House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was animal.


Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I have received notice from the hon. member for Vancouver East that she is unable to move her motion during private members' hour on Friday, September 21. It has not been possible to arrange an exchange of positions in the order of precedence. Accordingly I am directing the table officers to drop the item of business to the bottom of the order of precedence.

Private members' hour will be suspended, and the House will proceed with the business before it.

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.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

September 20th, 2001 / 5:30 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

moved 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.

Madam Speaker, I rise today to begin the debate on Bill C-284, an act to amend the Criminal Code of Canada concerning offences by corporations, directors and officers.

The bill has been a long time coming before parliament and 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 it the Westray act in reference to the tragic Westray mine disaster in Stellarton, Nova Scotia on May 9, 1992. On that day 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 managers to ignore and indeed encourage violations of safety regulations that led to the fatal gas explosion. The miners themselves tried to complain about the unsafe working conditions but their complaints were ignored and they were threatened with dismissal unless they kept quiet.

The Westray case exposed a major hole in our criminal law system which the bill addresses. Right now the law simply does not allow our justice system to hold company managers criminally accountable when they show the kind of heinous disregard for human life shown by the Westray mine managers. The bill amends the Criminal Code of Canada and creates new provisions to hold corporations, their directors and managers accountable in such cases.

The Westray tragedy has been called the worst case of corporate mass murder in Canadian history. It has even been the subject of an acclaimed National Film Board documentary which was screened last week at the Toronto International Film Festival. Yet despite all this, not a single criminal charge could be laid against the managers who were responsible for what happened. Local crown attorneys tried to lay charges but concluded that they could not get a conviction under existing laws.

In the report from his inquest, Mr. Justice Richard wrote that this was a weakness in our system that should not be allowed to exist. He went on to recommend that:

The Government of Canada, through the Department of Justice, should institute a study of the accountability of corporate executives and directors for the wrongful or negligent acts of the corporation and should introduce in the Parliament of Canada such amendments to legislation as are necessary to ensure that corporate executives and directors are held properly accountable for workplace safety.

Unfortunately the government so far has not responded to this recommendation. I am sure that this lack of response is what prompted the hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough to introduce Motion No. 79 in the last parliament. His motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, 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 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.

I commend the hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough whose constituency includes the town of Stellarton, home of the Westray mine, for his tremendous work on the motion in the last parliament. Thanks in large part to his efforts, it was made votable and passed in the House on March 21, 2000.

While Motion No. 79 was working its way through parliament, the hon. member for Halifax, who is also the leader of the New Democratic Party, was also working very hard on the issue. She introduced private members' Bill C-259 to amend the criminal code as recommended by Mr. Justice Richard. I am proud that I had the honour of seconding that bill. When Motion No. 79 made its way to the justice committee after being passed by the House, the justice committee considered both the motion and Bill C-259 and issued a unanimous report which recommended the following:

That the Minister of Justice and the Department of Justice bring forward proposed legislation in accordance with Motion 79, agreed to by the House on March 21, 2000 and the principles underlined in Bill C-259 for consideration by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

The government had 60 days to respond. Unfortunately before this time limit had elapsed the Prime Minister dissolved parliament for the general election and both the hon. member for Halifax's bill and the hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough's motion died on the order paper without resolution. What did not die, however, was the urgency of the issue and the determination of those of us who believe passionately in workplace safety to close this huge loophole in the criminal code. That is why, following the election, the hon. member for Halifax resubmitted her bill and I introduced my own version of it as well, with higher fines.

This issue is very important to me personally and to my constituents in the Churchill riding where many people are employed in heavy resource industries like mining and forestry, where health and safety is literally a matter of life and death.

Injury and death on the job is an ongoing problem in Canada. The statistics are shocking. On an average work day three Canadians are killed on the job.

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. First I would like to apologize to the hon. member for interrupting her speech. There was an all party agreement earlier today in which I inadvertently forgot to add a few words. Other parties were consulted and they all agreed. Nobody else saw it.

I would like to add to the motion that I presented earlier today about the debate this evening, by taking the motion that is there and adding the following, to which I invite colleagues to pay close attention. I want to ensure that this is the collective will. At the end of the motion that I put we would add the following words:

and during the said debate no member shall speak more than once, nor for more than 10 minutes.

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is that agreed?

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, I always understood that committee of the whole allowed some back and forth debate and if we are to be limited to 10 minute speeches like we are at report stage, my understanding is that there would be no back and forth debate. Nobody could enter into debate more than once and we could not pose any questions in reality, because that person we may want to question would have already spoken. That is my concern about this format. It seems more like report stage than committee of the whole.

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Perhaps the government House leader would like to clarify.

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member is of course quite correct in saying that this would not have questions or comments. That is quite true, but that is what we agreed to. I am prepared to correct the motion to reflect the agreement we made. The reason it was made that way was to allow as many members as possible during the time period to make their contribution so that the Prime Minister would have those contributions available to him for his visit with the president. This is not something that I requested. This is generated by opposition members and I am only trying to ensure that the motion is exactly what we agreed to. That is all. If not, I am okay with it the way it is.

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is that agreed?

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

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

5:40 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, in the spirit of co-operation shown in the House in recent days, I had no problem with the interruption.

As I was saying, what did not die, however, was the urgency of this issue and the determination of those of us who believe passionately in workplace safety to close this huge loophole in the criminal code. That is why, following the election, the hon. member for Halifax resubmitted her bill and I introduced my own version of it as well with higher fines.

The issue is very important to me personally and to my constituents in the Churchill riding where many people are employed in the heavy resource industries like mining and forestry, where health and safety is literally a matter of life and death.

Injury and death on the job is an ongoing problem in Canada. The statistics are shocking. On an average workday, three Canadians are killed on the job. That is three fathers or mothers, husbands or wives, sons or daughters, who do not come home to their loved ones. On top of those deaths, a Canadian gets injured on the job an average of every nine seconds. That means that in 15 minutes 100 Canadians are injured at work. It all adds up to over a million workplace injuries a year. It is staggering.

Of course not all or even most of these deaths and injuries are necessarily the result of misconduct by management, like they were in the case of the Westray mine. I do not mean to suggest that every time a worker gets killed or injured on the job the boss should face criminal charges. The bill is only meant to address those cases where an employer or manager wilfully violates reasonable standards of conduct and safety.

If we think these sorts of infractions are rare, that is not the case. Unfortunately there is an ever growing list of deaths and injuries on the job that have happened even since the Westray disaster and which negligent or irresponsible management practices have been found to have caused. As recently as last month in Trail, British Columbia it was learned that officials at Teck Cominco Metals Limited knew that conditions in their smelter were exposing their workers to toxic levels of the chemical thallium, but did not tell anyone and allowed people to continue working in those conditions. They only admitted there was a problem after people started getting ill. Thallium was used as rat poison until it was banned 20 years ago. It is absorbed through the skin and causes nerve damage, kidney damage and blindness.

Responsible managers would have pulled their employees out of the situation as soon as they learned there was a problem. It is impossible to know for sure how many people are now facing severe long term health problems because of gross misconduct by this company.

Another example I want to touch on happened earlier this year in Nova Scotia. This was another tragic case and I think it really makes the point as to why the bill is so important. Truck driver Allan MacLean of Thorburn, Nova Scotia was killed after the brakes on his rig gave out. An inquest found that his managers knew that the vehicle needed brake work, but sent Mr. MacLean out on the road in it anyway. If I knew that my car had brake problems but did not say anything and knowingly let my neighbour drive it who then died because of the brakes giving out, I would be guilty of manslaughter. However, because this man was at work and it was his boss who sent him out in a truck with bad brakes, it was not manslaughter; it was a health and safety violation. Instead of the responsible individual going to jail, the company got a $50,000 fine.

Is that what a man's life is worth? I do not think so. That is why we need the bill, to move this from the realm of health and safety law to criminal law, because when one knowingly and recklessly endangers another person's life, it should be a crime.

I could point to more examples, but the time is short. I would like to acknowledge and thank the injured workers, their families and the families of the workers who were killed on the job who have come here to the House of Commons to watch the debate from the gallery and are representing the thousands of injured workers and others from across the country who have been calling for the changes contained in the bill. Each of them has a story of their own, a personal reason why they support the bill. It is important that we as parliamentarians, as legislators of this land, listen to them and ensure that in the future justice is served.

I have been speaking about the bill to a number of members of parliament from all parties. I am encouraged to see the support in principle that the bill received in the last parliament when we passed Motion No. 79 and when the justice committee unanimously endorsed the bill in principle. That support still seems to be there.

I also recognize that a few members of parliament have told me that they support the bill in principle, but they have expressed technical concerns about some specific aspects of it. I would like to assure all hon. members that I am open to whatever amendments they may wish to propose at the justice committee or at report stage to improve the bill.

This legislation has been a cross-partisan effort from the beginning. I know that the NDP justice critic, the hon. member for Winnipeg--Transcona, and I are both eager to work closely in committee with members from the government and all political parties to improve the bill where it can be improved.

I would also like to remind those hon. members who have said they support the principle of the bill but have legitimate technical concerns that it is at second reading of a bill that we vote in principle. I ask all members of the House to show their support in principle by supporting the bill at second reading so that we can work together at the committee stage in a spirit of non-partisanship to make this the best piece of legislation it can possibly be.

Injured workers and their families, the families of workers who were killed, the families of the Westray victims and all Canadians who worry about their safety at work deserve no less from us than for us to put aside our partisan differences and make a real effort to work together on this fundamentally important bill.

I want to point out that there are those who feel that the aspect of a corporate manslaughter bill or of holding corporations responsible for manslaughter or murder is something new and strange. I am pleased to say that it is not just Canada that is looking at this issue and I will comment on a couple of instances.

First, the United Kingdom has actually worked on a corporate homicide act. Its act came about as a result of 400 people being injured and 31 being killed in a train crash. It was found that the corporation was responsible. Therefore a corporate homicide act was brought forth within the U.K.

Not along the line of workers being killed but along the lines of corporate manslaughter and corporate murder, many of us will remember the ValuJet crash in Florida in 1999 in which 110 passengers were killed. The company that had been putting hazardous goods on the plane was held responsible. Initially the workers who were told by their managers to put the hazardous goods on the plane were to be charged with the murders.

I have followed this over the last couple of years and I was pleased to find that the workers were not held accountable, but what is taking place in the state of Florida is that it is proceeding with murder and manslaughter charges against the corporation for the actions it took that caused those deaths.

Once again, corporate manslaughter is not something that is new to Canada. I am happy to say it is something that countries are looking at because it is not acceptable that corporations, in the name of making profit, can put the lives of workers or the public at risk.

As I said during my speech there was limited time so I did not want to get into all the instances of different cases that had happened, but in the province of Ontario there was one situation where a man was crushed by a machine in his workplace. I want to point out what his wife, Tammy Dann, had to say:

It's murder. (The company) knew it wasn't safe and they get away with a fine.

It is murder. It is murder when someone's life is knowingly put at risk. We accept in our country that managers and directors in workplaces have control over the workers to the point that in sexual harassment cases we hold them seriously accountable because the workers are controlled by those bosses. They are controlled because they need that income to support their families or controlled because often those people are in a vulnerable position. That is the situation in so many workplaces.

We often see situations where we expect a worker to go out and do a worker's job. The bottom line is that they are vulnerable. They are vulnerable to the directions of managers and directors. If their lives are put at risk or lost, those managers and directors, if they act irresponsibly, should be held accountable.

Justice Richard's Westray mine public inquiry report was entitled “A Predictable Path to Disaster”. This was no little two day inquiry into what happened. This was a long drawn out inquiry to sort out exactly what happened. It was found that our criminal justice system was lacking. It should not be up to provincial workplace health and safety laws. It should be up to the Parliament of Canada to bring forth criminal laws so that murderers and persons who commit manslaughter in the workplace are held accountable.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Madam Speaker, I hope more colleagues will be interested in this very important matter.

Before I get into the gist of my speech, I take this opportunity to tell men, women and children who lost loved ones in New York or Washington that our thoughts are with them, and that the thoughts and the prayers of people in my riding of Laurentides are with them.

To start with, we agree with the principle of the bill I said to my friend from Churchill it is time we brought major changes.

In the context of Bill C-284, it bears repeating because we need some background, we know that other members introduced bills that did not make it to third reading and were dropped from the order paper.

I hope that this one will make it, that we will be able to discuss it fully and to amend it as needed, and also that we will get unanimous support to bring about major changes.

As everyone knows, or will know, on May 9, 1992, an explosion at the Westray mine, in Nova Scotia, killed 26 miners.

Then, on May 15, Mr. Justice Peter Richard was appointed by the Nova Scotia government, under the Public Inquiry Act of Nova Scotia, to head a public inquiry into the circumstances of this tragedy.

In November 1997, Commissioner Richard released a 650 page report and this is no short story, which includes, among other things, findings on the criminal responsibility of Curragh Resources Inc., the company responsible for the operation of the Westray mine, and of its management. This very important report confirmed that the company was guilty, but it came out of this pretty well unscathed.

There is a problem with our legislation. I will talk about the Canada Labour Code, because I worked with it and I am sure the hon. member knows about this.

I had proposed major amendments to part II of the Canada Labour Code, which deals with health and safety in the workplace, to impose stiffer penalties on companies when negligence was involved, or when a company was charged. We had also proposed to increase fines and jail terms rather significantly. This was under clause 14 of Bill C-12, and I can provide a copy to the hon. member for Churchill so she can take a look at it.

We had put so much hope in all this, we had worked relentlessly to significantly improve the part on health and safety in the workplace. It had already been ten years since that part of the legislation had last been reviewed. We had proposed major amendments, including amendments to protect women in the workplace. None of our amendments were accepted. At the time, during the last parliament, the political will was not there. I hope the government will be more serious and positive regarding the bill introduced by the hon. member for Churchill.

A great deal of work was done and this should be pointed out, because it was not negligible, by the hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough. He tabled a motion that also died on the order paper when the House prorogued. His was a very important motion, which also sought to review the criminal code. It would have been reviewed by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and it sought to allow the amendment of a recommendation to ensure the protection of people and make sure that such a tragedy never happened again.

I believe the hon. member had almost managed to get unanimity, but we never knew the government's position, because consideration of the motion was never completed.

As I said earlier, we on this side are obviously in agreement with the bill's principle, but there is the whole issue of amendments we might wish to make—I do not know which yet, I will be talking with my colleague—because there are provinces, including Nova Scotia, for example, which at the time was not particularly well protected by provincial legislation for mine employees.

In some provinces, work is already being done. It is serious work. In Quebec, with the CSST, we protect our employees. It is not perfect, but we in Quebec already have a very good system, which is working very well. Care must be taken not to penalize people who are already doing their job well, not to penalize a government that already has plans and is doing an extraordinary job with its employees and its employers. We already have a tribunal that can hand down rulings against companies that are not doing their job well. We can also fine them.

We have all this in Quebec and I am a bit worried. Will this bill interfere in our jurisdiction? If so, we will have to make the necessary amendments. If not, so much the better.

I would like to point out, and this is not just to mention the fine work we are doing in Quebec, but when one does something well, one should say so, that lately the CSST has been running a wonderful prevention campaign on television. Of course, when we watch these images and ads,paid for by the government and the CSST, showing a woman falling and injuring herself, or a man who, through carelessness, seriously injures his arm, it makes for some hard viewing, but it is what happens.

As my colleague pointed out, there is a work accident every nine seconds. It is therefore essential that people be made aware, and work remains to be done. I know that we are doing that work now. So far, I have seen a few ads. I hope that this will continue in Quebec and that it will serve as an example to other levels of government, to other provinces, that they will use this form of prevention because it is wonderful, and that we can use it to bring the message home to the public and to businesses. Businesses have responsibilities and they must not shirk them.

We obviously need to tighten certain rules. As I was saying earlier, we have tried and I have personally tried, through Bill C-12 dealing with health and safety, to include preventive withdrawal for pregnant or nursing women. This is an issue that I feel very strongly about. I introduced a bill on the subject, but it did not go all the way. I have another one coming and I hope the government will take it into account.

Quebec has been protecting pregnant or nursing women for a very long time. They have access to preventive withdrawal without being penalized financially, something that does not exist under the federal system. Women who cannot afford to live on employment insurance benefits that would cut their income in half will keep on working in conditions that may be hazardous to their unborn child or to the child they are nursing.

The federal government must change its mentality with regard to this issue. It is so sad to see, in the same building, two female employees, one working under federal jurisdiction and the other working under provincial jurisdiction, who do not have the same rights. We need to modernize our federal legislation and we must be able to make amendments that are not costly. We are not talking about huge costs here. I will even be able to give specific figures when we study the bill.

My heart goes out to all those who lost a loved one among these 26 miners who had to work in difficult conditions. Need I remind members that working in a mine is working in the dark. Their quality of life is just as bad as the quality of the air they breathe. My heart goes out to those families.

I hope that, in the end, those responsible for this tragedy will be made to pay. As legislators, we will bring in legislation to ensure that these people, as well as their families, are protected.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to discuss the bill, an act to amend the criminal code, offences by corporations, directors and officers, I thank the member for Churchill for bringing the bill forward.

The incident that took place in Westray, Nova Scotia a number of years ago in which 26 miners were killed in an accident resulted from gross negligence on the part of managers, directors and workplace inspectors. It was a tragedy that should never have happened. Therefore, I think it is appropriate that we have this discussion to determine whether that action on the part of the corporation and its directors in fact should result in the criminal penalties being proposed here.

The inquiry released in November 1997 by Mr. Justice Peter Richard made the recommendation for the federal government to institute a study of the accountability of corporate executives and directors for the wrongful or negligent acts of the corporations and suggested that the government introduce amendments to ensure that corporate executives and directors are held accountable for workplace safety.

As was indicated earlier, I understand that both the leader of the New Democratic Party and the member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough brought forth bills and motions in respect of this issue. I also understand that last year the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights unanimously passed a motion to examine this subject further and to pass legislation in keeping with the principle of these bills and motions which called for Justice Richard's recommendations to be duly considered by the House.

I fully concur that the issue of negligence on the part of corporations in providing safe working conditions for employees must be addressed in the House. I agree that it is not sufficient that we simply have provincial legislation in this area. However, I would at the same time caution members of the House against passing legislation that may be legally flawed.

While the motivation behind the bill and its predecessors are obviously well intentioned and I think strive to meet an existing need, the implications of these criminal code amendments could be immense. That is why we need to be careful in the context of our constitutional framework to ensure that they do in fact comply with the requirements of our constitution.

In the discussion on the bill, it must be remembered that one of the principal reasons that businesses choose to incorporate in the first place is to protect its shareholders and directors from personal liability arising from the activities of the business. I am not suggesting that simply because individuals have arranged their affairs in such a way as to avoid personal responsibility that should excuse criminal conduct. Not at all. Criminal conduct should be punished whether it is done directly by individuals or indirectly through the mechanism of a corporation. Executives, directors or other officers and employees of the corporation presently do not have the benefit of immunity from criminal liability. Under our current criminal code provisions they are legally accountable for their own personal wrongdoing.

As well, corporations can be held criminally liable in their own right. In cases of offences of absolute or strict liability, a corporation would be subject to penal liability for unlawful acts or omissions of such persons who, because of their position or authority in the corporation, may be said to constitute the directing mind of the corporation.

Those are all matters that need to be considered and weighed. Some of the following matters should also be considered.

The bill would, without a doubt, create concerns among corporations be they large or small, successful or struggling. If criminal code amendments, as outlined in the bill, were applied to all corporations, they would have a negative impact on economic growth and jobs. We need to bear that in mind. However, at the same time, we need to ask the question: Is this the kind of economic growth and jobs that we want, that we jeopardize the health and safety of our workers?

It could also have a major negative impact on investment and considerably add to operating costs and consequently the profits and motivations of businesses to expand. Again, I ask: Is this a reason to put these suggestions aside? I say that is not sufficient to deny liability among those who act criminally. I think we are at a stage in our country's development where profits and motivation of business must be secondary to the security and the well-being of our workers.

If the bill were to become law, many businesses would no doubt have difficulties attracting viable candidates to sit on a board with such severe criminal code penalties. Smaller or struggling companies would be at a particular disadvantage if such standards for accountability were universally applied. I do not make those statements as a matter of conjecture. I think it is clear, given the experience of civil liability that has been attached to directors, that many corporations find it very difficult to attract qualified and competent directors.

We do not want to create the situation where we dissuade competent people from being the directing minds of corporations. We want to encourage competent people who exercise sound skill and judgment to continue working through the vehicle of corporations to ensure that jobs are preserved and created in Canada.

Again, that is an issue we need to bear in mind given the difficulty that many corporations today find in attracting directors to their boards.

Make no mistake about it, the provisions of the bill are harsh and severe. For example, according to subclause 467.4(1), an act or omission committed by an employee or an independent contractor, of which the management was not informed, could make a director, who was included in that management, personally liable for the offence as though the director had committed the act or the omission personally.

The provisions regarding workplace safety provide fines for up to $100,000 per day in which unsafe working conditions are shown to have existed. This provision alone could have the effect of bankrupting businesses which are found to have unsafe working conditions.

I merely state that to show that the penalties proposed here are harsh and severe but given the nature of the problem that we are trying to address and the discretion that rests with judges in imposing the penalties, I think from a constitutional point of view they can be justified. It is not, I would suggest, cruel and unusual punishment if that judicial discretion is maintained.

In summary, the legislation could open up the door to penalties for people who may not have acted with criminal intent and that I think is the major issue the House needs to consider. Our constitution does not support imposing criminal penalties where there is no criminal intent. That is the issue that we need to address. If we pass legislation that is constitutionally flawed, it does not help the families of those workers.

I suggest we look at that issue carefully and look at possible amendments to ensure that we are within constitutional parameters. Once again, the principles are sound and this matter should move forward.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Vancouver Quadra B.C.


Stephen Owen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I would like to express my gratitude to all hon. members for their very thoughtful and important comments on this proposed bill.

Bill C-284 is a proposed response to the Westray mine tragedy. At this time, given the tragedy of last week, it is immensely important that we think back almost 10 years to the families of the victims of that terrible tragedy. It makes it even more appropriate that we consider this carefully and with deep humanity at this time.

Although this is not a new issue for the House, it is an important one and it is one that deserves very wide consideration. The issues that have been raised demonstrate both the importance and the wide number of considerations.

As we have heard, Westray was an underground coal mine in Nova Scotia owned by Curragh Resources, a company based in Ontario. An explosion in the mine killed 26 miners. It was a great tragedy on May 9, 1992. Our hearts, our thoughts and our prayers go out to the families of those victims.

The Nova Scotia government established an inquiry into the causes of the disaster. However, hearings were delayed by almost three full years while the principals of Curragh Resources went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada in an effort to have the inquiry quashed.

When the inquiry was finally able to start it was thorough. There were 76 days of hearings held over more than one year. Justice Richard heard testimony of ongoing safety violations and a series of unacceptable practices. His report was entitled “The Westray Story: A Predictable Path to Disaster”. It made 85 findings of fact about all aspects of the operation of the mine, including the inspections carried out by the Nova Scotia government. There was plenty of blame to go around. More positively, the report contained 74 recommendations, and we have heard some of them tonight.

Previous debates in the House, as well as motions and proposed bills, this one and a previous one, have demonstrated the wide concern in the House that those who are responsible for criminal acts, either natural or corporate, should be held accountable for the consequences of those criminal acts. That appears to be, and from all that I have heard tonight, the widely held view in the House.

While the Richard inquiry was proceeding, an attempt was made to use the criminal law to hold the principals of Curragh responsible. Unfortunately, highly unusual circumstances, including a failure to make full disclosure and the trial judge seeking to have the crown prosecutor replaced, led first to a stay of the charges and then, after an appeal all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, there was an order for a new trial. In 1998 the Nova Scotia prosecution service decided it would not go to a new trial and dropped all charges.

In those circumstances, not surprisingly, one of the recommendations made by Mr. Justice Richard was for the Government of Canada to study the accountability of corporate executives and directors for the wrongful or negligent acts of the corporation and to introduce such amendments to the legislation as were necessary. Mr. Justice Richard did not make a specific recommendation as to the changes that should be made in federal law.

There is currently a civil action in the Nova Scotia courts by the families of the Westray miners seeking damages against the government of Nova Scotia and against the Government of Canada.

On the motion by the government of Nova Scotia, the action against the province was struck out. That decision has been appealed. Accordingly, almost 10 years after the disaster, the matter is still before the courts and the families of the victims have not seen justice done in either the criminal or civil courts.

All of us in the House sympathize with the victims and we wish to do whatever we can to prevent such a tragedy from recurring. I will address the role of the criminal law in the process and particularly how the criminal law is applied when corporations are involved in wrongdoing.

Of course the criminal law only comes into play after the fact. Its effect on workplace safety is through deterring individuals from breaking the law by the threat of punishment.

The overwhelming majority of Canadian directors and company officials seek to maintain safe working conditions. The criminal law must focus on those who are reckless with the lives and safety of the employees but it must proceed with caution with regard to the possibility of casting its net so wide that persons who may have been negligent but who had no criminal intent are subject to criminal sanctions.

Most of the complexity and difficulty in devising an effective regime of criminal responsibility for corporations arises from the fact that the imposition of penalties under criminal law is based on a finding that there was mens rea, an intent to commit a crime.

When the courts are dealing with a person, whether accused of murder or shoplifting, they must determine not only if the accused committed the act but also what the intent was at the time. If the accused is found to have done the deed and to have had the necessary state of mind, the court then determines the appropriate sentence.

Corporations do not fit into the mould of criminal law as it has developed over the centuries. Corporations do not carry out a criminal act in the traditional sense. A corporation does not have a mind. A corporation cannot be imprisoned. For these reasons, as recently as 1909, Halsbury's Laws of England stated:

By the general principles of the criminal law, if a matter is made a criminal offence it is essential that there should be something in the nature of mens rea, and therefore, in ordinary cases, a corporation aggregate cannot be guilty of a criminal offence.

While the apparent immunity of corporations from the criminal law may appeal to logical purists, the courts and legislatures have recognized that the importance of corporations in modern life makes it essential that they be brought within the ambit of criminal law. The objective has been clear but the means of achieving it are not self-evident.

The Supreme Court of Canada stated in the leading case of Canadian Dredge & Dock Co. v The Queen, 1985:

The position of the corporation in criminal law has been under examination by courts and lawmakers for centuries. The questions which arise are manifold and complex. They are not likely to be answered in a permanent or universal sense in this appeal, or indeed by the courts acting alone.

The Commonwealth and the United States have taken much different approaches to the basis upon which to find a corporation guilty of a criminal offence.

In England criminal intent is found in the directing mind of a corporation, which is embodied in the board of directors or a high official who has such control over the corporation that “his action is the very action of the company itself”.

In the United States the law has generally made a corporation prima facie liable for the acts of all its employees acting within the scope of their employment as long as they had a guilty mind and intended by their crime to benefit the corporation. It is a different approach.

In practice, however, the difference between the two theories for attributing liability may not be so profound. American courts allow a corporation to exonerate itself by showing that it took reasonable steps to ensure its employees would not act in contravention of the law. American courts therefore examine the policies of senior officials and the practices of managers charged with implementing those policies

In Canadian Dredge and Dock Co. v. The Queen [1985], the Supreme Court of Canada applied the directing mind test of corporate responsibility but broadened the application of the test. In particular, the court held that a corporation can have more than one directing mind. As noted:

This must be particularly so in a country such as Canada where corporate operations are frequently geographically widespread. The transportation companies, for example, must of necessity operate by the delegation and sub-delegation of authority from the corporate centre; by the division and subdivision of the corporate brain; and by decentralizing by delegation the guiding forces in the corporate undertaking.

In a later case the Supreme Court of Canada specified that the directing mind is someone who has decision making power with respect to matters of corporate policy as opposed to broad discretion in implementing corporate policy.

This, then, is the somewhat confused state of the law today and as it existed when the explosion in the Westray mine took 26 lives. It is not at all clear that the law was not sufficient to bring charges successfully against the corporate owners of Westray.

The prosecutorial service of Nova Scotia had concluded there was sufficient evidence to go to trial. For reasons utterly unconnected with the law, the charges were eventually stayed under circumstances that led to an inquiry into the manner in which the case had been handled. Nor is it clear that the changes proposed by Bill C-284 would have changed the result of the criminal trial.

We in the House must ensure that we devise the best possible regime to foster safety for all workers. Most of that consists of ensuring workers have the right to safe working conditions and the right to refuse hazardous work. A proper system of inspections to ensure laws are obeyed and not circumvented is another vital component of ensuring safety.

The criminal law is the last step when previous measures have failed. We must ensure that any changes we make to the criminal law advance the cause of promoting safety. We must take the time to study the issue thoroughly and consult with all stakeholders. The government will do so.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise this evening to speak to private member's Bill C-284 that was put forward by my colleague from Churchill. I commend her for her effort in bringing it forward.

I will read from the summary of the bill so that people clearly understand, although if they have been watching the debate it has been very instructive thus far and some good points have been brought forward. The summary of Bill C-284 clearly states:

The purpose of this enactment is to provide that, where a member of the staff of a corporation commits an offence by an act or omission on behalf of the corporation, the corporation, its directors and officers may, in certain circumstances also be guilty of the offence.

As has been stated and as all speakers have pointed out, the legislation came about because of the horrific Westray mine accident of May 9, 1992 in Plymouth, Nova Scotia, which killed 26 men. As the hon. parliamentary secretary pointed out, May 9, 1992 was almost a decade ago. Yet we are still here debating what ultimately to do about it.

The parliamentary secretary talked about difficulties in proposing this type of legislation in that one must prove intent on the part of the corporation and/or its directors. I would respond that in some cases it does not matter whether the intent is there; the bottom line is that the people are still dead.

The reality of criminal law is that in cases of first degree murder one needs to prove there was intent to commit murder but for manslaughter one does not. People charged with manslaughter can be held accountable even if they did not clearly intend to murder an individual. They should have assumed that because of their actions the individual stood a good chance of perishing.

How can these accidents happen in this day and age? That question is certainly on the minds of men and women in workplaces across our nation. It seems incomprehensible that these types of things can happen in this day and age. We have provincial workers' compensation boards across the nation to protect our workers.

Sadly the reality is that all too often workers are intimidated into doing things they know are unsafe. They feel intimidated and at risk of losing their jobs, especially in times of economic slowdown. They cannot afford the loss of income and end up doing things in the workplace they inherently know are not smart. Unfortunately I speak in particular of our youth.

I am a father of three. My children's ages are 22, 20 and 18. I am sure many members in the House have children in the workplace or in some cases grandchildren. All too often it is the young people of Canada who do not clearly understand their rights as workers and can be coerced or intimidated into doing something unsafe. They do so in the name of expediency and the bottom line so that a corporation can chase the almighty dollar.

This is especially important in a country such as Canada where a large part of our economy is dependent upon natural resource extraction, be it from mines, the oil patch, logging or fishing. I should not say these industries have a record of being unsafe, but many are dangerous to be involved in. Many of them involve heavy equipment. Miners must work underground. Forestry workers have large trees falling around them. Statistics clearly show these are dangerous occupations and we must ensure corporations conduct these operations in the safest way possible.

I have listened to the arguments and read the bill. There are concerns that the legislation as written is perhaps too punitive. However, with all due respect, a decade is long enough for the families of the victims of the Westray disaster to have waited to see the issue go before a committee.

In the last parliament, as has been mentioned tonight, my colleague from Pictou--Antigonish-Guysborough was successful in getting a private member's motion dealing with this issue passed and sent to the justice committee. However one of the tragedies, as it were, of our parliamentary system and how it handles private members' legislation is that even when it clears the first hurdle and enough government backbenchers break party ranks to support it and send it to the appropriate committee, all too often an election ends up being called and the legislation dies.

That is what happened with my colleague's bill, which necessitated my other colleague from Churchill bringing it forward and starting the process all over again. Here we are still dealing with it a decade later.

In conclusion, I support the initiative. As others have said, there are problems with the way it is drafted but I am sure it is nothing the justice committee could not deal with. It could hear the appropriate witnesses and make amendments, but let us get on with it.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 6.30 p.m., pursuant to the order made earlier today, the House will now proceed to government orders.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-15, an act to amend the Criminal Code and to amend other acts, be now read a second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.

Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2001Government Orders

6:30 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, for the benefit of people who are listening, I am pleased, once again, to make a summary of the context of Bill C-15, which the government has called an omnibus bill.

As I said earlier in jest, I compared this omnibus bill to a bus bill carrying an unlimited number of passengers. The government has included in this bill all the amendments it could think of, that is to say amendments to the criminal code.

What makes the situation awkward is that we find in the same bill amendments creating new offenses to provide protection to children from sexual exploitation, including sexual exploitation involving use of the Internet. The bill also increases the maximum penalty for criminal harassment; it makes home invasion an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes and it creates an offence of disarming, or attempting to disarm, a peace officer.

The bill also contains a whole part that increases sentences for offenses involving cruelty against animals. This is where we have a problem.

The bill contains a whole part we support. All members who spoke on the bill, members of the opposition, said they were eager to have this bill quickly passed and implemented.

We agree with offences relating to sexual exploitation of children, the increase of the maximum penalty for criminal harassment, making home invasion an aggravating circumstance and the new offence of disarming a peace officer.

As far as the increase in penalties for cruelty to animals is concerned, this is a situation that is hard to introduce into a single bill. It creates difficulties for an MP like myself, from the riding of Argenteuil--Papineau--Mirabel, the only federal riding between two metropolitan communities, Montreal to the east and the Outaouais region to the west. It is the only riding where the land is considered 50% agricultural and 50% forest, lakes and mountains.

We can therefore consider ourselves as part of the food basket for Greater Montreal and also for the Outaouais, while also being part of their playground.

Obviously, everything that could affect farmers and the work they do affects me directly. As for Bill C-15, given the increased penalties for cruelty to animals, I will reread a change to the designation of the term “animal”, which is “...a vertebrate, other than a human being, and any other animal that has the capacity to feel pain”.

Obviously, any vertebrate that has the capacity to feel pain leads us to think that anyone involved in animal husbandry may be liable to be charged under the criminal code under new clause 182 and those that follow, and even sentenced to up to five years in prison.

There are still many broad discussions required on this. What we are telling the government is that this is not over, that the discussions have not been completed as far as cruelty to animals and the penalties for it are concerned.

In this connection, I refer to where the text states that everyone commits an offence who “without lawful excuse, kills an animal” or “without lawful excuse, poisons an animal, places poison in such a position that it may easily be consumed by an animal”.

As far as agriculture is concerned, one thinks of rodents and so on, but the words that are the most striking are “without lawful excuse”, because there is no definition. The only words used are without lawful excuse.

This led to confusion. The Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec, the Ontario Farm Federation and the Fédération des producteurs de volailles du Québec have all expressed strong opposition and want much greater clarity in the definition of the word animal and in the definition of the meaning of without lawful excuse.

The pressing problems must be resolved in the short term. We can never say it enough, the matter of child pornography must be regulated quickly. In the same bill, the government introduced the matter of cruelty to animals, which the various stakeholders from the agricultural community have not finished discussing.

I mentioned earlier that 50% of my riding is forest, mountains and lakes. It therefore is a playground for some people. The hunting and fishing associations, the people who operate the wildlife preserve in keeping with all the regulations and laws, with the necessary permits, all may be afraid as of today to enjoy their sport and fear being accused of a criminal offence if the fish or game is not killed immediately and suffers a bit.

On behalf of the farmers in the riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, hunting and fishing associations, owners of hunting dogs and a very popular activity covering part of the riding, we are asking the question. All we want is to support the bill in connection with child pornography, an increase in the number of criminal offences in cases of criminal harassment and the creation of a new penalty for those who disarm peace officers in the course of their duty. We agree with this part of the bill.

We want the section of the bill dealing with cruelty to animals withdrawn from the bill and referred to various committees for discussion and expansion. That way the farmers of the riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, Quebec and Canada will not be penalized and neither will hunters and fishers who enjoy their favourite sport within the law and with the necessary permits.

Farmers should not be penalized by a bill that would threaten the way they earn their livelihood, just as hunters and fishers should not be penalized for practicing their sport.

These days, my riding is all the more affected because the Mirabel airport is located on its territory. That airport was built right in the middle of an agricultural area. As we know, this was the largest expropriation, the largest displacement of people, second only to the terrible events that took place in Acadia.

This was a huge federal operation. We still do not have what was promised back then, when the project to build Mirabel airport in an agricultural zone was being implemented. The government had promised to build highways, to build highway 13, highway 50 and a bullet train that would travel to the airport terminal. In 2001, more than 30 years later, highways 13 and 50 have yet to be completed, and we are still without a high speed train, even though there is an airport terminal.

With any bill, any proposal from the federal government, people in my riding of Argenteuil--Papineau--Mirabel are all the more concerned when they are told: “Do not worry. This is not a problem. All those who practice their sport or who have a farming operation will not be affected by this bill”.

Again, we cannot trust the government when we read the text, the definitions and the explanations on what may be deemed to be cruelty to animals. Let me repeat the definition of the word animal:

—a vertebrate, other than a human being, and any other animal that has the capacity to feel pain.

This means that a farmer, a hunter or a fisher is likely to think that if he does not immediately kill the product of his work or the target of his sport, if there is any kind of suffering for any reason whatsoever, he could be accused of having committed a criminal act. This makes us all the more eager to ask questions.

We should ensure that this whole portion of the bill concerning cruelty to animals is referred to committee so that those who earn their living honorably by farming, those who enjoy sports and who respect the laws, hunters, fishers and owners of hunting dogs, can practise their sport and indulge in their hobby or do their work without being constantly harassed by a neighbour or anyone else who might accuse them for who knows what reason of a criminal act.

I am rereading this section of the bill where it says that a person could be charged with a criminal offence if he:

c) kills an animal without lawful excuse;

No definition of “lawful excuse” is given.

d) without lawful excuse, poisons an animal, places poison in such a position that it may easily be consumed by an animal--

I repeat, there are vermin and things for which many solutions are available in the interests of greater cleanliness and an improved quality of life.

What I, my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois, and all members who have introduced bills and made speeches in the House are requesting is that the government split its bill, because an omnibus bill is a bill into which, I am joking, but that is how it looks, just about everything can be thrown, with no restrictions. That is why I described this bill as a catch-all bill or bus. At least we know how many passengers a bus can carry but, with an omnibus bill, there can be a series of amendments. When it is passed, it is passed in its entirety, and no part can be left out.

When government officials make recommendations, it is very difficult later on to make even a single change. Very important talks are taking place between the major bodies which speak for farmers throughout Quebec and Canada, and between the major associations representing hunters, fishers and owners of hunting dogs, those who use our forests, the wildlife on our lands, for recreational purposes, who show respect for their sport, comply with the rules and have the necessary licences. These people who earn their living from the land and use it for recreation have serious questions about this bill.

It would not be unthinkable for the government to decide, for once, to agree with the opposition and quickly pass and I cannot stress this enough, all of the amendments relative to the protection of children against sexual exploitation, criminal harassment, amendments regarding the disarming of a peace officer or increasing the sentencing for perpetrators of home invasions. We are ready and willing to pass this part of the bill very quickly, so that people will feel better protected.

As for the rest, for those provisions dealing with the implications of cruelty to animals, all of the definitions, protection for those who are involved in certain sports and who make an honest living, in order to spare them being punished by a bill that we passed in haste, we ask that the bill be split. We are still waiting to hear why the whole cruelty to animals issue is included in the same bill as protecting children from sexual exploitation. This is an aberration. It is allowed, because it is an omnibus bill, as it is called.

If there is one duty we owe to ourselves as parliamentarians in this House, it is to make sure that bills are clear, so that citizens not be left in doubt when it comes to issues such as the protection of children and cruelty to animals.

Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2001Government Orders

6:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I spoke to Bill C-15 earlier and pointed out that the provisions in C-15 as they pertain to the Firearms Act are part of this hidden agenda, this attempt to obtain a goal by indirect means. To further bolster the arguments and the positions I have put forward in this debate, I would like to put forward in the form of a question to my learned colleague from the Bloc Quebecois something from the Canadian Shooting Sports Association.

The infamous use it or lose it provisions were softened slightly in Bill C-15 but are still there. This action gives the CFO, the chief firearms officer, the authority to refuse or revoke a licence and/or registration for restricted firearms if the owner cannot prove the firearm was used for the purpose for which it was originally purchased, for example, target shooting or collecting.

The association was hopeful that the whole provision would be removed but says that the government gave in to the wailing of the Coalition for Gun Control and kept it in with a slight change. Instead of insisting that the gun be used for the original purpose, it will change to include any purpose listed in section 28, which refers to the protection of life, lawful profession, target shooting and collecting.

Just because a piece of property that was bought with after-tax income or earnings is sitting on a shelf and locked up according to the regulations, why should any government, bordering on the label of big brother government, come in and take that lawfully owned property just because it has not been used for a year? I would like the member to talk about civil liberties and the rights that Canadians should have to own property. Just because it may not be used, the government is saying it will come and take it away.

Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2001Government Orders

6:45 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, in the matter of the registration of firearms, it may be said after a few years that in the end the aim of the government, which was in part praiseworthy, has not been reached because of problems of delays in registrations.

In fact, hunters in Quebec and Canada are doubly distrustful as the time comes to support a bill such as the one before us, because there is a whole part of it that concerns cruelty to animals.

If the past is any indication of the future, they are right to be concerned. They acted in good faith and complied with the laws in effect, including the one respecting firearms, which is a monumental failure. The timeframes are tight, registration is long and painful. This clientele is experiencing a major problem.

There is no point going backward, but we do have before us the matter of cruelty to animals. All those whose recreational activities involve wildlife, hunters and fishers, are faced with a bill that, because of the definitions in it, could lead to their being charged.

There has not been discussion enough in the various committees that might have to debate this so that the associations involved can be heard and there are no problems. Discussions are needed so that everyone fully understands that those active in sports involving wildlife, such as hunting and fishing, are not likely to face criminal charges or be accused of cruelty to animals.

This applies as well to farmers working by the sweat of their brow. I hope that all those working in this industry, who have taken on the job of feeding us, will not have this unfortunate sword of Damocles hanging over their head and will not run the risk of being accused of cruelty to animals.

This is why this whole part on cruelty to animals must be sent to a committee, and the bill split so that the matter of the sexual exploitation of children may be dealt with quickly. The rest we will have to be able to deal with in committee, and then we will come back with a bill that has been discussed with the various agricultural associations and movements. In this way, people will feel more at ease practicing their profession or their favourite sport.

Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2001Government Orders

6:50 p.m.


Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel just mentioned, we agree with a number of amendments which the minister is proposing in this bill. The majority of members agree with certain amendments, which means that we could pass this part of the bill very quickly.

Regarding the other part of the bill, the vast majority of members, including those on the government side, have certain concerns. That part deals, among other things, with cruelty to animals and with the Firearms Act.

It seems to me that what we are asking is fairly simple. We just want the bill to be divided into two separate bills so we can adopt as quickly as possible all provisions aimed at protecting children, at increasing penalties for specific offences and at giving better legislative tools to our police officers.

On the other hand, with regard to cruelty to animals, given the complexity of the issue, we must take the time to look at the bill very carefully. We are not against protecting animals and imposing harsher penalties. That is not the point. It is a very complex issue.

That is the subject of my question to the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. Given the definition of the term animal, which is defined in the bill as a vertebrate other than a human being, does the member think, as do several pharmaceutical companies and several Canadian universities and associations working in the medical field, that such a bill, if passed, would hinder the development of drugs? Had we had such legislation in the past, would we have been able to make such great discoveries as we have made so far with regard to drugs that most people know, drugs that have unfortunately been tested on animals but that are now saving human lives?

Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2001Government Orders

6:50 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the question asked by the hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm is clear. Yes, I think this could hinder the development of new drugs. Again, under clause 182.2, an offence is defined as follows:

(1)(a) causes or, being the owner, permits to be caused unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal

Without a definition of the term “unnecessary” and of the expression lawful excuse in “kills an animal without lawful excuse”, there will always be groups who will want to prevent research, prevent all sorts of situations in which these people believe that there is cruelty to animals when in fact it is not necessarily the case. There is not necessarily cruelty to animals.

I thank the hon. member for making these comments and I fully support the fact that we want true cruelty to animals to be punished. This is what we are saying. However, farmers, hunters, fishers, people who make a living and who practise a sport must not be punished because these definitions were added to a bill, thus making them liable to be charged.

Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2001Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am indeed privileged to enter into this debate, as we do on other debates from time to time.

I would like to begin my intervention this evening by talking about the essence of democracy, which I think is severely eroding by what is happening here. I know I have to stay within parliamentary rules so I just want members to imagine the very worst terms I could use to describe how incensed I am at the Liberal government for throwing together these widely disparate items and asking me to cast a vote on them. It is totally crass, unjust, unfair political opportunism that motivates the Liberals to do this. I am very upset about it.

I am upset because I believe that in parliament, in this honourable Chamber where we represent the whole sum total of the citizens of this wonderful country, we should be able to discuss issues. We should be able to persuade each other to a better point of view and members of parliament should then be able to vote freely. I feel somewhat frustrated that I likely will not be able to change the vote of a single Liberal member of parliament because of the fact that regardless of what I say, regardless of whether my arguments are weak or strong or how persuasive they are, the Liberals will still all vote en masse on command of the minister to pass a bill which is so severely flawed.

Furthermore, I am really upset that I am being forced to vote for some things that I am totally opposed to or conversely, that I am being forced to vote against something that I totally support. I am in a no-win situation here and it does not have to be.

I have used this example before because this is not the first time the government has done these things. I do not know if I used exactly the same elements but it is as if I were to order a meal in a restaurant. When I look at the menu, there are four or five different items from which I could choose but each of them has some desirable food and undesirable food and I am forced, in order to place that order, to eat something that is totally undesirable.

I use the example of ordering a beautiful steak. I love steak. I am a westerner. There is nothing better than a good Alberta steak.

Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2001Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

An hon. member

We noticed.

Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2001Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

He noticed just by looking at me sideways. One of the items on the menu is a beautiful steak with all the side orders, the trimmings and everything. But I am told that I cannot have it unless I also eat the gravel that is sprinkled on top. Gravel is not very tasty and it chips my teeth, but I am told that I cannot have the steak unless I eat the gravel.

I have another example, and this one is going to be even more crude. This one is turkey with all the trimmings. We are coming up to Thanksgiving soon both in the United States and Canada. What a meaningful Thanksgiving it will be this year because of the recent incident. How grateful we are that we live in a country that has freedom, freedom of movement and freedom to live. But I am thinking of that turkey and in among the turkey are the feathers, because the feathers were not taken off the bird before it was cooked. I am told that I have to eat the feathers as well as that wonderful turkey that I like so much.

In all these different instances I am not given a choice. So it is here with this bill. I am being asked to either vote for these elements en masse or against them en masse.

The reason that it is so crass is I am sure that it is exactly along the lines of what I saw in the 1993 in the election.

One of my colleagues at that time, the member now for Edmonton North then from Beaver River, was running in the election. A brochure was sent out in her riding which listed all the things she had voted for or against. These were things that no doubt the people in that constituency either did or did not want. They used it for straight political reasons. In the midst of a vote, and this is almost always true, it is very seldom that we get a vote which we can support wholeheartedly.

When we have a bill like this, which has some things that are so objectionable, we cannot in conscience vote for it and represent our constituents. However, at the same time there is another element in that same bill that I could never vote against. How am I going to win?

I really think that perhaps the Speaker should intervene here. The Speaker should say that we need to guarantee the freedom of members of parliament to vote the way they believe their constituents would want them to vote.

Since this bill puts the members of parliament into such a dilemma, the Speaker should say that he will not accept the bill in its present form. Maybe the Speaker should say to the government that the bill should be divided and brought back for us to debate it, amend it and vote on it. Maybe that would be the solution. After all, the role of the Speaker is to ensure that the rights of parliamentarians are maintained.

I do not think that this means or any other means is an acceptable means to force me to vote opposite to the way I should on certain issues.

The Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act state, among other things, that if someone were to offer me money to try to persuade me to vote differently from what I might vote, it would be considered a high crime. This could result in both the person offering the money and the member of parliament, if he or she were stupid enough to accept the offer, landing in jail, and rightly so.

Why should the person who offers a bribe go to jail, when the government forces me to vote contrary to my beliefs and it does not go to jail? I would like to see all the Liberals in jail. We cannot do this to a person and maintain the integrity of parliament. Think about it. I do not think enough thought has gone into that.

That is by way of introduction to the particular bill. A few things really bother me about the bill, but some things I could probably support. For example, in our modern electronic age it is now possible very easily to transmit information electronically via computers, e-mail and the Internet. One thing in the bill, which I do not think has been mentioned in the debate so far, is that the bill permits the acceptance into evidence of electronically transmitted information. That is perfectly good. It is wonderful that we can communicate quickly and easily.

Another part of the bill is good. It provides that a witness or even an accused does not have to physically be in the court if, by some electronic conferencing means, it can be shown to the satisfaction of the court that all of them are able to see and hear each other simultaneously. That is a good move. It could save our country millions of dollars of costs in getting witnesses to court, as long as the courts are satisfied that there is no coercion and that all statements are freely made. I would vote for that because it is a good one.

I am sensitive to another part of the bill because of my past experience. Those who know me know will know what I am talking about. I have some affinity for people with handicaps because I had a sister who was severely handicapped. There are provisions in the bill that make it easier for them to testify, either as an accused or as a witness.

In the opinion of the judge, if a person feels intimidated in a public court with everyone watching, this bill would allow that person to be a witness from behind a curtain without being visible. Another very important thing is it could be arranged, for example, for the victim not to be in a position to physically see the accused. It is a very important thing in terms of victims' rights. I want to support that. I want to vote yes when the vote comes up for Bill C-15 because of some of those issues.

The bill talks about the issue of child pornography. I know that some of my other colleagues have already entered into the debate on that issue. I strongly want to vote in favour of anything that will reduce these vile attacks on our children. Whether it is an attack of physically using a child, which is absolutely unthinkable in my mind, or whether it is in the realm of cartoons and does not actually involve a child in their production, the very idea we would promote that in our society is such that I want to be against it.

The bill takes a few tepid steps in improving protection for children and in reducing the child pornography industry. I want to vote in favour of that but I do not want to vote in favour of some of the other things.

I am appalled at what little protection we give to children in our society. The age of consent is presently 14. That is unbelievable. We have friends who are a generation beneath us, but their children are growing up now. I am thinking right now of a specific family. They have a wonderful family with three children.

I cannot imagine someone actually enticing or intimidating this young lady, who is a couple months older than 14, into some of these heinous acts, whether by Internet or otherwise, and getting away with it because the age of consent is 14. The bill happens to talk about using the Internet as a means of enticing children.

I am opposed to the age of consent being 14. It should be at least 16, but preferably 18. If we are not ready to protect our children in society, then our society is going downhill. We need to take very strong steps in that regard.

Then there is the issue of cruelty to animals. This is one item that is very badly done in the bill. For the life of me I cannot condone for an instant deliberate cruelty to animals. I have heard of such situations. There was one situation in the Edmonton area next to my riding.

A lady had a house full of cats, which happens from time to time in different cities, but it was unreal how those animals suffered. I believe there were 50 to 100 of them in the house and they were not properly fed. In fact many of them had died. The people who went into the house said the stench was horrific, yet this woman lived with these cats. Obviously, this person was mentally ill and needed help. What happens to those animals is unconscionable.

I want to make it very clear that I am not in any way in favour or will I condone the wilful torture or inhumane treatment of animals.

I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan. The things that needed to be done to train animals were well within the limits of reasonableness, yet not clearly defined in this particular bill.

Trying to train any animal, whether it is a dolphin at the zoo or an elephant, a combination of reward and punishment is used. That is the only way to train them. Some would think it is very cruel for a guy like me to get on a little pony to try and break it, yet it is a very good way of breaking it. I do not mean physically breaking its back, although that is a possibility. If a heavy person gets on an animal it tires more quickly and is brought to subjection more quickly. That is part of training an animal.

There are other things. I do not know how many members have a dog. How does one train a dog so that it behaves in a socially acceptable manner when living in a house with humans? I do not know of any little puppy that will respond to anything other than a small amount of physical punishment. It is not harmful, yet there would be some that would say it is cruel.

I think of the way we treated our animals on the farm. My dad was always very careful. However the bill says that everyone commits an offence who wilfully or recklessly causes, or being the owner, permits to be caused unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal or who kills an animal or, being the owner, permits an animal to be killed, brutally or viciously, regardless of whether the animal dies immediately.

When I was young we used to go fishing. It was part of our food supply. When a fish is pulled out of the water it has that mean, ugly hook in its mouth, which is pretty cruel. Then the fish is killed. Some people just allow it to die of asphyxiation. Others use some other means to kill the fish. Does it mean that sport fishing now will be illegal? To me that is pretty brutal. If it was done to a human it certainly would be considered brutal. Yet it says that if one allows it to be done, brutally or viciously, regardless of whether the animal dies immediately, one is guilty.

We cannot have that. The bill will put at risk everyone who goes out sport fishing and actually uses the fish for food, which is a proper function. Here we have a Liberal bill and I am being told I have to vote for that.

I also think of animals. When we were on the farm we used to slaughter them. Nowadays they are taken to the abattoir and it is done professionally. However when I was a youngster we used to do that ourselves on the farm. My father used to point the rifle right in the middle of the animal's head and it died instantly. Again, if we did that to a human it would be considered brutal and vicious.

The words brutal and vicious are undefined. In this case the animal died, in my opinion, within milliseconds. Yet, according to the bill, that farmer, hunter or native in the North country who takes down a moose are all at risk because they have done something which is vicious and brutal.

I cannot support the bill if it has that kind of a clause in it. I plead with the government and the Speaker. Let us divide these things out. Let us talk about them one at a time. It would not take any longer. In fact it would take less time because we would be able to deal with each issue separately, get it to where we want it to be, have the vote and it would be done.

As it is right now, we are going to be hung up on this because we cannot reach an agreement on these things. It puts us into such a conundrum to be going frontward and backward on issues at the same time.

There is a limit to how far we can do that. I believe that democracy is eroded by the fact that these things are all in the bill. There are others, but I am out of time so cannot elaborate on the others. However, that is the essence of what I want to say today. I really wish that the government would reconsider and even at this stage, second reading of the bill, pull it back, divide it out and let us have some parliamentary co-operation here, which is what allows us to do our job.