Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to the species at risk bill. We on this side of the House would be in favour of protecting the species, however we find it difficult to agree with some things the government wants to do. Therefore, we must speak in opposition to some of these, even though it is a great attempt to protect some of the species.
The Canadian Alliance submitted an amendment which would require that for a person to be found guilty of a criminal offence, the person must knowingly have done harm to an endangered species. This is not the case with this bill. We are concerned that someone could be charged with a criminal act even though he or she had no criminal intent or if it were an accident.
The bill would make it a criminal act to kill, harm or harass any one of the hundreds of endangered species or to interfere with their critical habit. We have a problem with that. There are problems recognizing all the different species and knowing where they are.
The fines would be very steep, even higher than for some intentional crimes that might be committed. For instance, a corporation could be fined $1 million. An individual could be fined $250,000 and could be imprisoned for up to five years on an indictable offence. However someone could commit such an offence without even knowing it or without intent. The bill does not require intent or reckless behaviour. It puts the burden of proof on people to prove due diligence.
I remember being in a hayfield of my father-in-law a few years ago. This hayfield happened to be next door to a prairie preserve. It was not located in Canada, rather it was located in the United States. As I came around for a second time with the mower, there was this fog of bumblebees. Without knowing it, I had crossed through their home. They were quite irritated about it, and rightly so, and they let me know it. That could have been quite a stinging experience, but I escaped and the bees were fine.
However in that same area there are prairie chickens, which are on the endangered list in Saskatchewan. I could just as easily, without knowing the difference, have mowed through a nest or killed an animal. That could happen in Saskatchewan. We have so many species that could easily be interfered with by a farmer in his normal operations, but to recognize them and know they are there is the big thing.
We expect farmers, ranchers and loggers to recognize these species when in fact some of them are so rarely seen that we have no way of recognizing them. We have the sage grouse, the barn owl, the aurora trout, the Atlantic salmon, the prairie lupine and the American water- willow. Not only do people have to recognize them, but they have to recognize their critical habitat as well. They have to know where they live there. They have to know if they live there part time and what time of the year they might go there or if it is a part of their cycle of life. They do not want to destroy their habitat.
Then I think about right in the middle of the city. I live in the beautiful city of Regina, which is part of the riding of Regina--Lumsden--Lake Centre. We have some endangered species called the peregrine falcon which live on top of some of our high buildings. It is on the list from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
I was just envisioning what would happen if I was driving down the scenic Saskatchewan drive heading back from my riding. Just suppose a peregrine falcon decided that one of those nice white rabbits jumping along the railroad tracks might make a good lunch. It swoops down in front of my vehicle, I run over it or hit it, and accidentally kill a peregrine falcon. As I understand it, I could be charged in that accident for killing the peregrine falcon.
What about a sprague's pipit or the prairie loggerhead shrike? How would I know if I killed one? What if I were driving across my riding to see some of my distant ranchers, and as I drove through the prairies and wheat fields a swift fox ran across the road, only not quite swift enough? What if I struck it and killed or injured it? I would be in the middle of committing a crime.
What about a sage grouse or the burrowing owl? What if I was out in a field mowing or riding across the pasture in my four-wheel and I came across a burrowing owl quite by accident and killed it? Perhaps I mowed a certain area and only after I finished mowing it I discovered that I killed a burrowing owl? Not only did I kill the borrowing owl but I crushed its burrow. Then where would I be? I would be guilty of more than one crime without even knowing the owl was there.
I would need to recognize the greater prairie chicken, the piping clover, the mountain clover and the sage thresher. I could go on and on if I got the complete list of all those animals, birds, plants, fish and frogs that I would need to recognize so I could protect them or protect myself from accidentally harming them.
We support the goals of protecting endangered species, but we also believe in protecting our honest citizens ensuring they are not susceptible to becoming instant criminals honestly.
I understand there have been 80 plus amendments brought forward to this legislation to improve it. Why are so few of these amendments, which would make such good improvements in such a simple way, continually rejected by the committee or by the government as a whole?
For instance, companies that operate huge areas of oil fields or forestry have to demonstrate due diligence over their operations of hundreds of thousands or millions of hectares. How can they control all the factors on their land? Yet they stand to be arrested if something happens to one of the species there.
The hon. Minister of the Environment has said
It's a legitimate matter for concern. The accident, the unwitting destruction...it is a concern, and we want to give the maximum protection we can to the legitimate and honest person who makes a mistake, who unwittingly does that.
My question is this. Why do we not simply write it into the legislation instead of leaving it up to them to have to prove their innocence in some other way?
The fear and the anger that will come from the general public and the mistrust of the government, will in fact end up harming the habitat and the existence of endangered species rather than helping them. No one wants to see that happen.
I urge the government to pay close attention to the average citizen out there who also needs protection, not just the species that are endangered.