Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in this House to participate in the debate at second reading of Bill C-54, an act to amend the Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act, which has been a while in coming.
By finally introducing Bill C-54 after months of stalling, the Liberal government is again putting up a smoke screen by trying to prove to Quebecers and Canadians that Canada will defend their freedom to invest and trade anywhere in the world.
I say "trying to prove", because what is both laughable and sad in this extraterritorial measures saga is that the carelessness and wait-and-see attitude the Liberal government stubbornly clung to in the several months preceding the introduction of this bill could have been more costly for our business people. This situation is very troubling, because the Liberal government let way too much water flow under the bridge before responding to a law with extraterritorial implications passed by a foreign country but directly affecting our business people.
And this foreign country is not an obscure, little known nation led by a dictator or located far away from Canada, but our main trading partner and international ally, the United States of America.
The U.S. government, which bills itself as the champion of free enterprise, will always amaze the international community by enacting laws such as the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, better known as the Helms-Burton law. What is surprising though is that this is not the first time that the U.S. has passed this kind of legislation and that we have to react to it.
In 1985, to impose an embargo against the small central American country of Nicaragua, the American government passed
legislation with extraterritorial implications that could have adversely affected the interests of Quebecers and Canadians.
The Republican administration claimed that the American legislation would apply to any foreign company whose operations might have repercussions in the U.S. or on American companies.
In response to the American embargo against Nicaragua, in which the U.S. wanted to involve the international community, Canada passed Bill C-14, an act respecting foreign extraterritorial measures.
Note that the provisions of this act were never used, which may well be the case again with Bill C-54 to amend the Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act in response to two new pieces of American legislation.
Under conservative pressure from the Republican majority in Congress, the Democrat administration just approved two pieces of legislation allowing Americans to sue companies in Quebec, Canada or anywhere in the world. The first one is commonly known as the Helms-Burton law and is designed to extend the embargo against Cuba, while the second one is the Iranian and Libyan economic sanctions law of 1996.
As the Minister of Foreign Affairs indicated earlier, the U.S. is certainly quite free to impose sanctions on any country if it deems it appropriate to do so, but we will not permit a country, any country, to pass extraterritorial legislation affecting companies operating out of another sovereign state.
In the present case, we must recall the context in which this American legislation was passed. The Helms-Burton law is the political expression of the American response to the Cuban air force shooting down two small American civilian aircraft for presumably violating Cuban airspace.
As for the legislation imposing sanctions on Iran and Libya, two countries suspected of supporting international terrorism, it was passed after a TWA airliner mysteriously crashed just after taking off from New York, this summer.
However, regardless of how justified the American administration might be in adopting sanctions against these countries, we cannot accept that the United States, or any other country, can unilaterally pass laws affecting Canadian businesses and nationals outside their boundaries.
The Helms-Burton law and the legislation seeking to extend sanctions against Iran and Libya not only violate every international agreement on trade liberalization-including the Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA and the Uruguay Round agreements establishing the World Trade Organization-they also do not promote the type of harmonious, productive and positive relations that close allies such as Canada and the United States should maintain.
As the Minister of Foreign Affairs said earlier, we cannot accept that the Americans can go ahead and use international trade agreements when it is convenient to do so, while adopting unilateral measures such as these when it suits them.
It is as much a matter of principle as it is an economic issue, given that Canada's economic relations with Cuba are relatively limited. In 1995, imports from Cuba totalled $320 million, while Canadian exports to that country reached $250 million.
Obviously, such an arrogant and authoritarian attitude on the part of friendly countries is not conducive to a relation based on trust and dialogue. This is why we feel that these two new American laws are totally unacceptable.
The U.S. government seems prepared to risk offending friendly countries for the sole purpose of destabilizing the Cuban, Iranian and Libyan regimes. We are always surprised to see how relentless our American neighbours can be when they target certain members of the international community, on the grounds of noble and generous principles that they conveniently forget in other situations.
For instance, the United States is much more permissive with China and Vietnam where democracy and human rights are concerned than with Cuba. But China and Vietnam are, need I remind you, growing markets, which make principles that more flexible.
On this issue, I must say that the Canadian government is marching to the beat of the same drummer as the American administration. However, lamentable cases like that of Trân Trieu Quân, a Canadian citizen sentenced to hard labour in Vietnam, must continue to make us aware that an increase in trade does not necessarily entail more respect for human rights.
Anyway, upon closer examination, you realize that there are two sections at the heart of the Helms-Burton law. First of all, section 3 permits American nationals to prosecute in the American courts any foreign corporation which has benefitted from real estate or facilities that used to belong to these American citizens and that were confiscated by the Cuban government following the 1959 revolution.
It is as if, when they left the country, those corporations retained a right to their properties and facilities in perpetuity ensuring that no one else could ever benefit from them.
And then there is section 4, which denies entry into the United States of managers or majority shareholders of foreign corporations along with their spouses and under age children allegedly trafficking-as the law defines it-in U.S. property confiscated by the Cuban government.
The problem with Bill C-54, which the House is debating today, is that, on July 15 of this year, the American president exercised his discretionary power to suspend title III concerning legal proceedings. He can renew this suspension every six months if he deems it to be in the national interest of the United States.
Therefore, Bill C-54 is nothing more than a symbolic measure for the time being since its sole purpose is to neutralise the effects of title III. This way, the Canadian government can have the impression that it bared its teeth, that it stood up courageously for businessmen from Quebec and Canada, but this unexpected show of courage came only after the government had made sure the Americans did not intend to enforce this provision.
However, it is revealing as well as disturbing to see that title III of the Helms-Burton law banning people from travelling to the United States is in force and that the Canadian government has not included any protective or retaliatory measures in the bill before us today.
The federal government is giving the impression that it is reacting strongly and diligently when it knows its actions are of no consequence, but it continues to show the same lack of courage when effective and significant measures need to be taken.
It is therefore very surprising to see that the Liberal government waited for the American president to exercise his discretionary power to suspend title III for a period of six months before going ahead with Bill C-54.
When it announced last June 17 that it was going to table a bill to amend the existing Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act, the government already knew that the president was going to suspend this title.
I was happy to hear the Minister of Foreign Affairs saying earlier that suspending the application of Title III was not enough for Canada, that what Canada was calling for was no less than the amendment and even the outright withdrawal of this legislation and of Title III, which more particularly concerns us.
But something has been overlooked. Title IV of the Helms-Burton legislation has prevented a number of Canadian nationals from entering the United States since August 1. To date, at least seven people, essentially members of the management of Sherritt International Corporation, have been affected by the application of this title. And what is the federal government doing about it? Nothing, absolutely nothing. It waits for the other shoe to drop and ceases all action, probably for fear of ruffling the feathers of our American neighbours.
This Toronto based Canadian company holds shares in Cuba in the nickel mines, in petroleum development, and in the agricultural and tourist sectors. Its completely respectable commercial activities have made the directors of this company persona non grata on American soil. Yet, these people have never committed any crime, either in Canada or in the United States. They have no criminal record. They are simply guilty of having invested and conducted business in Cuba.
For example, how would the U.S. government react if the Canadian government decided to apply this type of legislation to American nationals?
Even if it is not always in agreement with the United States' political and trade choices and priorities, the Canadian government has never gone so far as to consider American nationals as criminals on its territory solely on the grounds of nationality. Bill C-54 is, therefore, incomplete because it counteracts only one portion of the Helms-Burton law, which is currently inoperative. The step that now becomes necessary, if the Canadian government really intends to protect the interests of Quebecers and Canadians, is to call for the striking of a special group to settle the dispute under NAFTA.
Even though in recent months a number of federal departments have made strong representations to protest the consequences of the Helms-Burton law, even though the American president has suspended for six months the right of American nationals to institute legal proceedings under Helms-Burton, and even though the Liberal government is proudly presenting Bill C-54 today, the Helms-Burton law is still in existence, nevertheless, and is causing serious harm to citizens of Quebec and of Canada, and is liable to cause still more in the coming months.
What is the government waiting for, under these circumstances, before bringing this dispute before NAFTA?
Even if Canada has risen to object to the Helms-Burton law in such international fora as the World Trade Organization, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Organization of American States, it still must take concrete legal action.
Canada has some formidable allies in its fight against the Helms-Burton law. Mexico, for example, also a signatory to NAFTA, is equally affected by application of this act. Already the Mexican telecommunications group Domos has seen five of its directors refused entry into U.S. territory because of its investments in Cuba, which are in excess of $700 million.
We urge the government to submit the Helms-Burton act to competent authorities under NAFTA, in association with Mexico which is also affected by this legislation.
Frankly, I must admit I have doubts about the determination of the government to protect efficiently the interests of Quebecers and Canadians. We may actually have before us a bill aimed at protecting their interests but we have reasons to believe that it will probably never be used.
Indeed the Minister of International Trade himself has candidly admitted in the House, on June 18, that the legislative measures proposed by the government would only be used as a last resort and that he hoped he would never have to use it.
By seeking to avoid a confrontation with the United States at all costs the Liberal government will hurt Canadian citizens.
However, we do support a clause of Bill C-54 which requires Canadian businesses to abide by Canadian laws. In a news release dated September 16, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade announced, and I quote: "The Government is also amending FEMA to update penalties so that Canadians will be less likely to abide by objectionable foreign laws and more likely to follow Canadian law".
We have already mentioned in this House the case of a company operating on Canadian territory which scrupulously applies the American embargo against Cuba. I am referring to American Express, whose case has already been mentioned to the Minister of International Trade. The Canadian branch of American Express has violated Canadian law for many years, since it still follows the guidelines of its head office which prohibit doing business with Cuba.
We have a letter sent by American Express to a resident of Quebec. In that letter, the addressee is informed that the American head office and all subsidiaries throughout the world abide by U.S. government regulations. I will read you part of this letter:
"We regret that you are unable to use travellers cheques in Cuba. This is due to U.S. government regulations prohibiting the exportation of goods and services in Cuba. These regulations apply to all companies incorporated within the United States and their foreign branches and subsidiaries"
The Minister of International Trade said previously in this House that he would look into the case of American Express, and the official opposition is still waiting for him to do so. It is shocking to see that subsidiaries of American companies established in Canada abide by laws and directives emanating from a foreign government.
Under the amendments proposed in Bill C-54, a company located in Canada that observes the law of a foreign jurisdiction instead of Canadian legislation may be liable to financial penalties in excess of those prevailing today. Penalties that before were about $10,000 could now be as high as $1.5 million. In similar cases, the United States imposes fines of up to one million dollars in U.S. currency.
Passing legislation alone is not enough. It must also be enforced. If companies located in Canada do not abide by Canadian law, then we must make sure that law is enforced.
In concluding, the Bloc Quebecois agrees with the position taken by most of our foreign partners who are opposed to the Helms-Burton law and the law imposing sanctions against Iran and Libya. We believe that the Canadian government should stop claiming it maintains its independence vis-à-vis our main ally if it is not prepared to act accordingly.
Since the government proposes to authorize non-recognition of foreign judgments against companies or individuals in Quebec and Canada, and since it suggests increasing the penalties for observing foreign laws instead of Canadian legislation, we do support the bill to amend the Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act.
However, we feel that we should go one step further by asking for a special dispute settlement panel under NAFTA. The Minister for International Trade told us last March that Canada would ask for a consultation under Chapter 20 of the North American Free Trade Agreement. By pursuing this, the government will ensure the invalidation of legislation that contradicts all the efforts deployed in recent years to achieve free trade.