Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I take part in this debate on Bill C-23 this afternoon, immediately after the parliamentary secretary, the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis, in Quebec. These past few weeks, we have examined Bill C-23 to implement a convention for the protection of migratory birds in Canada and the United States.
A great many witnesses have appeared before the committee to help us better grasp the problem. These individuals and organizations spokespersons were all experts from whom we have learned a lot. It is now obvious to me that this legislation, which was passed in 1917, really needed to be updated.
Knowing how important it is to protect migratory birds from becoming an endangered species, we Bloc members have no major problem with this bill, including the amendments proposed by the committee. It is simply a matter of bringing an outdated act into line with the realities of the 21st century. As the saying goes where I come from, foresight is better than hindsight. So, as soon as the act comes into effect, all birds flying across Canada will be protected.
You can imagine what it would be like if only certain species were to be protected. You can picture as well as me hunters noticing from afar something flying, shooting and then pleading rightly or wrongly that they thought it was a bird from another species. More illogical yet would be to protect only endangered species, letting other species be fired on at will until they too become endangered.
Amendments to this act will also enable us to pull the rug from under potential dealers in sperm, embryo and tissue culture.
The Convention on Biodiversity ratified by Canada in December 1992 unveiled what trading in such things could represent. It would be possible to create hybrid species for experimentation, or even conduct experiments directly on tissue. The possession, purchase or sale of migratory birds are also strictly prohibited. Indeed, it is now stipulated in this bill that no person shall be in possession of a migratory bird or nest, or buy, sell, exchange or give a migratory bird or nest or make it the subject of a commercial transaction.
So, that will be it from now on in living rooms or summer cottages where hunting trophies are displayed. In my part of the country, it is not uncommon to see displayed in summer homes stuffed specimens of these birds which are now so rare. The time for this is now past.
As the hon. member for Lachine-Lac-Saint-Louis noted earlier, the fines-the maximum fines, of course-are very high, so much so, in fact, that during our committee deliberations, I often wondered out loud and said to myself that "migratory birds will be better protected than our children".
The new Act will also give the minister more power in the designation of game officers. And I quote:
- (1) The Minister may designate any person or class of persons to act as game officers for the purposes of this Act and the regulations-
I was somewhat intrigued by this provision, Mr. Speaker.
I questioned witnesses in committee to find out whether the minister could, for instance, designate all members of a hunting and fishing association to act as game officers.
I was told yes, but that such associations might have restricted powers. I find this provision a little scary. It would be difficult for an ordinary citizen to go to a farmer's land to tell him that he is breaking the law. He runs a great risk of simply being ejected from a private property.
My fear is that some members of these associations may have big arms and small heads. A member automatically designated to act as game officer with little training but big arms could decide to play policeman.
I will always remember a sentence I heard in my Grade 11 course on social, political and economic life: "In Canada, a free country, it is better to see 99 guilty persons go free than one innocent person unjustly punished". That made a big impres-
sion on me. It is a minor concern, but we will still vote for Bill C-23.
It is, however, a well-known fact that there are not enough game officers to enforce the act. In that case, we should recognize the need to designate civilian game officers immediately but with really restricted powers, to ensure that our laws are respected.
We in the Bloc Quebecois think it would be worthwhile to take certain measures to ensure that the people collectively designated as game officers have the skills required to maintain credibility. That is why we suggested two amendments in committee.
The purpose of the first amendment is to ensure that the people collectively designated by the minister have at least received the training appropriate to their functions. That of the second amendment is to make the designation of a class of persons conditional on the approval of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.
As regularly happens when we vote here in the House of Commons, our two amendments were defeated, but I am still convinced that it would be important to exercise a little more control over this kind of appointment; otherwise these provisions could do more harm than good.
If you allow me, I would now like to draw your attention to a presentation given to us by Daniel Jauvin, president of the Quebec ornithologists' association. This Quebec association of more than 30 bird-watching clubs or societies has produced many briefs on the protection of birds and their habitats.
In particular, it does scientific research on birds and especially on endangered species. This organization supports the bill but has nevertheless carried out a very worthwhile exercise. Its members checked the translation in the schedule to Bill C-23, namely the Convention.
According to these experts of the ornithological association, the French terminology used to name the birds is obsolete. They therefore suggested to the committee the terminology used by the international commission on bird names in French as published in Noms français des oiseaux du monde . This terminology is the one recognized throughout the world. The problems are of two kinds. First, an attempt was made to translate directly from English to French. As a result, names of genera were translated by names of species. Second, the association believes that the names of many species which should be there are still missing, unfortunately.
As an appendix to their brief, they presented to us a proper translation of articles I to IV of the above-mentioned Convention. This presentation showed that we should go further than simply reading the legal terminology. Such translation problems can seriously affect the enforcement of the law. Some species might be in the English version but not the French one. This would cause interpretation problems that would slow down and complicate law enforcement.
The hon. member for Terrebonne and myself were also very interested in the comments made by another speaker, Mr. Daniel Lacombe, who is the secretary general for the Fédération québécoise de la faune. That organization supports, of course, the proposed legislative changes but deplores the fact that all the regulations are left to the free will of officials from the Canadian Wildlife Service and Environment Canada. Mr. Lacombe also pointed out that it is unfortunate to see organizations such as the one he represents not being really consulted when regulations are drafted. It appears that the Canadian Wildlife Service merely informs these groups of the new rules in effect. Since these organizations use legislation such as Bill C-23, they should at least be consulted on a regular, effective, honest, and serious basis.
Mr. Lacombe gave us an example which illustrates the inconsistencies of the current process. He told us that the hunting season-this is something I still have a lot of trouble understanding, but that is the way it is-opens one week earlier in Ontario than in Quebec. The reason why it is later in Quebec is to protect the various species of birds. The same birds are found in Ontario and in Quebec, but the season opens earlier in Ontario because there are sedentary species. In other words, there are birds which remain in Ontario because they must have figured out that there is an imaginary line between the two provinces and they do not come to Quebec. However, Quebec birds do visit their friends in Ontario, where they can get bombarded one week earlier. This is the official reason which was given to our committee.
According to Mr. Lacombe, migratory birds mingle with other birds and the end result is the same for both groups. Consequently, Mr. Lacombe deplores that, when meetings take place with officials from the Canadian Wildlife Service, it is not possible to solve such issues, since those meetings are designed to provide information and not to consult organizations such as the one represented by Mr. Lacombe.
I want to make a comment regarding the Canadian Wildlife Service. I received documents from the president of the Association des sauvaginiers du Québec, Mr. Gaétan Fillion, who is upset at the lack of communication between his organization and the Canadian Wildlife Service. Mr. Speaker, the Fédération québécoise de la faune is not the only one suffering from this problem. It may be that this is a chronic problem only in Quebec, but it does seem persistent.
In our review of Bill C-23, we should look at the issue of regulations with those testimonies in mind. In that regard, officials from the Department of the Environment should look at two major issues. There are of course migratory birds which are
endangered, but there are many others which pollute our environment, including gulls.
At the Daishowa manufacturing plant, in Quebec City, it took almost two years to get permission, not to kill such birds, but to destroy their nests and their eggs. There were an estimated 170,000 pairs of adult gulls capable of reproducing on the site and this situation was causing serious problems. When stringent regulations exist and when we have problems, we resolve them. When I was mayor, if I had taken two years to make such a minor decision, I would not have remained in office very long. This is one example. The process needs to be smoothed out so that effective solutions can be adopted quickly.
Secondly, when we protect wildlife, we must protect their habitat. Imagine, Mr. Speaker, if a flock of geese decided to descend on your home for three weeks and you were not allowed to frighten them away. Believe me, I have tried. They merely circle about and land on your property, as if they had decided that it was their home. Imagine the condition of your lawn after three weeks. Do you know who would be responsible for the cleanup costs? You would. The legislation makes no provision for any compensation. I raised this question and an official told me that the farmer could rely on his crop insurance. I checked this out and while it is true, what if the poor farmer does not have crop insurance that covers this kind of damage? Then he would have to pay for the damages out of his own pocket.
I am telling you this because I have received letters to the effect that the snow geese were chased-I am not sure how-out of the Montmagny region. The geese ended up in the Rimouski-Témiscouata area. Snow geese are lovely creatures, but when 40,000 or 50,000 of them descend all at once for a three-week to one-month stay, well it is nice to see them arrive, but it is equally nice to see them leave.