Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise in this House today to speak on Bill C-15, to amend the legislation concerning migratory birds and marine ecosystems.
This bill was discussed at length in committee. We have always maintained that there was a basis for this legislation, and that it was vital that the government bring it in. Why? Because, in recent years, too many birds have been the victims of the irresponsibility of vessel owners who, often deliberately and intentionally, discharged oil into Canadian waters.
It is estimated that more than 300,000 birds were killed by discharges by vessel owners in recent years. It is important to realize that a single quarter is enough to kill a bird. So, given that fact, it was time for the government to assume its responsibility and introduce legislation. This bill may not necessarily provide all the guarantees.There will be inspections and monitoring and better control will have to be enhanced in the coming years. However, from a statutory point of view, it was clear that the current legislation had to be strengthened.
How? First, by increasing penalties for owners who are responsible for discharges. With this bill, we are quadrupling the penalty and fine that would be imposed on guilty owners. Shipowners who commit such offences could be ordered to pay a $1 million fine.
Second, we are trying to eliminate loopholes to the extent that we can by clearly specifying that, when an offence is committed, the owner is not the only one who could be charged, but also the employees. Why? We know the shipping industry in Canada and, of course, around the world. We are well aware that numbered companies are prevalent in this industry, thus making it increasingly difficult to identify responsible parties, find them and initiate proceedings against them.
Therefore, charges will no longer apply only to shipowners; indeed, the responsibility has been extended to ensure that there are individuals who are actually held responsible and who have to pay the fines set in the bill.
Third, we expand Canada's exclusive economic zone to beyond 200 miles. Why? Again, because major shipowners are too irresponsible. In the past, when they wanted to intentionally discharge hydrocarbons in our waters, they would go outside Canada's zone to do so. The bill will extend the control zone to beyond 200 miles and this will allow us to monitor shipowners' activities.
The bill also broadens the powers of Environment Canada when it comes to monitoring activities, and also arresting and detaining ships.
Until now, the Department of the Environment did not have enough authority to take action with regard to shipowners. So, the bill provides such guarantees so that Environment Canada will have the necessary authority to act.
I must remind the House of another aspect. Earlier, I was discussing and debating the sanctions set out in the bill, the quadrupling of fines, up to $1 million, for shipowners. However, experience to date has shown that, quite often, it is impossible to identify the guilty parties. The judiciary has the latitude to impose a penalty, but there was no minimum fine or sanction. The fine has been quadrupled, but only the maximum fine; there is no minimum fine. So the imposition of a penalty was left to the discretion of the judiciary.
The average fine previously imposed in Canada on shipowners who dumped oily waste, is only $30,000. Only a $30,000 fine for major Canadian or foreign shipowners, because they dumped significant amounts of oily waste in our waters, causing the death of over 30,000 birds per year. That is ridiculous.
When we compare the average in Canada to that of Great Britain or even the United States, believe it or not, we can see that the average fine in these two countries is between $400,000 and $500,000. In Canada, however, it was up to the judge to decide the monetary penalty, which, on average, was $30,000. What is $30,000 for a major Canadian shipping company like Canada Steamship Lines? That is nothing.
What did the Bloc Québécois do? Under the circumstances, my hon. colleague from Beauport—Limoilou decided to move an amendment. This was a first in the environmental field. This amendment establishes a minimum fine prescribed by law, so that the judges no longer have total discretion. A minimum will be prescribed by law: $500,000 or $100,000, depending on the type of vessel.
Why? Because the maximum is already provided for. But this amendment will ensure, first, that a fine is imposed, which was not necessarily the case with the previous system, second, that there will be a minimum fine and, third, that the fine imposed on the shipowner or shipping business will be three or four times higher than what has been the average in Canada until now.
This amendment put forward by the Bloc Québécois, by the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou, which is a first in the environmental field, has the support of the committee. I think we are on the right track.
Ultimately, this government bill and amendment are designed to ensure that all amounts collected through fines imposed on the various shipowners do not end up in the consolidated revenue fund, the government's general fund, but are deposited directly in a special fund, a conservation fund for migratory birds and the environment. This will be an environmental damages fund, a government proposal which I have the pleasure of supporting today. It is our intention to support this government amendment.
We have succeeded in going in the right direction with a more stringent bill, an amendment put forward by the Bloc Québécois to set a minimum fine and, today, a further amendment by the government to ensure that all fines received will go directly to the environmental damages fund, and not to the government's consolidated revenue fund.