Madam Speaker, sustaining and protecting the environment as well as human life are priorities for the Department of National Defence.
The Proof and Experimental Test Establishment at Nicolet, Quebec, has provided technical services and carried out munitions proof and engineering tests for the Department of National Defence since 1952.
The ammunition tested at Lac St-Pierre is used by Canadian forces members on military operations all over the world as well as in their day to day training.
The main objective of the munitions testing program is to ensure the safety of the men and women in the Canadian forces who use the ammunition. We must have absolute confidence in the safety and suitability of our munitions. Firing a small sample from each new lot of ammunition that is produced is the only way to ensure the safety and suitability of the ammunition.
Lac St-Pierre was initially selected because of its proximity to several munitions factories. This rationale still holds. Testing at Lac St-Pierre minimizes the costs of transporting the ammunition as well as the public safety hazard associated with the transportation of live ammunition.
The Department of National Defence takes its public safety responsibilities very seriously. It has always had an open relationship with local residents, working with them to satisfy their concerns.
We in the department also have a close working relationship with Environment Canada and provincial officials, and we ensure that all our activities comply with provincial standards and regulations.
Since the early 1990s, we have cut test firings in half and reduced noise levels. Almost all firings are now done through mufflers and all ammunition is now fired into a mound of earth from which we can recover the ammunition. We no longer fire into Lac St-Pierre itself.
We have always undertaken measures to clean up projectiles. Every spring and summer the shoreline of Lac St-Pierre is examined for projectiles that have been freed from the lake bed.
Additionally, in 1999 DND began an environmental study of the sediments of Lac St-Pierre in co-operation with Environment Canada. The study will be completed in the fall of 2001. Preliminary results indicate that the ordnance on the lake bed has not caused any environmental damage. DND is also examining a proposal to begin a more thorough cleanup of projectiles from the lake. However, this is a long term project with no quick fix.
There are very real environmental challenges and difficulties involved in cleaning up unexploded munitions in water. We are actively pursuing potential solutions with all stakeholders.
As one of the federal government's largest landholders, DND remains strongly committed to minimizing the impact of its activities and operations on the environment.