Thank you very much.
I'm Mark Boucher. I'm the president of the Canadian Merchant Service Guild, a professional association of 5,000 Canadian ships officers. The guild is an affiliate of the International Transport Workers' Federation, or ITF, representing over 600,000 members in all sectors of transportation. The ITF works to improve conditions of seafarers of all nationalities and promotes regulation of the shipping industry to protect the interest of seafarers. While the guild represents primarily licensed officers and senior crew members and marine pilots in Canada, the ITF represents almost all categories of the 15,000 seafarers on the ships in Canada's domestic industry.
The guild did send in its own written submission, but I'm comfortable to speak on behalf of the entire ITF caucus, because the guild is saying the same things as the ITF is saying. We take a very special interest in legislative matters affecting all Canadian seafarers.
I know you had to make a decision on short notice regarding whether to hear from us today, and we certainly appreciate the opportunity to be able to speak to you on this matter.
I want to say from the outset that seafarers are on the front lines of pollution prevention, and the Canadian seafarers, in particular, have a very good track record. Both seafarers and their representatives are in favour of having effective laws concerning environmental protection, and we recognize and support Canadian society's strong disapproval of environmental offences.
Bill C-16 amends a number of pieces of legislation affecting seafarers, including the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. These were also the principal pieces of legislation that were amended in 2005 by Bill C-15. A disappointment that is common to both Bill C-15 and now Bill C-16 is that it was very late in the game when we became aware of this piece of legislation. The guild and the ITF are more accustomed to being invited to provide input regarding proposed legislation in the marine transportation field, where we have been working closely with Transport Canada, and where consultation is held in an early and meaningful manner with a broad cross-section of groups, regarding important pieces of legislation such as the Canada Shipping Act. For many years we have contributed valuable input to transportation legislation in this manner, and that has provided us an opportunity to have a clear understanding and a certain comfort factor with a number of controversial proposed legislative changes. However, it was only yesterday that the guild and the ITF were given any opportunity to be briefed on Bill C-16 by government officials and to ask questions and provide comments.
It's more important, though, that I point out that the marine industry is having tremendous difficulty recruiting Canadian seafarers. This is a worldwide problem in the seafaring industry everywhere, and the key point today that I wanted to make. The average age of the seafaring workforce in Canada is very high, and we are trying to address this chronic shortage of seafarers right now by doing everything we can to recruit young people into the industry.
The guild and the ITF have a number of promising HR initiatives under way in cooperation with several other organizations, and we're making some progress on the quality of life ingredients for seafarers, but more progress needs to be made.
We need to ensure that effective training schemes are in place for entry-level positions and for career development and progression to senior levels, aboard ships as well as in pilotage. The entry-level positions and then the junior officer positions are the feeder groups for senior-level positions, not just on ships but in pilotage work and for certain shore positions in industry as well as in the regulatory field and government.
One of the things that are bound to affect the recruiting efforts that are under way and that scare off potential candidates is this type of legislation. Bill C-15 didn't help this situation, and it is not being corrected now. In our view, we see the problem being taken up another notch. What we see Bill C-16 doing is communicating to potential candidates in the marine industry that if you are a seafarer, you might get caught up in this, and you might be fined huge amounts of money and spend a fortune trying to defend yourself. These are very negative things when we are trying to attract new people into the marine industry. Canada needs a strong marine industry. We need to be able to attract a new generation of seafarers and do everything we can to make it fair for them and not have them treated unfairly.
We feel that this bill is unfair. One of the things it is proposing to do is reduce the crown's job by making it easier to get a conviction. We see this as a serious disincentive and a threat to having a strong domestic seafaring industry, which is important to Canada. Whether we foster it in legislation or not, Canada is a maritime nation, and the marine shipping that's going on right now across the country is vital. We need to build the marine industry, and that won't happen if seafarers here are treated unfairly, making it even more difficult to recruit a new generation of seafarers.
There has been a lot of recent discussion stressing the need for increases in enforcement. The first point I want to raise concerning this bill is with regard to proposed subsection 20(2) of the Environmental Violations Administrative Monetary Penalties Act, under Bill C-16, which, on page 186, states that:
The Minister has the burden of establishing, on a balance of probabilities, that the person, ship or vessel committed the violation.
This is reducing the onus of proof on the crown, which would be found in a penal case where it is beyond a reasonable doubt, to the lower civil test of a balance of probabilities, which, as we understand it, means that if those hearing the case decide it is more likely than not that you committed the offence, then they have to convict, and they don't have to be concerned with reasonable doubts.
Our view is that in this atmosphere of an appetite for increased enforcement, which we wholeheartedly support, this proposed threshold of proof is too low. While this does simplify prosecutions for the crown, it is not affording proper rights to the accused ship's crew members, and we are concerned this will facilitate convictions.
Our second point concerns proposed section 13.15 of the Migratory Birds Convention Act, as amended by clause 102 of Bill C-16, which on page 145 states that:
In a prosecution of a master or chief engineer...it is sufficient proof of the offence to establish that it was committed by a person on board the vessel, whether or not the person is identified...
The existing legislation now specifies in old subsection 13(1.6) that vicarious responsibility does not apply to masters and chief engineers. Bill C-16 proposes the opposite, and I'll talk more about that in a second. Not only that, but in proposed subsection 280(2) of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, as amended by clause 73 of Bill C-16 on page 93, there's a change to indicate that:
...if the master or chief engineer...authorized...or participated in the offence, the master and chief engineer are a party to and guilty of the offence, and are liable....
We don't see why that was changed, because the only word that was changed was the word “are”, which indicates both of them and not just the one who may have committed the offence. Whereas before it said “the master or chief...as the case may be, is a party to the offence”, now it is proposing to say “the master and the chief engineer are party to the offence”. That change makes them both liable if either one of them does something that is unreasonable.
Obtaining the qualifications required for these senior levels of officer certifications takes many years, and it's at these senior levels that the shortage of qualified, licensed personnel is the most serious. Many of the officers at this level are fully eligible to retire right now. Increasing the criminalization of seafarers will drive them away. If that happens and the ship won't move, whatever important work the ship was doing will grind to a halt because they will have three-quarters of a crew but can't sail anywhere without key individuals. We need to do everything possible to reassure seafarers that they will be treated in a fair manner.
To sum up, we've already submitted a letter to the committee covering these same items that I've described.
We propose the removal of the new automatic vicarious liability of the master and the chief engineer that's found in proposed section 13.15 of the Migratory Birds Convention Act as amended by clause 102 of Bill C-16 on page 145.
Second, we pointed out that the revision that is proposed by clause 73 of Bill C-16, on page 93 in proposed subsection 280(2) of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, refers to both of the seafarers in the positions of chief and master, instead of one or the other, as the case may be. We're proposing that this amendment be deleted as well.
We proposed the removal of the unacceptable reduced onus of proof that is found in proposed section 9 of the enforcement measures of the new Environmental Violations Administrative Monetary Penalties Act as enacted under clause 126 on page 186 of Bill C-16.
I've explained that we need to have a level playing field, especially since we already are having such difficulties recruiting. Despite the work that is going on, there's already too much negative publicity and too many disincentives for young people to enter the marine industry. There are already enforcement mechanisms that are effective without having to increase the criminalization of seafarers. The seafarers are employees working day to day for employers. The seafarers see themselves as the ones who would be getting hit with fines and jail terms. The employers are not going to go to jail for them, and they're not going to pay their fines for them. The pool of candidates who are willing to take that risk by becoming seafarers is decreasing.
I want to thank the committee for giving me an opportunity to present our input and comments on this important piece of legislation, and I hope the views we sent in by letter a few days ago will be given consideration.