moved that Bill C-280, an act to amend the Criminal Code (selling wildlife), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to once again speak to a bill to protect wildlife, Bill C-280.
This bill has had quite a ride. It was first introduced on April 30, 1996 but was only drawn earlier this year. It was debated but the vote was deferred until the first sitting in September. Then the House was prorogued and a new Speech from the Throne was delivered. Now we are starting the process all over again. It does give me a chance to speak once again to Canadians about why this private member's bill is on the table.
Like many Canadians, I am concerned about what happens to wildlife in the international community. Once they were very abundant but all of a sudden they have become endangered or few in number.
It was brought to my attention in my own riding how individuals will kill animals for profit. I was concerned with the way that issue was dealt with. I thought there had to be a better way to deal with people who deliberately killed animals, not for their meat and not because they were trying to feed their families or that they were hungry themselves, but simply because they could make money by killing our wildlife.
The purpose of Bill C-280 is to protect animals from that type of poaching. In 1995, 25% of the bears killed in Canada were illegally poached. That translates into about 1,300 bears a year. That includes 90 grizzly bears, which some claim are diminishing in numbers to a point where we should be seriously concerned. It is not just black bears, of which we seem to have lots and sometimes they can be a bit of a pest, but grizzly bears are also victims.
It is not just bears, although that is the instance that brought it to my attention; it is all wildlife. In Jasper National Park and Banff bighorn sheep are being poached for their horns. This is in total disregard for the provincial regulations that control the hunting of these species.
In my riding a couple of Surrey residents were fined $7,000 and given 17 days in jail for illegally selling 18 bear gallbladders. It does not sound like much of a deal, 18 gallbladders, but they cost $800 each. That is quite an incentive for people to continue this kind of activity.
Bill C-280 brings to the attention of Canadians that this is not about something that is happening with elephants over in Africa or in Asia, it is something that is happening right here in our own backyard.
There was an article in the Ottawa Citizen just last week. It said that wildlife agencies and enforcement officers had crushed a Quebec centred crime ring of more than 100 hunters, trappers, taxidermists, furriers and smugglers who killed bears for the gallbladders and shipped the organs illegally to markets in Asia.
Let me explain what has happened to the market in Asia. Asia's bear population has been almost completely wiped out in order to supply the medicinal trade.
In the early 1990s with the collapse of law enforcement in the Soviet Union, bear gallbladder traders were given a ripe new hunting ground in Russia's far eastern region of Kamchatka. By the mid-1990s these bears too had become rare and a search for a new source of bear bile and bear gallbladders brought Asian dealers to Canada. Now we have a developed market for these parts.
The bill tries to give provinces greater ability to deal with these most serious poaching incidents. Provinces now are quite limited when they are dealing with this problem.
In Quebec where more than 200 bear gallbladders were seized, the people were only able to be given a penalty of $1,825. If over 200 bear gallbladders were seized, that is not the amount that had already been marketed. At $800 each, it shows that $1,825 is a very small price to pay to do business. With that kind of return on one's investment, that fine does not mean a whole lot. The Quebec provincial officials were talking about trying to find a way that those people would not do it again.
That is where this bill comes into play. We are trying to toughen the legislation and to bring it under the Criminal Code. If it is a minor issue that a province is not concerned about, it can handle it under provincial jurisdiction and merely fine someone. That may be appropriate in some instances. However, in a case like the one in Quebec last week, where people in an organized ring are slaughtering bears illegally for profit to line their own pockets, there has to be some dramatic way of saying that this will not be tolerated. There has to be more than an $1,825 fine. This legislation tries to do that.
In the debate that we had in the past, the Liberals said that there already is legislation in place. I would argue that it only covers a very small portion of the problem. The Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, WAPPRIITA, is only relevant if the wildlife or the wildlife part crosses provincial or international boundaries. In order for the act to be enforced, that action has to be proved. The gallbladders are put in jars of jam or they are dried and made into powder. It is difficult to know that they are being exported. It is very difficult for the Crown to prove that they are crossing international or provincial boundaries. WAPPRIITA has similar penalties to what my Bill C-280 proposes.
My private member's bill tries to accommodate the limitations that the provinces now have to deal with in these serious poaching issues. It allows them to have a choice either to proceed under the provincial legislation and the provincial fine structure or to proceed under the Criminal Code.
With this bill, as with WAPPRIITA, it is a substantial fine. It is a $150,000 fine with up to five years imprisonment. It deals with it in a harsh enough manner that there is a deterrent for people who poach bears or other wildlife.
Eliminating the need for the prosecutors to prove that the bear part, elk horn or sheep horn crossed provincial or international boundaries would make it much easier for enforcement purposes.
I want to reiterate that the bill does not force the provinces to use the Criminal Code. It does not encroach on the provinces' right and the provinces' ability to use their own legislation if they so desire. I stress very strongly, particularly to my Bloc colleagues, that this does not encroach on provincial jurisdiction.
The bill does not create any new rules or regulations. There is nothing new that the provinces have to deal with. Anybody with a valid licence, permit or an exemption order issued by either level of government, for instance, aboriginals with their exemptions, would not be committing an offence. That is clearly outlined in order that there is no confusion.
In order not to encroach on provincial jurisdiction, in order to give the provinces choices, we decided to handle this like we handle driving charges. Driving regulations are a provincial jurisdiction, but serious driving offences, such as impaired driving causing bodily harm, impaired driving or driving under the influence, can all be handled under the Criminal Code. The choice is there for prosecutors to select either the provincial statutes or the Criminal Code on which to proceed.
We are suggesting that the same method could be used here. In a case where 100 individuals are massively killing off wildlife, they could be dealt with differently from the person who hunts out of season and kills a bear. We might want to cover that under a provincial statute.
We wanted to make sure that there was a way to deal with the most serious offences in a manner that would stop the behaviour.
Having debated this issue before, I hope that the New Democratic Party and the Conservative Party still will support this legislation. I know that the Bloc feels it cannot support it because of the provincial jurisdiction issue. I must say, though, that it confuses me when that party can pick an issue like this one, poaching wildlife parts, as a provincial intrusion, but is more than willing and will argue vociferously that the federal government should be interfering in provincial responsibility and jurisdiction with Kyoto. The Bloc argues that poaching is a provincial jurisdiction and should not be dealt with at a federal level and yet the energy policy that Kyoto will bring down is okay. I would like those members to explain to me why there is this inconsistency in their arguments.
The Liberals say that they support the concept or the intent of the legislation but they will not support this private member's bill. I have a letter from the environment minister that states there is an overlap with provincial legislation, but I would argue that there is an overlap with driving legislation as well. There is also Kyoto. There is plenty of legislation that overlaps provincial and federal jurisdictions.
The minister also stated that there are enforcement difficulties, but I would argue that my bill would be far easier to enforce than the existing WAPPRIITA because it has to be proven that the animal or the gallbladder or whatever went across provincial or international boundaries. I would argue that the argument from the minister should be in reverse: that this private member's bill would make it much easier to enforce.
In conclusion, let me say that the intent of Bill C-280 is to deal with a serious poaching issue in our country. We can either do something constructive about it now while there is still a species to deal with, or we can ignore the problem and worry about it when it is too late. I suggest that Canadians would like to see the House dealing with the problem now while there is still time to protect the wildlife that the bill zeroes in on, which is our bear population.
I feel that Bill C-280 deserves support from all members of the House. I look forward to seeing that when it comes to a vote.