Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to initiate, on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, the debate on Bill C-45 sponsored by the Minister of Justice and dealing with criminal liability of organizations.
Hon. members will recall that this bill was introduced at the very end of last spring's session, when the leadership crisis within the Liberal Party of Canada was at its peak.
At that time, people may have wondered just how far the government might go to get its bills through. The answer to that question provided today is pretty revealing.
It seems that the government will try anything it can to curb controversy, in order to keep a lid on the tensions within the Liberal caucus and the divisions within the government. As a result, it will opt as much as possible for passing legislative measures that will gain the support of the House and not stir up any debate.
That said, the odds are pretty good that the government leader will attempt to minimize the untenable situation his party finds itself in, and it is possible that we will not sit beyond November 7, the date of the coronation of the member for LaSalle—Émard as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
In the meantime, however, it is important for us to do our jobs conscientiously, because the Liberals do not seem to be on top of their game, and they have lost sight of our primary role: to legislate.
Coming back to the bill of concern to us today, I will state at the outset that the Bloc Quebecois will be supporting this amendment to the Criminal Code, and will also be in favour of its prompt passage in order to address an important ethical aspect in the role of corporations and organizations.
The objective of Bill C-45 is, in fact, to carry out an indepth review of the principles of law governing the liability of corporations and other associations of persons for all criminal offences.
It must be kept in mind that Bill C-45 is the outcome, first and foremost, of the efforts of ordinary members of this House and not an initiative by the government, which has put off taking action for a long time, too long we might say.
Before offering a historical overview, it would be worthwhile making reference to the findings of the public inquiry into the causes of the explosion that took place at the Westray mine in Nova Scotia.
This explosion, which took place several years ago, as hon. members will recall, left 26 men dead. The public inquiry revealed that the tragedy was in large part caused by the negligence of the bosses, who had turned a blind eye to some serious safety problems.
Thus, as I said, the government's inertia in enacting legislation is balanced by the tenacity of some members in trying to get substantial legislative changes passed so that such a situation cannot happen again, or, at the very least, there is a form of criminal recourse if a similar unfortunate tragedy were ever to take place.
The purpose of these private members' bills was to establish and clearly set out, under certain circumstances, the criminal liability of corporations for the errors of neglect or criminal intent committed by their directors or employees, and to create a new category of offence in the Criminal Code, with respect to companies that fail to provide a safe workplace for their employees.
Similarly, in June of 1999, a motion was brought forward to amend the Criminal Code and other federal legislation so that the directors and officers of a company would be held responsible for workplace safety.
At that time, the Bloc Quebecois supported the motion, but when Parliament was dissolved the motion was deferred. Since then, similar motions have been presented three times to the House, but the government, unfortunately, has dragged its feet until now.
Many similar bills have been introduced in recent years, and I think it is important to remind the House of the position taken in 2001 by my hon. colleague for Laurentides, with respect to Bill C-284.
In fact, the Bloc Quebecois supported passage of Bill C-284, but we also pointed out that in Quebec, an organization already exists, called the Commission de la Santé et de la Sécurité au Travail, or CSST, whose mandate is to ensure the safety of employees in the workplace.
Similarly, also in relation to that bill, we maintained that it was essential to adopt the proposal so as, legally, to establish a method of redress and to strengthen the Criminal Code, in order to prevent loss of life among workers.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights also held public hearings on this matter in the spring of 2002; it recommended and I quote:
That the Government table in the House legislation to deal with the criminal liability of corporations, officers and directors.
The government's concrete response to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the ongoing efforts of members have resulted in Bill C-45, of which we are proud. We regret the delay, but the adoption of Bill C-45 will be our just reward.
This bill to amend the Criminal Code before the House contains eight key points that I want to list for my hon. colleagues and those interested in this matter.
The main changes pertain, first, to the use of the term “organization”, rather than “corporation”. This will broaden the definition, thereby affecting more institutions.
Second, companies can now be held criminally liable for the acts of their employees who are not necessarily in positions of authority or, as they are commonly referred to, the “higher ups”.
Third, the material aspect—the act of committing a crime—and the moral aspect—the intent to commit a crime, the mens rea —of criminal offences attributed to companies and other organizations no longer need be the work of the same person.
Fourth, the category of persons whose acts or omissions can constitute the material aspect, meaning the criminal act which can be attributed to a corporation or any other organization, is broadened to include all employees, representatives or contractors.
Fifth, with regard to crimes resulting from negligence, generally referred to as criminal negligence, the fault can now be attributed to the organization to the extent that one of the senior officers of the organization can be charged with the offence.
In the case of deliberate crimes, an organization can now be held responsible for the actions of its senior officers to the extent that a senior officer is party to the offence, directs other employees to commit an offence or, knowing that an offence will be committed by other employees, does nothing to prevent it.
It is important to clarify, nonetheless, that the acts or actions of senior officers must be committed with the specific purpose of procuring an advantage for the organization.
Similarly, the bill is designed to place the onus explicitly on anyone who undertakes to direct the work of other employees to take all reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to these employees.
Finally, the bill also contains provisions for establishing general sentencing principles and probation conditions in respect of the organizations.
Before going any further in our deliberations on Bill C-45, it should be noted that in our justice system it is essentially jurisprudence that determines the conditions under which a company can be held responsible for a criminal offence.
In criminal offences that require culpable intent or intent to commit a crime, companies are only responsible for acts or omissions by people who may be said to constitute the directing mind of the company. In order for a company to be found guilty of an offence with culpable intent, it must be shown that the individual who materially committed the criminal act in the performance of his duties had implicitly or explicitly been given the authority to write policies for the company and to oversee their implementation.
For each situation, the court must decide whether the individual who committed the criminal act in the performance of his duties can be deemed the directing mind of the company. This is commonly referred to as the identification theory.
Ultimately, we are entitled to believe and maintain that, based on this approach, individuals who are the directing mind of the company personify the intentions of the company.
I could also enter into a technical argument justifying our support of Bill C-45, but I will settle for merely pointing out that this bill defines an organization as including a public body, body corporate, society,company, firm, partnership, tradeunion or municipality. Thus the term organization also includes any association of persons created for a common purpose, which has an operational structure and holds itself out to the public as such.
The main intent of the bill is to broaden the category of individuals whose actions and intentions may engage criminal responsibility of the organizations they represent. Therefore a differentiation will be made between two groups of individuals, namely representatives and senior officers, whose conduct may constitute a criminal offence attributable to an organization.
Thus a representative includes essentially any person who works on behalf of an organization or is affiliated with it, which generally means a director, partner, employee,member, agent or contractor of the organization. In this view, a senior officer means a representative who plays an important role in the establishment of the organization's policies or is responsible for managing an important aspect of the organization's activities.
The effect of this new designation will be to change the present state of the law by introducing new elements to the theory of identification.
It is also proposed to add sections to and expand existing sections of the Criminal Code to take into account in sentencing a reality peculiar to organizations. The same goes for the definition of specific conditions of probation applicable to organizations.
Once passed, Bill C-45 will increase from $25,000 to $100,000 the maximum fine for an organization under summary conviction or convicted of lesser offences.
There is currently no limit set on the maximum amounts of fines for criminal acts or more serious offences, a situation that the proposed legislation does not address. However, the bill specifies factors the court will have to take into account in setting the amount of fines.
For example, the courts will have to take into account aggravating factors such as the degree of planning and any financial advantage realized by the organization as a result of the offence or, conversely, mitigating factors such as efforts made by the organization to reduce risks.
Before concluding, I want to reiterate the support of the Bloc Quebecois for the principle of Bill C-45 at this stage of the legislative process. The committee stage will also provide an opportunity to consider further the proposed legislation and, above all, ensure once and for all that there are no loopholes organizations can use to abdicate their responsibilities.
I remind the House that the current state of the law forces us to establish a regime of criminal responsibility for businesses that is effective and takes into account the differences between an individual and an organization. I also look forward to hearing what my hon.colleagues have to say on this matter. I remain convinced that we will be able to pass this legislation with diligence for the benefit of our fellow citizens thanks to, among other things, the evidence we will be hearing in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.