch.
The film follows the biologist-conservationist duo who joined forces to fight the poachers who kill animals illegally for their fins. The film, which contrasts gorgeous underwater scenes with images of horrifying animal cruelty, set off a global movement against shark finning.
This past fall, Mr. Stewart was again featured in a sequel to the same documentary, entitled Sharkwater Extinction. This more recent documentary exposes the continued, rampant existence of a significant illegal shark fin industry. At the core of this documentary is, once again, the cruel treatment of sharks and their rapid decline toward extinction. Also featured are the criminal conspiracies and the violent corruption, which often put Stewart and his crew at risk, that are linked to the still very lucrative illegal shark finning industry. Sadly, Mr. Stewart died in January 2017 while he was in Florida filming Sharkwater Extinction.
The original documentary and its sequel are making their mark around the world. There is increased compassion and sympathy for the once feared and misunderstood shark and a growing concern that we are slaughtering them to extinction and governments are doing nothing to stop it.
The fact is that in Canada, shark finning has been illegal since 1994. However, and this is where much of the concern lies, importing fins from other countries that do not ban the practice is still permitted. This has made it difficult for municipalities to impose bans through bylaws. In fact, since 2011, several Canadian cities have attempted to impose bans on possessing, selling or consuming shark fin products. Notably, Brantford, Oakville, Toronto, Newmarket and Mississauga, in Ontario, and Calgary, in Alberta, all had such bans at one time. Some still do today.
There are problems with local bans, however. Some have been challenged in court and overturned. While the courts agree that shark finning is inhumane, the main problem is that municipal governments have no authority over shark fin importation. The lack of legitimate finality at the local level means there is a growing need for a federal response to this important issue.
As we heard, in 2013 a private member’s bill to ban shark fin imports in Canada failed in this House. We are now faced with another opportunity, provided to us by Senator Michael L. MacDonald, in the form of Bill S-238. I ask that we carefully consider Bill S-238 and its proposed legislative solutions to the growing global issue of shark finning.
This proposed bill to ban the importation and exportation of shark fins or parts of shark fins that are not attached to a shark carcass, or any derivatives of shark fins, has a tremendous amount of merit. It would indeed be an indication of Canada's global leadership and position against the cruel practice of shark finning to amend the Fisheries Act and enshrine the prohibition of shark finning in Canada. However, I carefully followed the debate on this bill in the other place and, as raised in the other chamber, Bill S-238's proposed amendments to the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, WAPPRIITA, prohibiting the import and export of shark fins may be problematic.
Implementing Bill S-238, as amended by the other place, has a number of implications. With respect to WAPPRIITA, the proposed amendments do not discriminate between sustainably harvested sharks and shark products, and shark fins that are the product of shark finning. This would be inconsistent with Canada's international trade law obligations because it would pose a risk of violating non-discrimination obligations. A ban on the import of shark fin products and their derivatives without banning all internal trade of the products would violate this obligation.
In fact, a study of the legal implications of an almost complete ban on the importing of shark fins by Canada, as proposed by Bill S-238, revealed that this would very likely result in the violation of our obligations to the World Trade Organization.
Trade measures can be an effective means of fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and of promoting sustainable fishing practices. However, these requirements must be consistent with Canada's international trade obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization. I am sure there is a way forward that will allow us to comply with our trade obligations and, more importantly, to put an end to shark finning.
I will take a few seconds at this time to summarize.
Shark finning has been banned in Canada since 1994 through the licence conditions administered under the Fishery (General) Regulations, a regulation made under the Fisheries act.
In 2016, Canada implemented a mandatory fins-attached management measure for all pelagic shark landings across Canada. All harvesters are required to land pelagic sharks with the fins naturally attached.
Bill S-238 proposes to add a prohibition on shark finning in the Fisheries Act that would enshrine the ban of shark finning in the Fisheries Act, as well as banning importation through WAPPRIITA.
The government is committed to ensuring that we end the practice of shark finning while ensuring we uphold our international trade commitments.
I am convinced that shark finning is a cruel practice. As a Canadian and a steward of our natural environment, I feel I have a responsibility to prevent cruelty towards any animal and the decimation of any species. That is why I look forward to a rigorous debate on this bill in committee.
Bill S-238 is a noble indication that Canadians feel the same way. Perhaps the means by which the bill proposes to achieve its ends are not perfect, but I believe it is our duty here in this place to find a way to do whatever is within our power to stop shark finning. I am confident that this is the right thing to do.