House of Commons Hansard #32 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was powers.


Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

So much for that. I do not want you to get into any secrets here.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:25 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, since everybody else was weighing in on this weighty matter I just thought I would put on record that the NDP caucus shares the concern raised by the member for Sarnia—Lambton.

We hope in the days to come that this can be dealt with successfully in the places where it should be dealt with. In my judgment it is not a question of it not being dealt with by Parliament just because it is being dealt with by the Board of Internal Economy. The Board of Internal Economy consists of representatives of the various parties.

If the member has a problem he should take it to his member on the board and not suggest that somehow Parliament is not dealing with it, because that is how Parliament does deal with it.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

I thank you very much for your interventions. I will take all that under consideration. I am going to come back to the House if necessary.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, an act to amend the Customs Act and the Criminal Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

November 18th, 1997 / 3:25 p.m.


Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Mr. Speaker, when the hon. member opposite gave his reply and his comments on the speech I made before question period, you told me I would have a few minutes to reply to his questions and comments.

Therefore, I would like to know how much time I have left to complete my remarks.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Lotbinière is quite correct. He has the floor to respond to a question previously put. We will resume debate after the hon. member has responded. He has five minutes left in questions and comments.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.


Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Mr. Speaker, obviously, my colleague opposite was a bit surprised at the many questions I had about Bill C-18, an act to amend the Customs Act and the Criminal Code.

You will understand that we in the Bloc Quebecois are here to genuinely defend Quebec's interests, and when we see the way our friends opposite have been behaving since the beginning of this 36th Parliament, it goes without saying that we are even more on our guard, since the government, using all sorts of excuses, all sorts of national guidelines, is trying to interfere in matters that concern the Government of Quebec.

When I see, for example, what they did with Dorval airport, where an agreement had almost been concluded with the Sûreté du Québec to assume responsibility for airport security and the federal government stepped in and imposed the RCMP, you will understand that, because of the powers that will be given to our customs officers with Bill C-18, members of the Bloc Quebecois want to make sure that provincial jurisdictions are respected.

When someone is apprehended at the border point, a process will be set in motion and things must be clear, that is to say that it will be the Sûreté du Québec and the courts of provincial jurisdiction, as the provincial authorities, that will have control regarding possible charges laid by the legal system.

I also asked a few questions that were not answered. For instance, I asked the hon. member what assurances she had given union representatives. She replied that she had received a letter. I did not, however, hear anything specific about whether seniority clauses will be respected and whether the collective agreement of people represented by the Public Service Alliance of Canada will also be respected. So, with this in mind, the Bloc Quebecois would like things to be clear.

The throne speech delivered not all that long ago made the federal government's intentions clear; it intends to use every opportunity to get involved in areas under provincial jurisdiction, so we are going to remain very much on our guard in reading bill C-18.

I would remind you, however, that we are very much in favour of Bill C-18 as such, since the statistics I have given offer a very good explanation of why we would like to see customs officers' powers enhanced. However, we want to see all of this happen with the utmost transparency and we want to see provincial jurisdictions respected throughout the process of passing the legislation, of training the customs officers, of renovating Canada Customs posts.

I think that everyone, if treated fairly, both in Quebec City and in Ottawa, will be very pleased with the passage of Bill C-18, for which I reiterate my support.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.


Claude Drouin Liberal Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to split my time with the hon. member for Niagara Falls.

I am very pleased to take my turn at expressing support for Bill C-18, which will give Revenue Canada customs officers the additional powers they require to enforce the Criminal Code at the border. It will be recalled that Bill C-89 ought to have been passed last March, but the elections intervened and it was put off.

This bill will have a positive impact for all Canadians, particularly those in Beauce, where we have the Armstrong border crossing. It will allow us to fill in a gap in enforcement which currently prevents our officers from intervening at border crossings to control criminal behaviour, such as impaired driving, child abduction, the possession of stolen goods. It also gives officers the power to arrest and detain any individual for whom there is an outstanding arrest warrant.

Bill C-18 will reinforce Revenue Canada's commitment to protect Canadians. Thanks to our position at the border, we have a unique advantage in identifying and intercepting criminals. We want to take advantage of our advantageous position. The bill will transform enforcement of the Criminal Code at the border considerably. It will in fact allow us to intercept criminals at the border and consequently to provide the communities in our country with better protection.

We can assure Canadians that we will provide customs officers with training that will equip them to perform their new duties in a fair and responsible manner while remaining within the law.

The government's position is that there is no need to have personnel at the border carry firearms, as this could, moreover, escalate violence instead of helping resolve conflicts. Customs officers perform their jobs effectively without firearms, and everything leads us to believe that this is the way it will always be.

What it means is that they will be able to intervene without waiting for the police when they believe someone has committed, or is in the act of committing, an offence under the Criminal Code. They will, for instance, be in a position to take the following steps: detain impaired drivers; take a breath sample, hand over to the police those whose alcohol level is high enough to justify their taking a breathalyser test; detain or arrest suspected child abductors; arrest or detain persons against whom a warrant for arrest has been issued under the Criminal Code. Customs officers will hold suspects in detention until the police can intervene. This makes a huge difference in the enforcement of the Criminal Code at the border.

It is essential to bear in mind that customs officers will use these powers only within the framework of their duties at entry points. They will not take part in investigations under the Criminal Code. With the exception of testifying in court, they will not take part in investigations once the police have intervened.

At present, customs officers have the power to arrest and detain persons for offences under the Customs Act and the Excise Act. But when they observe Criminal Code offences, the only line of action open to them is to notify local authorities. The purpose of the bill put forward today is to confer on designated officers the power to arrest and detain persons who contravene the Criminal Code. This means that customs officers will have the power to perform arrests for such offences as impaired driving, child abduction or, as I said, possession of stolen goods.

It is important that this bill be passed as quickly as possible so that selection and training can start. We hope to implement this program within six to nine months after the bill is passed. We intend to apply the program at all ports of entry, starting with those with the heaviest traffic and the largest number of Criminal Code offences.

Every manned border crossing will have designated officers responsible for enforcing the Criminal Code. We are glad that the various police forces at the municipal and provincial levels, as well as the RCMP, welcomed this change. With this legislation, the police will be able to rely on customs officers to arrest and detain at the border any person suspected of a Criminal Code offence, which will make a big difference in the workload of the police.

We plan to continue discussions with the provinces and with our federal colleagues to finalize the implementation plan.

Designated officers will be vested with the powers required to arrest or detain persons suspected of violating the Criminal Code. These officers will work at ports of entry across Canada and will have direct contact with travellers wishing to enter Canada. Immediate response powers will only be granted to those full time customs officers who have received appropriate training. That is why I am pleased to support Bill C-18 today.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.


Gary Pillitteri Liberal Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of Bill C-18, legislation reintroduced in this House to give customs officers new powers under the Criminal Code.

This legislation continues the good work carried on in Bill C-89, a bill that died when Parliament was dissolved prior to the last federal election.

Customs officers are our first line of defence in keeping drugs, contraband and illegal firearms out of the country. I am proud to lend my support to Bill C-18. I believe this legislation will make our communities safer and will be beneficial for border communities such as the one that I have the privilege of representing federally.

Under this new legislation, customs officers—many of my constituents happen to work as customs officers as there are four point crossings in my constituency—would provide first response capability at the border.

Bill C-18 will make the enforcement of our criminal laws more efficient and effective and will help to render every community in Canada a safer place in which to live.

Under the proposed legislation, customs officers will be given the capability of detaining or arresting at the border those individuals suspected of having committed criminal offences, for example, impaired driving or child abduction.

At present, customs officers have the power of detaining and arresting individuals who commit customs act offences such as smuggling. Customs officers also have the authority to search and seize goods such as illegal drugs, firearms, contraband tobacco and liquor and prohibited materials such as child pornography from entering Canada.

A study conducted in 1995 concluded that the existing situation was unacceptable and it proposed an extension of customs officers' powers to include Criminal Code offences. The recommendations made by this study received support by many important organizations and groups such as police forces, Revenue Canada employees and the customs excise unit.

History showed us that if customs officers had had in the past the powers, lives could have been saved.

Six years ago, sexual predator Jonathon Yeo was prevented from entering the United States at the Niagara Falls border crossing. He was armed. American officials alerted Canada Customs that an armed man was heading back into Canada. Sadly, Canadian officials did not have the legal right to detain him. As we know, he went on to murder three people before killing himself. One of the victims was the daughter of Priscilla de Villiers, founder of CAVEAT, a group that has been pushing for expanded powers for customs officers.

In the case of Mr. Yeo, the jury believed that customs officers should have been able to do more to assist the police. I believe that the proposed legislation is consistent with the jury's recommendation.

Our customs officers encounter many criminal situations while on duty. I know, as many of my colleagues here know today, that Canadian customs officers perform their duties in an exemplary way. For example, in the last two and a half years, customs officers were faced with 8,500 different suspected impaired drivers, almost 200 incidents of suspected child abductions, cases of individuals who were subject to arrest warrants and more than 500 individuals who had in their possession suspected stolen goods, most being motor vehicles.

These kinds of crimes are not acceptable in our community as they are hurting all of us. At this point we may ask: By delegating additional powers to customs officers are we putting them at risk? Bill C-18 will ensure that customs officers will receive additional training. Customs officers will be trained to ensure that they act fairly, responsibly and within the confines of the law in carrying out their duties.

Customs officers in my riding have raised the issue of bullet proof vests. The Department of Revenue will make bullet proof vests available to those designated officers who believe that their personal safety will be enhanced by choosing to wear a protective vest.

Many of the youths in my riding get jobs during the summer as customs officers. Some may ask if those student customs officers will receive first response powers. The answer is no. First response powers will be restricted to a fully trained, permanent customs officers, full time and part time, who have direct contact with people seeking to enter Canada at points of entry. Designated officers will respond to the Criminal Code situation identified by the students.

From the time this bill receives royal assent it could take six to nine months before it would be fully implemented. Customs officers will receive full training during that time and holding facilities will be constructed at border points across the country. This initiative will strengthen the already excellent working relationship between Revenue Canada customs and the RCMP, which will represent a more efficient way in which to help my own community of Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake and indeed every community in Canada a safer place in which to live.

I am aware that some customs officers believe that they should carry a weapon for their personal protection. However, I believe and it is my government's position that introducing firearms at the border is unnecessary. In fact, it could be a serious mistake. We have to bear in mind that this is not entirely new ground for customs officers. They are already designated as peace officers for the purposes of the customs act and to date they have demonstrated that they have no need for firearms to fulfil their responsibilities very safely and efficiently. Arming them in fact could invite more violent behaviour on the part of criminals. If not handled properly, an officer's firearm could provide a would-be criminal with a weapon that could actually be used to injure or kill the officer.

The role the government has in mind for our customs officers will be to provide a first response service. They will not be expected to participate in a Criminal Code investigation or transport prisoners. Police will intervene at the earliest possible stage.

As I said before, a great many of my constituents work as customs officers. I am well aware that they are carrying out a tremendous job with Child Find Canada and Operation Go Home in trying to alleviate the suffering for all those who experience the pain of missing or abducted children. Customs officers have every reason to be proud of their contribution to Canada's efforts to return abducted children to their homes. They have always acted professionally and completely within the scope of their authority.

The legislative changes called for in the legislation we are debating today will enhance their ability to assist with the retrieval of missing children because it will enable them to detain suspected abductors and turn them over to the appropriate police authority.

I am in favour and I lend by support to Bill C-18. To those who are saying that the government has the intention of creating another police force, I say these measures are a means of assisting police in their work, not replacing them. Under this legislation customs officers will be authorized to only make a preliminary action to hold suspects until police arrive.

I am in favour of and I am pleased to support Bill C-18. While I fully endorse this initiative, I am asking the House for the speedy passage of these changes that will benefit my community and other communities across Canada.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak on Bill C-18. As previous speakers have mentioned before, you will find a great deal of consent in the House for this bill. It is a bill that is long overdue to give our customs officers the powers they should have had a long time ago, powers in effect of a peace officer.

As we mentioned before, they are repeatedly confronted by situations that at times are dangerous but historically they have not had the power to enforce the law at our borders.

As a result, at times we have seen some tragic results of individuals who have been murdered. The hon. member across the way mentioned Ms. de Villiers who was murdered by Mr. Yeo who came into this country when he was turned away by an American immigration officer, after which the American immigration officer told our forces on the other side what was occurring. There was a failure to respond.

I might say at this moment that our officers who work at the borders do an incredible job under extraordinarily difficult circumstances and we can all be very proud of the work that they attempt to do under those difficult circumstances.

However, let us just talk a little more about this bill. As we said before, it does give the power of peace officers to our customs officers, but we have some concerns over this.

Number one is the concern of the repeated use of students in roles that at times could be dangerous. It has been noted in this House that at times up to 90% of customs officers working in areas that are high traffic, high density and potentially dangerous are covered by students who have only two and a half weeks of training.

This is not to denigrate the students but we must believe that these students must have the adequate training and the protection for themselves to carry out the job.

As time passes, as criminals become more desperate, as our borders become more porous, the need for these officers to be trained appropriately and have adequate protection is going to become even more urgent.

I can only impress on the government that these students who were working in this position for their sake must have the appropriate training and protection that they require.

It is a failure of this bill that it does not address that. This bill also does not address the cost factor. We recognize the need for it but the government must also be prepared to let us know where the costs are coming from.

Perhaps the way to recoup these costs without dipping into the public purse would be to use the moneys from drug traffickers and people who are trying to bring contraband across our borders.

For too long the penalties that have been placed on individuals trafficking and bringing illegal contraband into this country have been ineffective.

Criminals know that if they come into this country and they are caught, the chances are the penalties they receive will be minuscule compared with the profits from criminal behaviour.

I will give one example right now and I will get to more later. If one were to smuggle five handguns into this country in a box one could charge over $50,000 for those handguns. The margin of profit is enormous.

We know from our correctional services that many times the penalties for trafficking, the penalties for using weapons, are often plea bargained away to get an expeditious conviction. That sends a message of absolutely zero penalty to the criminal.

Let us go through some of the flaws of the system that we have had for too long. I will go through them piece by piece.

Canada has a large porous border and the problem we have with respect to weapons is not Bill C-68. It is not criminals going and getting a firearms acquisition certificate and going in and getting a course, applying for a permit and then committing a crime. Those criminals who are using illegal weapons in the commission of a crime are doing so generally with weapons that are smuggled across our border. They are smuggled across our border because there has been a failure to block off this serious problem.

Canadians are paying the price for this and we have done an appalling job of trying to prevent this among us. The government's response to this is to invoke Bill C-68 which, at least the part that has to do with registration, will do almost nothing to make our streets safer and I would argue would make our streets less safe because of the costs incurred in trying to bring the system forward. The hon. Minister of Justice knows this right now.

Rather than investing its efforts into Bill C-68, I would ask that the government invest in supporting our peace officers on the line and in the line of duty to do their job and to also support and enforce the existing penalties in our justice system.

Second, we will talk about drugs, another very important substance that is coming across our borders in contraband. We have again failed to do this.

It was interesting to hear, in speaking to law enforcement officers recently, that if someone is charged with a crime, unless it is murder or an extremely serious offence, they are released on bail. Because of overcrowding due to a failure in investing in judges and crown counsel, we have such a backlog in our system that individuals who are guilty of serious crimes, crimes that affect innocent civilians across this country, are being let go or are being given paltry penalties. Criminals are walking away laughing because they know that our system is so backlogged. It is such a bureaucratic morass right now that the criminals are getting away, which does nothing to bring confidence into the justice system for the people of this country.

If one looks at the amount of crimes reported in this country, over 70% of violent crimes are never reported. Over 80% of rapes are never reported. Over 70% of break and enters and assaults are never reported. It is not because of the police officers who are doing their hardest to do their jobs. It is because the public has little confidence that these individuals are going to be prosecuted.

Bill C-18 can go a lot further in trying to enable our customs officers to enforce the law.

The trafficking of illegal immigrants and criminals into this country is a serious problem, mentioned before by members of the government and from our side. This cannot be overlooked. Although we have a large border, it is not impossible to deal with this issue. It is in fact essential for us to do that.

If an illegal immigrant comes to this country with a criminal record and is posing a threat to innocent civilians in Canada, be they immigrants or citizens, is it not our responsibility to do what we can to protect them? It is a lot more expensive to try to get somebody out of the country once they are here than to prevent them from coming across our borders. I think we need to keep that in mind.

Alcohol is another substance that is brought into our country across the borders and is a very serious matter. Cigarette trafficking has also been a serious problem. The government invoked a bill to decrease the price of cigarettes. That did nothing to decrease the conduit of smuggling. It decreased the trafficking of cigarettes north-south but did nothing to decrease the trafficking east-west. Furthermore, it increased trafficking east-west.

In my province of British Columbia we have a serious problem with cigarettes coming from the east and people making a profit as a result of that. A much more serious issue is the health consequences of that bill, which has committed over a quarter of a million young Canadians to pick up cigarettes.

There was an answer that would have decreased smoking among youth and would have also decreased the trafficking. It was to bring forth the export tax. The government did that but it also dropped the price. The export tax alone on cigarettes would have cut the legs out from the trafficking of cigarettes north-south.

When Mr. Mulroney did this, I think in 1992, within seven weeks the smuggling of cigarettes decreased by 70%. The Conservative government of the day backed down because the cigarette companies said they would get out of this country if the government did not pull the export tax. What did the Conservative government do at that time? It stuck its tail between its legs and removed the export tax. The smuggling continued. It does nothing to diminish one aspect of cigarette trafficking. We have to address all the components of trafficking which are the conduits. Bill C-18 does go some way to do that and I congratulate the government for pursuing that course.

Finally, I will talk about endangered species. The smuggling and trafficking of endangered species in Canada is a serious problem. Canadians may be interested to know that we are one of the top countries in the world for the smuggling of endangered species products, everything from powdered rhino horn, tiger bones, penguin bones, rare orchids, rare butterflies and birds. All of these are brought into Canada and shipped to other parts of the world and we are culpable.

The failure to act in this area has resulted in the decimation of some very important species, species that could have benefits for all of us, but more important are the heritage of everyone in the world.

The black rhino population has been decimated by 98% over the last 20 years and the elephant population by over 80%, but is now starting to replenish. The Bengal tigers of India were for a time increasing after some measures were invoked by India. Because of rampant trafficking and slaughter and the lax system for trying to apprehend people who are doing this, the tiger population is plummeting.

There are other species such as the Sumatran tiger and the spotted cat of China which are being decimated in large part because of the trafficking in these animals.

It is a shame that we as a country that prides itself in standing for justice, fairness, one which is sensitive to the environment, would not enforce the laws dealing with endangered species. Canadians would be interested to know that there are only a handful of hard working, overworked, and underfinanced fish, game and wildlife officers who are trying to prevent the decimation of these beautiful creatures. They cannot do it.

Another problem in their job has been the failure of the justice department to invoke penalties that fit the crime. Individuals who are trafficking in gall bladders laugh at the penalties. The penalties meted out to them are nothing compared to the profits of the trafficking in endangered species. But there are some solutions.

Perhaps the government would entertain the idea that instead of using students in front line customs positions as Bill C-18 alludes to, which could be potentially dangerous, perhaps they could be used with fish, game and wildlife officers to search for contraband. Then we could get a better handle on apprehending individuals who are trafficking in drugs and contraband materials.

The government could also invoke the Pelly amendment such as the legislation that exists in the United States which would give a lot of teeth to try to prevent the trafficking in endangered species.

In closing, I would again like to lend our support to Bill C-18 and commend the government in its pursuit of this important legislation which will finally give our customs officers the power they require to do their jobs safely and effectively. I would also ask the government to for heaven's sake make sure that the students who are working in those positions are trained properly and protected from harm. Let us also ensure that the courts will be empowered to enforce the law in our country.

It will be for the justice minister to take a very close and brutally honest look at the justice system as it is presently and to finally delve into the serious problems we have in trying to ensure that justice is met, that the Canadian public will be protected and that criminals will be arrested and will pay the penalty for breaking the laws in our country.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

London West Ontario


Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member opposite for his thoughtful presentation.

I want to address one of the areas of misunderstanding which he has about the bill. He believes quite honestly that students will have the first response powers. That is definitely not the case. I have stated that a number of times in this House today.

I want to assure him that the decision has been made to give these extra powers to full time and permanent part time employees but they will not be given to the student officers who we utilize in customs, and utilize quite well I might add, having been one in 1974 at one of the busiest border points in Canada, the Niagara border point.

He can be assured that the decision has been made and that his concerns are unfounded in this regard.

I believe that we have a smart border in Canada. I do not say that just because it sounds nice. We have designed our customs administration to protect Canadian society, and not only against contraband. We have set up a system which facilitates legitimate travel and legitimate trade. We use our intelligence networks to target high risk situations.

Canadians have to understand the volume we are dealing with. It is a very large border. We are processing approximately 109 million travellers a year at our border points. We expedite our trade. We all know that one out of three jobs in this nation is dependent on trade. It is a growing area. It has grown from the time we took power in 1993. At that time it was one in five jobs and now it is one in three.

We are dealing with 158,000 large importers and exporters. There is a huge responsibility at our border crossing points to expedite and professionally deal with trade. However, we must always be on the lookout for the other element of society which tries to get through our screens. It is a big responsibility.

It is important to understand that the first line people are going to be assisted by this legislation. That is really important to understand.

The numbers are phenomenal and they are growing. In 1996-97 Revenue Canada processed $248 billion in trade, representing more than 28 million transactions, resulting from 10 million commercial entries.

This is very important for the hon. member to understand. He raises many different areas in his speech in which he has an interest but which are not truly the subject matter of this bill. However, I am glad to hear that the hon. member is in agreement with the subject matter of this bill.

I will let him comment on my comments, but I did want to correct the misunderstanding involving the students.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary. I know how hard she has worked on this and so many other issues and I appreciate her comments.

We want to ensure, as I am sure all members do, that our students are protected and that they are carrying out their duties in a manner which is safe, primarily to them as the youth of this country.

However, I would like to bring to the attention of the hon. member two things which I hope she takes back to the minister. The first is the potential visa requirement which Canadians will have when they cross the border.

As the hon. member mentioned, trade is very important to our country. Living in Victoria, it is exceedingly important to my neck of the woods, which has over 600,000 Americans coming in every year to spend their money in Victoria and the surrounding areas. It is a serious issue for the people of Victoria. It is a serious issue, as she knows, for Canadians across this country.

I cannot impress upon her enough that she speak to the minister and ask that he use all of his power to convince the Americans that we require an exemption from this visa requirement. It is ludicrous for us. It will hurt the Americans even more so if the visa requirement is imposed.

Second, in my speech I gave a number of I hope constructive suggestions that she may take back to the minister, not the least of which was the issue of detailing the different contraband materials that come into this country, the failure of the justice department to deal with this issue once people are brought to trial, the need for effective penalties as a dissuasive measure for criminals and lastly on the endangered species aspect to ensure that our fish and wildlife officers have the manpower to carry out their jobs.

I suggested that perhaps students could be used in part in less dangerous aspects of their job in doing searches, not only for endangered species but also for other aspects such as drugs and weapons that students could be utilized for. That might be a cost effective way to try to damn up our border which is very porous and needs to be plugged.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The Chair was aware that the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca was very clever in bringing some added relevance to the debate. On questions and comments, the hon. parliamentary secretary.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

London West Ontario


Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, we are all aware of relevancy. Some of those issues which were raised by my hon. colleague across the floor are not particularly relevant to this bill as it stands and is going forward today.

The questions of justice are relevant at any time to our whole Canadian society. We are constantly looking at ways of doing our work better. I think it is always useful to hear different views and suggestions presented in a constructive manner.

Although it is not relevant to this bill today, on the issue of the visa I would like to say that certainly it is very serious. Not only our minister but more importantly the Minister of Foreign Affairs is dealing with this issue with the Americans at this point in time on their piece of legislation that could affect us. That, as the hon. member knows, is being dealt with not only on the political level but on the diplomatic level with our ambassador and on other things that have been out there.

We are aware of the seriousness of this issue. I just did not want to leave this debate without addressing that problem because I thought it was too large an issue not to say some words on it.

I thank the hon. member and all hon. members on all sides of the House who have contributed to the debate today. I think we have an unusual consensus in the House. I hope now that this bill can move toward closer examination at the committee stage with a consensus in the House.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

I would like to thank the hon. member again for her statement. I want to again impress upon her the fact that we need to ensure that Canada has an exemption for this. As she is well aware, from an economic perspective it would be economic suicide for the Americans to invoke these requirements on Canadians.

I am sure that there is a model from which we can work more co-operatively with them, although we do work very well with our American friends now on the issue. Perhaps there is more we can do to ensure that we have a greater co-operation between our respective law enforcement officers and that we do not see the tragedy that was mentioned before by a member from her side on the situation of Mr. Yeo who murdered Ms. de Villiers. We never ever want to see a tragedy like that repeated in this country.

I am sure, Mr. Speaker, you will find co-operation on our side, from members on our team who are willing to help the government ensure that we have the toughest and most constructive bill possible for the benefit of Canadians.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed from November 5 consideration of the motion that Bill C-14, an act respecting the safety and effectiveness of materials that come into contact with or are used to treat water destined for human consumption, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Drinking Water Materials Safety ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Chair is informed that when this bill was last before the House the member for Hamilton Mountain had the floor. Since the member for Hamilton Mountain is not on her feet the debate goes to the other side of the House.

The Chair recognizes the member for Macleod on debate.

Drinking Water Materials Safety ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Grant Hill Reform Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I believe the member for Hamilton Mountain had completed her discourse at any rate. That would be why she is not here.

The bill is designed to make sure that Canadian drinking water is safe. I am strongly in support of it but there are some difficulties. I am always concerned when I am on the save wavelength as members of the Bloc. On this issue members of the Bloc and I are in concurrence.

Water control has traditionally been a provincial matter. The bill is purported to look at materials, piping, filtration, chlorination systems and matters that are not supposed to be under provincial control. I have tried to look at it from an unbiased perspective and to say initially what need exists for Bill C-14.

I have gone to the organizations in Canada currently involved in this area. For the benefit of all Canadians, let me list those organizations. They are the Canadian Bottled Water Association, the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating, the Safe Drinking Water Systems Coalition and the Canadian Soft Drink Association.

I contacted these groups for their expertise, advice and guidance. I was fascinated to find these expert organizations to a group are all opposed to Bill C-14. Whenever I find opposition of that nature I ask what need exists for the bill.

I went to each one of the organizations. I have quite a series of documents from them. I want to highlight some of their concerns. Let me start with the Canadian Safe Drinking Water Systems Coalition.

This group says that it tried very hard to have its opinion heard by Health Canada and has been singularly ineffective in that approach. It is bizarre to me that a group that has an interest in the issue would not be well heard. I read that the minister says consultation was broad and thorough. It says neither are in fact accurate.

This group has a number of concerns. It says there is no documented scientific case for the regulations, no problems that warrant this degree of intervention. It says that nationwide infrastructure codes and standards are already in place, safe, excellent drinking water standards.

It goes on to talk about problems with things that are not correct, warranties that are wrong, and that there are hazardous products acts and mechanisms to deal with them. It talks about Revenue Canada customs already having the ability to look after enforcement at the border. It goes through a host of things the bill purports to address.

The Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating also expressed very vigorously that its attempts to contact, meet with and influence Health Canada were rebuffed. It wanted to co-operate but there was poor notification of the introduction of the legislation. Its attempts to meet with Health Canada were difficult. It is also having difficulty finding the scientific need for the legislation. There are problems with our water supply but it says not in the areas the bill approaches.

This group gets quite specific. It supplies roughly 90% of the domestic distribution of components such as pumps, pipes, valves, fittings and faucets, and 90% of the home use water filtration. It simply says the bill is unnecessarily intrusive and expensive.

I could go on but I probably should not do so because time is relatively short here. Let me say that the groups most affected are the industry individuals, the bottled water association and plumbers. They are not small groups. One group I mentioned comprises 600 Canadian manufacturers and installers. When it says the bill does not seem to have a great need, is intrusive and could be very expensive, my ears perk up.

Is this an effective use of our resources when it relates the needs of Canadians for safety and friendliness? Costs are uncertain. I have seen significant estimates of costs, but I cannot dig up any cost estimates from the government. They were unavailable. Many other areas are far more desperate for funds than this area. There are waiting lines for health care, poor technology for health care and massive loss of nurses and lab technicians, just to name a few.

I listened to the speech by the member opposite as it related to the bill, hoping that she would enlighten me and give me the pearls of reason for going down this road. I picked up a pearl from the member for Hamilton Mountain. She said one problem with the bill was the issue of cryptosporidium infection. The doctor that I am, I went to my Cecil textbook of medicine. For those listening who want to do this, it is the 20th edition, page 1910, where it mentioned cryptosporidium.

I looked at whether the bill would help patients infected with cryptosporidium. Let us cut this monster word down to something understandable. Maybe I could call it crypto. This organism causes diarrhoea. It is worse in AIDS and immune compromised patients, those whose immune system is messed up. It is not treatable so it would be a good idea to prevent it. Most Canadians would recognize that.

There are eye infections in the young in communities where there is warm wet weather and in communities where there is overcrowding. This is not something common to Canada. It is spread from animals to humans. It can be spread from humans to humans, usually by contaminated source water. It does not show up in the pipes. It does not show up in treatment facilities. Unsanitary conditions are the main problem. When found in treated or untreated water it is resistant to common disinfectants. In other words it is a tough bug to kill, a tough bug to have any impact on. The bill will be singularly ineffective in combating cryptosporidium.

The pearl of reason for going down this road in my judgment was not sufficient. I searched more and I found some scientific information from a group that felt the bill was not sufficient to suggest where we could go in a constructive way. Reformers try not to only oppose. We try to say that there are some problems with fresh drinking water and that maybe we should go in another direction.

Here are my suggestions for the minister and for those who might be interested. There are problems with our drinking water. They are generally problems at source. In other words, our well water is not so good and our commonest problem with well water is leaking sewer pipes. That is eminently fixable but it is not eminently fixable by regulations. It is eminently fixable by going into the ground to fix the infrastructure, to fix the sewer pipes.

The scientific study found estimates that leakages from sewer pipes were from 10% to 35%. Some municipalities do not have a clue how much is leaking. The recommendation, because these sewer pipe discharges may penetrate groundwater supplies and contaminate well water, is to fix the leaking and rusted sewer pipes. Funds should be spent to start fixing the infrastructure.

There were more scientific studies to look at our drinking water in a broader context. I found them to be quite satisfying. We have been paying attention to our drinking water. The Great Lakes are a fascinating source. It is a mini capsule look at how we are doing with the environment. It is interesting that the industrial discharge of phosphorous into the Great Lakes has dropped from 20,000 tonnes to 7,500 tonnes over the past 20 years.

The study measured PCB levels in herring gull eggs. They have dropped over some 20-plus years from 160 parts per million down to below 20 parts per million.

Doom and gloom is always wonderful, but Canadians do enjoy a pretty good standard of drinking water. Maybe some individuals who say that environmental legislation is totally ineffective should reflect upon the success we have had.

Two reasons for my rejecting the bill would be if it were intrusive into an area where there was no need and if it were potentially very expensive.

Broad categories seem to come from our legislators today. I also have concerns about the regulatory and inspection components of the bill. They are very broad powers of inspection. They are unspecified fees. The governor in council, which is fairly typical, may make regulations that are necessary for anything they want to do.

I have objected to every single bill when I have come across broad regulations. I have tried to find other constructive mechanisms to see what could we do with the regulations. My constructive suggestion is that they should be brought to the committee that passed the legislation. Quite frankly I hope the bill does not pass but I presume the majority will get it through. The regulations should come back to the health committee.

We had a mini victory on the tobacco bill that passed in the last parliament. It was an accident but the regulations on the tobacco bill must come back to the health committee.

I cannot say how strongly I feel it is necessary to have scrutiny by the individuals elected to look at regulations so that we do not have a framework of a bill in parliament and then intrusive regulations doing things that were never intended.

I think I will be making this comment throughout my life as a parliamentarian. I simply say that broad regulations that are not specified are not a good idea. Bureaucrats are not the best individuals in this area. We need to have public scrutiny of regulations and of other things such as fees and bills. It is amazing to look at some of these fees, $300,000 for breaking some of these acts. Three hundred thousand dollars may not be much to a bureaucrat who is used to dealing in billions but it is sure a lot to the company representatives I spoke with.

The following statement summarizes how I feel about this bill, why I am opposed to it and suggest strongly that Parliament reject it. This bill further allows the federal government to pickpocket us under the guise of what it deems is best for us. This bill is unnecessary. This bill is intrusive. This bill is potentially expensive. For those reasons I will oppose it vigorously.

Drinking Water Materials Safety ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-14 deals with the safety and effectiveness of materials that come into contact with or are used to treat water destined for human consumption.

This legislation is patterned on Bill C-76, which was introduced by the former health minister. Clause 3 states that its purpose is:

—to protect the health of Canadians by providing for the certification and regulation of drinking water materials; the making of national drinking water quality guidelines—

In recent years, we learned that we must be very vigilant whenever this government introduces a bill because, as the Reform Party member pointed out, certain provisions often go well beyond the stated intentions.

Upon reading Bill C-14, one quickly realizes that, while claiming to promote good will and public health, the government is taking direct aim at areas under provincial jurisdiction, and this is an affront the Bloc Quebecois cannot let go unchallenged.

Let me elaborate. Quebeckers feel, rightly so, that drinking water is a collective wealth, just like wheat in the prairies or oil in Alberta. It is a resource found in abundance in Quebec and, given the population growth and the increasing number of droughts, water will undoubtedly become a highly coveted resource in the 21st century.

In the past several months, a large number of experts, company and government agencies officials and elected officials have expressed their views regarding the privatization of water management, the development of groundwater and the export of water. This is not a coincidence, given the increasing importance of this natural resource because the world population is expected to reach 10 billion people during the 21st century.

Therefore, Quebec has a duty to do its best to preserve this resource for itself and also for other nations that might need it some day. It is therefore important to give the matter some thought so as to be able to make the right choices based on our values of fairness and solidarity.

It will therefore be easily understood that the people of Quebec want to see a serious, comprehensive policy for the management of this resource. Once again, however, with Bill C-14, the federal government is trying to get a foot in the door and increase its control, let us be frank, to cover everything to do with water.

Where is this bill coming from and why is the government suddenly getting involved in the management of drinking water? For though the minister firmly denies it, this is indeed what is happening. Despite vigorous protests to the contrary, the government actually wants to regulate everything to do with water—water collection, distribution, supply, and treatment systems—in order to take in, as stated in clause 2 of the bill:

(d) any thing or class of things prescribed by the regulations to be a drinking water material;

As a brief background, until the late 1980s, it was common for the provinces and territories to take advantage of the program allowing them to consult the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This program helped in determining what treatment additives or system components should be used in drinking water supply systems.

When the EPA announced in June 1988 that it was closing down its consultation program, some provinces sought assistance from Health Canada. They suggested to Health Canada that it fill the void by regulating treatment additives and drinking water system components. It need hardly be pointed out that this call for federal intervention did not come from Quebec.

Since then, the federal government has been looking for a way to regulate several aspects of drinking water management. The strange thing is that it did not ask itself why the Americans had abandoned national regulations. Was general neglect the option chosen? Of course not.

In fact, many states now take it upon themselves to oversee the safety of water materials, according to their own standards. This is an example of decentralization that this government should consider more closely.

But on the federal side, they are constantly looking for ways to fill this regulatory gap which may threaten the quality of drinking water. But what about this gap? How wide is it?

On the Quebec side, we have our own provincial regulations. There are five departments with a key role in the management of drinking water. The Quebec department of the environment and wildlife has considerable powers in deciding the fate of water related projects. That department must approve any project dealing with the construction of water systems, water intakes, feeding systems for water treatment, sewage systems and facilities for treating waste water, and it has had these responsibilities since at least 1978.

In addition, under the Environment Quality Act, that department has the authority to deliver operating licences for water delivery and sewage systems, to monitor water quality and waste water management, and to oversee the disposal of riverbeds and sea floors and their shorelines. That department is also responsible for the construction and maintenance of storage reservoirs for water from lakes, ponds, rivers and waterways.

The Department of Natural Resources has responsibilities throughout Quebec that have a profound and lasting impact on water management. It is responsible for water resources and for Hydro-Quebec, for the management and use of public lands and for the mining industry. It also assumes provincial responsibilities related to mapping, surveying, land registers, geology and remote sensing.

The Department of Municipal Affairs also has a key role in municipal decisions on the construction and management of water facilities. Under the municipal code, municipalities can amend or repeal regulations to allow any company or individual to build or manage water facilities. Furthermore, the municipal code provides that all regulations must be subject to the approval of those entitled to vote and of the government.

Municipalities have tangible and critical responsibilities in the area of water management. They must ensure that individuals and businesses can drink this water. Cities own and manage most water systems. They are responsible for the production and distribution of drinking water, and for the collection and treatment of waste water.

Drinking Water Materials Safety ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Sorry to interrupt.

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Longueuil, Pay Equity; the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, Tobacco Legislation; and the hon. member for Yukon, Foreign Affairs.

Resuming the 30-minute debate period. The hon. member for Drummond.

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4:40 p.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, another department, Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, has always had considerable influence on soil and water management in rural Quebec, for example through programs for land drainage, water course excavation, grain crop development and dairy and swine production. In the early 1990s, this department turned to sustainable development by focusing more on resource conservation, soil degradation and erosion, and reducing underground water and ground water pollution by pesticides, fertilizers, manure and effluent.

It can be clearly seen that, even in the absence of federal standards, Quebec and several Canadian provinces are not leaving this field uncontrolled, nor are the various independent bodies studying the various facets of the issue and advising governments, departments and municipalities on management techniques and improvements to be made to the regulations in place.

Finally, the Government of Canada has certain powers available to it for intervention in the environmental field, in agriculture, fisheries and the protection of navigable waters.

We are not fools, however. Since the government cannot intervene directly in water management, it is going through the Department of Health to get a foot in the door. It does this, of course, in the name of public health. This is the only way it can interfere once again in a field that does not belong to it. It would have been presumptuous to intervene directly given that the provinces would have reacted and criticized this additional meddling by the federal government.

Under section 109 of the Constitution Act, 1982, formerly section 108 of the British North America Act of 1867, ownership of lands and natural resources belongs to the provincial crown. The power of Quebec and all other Canadian provinces to establish legislation on water and other environmental matters derives from this right of ownership.

This is why the federal government's intervention in the area of drinking water through Bill C-14 comes to us from the Department of Health and not from Environment Canada. Even though health too is a matter of provincial jurisdiction, the federal government has always felt free to intervene, program after program and national standard after national standard, in this area of jurisdiction clearly attributed in the Constitution to the provinces.

Last Tuesday, the Minister of Health accused us of being opposed to safe water and common health standards for all Canadians. That is totally wrong. We all want to be on the side of the angels. Who would not want our drinking water to be safe? No one, either in Canada or in Quebec, wants to eliminate basic public health criteria. The minister, the Prime Minister and everyone in the federal government are all fully aware of this.

What is sad is this impression, this feeling of superiority or lack of trust in the provinces, this notion that, if the federal government does not look after the problem, nobody will, this idea that there are some things that are too important or too complicated for mere provinces to deal with without screwing up.

This typical federal government attitude is what lies behind many of the rules, politely referred to as “national guidelines”, imposed on the provinces. The impression is given that, especially in Quebec, people are just waiting for certain guidelines to be dropped to dismantle the health system, when it is very well known that Quebec has always been a leader in the public health sector.

The recent examples of home care and drug plans, which were introduced by Quebec and which the federal government is now trying to imitate, are a clear indication that the provinces have nothing to learn from the federal government when it comes to the administration of health care, any more than they do in other areas coming under their jurisdiction.

But if we are to believe the government, everything would be in a mess if there were no national guidelines. So it is taking no chances and Bill C-14 contains a reference to national guidelines.

Clause 5, under the National Drinking Water Directives , reads as follows:

5.(1) In order to encourage the provision of quality drinking water throughout Canada, the Minister may, after having consulted the provinces, establish national guidelines respecting a ) the concentrations of organisms, organic and inorganic substances and radionuclides, naturally occurring or otherwise, in drinking water; b ) the physical and chemical properties of drinking water; c ) the aesthetic characteristics of drinking water; d ) the methods for analysing drinking water; and e ) the collection, treatment, storage and distribution of water destined to be used by humans for drinking or for washing the body.

Merely reading this clause is enough to clearly see that the stated goal of simply regulating “materials that come into contact with or are used to treat water destined for human consumption” is largely exceeded.

The concentrations of organisms, the physical and chemical properties of water, its aesthetic characteristics, the methods for analyzing drinking water: all this is far from the definition of “drinking water material” found in clause 2 and which reads as follows: a ) any device or article manufactured, sold or represented for use in modifying the composition, characteristics or properties of water destined to be used by humans for drinking— b ) reads: b ) any chemical or biological substance, or any organism, manufactured, sold or represented as a means—for modifying the composition, characteristics or properties of water destined to be used by humans for drinking or for washing the body—

I could go into more detail but, in short, the provisions deal with devices, chemical substances manufactured and sold to be added to water, replacement parts, etc. Nowhere does it say that Bill C-14 is intended to regulate the colour, odour or any other physical or chemical property of drinking water as stipulated in clause 5.

In addition, the Minister of Health was categorical in his response to questions from the Bloc Quebecois about the purpose and scope of Bill C-14. He said, and I quote: “What the bill does is regulate a matter entirely within federal jurisdiction; that is to say, standards for the manufacture, sale and use of mechanisms and equipment used in connection with the transporting of drinking water.”

Manufacture, sale and use of products used in connection with the transporting of water, but nothing about national guidelines respecting the colour, chemical composition and physical properties of water as stated in clause 5 of the bill. If that is not doublespeak, I wonder what is.

About the inspectors, and I agree with my colleague from the Reform Party on this, Bill C-14 also contains a clause on the enforcement of the bill's provisions. It provides for the appointment of inspectors, once again duplicating what already exists in the field.

Not only is this duplication, the powers conferred on inspectors are very broad. At clause 17.(1), the bill states:

If the conditions for obtaining a warrant under section 487 of the Criminal Code exist in respect of the commission of an offence under this act but by reason of exigent circumstances it would not be feasible to obtain the warrant, an inspector who is accompanied by a peace officer may exercise the powers of search and seizure provided in that section without a warrant.

You will understand that, as the inspector would be accompanied by a peace officer, one can wonder why the inspector, and not the peace officer, should be the one authorized to exercise these powers without a warrant. Who will decide where and when to act? Who will determine that it is appropriate or necessary to obtain a warrant? Peace officers are trained to make this type of decision, and they do so under very strict and clear rules. As for Bill C-14, it is definitely not clear in this area.

When they talk about consultations, they seem to imply that an agreement has been reached. This is not an agreement, this is a consultation. In addition to the interference, the double talk and the lack of clarity surrounding Bill C-14, there is the government's casual attitude in saying: “We have consulted everyone, we have responded to the provinces' requests and we have the agreement of all the provinces to go forward with this bill.” As with jurisdictions and national standards, the facts are not as simple as the minister would have us believe.

In fact, there has been no political agreement between the federal government and the Government of Quebec on the management of drinking water.

On this point, the Minister of Health, for whom I have tremendous respect, went quite far in this House by quoting during question period a letter from Quebec's deputy minister of health dated May 1996 which, according to him, confirmed Quebec's approval of the bill at that time.

In fact, he read only one sentence, taking it completely out of context and going against the spirit of the letter. He quoted Quebec's deputy minister of health as saying: “As far as protecting public health is concerned, we therefore have no objections to this bill going forward—”

Yet, in that same letter, it was clearly stated that agreement for such a project, which involves provincial jurisdiction over natural resources, had to come not from the Department of Health but from the Department of the Environment and Wildlife, which is in fact responsible for the management of drinking water. But the Minister of Health was very careful not to read that part.

Why? Why make such a statement that support has been granted, by misquoting a letter he knew we would receive? In short, why trumpet that everyone, including Quebec, supported the bill when this is not the case at all?

But one thing that is certain is that Quebec did not give its agreement on this issue. There has never been any, nor will there be because, as has already been said, Quebec has become far more aware of the need to take control over everything concerning water, its transport, its processing, its use, in short every facet of that resource.

To summarize, drinking water falls under the jurisdiction of the Government of Quebec and we are looking after it.

In conclusion, I would like to inform you that Bill C-14 is inappropriate and must not be passed. There is already too much duplication, too much encroachment, too much interference in areas where, most of the time, provinces already have their own legislation. Is there any need for another piece of legislation?

I would like to tell you that the bottom of the river is federal, but the water flowing in it is provincial. Fish are federal until they are out of the water, then they become provincial. Launches are federally registered, but constructed according to provincial standards, of course in keeping with federal safety regulations. The shores are provincial, but the ports are federal property.

With this bill, drinking water would be a provincial jurisdiction, whereas its physical and chemical properties, as well as the materials to carry it, would become a federal jurisdiction. There is something absurd in all of this.

Recently, in a Throne Speech, the government made a commitment to no longer interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction without provincial agreement. No one really believed this. Fortunately not, because once again the federal government is showing us what it means by good management and respect for jurisdictions as far as the environment is concerned. They want to harmonize the laws and regulations, but the words were barely out of their mouths before they intervened with legislation on environmental protection, the oceans, endangered species, and now Bill C-14 with all its implications.

It encroaches on three areas of provincial jurisdiction, namely health, natural resources and the environment. It dictates national standards on the quality of drinking water. It creates new duplication in drinking water quality control. It is not subject to provincial approval and was never approved by Quebec.

For all these reasons, each sufficient in itself, the Bloc Quebecois cannot support this bill in any way.

Mr. Speaker, I would now like to table an amendment. I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:

“this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-14, An Act respecting the safety and effectiveness of materials that come into contact with or are used to treat water destined for human consumption, because it does not because it does not take into account provincial jurisdiction over natural resources and health.”

Drinking Water Materials Safety ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The Chair takes the amendment under advisement for the time being and will return to the House shortly with a decision.

Drinking Water Materials Safety ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin the debate on behalf of the New Democratic Party on Bill C-14, known as the drinking water materials safety act.

On first blush and at face value, one would perhaps immediately jump to the opportunity of giving this bill our enthusiastic support. If one looks at and reads through the background material that the Minister of Health has provided on Bill C-14 we read the following:

Some drinking water materials may contaminate drinking water, for example by leaching lead or by failing to destroy or remove micro-organisms. This could put the health of Canadians at risk. Currently, only 30% of product models of components and devices sold in Canada are certified to accepted North American health based standards on a voluntary basis.

There is not a person in this House I am sure who is not interested in this government's assuring all Canadians that the water we drink is safe and free from any toxins, contaminants or poisonings. There is not a person in this House I am sure who would not be interested in this government's guaranteeing every Canadian that the water we drink, the food we eat, the air we breathe and the drugs we must take for medical reasons are safe at all times.

It would be so much easier to address this bill and give it wholehearted support and endorsement if we knew that was the kind of framework from which this government was operating and if we knew that there was a philosophical commitment to providing measures that would guarantee that the products we intake are safe at all times.

There is no question about the need in this country for a very tough regulatory, proactive position on the part of the government on such fundamental issues that pertain to the health and well-being of every Canadian.

In that context, we have a great deal of difficulty trying to place this bill in the broader context and trying to understand its motives, its purpose and what it is attempting to accomplish. On every other front we are seeing the opposite. We are faced with a government that is rapidly moving out of regulatory approaches. It is rapidly seeking ways to privatize areas once assumed to be areas for government intervention. We are seeing a government increasingly tied to the demands of transnational corporations on a global scale.

I only have to go back as far as question period today when we raised a very important issue pertaining to lead poisoning. Lead poisoning is found in a great number of children's toys and vinyl products on the market today.

I remind members in this House of the kind of actions we have seen, or lack thereof, from this government on such an important issue.

Let me put it in context. We had findings previously unveiled by Greenpeace about high lead content and high cadmium content in a number of children's toys and products.

The government, the Minister of Health and Health Canada all agreed that this was an issue worth exploring and proceeded to do their own studies of high lead content in products that end up causing serious neurological disorders when that poisoning enters the body.

The government released its findings a short while ago and verified that there is a very high lead content in a number of those products. In fact, it demonstrated that the lead content and the cadmium content in a good number of those products was even higher than the findings of Greenpeace.

That was acknowledged but the key point to it all and why this is so relevant to a debate on water and the safety of water materials present in our society today is that this government then said “Yes, the levels are high. Yes, they exceed Health Canada's standards but there is no risk to children in our society today”.

What was the reason? Something to do with the fact that unlike the miniblind issue, these products were not necessarily subject to high heat intensity or to sunlight and therefore were not going to release that lead poisoning. Never mind the fact that there was a level of poisoning that far exceeded Health Canada's standards to begin with.

My question today is where does this legislation come from? What is it intending to achieve? What regulatory framework does it fit into? How firm is this government in meeting its current obligations never mind pursuing any other standards or any other regulatory approaches?

Do we not have a critical situation now in Health Canada in all those areas I have mentioned: drugs, food, water and air? We have a government that is in the middle of very quietly moving toward a privatized deregulated approach seeking to reduce its liability. Those are the words right out of the departmental document outlining the full intentions of this government.

What is the result of that approach? We have lost a valuable research bureau on drugs. We no longer have an independent body in this country for assessing the impact of certain drugs allowed into this country and their interaction with other drugs, their interaction with foods, their interaction with environmental toxins.

Come on, a regulatory body of utmost importance has vanished. Costing what? $2 million to $3 million. That is what this government is saving by ridding this country of one of the most important regulatory bodies that we have in the whole drug field.

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5 p.m.


Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This is a very important debate. We are talking about the federal intrusion of provincial jurisdiction and I do not see a quorum here. In fact, I even have trouble seeing the government sitting in this House to hear this debate.

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5 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I do not see a quorum. Perhaps I should ring the bells. Call in the members.

And the bells having rung