House of Commons Hansard #20 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was victims.


Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The vote on this matter is deferred.

(Bill C-15. On the Order: Government Orders:)

October 26, 2004--The Minister of the Environment--Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development of Bill C-15, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Willowdale Ontario


Jim Peterson Liberalfor the Minister of the Environment


That Bill C-15, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Richmond Hill Ontario


Bryon Wilfert LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-15 which contains some important business left incomplete from the last Parliament. This bill will give us the capacity to curtail the killing of thousands of birds when ships far offshore try to save a little money or time by illegally discharging oily wastes overboard.

This bill is an overdue action to protect wildlife and represents one of the many tools that will comprise the ocean's action plan mentioned in the Speech from the Throne. The Speech from the Throne demonstrated a solid commitment to the environment. It had no fewer than 13 initiatives that will help us make our environment healthier, while at the same time making our economy grow stronger.

Environment, health and the economy are not mutually exclusive concepts. We should not think of the environment on one hand and the economy on the other. The environment is our life support system: the air, the water and the land, together with the natural resources and species that surround us.

The source of all our wealth lies in the environment. Those countries who work now to reconcile environmental issues with the need to maintain a competitive economy will become the global economic engines of the 21st century.

Canada, with its rich environment, its wealth of natural resources, and its technological know-how and vigorous economy is well suited to seize the moment and to become a world leader among those that succeed in creating a robust economy based on sound environmental principles.

With environmental values forming the core of what it means to be Canadian, it is understandable that Canadians become outraged when they see outright illegal activities that damage our precious natural resources go unpunished. Canadians will not stand idly by and let thousands of harmless and defenseless seabirds die when there is something that can be done to prevent it, least of all when the source of the problem is really just a minor inconvenience for a few ill-behaved ship operators.

The Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans have an important place in the Canadian psyche. It is by traversing the Bering Strait that our first inhabitants reached the shores over 10,000 years ago. The first European explorers and settlers reached this land by sailing across the treacherous Atlantic.

The oceans have always been a major source of food for Canadians. They also comprise the major commercial links between our country and the rest of the globe. The oceans are another source of national pride. We must keep our oceans healthy.

The bill I am presenting to the House today, Bill C-15, is tangible proof that the government is taking action to keep our environment clean.

In 1916 Canada signed the migratory birds convention with the United States. This historic agreement committed our two nations to ensure the protection of bird species that were threatened by human activity. Since the agreement was signed several Canadian environmental protection laws have been passed, including the Canadian Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1994, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, the Fisheries Act, and the Canada Shipping Act, which includes sections relating to the environment.

Almost 90 years after the Migratory Birds Convention Act was first passed, it is now clear that an updating of this tool, as well as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, is needed. It hardly needs stating that human activity can have devastating effects on the environment, whether due to intentional acts or as a result of a lack of awareness or understanding of the impacts of our activities.

I am addressing the House today to tell everyone about one controllable threat to wildlife resulting from human activity. The threat is real. It kills over 300,000 seabirds every year. The threat is the product of human activity and is in fact a wilful act of negligence.

The good news is that we have found a win-win solution to this problem. The proposed solution deals not only with the environmental impacts, but also has no impact on economic viability.

Let me explain the problem. Oil released in Canadian maritime waters by ship crews, whether through intentional discharges or accidental spills, can directly kill any seabird that it touches on the sea's surface. Crews that pump their bilge into the oceans pour hundreds of litres of oil into the water, at the same time leaving in their wake an oil slick several thousand square miles in size. These slicks, which often look like a sheen on the water behind the ships, become floating traps for seabirds. The slicks are deadly. All it takes is a single drop of oil the size of a quarter to kill one of our murres, puffins, dovekies or gulls.

The oil penetrates the natural defences of the bird affected and damages the unique structure of its feathers, which normally repel water and resist cold. The oil decreases the bird's insulation, waterproofing and buoyancy, leading to death by hypothermia or starvation. In addition, oil contains many harmful substances that when ingested or inhaled by birds, as they attempt to clean themselves, poison their internal organs and lead to debilitating or fatal consequences.

Once oiled, the birds carry on a desperate fight against the elements of the brutal cold and the ocean drains away their energy. It takes them days to die. It is a battle that they never win.

The main area where seabirds are oiled is off the southwest coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. More than 30 million seabirds and thousands of sea-going ships cross this sector every year.

The point I want to make clear is that this impact, this death of hundreds of thousands of seabirds every year, is completely avoidable. The technology exists today. Every major sea-going merchant ship must carry an oil separator on board. The separator allows for the oil to be separated from the water and then safely disposed of when it arrives in port.

Yet there are cases where this technology is not being used or is not being properly maintained. Time means money and sometimes a ship's operator may choose to dump oily wastes at sea rather than dispose of them in port. That would also save a small processing fee.

Yes, there can be fines when these offenders are caught. The record is not good. Ships continue to pollute and birds keep dying by the hundreds of thousands. Our legislation must have clear and practical enforcement powers, so the international shipping community will hear the message loud and clear, that Canada will not tolerate the senseless slaughter of birds by crews that hope to save a little time or money by flaunting international codes and Canadian environmental laws.

Currently, vessels that navigate our waters are subject to Canadian law. Canada has existing laws dealing with the potential environmental effects of ship traffic, including the release of oil into marine waters. These laws include the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, the Fisheries Act and the Canada Shipping Act.

However, recent court cases have revealed ambiguities in two parts of the legislative framework, making enforcement difficult. It is important that these amendments allow us to deal more effectively with law enforcement issues in cases of marine pollution and, in particular, the legislative measures that will provide clarity with respect to the new 200 mile exclusive economic zone by affirming that enforcement officers have authority in this area.

Second, we are increasing the fines under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, to a million dollars with this bill. The increased maximum fine brings the legislation into better conformity with the modern business of shipping, which is big business.

This bill is also aimed at fostering greater collaboration on law enforcement measures and will provide the means to pursue offenders and will provide sentencing guidelines so penalties will be imposed that appropriately reflect the damage done to the environment. The bill does not require us to create a new agency nor does it ask us to develop new policies. It is about saving birds and it is about doing the right thing. I would ask members in the House to support the legislation.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

10:45 a.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-15, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, introduced at first reading on October 26, 2004.

Note that this bill received very little consideration in the deliberations of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. The bill is the defunct Bill C-34, which was introduced in the 37th Parliament. The federal government wanted to pass the bill quickly by using the Liberal majority steamroller and without hearing testimony at the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development on the bill's repercussions and application.

I was a little surprised because a bill as important as this one certainly deserved special attention from the standing committee, which should have heard witnesses such as the Shipping Federation of Canada, or other representatives of the environmental sector. These witnesses could have explained how to improve Bill C-34.

The former Chair of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, the former member for Davenport, will remember a session at the time when I became enraged at the behaviour of the Liberal members. I remember this bill was rammed through, and the Liberal MPs did not even want to hear witnesses.

Why not? Because it was the eve of the election campaign, and the Liberal Party of Canada was trying to make us forget the fines that some courts had imposed on Canada Steamship Lines. The government also wanted to show that it had good faith by tabling Bill C-34.

Today, a new version of this bill is being presented as Bill C-15. We are in favour of the principle of this bill because on this side of the House we believe that the practices of some companies with respect to coastal oil spills are totally unacceptable for the protection of migratory birds and their habitat and ecosystem.

It must always be kept in mind, if we really want to protect species, whether endangered, at risk or otherwise, it is always vital to protect the habitat. When companies behave irresponsibly, we have a duty, as legislators, to face up to our responsibilities and to introduce a more stringent bill.

I will come back later to the real repercussions Bill C-15 could have. We have to do more than just introduce a bill, we have to ensure that the bill itself, and the spirit of that bill, are respected in its application.

As I have already indicated, we are of course in favour of this bill in principle because, from the environmental point of view, it makes it possible to impose far stricter sanctions on shipping companies that discharge toxic substances illegally at sea.

I hope, however, that our committees will afford us the opportunity to hear a number of witnesses on this subject, unlike our experience in committee during the last Parliament. Then, the majority government literally shoved the bill through, giving us no opportunity to improve it. Unfortunately, that bill met a sad end.

This bill is an amendment to the 1994 Migratory Birds Convention Act. We must place that in its proper context. We on this side of the House have always admitted that this legislation was indeed within an area of federal responsibility. When various bills were being considered, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act or Bill C-5 on species at risk, we always agreed that the migratory bird legislation and public lands were federal jurisdictions. The principle, the very spirit, of this bill confirms our willingness to respect an area that is, of course, federal.

We need much more rigorous legislation. Moreover, what the government is proposing is, in fact, harmonization, an adaptation of what is already done in the United States. We know that the laws there are much stricter than here in Canada.

In Canada, according to Environment Canada estimates, over 300,000 seabirds are killed each year off the coasts of the Atlantic provinces by ships that illegally dump their polluted bilge waters as they pass through these waters.

Under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, we needed to act quickly. Why go through the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994? Because this law applies in the exclusive economic zone of Canada, and because it is intended specifically to protect migratory birds from the effects caused by deposits of harmful substances in that zone. The provisions of the bill will now apply to vessels.

We should have taken action through more restrictive legislation. Nevertheless, some questions do arise about the actual enforcement and the desired effects of the bill before us. We must remember that in the past we have seen large-scale catastrophes, some of them on the east coast, in the Maritimes, that ended with fines of $20,000 or $30,000, sometimes up to $170,000 as in the case of the fishing boat Olga .

Measures were taken. What was the impact of these measures? One: we arrested the operators of the vessels. Two: we turned them loose. Three: fines were not paid to the federal government.

In short, I would like to tell the House that we support this bill in principle. We believe in more rigorous legislation. However, we must be sure that the measures that will be taken will have a real impact, so that the spirit of the law, that is, protection of our migratory birds, can take effect as soon as possible. We shall work in committee to improve this bill.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

10:55 a.m.


Bob Mills Conservative Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-15. I want to go through a bit of the history of the bill. I think I asked my first question on oiled birds in the Atlantic in 1995 or 1996. From there I drew up a private member's bill which basically dealt with this. From there I drew up a policy which I was able to recommend to our party and which became party policy regarding oiled birds.

First I looked at Bill C-34. That was introduced the day before the House prorogued. Needless to say I was pleased there was a bill but went rather ballistic in that the bill was introduced at a time when I knew for sure, and everybody else knew, it could not be passed and that it would simply die on the order paper.

I must say that I am pleased to see that Bill C-15 has now surfaced, at what I hope is a better time so that is has a greater opportunity of moving through the House and through committee. Obviously any minor amendments that are needed can be made during the committee process. We will finally have a piece of legislation that we hope will help stop the problem which has gone on literally for decades in our Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Today I stand somewhat with relief that after so many questions in the House and so much work on this issue, finally we have a piece of legislation which, while not perfect, does come closer than anything else we have in place.

I want to touch on a bit of the background and a few of the areas that concern me about the bill. I am sure they will also concern members on all sides of the House when they look at the bill.

We should recognize there has been a lot of documentation. I am holding in my hands a document to which most members could refer. Certainly there is the web page done by the World Wildlife Fund entitled, “Seabirds and Atlantic Canada's Ship-Source Oil Pollution”. It details a lot references and provides a background to some of the history of the problem and why passage of this bill by the Canadian Parliament is so essential.

As well we need to recognize that a tiny oil spot on migratory birds means death. A bird need not be totally oiled for it to die. One tiny drop of oil will break the bird's insulation and will result very quickly in hypothermia and the death of that bird.

I spent time in Newfoundland and did an hour and a half radio show. At one point I literally saw the thousands of birds that wash up on the shore. I talked to many of the local people and heard how troubled they were that this was happening over and over again and nobody was doing anything about it.

Today a documentary is being produced on that very issue and of course it fits right in with this legislation. I will not be cynical and say that one of the motivations for this bill to show up so quickly may have been that it is a fairly high profile documentary being done on oiled birds in the Atlantic.

Before I move on we should also remember that the same problem exists on our Pacific coast. The problem there as I understand it is it is more scientifically difficult to document because the birds sink. The wave patterns and current patterns are different and therefore not nearly the number of birds are showing up on the Pacific coast, yet we believe the problem is probably just as great, if not greater, in that part of the world.

We have heard lots about the Exxon Valdez and that sort of thing. However, it would be very naive to believe that there are not other more minor oil spills occurring that would affect the birds there as well.

The number used in the Atlantic is 300,000. That is a documented scientific number. The local people would tell us that it is much higher than that. Some people would use figures like a million birds a year. None of these populations can sustain that sort of death toll and expect to remain viable.

Certainly for the people of the area, and I think for all Canadians, they would like to have the seabirds remain a viable population for a long time into the future.

What is the real problem? Why does this problem exist? It comes down to dollars and cents for shipping companies. Many of them do not even dock in Canada, but simply pass through our waters from the U.S. and Europe on the pathway that they travel.

The ships have bilge oil which they need to get rid of. For the shipping companies it is a matter of having to go to port, having to pump it out in port, having to pay for that, but most important, the time it takes to do it. For many of the companies, time appears to be their biggest problem.

It is understandable, I guess, from the captain's perspective that if he is expected to get between point A and point B in a certain amount of time, rather than go to port to dump the bilge, he is going to dump it into the ocean. It would also be reasonable to expect that when he knows that surveillance is very minimal and even if caught the fine is very small, he will take that chance.

It appears that is what has been happening for decades. There are records of oil release right from the 1950s on up, if we look at some of the reference material, and they probably occurred long before that. Therefore, it is the cost factor and the time factor for these ships.

This piece of legislation I hope will fix those two basic concerns that we have. First, the fines are going to be higher and if we make them comparable to the U.S. fines, we could be looking at fines of up to $1 million. With fines like that, they would not run the risk. If the fine was $3,000, well, it would be worth it to take the chance because they probably would not get caught. If the fine was $1 million, as they have been in some of the U.S. cases, they would really think about that. They would probably not be captain of the ship after doing that, if the company took action. Obviously the fine structure will help.

The next thing that is important is that we provide adequate facilities for these ships to move as quickly as they can to get rid of their bilge oil so they can move on. Obviously, we would be asking questions in committee as to what facilities are planned. Are they adequate? Do we need more? Are they as modern as they should be? What is the cost involved? Who is going to pay for that? Obviously, we would hope that the user could pay for a great deal of this because it should be in the best interest of the shipping business to speed this up.

We then also have to look at the surveillance. How are we going to catch these people? We do not have the number of Coast Guard staff, planes and so on that we would need, but there is a technological way to do this. I am not a technician; I do not understand how radarsat works exactly, but I understand it is accurate enough to find out who did it and to send a plane out.

Finally, the enforcement of all of this becomes most important. We have to stop the turf wars within departments. When one of the ships, the Tecam Sea , was brought in, justice was fighting, the Coast Guard was fighting, the military was fighting, environment was fighting over who was in control. As a result, the ship sailed away without ever paying the fine.

That sort of thing has to end. We must have surveillance. The penalties must be there. We must have the facilities that these shipping companies can use.

We will be supporting the bill. We will be looking at where we might improve it in committee. I congratulate the government for bringing it back so soon in this session. It is a much needed bill.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

11:05 a.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great enthusiasm that I rise on this day also in support of this bill, and to watch the non-partisan efforts that are going on across the House. If I may, I would like to address some of my comments not only to the House but also to the communities that are the stewards of these areas we are talking about.

I come from a riding in the northwest of British Columbia, and we have established the insurmountable beauty of that place. It is also a very coastal riding with hundreds and hundreds of kilometres of coastline. The national identity and the importance of our coasts and our environment are clear to Canadians all across the country.

I have some grave concerns, which the hon. member for Red Deer raised, about the application of this bill and whether the resources will be allocated. I am very glad to see that we will be taking a sound and serious look at this at committee. We have been waiting for too long for strong legislation on this issue. It is an embarrassment that ships are able to enter into our waters, dump the bilge oil, and get away essentially scot-free. It has been long overdue that this bill has come to pass, and we look forward to its passing in the House with some important amendments.

The Exxon Valdez was mentioned earlier. It is not that long ago in the memory of my riding. It was an American disaster, and the Exxon company called it merely a traffic accident, but it was certainly much more than that. The effects of the Exxon Valdez will go on for generations to come. People need to understand, as my hon. colleague from Red Deer pointed out, that not much oil has to spill, and that was an incredible amount of oil that spilled into the sea. That amount of oil will last for a number of decades and the costs have not been incurred by the company, which is deplorable.

An important part of this is with respect to the economy on the coast and the fisheries that are present there. Today I will also speak to the fishers who go out each and every day, be they sport fishermen, commercial fishermen, crab fishermen, or what have you, and the importance they have in applying good sound environmental considerations to their work. It is greatly encouraging to me to see that the government is finally applying these same things in terms of our business case.

I would like to speak for a moment to the idea of where the economy and the environment do come together. The aspect is that without a strong environment it is very difficult to have a strong and supportive economy, particularly for small and rural communities that do not have the capacity to generate income in lots of different ways as they might in a rural riding.

We have an extraordinarily beautiful place in the Queen Charlotte Islands which is also within my riding. The notion of oil washing up on the shore I am sure would not be too appealing to the kayakers who come from many of the cities and towns represented by members here today.

I must express some similar opposition to the notion of the offshore oil and gas that is meant to occur at some future date off the coastline of the Queen Charlotte Islands. I think this bill speaks in effect to the precautionary principle that we must apply to developments like offshore oil and gas, which has not been supported by industry from what I can tell so far.

We have been looking for government clarity on the moratorium that now is placed on offshore drilling within Hecate Strait. I look forward to the day when the minister will rise in the House and present clarity to Canadians, to people in my riding, that the moratorium will stay and that we will apply the precautionary principle in its full effect to offshore drilling. Not before and not since has a business case been made for offshore oil and gas development. Certainly no ecological case can be made for it.

The environment is clearly part of the business equation now. I am lobbied consistently by mining groups, logging groups, and all sorts of heavy industrial users that are incorporating sound environmental practices into their businesses, or at the very least, are attempting to. This is clearly the way and this is the strategic advantage that Canada needs to present to the world as being a strong defender of the environment and a keen observer of how the environment and the economy must fit together in the future.

Good environmental regulations are clearly a part of any good business plan. I have spoken at mining conventions about the need for sound and good governance and positive red tape. Oftentimes we look at regulations with respect to resource extraction as a negative thing, and that is clearly not always the case. There are times when regulations are extremely important for those businesses when they return to the marketplace to seek financing and resources.

The container port which we are promoting, and which has been promoted in part by the government, also speaks to the importance of having sound economies in our coastal communities. Development of a container port is being looked at in Prince Rupert. This would provide a new outlet for Canadian manufacturers into the Asian markets, clearly one of the strongest and fastest growing sectors of the world economy. This is providing communities with a place to air some of their ideas and concepts about generating real and sustainable wealth for communities.

We are playing a facilitative role in bringing those communities together around the container port on the west coast. I am very glad that the Minister of Western Economic Diversification has decided to join us some time in January for a conference. We will be able to speak to the ways and means in which we will diversify our economy, strengthen the local community and allow people to make good, sound choices.

The NDP supports this legislation because it makes companies and individuals who use our waterways responsible for their actions. It ensures that ecological impacts be taken into account in their daily decisions. It forces them to go that extra step to ensure that the environment is not harmed in the pursuit of profits.

I look forward to looking into the details of the bill in committee to ensure that these principles are upheld in measures as strong as possible.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

11:10 a.m.


Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, as we know, the shipping industry in the Atlantic Ocean off Canada's coast is a vital component of our economy. It moves our goods to market, carries our imports, provides jobs in our harbours and connects us to the world. This activity is essential and has been since the Europeans first settled in Canada.

But we also must acknowledge that the oceans are essential to the survival of life on the planet, and that we have an obligation to protect them now, and for the future.

When we say that the movement of these big ships along our shorelines is important to the economy, we must not forget that these same vessels shares the ocean waters with the whales, seals, seabirds and many other forms of marine life that are also a vital component of Canada--its biodiversity.

Yet we have a major challenge to that biodiversity every winter as some 300,000 seabirds die from the pollution discharged by many of these ships. This is a conservative estimate. It could be higher.

Discharging oily waste by ships at sea is against the law. But that does not stop the practice.

We need to take action to address the tragedy that is the yearly slaughter of the murres, puffins, gulls and dovekies off our coastline.

The proposal before us involves strengthening our major environmental laws so that we can get tougher on those who ignore those laws. This is not new policy. This is working with existing legislation so that we can act.

With amendments to the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, we can ensure that we have the right tools for enforcement. We can bring forward the people and technologies needed to find violators of our laws and bring them to justice.

I support the bill that will bring in these amendments. They would put the prohibitions into place against discharging oil within the limits of the exclusive economic zone and cover illegal dumping by Canadians and foreign nationals.

Further, these amendments would make sure that reasonable care was taken to prevent unlawful discharges of oil. These changes will also hold corporations and directors of companies accountable and prohibit the falsification of records.

Also important in these changes is that our approach will be better harmonized with that of the United States. Prosecutions in the area in the U.S. are becoming high profile and carrying stiff penalties. This means Canada runs the risk of becoming a safe haven for illegal discharges. We do not want that. We cannot afford that.

Finally, the amendments that come into force with this bill will provide for the redirection of vessels to Canadian posts for inspection—and for clear search and seizure powers.

With these actions, Canadian agencies will no longer have to be concerned with interpretation of the law as to where the inspection and prosecution should take place. We have had such situations, and the result—I regret to report—is that a polluter has gone free.

I urge support of these measures and swift passage so that the winter of 2005 does not bring another kill of hundreds of thousands of birds and untold damage to our marine environment.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick


Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to represent a constituency in New Brunswick that represents a considerable part of the New Brunswick coastline. A number of hundreds of kilometres from the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island, in the area of Cape Tormentine, my constituency stretches north along the Northumberland Strait to the waters around the Kouchibouguac National Park.

The discussion about the need to toughen legislation with respect to oil pollution on our coastline is something which is obviously of great importance to me, to the tourist industry that I represent, and to many of the inshore fisheries that have created great economic wealth in my constituency.

It is from this perspective that the legislation before the House now offers a great deal in terms of providing severe and strong legislative tools whereby we can reduce the very dangerous effects of oil pollution on our shorelines.

As I said, the beaches of Atlantic Canada, including my own constituency and throughout Atlantic Canada, draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The tourist industry has been growing in Atlantic Canada. Ecotourism, which includes the natural heritage of which we are so proud, has been an attraction which brings many hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. These visitors inject millions of dollars into the local economy that sustain hundreds of thousands of jobs often in areas of small rural communities where employment opportunities may be considerably limited.

The same beaches and ocean waters have defined the so-called maritimer or Atlantic Canadian, because it includes obviously our friends from Newfoundland and Labrador, for many generations. These images will continue to define what Atlantic Canadians feel of themselves, and the image and impression of Atlantic Canadians throughout the country.

These same beaches and oceans provide thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in Canada's east coast fishing industry. There is a wrong perception in many places that the fishing industry in Atlantic Canada is a dying industry or is an industry without an economic future. If we look at the value of the east coast fishing industry and the billions of export dollars that this industry generates, thousands of jobs in my own constituency and throughout Atlantic Canada depend on the health of our oceans, and the health of the resources which have for generations provided economic opportunity.

Let us imagine a tourist visiting these beaches of Atlantic Canada for the first time, say for example in Shediac, New Brunswick, in a community close to my heart. The tourist who comes to Shediac would see a wonderful ocean vista, the Northumberland Strait, as I mentioned, and long sandy beaches. As the tourist publicity says, it has the warmest waters north of Virginia.

On those beaches there would literally be millions of different species of birds that have lived there and found food there for a very long time. A nice early spring or summer walk on that beach for a tourist however might turn into an experience that the person would never forget. Washed up on the shores of these beaches would be dead seabirds from the region, dead from oil pollution out at sea. This is certainly not a picture that we want tourists to take home.

Let us imagine an inshore fisherman out on the water for a day's work. It could be a lobster fisherman, or someone fishing rock crab or herring, or scallop dragging, and off the bow of that fisherman's boat is a dead flock of birds floating on the water, dead from oil plumage that caused the cold ocean waters to get past the natural defences of these birds and left them dying a slow and painful death.

That same fisherman may also find his gear fouled with oil pollution. People who come from proud generations of fishers, who have lived by the sea and earned a respectful living from the ocean waters, may walk the beaches often, and not only in the high tourist season in the summer. These people may walk the beaches because for them it is home. They live and earn their living from these shorelines.

Thousands of small birds that used to be in such abundance do not seem to be as numerous anymore. A person might see dead seabirds washed up on the beaches of a place that he or she has considered home for generations. These images unfortunately are all too frequently a reality. These pictures of oily ocean waters in Atlantic Canada have become in many cases a death trap.

There are some 35 million birds that feed on the rich resources along these waters of the continental shelf. During the months from November to March they form some of the world's largest concentration of seabirds in any one place and at the same time they are sharing these waters with some of Canada's busiest shipping lanes. This mix, as I just indicated, can often be disastrous.

The reason is oil pollution, and it is oil pollution that can be avoided. This oil pollution comes from some of the ships that move through this habitat. Oil is deliberately and illegally dumped into the ocean.

I urge all members to support the Act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.It will help bring an end to this unacceptable situation.

We can keep our beaches as attractive tourist destinations and send visitors home raving about their beauty and abundance of birds--not telling stories of oil pollution and dead carcasses washed up on shore.

We can help our fishing industry by ensuring the waters are less polluted from oil deliberately dumped overboard.

As I indicated, in my own riding, remarkable groups of volunteers havegathered to take care of various watersheds. These individuals have taken to heart the protection of the environment and set out to reduce the pollutants and practices that have contributed for so long to the pollution of our waters.

Some of these volunteer groups in my own constituency have talked to me about the importance of strengthening legislation like the legislation that is before the House today. They understand that practices in the past have not been dealt with perhaps as severely as they should have been. They have led to this very difficult situation and to something which is unacceptable on the east coast of Canada and in any marine environment. For that reason, I urge all members to support this bill.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

11:25 a.m.


Christian Simard Bloc Beauport, QC

Mr. Speaker, in the Bloc Québécois, we support the principle of this bill, which comes late.

Once again, Canada did not have a good environmental record. As absurd as it may appear, until today, and this is still the case, surveillance of ships was done only within 12 miles of Canadian coasts. Anything could happen within the 200 mile economic zone. A ship only had to move slightly to do literally what it wanted, without any possibility of prosecution.

Thus, this is a correction to a situation that was absurd. We appreciate this correction, although it comes late.

Of course, we will have interventions to make in committee to improve the bill, to see that there are no loopholes and that it really applies, that is, that it actually prevents spills at sea. Where a bill is limited is when we do not have the means to implement it. We will also ensure that we have the means to enforce it.

I would like to review with you the very recent report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, which came out last week. This report follows up on an international agreement that is directly relevant to the subject that we are dealing with today. It is the International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, the MARPOL convention, which is aimed at eliminating deliberate pollution of marine environment by ships, as well as reducing to a minimum accidental spills of pollutants. This convention has appendices and other documents. The commissioner did an audit. The least we can say is that she criticizes this government, which did not do its work, and has even reduced its inspections over the years.

One important thing to know is that, and I quote from the commissioner's report, “Normal ship operations generate different types of operational waste, including garbage, sewage, machinery run-offs, engine room bilges, and oily wastes”. We also need to know that this oil pollution kills about 300,000 seabirds each year off the coast of Atlantic Canada. The scope of the commissioner's audit was limited to the Atlantic coast. As we know, this country borders three oceans. I should point out, for the benefit of those listening, that these three oceans generate over $20 billion in annual economic activity, and that over $85 billion in trade passes through them every year. We are talking about a mass of activities, huge traffic and equally huge environmental impacts.

The report says, “oil pollution along the coast of southeastern Newfoundland is among the highest in the world, and the problem has persisted from 1984 to 1999 (based on the latest available information)”. The pollution is said to be among the highest in the world, with a legislative instrument that was totally inappropriate until now and that did not even comply with the conventions signed by Canada. This is really similar to the situation with Kyoto. The government can sign a convention, show goodwill and look good on the international scene, but when it comes to implementing, monitoring and following up on legislation, it is a different story. Canada looks as bad as the oiled birds.

Some countries have better environmental laws than we do, but these are kept secret. In some countries, environmental laws are not published. Their enforcement is left totally to the discretion of a regional governor, so they are not enforced. We must not have a caricature of legislation, but laws that truly have an effect in the field or, in this case, the marine environment.

The commissioner's report discusses oiled bird surveys:

Oil on the sea surface can kill any seabird that it touches and can significantly affect bird populations. This is of particular concern in Atlantic Canada, where ship traffic passes through areas that provide suitable habitat for tens of millions of seabirds... Many dead seabirds wash ashore in southeastern Newfoundland, and Environment Canada has overseen regular beached bird surveys there since 1984.

Beached bird surveys also lack the frequency and geographical coverage required to provide a reasonable picture of the overall oil pollution problem.

Very little is known about what is going on.

When we look at the surveys that are done, we might think the situation is improving, but it is not. These surveys suggest that the Canadian ocean areas are immense and contain many maritime shipping routes. In Atlantic Canada, the National Aerial Surveillance Program performed 644 hours of surveillance flights in 2002–03 and overflew 1,782 vessels.

According to Transport Canada, this represents only about one percent of the known vessel traffic in Atlantic waters within Canadian jurisdiction. The rate of surveillance has even decreased and the use of aerial surveillance has its limitations. Aerial surveillance cannot really be performed at night when a great deal of polluting may be occurring.

We support the bill. We will make sure there are no loopholes. The system is more restrictive, but according to our analyses, it is still possible for ship captains or owners to say they unintentionally discharged oil and then quickly tried to recover it. Maybe that is when they got caught.

Therefore, we need to prevent circumvention. We have to ensure that the purpose of this bill is not solely to reassure Quebeckers and Canadians about what the federal government is doing but to make it clear that polluting the inland waters of Canada within the 200-mile limit is wrong and can cost a lot. This is what the bill is all about. It even provides prison terms for those who deliberately discharge oil at sea—employees, captains and shipowners alike.

There has been much talk about oil-soaked birds. Although less documented, the effect of pollution on other marine organisms such as phytoplankton or zooplankton that live near the surface of the water is widely known. For instance, at the larval stage, cod looks like plankton floating on top of the water. A large oil spill where cod reproduces might destroy tons of larva of cod or other fish or species in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

This is not be as well documented or as visible, unfortunately, but it can be much more damaging in the long term than the harm done to seabirds. Of course, I do not mean to minimize the effect on seabirds, since the pictures of them have a considerable impact and, as we know, 300,000 birds die in Atlantic Canada alone.

Unfortunately, the federal government is considered as a dunce in environment, and the report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development proves it. François Cardinal, not I, said so in La Presse today, and I quote:

With such a disappointing environmental record, Canada does not only deserve the dunce cap, it should be expelled from school.

Of course we acknowledge these belated efforts to find solutions to longstanding problems that even go against conventions already signed by Canada. We acknowledge the desire to correct the situation. However, there is a concern that there could not be enough money to follow up on it.

In reality, we notice that unfortunately, the government is more interested in talking about daycare or about communities and municipalities when these issues are not under its jurisdiction, in interfering in areas of jurisdiction where it does not belong and in managing billion dollars surpluses without public debate on the way this money is used. The government is much more interested in talking about all this than in doing something about its primary responsibilities to protect the oceans and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to make sure there are no more environmental disasters.

This government is just like a spoiled kid who wants his brother's or friend's toys but refuses to clean up his room or make his bed. Unfortunately, this is what Canada is doing with regard to environment and we deeply regret it.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

11:35 a.m.


Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address hon. members today on an important bill for the protection of the marine environment and marine wildlife, namely, the bill to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, or CEPA. The focus of my remarks will be on the amendments proposed for CEPA.

As hon. members may be aware, Canada has a long history in the development and implementation of federal laws to protect the marine environment. The number of birds dying is not acceptable and Canada needs to do more. The Canada Shipping Act has elements to promote the protection of the environment, such as provisions to control discharges at sea, but we need to do more. Hence, the amendment.

The federal Fisheries Act contains a general prohibition against the release of harmful substance into Canadian fishery waters. The Oceans Act of 1996 was the first marine related federal law to acknowledge a precautionary approach to the protection of Canada's marine environment. The Oceans Act also provides regulation-making authority to designate marine protected areas and to prohibit specific activities within those areas.

The Ocean Dumping Control Act, followed by the original Canadian Environmental Protection Act of 1988, implemented the 1972 London convention on the prevention of marine pollution.

Lastly, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, replaced the CEPA of 1988 and implemented both the London convention and the 1996 protocol under that convention.

Over the past two or three years, CEPA, 1999, has faced the challenges of being unable to deal with the problems of discharges of oil by ships travelling in or passing through Canadian waters, discharges that bring about the death of migratory birds. As well, these releases occur in the exclusive economic zone, EEZ, and cannot be dealt with under current CEPA, 1999, because the enforcement provisions of the act do not stipulate that its provisions apply in the EEZ. Thus, the Government of Canada is finding it impossible to take action against and to rectify incidents of pollution in the exclusive economic zone.

Ships that dispose of oil at sea in a manner that is not incidental to the normal operation of a ship can escape Canada's jurisdiction. They do so by entering the exclusive economic zone or the high seas which are international waters. Given the current wording of CEPA, 1999, enforcement officers designated under the act have no authority to engage in hot pursuit of non-compliant ships.

The report entitled, “Seabirds and Atlantic Canada’s Ship-Source Oil Pollution”, published by the World Wildlife Fund in 2002, alleges that for Atlantic Canada alone there are approximately 2,500 spills or releases of oil and chemicals each year, and those are only the reported incidents. There may be more such harmful releases that are unreported and that Canada will have to track using aerial surveillance and other means. What purpose does aerial surveillance alone serve without the legislative and regulatory tools to take action in the face of environmental damages caused by spills and releases?

The amendment to CEPA, 1999, proposed in the bill would give the Government of Canada the authority to deal with polluting ships that discharge oil and other substances illegally. The bill would cut off their usual means of escape, namely to seek refuge in the exclusive economic zone or in international waters.

The amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, found in the bill are consistent with the philosophical underpinnings of the act. The amendments being proposed in the bill are consistent with the concept that the user of a disposal at sea permit must be held accountable for actions under the permit and that the polluter operating without a permit and outside the confines of CEPA, 1999, will face the consequences for violations of these provisions.

Let me now proceed to describe in more detail the amendments to CEPA found in Bill C-15.

The first amendment to CEPA focuses on the act's provisions governing the disposal of wastes and other matters at sea. Currently, under the act, there are provisions which allow disposal of specified substance by permits. It is proposed that these prohibitions be expanded to include ships to ensure that both persons and ships are prevented from disposal without a permit.

The amendments will enforce that polluting ships, as well as persons who command them, can be subject to various enforcement actions, namely detention orders, environmental protection compliance orders and/or prosecution for committing such violations.

The amendment to add ships as being subject to prohibition against disposal at sea of illegal substances is crucial to holding Canadian and foreign ships to account for their pollution.

Another amendment targets the prohibition against incineration of waste at sea. In addition, the bill also examines the definition of disposal in part 7 of CEPA, 1999, with regard to the normal operations of a ship.

To ensure clarity on what is normal operations, amendments to the regulation will provide authority to the governor in council to make regulations on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment that would stipulate what is and what is not the normal operation of a ship. These are important clarifications because they are enabling provisions. It is not obligatory to use them, but they are available if regulations under the Canada Shipping Act do not address these points.

In keeping with the desire to hold both persons and ships accountable for their actions, the bill will also amend the section on recovery of costs incurred by the Minister of the Environment posed by ships or persons.

In December 2003 Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It is now incumbent on the government to implement the convention under Canadian law. This is important not only for disposals at sea provisions, but for regulations made under CEPA, 1999, that govern export and import of ozone depleting substances, chemicals and living products of biotechnology that are new to Canada and to the export and import of hazardous waste.

To ensure the proper use of these powers in relation to foreign ships, the amendments in the bill are very important, Canada requires the means to assert its sovereignty and authority in the exclusive economic zone. The bill allows the government, through CEPA, 1999, to protect Canada's marine environment, while adhering to its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

I welcome the careful thought and attention of all members of the House in their examination of this bill and hope that they understand and support its merits.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

11:40 a.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-15, particularly after the brilliant speeches of the members for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie and Beauport—Limoilou, who, obviously in both cases, know this subject extremely well.

I must recognize that I am not an expert on environmental issues. However, when reading the bill, we do realize, as was mentioned by my two colleagues, that this move is late, but in the right direction. Indeed, the government wants to impose harsher penalties than those existing today on shipping companies that illegally dump toxic substances at sea.

That being said, even though this bill goes in the right direction, since it gives an implacable character to the bill that already existed, some aspects may still be questioned, particularly the fact that the government is retaining, perhaps indirectly, the possibility for the captain and the officers of the company to claim the defence of due diligence to avoid liability.

I know that the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie will be extremely vigilant in committee. He will ensure that, despite the fact that this bill appears to be a step forward from existing legislation, reality will have to measure up. It will be possible to have much more effective legislation to ensure this illegal dumping no longer happens.

As you know—it has been mentioned many times, but it should be repeated for the benefit of those listening—more than 300,000 seabirds are killed each year off the coast of the Atlantic provinces by ships illegally dumping their polluted bilge as they pass through these waters. This is an extremely important bill for the protection of our environment, particularly in a context where everyone agrees that we must move toward sustainable development, in its social, environmental and economic aspects.

Another interesting point about the bill is that the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and related legislation will apply in the exclusive economic zone of Canada, that is, 200 nautical miles instead of the 12 miles provided in the previous legislation. Here we see a bill that not only provides much harsher sanctions but applies in a much larger geographical area.

It is also important to note that this bill applies to vessels and their owners and operators and subjects masters, chief engineers, owners and operators of vessels to a duty of care to ensure compliance with the act. I think that is very important. A law of this kind is not intended to punish offenders, when offences unfortunately occur, but to impress upon owners and operators their responsibilities to respect the rules.

In this way, as I mentioned, it is a step forward. We are worried—as we have mentioned before—because Bill C-15, even though it does not directly and explicitly provide for the defence of diligence, may make it possible for criminal liability to be avoided. In reading this bill, we thought that even if it is not explicit, the text would permit offenders to claim this recourse to diligence to evade their responsibilities. Thus, as I mentioned, I am convinced that my hon. friend from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie will work in committee to make sure that such a defence is not possible and that there are no loopholes that could weaken the force of this law.

So this gives me the opportunity to take a step further in the areas I am more familiar with. We could have the best legislation possible to protect migratory birds against oil spills or illegal discharge of oil waste, but if we do not have the means to enforce the law, even with no reference to due diligence, we are back to square one.

I refer to two major issues that are linked to the difficulty the government has in enforcing the legislation right now and will have in the future, because of its inherent flaws. The Canadian Coast Guard for instance is understaffed. That has been criticized year after year by the Coast Guard spokespersons, whether it is before the Standing Committee on Finance—on which I had the opportunity to sit—or elsewhere.

If we cannot rely on a proper coast guard, we could have the best bill possible, but we would not be able to enforce it. This is exactly what my hon. colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles was explaining this morning when he talked about the DNA legislation before the House. Without an RCMP detachment that can properly cover Quebec, we will not be able to enforce the laws even if we give them more teeth.

It is a simple matter of logic. If the federal government wants to improve the bill, and we support them on that, then they would have to ensure that the law enforcement agencies, including the Coast Guard, have all the personnel they need to catch the offenders. That is the first point I wanted to raise.

My second point is the flags of convenience. As we know, the number of such flags is increasing exponentially all over the world. This is a very serious issue. When he was the owner of the Canada Steamship Lines, which is now operated by his sons, the Prime Minister of Canada himself used these flags of convenience extensively. Canadians laws are difficult to enforce on ships that use flags of convenience. And so we wonder about the government's good faith and will to implement a fine bill. The hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou clearly showed how, at first glance, this legislation seems to address environmental concerns fundamentally. However, the Prime Minister of this government used such flags of convenience himself.

I remind the House that, when Canada Steamship Lines was bought by the current Prime Minister, it was not using any flags of convenience, only Canadian flags. Currently, the vast majority of CSL's ships are using flags of convenience. It was in 1986 that the company, then owned by the current Prime Minister, first took advantage of that technicality, which is unfortunately allowed by international laws, but which is now being used for purposes that were not originally intended. So, it was in 1986 that CSL first raised a flag of convenience on one of its ships. This is not ancient history; it is very recent. It occurred less than 20 years ago.

At the time, Canadian sailors on that ship, the Atlantic Superior , which was then at sea off the coast of Virginia, were told that they would lose their jobs at the end of the trip and that they would be replaced by Korean sailors, who would be paid $2.20 per hour and who would not enjoy any protection under Canadian labour laws. This is the problem with flags of convenience. We are well aware that countries that permit such registrations, there are 27 of them, generally have very lax laws, if any at all, on labour and workers' safety. I have just given an example. This probably explains why there have been so many deaths at sea in recent years. Indeed, these countries also have lax laws on the condition of ships, on the discharge of pollutants and on environmental protection in general.

If this government wants to be consistent, and I hope it does, it must not only amend the act by implementing the principles stated in Bill C-15 and ensure there are no legal loopholes to make the legislation less effective, it must also increase the Coast Guard staff and fight very aggressively against the use of flags of convenience, as the current Prime Minister unfortunately did with his former company, Canada Steamship Lines.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

11:50 a.m.


Michael John Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my voice in support of this important bill, Bill C-15, which would have a dramatic impact on my riding, which is on the coast of the Atlantic, but impacts on all Canadians.

I would like tell members about a silent disaster that occurs across the coastline of the Atlantic, something that happens every winter. Those who walk our beaches and monitor our species can tell us about this. I am talking about the disaster of 300,000 seabirds, maybe more, that die every winter because some ships discharge their oily waste at sea.

Those ships are not allowed to do it and there are laws against it but the fact is that illegal discharge to some shipping interests is easier than the legal way of disposing of waste. They would rather risk getting caught and paying the fine, which is low. They know the enforcement of the law is not as strong as it could be or should be.

What is this stuff they dump in our oceans off the coast of my very own constituency of Dartmouth--Cole Harbour?

All ships generate waste oil that accumulates in the engine room bilges and drains down with the water. If we were to take a sample, we would always find there is oil on top of the water. The ship should separate out the oil with special separators. This is a special process that takes time. However, if the crew is pressed for time and speed, they may decide it is easier to pump it overboard at sea. They do this in the dark, in the fog, in bad weather and they do it away from port.

Discharging this waste legally in port costs up to several thousand dollars, but that is not a large amount compared to operating a ship or to port fees. Out in the ocean, though, if the ships is not caught, then it is free.

If the fines were higher, enforcement stronger and the chances of detection greater, the risk would be too great. We would provide the impetus to do the right thing.

Those who walk our beaches will tell us, and they have videos they can show us, that these birds wash ashore in large numbers. They are dead or else they are struggling to live.

A litre of oil may not seem like much, especially when dispersed over a large amount of ocean water, but a small drop the size of a quarter will do the deadly trick.

As a pinhole in a diver's suit might do the same kind of damage, the oil causes the natural defences of the birds to break down. The cold waters of the winter Atlantic seep in through that area and the birds begin to literally freeze to death.

This is not an incident from one winter. This has happened repeatedly. Volunteers along the coasts of the Atlantic and the Pacific do beach surveys on Sunday mornings and it is not uncommon for them to find anywhere from 1 to 15 birds on any given morning. The problem is not unknown to residents of the St. Lawrence or the Great Lakes. Some of these birds take days to die because they starve and freeze to death.

The waters of Atlantic Canada, including my riding where the problem is greatest, are an important crossroads for seabirds where productive marine waters support tens of millions of birds. They are also a stopping-off point for other species.

They are murres, puffins, dovekies and gulls, herring and great black-backed gulls, common eiders, Atlantic puffins, northern gannets, long-tailed ducks, common and red-throated loons, and double-crested cormorants. They are shearwaters and Albatrosses from the southern Atlantic. They are phalaropes, gulls, eiders and the eastern harlequin duck which is a listed species of special concern.

Our scientists now know that 80% of the dead birds found on the beaches of Newfoundland are dead because of chronic oil pollution. There is so much damage to so many species of wildlife and it is a preventable tragedy.

The legislation before us would address this problem by raising the fines under the Migratory Birds Convention Act to as high as $1 million for those who ignore our environmental laws. It would make these officers and operating companies and their directors accountable for their actions and help harmonize our approach with that of the United States where there have been consistently higher fines.

This act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act would also provide clarity for enforcement officials, along with the owners and operators of vessels in waters under Canadian jurisdiction, including the 200 mile exclusion economic zone.

At this time we are able to say that none of the species I have talked about are at risk of extinction yet. However, how long will we be able to say that?

Our own government scientists say that it is clear that death by oiling at sea can significantly depress population numbers and population growth for long-lived seabird species, particularly when mortality levels are sustained, adults are impacted or species with small populations are affected.

Do we want to preside over the listing of some of these species when we could have done something about it, something that is so simple and would have such a large impact?

The legislation before us would send a message. It would tell those in the shipping industry who feel disregard for the species with which they share the ocean that we abhor what they are doing and that we will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.

There are some in the shipping industry who feel it is deplorable that laws of Canada could be passed which could target individuals for acts of pollution and treat them like criminals in that they could be personally prosecuted.

People pollute; ships do not pollute. Marine pollution should not be equated to a parking offence. It is entirely appropriate that Canada demand that mariners and ship operators respect their own industry best practice policies and the laws of our nation.

It would tell the people of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Quebec, British Columbia and other coastline provinces that we too cherish the marine wildlife that makes us unique and enriches us all. It would tell Canadians that our environmental legislation meets the intent with which it was designed: to conserve and to protect.

Those are the messages we can send with action on the bill before us, action that can make a difference as early as the winter of 2005, as we are able to better detect those who break the law, as we are better able to prosecute those who we catch and as we are better able to deter others through large fines that do away with the practice of dumping oily waste as a cost of doing business.

As a member with a riding on a coast, I know we must do better but the bill affects all Canadians. Those are messages we can send, and I urge support for this simple approach that would do so much for our seabirds, for our oceans and for all Canadians.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders



Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, the bill before us today is the reincarnation of legislation that was passed in the last Parliament but which the government did not see as important enough to get through the Senate before it called the election.

However, whenever I talk about the bill, the one number that always sticks out with me and is the number 300,000, which is the number of birds killed by this type of pollution off the east coast, and only off the east coast, every year. The number is a low estimate, according to the Fisheries and Oceans people or the environmentalists on the east coast. These are the ones they can actually identify as having died, so the figure is much larger than that.

In spite of the comment that we heard from the last Liberal speaker, the reality is that a number of the species that are being affected by this type of pollution are endangered. It is a hole in the endangered species legislation that went through the last Parliament that has not allowed the scientists who are studying these bird populations to get them on the endangered species list.

The legislation before us today is way overdue. I say that with a great deal of conviction because our U.S. neighbours have had this type of legislation in place now for close to 15 years. The result of that has been this scheming by some of the international shippers to sail into Canadian waters. They cross the Atlantic, come into Canadian waters, dump their bilge and then move into the U.S. port, which is their ultimate destination. However we have been the recipient of their pollution and garbage for way too long and the government has sat on this legislation way too long.

The effect has been, because of the U.S. legislation, that they have done a great deal to clean up this type of activity by rogue ships that dump their garbage in international waters or national waters, as is happening now in Canada.

The other thing that the U.S. has done, which we have not done and which this legislation does not do, is put our money where our mouths are. We will pass the legislation but no additional resources will be put in place for additional surveillance by the Coast Guard, by Fisheries and Oceans or the federal Department of the Environment. None of them will receive additional dollars to do anything to make sure the legislation will function.

Although we have increased the fines, which I applaud the government for doing, as it is something it should have done over a decade ago, the reality is that we may not have any ability to enforce the legislation unless we get serious about funding the Coast Guard, in particular, but also Fisheries and Oceans and the Department of the Environment.

There is another issue that has not been addressed by the legislation or the government. There were a series of reports where charges had been laid under the existing legislation but there were no convictions. The reason for that has been conflict between the Departments of Fisheries and Oceans and the Environment. Again I see nothing in the role that the government has played in the last few months since it has been in a minority government situation to clean that up.

Will we again be faced with departments not cooperating with each other or thwarting the actions of one or the other because of territorial empire building, resulting in the consequence that, although the legislation is in place, we perhaps may identify the culprits but because of shoddy work or work being thwarted by one department over the other the convictions do not get registered in court because the evidence has not been properly prepared? I warn the government that is something it has to work on. It has to clean up that territorial infighting and make sure that it never occurs again.

Another point about the lack of legislation is the issue of the deductibility of these fines. The government is extolling the fact that it has increased the fines. Again, I applaud it for doing that. However, it is rather hypocritical to say that it has done this when, under the existing circumstances in our income tax laws, in a good number of cases those fines end up being deductible from a corporation's income tax. The downside of that is, as individual taxpayers, we end up in effect paying as much as 50% of that fine.

We as a party have lobbied the government repeatedly to ban the deductibility of fines that are related to environmental crimes. It is a simple point. The government and I believe all political parties talk about polluters paying. Let us get serious about that. If we are to follow that principle, if we are to insist that people who commit crimes against the environment must pay for it, we should not turn to the taxpayers and say that they will pay half of it. We have no responsibility here. We are not guilty of that dumping. The shippers are guilty of it. They are killing those 300,000 plus birds every year just off the east coast.

As a country, we should in no way be subsidizing that type of conduct. We must change our income tax laws to make it absolutely foolproof that an individual who commits a crime against the natural environment will pay the full amount of that fine. That the principal polluter pays a bit of the fine is an hypocrisy. It is something we badly have to do.

Following on some of the comments made by my colleague from the Bloc Québécois, I cannot finish without raising the reality of the Prime Minister's role in this. The reality is his family still owns a major shipping line and we still do not have that change in our income tax law. I suggest that is one of the reasons. This Parliament has to stand up and say that we will do this. We have to say to the Prime Minister that we are sorry to his family and CSL, but CSL will have to come in line with the obligations that it faces elsewhere in the world. If it is going to commit that kind of an infringement of our law, that kind of a crime against the environment, we are no longer going to subsidize it. I point out that CSL has already been convicted once under the existing law and was ordered to pay a paltry fine of $25,000.

It is time for this Parliament to bring our laws into the 21st century with regard to polluters paying. We should no longer subsidize this type of infringement, in spite of the obvious conflict by the Prime Minister and his family. We should push hard on this issue. Until we do, this legislation becomes much less effective. It is time for us to stand up and say that we will protect our migratory birds, we will stop the slaughter of the birds off the east and west coasts and we will make the person who perpetrated that crime pay to the fullest extent of the law.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia


Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, we have many examples that are often discussed here about the human impact on the environment. I wish to voice my support today for the proposal before us. It takes some very simple measures to address one of these impacts. I am speaking of the devastating impact on the seabird population from the deliberate oil pollution off our coastlines. I am speaking of the needless deaths of our 300,000 seabirds, the small dovekies, the colourful puffins, the gulls and the murres. I am speaking in defence of the 35 million seabirds that feed off our coastlines on the rich food resources of the continental shelf and share those waters with some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

The act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act is not groundbreaking policy. We do not need to debate the principles of pollution prevention and enforcement. These principles are already entrenched in our laws and they are very good.

These amendments will allow us to take quick and definitive action against those who discharge oily bilge water at sea and kill the seabirds, instead of taking the steps necessary to separate the oil from the water and dispose of it in an environmentally safe manner.

These amendments before us are an opportunity to make it know to offenders in the shipping industry that we will not stand by and watch these birds die every winter. In the United States, there have been some recent high-profile prosecutions for this very practice. The result has been strong penalties by the U.S. government, some in the order of millions of dollars.

We must act in a way that is consistent with the United States. We do not want to be viewed as a safe dumping ground.

The proposals before us today will specifically amend, clarify and reinforce existing legislative tools in a way that emphasizes early and decisive government action. We will see immediate results.

For instance, captains and officers of ships will be responsible for acts of pollution from their ships. We will be able to prosecute owners, operators and other responsible individuals, if there is evidence to indicate that they are responsible. We will give the mandate to specific enforcement authorities. We will also be able to prohibit falsification of records and harmonize our approach to that of the United States.

Pollution has been against the law for some time. Now we need to support these measures to give teeth to those laws so that, in the winters to come, we will see fewer deaths of seabirds from human activity.

The amendments place no burden on those who already take their environmental responsibility seriously. There will be no additional responsibilities nor obligations to the good citizens in the shipping industry. The amendments will become their environmental conscience and by passing them we become part of that environmental conscience. This is the right thing to do.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

12:10 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-15, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, particularly since I spoke when Bill C-34 was introduced during the last Parliament.

It is always a bit strange to hear mainly from the Liberal members, whether new or old. Everyone agrees that it is a real natural catastrophe that 300,000 migratory birds die yearly, oiled to death as it were, thanks to the thoughtless dumping by ship operators.

The real question that has to be asked is this one, however: why a second bill? Why was Bill C-34 not passed during the last session? Another 300,000 migratory birds will have died in the meantime. The reason: lobbying. The shipping company lobby controls this Liberal government, and it is the Liberals who introduce the bills.

What is the only change that has been brought in, between Bill C-34 and C-15? The matter of due diligence. Therein lies the problem: the shipping lobby was not happy with Bill C-34. All parties in opposition—or at least the Bloc Québécois—spoke out against the fact that Bill C-34 gave the excuse of due diligence to the owners, the shipping companies, the board members, the masters, the crew. They had the opportunity to plead due diligence.

Today, they want to amend the various items under 280. A new term is added to each, both for directors and officers, in 280.1, and for the master and chief engineer in 280.02. Clause 280.1 therefore reads as follows:

280.1 (1) Every director and officer of a corporation shall take all reasonable care to ensure that the corporation complies with:

In the previous Parliament, Bill C-34 gave them the excuse of due diligence. Now, they are told they have to exercise due diligence, but this little word, diligence, is still in the legislation and will give them a way out in court. That is why I am warning my colleagues who will be sitting on the committee, because there lies the problem.

Why did Canada never pass legislation, leaving 300,000 migratory birds to die every year for decades? Simply because the shipowners' lobby is more powerful than the Liberal Party. It is that simple.

It has been persuaded not to pass legislation. To prevent these birds from dying, we need efficient legislation, fines and prison sentences. That is what the law provides. But this bill is still pushing this due diligence defence.

All of us, and those listening as well, when we pollute, we have to pay damages. Just think of all those who travel across Quebec all summer long in their campers and RVs. There are designated dumping stations. Standards have to be complied with.

In the transportation industry, however, there were no such standards. Naturally, we have to put in place legislation—and I am saying this for the benefit of those listening—dealing with basic respect for human beings and, in this case, for migratory birds and the entire animal population. We realize that, in this society of ours, there is a category of operators, namely ship operators, that did not have to comply with basic standards like those prohibiting all dumping of bilge water in the ocean or in the St. Lawrence river. Obviously, with dramatic results.

That having been said, I hope that the bill will be passed quickly, after very strict penalties have been included of course. As several of my colleagues indicated, we also need tools for monitoring. The other way out for the government not to enforce the legislation is not to provide the Coast Guard and all stakeholders with the tools they need to board and examine ships.

We must be able to enforce this legislation. It is fine to pass a bill, but we must have the money necessary to enforce it. Otherwise, as experts are telling us, Canada will continue to be the place in the world where the largest number of migratory birds die because of pollutants released by ships.

This is yet another accomplishment of the Liberal Party of Canada. Perhaps it takes pride in being considered the world's worst polluter. By contrast, Bloc Québécois members, and other members in this House, have much more of a social conscience. We hope that there will be a standard, that there will be enough money, so that the Coast Guard and all the stakeholders are able to board these ships. We must have the means to send these people to jail.

Do not worry. After a few of these individuals have spent time in jail and have had to pay huge fines, they will take all the necessary measures to avoid polluting again.

Every year, 300,000 migratory birds die. This is a tragedy. But it does not end there. Environmental experts are saying that we are the most tolerant country regarding such releases. This means that we are among those who do the most damage to migratory birds in the world. This is sad.

We talked about Bill C-34 over the past two years. We will still debate Bill C-15 for a while in this House. Despite all this, the industry has not changed its way of doing things. It is still releasing pollutants, with the result that, year in year out, we continue to lose 300,000 migratory birds, in addition to all the damage caused to wildlife, which has yet to be assessed.

Again, this is all a pretence. In this Parliament, lobbyists have traditionally been more powerful than politicians. However, Canadians changed that in the last election by electing a minority government, thus giving much greater powers to the opposition. People will see how these powers are used. They will see what the opposition will do when the time comes to make the necessary amendments to this bill. This legislation should truly be a deterrent for those who do these terrible things.

Why would oily matter be discharged into ocean waters and the Gulf of St. Lawrence? This is done simply because it costs a lot less than having the necessary equipment to process it immediately on board. Processing consists in discharging good water and keeping pollutants for subsequent release in areas equipped for that purpose, such as in the ports when the ship docks.

Somehow money is the reason again, but savings are made at the expense of wildlife. Migratory birds suffer the consequences; some 300,000 birds die annually.

It is a sad commentary on this Parliament. We are not able to pass legislation. Bill C-34 is a good example. The strong opposition we have right now in this minority government will probably manage to get the point across that we cannot tolerate such pollution in our territorial waters. That is why the zone was increased from 12 nautical miles to 200. With a strong opposition like the one we have now, we will have a decent bill.

We will make sure that this standard is respected by all users, but especially by the marine transportation industry, so that the shipowners will not win. We will try to rein them in. That is the goal so that 300,000 migratory birds no longer have to die each year.

There is still a problem. A minority government can always end up forced into an election if its budget is defeated. I hope, once the bill is passed, that the government will allocate the necessary funds for the Coast Guard and all stakeholders to be able to stop this bunch of troublemakers, all these irresponsible people who discharge substances into our territorial waters that endanger our migratory birds.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

12:20 p.m.


Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-15, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

Anyone who has hunted ducks or geese will know that the regulations under the Migratory Birds Convention Act are in place to ensure that hunting never threatens the survival of the hunted species. These regulations are amended annually, taking into account the status of bird populations. Canadian officials meet with their United States counterparts, comparing information so that there can be consistency in approach.

The result of this system, using scientific information derived in cooperation with the U.S. government, consultations, regulations and, where appropriate, enforcement, has ensured that the overhunting of migratory birds will not put any species at risk. Indeed, under this consultation regime, Canadians and Americans continue to enjoy healthy populations of waterfowl.

As has been pointed out by other members, the Migratory Birds Convention Act deals with hunting, but it is not just about hunted species. In fact, the majority of species protected under the act are non-game species. Many other species that could be game species under the migratory birds convention are not hunted in Canada, such as the white-rumped sandpiper.

Before I tell hon. members about the sandpiper, it will be of interest to persons in the House to know that when the original Migratory Birds Convention Act was debated here, the right hon. Sir Wilfrid Laurier was leader of the opposition. He rose to make the point that I am making now, that the Migratory Birds Convention Act must not be just for the protection and use of hunted species, but for the protection of the valuable and much appreciated non-game as well.

The migratory birds convention makes an international commitment for Canada ensuring the preservation of migratory birds while they are within our country, using a uniform system of protection. The Migratory Birds Convention Act and the migratory birds regulations accomplish this. They fit together to make an effective system for the protection of bird species from unsustainable uses.

As part of this protection, it is illegal today to put substances such as oil into habitats frequented by birds, but the system is not complete. This bill ensures that such provisions and prohibitions can be enforced to the edge of Canada's exclusive economic zone if need be.

The migratory birds convention was amended in 1995. Those amendments were brought to this House in 1999. One of the most important steps taken in these amendments was to modernize the convention wording. In 1916, when the convention was first drafted, words such as habitat and conservation did not have the meanings that we use today.

United States President Theodore Roosevelt is given credit for developing the concept of conservation for wise use, thereby initiating the concept of conservation in its modern sense. Conservation as applied by President Roosevelt meant that any uses of nature should be sustainable, that management should be backed up by scientific study, that all natural resources in an area are interrelated, and that conservation is a public responsibility.

The migratory birds convention has always been a model for international management of shared species. Brought up to date with the 1995 amendments, it speaks of principles of conservation. Among these it states that migratory bird populations should be managed internationally, across borders, that a variety of sustainable uses should be ensured, and that habitats for the conservation of migratory birds should and must be protected.

These are good sound principles for birds and for Canada. If we look to the sustainability of bird life, we will in large measure ensure our own future and preserve Canada's unique position among the world's nations as a place of abounding natural beauty and resources.

Protecting birds and their habitat is not only important to ensuring the sustainability of the Canadian economy, it also provides direct economic benefits. As stated in the national round table on environment and economy's report: “The case for nature conservation in Canada is more than simply environmental, aesthetic or spiritual: it is increasingly economic”.

Let us talk about birds and the economy. The economic contribution of birdlife in Canada has been estimated to number in the billions of dollars annually. First, the amount that people spend directly on bird related nature activities comes close to a billion dollars.

According to a survey conducted by StatsCan, Canadians spent almost $824 million as part of their annual hunting activities in 1996. Of this amount, that year, bird hunting accounted for $184 million. In the same survey, wildlife viewing accounted for approximately $1.3 billion.

Other surveys have shown that expenses primarily related to birdwatching make up the largest portion of wildlife viewing expenses. The economic value of bird related activity comes close to a billion dollars.

Beyond this, consider the economic activity that is coming from nature related businesses: tourism, retail sales, outdoor goods and a wide variety of service industries. They all benefit from secondary economic effects from hunting and viewing of migratory birds. Information gathered by the survey outlined the importance of nature to Canadians. That showed that nature related activities generate approximately 215,000 jobs in Canada. Our estimate of the economic benefits of birds rises from the first billion to several billion dollars.

Let us talk just for a moment about birds as national symbols. Despite the compelling argument that these economic figures present, not all of society's needs can be quantified or translated into economic terms. Canadians assign intrinsic value to the natural environment and birds are part of the national identity and are of tremendous cultural and spiritual importance to Canadians.

Attempts to ascribe a value to the ability to watch a great blue heron in its early morning hunt or a flock of dunlins feeding at Robert's Bank along their annual journey will inevitably fall short. While many describe this value in the context of the quality of life benefits associated with the natural world, the importance of nature transcends these simple measures for many people and many cultures for whom it is strongly linked with their spiritual and in fact religious beliefs.

Let us talk about the impact on human health. I have spoken of economic benefits and of the spiritual benefits. However, the benefits in terms of the impact on human health cannot be understated or overrated. These actions to protect the ecosystems of migratory birds are an important element of sustaining human health. Healthy wetlands, for example, are not only important to many bird species and other wildlife, but are also integral to maintaining water quality and the quality that human life depends on, healthy forests that provide for habitats for birds.

I could go on in terms of safe sources of food and drinking water, and clean air that we breathe and relate that to a quality of life that we enjoy.

I have spoken about the value of migratory birds generally and it is tremendous. I have also spoken about the value of birds as food. Two species valued for their meat in Newfoundland, for example, bring us back to the Grand Banks. Busy shipping lanes and the results that oil spills have had have been devastating to the fisheries in Newfoundland, and have had an impact across our country and an impact throughout the world.

I am satisfied and I hope that members of the House will support this bill. The Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, will be better, not only when the topic is the oiling of birds at sea, but for the protection of migratory birds throughout the country.

I urge the House to support this bill. I know that all members of the House can look forward with me to the day when the sight of oil stained dead and dying seabirds in the bays and on the beaches of Canada's coast can be forgotten.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

12:30 p.m.


Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today to speak on this bill, which is so beneficial to our environment, to our wildlife, and, as the honourable member mentioned a few moments ago, to our economy.

I know this bill will please a scientist I know, Lynn Miller, who runs an organization called Le Nichoir, which is not far from my riding, in the village of Hudson, Quebec. Her organization is dedicated to rehabilitating damaged birds. She has done a great deal of research on the impact on birds of exposure to crude oil. She has come up with some excellent findings as to the possible effects of crude oil exposure on humans. If she continues her research, she may be able to draw some conclusions about risks that perhaps those who work on oil rigs and so on may be exposed to.

I would like to tell the House a story about a covert operation off the coast of Newfoundland. It is nighttime and the middle of winter. A ship has left port. Its captain has decided not to pay the $1,000 or so it would cost to empty the waste oil in the water from the engine room bilges. He is following the directions of his operators. This ship has a schedule to meet, and it must not waste time. The ship gets about a hundred nautical miles out of port. Those in the engine room know they should be using oily water separators to get the oil out of the waste water, but they have a schedule to keep and they need to press on. What do they do? They dump it overboard, oil and all. They go on their way under the cover of darkness. What is a little oil in the great big ocean? Isn't business important?

Well, a little oil is a pretty big deal. That seemingly small amount of oil disperses through the water in the cold Atlantic from November to March. The oil comes in contact with millions of seabirds that share the shipping lanes with those big ships.

The oil spot attaches itself to the feathers of a puffin. When the cold of the Atlantic Ocean starts to seep in, the bird struggles against the cold but it cannot, because its defences have been broken down. It finds it hard to move. It finds it hard to eat. This puffin might struggle for two days before it dies. Eventually it washes up on shore.

This story plays itself out so many times over the course of a winter that some 300,000 seabirds die, and that is just off the Avalon peninsula of Newfoundland.

And we have to know that the oil in the water is also affecting the plankton, the plant life, the fish, the crustaceans—anything that makes its home off our coasts.We are not proud of this story. But it happens because the risk of detection and the potential fine for that ship operator is so low that he does not mind running the risk of being caught.

It happens because our technology is not being put to best use so we can see that slick behind the boat after the bilge water goes overboard.It happens because we need to make stronger these two environmental laws with this bill before us.

That’s all we have to do; amend two good pieces of legislation so we can strengthen our enforcement tools, make the fines higher, get the science and technology to better work, and above all establish accountability for those who make these decisions.

I urge the hon. members to support this bill before us.It is time for us to bring these stories to an end. This is our opportunity, and perhaps with swift action we can see fewer such stories written as early as the winter of 2005.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Is the House ready for the question?

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Some hon. members


Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Some hon. members


Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

I declare the motion carried.

Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

(Motion agreed to)

(Bill C-17. On the Order: Government Orders:)

November 1, 2004--The Minister of Justice--Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness of Bill C-17, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2004 / 12:40 p.m.

Northumberland—Quinte West Ontario


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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion regarding Bill C-17, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Bill C-17 addresses an issue that is on the minds of many Canadians; that is, the reform of cannabis legislation. It is also an issue that remains a priority of the government, a priority that was reflected by the Prime Minister in his statement last summer that the government would introduce this legislation again in Parliament.

Many Canadians believe that the potential harms of using cannabis are outweighed by the stigma arising from a criminal conviction and would like to see a reduction in the negative social impact of a criminal conviction.

Public opinion surveys indicate that a majority of Canadians favour the removal of criminal sanctions for possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use. A 2002 Gallup poll survey indicated that 77% of Canadians believe that cannabis possession should either be legalized--that is 37%--or that a fine should be the only penalty for the offence, and that was indicated at 40%.

Concerns have also been expressed over the unfair and unequal application of the law. Police and court activity in respect of the possession offence vary considerably from region to region.

In some parts of the country offenders often receive no more than a verbal warning, and if charged and tried will likely receive a conditional or absolute discharge. In other parts of Canada an offender is more likely to be charged, and if convicted is likely to receive a fine or a more serious penalty.

I believe that given the current thinking by many Canadians on this matter, it is time to reform our legislation dealing with cannabis. The government has a responsibility to Canadians to adapt to and address these current concerns. With this proposed legislation, our drug law will be reformed so as to reflect Canadian reality.

Canadians believe that alternate measures such as fines are more appropriate than criminal convictions for the possession of small amounts of cannabis. The Senate special committee on illegal drugs commissioned a qualitative study of Canadians' attitudes toward cannabis. This study found that most Canadians are not concerned with the occasional recreational cannabis use, and support alternative measures of dealing with the possession of small amounts of cannabis.

A Decima poll conducted in September 2003 showed that a majority of Canadians favoured marijuana decriminalization, while a significant number agreed there should be complete legalization.

Considerable research was carried out by two parliamentary committees, which heard numerous witnesses in connection with Canada's drug legislation. In September 2002, the special Senate committee on illegal drugs tabled its final report, recommending the legalization of cannabis. The special House committee on the non-medical use of drugs recommended in its report on December 12, 2002 a comprehensive strategy for decriminalizing the possession and cultivation of not more than thirty grams of cannabis for personal use.

In the September 2002 Speech from the Throne, the government made a commitment to “act on the results of parliamentary consultations with Canadians on options for change in our drug laws, including the possibility of the decriminalization of marijuana possession”.

Canadians are also concerned about the proliferation of commercial cannabis marijuana production operations, commonly known as grow ops. This issue has also become a problem of serious law enforcement concern. These concerns relate to the involvement of organized crime, risks to public safety from operations in residential districts, and threats and intimidation directed at the owners of farms and other private property where production is undertaken.

The smuggling of cannabis from Canada to the United States has become a major issue in cross-border law enforcement relations. In spite of considerable amounts of enforcement resources being used to control these grow ops, these efforts have failed to curtail them.

Bill C-17 proposes reforms in respect of two areas, the first dealing with the possession offence regarding small quantities of marijuana and cannabis resin, and the second dealing with the offence of production or cultivation. Under this proposed reform, amendments will be made to the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. In the first instance, the Contraventions Act will be amended so as to permit the act to apply to the new possession offences involving small quantities of cannabis material and to the new cultivation offence involving a very small number of cannabis plants.

Secondly, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act will be amended to create four new offences of cannabis possession involving small quantities of cannabis material, each with distinct penalties: possession of one gram or less of resin punishable by a fine of up to $300 for adults and up to $200 for youth; possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana punishable by a fine of up to $150 for adults and up to $100 for a youth; possession of either of those amounts with one or more of the following aggravated factors--while having care and control or while operating a motor vehicle, while committing an indictable offence, or possession in or near a school--which offence will be punishable by a fine of up to $400 for adults and up to $250 for youth; and possession of more than 15 grams, up to and including 30 grams, punishable by a fine of up to $300 for adults and up to $200 for youth when prosecuted by way of a ticket, or punishable by up to six months and/or a fine of up to $1,000 if prosecuted by way of summary conviction.

For the first three offences, law enforcement will be able to issue a ticket exclusively. Peace officers will have the discretion of enforcing the fourth offence either by issuing a ticket or a summons, depending on the officer's appreciation of the circumstances related to the offence.

As for the cultivation of cannabis, the bill would restructure the offence as follows: one to three plants: guilty of anoffence punishable on summary convictionand liable to a fine of $500 or, in the case of a young person, $250. This would be exclusively by ticket.

For four to twenty-five plants: guilty of an offence and liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years less a day, or on summary conviction, to a fine ofnot more than twenty-five thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term of not more than eighteen months, or to both.

For twenty-six to fifty plants: guilty of an offence and liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term of not more than ten years. Finally, for more than fifty plants: imprisonment for a term of not more than fourteen years.

Under the proposed legislation, the courts would have to give written reasons for not imposing a custodial sentence when one or more of the following factors are present: a person used real property that belongs to a third party to commit the offence; the offence constituted a potential security, health or safety hazard to children in or near the area where the offence was committed; the offence constituted a potential public safety hazard in a residential area; and the person set or placed a trap, device or other thing that was likely cause the death or bodily harm where the offence was committed.

The question of changing our law on cannabis is one of long-standing, going all the way back to the LeDain commission in the early 1970s. Cannabis legislation and, more specific, the offence of possession of small quantities of cannabis has been a topic of considerable public scrutiny and political comment.

The government proposes to address this issue through this bill. I hope the motion to send the bill to the committee before second reading will receive the support of all hon. members.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Randy White Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that we are sending the bill right to committee because it deserves a lot of debate in the House from the onset in second reading.

We are here today once again opposing Bill C-17. Not much has changed in the country in terms of the Liberal position on the bill. The Prime Minister, before he was Prime Minister, suggested that we should have some significant changes from the last time it was introduced in the House of Commons, but we do not.

I want to address some of the issues my colleague in the Liberal Party addressed as well. He talks about reform of cannabis legislation. This will not do what the country is looking for it to do. We are dealing with the decriminalization of marijuana. While we have kids on our streets addicted to crystal meth, crack, heroine and all kinds of other drugs, we are playing around in the House of Commons with decriminalization of marijuana. We should be ashamed of ourselves for not dealing with the real issues of addiction.

We will talk about criminal sanctions and inconsistencies. The government thinks it is addressing these, but it is making them inherent in this new bill. We will talk a little about occasional use. The Liberals seem to think that 30 grams is occasional use. Thirty grams is anywhere from about 45 to 60 joints. I hardly call that occasional use. If they were talking about decriminalization of minor possession, it would be around 5 grams, not 30.

The Liberals talk a lot about polls, but they should talk about health. They should talk about the enjoyment of life, when we have addicted people out there. We should not be talking about polls, we should be talking about the distress of people who are addicted.

What is this about? The bill says that drugs are illegal. It also says that people will not get a criminal record, if they are over the age of 11, for possession of 30 grams of marijuana or less, which is 45 to 60 joints pure, with an option for police to charge for criminal purposes over 15 grams. Police officers who are on the streets will not be issuing a summons for 15 grams. In fact I do not know how they can even assess whether one is holding a Baggie of 15 grams, 18 grams, 5 grams or 30 grams. Right away one of the premises of the Liberals is shot.

Marijuana is bad for one's health. I have a list of things that are bad, but most prominently it increases the work of the heart. The changes in heart rate and blood pressure are the same as those found in a person under high stress. With the lungs, it is more irritating, with 50% more tar than tobacco. It has a greater effect on the upper airways than tobacco, and may cause lung, head and neck cancer. We are talking about something that is really unfit for people and is in fact worse than cigarettes.

I do a lot of work with drug addicts around the country and I have lots of letters. I want to read a couple of statements from drug addicts. I asked them to give me an idea of what they thought about the marijuana legislation. I did not prompt them in their words. I will give some extracts. I have met every one of these people in various rehabilitation houses across the country.

Lance Kohler states:

As a living, breathing example, or testimony as to what Marijuana can do to the average kid, I would have to share how I was introduced to Marijuana in grades 5 and 6, was a smoker and a drinker by the time I was in grade 7. I was a chronic pot smoker, and I managed to hide it all from my family. I dropped out in grade 10 to pursue a career of making money for drug use and ended up in an insane, $100 a day crack addiction.

I want to emphasize that we are talking about a bill that is decriminalizing something as serious as this.

Mike Bremnar states:

I have been an addict for 20 years. I have used most every drug on the street and even from the pharmacy. I had a promising future, good at school, until I smoked my first “joint”. It has been a long downhill journey through broken relationships and unfulfilled dreams.

This is not about polls and surveys, as the Liberals would say. This is about real people with real problems. However, marijuana is everywhere. About 23% of Canadian people have at one time tried marijuana, and it will not be eliminated. It prominent in my area of British Columbia.

What do we do about it? The government suggests that possession of 1 to 15 grams will be punished by a fine, $150 for adults and $100 for youth aged 12 to 18. How it intends to find a 12-year-old in grade 6, I have no idea. I have yet to hear the justice department to explain that one. Possession of 15 to 30 grams is punishable by a fine of $300, but there is another discount for youth. They will only pay $200 or by summons by police discretion. Over 30 grams remains a criminal offence.

In the main points of the bill with regard to growing, there are fines of $100 to $300. I just spoke with one of the senior police chiefs in the country. He said that a six foot marijuana plant was worth $3,000 and a three inch marijuana plant was worth nothing. However, the Liberals are considering that if someone has one to three plants, the person will be fined $500. One has to wonder from where the government is coming. The reality on the street has no relevance to what is being put in the House of Commons.

Here is what the bill fails to consider. I wish I could flash what 30 grams of marijuana looks like, but I cannot. The street value of 30 grams is about $300, except in British Columbia where there is a discount because it is so prominent. That produces 30 to 60 joints. No one who smokes marijuana carries 30 grams unless that person is selling it. That will come from anybody dealing in the marijuana market.

The other thing that gets me is the Liberals have said that they will get really tough on grow ops. They will increase the maximum penalty. With the maximum penalty today, people can get up to seven years. Let me give an example from the 161 cases I have here. Remember that the maximum penalty in Canada is seven years.

A guy was caught with a $440,000 grow op and the estimated value of growing equipment seized was $4,000. He was convicted and received a 30 day conditional sentence in the community and a fine of $5,300. What is the point of having maximum penalties for grow ops when judges are not issuing maximum penalties. We need minimum penalties for grow ops.

Let me give another example of a $742,000 grow op. The guy was convicted and received a six month conditional sentence to be served in the community and a $2,000 fine. That was for a $742,000 grow op. What is the use of issuing maximums, if the courts are only giving minimums?

Some things have to be done. Since I only have two minutes remaining, I will rattle them off.

With regard to decriminalization, if the Liberals are talking about minor amounts, it should have been 5 grams, not 30. That is a ridiculous amount. There should be a reasonable method for judging the quantity of grams at the street level. That has not been done.

Fines should be progressive for subsequent offences, not the same all the way through. They should be equal for youth and adults. There should not be a youth discount for marijuana. They should be tied to something concrete, such as drivers' licences, to force payment. Police around the country have said that they will not collect the money. There is no ability to collect this money and people will not pay it anyway.

We must have in place effective roadside assessment technology to detect drug driving. That is not available currently. Court decisions are inconsistent. Minimum penalties must be put in place for grow ops. Provisions must be in place to ensure judicial discretion does not continually raise the bar. What will judges do with 34 grams? They will not charge the person with a criminal offence for four more grams.

Finally, there is no national drug strategy. We are dealing with the decriminalization of marijuana, when tens of thousands of people are addicted to hard drugs. From where is the government coming? We are opposed and we will remain opposed.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, after seven years in this illustrious place, we develop habits, some good, some bad. It is my practice, perhaps a bad habit, to start all my remarks by saying that I am pleased to speak on Bill x , y or z . I cannot say that I am pleased today, because I am tired of addressing this topic in the House time and time again.

Let us recall the various stages. We have had thorough debates in the special committee struck to look into the issue. This special committee made recommendations, which we debated. Then came Bill C-38, followed by Bill C-10, in the previous Parliament, both of which went through first, second and third reading, with more discussions at each stage. work was done in committee. The legislation died in the previous Parliament, because of the lack of political will of the current Prime Minister, who did not dare to go before the voters after decriminalizing marijuana. He probably did not want to leave himself open to criticism from the Conservative Party.

Because of the Prime Minister's lack of political courage, here we are starting all over again the whole process of passing a bill we have supported on many occasions already.

We supported it because we base our position on three premises. First, a totally protectionist approach does not work. It costs a fortune. A perfect example of such protectionist approach is what is going on in the United States, where we can see billions of dollars being dished out with unconvincing results to say the least. Second, when all is said and done, marijuana remains harmful to health. This needs to be taken into consideration in taking a position. Third, there is a principle in criminal law whereby the punishment must not be disproportionate to the offence.

Based on these three premises, we support the bill before us, Bill C-17. It is important when we debate an issue such as this that we target what we are talking about. We must be clear that we are talking about decriminalization and not legalization. The public often mixes up these terms. Decriminalization still carries with it penalties. If Bill C-17 is passed, a person caught in possession of a small amount of marijuana will be penalized. It will still be illegal, but the penalty will not be criminal, in that the person will not have a criminal record.

In my opinion, a criminal record is tragic for 18 year olds. My colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, an eminent criminal defence lawyer who has defended young people caught with two or three joints in their pockets, made me realize this. A criminal record has major consequences on a young person's career and ability to travel to the United States, among other places. God knows, in order to get to many places, Canadians have to go through the United States. Having a criminal record would make it impossible to travel to many places in the world. A young person could end up with a criminal record for many years and be prevented from travelling or getting certain jobs. For possession of two or three joints, the consequences are excessive. The person ends up in a state far worse than the one they started in.

Some witnesses and members of the Conservative Party have said that decriminalization, which, I repeat, is different than legalization, sends the wrong message to young people.

According to them, if the members passed this bill, the use of marijuana would increase almost magically by leaps and bounds.

Yet studies in other countries, Australia for one, where certain states have decriminalized marijuana, have shown that this is not the case. What they do show is that decriminalization of small amounts does not lead to increased use by young people. Instead of putting money and resources into repressive tactics, the money can be used to set up preventive programs explaining that marijuana is not good for the health. That money from Ottawa should go to the provinces since education is their responsibility. Good prevention is better than bad repression, which often tends to have disastrous consequences.

Another reason for our support of the bill is that, in the past Parliament, one of our proposed amendments became part of the bill. A person found in possession of a crop of one to three plants would not be put into the criminal system, in other words would be considered almost a case of possession rather than of cultivation.

We wanted to avoid the situation of an occasional user like the guy with his one plant on the window sill being forced by fear of criminalization to get his supply from the black market, which as hon. members know is controlled by organized crime. That was what we were trying to avoid. I am very pleased that this suggestion got adopted. It was, moreover, supported pretty effectively by my NDP colleague who is going to speak next, their House leader. Thanks to her work and that of our Liberal colleagues, worthwhile efforts for once from them, this recommendation was adopted.

I will make a quick aside if I may, though I have so much to say. There was reference just now to prevention. Let us put police officers and the forces of law and order in a position to really make a difference. Now we can talk about organized crime.

Last week, I tabled a bill on the reversal of the burden of proof for any person convicted of being associated with a criminal organization. I am sure that hon. members read it with great interest. This initiative was extremely well received by police officers and by crime reporters, including Guy Ouellette, Michel Auger, who wrote about it this morning in Le Journal de Montréal , and Yves Boisvert, who mentioned it in La Presse . They praised the bill.

If the government really wants to fight organized crime, it will support, along with the NDP, the Conservative Party of Canada and, of course, the Bloc Québécois, the bill tabled last week.

As time is passing, I will simply point out two things. Today, we have the opportunity, by passing this bill, to do something that will benefit everyone. We will decriminalize the mere use of marijuana for personal purposes. It means more resources will available for prevention, instead of being used for punitive action, which is totally useless. It also means that police officers can stop spending so much effort going after small consumers or people who have a small amount of marijuana in their possession. Instead, they can focus on the real issues, on the areas where they can make a difference and where the public wants them to make a difference, namely in the fight against that societal, economic and political plague, organized crime.