House of Commons Hansard #198 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chairman.


Nuclear Safety and Control ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, we have started this day together, and we will finish it together.

The request for an amendment to section 46(3) did not come out of the blue. Somebody pressured the government. I have documents by people who did pressure the government. One thing strikes me. Here is what I read in the remarks of an organization:

Generally, the legislation has a negative impact on the capacity of private corporations to invest in nuclear plants, and this is detrimental to the future development of the Canadian nuclear industry.

It is easy to see what the private sector investment is all about. It is clearly said that the legislation has a negative impact on the capacity of corporations. We also realize that the government is intent on transferring the ownership and operation of nuclear plants to the private sector.

As I said this morning, I do not want to scare anybody, and I do not want to impute motives to anybody, but I read in a fairly serious book that plutoniumis used in nuclear weapons and has always been the byproduct of civil nuclear plants. When a substance is dangerous, it should be managed by and controlled by a public authority to prevent any slippage.

I would like to ask my colleague what he thinks about having private corporations in nuclear plants.

Nuclear Safety and Control ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, obviously I am absolutely opposed to privatizing nuclear plants. I believe we have enough problems as it is with nuclear plants.

I think of what happened last year, or several years ago, with Ontario Hydro. It was realized that the plants were poorly maintained, and that several of them were a risk because of aging and poor maintenance. Just imagine for a moment if it were a private enterprise whose sole purpose was to make money.

I have nothing against private enterprise, but when dealing with such a thing as nuclear energy, I do not believe that the state should withdraw and stop exercising very strict control, especially with regard to nuclear power plants built 15 and 20 years ago. They are aging very fast and in need of investment. I am looking at the situation in New Brunswick. We have just been told that the Government of New Brunswick does not know what to do any more and wants to turn to the private sector because otherwise it will cost a fortune. If it does not succeed in attracting investors, the government of New Brunswick will have to close the plant. It will have to forget about it. This is what it means.

With regard to using nuclear energy, when these plants were built, this type of energy was not well known and neither were the consequences that could result from building nuclear plants. Scientists were allowed to play around with this type of energy without knowing what the consequences would be.

As I am running out of time, I would just like to add one thing. With regard to nuclear energy, let us not forget that in the area of medicine, we used to talk about nuclear magnetic resonance. Today, people are so afraid of nuclear energy that this kind of equipment is called magnetic resonance. People have every right to be afraid of nuclear plants.

Nuclear Safety and Control ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2002 / 5:05 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-57. At first glance, it looks really short. In fact, it amends only one section of the act, but the fact that it is short does not mean that it is not important. It is extremely important, since it deals with nuclear energy. It frees banking or financial institutions from any liability with regard to site decontamination as a result of the use of nuclear energy.

This bill is especially important for Ontario. There is a concentration of nuclear power stations in that province. It is important because people are increasingly afraid of nuclear energy, not only here, but around the world.

Mr. Speaker, you certainly know that 32 countries produce nuclear energy in the world; several of them have greater concentrations. Such is the case in Ontario.

In Quebec, there was a plant in Gentilly. It is still in operation, but in the years following its construction, environmentalists were very worried. There even was an expansion project, Gentilly 2. I must say that people are still concerned.

Nuclear energy creates nuclear waste. I am very open to hear the explanations of those who could reassure me and reassure the public with regard to the effective disposal of nuclear waste from these plants. Few people can do that. I challenge those who know or those who can read scientific studies to tell us beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no problem with that. The Government of Quebec had strong enough concerns to decide not to further develop this industry. It decided to focus on hydroelectricity instead. It is true that we did have the potential for that.

I think we made a very good decision. Of course, Quebec was able to go in that direction because of its rivers, which opened up this possibility.

The member for Matapédia—Matane talked about a sector of interest to him, that of alternative energies such as wind energy that is being produced as an experimental project in his area, more precisely in Cap-Chat. This form of energy is beginning to have some success, which is promising, and it is worth investing in this industry.

The member for Sherbrooke has brought this issue to our attention in caucus. He is calm but forceful, as members have no doubt noticed. He has a lively humour, but he is still calm but forceful. He seldom gets all worked up, but he usually has very strong arguments when he needs to convince the Bloc Quebecois members that they have to pay attention to something, that they should not get excited and that they should remain calm. We should never get people excited. We should not dramatize and scare people.

At the same time, it is good and I think that it is also our mandate, to represent the people, who are concerned about the importance of this issue and about potential risks, even if they do not exist at present. Before further developing this type of energy, we should try to obtain more scientific information on the best way to eliminate nuclear waste. There is not much scientific information on this. Therefore, this is still a concern.

At one time, in the 1970s, and we still do this but with much less enthusiasm as we can see, Canada was selling Candu reactors to some countries that are now making headlines internationally. I mention this because as member of a subcommittee of the standing committee on foreign affairs, I deal particularly with the Asian issues, on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois.

Let us talk about what is happening now between India and Pakistan. Let us ask ourselves the following question: how is it that these two countries seem to have a nuclear capacity? And they seem to have more than a capacity, because they are even carrying out nuclear tests. Where did they get this nuclear energy? Plutonium is required. We know that it is possible—this has been demonstrated—with inputs or outputs from nuclear plants, to use these materials to make something else, potentially bombs. What we are seeing now between Pakistan and India, with Kashmir at stake, is barely veiled threats from both sides. The people in the region and everyone else are extremely concerned.

What about the problems, the leaks that have occurred in nuclear plants, particularly in the former U.S.S.R., affected the neighbouring countries? In Canada, I am convinced that the people can feel safer. It must feel safe. I do not think there is a concern. There is a good framework.

I agree with the member for Sherbrooke: we should not scare people either. However, as far as the world nuclear industry is concerned—I read some articles just recently on the subject—there are no guarantees with regard to climate change.

In my are and in Quebec, we all remember the ice storm. We wonder why we had an ice storm that lasted so long and that caused so much damage. I read many international newspapers, perhaps because of my involvement in foreign affairs since the last election. We see more and more disasters that are related to the weather.

No need to go far from home. Members can just think about the water level in the St. Lawrence, which is abnormally low. What happens when this occurs?

You will, of course, be thinking “Here we go again, the member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière is going to talk to us about his ships and shipbuilding, and all that stuff”.

Yes, but at the rate things are going with the water level on the St. Lawrence between Montreal and Quebec City, we are soon going to have to develop another kind of ship, one that draws less water, because there has to be more dredging done to do away with the sandbars and debris at the bottom of the river.

Why? Because the water level is dropping. Why is the water level dropping? Because of climate change in the world, the continent or the country. There is global warming. One just needs to listen to the science programs; the glaciers are melting.

Kilometres of the glaciers are melting away. There is the ozone layer and then there are the greenhouse gases. These are of such concern that in Rio, in 1984 I think it was, thought was given to an international protocol to deal with greenhouse gases. This led to the Kyoto protocol, in which Canada committed to doing something about greenhouse gases.

However—and I am bringing this up as a lighter note, which is sometimes a good idea—the Prime Minister once told us a few years ago that “Canada is the best country in the world”, but this best of countries is the one that pollutes the most per capita, as far as greenhouse gases are concerned.

Someone will counter with the comment that China produces more than the United States, and yes it does overall. However, given its land mass and its population, taking the two together Canada is the biggest polluter per capita and per square kilometre as far as greenhouse gases are concerned.

That being the case, of course we encourage the government of Canada, the federal government, to respect its commitment to the Kyoto protocol.

However, we saw what happened: there was September 11; there was a change of government in the United States. What do we see now? We see that the Government of Canada is trying, if not to please, at least not to irritate the Americans, who have decided not to bother with the Kyoto protocol. That is very serious.

The Government of Quebec is trying to be heard because we, in Quebec, have chosen hydroelectricity, because we have experimented with wind energy in the Gaspe Peninsula and in the Lower St. Lawrence area, because research shows that it is worth investing in renewable energies that are not dangerous, or at least in energies that we can control.

In this regard, I certainly encourage the member for Matapédia—Matane, because he is absolutely right. I visited Cap-Chat, even though wind turbines are used elsewhere also. I am trying to see the kind of pollution that can be created by any wind-powered structure.

When it rains, it does not create any problems. I did not see any emissions, any gases. There is absolutely no negative aspect, apart from the initial argument as to whether it is effective or not. Is it worth the investment? More and more, the answer is that it is very promising.

The Bloc Quebecois believes that it would be worth investing $700 million a year in wind energy as a renewable source of energy.

Some might say that I am talking about a different issue. Who could make this? Of course, it takes large companies. For example, the Davie shipyards have a great deal of experience in building oil platforms and very large structures. They build these structures all year round and they can weld them together. They have all the electronic processes and they would be able to do it. There is also Bombardier. There are other businesses that could do this.

It is windy in the Gaspé Peninsula. At times, it is terrible. If we travel from Matane to Forillon park along the coast and we are camping, we need good stakes for the tent, because there is a lot of wind down there.

The wind is terrible when the weather is not nice and it is cold. At the same time, just think of the energy available, of the incredible potential in the Gaspé Peninsula and the Lower St. Lawrence. Why not develop wind energy? It is not dangerous; there is a lot of space. In Quebec and in Canada, there are businesses that can produce what is needed. We have the technological capacity. We have the expertise and the brains to devise plans and do research.

Why not? We spent $3 billion on the Hibernia project. I have been watching the situation in Lévis for years. We were hoping that the Davie shipyard could make a contribution. It could have done so for some components. But no, it was Newfoundland. Sure, Granted, Newfoundland also has the right to get government contracts and to benefit from government investments. We are not jealous of Newfoundland. However, when it is Quebec's turn, in the hydroelectricity industry, we cannot get a penny from the federal government. When we had a problem with hydroelectricity, as was the case during the ice storm, the federal government did not contribute one penny, because it was a crown corporation that was asking for help.

The government says “Quebecers are always upset”. But the facts speak for themselves. There was not one penny for Hydro-Quebec. Yet, this was a major crisis.

We are not asking to take anything away from Newfoundland, to punish Newfoundland and not to give anything to Newfoundland any more. We are asking for something on the same basis for Quebec, namely $700 million per year for an energy that has extraordinary potential.

I do not want to speak louder, because you will accuse me of being a windbag. I do not need to, because there is plenty of wind in the Gaspé. There is a lot of wind all year long. The member for Matapédia—Matane has never been once in the Gaspé without it being windy. It is a strong wind that comes from afar.

In the Magdalen Islands, there is the tourist industry. However, since the minister—she did not to so personally, she is inheriting problems from her predecessors—made cuts into employment insurance, seasonal workers in the tourist industry have been affected. The Magdalen Islands, what a beautiful place. There are wind generators there already and there could be more. It is even more windy than the Gaspé. This is awful, but it is also an extraordinary potential for the wind energy sector. Why do we not think about these safe things? They are renewable. From what I have heard, wind is renewable. Every month, there are wind actions from nature.

With regard to hydroelectricity, we know that it affects the fauna and flora. Sometimes aboriginal populations are disrupted, as any population, when they have to be displaced. Ecosystems are displaced. This can have a non measured and perhaps a hardly measurable effect, but there is one. A water body releases vapor and so on. But wind energy only displaces wind.

I am passionately defending the Lévis shipyard. However, when I hear the hon. member for Matapédia—Matane talk about the potential of wind energy, I have no choice but to agree. With his exemplary calmness, the hon. member for Sherbrooke is saying that we should be careful not to scare everyone. Personally, I say let us use safe energy for the future.

Nuclear Safety and Control ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, at the end of my speech earlier, I had the feeling something I said had raised your eyebrows, but I did not want to panic anybody about nuclear energy.

I wanted to make people aware of the fact that, at present, nuclear energy is not clean. It produces waste which cannot be really disposed of for now.

However, I would like to get back to the speech by my colleague from Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière which I found excellent. Of course, he praised my area, and that made me happy. This does not happen very often. So I should enjoy it.

He mentioned, among other things, shipyards. If only we had had a program to invest in clean energy. One must understand that the future of wind energy is not only on land.

In the future, we will have platforms out to sea, on which windmills would be installed. This has already started in other parts of the world. If such platforms are set up at sea, shipyards such as Verreault Navigation, at les Méchins, and the one in Lévis could benefit from it. Not only could the Lévis shipyard benefit from it, but it could be its future because this technology could be exported across the world, across the whole planet, to replace nuclear energy, which we will never be able to properly master and which will continue to produce a lot of waste.

I would simply like to quote what the Minister of Natural Resources wrote recently. I am doing it with regard to the proposed amendment. I believe this will help us understand something. This is what the minister said, talking about the backers of companies that finance nuclear energy. I will read slowly so that everybody understands properly.

Lenders were faced with unknown financial obligations that may exceed by far their commercial interest. The consequence has been to discourage private sector interest in lending to the nuclear industry.

If lenders are faced with unknown financial obligation, how about the public? What does it mean for the public? I quote the minister, who said that lenders were faced with unknown risks. So is the public.

Nuclear Safety and Control ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to my colleague from Matapédia—Matane, because I was born in the Lower St. Lawrence region. So, I am not that far. By the way, I salute my sister, who lives in Val-Brillant, in his riding. She did not call me; it is a joke.

To answer his question, I often draw a parallel with the shipyard, but the financial sector is reluctant to give guarantees to Davie. I am often confronted with this kind of problem concerning a big business and projects of several millions of dollars.

In that case, it is several millions of dollars. When asked to invest, they want guarantees. I understand that, instead of providing guarantees, the government takes away their responsibilities, saying “Financial institutions, do not worry anymore. If there is a contamination problem, and not any kind of problem, but a nuclear contamination that is yet unknown, for which solutions in terms of waste management are still unknown, do not worry. You will not be affected by this”.

However, small oil businesses, small and medium businesses in the industry, including Davie—let us talk about it—are subject to major rules. Why act differently for nuclear plants than for businesses in other sectors? To ask the question is to answer my colleague's question.

Nuclear Safety and Control ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is obviously very passionate about this issue. I even see in him the passion of Don Quixote who, in his case, fought windmills. My colleague is fighting for wind propellers.

Obviously, the question is: is the propeller creating the wind or is the wind activating the propeller? It is like the chicken and the egg.

However, I would like to go back to subsection 46(3) of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, which this bill proposes to amend.

I am still convinced that, when this act was passed, the legislator really intended to slow down private investment. Knowing financial institutions, they were hesitant to invest because the risk was too high and difficult to assess. They did not want to be liable for decontaminating sites or for dealing with significant financial problems.

I would like to know if my colleague shares this vision of things, if he agrees with me that, two or three years ago, the legislator really intended to slow down private investment.

Nuclear Safety and Control ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is just an assumption, but I have to say that my colleague is probably right. As my colleague from Matapédia—Matane said, he is an accountant, which means that he looks closely at the financial aspect and understands these things. Therefore, we have to agree with him.

He talked about propellers. I was referring earlier to the keen sense of humour of my colleague from Sherbrooke. We just saw an example of that. I will close by saying that I have always been very interested in propellers because they are also used in boats.

Nuclear Safety and Control ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The member for Laurentides has the floor. I wish to advise her that she has eight minutes left before we proceed to private members' business.

Nuclear Safety and Control ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will attempt to recap the debate that has taken place today in eight minutes, or at least, the position of the Bloc Quebecois. I will try to do it very concisely.

First, I would like to say that when it comes to the environment, the government will not be receiving any gold medals, not at all. When it comes to the environment, the government has not made much progress. Quite the opposite in fact; all we have to do is look at the Kyoto protocol, something the government started to get quite sensitive about and started to back away from quite quickly once it realized that it would not be able to meet the commitments it made.

In Quebec, we did our homework on greenhouse gases, particularly since we developed hydroelectricity. Indeed, we developed a different approach, which produced green energy. Hats off to Quebec. I am pleased to be able to say this. The other provinces need to do as much.

If the federal government does not sign the Kyoto protocol, then we can forget that. The provinces will not invest in order meet the standards. If we cannot do it here at the federal level, there is no way to force the provinces to do so.

Second, this government will have to stop following in the footsteps of the United States. When the U.S. coughs, we all get the flu. It makes no sense. As a result of the fact that the U.S. refused to sign the Kyoto protocol, we turned around and said “Well, we cannot touch it either; we are in America”. It makes no sense.

We can set an example. We have done so in the past. We did in when it came to landmines. We took a lead on this issue, we went far with it, and we did not wait for the Americans to sign this agreement. We took the lead.

Why not do the same with the Kyoto protocol? The time has come for the government to pull up its socks and get moving. By taking the lead on an issue such as this, it will force the others to follow.

We spoke about wind energy. On this topic, I would like to quote something, because it has not been quoted, and I would like this to appear in the House of Commons Debates for today.

We are told that wind energy is expanding around the world. In 2002, the installed wind power capacity of the following countries was: Germany, 8,753 megawatts; the United States 4,245 megawatts; Spain, 3,335 megawatts; Denmark, 2,417 megawatts; India, 1,507 megawatts; China, 399 megawatts, and poor little old Canada, 207 megawatts.

This is very little, too little, far too little, when we realize—and my colleague has proven it—that there is wind everywhere. If we want to produce clean energy from the wind, I cannot believe that they do not want to invest in this research.

I will give you another example concerning wind powered generators. In my little riding of Laurentides, there is not as much wind as in the Gaspé. Yet, because of the wind powered generators, and the research done in this area, did you know that they have managed to clean up one polluted lake?

There was a problem in my riding involving a lake that was polluted with a certain type of algae, and they could not get rid of it. They discovered that, using wind power, in a short period of time, just over two years, they could get rid of 90% of it, and at practically no cost.

The money to do this did not come from the federal government. It was the government of Quebec, with help from the municipality, various associations and people worried about their lake. Everyone got together on it. It cost maybe $50,000 the first year. That is not a lot to clean up a large lake, and it did an extraordinary job.

Why do we not invest in this? Why not put money into things that are really worthwhile? When we speak of wind energy, I must really make my point clear.

In terms of job creation in connection with the European wind energy industry—and this is an important point, because there are complaints about unemployment, about people having problems, about people needing jobs—in 1996, the objective in terms of installed capacity was 3,500 megawatts, and this created 72,000 jobs annually.

In 2000, the production was 8,000 megawatts and 512,000 jobs. This is nothing to be sneezed at. The forecast production for 2010 is 40,000 megawatts and 960,000 jobs. In 2020, 100,000 megawatts and 2.4 million jobs throughout Europe.

Why can we not make an effort in this sense? Why is Canada always lagging behind? We are always waiting for others to do things; we are not taking the lead. This does not make sense.

Let me give another example. We were talking about the auto industry. In my region, GM, Quebec's only automobile plant, will shut down. In my riding, a research centre on electrical vehicles has been in existence for a number of years. It survives with the support of the Quebec government. Two federal ministers came to my riding. They promised to help this company. And what did they do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Electrical vehicles are something serious. They are part of the future of this great country that Canada is. The future of the whole industry will change.

It does not make sense to talk about nuclear energy, and removing the responsibilities of financial institutions. They will invest heavily; we will let them do this and, in addition, the government will let them go. We cannot let this industry develop without being under government scrutiny. This industry is much too dangerous.

There is no evidence that, in the long term, this cannot cause harm. We do not know. I do not want to scare anyone, but I want us to act with caution, as a government must do.

We talked about nuclear waste. Where are we going to put this waste? We have no idea. Let us be wise. Before authorizing such things, before developing other nuclear plants, let us ensure that we are doing the right thing, that people are accountable and that the government continues to monitor what is going on, that it continues to keep a degree of control over this development, which is of paramount importance. Otherwise, we would be launching an industry that may come back to haunt us some day.

Nuclear Safety and Control ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I inform the hon. member for Laurentides that she will have 12 minutes left for her speech and that she will have a 10 minute period for questions and comments, when we resume debate on Bill C-57.

It being 5.44 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from April 18 consideration of the motion.

Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish TorturePrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today on a subject that I care about deeply, the prevention and eradication of torture. I would first like to thank my colleague, the member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, for having introduced this important debate in the House of Commons. As he himself mentioned during his first speech in the first hour of this debate, torture—in addition to being a reality that we cannot deny—seems to be very much on the increase throughout the world. In fact, Amnesty International conducted a survey between 1997 and 2000, and found that torture or abuse took place in more than 150 countries.

Torture and abuse is characterized by intimidation, physical and mental violence, brutality, discrimination, pain and fear. How can we, in a so-called civilized world, tolerate such violations of human dignity? How can we tolerate human rights being violated in this way? Do we have the right to simply turn away from such situations, citing the fact that we already have legislation or treaties that punish and condemn such barbaric behaviour? The simple fact that we have to ask the question is answer enough.

For this reason, we must have the necessary tools to prevent such acts and punish those who commit them. In 1984, the United Nations passed the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Under this convention, torture is defined as follows:

--any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity-

Why is torture one of the most reprehensible things there is? Because, as the definition says, it is intentionally inflicted. It is a premeditated act. One cannot torture someone accidentally; it is impossible. The only way to torture someone, regardless of the reason for doing so, is with full awareness of one's actions. In the context of torture, breaking someone's arm or burning someone's flesh, administering electric shocks, whipping, beating to death, is always a premeditated act carried out with a very specific goal in mind. Whatever its attraction, it is undeniably an unacceptable and reprehensible abuse of power.

Worse still than physical torture, the most degrading form of torture is when someone attempts to break, humiliate and dehumanize victims. Reduced to a subhuman state, they feel attacked in their very being. They live in fear and shame under a moral intimidation which continues beyond the actual actions. Not only does such violence wound at the time it is inflicted, but these inner wounds may destroy a person's entire life. This is why we must do more than merely ratify the UN convention. It is more important than ever that Canada in turn ratify the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture.

This convention, which is under the aegis of the Organization of American States, came into effect in 1997. Unfortunately, nine of the 34 OAS member states have still not ratified it. This includes Canada and, surprisingly, the United States. But why sign this convention if we have already signed the UN convention? I will read the OAS definition of torture. It defines this practice as follows:

any act intentionally performed whereby physical or mental pain or suffering is inflicted on a person for purposes of criminal investigation, as a means of intimidation, as personal punishment, as a preventive measure, as a penalty, or for any other purpose. Torture shall also be understood to be the use of methods upon a person intended to obliterate the personality of the victim or to diminish his physical or mental capacities, even if they do not cause physical pain or mental anguish.

There is no need to point out the difference between this definition and the one from the UN. Its complementarity is found in the last sentence, which reads, and I quote:

—of methods upon a person intended to obliterate the personality of the victim or to diminish his physical or mental capacities, even if they do not cause physical pain or mental anguish.

In order to understand in practical terms what this means, let us imagine the following scenario: a torturer who hates getting his hands dirty whispers to his victim in a convincing voice that he intends to kill his children. There is no physical violence involved, but the victim may well become very talkative, much to the pleasure of his torturer.

Under the OAS definition, such a practice would be considered as torture. Therefore, since this definition is more comprehensive and introduces a new element, it can only be a very significant and useful complement to the UN convention.

To say that the inter-American convention weakens that of the United Nations, as claimed by some members of this House, is sheer folly, particularly since the convention adopted by a majority of OAS state members targets a specific region of the world, namely the Americas. Not only does this allow for closer monitoring, but it has the geographical advantage of being in conjunction with the development of the free trade area of the Americas.

Who has not heard about the FTAA, this vast project on which all the states of the three Americas are working, with the exception of Cuba? We support the idea of developing this economic zone but, as Bloc Quebecois members have said repeatedly, not at any cost, and certainly not at the cost of doing it on the backs of citizens and violating the most fundamental rights. Why refuse to adhere to the principles that are already in place within the OAS to show our values and to show the context in which we want to build this FTAA?

If it is true that this government respects human dignity and fundamental rights, then it must be consistent and adopt the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture.

Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads as follows:

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

This is precisely what the inter-American convention is trying to promote and to have respected as closely as possible. Then, how can we be opposed to it?

If anyone is still wondering what point there is in ratifying two conventions instead of one, the answer is simple: this would enable us to reaffirm our commitment to defend the rights of all the citizens of this planet. This solidarity must know no boundaries and our values, combined with our respect of rights and freedoms, must impact upon the culture of our partners, economic or other. This is, moreover, one of the reasons that justifies adoption of this convention: cultural differences.

Even if not all peoples consider the same things acceptable or unacceptable, it is important to ensure that, on a subject as important as torture, everyone is in agreement. It is therefore inconsistent to want to step up economic ties with countries such as Colombia, for example, with whom we seem not to see eye to eye about torture. Colombia, of course, may seem less respectful of the conventions than Canada, we agree, but is it normal then for Canada not to see fit to sign the convention when Colombia has signed it? How can we then reprimand a state in the OAS for dubious practices when we have not seen fit to become a signatory to a convention aimed precisely at protecting people from this type of abuse?

The last point I want to address is the new context within which we find ourselves today. We have referred to it on so many occasions here in the House: the fight against terrorism.

Could it be that, in seeking out terrorists, acts of torture might be committed with a view to obtaining information on the various networks of terrorists and on potential attacks?

I fear the answer may be yes, and I would therefore invite each and every one of my colleagues to reflect on this point.

Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish TorturePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Shawn Murphy Liberal Hillsborough, PE

Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak to the motion of the hon. member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, proposing that the government take the necessary measures for Canada to ratify the inter-American convention to prevent and punish torture.

While it has been already explained that Canada is not a party to this convention, I would like to reiterate that Canada is very involved in the protection and promotion of human rights in the Americas through its membership in the Organization of American States and through various other hemispheric bodies and bilateral activities.

As host of the summit of the Americas in Quebec City last year, Canada played a leading role in developing the plan of action, the summit process agenda for the coming years. A full third of the summit plan of action was devoted to human rights and democracy. The countries of the Americas have accepted that human rights and democracy are very much linked. The democracy clause in the Quebec City summit declaration and the inter-American democratic charter adopted by foreign ministers on September 11, 2001, allude to as much.

All Canadians are concerned about the promotion and protection of human rights, both here in Canada and abroad. The Government of Canada and Canadian non-governmental organizations are actively engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights in the Americas. The Canadian International Development Agency alone has budgeted expenditures of $56 million for this fiscal year on human rights and good governance programming in the Americas.

I will take a few minutes to illustrate to this House some of Canada's participation around the world.

In Argentina, Canada continues to work with local human rights organizations to promote human rights through a variety of activities. For example, the Canadian International Development Agency programs in Argentina include the ongoing development of programs in support of police reform. Through our embassy in Buenos Aires, we provide support for a number of human rights initiatives.

In December 2000 our embassy hosted a very large public event on women's human rights and violence against women. A year after that, in collaboration with UNESCO, our embassy hosted an event focusing on human rights and gender discrimination. Discussions are currently under way regarding possibilities for co-operation between our Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and its Argentine counterpart.

Canada has provided significant support for Bolivia's national ombudsman's office, which monitors government activities to ensure that they are carried out in accordance with the laws and constitution of that country. Created in 1998, the office is increasingly effective as both an auditor of public administration and a defender of human rights. Canada also played an important co-ordinating role in the donor community during consultations on the Bolivia poverty reduction strategy in the years 2000 and 2001.

In Brazil, Canada is also very active in promoting and protecting human rights and in fostering democratic development. Last year, with the aim of contributing to improve human rights programming and judicial reform in Brazil, members of Brazil's federal district public ministry were exposed to the Canadian experience of links and alliances being formed between the judiciary and non-governmental organizations.

Also last year, Canada provided witness protection training to Brazilian civil society groups and police officers. Canada has also supported various skill development and reintegration programs for marginalized Brazilian children who are involved in drug trafficking and prostitution and who are victims of sexual abuse.

In the country of Chile, Canada has supported projects in the areas of judicial reform, the participation of civil society in public processes, discussions on national reconciliation and human rights, the formation of networks of both indigenous and non-indigenous women and the prevention of violence within communities.

Canada also funds small projects which support economic, technical, educational and social development, with a particular focus on the challenges faced by women, children, native people and other traditionally marginalized groups.

We know Colombia's internal conflict has made its human rights situation one of the worst in the hemisphere and thus it is of particular concern to Canada and Canadians. When their safety is not at risk, our ambassador to Colombia and his staff travel to conflict zones to gain firsthand knowledge of the situation, monitor progress of investigations and show international solidarity with targeted communities.

Our embassy in Bogota consistently urges Colombian authorities to protect threatened groups, to undertake thorough investigations when human rights violations occur and bring those responsible to justice.

Canada actively participated in the peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC until President Pastrana ended the talks in February this year. Canada supports the invaluable work of the UN secretary general's special adviser on Colombia.

The work includes the facilitation of talks between the government and ELN forces and will also likely include the facilitation of talks between FARC forces and the government should talks resume once a new government takes office.

Every year in a country statement at the UN general assembly, Canada raises the issue of the status of Colombia's human rights situation. We do the same at the annual UN Commission on human rights in geneva where we also support a strong statement made by the chair on the situation in Colombia.

Canada will contribute more than $60 million over the next five years through CIDA's development assistance program to increase Colombian capacity to meet basic human needs and to protect the human rights of those affected by armed conflict, to support equitable participation in establishing foundation for peace and to improve Colombian capacity to address some of the key issues and intensifiers of violence.

Canada also has disbursed $1.6 million in the last four years to support the activities of the Bogota office of the UN high commissioner for human rights. It also supports ongoing support to the UN commission for refugees, the international committee of the Red Cross, the Colombian Red Cross and a range of Colombian non-governmental and humanitarian organizations.

Canada supports Peace Brigades International, an NG organization that provides accompaniment to threatened human rights workers as well as Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF. Canada also supports the delivery of distance education training in human rights and international humanitarian law to the Colombian armed forces.

In February this year, after several months of hearings in Colombia, the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and International Development paid a nine day visit to learn firsthand about the situation there. The subcommittee met with a wide range of Colombian government officials, police and army commanders, UN agencies, trade unions, municipal leaders and human rights organizations. The Canadian government is currently examining the recommendations outlined in the report of the subcommittee which was tabled last month.

As in Colombia, Canada remains among the most active countries in the promotion of and support for human rights and democratic development in Guatemala.

For a period of time last year, Canada chaired the G-13 dialogue group, a group of major donors and international organizations that have developed a structural dialogue with the government, private sector and civil society to express concerns with respect to human rights issues. Canada is one of the most vocal members of the group and regularly raises human rights issues during meetings with the Guatemalan government.

The human rights situation in Haiti remains a key concern to the government. We have used every available opportunity to indicate our concern to the Haitian government. We remain in regular contact with local human rights organizations. When deemed necessary, our ambassador to that country issues local press statements reiterating Canada's position on the protection and promotion of human rights in that country.

At the Quebec City summit of the Americas last year our Prime Minister emphasized the need for the government of Haiti to respect human rights.

If I had the time I could go on to outline the activities, programs and initiatives that our country is conducting in other countries, such as Jamaica , Mexico, Nicaragua, Argentina, Paraguay, Peru to Venezuela. However, in summary, as pointed out--

Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish TorturePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am sorry to interrupt but I have been quite patient.

The hon. member for Surrey Central.

Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish TorturePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to participate in the second hour debate on Motion No. 432 moved by the Bloc member for Rosemont--Petite-Patrie. I would like to thank the member for bringing the motion to the floor of the House.

The motion calls on Canada to ratify the inter-American convention to prevent and punish torture. Earlier, when the member for Okanagan--Coquihalla, the senior critic for foreign affairs for the official opposition, spoke to motion, he articulated his position during the first reading of the motion.

The inter-American convention to prevent and punish torture seeks to prevent torture at the hands of a public servant, an employee or a person who acts on their behalf.

Nothing can every justify torture. All acts of torture or any other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment constitutes an offence against human dignity and are violations of the fundamental human rights and freedoms. Protecting and promoting human rights is a cornerstone of our foreign policy. Of course torture against citizens by a government should be prohibited and condemned. However I have concerns with this motion for several reasons.

First, the definition of torture in this convention is simply too broad. I feel that if this convention were ratified, the implications on Canada's police and correctional services could be negatively impacted. Canada's police forces have enough to worry about without having to fear that by using pepper spray to control a deranged attacker or by holding someone in a modest cell they will be found to have tortured the individual and will be punished for simply performing their duties.

We have all seen how vague definitions have been used by courts to expand the scope of the legislation beyond what was intended by the legislators. This legislation speeds this along by being too sweeping in the first place.

I feel that Canada has enough safeguards in place to protect the rights of perpetrators of crime and it would be those individuals who will be mostly likely to take advantage of any greater protection this convention would afford them. I feel that Canada has to turn its attention to the perpetrators of crime rather than continuing to put safeguards in place to protect them.

Second, acts that would constitute true torture are already illegal in Canada. Those protections are already in place. To use the broad definitions of torture contained in the convention would simply open up a whole new set of challenges for our law enforcement community in Canada.

Third, Canada is a signatory to the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. After the deposit of its ratification instrument in 1987, Canada was one of the first state parties to this UN convention. This convention has a much more reasonable and narrow definition of torture. To avoid conflicts, if Canada is to ratify any convention on torture there must be only one definition of torture used.

There is no question about the laudable aims of the inter-American convention. Though it is perceived that the UN convention against torture provides higher standards and stronger protections than the organization of the American states convention. Nevertheless, there is already a very strong and effective international mechanism with broad support. We must seek further international support in order for that mechanism to become universally accepted.

The fourth concern I have is that under this convention torture includes “inflicting physical pain as a preventative measure or as a penalty”. I am concerned that those who would seek to deny parents the right to administer corporal punishment to their children would use the ratification of this convention to further their efforts to deny parents this option.

I am concerned that a teacher trying to break up a schoolyard fight and confine the troublemakers to keep them separated could be prosecuted under a broad definition such as this.

Although preventing torture is a commendable goal, ratifying this convention would cause more harm than good. The Canadian Alliance does not condone the use of torture, however the definition of torture in this convention is too vague and could cause problems for law enforcement and correctional service agencies.

Since we are talking about human rights, I would also like to take this opportunity to bring the attention of the House to another very important issue. The sudden and unexpected disbanding of British Columbia's human rights commission is quite disturbing, particularly when provincial legislation has not been defined, debated or passed by the legislature.

Consultations on the proposed legislation are ongoing through September 15 with debate commencing this fall so the final definition of this legislation is still unknown. It would appear that the province is placing the cart before the horse and circumventing the democratic process of the legislature.

By immediately disposing of B.C.'s human rights commission, it places all human rights complaints and administration in the lap of the Human Rights Tribunal.

It is perceived by my constituents that under new legislation there will be no separation of authority between a body, which is a commission, that mediates and investigates complaints, provides legal, educational and advocacy support from the body, which is the tribunal, that executes the judicial functions.

By doing so, greater authority is placed in the hands of the tribunal that is to fulfill the mandate of both the commission and the tribunal. It will mediate and investigate complaints, select cases for judicial review, as well as exercise final judgment.

This action begs the question: What body will provide an impartial voice for the disadvantaged and minorities? Moreover, B.C. is now the only province in Canada without a human rights commission. This is in contravention of the UN convention requiring state, which is provincial, human rights agencies to be provided with adequate resources to investigate and promote human rights standards as set out by the United Nations, which has been ratified by Canada and thus upheld in law in Canada.

It was only this past April when Canadians marked the 20th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that afforded Canadian citizens protection from unreasonable and arbitrary government actions in their pursuit of justice.

It is difficult to conceive that British Columbians in pursuit of justice and a human rights tribunal left in a judicial limbo while waiting for an amended legislative mandate that remains to be defined.

Certainly, with virtually no official opposition within the B.C.'s legislature, it is evident that this legislation will pass. However a government should not and must not be so presumptuous as to act before the public consultation process is completed and the laws are democratically passed by elected legislators.

Already the human rights commissioner and others that were summarily discharged will be pursuing legal action.What it cost the taxpayer to pursue this in the courts? The process has already gone too far to backtrack.

I implore the offices of the premier of British Columbia and the Prime Minister of Canada to take immediate steps to fulfill their obligations under the laws of Canada and the UN charter to ensure that the human rights of British Columbians will not suffer as a result of the actions prematurely taken by the province.

I will be writing a letter to the premier of British Columbia. I will also be urging the Prime Minister and this Liberal government to make sure that the law is upheld and that we respect the United Nations charter that we signed.

Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish TorturePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Bonnie Brown Liberal Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion of the hon. member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie proposing that the government take the necessary measures for Canada to ratify the inter-American convention to prevent and punish torture.

There are three key points which will help inform this debate and on which all hon. members should agree. First, there can be no doubt that Canada condemns unequivocally torture and other cruel and degrading acts anywhere and at anytime. There is never any justification for torture.

Second, Canada's decision not to accede to the inter-American convention must not be interpreted as suggesting that Canada is somehow soft on torture. The promotion and protection of human rights is an integral part of Canadian foreign policy. Canada is fully committed to the elimination of torture, to investigating the question of torture, to prosecuting those responsible for such acts and to supporting victims of torture.

When Canada deposited its instrument of ratification in 1987, we were among the first states to be parties to the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Today the number of states that are parties to that convention is 126. Canada continues to encourage those states that have not already done so to become parties to the UN convention.

At United Nations meetings, including the UN general assembly, Canada has worked closely with other like-minded delegations to negotiate and support resolutions on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments or punishments. As recently as this past week, Canada co-sponsored a resolution at the UN commission. The opening words of that resolution are a collective affirmation of the global repugnance against torture. Those words bear repeating in this debate. It states:

Reaffirming that no one should be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, that such actions constitute a criminal attempt to destroy a fellow human being physically and mentally, which can never be justified under any circumstances, by any ideology or by any overriding interest, and convinced that a society that tolerates torture can never claim to respect human rights....

The UN Commission on Human Rights resolution also notes with appreciation the work of the special rapporteur on torture. We closely follow his work and that of the UN committee against torture, chaired by Mr. Peter Burns, a Canadian independent expert.

Canada is a strong proponent of measures to prevent and prohibit torture and attaches great importance to effective action by the United Nations against torture. Canada supports mechanisms that examine extra-judicial executions or torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in specific countries. We believe there should be a strong and effective international mechanism with the capacity to make on site visits to places of detention, particularly when there have been allegations of torture. To this end, we have been actively participating in the working group to elaborate an optional protocol to the convention against torture.

We have also provided financial assistance to the cause against torture. Canada contributes $60,000 annually to the United Nations fund for victims of torture. The aim of the fund is to support the medical and psychological treatment and services for torture victims through rehabilitation centres and programs worldwide. More than 115 humanitarian organizations in 53 countries have been assisted by the fund. In Canada the fund has supported centres of treatment in Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.

One of our key foreign policy priorities is to ensure that there can be no impunity for acts of torture wherever they occur. Canada took a leadership role in the negotiation and adoption of the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court. As hon. members will recall the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced in this House on April 11 the welcome news of the deposit of the 60th ratification for the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court. With the Rome statute's entry into force coming up on July 1, 2002, the International Criminal Court will be a reality. The court will have jurisdiction to try those accused of the most serious crimes known to humankind, including acts of torture that amount to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

As these initiatives attest, Canada has been an active supporter of international efforts to eliminate torture. Given Canada's level of engagement internationally, some might offer the opinion that it is hypocritical for Canada not to accede to the inter-American convention to prevent and punish torture, the question before us tonight. That assertion must be rejected. Our commitment to the goal of the elimination of torture should not be measured by the number of international treaties to which we are a party, but rather by how effectively we implement our international obligations.

As a recent editorial in the Ottawa Citizen entitled “Wronging Rights” noted, progress on protecting rights should not be confused with negotiating new international human rights agreements. Our approach should be to ensure that governments actually respect human rights in practice.

No one questions the aims of the inter-American convention. They are laudable. Similarly, it is generally accepted that the UN convention against torture provides higher standards and stronger protections than the OAS convention. Canadian practice has always been to focus our efforts in the effective implementation of the stronger human rights instruments rather than in the ratification of a weaker convention that may ultimately compete with and thereby dilute the strength of the existing UN convention against torture.

The third key point relevant to this debate is that Canada remains fully committed to this hemisphere and to the OAS. Since joining that organization in 1990, Canada has worked in partnership with the 33 other active member states to develop and implement a hemispheric agenda for the benefit of all citizens of the Americas. The OAS is central to our hemispheric policy and has provided an excellent venue to promote our policies on good governance, human rights and democracy.

The fact that we are not a party to the inter-American convention against torture should not be seen as reflecting a lack of support for regional instruments. Indeed, regional initiatives can be critical in building momentum toward the establishment of global norms.

In the initiative to ban landmines for example, the member states of the OAS provided leadership in adopting a regional ban on landmines. This achievement was a key development in the path which led to the Ottawa convention. However that is not the situation we are facing here. There already exists a global instrument which enjoys broad support. Our efforts should be focused on encouraging greater support internationally for the UN convention so that it might enjoy universal acceptance.

I would like to express my appreciation to the hon. member for Rosemont--Petite-Patrie for his motion which has enabled this House to debate and examine Canada's policy with respect to the elimination of torture. We need to be pragmatic in our approach and focus our efforts where they can have the best effect, namely on promoting the implementation and effective ratification of the UN convention against torture and the strong protection it offers against such heinous acts.

Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish TorturePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to take part in this debate. The first thing I must do is to congratulate the member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie for initiating this debate here in the House and to give my support to his motion.

The motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take the necessary measures for Canada to ratify the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture.

This is a very important motion and it is absolutely necessary for the House to have a debate on the issues covered in this motion.

The House has a very important issue before it and I am pleased that we have this opportunity to debate it

Some have suggested in the course of this debate that this idea which calls for Canada to sign the inter-American convention to prevent and punish torture is redundant and unnecessary. It is my view, and I believe the shared view of many in the Chamber today, that it is not true that there is nothing we can do to address the issue of torture. It is important to speak out against the pervasive incidents of torture around the world. Nothing is redundant or unnecessary when it comes to dealing with this matter.

It is important to bring this issue out into the open every chance we can get and to put the facts on the table. The facts are disturbing. They need our attention and need ongoing action by the government and by our partners internationally.

I think all of us are shocked when we read some of the reports produced by Amnesty International as a result of its work in the field and on the frontlines. In its most recent report Amnesty International indicated that people died as a result of torture in over 80 countries and that torture or ill-treatment by state agents occurred in over 150 countries and was widespread in more than 70 countries. Amnesty International has documented how pervasive torture still is today in our society. More importantly for this debate, it has reminded us that governments continue to allow torture and ill-treatment to go on.

The question we are debating today is Canada's role on the international scene in response to the pervasive incidents of torture. The question for us today is not about the adequacy of Canadian police and security forces to address the presence of torture. It is our role in co-operation with other nations to suppress, stop and wipe out the incidents of torture in our society today. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Americas.

The report by Amnesty International for the year 2002 has documented that very clearly. It has reported that in countries that are a part of the Organization of American States torture is alive and well and must be addressed by all of us. Amnesty International has reported that torture and ill-treatment by security forces continues to be present in at least 20 countries including Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guyana, Jamaica, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela and the list goes on.

Amnesty International also focuses on the incidents that are occurring as we speak in Colombia which is significant because of the seriousness of developments, and in particular because the convention that we are talking about today was introduced in 1985 in Cartagena, Colombia. It has recently reported that the human rights crisis in that country has continued to spiral and it is feared that in the post-September 11 climate it will continue to exacerbate. It states that both the army, with their paramilitary allies, and armed opposition groups continue to commit grave human rights violations and abuses against civilians as the principal victims.

The year's statistics are chilling: over 300 people disappeared; more than 4,000 civilians were killed outside of combat, the majority by army backed paramilitaries; large numbers of people were displaced; and over 1,700 people were kidnapped, mainly by guerilla groups.

The documentation by Amnesty International and others with respect to the pervasiveness of torture in our society today must be taken into account by the Canadian government. It provides the basis for the government to seriously consider signing the inter-American convention to prevent and punish torture.

We have heard from members of the government side and from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. They have said that any efforts to sign the inter-American convention would dilute and weaken the government's ability to focus on the issue of torture, particularly with respect to the UN convention against torture. It has been suggested to us again today that such a move by Canada would dilute and weaken Canada's efforts in terms of this important international objective.

It is hard to understand the rationale for that kind of argument. It would seem to me that when we are dealing with such a pervasive situation, with torture occurring on such a rampant basis in many countries around the world, everything we can do to send a message, to speak out publicly and to work with other countries to stop torture is important. It seems to me that rather than dilute and weaken Canada's efforts the signing of this convention would strengthen and reinforce our position and send a strong message internationally. I can see no harm with Canada signing the convention.

I cannot understand the rationale of government members for suggesting that all efforts must be focused on the UN convention and anything else would be problematic. I suggest to members of the House that the government ought to take seriously this call for participating as a full signatory in the inter-American convention to prevent and punish torture because it will make a difference.

It will make a difference to those people on the frontlines trying to repress torture. It will make a difference in terms of the message we send to countries where torture is allowed to go on. It will send an important international signal that Canada will not stand idly by and turn a blind eye to any country that refuses to crack down on torture and any government that may be engaged in acts of torture.

It seems to me that when we are talking about something as fundamental as people's lives being put through such torture, pain and agony that the least we can do as a nation is to be a party to a group of nations, as part of the Organization of American States, who want to take action and send a clear message that torture against individuals as outlined and defined by the accord must be opposed. Every effort must be taken to stamp out, crack down and eliminate any incidents of torture in our society today.

Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish TorturePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to let you and the House know from the outset that we in our party will be supporting the motion. I congratulate the hon. member for Rosemont--Petite-Patrie for his good work on the issue. To remind the House and the listening public of the motion I will read it again. It states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take the necessary measures for Canada to ratify the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture.

It is amazing that the government has not ratified the convention. The hon. members who have spoken, at least on this side of the House, have raised serious questions as to why the government would not move on it. The motion before us is an honourable one which would send a message to the rest of the world. It is a votable motion, which indeed it should be. It is good to put the government on trial and see how many of its members are brave enough to stand and vote it down.

The Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture was created in 1985 at the 15th regular session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States. I remind the House that Canada is a member of the OAS. We became a member on January 8, 1990.

Mr. Speaker, during that debate you stood on this side of the House. As you remember, and I know you have a great memory, the Liberal Party at the time was outraged that the Prime Minister of Canada would move Canada into the OAS. One of those convenient anti-American speeches was given by the Liberal Party. There was a round of questions in question period regarding our entry into OAS, if one can believe it. I was here and was part of the debate. I was honoured to stand in my place in the House and vote Canada, through the Parliament of Canada, into the OAS.

It is reminiscent of the NAFTA debate where the Liberals raged against it and wanted to change it but did not change a comma, period or colon. They simply moved on for whatever reason knowing full well we were right to join the OAS, we were right to enter into NAFTA and we were right to enter into the free trade agreement. However that is old political history and I doubt anyone wants to listen to that tonight.

The OAS is made up of 34 active member countries. The U.S. ratified the convention of which we speak and entered into it on February 28, 1987. Canada is lagging way behind.

The spirit of the OAS convention to prevent and punish torture reinforces the Charter of the United Nations and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That was one of the issues the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre brought to the floor of the House in the last few minutes. There appears to be an inconsistency on the part of the Government of Canada. The convention reaffirms:

--that all acts of torture or any other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment constitute an offense against human dignity and a denial of the principles set forth in the Charter of the Organization of American States and in the Charter of the United Nations--

In order for the pertinent rules contained in the OAS and UN charters to take effect the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture must be ratified. It calls for state parties, in this case Canada, to take effective measures to prevent and punish torture within their jurisdictions and ensure that all such acts are considered offences under their criminal law. It says punishment should be severe and take into account the serious nature of all acts of torture. It also calls for state parties, again in this case Canada, to:

--take effective measures to prevent and punish other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment within their jurisdiction.

The hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish-Guysborough, our justice critic, could speak volumes to this because one of the reasons the government is so reluctant is the sovereignty issue which I hope to touch on. The convention addresses a need to ensure figures of authority such as police do not use torture during interrogation, detention or arrest.

Under the convention anyone claiming to have been tortured is entitled to an impartial examination of his or her case. If an examination results in findings of torture the victim shall be entitled to suitable compensation. However no provisions in the convention shall override the right of the victim or other persons to receive compensation, and this is a key phrase, by virtue of existing national legislation. The convention does not supersede domestic law. It says state parties, again in this case Canada:

--shall take the necessary steps to extradite anyone accused of having committed the crime of torture or sentenced for commission of that crime, in accordance with their respective national laws on extradition and their international commitments on this matter.

The convention does not override criminal jurisdiction exercised in accordance with domestic law.

Speaking of cruel and unusual punishment, one of the reasons the government might be reluctant is because of what we are witnessing on the other side of the House in terms of the cruel and unusual punishment the Prime Minister of Canada is inflicting on the general public and on his own party.

On the positive side, Canada supports the United Nations charter and condemns all acts of violence against human beings. Ratifying the convention would reaffirm our commitment that human rights should be protected for all humankind. I do not think it is news to members that Canada has an excellent reputation around the world for its record and efforts with respect to human rights. Canada's efforts reflect the spirit of the convention, so why the hesitation?

During the debate on whether we should ratify the convention it has appeared that Canada has been struggling with the issue of sovereignty. It goes back to our reluctance to join the OAS, or rather the reluctance of the official opposition Liberal Party at the time. A thread of anti-Americanism still seems to run through and pervade the Liberal Party. The government is debating whether or not we would be buckling under to the United States which is the driving force and dominant state within the OAS.

This seems to be the constant thread that weaves itself throughout any policy that comes from the present government. The Liberal government is not addressing the issue in a fashion we would expect from a national government, especially the government of a country like Canada that has such a great and unblemished record on human rights.

The government should move on, ratify the treaty and make us all proud to be members of the OAS.

Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish TorturePrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish TortureAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, on May 10, I asked to the minister of public works a question about the $2 million still to be paid to Davie for repairs done at the Champlain dry docks. The work has been completed by Davie Industries.

Here are a few more details on that question. The dry dock has always belonged to the federal government. On March 31, 1998, an agreement was reached stating that once the repairs were finished, Davie Industries would manage the dry dock and use it to do some work there. Earlier, in April, I asked the minister of public works to respect the lower bid of the Davie Industries, even though the company was under the protection of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. The minister of public works has allowed the repairs to the frigate HMCS Ville de Québec to take place in the dry dock, which is unofficially under the administration of Davie.

The same department of public works now refuses to pay the missing $2 million, because it claims Davie is under the protection of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. The contract was for a total of $12 million.

Today, the minister's representative, the parliamentary secretary has had all the time needed to take note of the question. Indeed, there could be a default. However, could does not mean will. Under the present circumstances, it would be inconceivable that Davie not be able to use it to repair the frigate HMCS Ville de Québec and other work, when a vessel is being repaired for the department of public works, for the federal government.

I will listen carefully to the answer given by the minister's representative and I ask him to answer with a great deal of thought. It would help Davie if the $2 million were paid. It could do other work. It is not the time to withhold payments that are due to a company when it is in dire financial straits, on top of an advance of $800,000 a year, which the federal government agreed to pay for five years for the operations of the dry dock. Davie is already operating the dock. Why does the federal government not want to pay the $2 million it owes for work that has already been carried out since December? Why is it putting off paying the $800,000 that was due last April 1?

Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish TortureAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Mississauga South Ontario


Paul Szabo LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, as you can imagine, the hon. member has described a situation to you that is not exactly simplistic. There is some detail that should be known.

Until March 31, 1998 Public Works and Government Services Canada was responsible for the operation and management of the dry docks at Lauzon. As part of its efforts to divest itself of its marine and transportation assets Public Works and Government Services Canada entered into a divestiture agreement with Industries Davie Inc., or IDI, for the dry docks.

On March 31, 1998 public works divested itself of the dry docks and handed them over to Industries Davie Inc. for a token one dollar plus a contribution payable under an agreement that included a $12 million reserve for major repair work payable on a pro rata basis as the work was completed. The accrued interest, and this is where the hon. member is getting his $2 million figure, earned on the $12 million reserve is not payable until the contribution agreement expires. That is important. The amount of $8 million represents the present value of the annual operating losses to be paid in installments of $800,000 plus interest annually.

In August 1998 Industries Davie Inc. filed for protection under the Bankruptcy Act. A proposal for its creditors was accepted in December, 1999. On October 24, 2001 the superior court set aside the proposal and assigned the assets to Gérald Robitaille et Associés Ltée because Industries Davie Inc. had failed to comply with all the provisions of the proposal. On November 6, 2001 public works issued a 30 day notice to terminate the obligations under the agreement with respect to the contributions because Industries Davie Inc. was in default according to the agreement.

A portion of the contribution in the amount of $12 million relates to major repairs, as the hon. member has said. The money was placed in trust in 1998. On December 31, 2001 the trustee confirmed that $11.7 million had been issued to IDI because the agreed upon work had been completed. On that date $1.9 million remained in the account, most of which was interest accrued on the initial $12 million. In accordance with the contribution agreement the funds cannot be claimed until the agreement expires on March 31, 2007.

The crown suspended payments and issued a default notice to Industries Davie Inc. for non-performance owing to the company's bankruptcy. However the trustee in bankruptcy is still responsible for the dry docks and has free access to and control over the docks. The trustee continues to operate the dry docks in accordance with the contribution agreement. We have not terminated the agreement. We are examining every option to continue to support the company.

Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish TortureAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, this answer is incredible. The parliamentary secretary does not specify the reason given, despite alluding to it, implicitly. He says that it is because Davie has not met all of the conditions. Since I know what this is all about, it is that Davie has been placed under the protection of the Bankruptcy Act.

This brings me back to the situation I was describing before. Aware of the fact that Davie was place under the protection of the Bankruptcy Act, the federal government took advantage of the situation to avoid paying its bill. It realized that Davie needed a dry dock to repair the frigate HMCS Ville de Québec and made unofficial arrangements to have the work done.

The government does not even see the inconsistency or the contradiction of its ways. A nice way to help, is that the agreement could be in effect until 2008, ten years later. In an incredible display of generosity—I say this tongue in cheek—it could wait until 2008 to pay its dues. Even better, it would have additional interest to pay. What an answer.

Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish TortureAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly want to congratulate the member for his tenacity on the issue.

We are embroiled in a legal issue. I do not want to repeat the details that I mentioned in my speech. The agreement is clear. The fact is that Industries Davie did default on its agreement. The crown suspended payments and issued a default notice to Industries Davie for not being able to fulfill its contractual obligations. This is the crux of the issue. The company did not fulfill its contractual obligations.

I want to assure the member that we are committed to examining every option that we might use to continue to support this company.

Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish TortureAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago, I asked a question of the Minister of Environment about the funding of the Lake St. Francis National Wildlife Area, among other things.

At the end of May, I went to the Valleyfield area; at Lake St. Francis, there is a national wildlife area that is managed by the Friends of the Valleyfield Wildlife Area. They reminded me of one thing: back in 1978, the Canadian Wildlife Service had acquired 14,000 hectares of land to use as a national wildlife area.

Under international conventions, this wildlife area is considered a Ramsar area, with an ecosystem of international importance. There are many plant species, several species at risk. But the Friends of the Wildlife Area have been suffering from a chronic lack of funding for several years.

Indeed, the whole management of the Lake St. Francis National Wildlife Area has been left to volunteers. The federal government is not taking its responsibilities as the protector of threatened species on its lands. It acquires 14,000 hectares of land, but refuses to take responsibility for supervision, coordination, promotion and development.

As an example, for the Lake St. Francis National Wildlife Area, 24.8% of the funding came from the Canadian Wildlife Service in 1997-1998. In 2002-2003, it will be only 9%. Clearly, the $12,000 available for the reserve will not be enough to ensure adequate funding to protect our natural heritage.

There are limits to having everything done by volunteers. These people put in a lot of time and energy, but they do not have to assume the federal government's role with regard to the management of its national wildlife areas.

I remind members that the mandate of national wildlife areas is essentially to protect wildlife and not to organize recreational activities to increase revenues.

Funding for national wildlife areas has to be increased. I humbly say so because, in 2001, the environment commissioner's report was very negative on the issue of national reserve management.

In 1999 and 2000, the budget was $83,000 in Ontario for ten national reserves; in Quebec, it was $102,000 for eight reserves. It is clear that there is a chronic lack of funding.

I will come back later to the statements made by the environment commissioner, who believes that the current resources allocated to national wildlife areas, particularly the Lake St. Francis reserve, are insufficient to enable them to fulfill their mandate.

Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish TortureAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

Kitchener Centre Ontario


Karen Redman LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, Canada has a wealth of wildlife, forests, water and protected areas.

We are known all over the world for the richness of our nature. Canadians see nature as an integral part of their identity and are convinced that it contributes substantially to their quality of life.

Canada is truly blessed in terms of natural wealth. Some 20% of the world's remaining natural areas are located in Canada along with 9% of the world's freshwater and 15% of its forests. About 8% of Canada is part of a protected area. This translates to 80 million hectares.

This network contains some of the most vital habitat sites in all of North America, significant critical habitat for species at risk, and in highly fragmented landscapes. These sites are often among the last remaining areas of natural habitat upon which to base a recovery of the landscape.

I am proud of the work of the many dedicated employees of Environment Canada and of the Canadian Wildlife Service who operate the 143 national wildlife reserves and migratory bird sanctuaries across Canada.

Our national wildlife area and migratory bird sanctuary system is challenged in many ways: in our internal capacity to manage the properties we have, from the stresses and the demands on the landscape surrounding the sites; and in our ability to complete the current sites and add important new areas to the network, particularly marine sites.

We recognize that there are challenges and assets in our protected areas, including the national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries. We recognize the foundation role that they will need to play for species at risk recovery, sustaining healthy migratory bird populations, and as the building blocks of recovery of ecosystem health in stressed landscapes.

We place a high priority on developing a strategy that takes a logical and well planned approach to managing these areas and developing new ones. We have discussed such a strategy quite fully within the Government of Canada.

It is true that the resources allocated to protected areas have remained static over the last few years. One of the challenges faced by the Canadian Wildlife Service is allocating scarce resources among many competing priorities.

The annual budget for managing the entire network of national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries across Canada is $1.9 million.

We are aware of the auditor general's concerns on national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries. These concerns have been echoed by organizations and I share them as well.

In our response to the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development we have committed to develop a strategy. The Minister of the Environment intends to present this strategy in the fall.

We must caution that the pace at which a strategy will be implemented will depend on the scope of available resources. The government has already begun the process of revitalizing these very important natural wildlife areas.