Mr. Speaker, as I am the first member of my party to speak to this bill, I will speak for the 40 minutes accorded me.
To talk on such a vast and interesting topic, I would need more than 40 minutes, but I will not invoke the Standing Orders of this House to seek unanimous consent to speak longer. I will try to limit myself to the 40 minutes allotted me.
Mr. Speaker, as you are considerate toward members, I would ask you to let me know when I have only five minutes left, as is the practice in this House.
First off, perhaps some of my colleagues opposite or elsewhere in this House are wondering why the Bloc Quebecois transport critic is speaking to a bill concerning major amendments to the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. The reason is quite simple. It is not just because I am a lawyer by training, but this bill contains a provision we find very interesting.
Without making any assumption about our party's position at third reading, I will say right off that this bill can be improved. We intend to make certain amendments in committee, which we believe will hold the government's attention and that of all the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Let me begin by discussing the general provisions of this bill, before getting to the one which is of particular interest to me.
This bill includes amendments to permit the operation of casinos on international cruise ships that are Canadian or in Canadian waters.
It also amends the Criminal Code to permit dice-games conducted and managed by a province. I am convinced that Loto-Québec will be very interested in that provision.
The bill also seeks to widen the scope of the offence of obtaining the services of a prostitute under eighteen years old.
It amends the Criminal Code to repeal the “year and a day rule” for offences involving homicide and criminal negligence causing death.
The bill modernizes the fraud and theft provisions in respect of valuable minerals.
It also modernizes the provisions concerning the offence of making likenesses of bank-notes.
It ensures that only officials with law enforcement duties can execute search warrants.
It provides for the authority to remove lawfully-installed electronic surveillance devices.
It provides sentencing measures dealing with the consideration of outstanding charges, the offender's ability to pay a fine and addressing technical matters.
It provides rules governing when conditional sentences run following the breach of a condition.
It brings deceptive telemarketing offences against the Competition Act under the forfeiture provisions for the proceeds of crime.
Finally, it provides a number of other technical amendments.
The bill also provides for amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that deal with aggravating factors in sentencing and the criminal liability of law enforcement officers engaged in their duties.
And, finally, it provides for amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that exclude those convicted of organized-crime offences from eligibility for accelerated parole review.
Because Bill C-51 represents an important victory for the Bloc Quebecois with respect to the operation of casinos on international cruise ships, hence my remarks this afternoon, we support the bill in principle.
We feel, however, that the bill does not go far enough with respect to money laundering, particularly as it does not remove $1,000 bank notes from circulation. We know that our colleague, the hon. member for Charlesbourg, introduced a private member's bill about this.
Our party also believes that the bill will not prevent the distressing repetition of cases like that of Joseph Lagana, who was released from prison after serving only one-sixth of his sentence.
My colleague, the member for Berthier—Montcalm, will have an opportunity to take this up later on in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
To come back to the point that interests us, I ask the House to examine clause 7 of the bill, which would amend the act by adding the following after section 207 of the Criminal Code. I believe it is pertinent to read it:
207.1 (1) Despite any of the provisions of this Part relating to gaming and betting, it is lawful for the owner or operator of an international cruise ship, or their agent, to conduct, manage or operate and for any person to participate in a lottery scheme during a voyage on an international cruise ship when all of the following conditions are satisfied: a ) all the people participating in the lottery scheme are located on the ship; b ) the lottery scheme is not linked, by any means of communication, with any lottery scheme, betting, pool selling or pool system of betting located off the ship; c ) the lottery scheme is not operated within five nautical miles of a Canadian port at which the ship calls or is scheduled to call; and d ) the ship is registered
(i) in Canada and its entire voyage is scheduled to be outside Canada, or
(ii) anywhere, including Canada, and its voyage includes some scheduled voyaging within Canada and the voyage
(A) is of at least forty-eight hours duration and includes some voyaging in international waters and at least one non-Canadian port of call including the port at which the voyage begins or ends, and
(B) is not scheduled to disembark any passengers at a Canadian port who have embarked at another Canadian port, without calling on at least one non-Canadian port between the two Canadian ports.
I would start off by indicating that this clause suits the Bloc Quebecois for a number of reasons I shall try to explain. It is also supported unanimously by the greater Quebec City regional community. I will have the opportunity later to refer to certain stakeholders who have supported certain actions by the Bloc Quebecois in the Quebec City region culminating in what we have before us now, Bill C-51.
I would like to return to one point, and I think it would be appropriate to do so. Our party, the Bloc Quebecois, had introduced private members' bills on behalf of the regional team of Bloc Quebecois MPs. I refer to Bill C-415, an act to amend the Criminal Code (gaming and betting), which I have introduced. I think it would be relevant to see to what extent the government listened to what the Bloc Quebecois was calling for.
In the latest election campaign, and in the one held in 1993, some people wondered—and it was often our neighbours opposite, when we met them in all party debates—what the Bloc was doing there. There were even some simple-minded plays on words to the effect that the Prime Minister was serving us or that the Progressive Conservative leader, Jean Charest, was serving us. It was said that the Bloc Quebecois would block the system. A very intellectual remark.
We had, and we still have, a role to play. The victory we gained because the government listened to our voice on this amendment to the Criminal Code shows very clearly that members of the Bloc Quebecois, who represent 60% of the ridings in Quebec, play an important role in the defence of Quebec's interests.
Therefore, by introducing Bill C-415, I sought to amend the Criminal Code to make it possible for someone on an international cruise ship in Canadian waters to set up and operate a prescribed casino for the passengers on that ship under certain conditions. The bill also provides that a passenger on such a ship may enter such a casino and engage in gaming and betting.
I will not refer to the amendment to section 207.1 of the Criminal Code that I was proposing, but I will remind the House that I had proposed the casino close one hour before the ship called at a Canadian port. The government preferred to have the casino close five nautical miles before the ship called at a Canadian port. We have no problem there. I will have to ask my friends who are pilots on the lower St. Lawrence what an hour is in nautical miles.
Members will recall that in another parliament, the Bloc Quebecois introduced another private member's bill, which unfortunately died on the Order Paper with the election call on June 2, 1997.
I must take a few minutes to speak about the antiquated private members' bill procedure, inherited from the British parliamentary system, just as your function as speaker and ours as members of parliament were. There is this procedure for private members' bills, commonly known as private bills.
The procedure for selecting private members' bills to be debated in this House is totally archaic. This is incredible, when the year 2000 is almost upon us.
We are on the eve of a new century, a new millennium. Yet, we are still using the archaic procedure consisting basically in picking the name of the member whose bill shall be debated out of a hat. You did hear correctly, Mr. Speaker, out of a hat. I noticed you almost fell out of your chair, but I can see you are sitting back comfortably now.
Members' names are put in a hat and bills are picked at random. This is a monumental aberration. I think that, on the eve of the new millennium, we should be able to find a different method for selecting private members' bills. By definition, a private member's bill has been drafted by a member of parliament democratically elected by his constituents, regardless of his or her political affiliation.
I greatly value parliamentary work and I have respect for all my colleagues from both sides of the House. Every one of us has a legitimate right to sit here. We have all been democratically elected to this place. No one in Canada had a gun to their head when they voted. No one voted under the threat of machine guns. That is democracy.
That is why, every opportunity I have, whether in this House or in committee, I ask that our fellow citizens' wish to have us represent them to the best of our abilities be respected.
We are not perfect. And no member can claim to have a magic wand and to be able to perform miracles. We do our best and have strong beliefs. I am asking our fellow members of Parliament to respect us as individuals. There is no ambiguity about the Bloc Quebecois' role: we are here to promote Quebec's sovereignty, to show that the federal system does not work, and to protect the interests of Quebec.
We were elected in a fair manner. Considering that 60% of the ridings in Quebec are represented by Bloc Quebecois members, I think everybody should accept the results of the democratic vote.
Having said that, I want to ask you something, Mr. Speaker, since you are an active and well-known jurist in the region of Kingston and the Islands. I would like you to seriously think about how to improve the selection process of private members' bills. I am asking you to do that, and I do hope to hear from you on this issue.
To allow the operation of casinos on cruise ships was one of the issues on the electoral platform of the regional caucus of the Bloc Quebecois, before the June 2, 1997 election. The hon. member for Quebec, who is sitting here and who chairs our eight-member regional caucus, remembers very well that we got together and consulted various stakeholders and groups in the greater Quebec City area. We gained some experience as a regional caucus during the previous Parliament.
This had given us an opportunity, since 1993, to regularly meet with various people and groups. Proposing an amendment to the Criminal Code, so as to permit the operation of casinos on international cruise ships, was an integral part of our regional electoral platform. That is why people in the greater Quebec City area are glad that the Criminal Code will be amended after the various stages required in the House of Commons so that this irritant can be eliminated.
I think it would be appropriate to take a few minutes to explain what the particular problem was. The configuration of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence River affected international cruise ships, most of which operate casinos, which are one of the activities offered on cruises, as well as a lucrative source of income for ship owners.
We met with ship owners like those of the Holland America company on the MS Veemdam when it first put in at Quebec City. Two years ago, in September, the MS Westerdam of the same company also stopped over in Quebec City.
Ship owners told us that, if they could operate casinos on board, a lot more ships would choose the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes system for a stopover. As well, ships that already come here, could do so more often. This would develop many more stopovers.
Most of these ships have American passengers. The people listening to us are aware that the dollar went through a terrible crisis this summer, while the government sat back and did nothing. When it dropped as low as 61 or 62 cents, the Prime Minister said that this was not serious, that it would encourage tourists to visit the beaches of New Brunswick. He was more worried about his golf game, and kept his eye on the ball more than on the falling dollar.
Be that as it may, given the state of our dollar, we know that a great many American cruise ship passengers are heading for the splendour of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and its river and the Great Lakes. Naturally, these are boats whose depth and width permit them to pass through the locks.
The ship owners told us: “If we could operate our casinos until an hour before we land, that would add considerably to the port traffic, not only at Quebec City but also at Trois-Rivières and Montreal, and for certain ships, as far inland as Thunder Bay.
This is why the Liberal member for Thunder Bay, had already indicated to me when we sat on the Standing Committee on Transport that he approved of the private member's bill I had introduced.
Because of the particular geography of the St. Lawrence, the limit of international waters fell more or less off Anticosti Island. Those who know their geography are aware that a cruise ship had to close its casino when it was off Anticosti, when it entered Canadian waters. The first landing was only at Quebec City, two days later, so there was a two-day period when the casino could not open. Passengers complained, and the St. Lawrence—Great Lakes route suffered considerably as a result.
On the other hand, I would point out that the port of Halifax does not experience the same problem, nor does Vancouver. Once a ship has left English Bay, it is in international waters almost immediately. Only an hour after the ship has left port, passengers can start gambling again, because they are already in international waters.
We say: let us amend the Criminal Code. Loto-Quebec, among others, supported the Bloc Quebecois in this regard, as did the Quebec ministry of tourism. They did not see any threat to the operation of provincial casinos because ship passengers are a captive clientele.
Certainly, when the ship docks, the ship operator must, of course, close down the casino. We have no problem with that. That is perfectly normal.
I mentioned earlier that this bill had the unanimous approval of the region's stakeholders. I will name some of the organizations that supported the Bloc Quebecois' position in asking the government for an amendment to the Criminal Code to allow casinos to operate on cruise ships.
There is the Quebec City Region Tourist and Convention Bureau, the Secrétariat à la mise en valeur du Saint-Laurent, the Corporation of the Lower St. Lawrence Pilots, the Coopérative des artisans et des commerçants du quartier Petit Champlain, the Association des gens d'affaires de Place-Royale, the Quebec ministry of tourism, Loto-Québec, the Société de développement économique du Québec known as SODES, the City of Quebec, the Quebec Urban Community and the Port of Quebec.
I think it would be relevant for me to quote, for your personal edification, a letter signed by the chairman of the Quebec Urban Community, Denis Giguère, who is the mayor of Loretteville, I believe, and who wrote to the Minister of Justice on April 20, 1998. He said this:
Subject: Changes to the Criminal Code—authorization of casinos on the St. Lawrence
Over the past two years, the council of the Quebec Urban Community has tried on a number of occasions to make your predecessor aware of the importance of changing the Criminal Code to permit the rapid growth of the international cruise industry on the St. Lawrence and in eastern Canada. I have appended the letters sent to him and to your colleagues in the federal government.
On a number of occasions, it was rumoured in the media that the federal government was prepared to act on this issue and that the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code would be up for debate before the House of Commons in the near future. Unfortunately, nothing came of it, and no progress has been made on this issue. Several stakeholders suggested the reason for this delay was the lack of consensus among those in the tourist industry who are closely associated with development of the cruise ship industry. I do not think so.
That is Mr. Giguère, the president of the Quebec Urban Community, speaking.
On the contrary, this is a booming industry, and all of eastern Canada is benefiting from the spinoffs generated in our regional and provincial economies.
I am therefore asking once again, Madam Minister, that the federal government look into this matter as soon as possible and take appropriate action.
Thank you for your attention. Sincerely,
And it is signed “Denis Giguère, President of the Quebec Urban Community”. We received a copy of this letter.
I think that tourism industry stakeholders in the greater Quebec City area clearly supported our position, as confirmed by the government in agreeing to amend the Criminal Code.
My statement about the Quebec port authority supporting our approach is backed by an article published in Le Soleil on Saturday, April 25, 1998. The managing director of the port de Québec, Ross Gaudreault, held a press conference and the related article can be summed up as follows:
Quebec City appears to be on its way to becoming a choice port of call for cruise ships. A growing number of passenger liners berth at Quebec City earlier and earlier in the season—
This fact prompted the managing director of the port de Québec, Ross Gaudreault, to say:
—that the coming years should see a significant increase in the number of passengers stopping over in the old capital.
The article went on to say:
When cruise ships stop over, they generate very important economic benefits for the City of Quebec. This year, it is estimated that 45,000 passengers will visit Quebec City and will spend approximately $110 US each, not to mention crew members and the expenditures related to the ships themselves. In 1997, the economies of the Province of Quebec and of Quebec City benefited to the tune of approximately $5.9 million.
And I will stop here.
I wanted to explain why this Criminal Code amendment was so important for economic development. This bill effectively removes an irritant, and I think that the region will now be able to play its leadership role unimpeded and will be represented at conferences.
Every year in March, a major North American conference is held in Miami at which cruise lines decide on their destinations for the coming years. The Port of Quebec spokespersons, SODES or the various stakeholders representing the greater Quebec City area will be able to tell the cruise lines and ship owners that the irritant of not being able to operate casinos has now been removed by an amendment to the Criminal Code.
I do not want to go on too long, because I want to leave time for other colleagues to speak as well, but I will mention that we raised this issue again with the Minister of Justice in a letter we sent her on May 21.
On June 8, my colleague, the member for Québec, and I held a press conference attended by various regional stakeholders. And on June 9, we questioned the Minister of Justice in the House as follows: “In order to remove this obstacle to the expansion of the international cruise industry for once and for all, will the minister agree to take action and immediately introduce the required Criminal Code amendments, so that cruise ships can operate casinos in the Gulf of St. Lawrence?”
The minister's response was a very simple one. On June 11, she tabled this omnibus bill, which contained a provision that would allow casinos on cruise ships.
I would ask in closing: why is it important for the greater Quebec City region to obtain this amendment? We are convinced that the government will listen to this request because it is something on which unanimity can be readily obtained.
I found the 1996 statistics on the traffic at the port of Vancouver in my files. As I have already pointed out, we know Vancouver does not have a problem. As soon as the cruise ship leaves English Bay, within an hour it can open up its casino again. From our experience on several transport committees, we know what a boom there has been in recent years with the Alaskan cruises. When their passengers visit ports of call, they leave money behind in the economy, including that of greater Vancouver.
I will give some figures for the number of cruise passengers visiting the port of Vancouver in 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1996. In 1992, there were 449,239 passengers; in 1994, the figure had gone up to 591,409, and in 1996, 701,547. According to all the economic studies, they contribute a lot when they come ashore. Let us not forget that these are people who are rather well off.
Last week, the Vision of the Sea , the biggest cruise ship in the world, docked at the port of Quebec. It carries 2,400 passengers who pay some $10,000 US for a week's cruise. We must point out that these are not cruises within the reach of the ordinary American. The passengers are people well enough off to be able to afford $10,000 US for a week's cruise. When the cruise ship is in port and these passengers are wandering around on foot exploring the city, they each leave behind between $110 and $150 US.
If Vancouver had 701,547 such visitors in 1996, one can just imagine what that represents. I will get the numbers for 1997, but they were significantly higher. Unless I am mistaken, they were close to 900,000. I do not want to give the wrong numbers. I will get back to this if I have the opportunity to take part in the debate at third reading.
It is important for the economic development of a large region, particularly since the Quebec City region is positioning itself for a new type of cruises. Indeed, the Board of Trade and Industry of the Metropolitan Quebec is proposing to promote northern luxury and ecotourist cruises. Quebec City would become the regional boarding port for cruises along the Labrador coast, and perhaps even all the way up to Greenland.
Again, this could lead to some very interesting economic spinoffs, once this irritant is removed and it becomes possible to operate casinos in international waters.
I am pleased to have had this opportunity to address the bill. Members may can rest assured that we will be vigilant during the next stages of this legislation, and the hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm will be on the lookout during the discussions in committee.
While we do not oppose the principle underlying Bill C-51, we will still move amendments through our critic on justice issues, the hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm. We do hope the government will be receptive to our recommendations.