House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was area.


Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member from the fabulous riding of St. John's West. I would like to discuss today the intent of the Government of Canada with this piece of legislation. Preserving our natural legacy and national heritage on land is fundamentally important, as are maintaining and preserving the biodiversity that we have in our oceans. We can concur that those are noble objectives that Canadians support from coast to coast to coast.

I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that you have had the same situation in your caucus as we have had in our caucus. There are always divergent opinions each and every time a piece of legislation comes forward that relates to environmental protection, the preservation of the fisheries, natural resources or agriculture. There are concerns about trying to find an appropriate balance by ensuring that we protect our environment and natural heritage.

This is the third attempt that the Government of Canada has made to bring forth a bill with respect to preserving our natural heritage through the creation of marine conservation regions. The government brought the bill forward in the past. However each time it called a premature election a bill that it said was of fundamental importance died on the order paper. This took place leading up to the election in June 1997 and again last November 2000.

The bill would give the Government of Canada the capacity to declare marine conservation regions. It also has an obligation beyond a mere declaration to consult. Stakeholders may be concerned about a particular region being chosen, as it may have an economic cost with respect to offshore development of oil and gas or it may relate to the preservation of a viable fishery. Members of parliament are only representing their constituents when they flag those concerns.

There is a consultative process in the bill where stakeholders would be asked to make a contribution when the establishment of a marine conservation region was being considered. It must respect the interventions of the provinces. They should be taken seriously. Those consultations must be substantive in nature and not merely lip service.

Given that a consultative process is in the bill I am comfortable with it, but I am sending a signal to the Government of Canada in that regard. It is getting the support of members of parliament on this side based on the aspect that a consultative process with stakeholders will be taken seriously.

Individuals concerned about a marine conservation region being selected should be aware there are permanent provisions in the bill where the minister can permit activities to take place in conservation regions which take socioeconomic implications into play. Enabling the Government of Canada to establish marine conservation regions is positive.

I would wager we would be having the same kind of tug and pull debate if we had absolutely no national parks in Canada today and we had a government bill put forward to enable the Government of Canada to establish national parks in certain regions. Canadians are proud of the natural heritage in our national parks. It is something they embrace and actually signal to be a centre of their own identity.

As a member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada I would like to highlight that our party is the founding party of this nation in terms of the spirit of Cartier and Macdonald, but it was Sir John A. Macdonald who established the first national park in Canada. It is in that spirit that I support Bill C-10.

I have concerns about the Government of Canada ensuring that the consultative process is genuine, sincere, comprehensive and taken into account. There are members of parliament who represent regions with broader fisheries and oil and gas issues who will have different levels of concerns. Maintaining our biodiversity whether on land or at sea is something that Canadians embrace. They want to celebrate it. However there are concerns that must be taken into consideration and we want to make sure that the Government of Canada does just that.

It will be our role in the opposition context during the next three years to ensure the government respects the consultative process. When we are on the other side of the aisle I trust that the Liberal Party of Canada will have the same capacity if we were to exercise that enabling capacity.

I enjoyed the commentary from both sides of the House. Usually my speeches do not derive that amount of passion. I hope I did not offend any member, particularly the member for Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot or the member for Lac-Saint-Louis. I was very happy for their ongoing commentary on my earlier speech.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:55 p.m.

Leeds—Grenville Ontario


Joe Jordan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among House leaders and I believe if you were to seek it that you would find support for the following motion. I move:

That the Special Committee on non-medical use of drugs be authorized to broadcast its proceedings and to travel to Montreal and Vancouver.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. parliamentary secretary have unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:55 p.m.

Some hon. members


Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:55 p.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-10, an act respecting the national marine conservation areas of Canada, be read the third time and passed; and of the amendment.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the question I would like to ask my colleague is quite simple. The Bloc Quebecois had moved an amendment, and I take this opportunity to read it:

(d) if a provincial legislature has passed legislation for the protection of marine areas, the federal government must negotiate with that province an agreement enabling that government to establish a marine conservation area within the province.

Was the amendment moved by the Bloc Quebecois acceptable to him?

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to clarify what I believe the hon. member is saying, which is that if a provincial law has been established and is in place that is equitable in nature then the federal law need not apply. I think that is the intent of the amendment.

I do not know if the hon. member knows that I serve as the environment critic for the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. The approach we have tried to take in terms of establishing a safety net, a protection, in provincial laws and federal laws is to ensure that we respect the capacities of provincial or territorial legislatures to write their own laws in that regard. If there is a law in place that is equivalent in nature and protects species at risk, the provincial law should apply and the federal law should not apply. That is the approach which we have taken in areas where there could be potentially shared jurisdiction.

With regard to marine issues, principally when we look at sections 35 and 36 of the Fisheries Act, that aspect is exclusively the domain of the federal government. Those two particular aspects of law have been enshrined in the constitution since 1867. In this case, preservation of marine conservation areas is in the domain of the federal government. It is my view that we can take into account the initiative brought forth by a provincial government but categorically this would be in the domain of the federal government.

However, in regard to the spirit of what the hon. member wants to advocate I want to assure the hon. member that the Progressive Conservative Party has always been very respectful of provincial rights and jurisdiction and very respectful of the specific nature of the province of Quebec and its capacity to assert its own responsibilities. Of course we would agree with that kind of approach in general, but not in this circumstance since the law of 1867 that has been in place in the Fisheries Act in sections 35 and 36.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Fundy--Royal for sharing his time with me. I have some very grave concerns about the legislation. I sat on the heritage committee for quite some time while we debated the legislation and made known my concerns during that time. The amendments that have been made recently, the small changes to the bill, have not done much to alleviate those concerns and in fact as presently constituted I can in no way support such a piece of legislation. Hopefully by the time the final vote comes some of the concerns we raised will have been addressed.

I certainly am not against conservation or protection of our resource. Coming from the great province of Newfoundland and Labrador, I have seen what a lack of concern about our environment and protecting our resources led to, especially in relation to the complete collapse of our northern cod stocks, the reduction of many more of our fish stocks and of course a depletion of our resources generally. It happened without any great amount of management control or perhaps concern and that certainly has to stop.

However, my concern with the present legislation is not that it is intended to protect and preserve. I praise these elements. It is how the preserving and protecting take place that concerns me.

During the hearings on the bill in committee we had a number of groups and agencies appear. However, and I am not sure whether it was by design, by government invitation or whatever, most of the groups and agencies that appeared before our committee were very strong supporters of the environment and of protecting our environment. I suppose we could use the term environmentalists.

Very few people appearing were those who try to eke a living from that very same environment and know what government control can do to their ability to do so. One individual stands out, Ovide Mercredi, who is a political adviser now to the first nations, I believe, and a former chief. He made some very pertinent comments which showed the concern that a lot of his people have in relation to the effect legislation such as this could have on people who earn their living in marine environments. That is certainly where I am coming from.

There are two agencies that I think should be extremely concerned, one being the minister of fisheries and his department. Who controls the ocean? That is a question that has to be settled. Right now we have three ministers who have a fair amount of say. We have the Minister of the Environment, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, who will have, if this legislation is approved, a tremendous amount of say in relation to these zones, and we have the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. We wonder what role he plays in it all when really he should be the one who has complete and utter control over everything that happens once we get our feet wet in an ocean. Until we get his jurisdiction clear and the powers vested where they should be, we will have a tremendous amount of concern and duplication.

The other agencies that should be concerned are the provincial governments, because I believe that in this case, like some of my colleagues from the Bloc have already stated, the provinces are being bypassed. Their powers are being eroded. They are to be consulted, the same as other groups listed.

One of the groups missing from the list spelled out in the bill is the group “fishermen” We talk about aboriginal people and community groups and what have you. The people who will be most affected by the establishment of marine conservation zones are fishermen, or fisherpersons, perhaps, if one wants to be politically correct. They are not even listed as groups to be consulted. I know some may say they are rolled in with the others, but surely a group like that is important enough to be highlighted.

Provincial governments, community groups, first nations groups and fishermen, whether or not they are included, must be consulted, but we all know what federal consultation means. It does not mean that their concerns will be listened to. Our concerns in committee were certainly not listened to. The concerns of the Bloc were not listened to. The concerns of the NDP were not listened to. The concerns of the CA were not listened to. That was because the minister wants to ram through a piece of legislation that has been around so long it is becoming an embarrassment.

It is becoming an embarrassment because the government would not listen to people who want the legislation as bad or worse than the government does, but they want legislation that is good legislation for everyone in the country. They want legislation that will protect the people who live in these environments. I appreciate and respect the views of someone who is in the heart of Toronto and feels we should preserve our marine environment, but I more fully appreciate the fellow who is sitting in Badger's Quay knowing that he has to make a living from that very environment.

I have also seen the evolution of the development of our resources from the marine environment. We started by catching the fish that swam, then we moved to the crustaceans that crawled and then we started mining liquid minerals, oil and gas.

Some day down the road, in the not too distant future in fact, we will probably be mining hard minerals from under the ocean floor. Whether we should or should not do it might be another argument, but if we are to sustain the population of the country there is only one way to do it and that is to develop our resources. We cannot do it if our hands are tied by legislation, by an act which tells the minister that she can create new zones wherever she wants, that she has to consult but she does not have to listen, that if the property is in dispute it does not matter because the bill can make sure she gets jurisdiction over it, and that if she wants to enlarge it she can through governor in council. However if someone wants to reduce it, it cannot be done.

Consequently, it is not a good piece of legislation. We must get it back to the drawing board and get the proper jurisdictions involved so that a uncaring government, and I am not necessarily saying this government is uncaring but I am sure I would get arguments on that statement, or a minister who wants to ride roughshod over an area in the country cannot do so. The bill would give that minister or that government every power to do so. Consequently, the people who are to be consulted now should have some definite say and should have some veto rights. Certainly the provinces and affected individuals and agencies within the area should.

I know there can be objections. People say that in Newfoundland such a zone was to be put in such and the people said no and the government backed away. It took a lot of hard work and sweat before the government was made to back away. Next time around, with heavier legislation, it may not back away.

I would support legislation to the effect of preserving our environment, our marine life, our scenery, our history, our culture and everything else, but it has to be good legislation. Until this legislation is changed I will certainly not be able to support it.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Andy Burton Canadian Alliance Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly congratulate my colleague for his comments. I think they were very appropriate and I certainly share a lot of his concerns.

He mentioned the consultation process not necessarily being a listening process. That is a huge concern. I wonder if he could expand on that and give us a few more of his concerns about the committee level and his feelings on consulting but not listening.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, the question is one that gets to the crux of the problem most of the parties find with the legislation.

As we read the legislation we see the words “must consult”. Must sounds like a very strong word but the minister has to consult. It means that the minister can ask what people would think of the government creating a marine conservation zone in their fishing area. When everybody says no it cannot do that, the minister can say he consulted and that is all he had to do. That is all the legislation asks him to do. That is too dangerous. I have seen too many people use that before.

There should be proper consultation and a reasonable right to veto. We cannot say no for the sake of saying no. There may be many areas of the country where everybody, even with just the consultation process, would support the creation of a marine conservation zone. It is too dangerous to give the minister power to run roughshod with the word consult without having to act upon the objections put forth or address the concerns raised in that consultation process.

If the committee and the House had listened to the concerns raised by the members of the committee and here in the House, the legislation could be changed, brought back and, I would think, approved by everybody here.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

M. Speaker, my question for my colleague from St. John's West will be simple.

The government has introduces a bill entitled an act respecting the national marine conservation areas of Canada. This really is all about marine conservation areas. Conservation of flora and fauna is part of environmental protection. The environment, under the constitution and all Canadian constitutional documents, is a shared jurisdiction.

Does my colleague not think that, if this is a shared jurisdiction, the government should have an agreement with the provinces that have also decided to pass legislation on the protection of marine areas? Does he not consider that there should be an agreement between the federal government and the provinces that have such legislation on conservation? I am talking about an agreement and not only consultation.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I certainly agree. Over the years, particularly I would think with the present government more so than any others in the past, there has been severe erosion of shared jurisdiction between the federal government and the provincial government.

Certainly in relation to our own province, I am personally seeing an erosion of provincial control especially as it relates to our resources generally, whether it be our marine resources, our marine areas or the resources within our province. We seem to have less and less say in what happens. We seem to get fewer and fewer benefits from the development. Unless the province agrees with such things, not being consulted but agrees to such development, such development should not occur.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, again I am honoured to stand in my place and enter into what I believe is a very important debate on Bill C-10.

This is an environmental bill. As people who have been paying attention all day know, it has to do with marine areas. We are speaking of water and the land underneath water bodies. The purpose of the bill is to establish some of these areas as being protected in a similar way to our national parks on land.

I begin my intervention today by expressing a bit of sadness at the stereotyping which has occurred in many instances regarding members of our party. We have been characterized in various ways. The generalizations that have been made from time to time by various members of the governing party are very offensive. I think particularly of during the election campaign when the minister of immigration made very scurrilous remarks regarding all and any members of our party, attributes and characteristics that just were not true. It was done very flippantly and was designed to have an electoral effect. I was very offended by that.

The same thing has happened with respect to environmentalism. There is a myth that if one is a fiscal conservative, if one is a social conservative, then by definition one does not give a hoot about other people or about the environment. Both of those statements are patently false.

I did not run as a member of parliament for any reason other than the fact that I care about people. I care about our country. I care about our future. I care about our environment. To be characterized, as we are from time to time, as being opposite to this is very unfair, inaccurate and does not give proper respect to members of parliament on this side of the House who have deep concerns in these areas.

I have mentioned before that I have taken the opportunity to do what I could to preserve the environment. Some members may have heard me relate some of these things before. I used to ride a bicycle to work. Members may think that would be quite a sight, a guy my size riding a bicycle, but I did it before it was fashionable to do so. When I first started riding my bicycle to work a number of years ago, there were no bike racks on the campus where I worked. I had to park my bicycle up against a power pole and lock it with a chain so that some vandal would not take my method of transportation.

I always felt very good about that. I was saving money. With the huge taxes we were paying I had to do everything I could in order to provide for my family. But I was also reducing the amount of pollution and the use of the non-renewable resources in our country.

That is one example which shows that I am an environmentalist. I believe in preserving a healthy and safe environment for future generations and for our present generation, not only for Canadians but for inhabitants right around the world.

All my life I have driven energy efficient vehicles. I should not say that; I had a few vehicles that were guzzlers way back. I have driven the little econoboxes that yield much less pollution and are very preservative of the non-renewable resources because they are very small and practical. I drove a motorcycle for a while which gave me 100 miles per gallon for the same reason.

I say that in preamble simply to say that I do believe very much in conservation and in the care of our environment.

Bill C-10 proposes to preserve both the cultural and the environmental attributes of some of our water resources. It is a marine conservation bill and the bill is designed to actually set up and enforce rules governing that. The preamble states:

to provide opportunities for the people of Canada and of the world to appreciate and enjoy Canada's natural and cultural marine heritage,

I accept that as a purpose. I sometimes wonder why the bill has been sponsored by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, whose record in this regard is less than stellar. I think of some of the land parks in Canada where many attempts have been made not to educate and help people enjoy the environment there, but actually to exclude them from it.

Believe it or not, the government has used the club of high entrance fees to prevent ordinary citizens from enjoying our parks. Some of the entrance fees in our national parks are at the point where ordinary citizens, single earner families with three or four children and a tent in the back of the vehicle cannot afford to even go into the parks.

There is this phenomenon in Alberta where increasingly families are camping outside Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. Why? They cannot afford to enter the parks. It is too expensive. The costs per day are excessive. It is the government and its mismanagement and sometimes its misguided priorities that have driven the costs up in such an exorbitant fashion.

When I was a young man with a young family, we took vacation trips into the parks. It was affordable. We could not afford to stay in a hotel, but we could afford to camp and we did it. Now I look at similar families, including our own children who now have their children, our wonderful grandchildren, and they are finding it very challenging and difficult to stay in the park for more than a day or two at a time, simply because of the increase in fees.

Even though the preamble says that the reason is to provide these areas for the enjoyment of Canadians and people from around the world, it seems to me that hidden behind that wonderful sounding statement is the true objective of the government, which is to fleece Canadians who go into these areas and make it impossible for those with average or low incomes to enjoy them.

I will also say on the whole issue of establishing these parks that in principle it has merit. There are some people and perhaps even some businesses that would abuse our environment in pursuit of profit or other objectives. I have a problem when instead of sticking to that theme, the legislation before us differentiates between the groups of people who might want to make use of the designated area. We ought to make very sure that things are done equally and fairly for all Canadians.

I am speaking particularly of clause 2(2) in which there is special emphasis made that:

--nothing in this act shall be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from the protection provided for existing aboriginal or treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada by the recognition and affirmation of those rights in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

I appreciate that we are trying to be fair to the natives of our land, but we ought to be very careful, when we have rules and regulations which protect our environment and the enjoyment of these areas for future generations, that we not put into bills and acts clauses which would allow one portion of our population for whatever reason to be exempt from part of those regulations and laws which are passed for the benefit of us all.

Furthermore, I hope that our aboriginals would wish not to be excluded. I hope they too, and in general I believe they do, participate fully in conservation efforts. From time to time we hear, read and see on television examples of total disregard for true scientifically based conservation principles being applied by aboriginals.

I would ask the government that: first, it not make rules that exempt aboriginals; and, second, it appeal to the natives to willingly, forcefully and fully participate in the protection of our environment for the future. This means that they have to not only respect their culture, heritage and history, but they also must respect the scientific data which occasionally shows it is necessary to comply with certain prescribed behaviour to achieve that result.

I am looking at other parts of the act. When I scanned it, I saw some things that were rather significant to me. I took great interest in the administration section which begins at section 8. I will read the first few words of a few subsections in sections 8 to 11. They goes like this: subsection (1) says “The Minister is responsible”; subsection (2) says “The Minister has the administration”; subsection 3 says “The Minister may maintain and operate facilities”; and subsection (4) says “The Minister may enter agreements”.

Every phrase for about two and a half pages of the act begins with “The Minister may” or “The Minister shall”. I have a large concern about the degree to which we are reverting the control of these things to the minister without proper accountability. Obviously, the bill gives him the authority but there is no accountability. Some of these things I find expressly offensive.

It says for example:

The Minister shall consult with relevant federal and provincial ministers and agencies, with affected coastal communities, aboriginal organizations, aboriginal governments and bodies established under land claims agreements, and with other persons and bodies that the Minister considers appropriate...

Then it goes on to say of course that it has to do with the development and designation of the conservation area.

I have no problem with consultation, but too often we have just observed. I personally have observed over the last eight years that the government consults in name only.

It is a formality it goes through. I will put it this way. It is there but it does not hear. It listens but does not hear and does not act on what it hears.

It is regrettable that the clock says I need to quit because I am just on a roll and I am just really on the first part of the things that I wanted to speak about. I presume when this resumes I will be able to get the rest of my time.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The member will certainly have his time remaining. I believe it is approximately five minutes. We look forward to his follow up intervention.

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from September 20 consideration of the motion that Bill C-284, an act to amend the Criminal Code (offences by corporations, directors and officers), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to support Bill C-284 put forward by my colleague, the member for Churchill, an act to amend the Criminal Code of Canada concerning offences by corporations, directors and officers.

I also wish to acknowledge the great work done on this issue by my leader, the member for Halifax, and by the member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough.

This bill has been a long time coming before parliament and it has been known by many names: the corporate responsibility act; the workplace safety act; the corporate manslaughter act; and the corporate killing act. However, most people still call it by its original name, the Westray act.

People call this the Westray act in reference to the tragic Westray mine disaster in Stellarton, Nova Scotia. On that day in 1992, 26 miners died when a methane gas explosion tore through the Westray mine. Those 26 deaths, like so many deaths and injuries that occur in the workplace, could have been prevented were it not for the company management practices that deliberately and systematically refused to comply with health and safety regulations.

Mr. Justice Richard's inquest into the Westray mine disaster was very clear on this point: it was the wilful decision of the mine's manager to ignore and indeed encourage violations of safety regulations that led to the fatal gas explosion.

The miners tried to complain about the unsafe working conditions, but their complaints were ignored and they were threatened with dismissal unless they kept quiet.

I believe that it is time that we in this House finally complete our criminal law by making it a criminal offence for an employer or a manager to wilfully violate reasonable standards of conduct of safety or safety of workers in their care thus causing an employee's death.

It has always struck me as strange that in Canada people are allowed under the law to wilfully create the conditions that causes someone's death because of their status as a boss, director or manager. The current criminal code lets them escape responsibility for the safety of their employees. Why is that?

If we are negligent about the safety of our neighbour and cause their death we would be guilty of manslaughter. If we killed someone by driving drunk, the penalties are justifiably severe. If we cause death as a caregiver in a hospital we may be charged with murder. However, if a manager of a mine, who knows the mine is unsafe and keeps making decisions that keep it unsafe, sends employees into those unsafe conditions and 26 people die, no criminal liability exists in Canada. That is shocking.

Let us not be coy here. That is what is allowed under the law right now.

The case that is used most often when discussing this is the Westray explosion. However the Westray disaster is only the tip of the iceberg in Canada.

Every day Canadians are injured or killed on the job. Every day these accidents happen because the employer refuses to create a workplace that is safe. Every day Canadians are killed because the boss will not pay an extra buck to make sure that safety is in place. Every day our criminal code lets this happen without punishment. Our job as parliamentarians is to stop this fundamental injustice.

I would like to take a minute to pay tribute to an individual who spent most of his life fighting for safe workplaces for working men and women. I am referring to former Canada Labour Congress vice president, Dick Martin, who passed away last week.

Dick started fighting for the rights of workers as a steelworker working for Inco in northern Manitoba. He fought tirelessly for better health and safety. He saw how many of his co-workers at Inco were injured through company or supervisory neglect. He was angry about the fact that thousands of workers were being injured or killed on the job and our nation failed to mourn or act.

Dick was instrumental in having this place declare April 28 as the national day of mourning for Canadians who have died at work. I am so happy that Dick was able to see us mourn for these unnecessary deaths. However I am sad that Dick is not here today to see us pass this bill, a bill that would act to prevent unnecessary workplace death. Dick would be here lobbying like crazy to see this one through.

It is difficult for me to understand why some are opposing the bill. After all it does have a noble and practical objective. Some oppose it because they believe there are jurisdictional problems. To them I say, pass the bill at second reading and we will fix any jurisdictional problems at committee. That is why we have a clause by clause process to look at legislation and to tighten up the technical details.

I wonder if that is the real reason. I would hate to think that anyone in this place would believe that a corporation or a boss should be above the law simply because of status. I hope that all members would condemn that notion.

I have heard from some who oppose the legislation. They believe workers in Canada are protected from dangerous workplaces and predatory actions from bosses because they can always refuse to work. That argument is basically that it is the victim's fault. That argument is not only immoral and offensive, it is also inaccurate.

If we look at what happened in Stellarton, the Westray example clearly shows that the argument is inaccurate. Westray mine was part of the Foord coal seam, a geological structure eloquently called a spider web of coal by Westray survivor Shaun Comish in his book A Miner's Story . As Sean pointed out, the Foord coal seam had already claimed the lives of 244 miners before the explosion in 1992.

Everyone, including the managers, knew that this seam was unstable with constant cave-ins, heavy build-up of explosive coal dust and very prone to methane build-ups. It was a disaster waiting to happen. However, to cut costs and to maximize profits, the safety of the miners was willingly compromised by the company and 26 miners were added to the list of victims at the Foord coal seam.

Why did they still go down in the hole when they knew it was unsafe? It is simple. They had to eat. They had to support their families. They had to pay their bills. That is what working people of Canada have always done. Even when they know their lives are in danger, they have worked.

Before I became a member of parliament, I was a playwright and I had the honour of writing a play called The Glace Bay Miners' Museum based on a story by a writer named Sheldon Currie. It is the story of a young woman who sees her father and brother, then later on her husband and her other brother die in the Glace Bay mines.

It is a wonderful story but much of it is this argument that goes on between two brothers, one named Neil. Neil believed that real men worked above the ground and were farmers or fishermen or played bagpipes. Real men would not crawl in the earth like worms.

The other brother believed instead that real men worked under the ground. He joined the union and worked for better health and safety conditions. He fought for better hours and better pay and to hold management accountable and make it pay for part of the risk that they were taking underground.

At the end of the story both went down in the mine and both were killed at the exact same instant. It is a very sad story, but it is more than just a story.

Thousands of people in Canada do very dangerous work because of necessity. They also do it because they bring massive resources to the surface or from the waters.

Yesterday there was a huge storm in Atlantic Canada. Meteorologists called it a perfect storm. Again it is one of those situations where workers find themselves in the middle of very dangerous situations. In that case they are the masters of their own fortune in that it is their boats and their gear. That is not the case when working for a mine. People are very dependent on management for their safety.

Parliament has a role to play right now and right here to ensure we protect the health and safety of our workers by making sure managers do not escape criminal liability for their actions. Make no mistake, by allowing corporations not to be responsible for killing their workers, we let those 26 miners to die.

In memory of these men and their families, we have the opportunity to correct this situation. We can make corporate directors, managers and supervisors know that they have a legal responsibility not to ignore safety for profit.

We can honour their memory by passing the bill. In doing so we honour the memory of John Bates; Larry Bell; Bennie Benoit, a grandfather; Wayne Conway; Ferris Dewan; Adonis Dollimont; Robert Doyle, only 22 years old; Remi Drolet; Roy Feltmate; Charles Fraser; Myles “Sparkie” Gillis; John Halloran; Randolph House; T.J. Jahn; Laurence James; Eugene Johnson; Stephen Lilley; Michael MacKay; Angus MacNeil; Glenn Martin; Harry McCallum; Eric McIsaac; George Munroe; Danny Poplar; Romeo Short; and Peter Vickers.

Their lives were cut short. They were fathers, grandfathers, husbands, lovers, brothers and friends. They were workers who died in a mine that management knew was unsafe. They are victims and the law failed them. Let us fix the law in their memory.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to address Bill C-284, an act to amend the criminal code, sponsored by my hon. colleague from Churchill.

The bill would amend the criminal code in order to introduce new provisions for corporate criminal liability. Bill C-284 originated in response to the horrible catastrophe that occurred at the Westray mine in Stellarton, Nova Scotia in 1992 in which 26 people, just named by my hon. colleague, were killed.

On May 9, 1992, all the miners in the Westray mine were killed following an explosion that could have been prevented. A commission of inquiry was established under Mr. Justice Richard of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. Mr. Justice Richard concluded that the miners were in no way responsible for the explosion but rather that safety conditions at the mine were at fault.

It was also revealed that the miners who worked at Westray had been attempting to reform their working conditions but to no avail. Their efforts were seemingly ignored by management, by regulators and by the government.

Justice Richard recommended that parliament introduce criminal code amendments to strengthen corporate criminal liability and to introduce a new offence of corporate killing.

Since that time there have been two legislative initiatives in this regard. Bill C-259, similar to the current bill, was introduced by the member for Halifax in the 36th parliament. The member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough later introduced a motion to bring forth similar legislation and the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights voted unanimously to act in accordance with the motion. The bill was introduced in this new parliament and we have it before us today.

Bill C-284 contains provisions that would have the effect of holding directors and officers of corporations criminally liable for the actions or omissions of the employees of a corporation. It would also hold directors and officers criminally liable for failing to provide a safe working environment for employees. Both the United Kingdom and Australia have embarked upon similar legislative provisions.

I will begin my assessment by stating that I believe in principle with the general intention of the bill in addressing the issue of negligence on the part of corporations in providing safe working conditions for employees. I believe all actors in society, including corporations and government agencies, act rationally in their own self-interest and that it therefore makes sense to craft laws that provide incentives to act in a manner that promotes the well-being of their employees and of their clients.

I do however have certain concerns with the bill in its current form. I believe we must tread very carefully in our legislative endeavours for fear that we may inadvertently alter our legal system in such a fashion as to provide a basis for criminal culpability without criminal intent, which would not be congruent with natural justice.

I believe firmly that in any case of criminal prosecution the person or persons absolutely responsible for any acts or omissions must be held accountable. Generally, however, the larger a corporation gets the more divorced the directors are from day to day operations and decision making by management. I do not mention this fact to deflect responsibility from these directors. I mention it in order that we may most accurately direct matters of investigation, responsibility and prevent potential culpability in order to ensure that the intended end of fewer workplace deaths is actually achieved.

Directors of corporations tend to deal with issues such as strategic marketing and profit margins, whereas middle management tends to deal with operations on the ground. Is it fair to say that the manager who oversees the safety conditions in the factory is not ultimately responsible for the safety conditions in the factory, whereas the director who spends his or her time studying pie charts relating to relative market share is culpable of corporate killing?

If corporate directors knew of the risks involved, as they did at Westray, then they should face penalties. If they did not, and could not reasonably be expected to do so, then no culpability can properly be assigned.

Our criminal code contains provisions for criminal negligence. Perhaps these need to be strengthened for there is no question that workplaces are responsible for the safe conduct of business. Should we go down a path that would automatically pursue company directors, even when they are entirely removed from day to day operations, in order to satisfy a need for quick blame and closure? I am hesitant to believe so.

Equally important, I find a great deficiency in the bill as it addresses private corporations while leaving Canada's largest and most impersonal institutions, that is to say, government departments and crown corporations, outside its reach. Let me offer an example.

Several years ago here in Ottawa an employee of the transit company, OC Transpo, walked into his workplace and opened fire at his colleagues. There were fatalities. The later investigation revealed that the abnormal behaviour of the person in question was reported on more than one occasion to staff supervisors but that they had failed to take action.

Surely that would be a textbook example of the kind of criminal culpability the bill seeks to create. However, under the proposed legislation, the fact that OC Transpo is publicly owned would exonerate its directors and managers and the politicians who oversee it. It seems incomprehensible to me that no one would be held criminally responsible, other than the shooter, for the simple reason that these events transpired in a public sector workplace rather than in the private sphere.

However I do think there is a need for such measures to be applied in a manner that creates liability for governmental and semi-governmental agencies so that they too can be prosecuted when they abuse their trust. This should certainly be so in cases that lead to needless deaths and, let me suggest, it should also be so in cases where the abuse of power leads to a loss of property or civil liberties.

One interesting example of how this was done can be drawn from the United States. Under a 1997 law, government agencies, such as the internal revenue service, now face severe financial penalties if they abuse their power in order to engage in malicious prosecution, when they conduct actions toward those who are in their care in bad faith, or when they otherwise violate their legal mandates. This law, which is known as the Hyde amendment, has been remarkably successful in reining in this notoriously abusive agency.

If such a law were to apply in Canada with regard to any gross abuses in the behaviour of governmental and semi-governmental agencies toward their employees, we might see some form of justice toward the victims of tragedies like the one that occurred at the OC Transpo sheds.

I wish to conclude by congratulating my colleague from Churchill. She is right to highlight the need for improved workplace safety. I say to my colleague, yes, the cause is just, but we must be careful not to create new injustices in our efforts to remedy existing ones.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to enter this debate, as I am well aware that this is a very difficult situation for the families involved, and surely one we should pause to consider.

I will be brief, this not being the first time we have to deal with this kind of legislation.

The member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough also put forward a motion that I want to repeat, because I believe it summarizes well the objectives sought by this House. The motion read as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the Criminal Code or other appropriate federal statutes should be amended in accordance with Recommendation 73 of the Province of Nova Scotia's Public Inquiry into the Westray disaster, specifically with the goal of ensuring that corporate executives and directors are held properly accountable for workplace safety.

It may seem extremely ironic that, in 2001, we have to discuss such considerations, because occupational accidents in mines, in literature and in people's imaginations are mostly associated with the 19th century.

It is extremely sad that, as legislators, we did not act, so that on the day of the tragedy, on May 9 1992, we realized that there was some sort of regulatory vacuum.

Concerning the matter being addressed today, section 220 of the criminal code deals with criminal negligence. There is also case law on this, and we are aware of the scope of section 220. The criminal code even has provisions whereby charges of involuntary homicide may be laid, that is second degree murder.

That is not what we are talking about today, however. We are talking about people with responsibility, people who own capital and the means of production, people with executive responsibilities who have been negligent in their moral, professional and civil responsibility to provide a safe working environment. That is what we are talking about.

In Quebec there is a point of reference. For a long time there were clearly identified areas—the primary sector was certainly one of them, manufacturing, textiles, clothing, footwear—with very difficult working conditions.

Quebec created a body called the Commission de santé et sécurité au travail. It was set up under a statute that had some real teeth, one that enabled the Quebec legislator, via the National Assembly and its various monitoring mechanisms, to intervene even when it only suspected a potential problem. The CSST is allowed to take preventive measures.

Debates such as this one are not good vehicles for partisan considerations, but I feel compelled to point out that we reviewed the Canada Labour Code in the House. So, we know that there is a labour code that applies to approximately 10% of the labour force.

When we reviewed the labour code, when the government introduced legislation—there are three parts to the Canada Labour Code—it was unfortunately fairly unconvinced by arguments made by the opposition parties, which were designed to remedy situations similar to the one we are discussing today.

It is hard to imagine that, in May 1992, people who were doing something that seemed so ordinary, something they did every day—getting up and going to earn a decent living to support their family, their wives and their children—would lose their lives.

Looking at what happened over the course of the events of May 1992, 26 persons lost their lives, all this again, because their workplace was unsafe. This is what we are discussing. We are not calling into question the capitalist system. We are not saying that there should not be any bosses, that they should not be able to have the means to produce and the capital. This is not what we are talking about.

The question that we must ask ourselves as members of parliament is this: Do we want workplace responsibility—which may be recognized by a court of justice, which may be sanctioned by a tribunal—to go so far as to include a provision in the criminal code stipulating that anyone not providing safe working conditions is committing an offence?

I believe that I can speak for my Bloc Quebec colleagues in saying that we will enthusiastically support the essence of such an amendment. Why will we do so? Because in itself speaking of negligence is not enough.

There was a commission of inquiry. After the events of 1992, the legislator made use of the provisions of the Public Inquiries Act of Nova Scotia. A magistrate was mandated to carry out an inquiry and the commission produced a very substantial report. The Richard Report contains hundreds of recommendations.

It is interesting, as an aid to our understanding of this phenomenon, to note that among the Nova Scotia statutes which could have been of some use in providing a safer environment for workers were the Mineral Resources Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and the Coal Mining Regulation Act.

The presence of existing legislative frameworks was not enough to ensure that the environment in which the 26 miners worked was free of threats and dangers. We have a duty to ensure that this never happens again.

So we are becoming aware of the inadequacy of the legislation and the regulatory framework, specifically with respect to the operation of mines. It must be remembered that warnings had been issued to the government of Nova Scotia. This brings home the responsibilities we have as parliamentarians. Sometimes, our role is preventive, but we also have a responsibility to remedy situations.

I must admit that I would find it really upsetting if we ended up with some parties in this House rejecting the hon. member's bill. Perhaps it can be improved on. When one drafts a private member's bill, one does not have access to the same resources as the Minister of Justice. Those who draft these bills work very efficiently and in good faith. In some cases their work is brilliant, but still we cannot compare the resources at the disposal of an opposition member with those of a minister.

Earlier, an hon. member suggested that the bill be improved in a parliamentary committee. This is a great idea. I am sure that all members in this House will agree that being able to improve a bill is a positive thing.

But I hope that the government, the official opposition and all the parties will rise to the occasion provided by the New Democratic Party and the sponsor of the bill. This legislation seeks to correct things. In conclusion, we must tighten the provisions of the criminal code so that no member of parliament, regardless of his political allegiance, will ever again have to rise in this House because workers have lost their lives.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 8th, 2001 / 5:55 p.m.

Waterloo—Wellington Ontario


Lynn Myers LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate with respect to Bill C-284. The bill is essentially the same as Bill C-259 in the last parliament. The only change is that the maximum fine has been doubled to $2 million.

The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights held a single day of hearings on the issue in the last parliament. No submissions were heard from the corporate sector, or from any experts in criminal law or for that matter the charter of rights and freedoms. There was no review of what was being done in other countries and no presentations were made with respect to specific legislation abroad.

The committee passed a motion that the criminal code or other appropriate federal statutes should be amended after consideration by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in accordance with recommendation 73 of the inquiry into the Westray disaster by the province of Nova Scotia. Given the brevity of the committee's hearing, it is understandable that it called for changes without specifying precisely what those changes should be.

The issue of corporate liability for criminal acts is complex and has been the subject of study by legislatures and courts for many years. There is no simple solution.

Attempts to reform the law in this area invariably require a great deal of study. In Britain the law commission began consulting on the law of manslaughter, including corporate responsibility for wrongful death in 1994. In May 2000, six years after the study began, the government accepted in principle the law commission's recommendation to create a new offence of corporate killing. It then proceeded to further consult on some points. No legislation has yet been introduced.

Australia passed new legislation dealing with corporate criminal liability in 1995, but the legislation was to come into force on proclamation or after five years to allow time to prepare for the changes. The process there began in 1987 with a report by experts reviewing the criminal law. The proposals were then studied by the standing committee of attorneys general and by the model criminal code officers committee.

We do not have to follow the approach taken in Australia or England in changing the law. We can make use of their experience and, more important, we can deal with a narrower question. What changes need to be made to make the criminal law reflect the reality of business in the 21st century?

Both the British and Australian processes were much wider with corporate liability as just one of many issues. Nevertheless, we must expect to take time to consider the issue fully because we will have to wrestle with very complex issues such as: Who for the purposes of criminal law is the corporation?

In some cases this may be clear. An individual often is the mind directing a large corporation and what that individual thinks and does is what the corporation thinks and does. However, if someone is killed in an industrial accident in a corporate office, it is quite probable that the individual who is the directing mind has never set foot in that office and has absolutely no idea of working conditions.

Bill C-284 proposes one model for determining who is the corporation by assigning criminal liability to a corporation for acts and omissions of directors, officers or persons to whom day to day management of a part of the company's activities has been delegated .

This is, at least on the surface, somewhat wider than the current Canadian law which looks to the directing mind of the corporation, but it does not appear to be as broad as the American vicarious liability standard.

However the proposed legislation still requires an examination of the corporate structure. How much control is implied by day to day management and what is a part of the corporation? Would this mean that a retailer is criminally responsible for the actions of the head of a shipping department in one of its stores even when he or she acted directly contrary to specific instructions? We must have legal advice on the implications of the proposed wording because these are important questions.

Should the change in the law be general or specific to certain offences?

The criminal code currently includes Her Majesty, public bodies, bodies corporate, societies and companies as persons, so that all of the offences in the code would apply to corporations, to the extent that a corporation is capable of committing them.

The leading case of Canadian Dredge and Dock, for example, dealt with a conspiracy to defraud. The Westray principals were charged with manslaughter and causing death by criminal negligence.

Bill C-284 both makes a corporation liable for any offence of which an individual could be found guilty and creates a separate new offence for a corporation of failing to take reasonable steps to provide safe working conditions. It is not clear why this particular offence should apply only to corporations. It is possible for a government to turn a blind eye to the many violations and not enforce the laws that are in fact on the books.

As I previously stated, in England the government has accepted a proposal by the law commission to create a new offence of corporate killing, where death results from corporate conduct far below the standard of what is reasonably to be expected. Fashioning a specific offence for a corporation might, in the result, prove to be the best approach.

The Australians, however, did not choose to proceed in this fashion. They created a new part which begins with the general principle “This code applies to bodies corporate in the same way as it applies to individuals. It so applies with such modifications as are set out in this part, and with such other modifications as are made necessary by the fact criminal liability is being imposed on bodies corporate rather than individuals”. The part then sets out rules regarding such matters as how to determine negligence.

In a paper prepared for the Uniform Law Conference, Professor Anne-Marie Boisvert of the faculty of law of the University of Montreal in 1999 recommended that there should be codified a notion of corporate fault that is more closely related to the way in which bodies corporate actually operate. She also recommended that there should be a distinct part of the criminal code expressly covering corporations. Such a part would define the conditions under which a corporation can be criminally liable; provide that any body corporate including not for profit corporations may be held liable; define what is an act of the corporation; clarify whether a corporation can raise such defences as necessity or compulsion by threats; and define what constitutes fault.

On what basis do we attribute criminal intent to a corporation? This too is a very important question.

The directing mind test, especially because it requires the same responsible person to have the necessary intent and to commit the offence, may not fit well with the way complex organizations work with head offices issuing directives, regional offices interpreting them and local managers implementing them.

It is highly unlikely that evidence will be found of a single person in a large corporation who issued an order to break the law. The actual criminal activity may be, as was the case in Westray, the result of many officers and employees of the company cutting corners.

Bill C-284 follows to some extent the recent changes to the law in Australia which provide that where negligence is a fault element and no individual in the company has that fault element, it is possible to find the necessary fault by proving that a corporate culture existed that directed, encouraged, tolerated or led to non-compliance.

It is important that we note a number of these issues. It is important that we deal with them appropriately. They are important questions.

I want to simply say in summary that while we recognize the desire of the sponsor of the bill to ensure that the criminal law copes better with potentially criminal activity by corporations, we are not convinced that Bill C-284 is necessarily the best model. Significantly more study and very broad consultation are required before the House can be satisfied that it has fashioned the best amendments to the criminal law.

Finally, I feel it is appropriate to remind members of the House that the criminal law always requires the highest level of proof, namely, proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Given the complexities of modern corporations, any criminal investigation is going to be lengthy and complex. Criminal law and criminal trials will also be long and complex.

The charge to the jury in the leading case, Canadian Dredge and Dock, took 11 days. It is highly unlikely that the investigation or prosecution of those charges would have been any simpler if the crown had to prove a corporate culture.

For this reason, it is vital that we ensure that the law governing Canadian corporations has appropriate penalties for breaches of safety. Action to prevent tragedies will always be more effective than trying to use criminal law after the fact.

This is an important issue, one well worth debating in the House. I look forward to listening to other members of parliament on this very important issue.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks, I would hope that the Chair would indulge me and the House, just in keeping with personal and professional accountability, and allow me to advise the House and the Chair that I sent a letter to the Prime Minister's office after hearing the Speaker's ruling today. I wish to just read that letter:

I wish to unreservedly withdraw the allegation of improper conduct that I made in the House of Commons earlier this week.

Turning to Bill C-284, I commend the hon. member for Churchill for bringing the issue forward. I will begin by stating that the Progressive Conservative/Democratic Representative Coalition will give its initial support to the bill. We certainly believe this continues to be a timely and important issue, one which should be placed before the justice committee. I believe there is a willingness on the part of the department and the minister herself to permit that to happen.

I can say with a great deal of sincerity and emotion that this hits very close to home. In fact the place where I grew up is a neighbouring community to Plymouth, where the Westray mine rests and where the bodies of those 26 men continue to rest underground.

May 9, 1992, the day that the Westray mine in Plymouth, Nova Scotia blew up killing 26 men, is a day that the people of Pictou county, in fact the people of Canada, will not forget.

Although we have concerns about the way in which the bill has been drafted in terms of its scope, we certainly support seeing the bill, this issue, continue through the process and to the justice committee for proper review. It will take far more than criminal code amendments to deal with this issue in a proper fashion. As the parliamentary secretary quite properly stated, this is a complex issue. It is an issue involving provincial jurisdictions; it is an issue involving provincial legislation.

Bill C-284 speaks of the need to bring about greater accountability on the part of corporations. It includes acts or omissions, and rightly so, because of what happened in the case of Westray, which was encapsulated in a report tabled by Mr. Justice Peter Richards after hearing numerous testimony.

His report “The Westray Story: A Predictable Path to Disaster” highlighted the acts of omission on the part of provincial safety inspectors and mine managers in making legitimate and real attempts to prevent a situation that was known all too well to those miners, many of whom escaped by the simple fortune of not being in the mine that day. I knew some of those men whose names were read into the record by the hon. member for Dartmouth. In fact, as a summer student with Satellite Construction, I had worked on the site of the Westray mine during its construction phase.

Criminal negligence and in particular manslaughter by criminal negligence is perhaps arguably one of the most difficult sections of the criminal code to prove. It involves proving the intention. It involves proving the mens rea. Particularly when the mens rea is an act of omission, this is a very difficult criminal matter to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

The bill is very similar to a private member's motion which I presented. It was the first private member's motion that I was permitted to submit upon being elected to the House in 1997. That motion, Motion No. 455, and later Motion No. 79, was passed and received overwhelming all party support to proceed to the justice committee.

That motion dealt specifically with the amendment of the criminal code and all appropriate federal statutes in accordance with recommendation 73 of the Nova Scotia public inquiry into the Westray disaster and was specifically focused at holding corporate executives and directors accountable for workplace safety.

Mr. Justice Richards' report was a direct message to this and all federal governments that there is a responsibility that rests on the Parliament of Canada to take steps to ensure workplace safety.

The issue is seen, understandably, as being predominantly under provincial jurisdiction, but human safety is something that all legislatures have to take responsibility for.

I have some concerns regarding the reverse onus of the legislation, yet the need for workplace safety overrides that concern. There is a pressing if not urgent need to delve into this issue.

Those who are in the corporate world, who sit on boards of directors, who sometimes take very little hands-on control of the day to day running and operations of businesses would be encouraged, I would suggest compelled, to show greater concern and insight into what is happening in those businesses to ensure that elements of safety exist, to ensure it is a priority for those corporations lest they be found to be criminally responsible when horrible disasters occur such as what occurred at the Westray mine.

That tragedy in Plymouth, Nova Scotia reminds us that all corporations in that world should hold concern for their employees as among their top priorities. They have to see them as people and not only look at the bottom line in terms of financial gain.

As was previously mentioned, other jurisdictions have dealt with this issue and legislated in this area, Australia and Great Britain to mention a couple. I want to take a moment to express again, as I have before in the context of this legislation, my sincere thanks and the thanks of the people of Pictou county to the draegermen and the emergency response teams who arrived on the scene in the aftermath of that explosion. They put their own safety at risk and entered the mine shaft in the vain hope of rescuing survivors of that explosion.

The attempt to locate the 26 men who died in that mine underground remains a testament to the bravery and selflessness of those workers. Many of those draegermen came from Cape Breton, an area which has endured more than its own share of mining tragedy. The people of Pictou county will never forget the assistance that was offered.

I might add that many of those emergency response workers from the local area and the province of Nova Scotia again rallied to the cause in the Swissair disaster off the coast of Peggy's Cove. Once again those individuals deserve our bottomless thanks for what they did and the quality of mercy they showed during that troubled time.

Pictou county has a long and rich tradition of coal mining. The Pictou coalfield has been mined for nearly 200 years, yet there has always been danger in the mining and in the thick and gassy coal seams that are found there. The Foord and Wimpey seams in particular are notorious for their volatility.

As the need for coal diminished, Westray was the only operational underground coal mine in Pictou county at the time of the explosion in 1992. Management's disregard for worker safety combined with the workers' need to keep their jobs seemed to cause a sense of urgency in keeping the mine going. There were financial pressures that were brought to bear as well. What a heartbreaking tragedy it was in terms of the loss of lives. If that mine were operating today, the economic advantage would flow to an area that is very economically depressed. That remains part of that tragedy. If that mine had been properly managed, I would suggest it would still be operating.

Turning back to this bill, and my previous motion, this is an attempt by the opposition, by all members of parliament, to remind the government and ourselves that we must do everything in our power to ensure there is workplace safety. We have to be engaged actively with those in the labour community to ensure we are doing our utmost to protect workers on the job.

There is a need for safety in mining but also in farming, manufacturing, fish plants, in all areas where danger lurks in any occupation. Too often death and injury in the workplace, in the fullness of time, is discovered to have been avoidable.

It is a daunting task to try to enact legislation and to put into law provisions that would protect and encourage those in the industry to abide by legislative initiatives to ensure safety. Yet a criminal code provision, a law that would help ensure accountability, is one such way to do so, leading to higher levels of accountability among executives, CEOs and management in companies. It certainly is a worthwhile exercise for us.

Those who make decisions in the workplace that affect workplace safety need to be held accountable. The bill speaks of fines. It speaks of greater corporate activity in terms of knowledge. It speaks of executives being actively engaged in the workplace over which they preside. It would create offences and penalties for the corporate sector.

After eight years in office the Liberal government has a mandate to address the issue. It has the mandate by virtue not only of private members' bills and motions but of this report and the fact that the problems continue to exist day to day. The tragedy of September 11 increased the need for security in all sectors but the situation in the workplace is omnipresent.

During the public inquiry into the Westray matter the criminal prosecution proceeded through the courts all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The prosecutors in the case had a very difficult time presenting evidence due to procedural interference. This highlights the need for amendments to the criminal code.

We look forward to having the opportunity to revisit this debate in the House but more so in committee where we will hear from stakeholders and individuals who can advise us how to improve workplace safety nationally.

Message from the SenatePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. Before resuming debate, I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed a bill to which the concurrence of this House is desired.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-284, an act to amend the criminal code (offences by corporations, directors and officers), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have enjoyed listening to the views of members from all parties in the House. On behalf of the hon. member for Churchill I thank all members for the thoughtfulness that has gone into their remarks. It is plain to see that everyone in the House from all parties takes the issue seriously. I appreciate the thoughtful research that has gone into all the speeches I have heard so far.

There is one thing we must keep in mind as we enter a debate of this nature that can be so emotional. Canadians get up in the morning and go to work to earn a living, not to die. Canadians must adopt the fundamental attitude shift that it is possible to run clean, safe and healthy workplaces and still be profitable.

We must realize that safety is not a cost factor. Unfortunately there are sectors within the business community where that is the mentality. There are those who believe safety is a cost factor and that it would cost money to run a safe workplace as opposed to a dangerous one.

I challenge that logic. Until people adopt the view that it is more fiscally responsible to run a clean, safe and healthy workplace, we will need legislation that motivates employers to adopt that view.

All Canadians were horrified when 26 miners were killed on May 9, 1992. Canadians were even more horrified when they learned the crown prosecutors of the province of Nova Scotia had to stay all charges against the operators of the mine because under the existing criminal code they could not make the charges stick. This was in spite of overwhelming evidence of gross negligence and wilful blindness toward workplace safety and health.

At the Westray inquiry Justice Peter Richard used some of the strongest language any of us have seen in a document of that nature. He pulled no punches. He said it was a case of gross negligence and wilful blindness.

One would think it would be quite simple and straightforward to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths. We know after hearing witnesses at the Westray inquiry that the company did not just commit acts of omission. It did not just ignore workplace health and safety. It actively encouraged workers to do unsafe things. This was the most glaring evidence we have ever seen in an investigation into workplace accident or death.

We have heard people like the member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough and the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada point out that in cases like this the burden of proof is onerous. In this case it was not. It was blatantly obvious. It should have resulted in someone being charged, fined or punished.

Bill C-284 seeks to give federal prosecutors the tools they need to make such charges stick so we would not have to face similar situations where after their best efforts prosecutors must drop or stay charges that should otherwise be straightforward and simple.

Bill C-284 is about accountability, a word we often hear in the House of Commons. It is about corporate accountability or responsibility. Someone must take responsibility. Accountability goes right up the corporate ladder. It extends from frontline supervisors, managers and directors of the board all the way to the CEO.

It is not a justifiable excuse for CEOs to say their work is in the office, that they have never set foot in the plant or that it is only one of many enterprises they have under their direction and control. That is no excuse. The buck should not stop at the frontline manager who works in the plant where the offence might have taken place. The buck stops at the CEO's desk. If CEOs do not know what is happening in their plants they have an obligation to know.

If Bill C-284 went through they would make a point of knowing. People would not accept directorships on boards without first asking solid questions about the enterprises that would be under their control. They would ask if reasonable steps were being taken to ensure the workplace was safe so that there would be no problem.

Three people a day are killed on the job in Canada. That is over 1,000 a year. I am not saying they would all result in prosecutions if Bill C-284 became law. That would be rare because such cases would need to meet all the tests and burden of proof as in any criminal charge. There would be an investigation and if the evidence were there someone would be charged. That would be a deterrent. It would clean up workplaces.

If Bill C-284 were in effect executives would take an instant interest in the workplaces under their control. They would ensure that basic, reasonable steps in workplace safety and health were taken. Smart managers and CEOs know that a clean, healthy and safe workplace is more profitable and that safety is not a cost factor. I will give the House an example.

Two years ago the province of Manitoba lost 50,000 person days to strikes and lockouts. In the same period the province lost 550,000 person days to injuries on the job. Managers, directors and corporations interested in productivity and profitability should know that eliminating 550,000 person days lost to injuries on the job would surely affect their bottom line.

The member for Dartmouth mentioned brother Dick Martin, a close friend of mine and the former head of local 6166 of the steelworkers union. Dick Martin dedicated his life to trying to elevate conditions for working people. He founded the occupational health centre in the province of Manitoba when he was president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour.

Dick and I met a number of times as Bill C-284 was being developed. Dick took a strong personal interest in the bill. Unfortunately he passed away last week and will not be with us to see the bill come to fruition. His funeral was last Sunday.

In recognizing the important work Dick has done I also want to take note of the important work the United Steelworkers of America has done in advocating on behalf of Westray families.

In the nearly 10 years since May 9, 1992, the only group that has consistently hung in with the Westray families and promoted and pushed this kind of legislation has been the United Steelworkers of America. It is to its great credit that Bill C-284 has come as far along as it has.

Twelve lobbyists with the steelworkers came to the Hill last year and worked out of my office. Many of them had worked at the Westray mine. Two were dragger men who had pulled bodies out of the mine. They visited virtually every member of parliament to encourage parliamentarians to implement a bill much like the one we have here which would require some form of corporate accountability and responsibility for workplace safety and health.

Their visit prompted the justice committee to call a special meeting to hear representations from the steelworkers. That is what prompted the committee to unanimously endorse a motion which appealed to the Minister of Justice to introduce legislation that would implement article 73 of the Westray inquiry recommendations. This would amend the criminal code to include corporate murder and corporate manslaughter and thereby give prosecutors the tools they need to make criminal charges stick in the event of wilful blindness and gross negligence to worker safety and health.

We are looking forward to a third hour of debate and a vote on the bill. We strongly hope members of parliament on all sides will find it in their hearts to adopt this important amendment to the criminal code on behalf of all Canadian workers.