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House of Commons Hansard #156 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was americans.

Topics

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5:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Betty Hinton Canadian Alliance Kamloops, Thompson And Highland Valleys, BC

Madam Speaker, what was I doing a year ago? I was just entering parliament as a brand new member. I was green as grass and trying to learn. What was my party doing, did it have a critic in that particular role? Perhaps not at that point in time, because our entire caucus was the critic. We stood in the House day after day and hammered home the issues of our constituents.

I never intended to make it sound like I represented real Canadians and other members represented false Canadians. We all represent real Canadians. There is just a different kind of representation on this side than on that side.

As I said earlier today, members on that side of the House can say whatever they want, face-saving, I do not care. I am so happy they finally did the right thing that I will take whatever they want to throw at me.

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5:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Madam Speaker, I just heard the parliamentary secretary take such an important issue and ascribe powers to the official opposition as though not having a trade critic for a day or two, or a week or whatever it happened to have been, is the reason we have a softwood lumber dispute and the reason there is a huge need to move on this issue. That certainly seemed to be what he was implying with that kind of comment.

My colleague is absolutely correct. Members of parliament from British Columbia have been rising on this issue in the House over and over again. Within a few days we will mark a year of the date of the expiration of the softwood lumber agreement. The moment that agreement was signed we knew it would end five years from the date it was signed. It is not rocket science to understand the concept that the government was woefully unprepared to deal with this important issue.

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5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Pat O'Brien Liberal London—Fanshawe, ON

Nonsense.

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5:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

The parliamentary secretary says that is nonsense. I would invite him to come and visit Hammond Cedar Mill in my riding. It is the world's largest cedar mill. I was there last week. People are losing their jobs. The Hammond mill has opened up once again and that is a positive. They are seeking a remedy to this and we have agreement on this motion.

Does my colleague not agree with me that it has been the government's woeful response over the last several years that has put us in this difficult situation with the softwood lumber crisis?

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5:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Betty Hinton Canadian Alliance Kamloops, Thompson And Highland Valleys, BC

Madam Speaker, I am trying not to be terribly political here, although we are in a political room and this is a political issue, but I have already told the House how happy I am.

I want to tell my colleague, who just asked me the question, that it gives me the greatest pleasure to say--and it has been a few months since I could say this to him--that I agree wholeheartedly with what he just said.

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5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I am delighted that you are in the chair doing a wonderful job. I remind the Deputy Speaker who has just left that he promised to read my speech tonight as he could not be here. I am not splitting my time with anyone because there is no one to split my time with.

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5:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

I will split the member's time.

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5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

My thanks for the generous offer. A new member always likes that.

I thank the Minister for International Trade for listening to Yukon's submissions. When I have brought the number of concerns of the mills and the forest industry to the minister over the many months he has been working on this, he has been very willing to listen and to deal with our industry. For much of this debate, the minister was here listening to the ideas of members from all parties.

I also thank members for unanimously supporting the motion.

A member of the Alliance made the observation that for members of parliament there is more that actually unites us than divides us. That is a microcosm of Canada itself. There is more that unites us than divides us. We all want similar objectives. We want to raise our families and make a good living. It is tremendous on issues such as this one when we can come together. Hopefully in parliament we could do this more often for the benefit of all Canadians. We could strike out strongly in the world to protect Canadian interests and make progress. That is what all members are here to do.

During the course of the U.S. trade investigations, Canadian industry submitted in excess of 100 requests for species and product exclusions. These requests included western red cedar, red and white pine and a series of further manufactured products. The Government of Canada has actively supported these requests through the course of the investigations, filing numerous briefs strongly encouraging the U.S. commerce department to give serious consideration to all exclusion requests.

Canadian industry argued extensively for these exclusions, particularly with respect to the high valued cedar and pine species. The U.S. commerce department, after considering numerous requests from companies and associations, excluded only a limited number of products and no species. This is an arbitrary and unfair decision. While we are disappointed with the decision, the commerce department's actions are nothing more than a continuation of U.S. negotiating practices.

The Government of Canada is looking at how to best ensure the fair treatment of all segments of the Canadian lumber products industry in any agreement. Canada will be filing additional briefs and arguing before a commerce department hearing to press it to render species and product exclusions. Our negotiators will also be pursuing a number of exclusions from any agreement that we may ultimately reach with the United States.

Canadian lumber producers that do not benefit from programs covered by the U.S. countervailing subsidy investigation are entitled to seek an exclusion from any duties. The granting of such exclusions is highly discretionary by the U.S. commerce department.

The Government of Canada has worked closely with companies, industry associations and provincial and territorial governments to ensure that companies entitled to an exclusion from trade action were able to seek an exclusion. Some 350 Canadian companies were submitted for consideration in October last year. This included some 200 Canadian remanufacturers, secondary lumber manufacturers who produce value added products.

The federal government, the territories, the provinces, industry associations and individual companies went to extraordinary lengths to submit applications that were accurate, complete and fully in accordance with U.S. regulations. After four months the commerce department announced that of some 350 applications, it was only prepared to look at a handful of companies.

The 30 companies selected source their logs from private lands, the maritime provinces, Yukon or the United States. While we are pleased that companies are still being considered for exclusion, Canada is extremely disappointed with the decision to ignore over 320 company applications.

The commerce department has now completed verification of the companies that are being considered. It will announce the results of the company exclusion process when it makes a final subsidy determination on March 21. Canada is continuing to pursue exclusions in the current discussions, particularly with respect to remanufactured products.

Canada's proposal recognizes that a border measure needs to be tailored to ensure that the remanufacturing sector is not disadvantaged relative to other producers. The United States has yet to provide a detailed response to Canada's proposed transition measures, including the issue of exclusions.

Unlike the unreasonable approach the United States has taken to date in the subsidy investigation, for instance imposing the provisional duty on a final mill basis which makes no sense, Canada has proposed that the export charge be imposed on a first mill basis. A first mill reflects the fact that remanufacturers acquire lumber through arm's length transactions and would avoid taxing the value added transportation costs that the remanufacturers and other secondary producers must face.

I would like to talk to our friends in America, those who might be listening every time we have this debate. We have had numerous debates on softwood lumber to make our point about what we feel is a travesty of justice against Canada. Every time I speak to Americans who might be listening, I hope that a few more will get the message.

Recently I was at a celebration in the United States with over 500 people, mostly Americans, who were celebrating their relationship with Canada. They were celebrating the assistance we gave them on September 11 and the assistance we are continuing to give to help their troops protect them and achieve our common objectives.

How could a country so closely linked to us as a friend make arbitrary trade decisions, including the one on softwood lumber, which also affects its neighbour? I know that most Americans are not responsible for this. It is a failing in law. It is a little archaic provision that has not yet been removed which allows a few minor officials to embarrass their country around the world by unilaterally imposing arbitrary, unfair trade subsidies like this one. Sometimes I wonder how a country so powerful that it can put a man on the moon cannot get rid of a little legal irritant which allows junior officials to embarrass such a great nation.

I just want to describe how embarrassing it is in relation to my riding of Yukon, which of course has been impacted like the rest of Canada by the provisions of this agreement. These provisions suggest that the U.S., a great country, which most Americans think is fairly strong economically and has some fairly strong businesses compared to other countries, is running scared from a tiny place called Yukon. Let me describe this adversary the Americans are cowering from and running and hiding from.

Yukon is so far away from the United States consumers who will buy this lumber. Most Americans have probably never been there. Many of them have probably never heard of Yukon. They have probably never been there because it costs thousands and thousands of dollars to get there. If we use common sense, it will also cost thousands of dollars to get the lumber back into their stores to sell to them and compete against them.

The trees in Yukon are hundreds of years old. They are way up in the north Arctic. With the cold temperatures, it takes a lot longer to grow the trees than the ones the Americans are growing and selling in their stores.

Imagine the costs of labour way up in the Arctic. The cost of labour input is much more in this very competitive industry.

Think of the heating costs we have up there. When we need a tradesman, he has to come hundreds of miles. The parts for the mills may have to come thousands of miles. How could we possibly compete with anyone? Yet the great United States appears to be running and hiding, claiming it needs to add a 30% tariff to protect it from this huge great enemy.

A lot of the land from which some of the mills are producing is settlement land from land claims, which is indeed private land and not subsidized. We cannot put a subsidy against it.

Much of the land in this great northern threat is semi-arid. There is not much water compared to the great rain forests of the United States coastal areas. It takes so long for our trees to grow and they are so small. It is beyond anyone's imagination to think we would be a competitive threat.

Let us imagine a race to a store in the United States. We have some competition here to see who wins the race, who gets their lumber there at the cheapest price.

There is a lumber mill down the street. It puts the lumber on a truck and ships it down to the store.

Then there is the enemy the Americans are terrified of thousands of miles away who has to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars for gas for a truck, for a truck driver, for truck parts to go all the way through Yukon and all the way through British Columbia or over thousands of miles of ocean to get there. With increased labour costs, with heating costs and with trees that have taken hundreds of years to grow, what kind of competition would that be?

We should think what it would cost to actually put that lumber in the store beside the nearby product from the American mill. It would be so much more expensive. Yet this ridiculous provision suggests that Americans will have to add 30% to the cost of that in the store if they want to buy it.

If we add 30% on top of the huge amount it would cost extra, think how much more the Americans are paying for lumber and building products. It is ridiculous that a few minor officials and a few firms in the United States have allowed this archaic provision to continue.

I implore Americans on behalf of my constituents. We cannot help them here. Americans have to go to their congressmen and their senators to protect the poor people in the United States who are paying these huge prices, to protect their building stores that need to sell these products and the employees of those stores and to protect middle class people.

Housing prices are way up because of the dramatic taxes on lumber. Most of all, they have to protect the poor people, which both countries have, who need housing. I implore them to do that and to ask their congressmen and senators to remove this ridiculous provision and these arbitrary trade sanctions against Canadian products, because we are one of their best friends in the world.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Yukon for his speech. I know he cares a great deal about this issue. I learned a lot from his speech. I had no idea that there was a softwood lumber industry in Yukon.

I have a series of questions out of personal curiosity I would be interested in asking with regard to the industry in Yukon, the size of the industry, the employment, the impact on the industry, and where the market is for the industry.

I do want to correct the member on one point. I think he was wrong about Americans not knowing about Yukon. I was once at a party in Seattle where a group of drunken revellers broke into a recitation of The Shooting of Dan McGrew , so it is more widely known than the hon. member may be aware.

Yukon of course is a territory and not a province and therefore is under a federal jurisdiction. I am not sure if the forestry sector is entirely dealt with through territorial regulations or if there is some form of federal involvement. This might give us some clue because it is handled through a different system than the provinces are.

I am interested in the regulatory system that is used. Is there anything we can learn with regard to how one meets or does not meet with the kinds of concerns the Americans keep on bringing up, whether or not those concerns are legitimate? Is Yukon doing something different or is it simply adopting the same kind of practices that the Americans go on about so much when they speak of some of our other provinces?

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5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his questions. I always appreciate his contribution in the House. I quite enjoy debating with him.

He asked a number of questions and I am glad he did. There are some points I did not put in my speech that could have clarified them. He mentioned The Shooting of Dan McGrew written by Robert Service, the greatest Canadian poet of whom the Alaskans are great fans because of their gold rush and they try to use one of our poets.

I will touch a bit on the industry and our markets. As everyone in Canada and the United States knows, the lumber industry is competitive. It is hard for us to keep mills going. We have a number of mills but most cannot open under these conditions. They cannot open half the time under any conditions so we have very few mills.

We have an effective Yukon forestry industry association for small mills. A few weeks ago I visited a mill in the community of Teslin which is owned by a first nation. It is hundreds of miles from anything so it is difficult to manage. Most of the trees are either white spruce or lodgepole pine. Some are 300 years old. Their growth rings are close together because they take a long time to grow in a cold environment without water.

The regulatory regime is an excellent question. As I mentioned in my speech, the Teslin mill and some other mills are owned by first nations. They have settlement land which is private land which excludes them from duties. I do not know how long it will take the U.S. commerce department to figure that out but it is a situation unique to Yukon.

As the hon. member said, the rest of Yukon is currently under territorial jurisdiction but the House of Commons unanimously passed Bill C-39, the Yukon Act, which is now at third reading stage in the Senate. It would transfer jurisdiction from the federal government although some of the provisions, conditions and regulatory regimes under the federal government are very similar to the provinces. What the U.S. commerce department may be complaining about is that even though the mills are operated by the federal government they may shortly be operated by the Yukon government and be under no different a regulatory regime than any of the provinces. The Yukon government would then be able to make the same changes, alterations and deals to make the industry acceptable.

As I said, it is absolutely ridiculous that we would be a threat to anyone. It is like an elephant and a mouse going to war where the elephant asks for a 33% head start bonus to subsidize it to make sure it wins.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Werner Schmidt Canadian Alliance Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to enter the debate at this late stage in the day. I compliment the House and all the parties in it who granted unanimous consent to the motion proposed by the official opposition. It is wonderful.

I have a particularly pleasant feeling about the whole thing. I am convinced the Prime Minister when he went to see the president of the United States today wondered exactly how much support he had in Canada for the position that had to be advanced here.

Lo and behold, before the end of the day the House agreed unanimously to give the Prime Minister all the ammunition he needed to give to the president of the United States. He could stand there with all great authority and say he had the full support of the House of Commons. He could not have said that before. It is good to feel the official opposition has finally shown the Government of Canada where it ought to go and the position it ought to take. It is great.

I will say this for the benefit of everyone listening at the end of the day to find out exactly what the president will hear from the Prime Minister of Canada. He will hear that the principles and provisions of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and North American Free Trade Agreement, including the dispute resolution mechanism, should be fully applied to trade in softwood lumber and that our government will be urged not to accept any negotiated settlement.

I hope the Prime Minister will not accept any negotiated settlement of the current softwood lumber dispute outside the NAFTA and FTA unless it guarantees free and unfettered access to the U.S. market and includes dispute resolution mechanisms capable of overriding domestic trade measures to resolve future disputes. That is a strong negotiating position. It has the support of the industry and all parties in the House. That is its strength.

Why are we so concerned about the issue? It represents $16 billion worth of business for British Columbia alone. Thousands of people have been thrown out of work because the government five years ago refused to deal with the issues at hand. It knew this would happen. It knew the softwood lumber agreement which was outside NAFTA would come to an end. It knew something had to be done.

What did the government do? It did nothing. Silence in the House is what was done. In the meantime a minimum of 18,000 people were thrown out of work in British Columbia alone. The industry was hurt in Ontario, Quebec, the Atlantic provinces, Nova Scotia and in every other province across this country of ours.

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5:30 p.m.

An hon. member

And Yukon.

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5:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Werner Schmidt Canadian Alliance Kelowna, BC

And Yukon, yes.

That is what happened. We needed to recognize how serious the issue was but the government did not deal with it. It finally came to the conclusion at the last minute that the Prime Minister had better go down to the U.S. and make it appear as though we had done something.

If it were not for the support of the official opposition the Prime Minister would not have had anything to say today. I am glad he has a lot to say today. It is so important. The hon. secretary of state is saying yes, that is right, it is about time we listened to the official opposition. It is nice to have him onside with us this afternoon.

This is a complex issue. I will read into the record how serious it is. The softwood lumber dispute with the United States is complicated. It has been going on for five years. That is a long time. The big picture in softwood lumber is that of free trade between two sovereign nations.

Let us not forget that we are sovereign nations. As Canadians we are proud of the fact that we are Canadians. We are also proud of the Americans being Americans. We love to do business with them and they love to do business with us. We want a fair and unfettered trade agreement between the two countries so one group does not take advantage of the other. We do not want to lord over the Americans and we do not want them to lord over us. We are independent. We are sovereign. We want to get together.

U.S. trade laws allow the industry to attack foreign imports to an extent not allowed by international law. Although the United States subscribes to international trade laws its internal trade laws permit protectionism, especially by well heeled, powerful and influential industries.

That is the serious part of the issue. We need to recognize that sovereignty and fairness are the issues. We need to recognize that we are all governed by law. If we have a contradiction or conflict between laws, in this case between international law and the protectionist laws of one of the countries, we must put together a situation in which we can survive in a manner beneficial to all of us and in which one group is not favoured over the other. That is what this is all about.

The U.S. industry claims that our government subsidizes our lumber industry. It is on this basis that it has attacked Canadian softwood lumber. They claim we are doing it to them. The claim of subsidy comes from the assertion that because our forest practices are different from those of the U.S. they amount to a subsidy.

Our land tends to be largely owned by the crown. Prices for harvesting timber are set in a complex manner by committee. U.S. forest land is mostly privately owned. U.S. landowners often mill the timber themselves thus avoiding stumpage fees. The U.S. is comparing things that are not really comparable.

Interestingly, the auction system employed by the U.S. forest service on federal lands has had to be bailed out by congress in previous experiments. We do not have time to go into all the details but 20 years ago the U.S. government had to bail out its industries because of the situation it found itself in.

While the primary motivation for the actions taken by the U.S. industry against Canadian softwood lumber has been to restrict the amount of lumber we ship to the U.S., the more public allegations have been that Canadian forest practices are defective and need to be changed. Because the lawsuits take so long and are so expensive Canada has been making efforts to appease the U.S. industry in exchange for a guaranteed share of the market. However this amounts to a loss of our sovereignty as a nation.

We need to restore our sovereignty as a nation. We need to be sure what we are comparing is comparable and what they charge us with is legitimate. We have found over and over again that the charges levelled against us would probably not stand up in the World Trade Organization court. That is the issue. That is what we are negotiating.

Does the Canadian industry want to negotiate a deal at any price? The answer is no. We want a deal that is fair. We want trade that is unfettered. We want our share of the American market. If some of the industries, sawmills and lumber producers in the United States cannot compete with our technologically superior and more competitive industries it is their problem, not ours.

We need to recognize that we can live together and work together. We can develop a trade relationship that is positive and beneficial to the industries in the United States and Canada. Above all, we need to establish an agreement that will give the people of Canada jobs they can depend on. We need a situation of permanence and reliability. Companies must be able to invest in and develop technologically superior equipment. People must be able to know their jobs are sustainable. Industries must be able to know they are sustainable. Then we can move forward.

We do not want something that can squish out the side tomorrow morning or five years from now. We would then be back to the same old thing. We want permanence. We want to be able to predict what the future holds, make money for everyone and have jobs for our people.

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5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It being 5.42 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier this day, the motion is deemed to have been adopted.

(Motion agreed to)

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It being 5.42 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

5:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should amend Section 231(4) of the Criminal Code to expand the definition of first-degree murder to include the death of a fire fighter acting in the line of duty, and amend Section 433 of the Criminal Code dealing with the crime of arson by adding language that addresses the death or injury of a fire fighter engaged in combating a fire or explosion that is deliberately set.

Madam Speaker, it is a very great pleasure to rise in the House this evening not only on behalf of my constituents in Surrey Central, but also on behalf of all of Canada's brave firefighters.

I want to thank the hon. member for Lethbridge for seconding my motion. He himself is a former firefighter.

Everyone recognizes that firefighters play an important role in Canadian society, protecting persons and property as they rescue their fellow citizens and extinguish fires. We were all saddened by the recent deaths of six children killed in a fire on Vancouver Island. Firefighters could not reach the site of the tragedy for over one and a half hour. It was very sad.

Furthermore, we all acknowledge that firefighting is a hazardous occupation with the inherent risk of injury or death. Firefighting is four times as hazardous as any other occupation but commands the highest public trust, more than any other profession.

The number of deaths and injuries sustained by firefighters continue to rise and the human wreckage left behind is also real. When such casualties are the result of either deliberate action or carelessness on the part of members of the public, a true tragedy occurs.

There were 13,724 arson fires in Canada last year. I was really alarmed to learn that over 30% of the fires in Surrey are the result of arson. A very high percentage of them contain booby traps. There have been arson fires in schools and fiery explosions in residential neighbourhoods.

These fires are disturbing. Some are caused purely by mischief, but many more have been set with more sinister intentions of covering up illegal activities like marijuana growing or metamphetamine labs. At other times firefighters respond to calls only to find the premises booby trapped with crossbows, propane canisters ready to explode, cutaway floor boards or other serious but intentional hazards. These malicious devices are intended to kill or injure anyone who interferes with the drug operation, including firefighters. Several frightening examples have been discovered, particularly in British Columbia where marijuana growing operations are growing very fast, needlessly threatening the lives and morale of firefighters.

The glaring deficiencies within the Criminal Code of Canada fail to afford and allow on duty firefighters the same provisions as on duty police officers, which places their lives at greater risk. Instances are becoming more prevalent where firefighters, working in co-operation with law enforcement officers, are used on the front lines to break down doors to drug related operations and labs. In these cases the armed police officers are standing behind the firefighters who are the unarmed first line of defence out there on the front lines. The situation is getting worse and these drug related incidents are regrettably on the rise. Realistically, the work environment of firefighters has been dramatically altered. It is time that our law afforded protection under the criminal code for our firefighters who serve and protect our communities in the line of duty.

The criminal code needs to be strengthened by including criminal infractions such as deliberately setting fires or causing some other kind of explosion or hazard that needlessly places the lives of firefighters at risk. It is imperative that legislative amendments be made as promptly as possible to afford protection to the men and women who place their lives at risk in the service of our communities.

Under current criminal law there is no special punishment for arsonists whose actions kill or injure firefighters in the line of duty. This is in spite of the fact that the criminal code does provide special provisions for police officers. Law enforcement officers are protected under the criminal code but firefighters who do similar jobs under similar circumstances are not. Both regularly serve and protect our communities in the line of duty. It is time our laws recognized the similar hazards they face in similar situations.

What is clearly needed is a provision in our criminal code that will cause criminals to think twice before rigging houses to catch fire and injure or kill public safety officials. Obviously our current laws against murder, assault or arson are not effectively protecting firefighters if criminals feel that they can booby trap houses and set fires without fear of reprisal from the government.

Some people might say that our criminal code already recognizes crimes like arson and first degree murder and may be tempted to ask me why my motion is needed. The International Association of Fire Fighters agrees that Motion No. 376 specifically addresses the issue of amending the criminal code to specify tougher sentencing provisions for acts of arson that kill firefighters acting in the course of their duties. In legal terms, the measures that would be put in place by Motion No. 376 are called a specific deterrent effect, which seeks to prevent criminal acts that can harm or kill firefighters from ever happening in the first place.

My motion also calls on the government to amend subsection 231(4) of the criminal code dealing with first degree murder and section 433 dealing with the offence of arson to specify that a person is liable to a minimum of life imprisonment. It is correcting what should have been intended in the first place. It calls on the government to add language that addresses the death of a firefighter fighting a blaze that is deliberately set.

There is also a need to amend section 268, which deals with aggravated assault, specifying that liability be increased to a maximum term of 10 years. Firefighters can be protected from assault that maims, wounds, disfigures or endangers them during the course of their duties. These are the threats they face from the hazards of illegal drug operations. Mr. Lorne West, the president of the Surrey Firefighters Association, which has 350 professional firefighters in the city of Surrey, tells me from his personal experience that there are malevolent devices out there that are used with the intention of indiscriminately killing anyone entering those illegal operations.

When I wrote about these concerns to the former justice minister she thanked me for bringing these issues to her attention and she assured me that her officials were considering the matter. I would submit that the time for studying this issue is over. Now it is time for the government to take action. It is the federal government's exclusive responsibility and it is within its mandate to amend the criminal code to protect firefighters.

I sincerely believe that this motion deals with matters of significant public policy interest since our neighbourhoods are vulnerable to fire incidents at any time, anywhere. It is these brave men and women firefighters who will be there to protect our lives and our property.

I have received many letters of support for my motion from firefighters' groups both locally and nationally. On behalf of its 17,000 Canadian members, the International Association of Fire Fighters has repeatedly expressed its support for my motion and appreciation for my efforts on behalf of its members. The Surrey Firefighters Association, on behalf of its 350 members, professional firefighters of the city of Surrey, expressed its appreciation and support. The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has 1,000 members. Its executive committee unanimously supported the motion and applauded me for my efforts. In a letter, the former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada thanked me for my views with respect to these important issues of public policy in response to my request for prompt attention and action.

Motion No. 376 goes beyond issues of purely local interest. Surely firefighters in New York and Canada deserve equal protection. Other jurisdictions have already taken steps to enshrine protection for their firefighters in criminal law. For example, in the United States, the states of California, Nevada, Illinois, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Montana and Mississippi have recently amended their criminal laws to recognize acts that cause the death or injury of a firefighter.

Thus, I think it only makes sense for Canada to bring itself up to speed with these developments by adopting the motion we are debating, Motion No. 376. By the way, Canada has not yet established a public safety officers' benefit program, or PSOB, a fund that would provide benefits to widows of firefighters, police officers and other public safety officers killed in the line of duty. Recently firefighters were shot while on duty. The public safety officers' benefit needs to be established.

The motion is completely non-partisan and will serve all our communities and all 301 constituencies in the House. It deserves support from all parliamentarians across all party lines, thereby correcting an injustice to our firefighters. I trust that the wisdom of all members in the House will prevail to initiate action and bring in the relevant criminal code amendments.

I have had many motions and bills on the order paper in private members' business before the House, but I have selected this motion because it is really important from the point of view of justice being done in the criminal code for firefighters. I had an opportunity to pick any motion when my name was drawn. I picked this motion.

Recent events have served to raise the profile of the hazards faced by firefighters in the line of duty. September 11 has shown us the death toll inflicted on firefighters among others. It has helped the whole world to realize the dangers firefighters face in coming to the rescue of our fellow citizens. While the government cannot do anything about the senseless loss of life, including firefighters' lives, in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, the government can do something about what goes on in this country. The government can amend the Criminal Code of Canada to provide protection for firefighters. The government can stand up for our firefighters by adopting the measures called for in Motion No. 376. The severe penalties proposed in the motion are designed to deter those who would deliberately set fires.

Motion No. 376 would make firefighting safer and would provide firefighters with the full protection of the law. Polls show that firefighters command the highest respect rating of any profession, followed by nurses. Politicians and lawyers are way behind. We have to do something for those who are serving our communities, who are putting their lives at risk.

It is time our nation protected the protectors. Since my time is over I submit that the time for studying this issue is also over. It is time for the government to take action. I urge all members in the House to support the motion.

Madam Speaker, I seek unanimous consent of the House to make the motion votable.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to make the motion votable?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Northumberland Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam speaker, I am pleased to respond to Motion No. 376 introduced by the hon. member for Surrey Central. The motion proposes to amend the criminal code to expand the definition of first degree murder to include the death of a firefighter who is killed while combating a fire that was deliberately set, and to amend the provision that deals with arson by adding language that addresses the death or injury of a firefighter.

I agree with my colleague that firefighters play a crucial role in the protection of human lives and property in Canada. I recognize that firefighting is an extremely hazardous occupation and like all Canadians I am grateful for their bravery and commitment to public service.

The first of these two amendments would expand the definition of first degree murder in subsection 231(4) to include the death of a firefighter killed when combating a fire set by an act of arson. Where a peace officer or prison official is murdered while acting in the course of his or her duties, subsection 231(4) increases the offence of murder to first degree murder irrespective of whether the murder was planned and deliberate. The amendment seeks to extend this protection to firefighters.

The government is committed to protecting firefighters from dangers associated with arson. However we do not believe that the proposed amendments are constitutionally possible. The supreme court has found that there is a constitutional requirement that for an individual to be found guilty of murder, he or she must have formed a subjective intent to kill prior to committing the act.

Murder is either first degree murder or second degree murder. In most circumstances first degree murder is when it is planned and deliberate. However when a police officer or prison official is murdered in the course of his or her duties, the offence becomes first degree murder regardless of whether it was planned or deliberate.

It should be noted that subsection 231(4) does not give special protection to police officers or prison guards who are killed while in the course of their duties. It addresses the situation of a police officer or prison guard who is murdered.

It is inappropriate to expand the definition of first degree murder in subsection 231(4) to include firefighters who are killed while combating a fire set by arson because in such a crime there is not normally the requisite intent to kill a firefighter for the offence to be murder. The death of a firefighter in such a situation would be covered by the charge of manslaughter where the mental element requirement is the objective foreseeability of the risk of bodily harm that is neither trivial nor transitory, or by the charge of arson causing bodily harm.

However if a fire were planned and set with the intent to kill a firefighter, then it would be first degree murder because by its very nature the act of setting a fire to kill a firefighter is planned and deliberate. As such a firefighter who is the target of a direct intention to kill is protected by the criminal code to the same degree as a peace officer or prison official.

Let me emphasize that in no way does the government believe that firefighters are less worthy of protection than peace officers or prison officials. For example, if a police officer were killed while attempting to save an individual trapped in a fire that had been set deliberately, the charge would not fall under subsection 231(4). Likewise if we take the example of a situation in which a police officer is killed in a high speed chase, the offence would not be murder because there was no intent to kill. A person is not charged under subsection 231(4) solely because a police officer has been killed. There must be both an intent to kill and the knowledge that the person killed was a police officer.

The motion also calls on the government to amend section 433 of the criminal code dealing with the crime of arson by adding language that addresses the death or injury of a firefighter engaged in combating a fire or explosion that is deliberately set. This provision already carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment should any person be harmed by a fire that was deliberately set and of course extends to firefighters.

In 1990 parliament responded to the concerns of firefighters in regard to arson by making several amendments to the criminal code. The focus of the law shifted from crimes against property to the danger that arson poses to the life, safety and property of all Canadians and in particular to firefighters. In addition the maximum penalty for bodily harm suffered from arson was raised from five years to life imprisonment.

We cannot support the motion for the reasons that I have outlined in my remarks. The government, like the hon. member for Surrey Central, is concerned about the safety of firefighters and is grateful for their bravery and commitment to public service.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, first of all, I congratulate our colleague on his excellent initiative. We are aware of his sensitivity to these issues. Furthermore, I think that all private members' motions should be made votable. When a member takes the trouble to put forward a motion, we should have the responsibility as parliamentarians to express our views through a vote. I regret that that will not be the case for this motion.

I believe, however, that certain problems of law may arise. If I recall my criminal law correctly, for an accused to be sentenced or for someone to be charged with first degree murder, the supreme court and, before it, various provincial appeal courts, have said that two conditions must be met.

These two conditions are the following: there must be an actus reus , i.e. there must have been an action; and most important of all—I believe that the parliamentary secretary referred to this—there must be mens rea . Mens rea is very important in criminal law; it is the most difficult evidence to prove; it has to do with intent, state of mind, premeditation, plotting and real intent.

In the case of criminal law, there is a high degree of difficulty associated with proving this before a court of law. It is not the same as challenging the provisions of the civil code. In our legal system, criminal law is undoubtedly the most difficult, because proof is not established according to the likelihood of events. It is proof beyond any doubt. The crown attorney, or the defence, must prove to the court that the person set the fire with the firm, premeditated, specific intention of killing a firefighter.

I submit to our colleague that this poses a difficulty in law. The link between a fire being set and someone dying is not the same as when a police officer is killed during a chase. The link is much less direct in the case of a fire being set and someone dying as a result. If the criminal code is amended as requested by our colleague, this is a difficulty that will be encountered before a court of law.

Obviously, no one thinks that it is less tragic, less of a loss, from the human point of view, to lose someone in a fire rather than to an attack in the process of carrying out law enforcement duties at the scene of a crime. No one thinks that. We cannot, however, completely ignore the charter of rights, particularly what the courts have had to say on this.

I would remind hon. members that there is a legal difficulty here. There must be mens rea , or guilty intent. It is extremely difficult to demonstrate this before the courts; it is possible, but this is a concept that has been very clearly defined by the supreme court and the various courts of justice. Then there must also be actus reus , a Latin expression meaning commission of the act of which one is being accused. This is the first reality.

The objective of our hon. colleague's motion is understandable: to dissuade arsonists from setting fires that may endanger the safety and well-being of firefighters. I believe that all parties in the House can agree with such an objective. I wonder if there ought not to be provisions in the criminal code to make this type of behaviour an aggravating circumstance. Not that it should be considered first degree murder but that it not be considered merely manslaughter either.

There are certain provisions to that effect in the criminal code. For example, in 1995, the government amended the criminal code, and the House passed legislation on heinous crimes, which people had been calling for for several years.

This means that the criminal code provides for harsher penalties for certain crimes under what is called aggravating circumstances. And when dealing with such a crime, a judge has no choice but to take that into account, because penalties in the criminal code are rarely a question of math. There is always some discretion left to the judge in imposing a sentence and, of course, there are submissions on sentencing made by the lawyers.

Should our colleague not engage in a dialogue not only with the members of the justice committee, but also with firefighters and all those concerned with this issue, to determine whether the aggravating circumstances provision could be used to discourage people from committing this type of crime? That was my second point.

Again, all members who bring forward motions do it because they are sensitive to a particular issue. We do not all have the same interests nor the same degree of sensitivity. However, it is sad that the changes made to Standing Orders of the House of Commons did not include extending the time provided for the consideration of private members' business. I understand that our colleague is disappointed that his motion will not be put to a vote. This is a way for parliamentarians to be more dynamic and be looked upon with greater respect by our fellow citizens.

We know that our institutions are in crisis. We must recognize that the level of confidence in politicians is rather low. Our institutions must work so as to bring our fellow citizens to have more confidence in what we do. For example, we could have decided to eliminate question period on Fridays and use that day for private members' business. We must increase the number of hours allocated to private members' business.

Surely, if only five hours a week are allocated to private members' business, few motions will be votable. I would certainly be in favour, and I am pleading with all the beliefs that my caucus knows me for, of convincing the member for Roberval, who in turn will convince the other House leaders, to rearrange the agenda of the House so that, once a week, all members may see a bill or a motion be subject to a vote. Moreover, the number of hours allocated to private members' business should be increased to allow this profoundly democratic exercise to take place.

The motion before us is important. In Canada, 13 000 fires are set each year. On average, 30% of these are arsons. This is not insignificant in the life of communities. This is a public interest issue and a community safety issue.

However, if our colleague sees his motion die on the order paper, without saying that he worked in vain, the fact remains that the investigation could go much further.

In the case at hand, perhaps the solution is not to consider the death of a firefighter in the line of duty as first degree murder, as suggested to us. Perhaps there are other solutions, such as making it an aggravating circumstance or seeing how it could be considered as more than a simple homicide. However, when the motion dies on the order paper, this obviously does not allow for a further debate.

Is the time allocated to me over, Madam Speaker?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

You have 39 seconds left.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, think about all that we can do in 39 seconds. I could propose to you; I could write my will; I could raise issues that have not been debated in recent years. One can change the world in 39 seconds.

However, all I will do is express the wish that the hon. member's motion will be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice, and that those who are concerned and interested by this motion will have the opportunity to express their views.

I congratulate the hon. member for his initiative.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this private member's motion. It is fitting that we should be reflecting on the risk that those who are charged with protecting the public take in this parliamentary week when we have had the annual visit to Parliament Hill of the Canadian Police Association, another group of people who are charged with protection of the public like firefighters.

I want to speak in general support of the motion. I know it is not a votable motion but it is a motion which, like Bill C-419, enables the House to debate this subject and hopefully create the kind of momentum by which eventually the government may be inspired to act on the concerns that are raised by Motion No. 376 and also by Bill C-419.

There are no provisions in the criminal code or any other statute of which I am aware that specifically address the line of duty death or injury of a firefighter when it is the result of a criminal act such as murder or arson. Putting additional penalties into the criminal code for murder or arson that results in the death of a firefighter might go some way to deterring people who are contemplating arson.

I am not sure it would help in the case of juveniles or 12 year olds who set fires in garages, but we know we are looking at more than just that. There are a lot of adults in the country who are responsible for arson. Maybe, if they had it in the back of their mind that, if a firefighter were to be injured or killed in the line of fighting that fire, they would be held much more responsible than they are today by the criminal code, by the courts and by society, that might have a deterrent effect on them. This would have a beneficial effect not just on society as a whole, or to the benefit of those whose property might not then become the object of arson, but in the final analysis for the safety of firefighters themselves who would not be called out to fight these fires.

I commend the hon. members for bringing forward these motions. I hope the Minister of Justice might be inspired to act soon on this sort of thing. If this was brought forward in a reasonable way, I am sure it would command the support of a majority if not the entire House, and it could be done quite quickly.

I particularly urge my colleagues on the government side, who by themselves constitute a majority in the House of Commons, to consider this. Year after year firefighters have come here for their annual lobby and members have indicated to them their support on certain things. If that is the case, then they should not have to come here year after year wondering why nothing has ever happened. It must be a mystery to firefighters why they have to come back to ask for certain things again.

I think of the arguments firefighters have made over the years for changes to the rules which affect their pension. I hope there is some discussion between firefighters and others who feel the nature of their vocation, the risks they take and the exposure to certain dangers, creates a life situation for them and they would be better to retire early rather than later. However to do that they need to have a pension system that would enable them to do so without penalty.

This is something the government should do and could have done some time ago. It remains a mystery as to why we cannot get action on this issue, and I urge the government and Liberal backbenchers to get cracking on this.

This is not revolutionary stuff. This is something that could be done and I hope that it will be done soon. Likewise, and I am not sure exactly of the wording, there is the public safety officer benefit or something to that effect. What it means is that when someone is killed in the line of duty, a firefighter, or a policeman or someone in a similar category, there is an automatic benefit to the family, to those who survive the person who loses his or her life in the line of duty.

I am thinking just for a minute of what happened in New York City. I would suspect, given the fact that this kind of law exists in the United States, that the families of all 300 firefighters who were killed on September 11 were in receipt of this particular benefit. If a similar thing were to happen here, and God forbid if we were to lose 300, 100, 50 or 10 firefighters in one event, there would be no such benefit for their families.

Again, I say to the government, I have been here a long time and like a lot of other people I have listened to the firefighters year after year. They come around to my office and say “We've got the Liberal MPs on side. They say that they are for this”. If they have the Liberal MPs on side and they already have the opposition on side, then it should happen. That is what we are here for. We make the laws.

Who is telling the majority of us here, constituted by people on all sides of the House, including Liberal MPs who are telling firefighters that they are in favour of these things, that we cannot do this? I ask my Liberal colleagues, who is telling them that they cannot do this or that they must not? Has some reason been given for inaction on the part of the government? Share it with us, so we can combat it, so we can argue against it, so the firefighters can argue against it.

There is nothing more frustrating for firefighters than to have someone year after year nod their head in agreement, smile at them, go to their reception, pat them on the back, say how great they are and then next year nothing has changed. There is no legislation.

I say the time has come for action on a number of these issues, the issue raised by this motion and by the motion of a Liberal backbencher although I am not sure he is a backbencher now. Maybe he has had a promotion to parliamentary secretary or something like that.

In any event we have this issue before us. We need to put increased penalties in the criminal code for deaths of firefighters that occur in the line of duty as a result of arson. We need the pension legislation changed so that these firefighters can retire earlier with a full pension. We need that public safety officer benefit that I spoke of that exists in the United States.

There is no reason why we could not have all three of those things. The support exists in the House for it. It is just a continuing embarrassment to all of us year after year when the firefighters come here and we tell them we are in favour of it, yet nothing happens. It is an embarrassment not just to us and not just to the frustration of the firefighters, but ultimately it is an embarrassment to democracy and to parliament. If we are all for it, and we are the people who make the laws, and the firefighters are asking us to change the laws and we say we agree with them, yet it does not happen, what does that make us look like? It makes us look impotent. It makes us look like we do not have any real power and somebody else is calling the shots around here. I am not sure who it is. I have my suspicions from time to time depending on the issue.

It would seem that these are the kinds of things that we could do together as members of parliament. Let us make up our mind today that next year we will not be debating someone else's private member's bill having to do with this issue or other requests that firefighters make of us. Let us hope that by this time next year we will have acted on this issue and on others that are of concern to the firefighters in our community.

Let us remember who was going up the stairs on September 11 when other people were coming down. They were the firefighters. We owe the very highest attention in this place to people like them, and it is about time they got it.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Madam Speaker, sometimes it is a daunting and intimidating task to follow my colleague who has a wealth of parliamentary experience and certainly continually displays a great deal of common sense. His cup runneth over in that regard.

My colleague and the mover of the motion similarly comes before parliament with motions such as this one that bring about change which would invoke a real impact in the important and significant community of firefighters who, as he has indicated, support him in this endeavour and for good reason. There is very much the motive behind this motion to bring about greater attention and a greater focus on deterrence for those who engage in a reckless activity such as setting a fire, arsonists who put lives at risk just by virtue of that act.

The firefighters are the front line who have to respond to that sort of reckless activity. This motion would call for a change to section 231 of the criminal code to amend the definition of first degree murder.

I listened with interest to my colleague, the parliamentary secretary. He has expressed, as he should, on behalf of the Department of Justice the constitutional concerns. We know time and time again that those concerns are real and are there. Charter constipation constantly arises in these debates, except in the case of Bill C-36 where it seemed to be cast to the wind. Yet this issue is really about putting greater emphasis on protecting the lives of firefighters.

What simpler message would come from this motion? As the member and previous speakers have pointed out, there is specific recognition in the criminal code for police officers, constables, sheriffs, deputy sheriffs and others working in the preservation and maintenance of public peace. Certainly firefighters would fit into that category.

There is some idea that there will be greater deterrence because clearly the penalties for first degree murder are the highest available now in the criminal code, life imprisonment. This is the general and specific deterrent that would come from such an amendment to the criminal code.

My colleague in the New Democratic Party from Winnipeg questioned why this would not happen, why things do not happen around here. He spoke of his suspicions. I will perhaps be a little more blunt. Sometimes there is a faceless, guileless guiding hand at the PMO that rears its head every now and again. I cannot imagine that there would be some intent to scuttle an effort such as this one, an effort that is aimed purely out of the goodness and the goodwill that come from such a motion.

This type of change would have an impact. It would allow the courts to react in a more significant way when faced with these situations. That is not to suggest that this is a simple case by any means. Each case is inevitably decided on its facts, on its merits. Yet what is behind the message in this motion is that offenders who recklessly go out and cause harm by way of setting fires, by way of putting death and destruction in their path, will face real repercussions and will face the jeopardy of going to prison for the rest of their lives.

A minimum sentence of life does not always mean life, as we have seen in many instances sadly. Yet including it as an aggravating circumstance, as suggested by my friend in the Bloc, might also be one of the ways in which it could be incorporated and by which we could recognize in legislation by codifying the Criminal Code of Canada that firefighters deserve this special recognition by virtue of the important role they play in society and the important tasks they undertake every day when they go to work at the station, put on their gear, ride trucks to fires and save lives.

It would show that their government, their country, their countrymen and women are in their corner as well. It would respect and recognize what they do and the jeopardy in which their lives are placed by virtue of their job.

The motion is very admirable in its intent. I daresay there is no hesitation on behalf of members of the Conservative coalition to support the member in what he is seeking to do. There are offences that already have these special attachments, hate crime being one that was alluded to earlier, where a strict and strident response is available to a judge to mete out in response to circumstances that come before the court.

That flexibility exists. Why on earth would we deny the opportunity to codify a recognition of firefighters? In particular the obvious allusion has been made several times to what happened on September 11, those horrific circumstances and the renewed vigour with which firefighters across the country and around the world became the focal point of emergency situations. Society was reminded in those dire circumstances what huge risk, what incredible sacrifice exists in that vocation.

The range of options currently available for the crime of arson as an indictable offence go up to the sentencing maximum of 14 years. The motion intends to expand that envelope. It does not say that in every case this will happen, surely not. The burden of proof will still remain with the crown. The police forces in their investigative efforts must still produce evidence before a court that is admissible. Then a conviction would be rendered and the judge would have this sentencing option available to him or her.

I agree with the parliamentary secretary that there is an element tantamount to an end run around the issue of intent which is somewhat problematic. That is why I agree with the common sense and useful suggestion that perhaps this is an issue which should be referred to the justice committee for examination.

It is an issue on which we could hear from the fleet of government lawyers available, but I would suggest as well lawyers practising in the field. More important, we should hear from the firefighters lobby because I am sure there is ample research and interest within that community to have the opportunity to make the motion a reality.

Raising the bar of accountability is part and parcel of what this criminal code amendment would do. On the surface it is never a bad idea to have greater accountability and responsibility. It is something we should strive for and something we should encourage in most legislative intents.

There are already references to the fact that not every fire is one that is set with the intent to cause bodily harm or murder. Sadly there are children who often engage in this activity. I think of a recent occurrence in Lunenburg county where Canada's oldest church was reduced to rubble because of a fire on Halloween night which was suspected to have been caused by children.

With the jeopardy in mind that can befall a person charged with arson we have to be somewhat cautious in making any kind of a criminal code amendment which mandates exactly what the punishment will be. This is not an amendment which mandates that in every instance there will be a penalty of life imprisonment. Surely not every fire is set to inflict harm on a person.

In conclusion I say to the hon. member and to members present that we support his effort. I am encouraged by the level of support that has been expressed here and by those who have contacted the member and encouraged him to pursue it further.

I hope there will be genuine goodwill and intent on the part of the government to bring this matter before the justice committee. I hope we will have an opportunity to see the issue through to fruition to allow firefighters to clearly receive the signal we want them to receive. We value and cherish the work they do and respect the task they have each and every day in their lives as they protect Canadians everywhere.