Madam Speaker, I must issue a disclaimer at the beginning of this debate, that is, I am not a lawyer like my learned hon. friend from Windsor--St. Clair, the hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough, or my colleague, the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce--Lachine.
However, the arguments I will be putting forward were prepared for me and will demonstrate that there are arguments to be made on both sides of this issue. I hope that the words I have to say will complement the argument put forward by the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce--Lachine. We all may find we have differences of opinion here but that is to be found in any area of law.
The fact that illegal poaching is undesirable is not the issue. The issue is whether the bill in its present form is the most appropriate mechanism for addressing illegal poaching. To answer this question, it is necessary to identify the particular harm being addressed and then examine what it is about the current response to this harm that is lacking.
For example, is the problem one of inadequate penalties in provincial wildlife regulatory schemes? If that is the problem, then the solution can be addressed in that context by provinces adjusting their penalty regimes so that the fines imposed do not become the cost of doing business for poachers.
On the other hand, if the problem is that there is a gap in the law, it is necessary to identify the particular social harm that needs to be addressed. This in turn requires an assessment of whether the response required is one that in its essence is regulatory in nature or involves the creation of a true crime.
The Supreme Court of Canada, in the case of R v Wholesale Travel Group Inc., expressly recognized that:
...the common law has long acknowledged a distinction between truly criminal conduct and conduct, otherwise lawful, which is prohibited in the public interest--
Mr. Justice Cory expounded upon this distinction further and stated:
Regulatory legislation involves a shift of emphasis from the protection of individual interests and deterrence and punishment of acts involving moral fault, to the protection of public and societal interests. While criminal offences are usually designed to condemn and punish past, inherently wrongful conduct, regulatory measures are generally directed to the prevention of future harm through the enforcement of minimum standards of conduct and care.
Madam Speaker, you can tell by the way these words are constructed that they are not words of my creation. I am only an actor on this venerable stage.
In her remarks on May 9, the hon. member for South Surrey--White Rock--Langley suggested that in Bill C-292 the approach to selling wildlife is “very similar to the way serious motor vehicle offences are handled”. The hon. member went on to explain and stated:
The bill would give the provincial authorities an opportunity to determine when something is serious enough and they want to have steeper and stiffer penalties to try to stop it from occurring.
With all due respect to the hon. member, it is not accurate to suggest that a rationale for creating a criminal code scheme in respect of selling wildlife is similar to the interplay between driving offences in provincial legislation and those outlined in the criminal code.
For example, the offence in section 259 of the criminal code regarding the imposition of driving prohibition orders is not simply a provision that gives police access to penalties higher than those available in provincial legislation for driving while prohibited or disqualified.
The prohibition order provision in the criminal code has an independent rationale for its existence. It is logically related to sentencing objectives for a range of driving offences in the criminal code. These offences are not simply replicas of offences that exist in provincial legislation. The rationale for their existence is entirely consistent with parliament's exercise of its criminal law power. The offence of impaired driving causing death, for example, condemns morally blameworthy behaviour and addresses a well recognized social harm.
Although the issue has not yet been addressed by the Supreme Court of Canada, there is case law at the provincial appellant level which states that where an offence carries the possibility of imprisonment, the constitutionality of a provision outlining a criminal offence can be challenged on the basis that there is insufficient evidence of a reasoned apprehension of harm to other individuals or society to justify the use of criminal law as opposed to other less intrusive measures.
In this context it is not sufficient to suggest that the rationale for creating an offence at the federal level is to provide police with access to greater penalties for more serious cases of an activity that is regulated by a provincial scheme.
Bill C-292 does not have the appearance or elements of a true criminal law scheme. The scheme in Bill C-292 more closely resembles a regulatory scheme that is being proposed for inclusion in the criminal code. As noted by constitutional law expert Peter Hogg, a criminal law ordinarily consists of a prohibition which is to be self-applied by the persons to whom it is addressed.
There is not normally any intervention by an administrative agency or official prior to the application of the law. Typically, offences in the criminal code prohibit a particular morally blameworthy behaviour. The breadth of the offence may be circumscribed by reference to a defence such as without lawful excuse.
In the context of the criminal code, the application of an offence provision however usually does not rely upon whether a licence to conduct the prohibited activity has been issued by a federal or provincial authority. In this regard, Bill C-292 expressly provides that the offence provisions in respect of wildlife that is not a threatened or endangered species do not apply to persons who act in accordance with a licence issued pursuant to a federal or provincial statute or regulation.
Another feature of the criminal code offences is that they almost always apply to everyone. It is extremely rare for a criminal code to specify exemptions for criminal liability in respect of particular offences. Nonetheless it is extremely rare to specify exemptions that depend upon the exercise of discretion by a member of the executive branch of government.
In this regard I note that section 447.8 of Bill C-292 grants discretion to the Minister of the Environment to issue an order exempting “any person or class of persons” from “application of all or any” of the provisions in respect of a threatened or endangered species.
Section 447.8 of Bill C-292 states that the test for exercising this discretion is met if “in the opinion of the minister, the extension is necessary or in the public interest”. This provision may be at risk of being challenged on a constitutional basis on the reason that the criteria are so subjective and in general that they do not provide any real limits on the behaviour to be exempted. This feature is not at all typical of offence provisions in the criminal code.
While I commend the hon. member for her intent and her concern with regard to the bill, it really does not fit and scope in the area in which she intended.