Madam Speaker, back in 1996 I brought forward a bill that was more specific than this in that it dealt only with the illegal sale and transportation of illegally poached bears and bear parts, about which many Canadians are concerned. It is my pleasure to support the bill today.
It is my hope and the hope of all of us that as time goes on poaching will become less of a problem in Canada. Perhaps by the time my grandchildren, Morgan and Brennan, grow up they will not have to worry about it at all. It is our hope that they will live in a world where this becomes a decreasing problem.
It is a problem right now. In 1995 it was estimated that approximately 1,200 black bears and 90 grizzly bears, an endangered species, were illegally poached in Canada. Every time that happens we know that a black marketeer is involved and that money is exchanged illegally. A bear gall bladder for example will fetch $1,000 in Vancouver. Bear paws are close to a $1,000 apiece. It can be a pretty lucrative business. In case after case, when one of these rings has been busted, an incredible number of animals have been sacrificed because of somebody's idiosyncrasies, old traditions or frankly just improper management and use of our wildlife.
I am not proud of this but in my province of Vancouver a number of businesses have been raided in recent years. Police and conservation officers have turned up, in some cases, evidence of hundreds of animals that have been killed. Often a very small part of them is used for some sort of herbal medicine, often to do with an old tale that it might improve some part of a person's life. That is a terrible misuse and abuse of animals.
Penalties already exist in Canada, both provincial and federal, for illegally using animals and animal parts that are part of the wildlife management system. Unfortunately this legislation generally only covers offences where there is illegal international or interprovincial transportation of animals and animal parts and it is often difficult to prove exactly from where these animals came. By making it a criminal code offence, the bill would make it easier to prosecute people involved in this illicit activity and would allow both provincial and federal authorities to bring these people to account and make them pay the penalty.
Two years ago two residents from the riding of South Surrey--White Rock--Langley were fined $7,000 and served 17 days in jail for selling 18 bear gall bladders from animals that were illegally killed. Generally fines average about $3,000. The maximum fine is $5,000. That is not enough to deter people who are making that much money sometimes on a single animal. Like many first time offences, they are plea bargained. People are fined a minimum amount and get a slap on the wrist. It does little to deter people, ironically, making a killing at this.
Bill C-292 eliminates the need to prove international or interprovincial transportation. As a section to the criminal code, it does not create any new offences. The provinces will still have sole jurisdiction and therefore we respect provincial jurisdiction to manage wildlife. However I think the provincial authorities will enjoy the bill, if it becomes law, because it will give them the tools necessary to crack down on these international-interprovincial rings.
The bill would give provincial wildlife authorities the option of proceeding with charges under the relevant provincial legislation or, if they thought it is a very egregious case, they could proceed under the criminal code. It is important that it does not contradict our current species at risk proposals. Although it may involve endangered species, it does not contradict that legislation but complements it. It gives again parliament's stern warning about how much we value species at risk and will allow officers and provincial authorities to do what they need to control the situation.
The bill is designed to target the organized poaching of big game animals. It is consistent with current legislation that is before the House. I do believe it will enhance rather than harm provincial authorities. I urge all members of the House to support the bill when the vote comes.