Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the amendment, which we support. It is only right that we do anything we can do to prevent the disasters that happen year after year.
It is probably very appropriate that we deal with such a bill and amendment at this time. We just witnessed a major spill off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador in relation to leakage from two of oil rigs, one a minor one to some extent, although no oil spill is minor, and the other a fairly major one. The drastic thing about it is the spill occurred because nobody was minding the shop and oil was leaking for quite some time before anybody noticed it. That is unforgiveable.
I listened to the parliamentary secretary try to give his voice around the names of some of the birds. It is quite evident that he did not do a lot of gunning on the cliffs of Baccalieu. We appreciate that because each part of the country has its distinct wildlife. Some of the birds that live on and off the Atlantic cost are entirely different from what we would find in other areas. However, year after year we see several thousand, in some cases hundreds of thousands, of migratory birds destroyed because of carelessness and by uncaring individuals.
Every now and then an accident happens. Undoubtedly, the recent oil spills from the oil rigs were accidents, but maybe unpreventable ones. That is not the case with the oil that is dumped by ships quite often. They do that intentionally to get rid of the old oil. They go out where they think nobody can see them and dump the oil.
Oil leaves a smooth sheen on the waters. Birds flock to smooth water. We often hear about putting oil on troubled waters. That is exactly what happens. The oil has a smoothing effect. Birds flock there, oil gets on their feathers, the feathers become matted, the birds cannot then keep the heat in their bodies and they freeze. Usually they head for shore.
I can remember growing up in the area where I still live. Hunting in the winter was extremely important. It was not a sport. It could be very dangerous and we had many accidents. Some people lost their lives trying to hunt from slippery cliffs. In those days people hunted for subsistence, and sea birds added tremendously to the food supply. At certain times during the winter, one would find hundreds of birds flocking to the shore covered with oil. Some had a small amount on them which at that stage had not hurt them. Others were completely and utterly coated. These birds suffered terrible deaths because of carelessness. Hundreds and in some cases hundreds of thousands were found. However, how many really were destroyed is something about which we do not know. With our huge coastlines, many would be eaten by predators at sea or even sink?
It is all well and good that the fines we will impose on these ships will be put into a fund that will help deal with the situation and with the environment generally. However, we are forgetting one thing. In order to levy a fine on any of the boats, we have to catch them. Then we have to prove they dumped the oil into the ocean. We have seen in recent years a number of occasions where boats have been discovered dumping oil. We have seen the skippers and owners of the boats being taken to courts. Many of them get away because it can not be proved that boat or its owner or the skipper is responsible for dumping that oil.
I suggest the members should look at one story of the Tecam Sea , which was tracked by satellite. Pictures showed oil flowing from the boat into the water. This was all the evidence we would ever want to have first-hand. Yet when the case came to court, it was dropped because of infighting between the Department of the Environment and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Coast Guard. Perhaps the Department of Justice was involved also.
We have to get our act together. We need one department that will be responsible for the prosecution of these boats. We have to stop the infighting, the political games and favouritism of whom owns the ships. Unless we do that, it will not matter how much of a fine we impose or where the fine goes. There will be no charges against owners or skippers of the boats, and they will not be held responsible in the eyes of the court because we will be unable to prove those charges.
One concern we have is what is happening to our coast guard. We know full well over the years that funding to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Coast Guard has been cut tremendously. This has had a very negative effect on guarding our coasts, which protects us from this very thing and allows us to identify and prosecute.
One thing the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has done over the last few years is arrange overflights from the St. John's area by provincial airlines. They have done a tremendous job, with the best technology in the world, of not only watching foreign trawlers as they fish off our coast to see if they abuse the rules, but also identifying any laws that might be broken in relation to dumping at sea. Now we have seen again tremendous cutbacks and now the Department of Transport is responsible for the overflights originating from Moncton. There is a minuscule amount of flights compared to what there was earlier. Therefore, again that ability to spot oil on the water, which can easily be done by overflights, has now been lessened.
The bottom line is we support the amendment because it is a good one. The bill itself is a good one provided that the fines are heavy enough. However, unless we have the ability to go out there to identify and prosecute and unless we have the intestinal fortitude to stand up for what is right, then all is in vain.
Perhaps we will take the issue seriously and start to deal with this in the manner it should. We are doing a grave injustice to our wildlife, our coasts and to the people of our country by being so negligent in prosecuting those who do not care about these things.