Debates of March 12th, 2004
House of Commons Hansard #25 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was products.
- Criminal Code
- Epilepsy Awareness Month
- Angel Hair For Kids
- Kidney Month
- Women Parliamentarians
- Canadian Wheat Board
- Employment Insurance
- Women of Ciudad Juarez
- Public Service
- Federal Election
- Softwood Lumber
- Violence Against Women
- Social Housing
- International Women's Week
- South Vancouver Neighbourhood House
- Turks and Caicos Islands
- Sponsorship Program
- Canada Pension Plan Investment Board
- Sponsorship Program
- National Defence
- Public Works and Government Services
- Child Benefits
- Post-Secondary Education
- Sponsorship Program
- Airline Industry
- Foreign Affairs
- Natural Resources
- Sponsorship Program
- Canadian National Railway
- Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
- National Defence
- Parliament of Canada Act
- Committees of the House
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Parliament of Canada Act
- Criminal Code
- Committees of the House
- Criminal Code
- Dairy Terms Act
The Deputy Speaker
I do not like to interrupt the member, but there is a matter that the House might or might not choose to deal with. Let me give the opportunity to the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.
Committees of the House
March 12th, 2004 / 12:45 p.m.
Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would ask the indulgence of the hon. member and I offer my apologies for interrupting him on debate.
I would ask for unanimous consent of the House to be permitted to table the second report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts respecting the protection of witnesses who appear before the committee in relation to its study of chapter 3, “The Sponsorship Program”, chapter 4, “Advertising Activities”, and chapter 5, “Management of Public Opinion Research”, of the November 2003 report of the Auditor General of Canada.
Committees of the House
The Deputy Speaker
Is that agreed?
Committees of the House
Some hon. members
The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-12, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act, be read the third time and passed, of the amendment, and of the amendment to the amendment.
Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK
Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, the Supreme Court of Canada in the Sharpe decision considered the defence of public good. It found that “public good” has been interpreted as necessary or advantageous to the pursuit of science, literature, art or other objects of interest. We know that can get fairly broad and in fact a little strange at points.
I refer to something which I think shocked the entire Canadian public when a Canada Council award was given to an individual named Istvan Kantor in recent days, an individual who has actually been fined for vandalism with his so-called art and so on. There was money out the door on that. He was recently awarded by the Governor General. The public was probably more of the view that the guy should be fined yet further for some of his atrocious acts of vandalism and so on, considering his criminal record. Instead, he was encouraged for that by getting the award.
Obviously we have some upside down values at points in society and we regard things that are not particularly good. There is a stream of thought out there that says these are great things and they are good for the pursuit of science, literature, art and objects of general interest. That is part of the problem.
It was said that it might be argued that the public good is served by possession of materials that promote expressive or psychological well-being or enhance one's sexual identity in ways that do not involve harm to others. Obviously in the case of Robin Sharpe it is at the point that these are not just imaginations or machinations in the brain, but they kind of work out in his life.
Within the last day Robin Sharpe has again been convicted. He carried out a sexual act on a young person many years ago and there was a conviction. It is obvious that it is not just an issue for this man in particular, that it only has to do with him, but in fact it does perpetrate harm upon other people.
The Conservative Party wants to make very plain that we do not think there should be any defences that justify the criminal possession of child pornography. Of course, the criminal possession of child pornography does not apply to those in the justice system or, for purposes of prosecution, researchers studying the effects of exposure to child pornography.
Believe me, it is pretty horrifying to speak to police officers. A number of them are having to research this stuff and bring it forward for prosecution. It messes up their minds in a very big way having to go over that material and having to present all of it, and not just a sampling of it. I gather at the end of the day the police officers who have to see this horrific stuff are almost traumatized from the violence and brutality that is inflicted upon children in these images that are used in prosecutions.
We do not bring charges against the good folk of the police forces across the country. In fact, they would prefer not to have to go through so much of that stuff in prosecuting the cases against those individuals. It is a horrific thing for the police officers to be put through, the good police, the men in blue who defend the interests and common good in this great domain of Canada.
On the issue of the age of consent, 80% of Canadians that have been polled have said that they want the age of consent raised to at least 16 years. Only two years ago provincial ministers unanimously passed a resolution calling on the federal government to raise the age of consent to at least 16. The will is there, one would think, at least on the part of the provinces. We question whether the will is there and obviously it is not on the part of the federal government. It just does not seem to understand the urgency of it. Even the pressure of the provinces bringing this forward and unanimously asking for it still has not moved the government.
In most western democracies 16 or 17 years old is the minimum age of consent. We think it is not asking too much at all in this modern world. Because of technology and so on, it is going to be passed around, distributed and disseminated so very readily. We think that in the promotion of good for the public and for the protection of youth, the age of consent should be raised.
We heard from another member in answer to my question to him that certainly the police officials across the country, the chiefs of police and the police officers on the beat want the age of sexual consent raised because it would make their jobs easier. It would put them in a position where they could get convictions much more readily instead of all the ropes and hurdles they have to go through in terms of prosecuting some of this very vile, offensive stuff.
Even the former justice minister Anne McLellan stated that raising the age of consent was something the government--
The Deputy Speaker
The member is very much aware of the practice of the House in terms of the identity of one another and how that process works. I would simply ask the member to keep that in mind.
Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK
My regrets, Mr. Speaker. I will just make reference to the former justice minister from Edmonton, Alberta, and I think people would have in mind of whom I am speaking.
She stated that raising the age of consent was something that the government should be moving forward on. She said back in October 2001 with regard to changing the age of consent from 14 to 16:
Those consultations will be concluded and reported on by December 31, 2001 and I think we will see that a consensus is emerging that with certain safeguards we should probably be moving on the age of consent from 14 to 16.
That was the case. The provinces unanimously want that to proceed. Then she went on, and this is the kind of way that she evaded, dodged and escaped from it. She said, in a very interesting way to kind of step around it:
But as with some of these things, they look simple on the surface, but they're not quite so simple. It requires a fair number of changes to the code; we're going to have to review all those sections where age is found. But it's certainly an issue very much on our agenda.
Well let us get it on the agenda. Let us put it forward. Let us do it instead of sidestepping in the manner she did. Where there is a will, there is a way. Yes, there are some complications but if there is really a heart and a spirit and a desire to move forward on this very vital thing, then we can do it. We can move it ahead. Where there is a will, there is a way to get it done, and very quickly.
One of the major objections we have to Bill C-12 is that it does not raise the age of consent for sexual contact between children and adults, those kinds of exploitive relationships. In fact there is a category that is aimed at protecting people between the ages of 14 and 18. In determining whether a person is in a relationship with a young person that is exploitive of that young person, a judge must consider the age difference between the accused and the young person, the evolution of the relationship, as well as the degree of control or influence by the accused over the young person.
Really it is something that allows just too much to slip through on this. It fails to create the kind of certainty of protection that children require. It fails to give that assurance and that kind of tool, if you will, to the good police across our country who need something. They need some more teeth in the law so that they can move forward in rapid fashion with these prosecutions instead of dragging on and on, with people slipping through with these kinds of defences that are allowed.
As it stands, this bill would not serve as a real deterrent and would simply result in longer trials and more litigation dragged out over time.
Prior to this bill, it was already against the law for a person in a position of trust or authority, with whom a young person between ages 14 and 18 was in a relationship of dependency, to be sexually involved with that young person. That already was in effect so there is nothing new in that respect in this law. It is unclear how adding people who are in a relationship with a young person which is exploitive of the young person does anything to add legal protection for young people. We are not convinced that there is any improvement by way of what is suggested in that little term exploitive relationship in Bill C-12.
In the Sharpe case there were two exemptions carved out for child pornography: materials such as diaries or drawings created privately and kept by that person for personal use; and visual recordings of a person, by that person, engaged in lawful sexual activity, kept by the person for personal use.
That latter exemption has the potential to expose children 14 to 18 years of age to further exploitation by child pornographers since they would be engaging in legal activity, but the government's failure to prohibit all adult-child sex continues to be an unacceptable risk. Only by raising that age of consent will young people be truly protected under the Criminal Code.
We are not advocating for the criminalizing of teenagers, as with other jurisdictions with a more reasonable age of consent, but in those jurisdictions, such as the U.K., Australia and most states in the United States, a close in age exemption would apply to ensure that those individuals, those teenagers, are not criminalized.
Bill C-12 would also increase maximum sentences for child related offences. They include sexual offences, failing to provide the necessities of life and abandoning a child. That is good so far as the statement exists, but it does no good if the courts do not impose the sentences.
We know by experience that when maximum sentences are raised, there is no corresponding pattern in the actual sentencing practices. This has been demonstrated across the land. The maximum penalty can be raised but if there is no minimum sentence, then it really does not do anything in the way of successful prosecutions and there is no change in the actual sentencing patterns. What is needed are mandatory sentences, truth in sentencing, eliminating statutory release, and that there be no conditional sentences for child predators.
As has been said by others here today, we are all experiencing the effects of modern technology. We are all part of the wave of technology and its advances, but that is also part of what is creating the difficulty here. The problem is it surpassed the legislative provisions. There is some archaism that governs the use of evidence in these cases. We really need to have that addressed. The bill fails to address those shortcomings. Amendments are required to deal with child pornography cases effectively and efficiently such that we make some serious impact to drive it back or push it off to the very edges of society or to eliminate it altogether, if possible.
The bill creates a new offence of voyeurism and the distribution of voyeuristic material. That is a positive step, and we will give credit where it is due. It makes it an offence to observe or make a visual recording of a person who shall have a reasonable expectation of privacy if the person is in a place in which the person can be expected to be nude or engaged in sexual activity.
There was a recent case in the city of Saskatoon at the exhibition grounds. I think that disciplinary action is being brought against the person, who is a law enforcement official himself. His excuse is that he was on certain medications and so on. He was using a camera in a voyeuristic manner in the washrooms at the exhibition in Saskatoon. We need laws in place because of the advancement of technology. Certainly that is to be commended and is a good thing.
The Conservative Party of Canada believes that the bill falls far short in terms of protecting Canada's children. Members of Parliament across the country have discovered this plain and clear especially as they have talked to those who work with youth, child advocacy groups. Conversations with the police make it very apparent that this is a flawed bill. It is inadequate and will not do the job, which is a very unfortunate, regrettable thing for the children of our country.
The bill will not give children the greater legal protection that they need and which we owe to them as citizens of this country. Children are the future of our country and should not be allowed to be at risk. We need to get the laws in place and we need to get it right . This bill simply will not do the job.
With those regretful comments at the end, I conclude my remarks. Bill C-12 is in serious need of amendment. The Conservative Party of Canada hopes that maybe at some point we could have that done.
Jim Gouk Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC
Mr. Speaker, in listening to my hon. colleague I could not help but note the irony that the government will not do anything about raising the age of consent for such an important life decision as that for a 14 year old, while at the same time it recognizes some inherent problems for young people. It tells them they cannot smoke a cigarette until they are 16, but it is okay to have sex when they are 14. They can drive a car when they are 16. They have to wait until then and even then, in some provinces there is a graduated system so that we still have some controls when they start to drive at age 16.
The government in its enlightenment says that someone is not capable, not mature enough to select the person who is going represent them in government. Given that the people who are old enough and supposedly mature enough have elected a Liberal government, maybe it suggests we should be opening it up to younger people to make those kinds of decisions.
The government is saying that people have to be 18 years old before they can make an informed decision on who is going to represent them in government. When we pass laws in this country, we make decisions that probably have far more impact on the young people coming up into adulthood than they do on us who make those decisions.
I wonder if the hon. member could comment on the fact that the government recognizes or at least claims that a child is not mature enough to vote for the person who is going to enact the laws that affect him or her until he or she is 18, yet that child can make such life changing decisions dealing with sexuality at age 14.
Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK
Mr. Speaker, it is a strange irony that we allow individuals to have adult privileges at a much younger age in respect to the things that my colleague referenced. We definitely have a problem. Individuals across Canada have used this as an excuse to abuse young people, and to take advantage of them and exploit them sexually. They use the excuse that they thought the individual was 14 years old.
I recall a case in Tisdale, in my home province, involving a young aboriginal girl who was not 14. She was in fact a couple of years younger than that. The individuals who took advantage of her sexually said they thought she was 14 years of age. If we were to raise the age of consent to 16 years of age, there would be no possible excuse for somebody looking at a gal of 12 years old or thereabouts. That excuse would not hold water.
The age of consent needs to go up to help our police across the country, and to stop people from using this as an excuse and a defence. This would also stop the defence from having any clout in our courts. We need to remove that possibility entirely.
Peter Goldring Edmonton Centre-East, AB
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his fine speech and his good efforts over the years for ethical and social causes. I want to carry on with the same train of questioning of my other hon. colleague.
Many times over the past few years, we on this side of the House have asked the Liberals to increase the age of consent from 14 to 16 years of age. During question period at one point in time, one of the members opposite explained it could not be increased to 16 for cultural reasons.
There is another inconsistency with regard to the way the Liberals have been approaching the question and it has to do with the long proclaimed United Nations rights of the child. The government agreed to article 1 in the United Nations rights of the child which defines a child as being a person under the age of 18.
With all of these inconsistencies and international standards, perhaps my colleague could explain to me, what is the definition of a child? Why does he think the Liberals are hesitating on raising the age from 14 to 16, which would apparently be appropriate and consistent with most other world bodies as well? Could my colleague please enlighten us?
Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK
Mr. Speaker, I also find it a tremendous irony when international bodies like the United Kingdom, and most states in the U.S. as well as other modern democracies, have a higher age of 16 and in some cases 17.
It is a cruel irony that we do not raise that age of consent. It is hypocritical. We need to do better. I am not sure why Canada needs to lead the parade downhill by keeping that age lower when we see other nations leading the charge against this violent, offensive, and hateful stuff that hurts the most vulnerable among us.
I thank the member for Edmonton Centre-East for a good question which draws attention to the hypocrisy of the Liberal government. We should be doing something. Sadly and tragically, the Liberal government simply has no will to do it.
Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to debate this issue. Many others have spoken on some of the specific issues. I will do a little bit of that too, but I would like to talk about this issue in a general fashion first.
I would like to raise the question, why, after 10 years that I have been here, are we still just talking about this issue? I was first elected in 1993 and very soon after I came down here we raised many of the issues we are still talking about today. We have asked questions of the government, in committee and in the House of Commons, as to why it is not acting more quickly on something as urgent and so critical as protecting our children from sexual predators. What question could be more fundamental for government to deal with than that?
It has been 10 years that I have been here. I have been asking questions and my colleagues have been asking questions. We stated our position on protecting children from sexual predators and nothing has happened. The legislation that we are debating today, Bill C-12, in practical terms when applied, will not change things. My question to the government is, why has it taken 10 years and why after 10 years has nothing been done on such a critical issue?
I do not expect that I will get an answer to my question today, but Canadians certainly deserve an answer to this question. It is a question that Canadians are still asking. Next to some of the hot button issues, it is one of the issues most often brought to my attention, especially the issue of raising the age of sexual consent. However, there are other aspects as well that deal with protecting our children from sexual predators.
If this issue is so important to my constituents, I would have a hard time not believing that it is also important to the constituents of all members opposite. In fact, they are hearing the same things that I am hearing because in various ways I have heard them say so. They are concerned about the age of consent. They are concerned about some of these other things like artistic merit that my colleagues and everyone in the House has been debating.
Therefore, if that concern is so widespread, including on the government side, why has appropriate action not been taken after 10 years? We will hear the government use the excuse that was used by the public works minister yesterday in question period when he said that it was not his government. He said that his government only started on December 12.
Really, that is what he said in response to a question. We were talking about how the government's reputation has been tarnished due to all the scandals, like the ad scam, the sponsorship program, and the military issue that my colleague from Prince George has brought up recently regarding how $160 million was somehow misspent. It is probably the worst type of corruption, yet the government did not pick up on it for years. These things come up, and we have been bringing them up on a regular basis.
What did the public works minister say yesterday? He said that his government has only been in place since December 12, trying to distance himself and the responsibility of the Prime Minister, the cabinet and all the members of Parliament on the government side. The Liberal members are trying to distance themselves from their responsibility; however, they were a part of the government over the past 10 years. I would be trying to distance myself from that too, quite frankly, if I were there.
However, corruption is one thing and we are not talking about corruption in this debate today. We are not talking about the sponsorship scandal or any of the other areas of corruption.
We are talking about something every bit as important though, and that is the protection of our children from sexual predators. If so many of these members of Parliament feel, as I know they do, that this is something they want to do, that they want their government to do, why have they been so ineffective in doing it? After all, they are part of the government, or at least they are supposed to influence the government in caucus and in other ways.
I do not think it is because they are not good people. I know that most members of Parliament, no matter which party they are from, do the best job they can to represent their constituents. They do that; we all do that. We work very hard at that. I believe Liberal members of Parliament are no different. I have talked with them enough to know that they want to represent their constituents.
Why then, on critical issues such as this, can they not do that? Why are they not allowed to do so? Why have they been so unsuccessful in dealing with this most urgent of issues, such as protecting our children?
The answer comes down to a lack of democratic process in the House of Commons, in the government, and in our political system. That is something that I have talked about an awful lot in the last 16 years since the Reform Party of Canada was founded.
One of the main issues that the Reform Party was founded on back in 1987 was the issue of democratic reform. It would put in place various democratic reforms so that each and every member of Parliament from every political party would have a real impact in this place. Members would be able to actually represent their constituents in this place.
Why after 16 years and why after more than 10 years of the government being in power has so little been done on that issue? It is because of Bill C-12, that we are dealing with today, and what happens with every other piece of legislation we deal with in the House that will depend on whether we have a democratic system or not?
Have we had a democratic system in place, one that was really working? The government has had 10 years to do that and it has actually made things worse rather than better. I honestly believe that things are less democratic in the House now than they were 10 years ago when I came here.
Had democratic changes been made, I believe the Liberal members of Parliament, who understand the importance of this issue, along with my colleagues and colleagues from other political parties, would have forced the government to pass legislation which would deal with these issues that we are talking about in Bill C-12.
It comes down to having a process in place that allows people from right across this country to appear to be represented and to in fact be represented by their member of Parliament. After all, their member of Parliament should answer to them and not to this cabinet and not to the Prime Minister. That is not the way our system should work.
Unfortunately, it is the way that it does work. That is a sad commentary on 10 years of Liberal government. We can go back farther than that. I am only looking at the 10 years that I have been here because I am very much familiar with those 10 years.
I know the fight that my colleagues and I, and some in other political parties too, including the governing party, have put up to bring democratic change. It would ensure that issues like the protection of children would be dealt with in the way that the general public wants it to be dealt with.
Every one of us is elected by the people in our constituency to work on their behalf, to represent their views. We learn about issues from polling and surveys, and many of us do that in our householders. We will take an issue such as the protection of children or the age of consent, and I have done that myself and many of my colleagues have done that. We have given information looking at both sides of the issue.
Sometimes we will invite someone who takes a contrary position to our own position to put information in our householders to our constituents. We will put our position in because part of being a representative is to be a local leader. Part of leadership is to try to persuade people to our point of view. We put our persuasive position in there. Then we allow our constituents to decide. We allow our constituents to make it clear, by actually voting, how they feel on these important issues.
Any survey that has been done backs up widespread public support to raise the sexual age of consent for children from 14. They should not be making decisions on whether to have sex with an adult. That is not something they should not have to think of at that age. Let them be children for awhile.
Every one of the official polls done on the issue shows an 80% support rate or higher for raising the age of sexual consent to at least 16.
It comes down to unfortunately the fact that we have, as the Prime Minister calls it, this democratic deficit. What has he done to fix it? Nothing. What has he done to deal with this issue when he must know about it, because I am sure many of his members of Parliament have made the point to him that they want these issues dealt with by the government. What has he done? He has done nothing about it.
This legislation, should it pass, quite frankly will not help solve the problem. I will quickly go through some of the specific issues in the legislation that have not been dealt with by the government. I will talk about issues that are conspicuous by their absence.
The first is the issue of artistic merit, and some of my colleagues have talked about it. The controversy on artistic merit has been going on for some time. It certainly came from the John Robin Sharpe case from British Columbia. I think we are all very much aware of that. He is a notorious child pornographer.
In the Supreme Court case, R. v Sharpe, it was determined that artistic merit should be interpreted as widely as possible. In the legislation the government has said that it will deal with it by taking away the artistic merit defence and put in place the public good defence. This was after a former justice minister, who was attempting to sell the bill to committee, admitted that the broader public good defence in fact would allow the artistic merit defence to be there. I want to read the quote from the former justice minister. He said:
Artistic merit still exists in the sense that a piece of art will have to essentially go through the new defence of public good and through the two stages. Of course, the first question is always this. Does it serve the public good?
He went on to say that artistic merit was a part of what was considered under whether it served the public good.
That issue has not been dealt with in the legislation in any kind of effective way. In practice, when it goes before the courts, it probably will not change a thing. It will probably be dealt with in exactly the same way and the artistic merit of what I call child pornography will still be a consideration and probably the results will be no different. The government has failed entirely in that regard.
The Conservative Party calls for the elimination of all defences that justify the criminal possession of child pornography. We are clear on that. Why is the government so unclear on that? What it is clear on is that it is not willing to take this issue and deal with it head on to ensure that our children are protected.
The second issue which has not been dealt with at all in the legislation is age of consent. I have already referred to that because it is an issue that so obviously should have been dealt with years ago. We all know that having 14 year olds decide whether they want to have sex with an adult is simply not acceptable, yet that is not in the legislation. In the general polling 80% of Canadians have said that they want it to be in there.
Canadians are clear on this and, as I said, many MPs have done their own surveys on this through their householders they send out to constituents. We have received results that in many cases are much higher than the 80%. Why has it not been dealt with?
Another former justice minister, although I cannot name her, said this on raising the age of consent. She indicated very clearly that it was something the government looked forward to doing. This was years ago. She said:
With regard to age of consent--from 14 to 16--we have our child as victim consultation paper. We discussed that at our federal-provincial justice ministers' meeting in September in Nova Scotia. Those consultations will be concluded and reported on by December 31 of this year, and I think we will see that a consensus is emerging that with certain safeguards we should probably be moving on the age of consent from 14 to 16.
This was in October 2001. What that former justice minister is saying is that she believes all provinces, and that is what we found too, want to go ahead with raising the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16. She acknowledged that was what Canadians wanted and it was certainly what the premiers wanted. Therefore, the federal government would not be improperly interfering in the areas of provincial jurisdiction, something that is so important to our Bloc colleagues as well as to us. We are very conscious of the federal government respecting provincial jurisdiction. That has been done. The provinces want to go with this and the federal government is ignoring that wish.
Again, Bill C-12 fails to raise the age of consent of sexual contact between children and adults. That is clear. The government claims that it has somehow effectively dealt with this issue of the age of consent. It has not. Though, as I have said before, probably a majority of its members of Parliament support that. Why do a majority of its members of Parliament support that, even in the governing party? Because their constituents have told them that.
The third issue, which I will refer to very briefly, is the issue of minimum sentences. In the bill the government raises the maximum sentence allowed under these various offences, but it puts in place no mandatory minimum sentence. Raising the maximum sentence probably will do nothing to help judges take these issues more seriously under the law. Putting in place mandatory minimum sentences for these offences on the other hand will mean judges will have no choice. Parliament will have dictated and minimum sentences will be put in place. It will give offenders at least the minimum sentence as required by law, but the government has refused to do that.
I want to close by saying that it is hard for me to understand why after 10 years this has not been changed and why the bill will not change it. It is a sad commentary. Let us move ahead. I can assure the House the next government will change that.
The Deputy Speaker
It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.
Dairy Terms Act
Private Members' Business
Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK
moved that Bill C-340, an act respecting the use of dairy terms, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased in this final hour of the day to address my private member's bill, a bill that promotes accuracy and honesty in the use of dairy labels and marketing of food products.
Bill C-340, entitled the dairy terms act, would ensure the correct use of dairy terms to protect consumers from being misled and to ensure fair practices in the food trade. The act would establish rules for using dairy terms on food labels and, with some exceptions, would prohibit dairy terms from being used when a food contains no dairy ingredients at all.
That is the concern because we have more sophisticated kinds of processing, substitutes for this, that and the other, vitamins and minerals are added in and a whole plethora of possibilities, and the consuming public is being misled by some of the labelling. Sometimes we have products that have no dairy in them at all and yet they make the pretense of being good dairy products. We take objection to that. This is the very nature of the bill before us now.
I am glad the bill is votable because I know there is cross-party support for this initiative. I have had members from Liberal governing side approach me today, and in recent days, in respect of what they say is their support. We will see at the time of the vote. I assume that will materialize when they stand to vote for this. Then at least it will go to committee for some good discussion and adjusting and tweaking for the good of the consuming public and dairy farmers across the country.
I am optimistic that we have that sense of goodwill across party lines to have this at least move into committee and possibly through the House entirely, for which we would be appreciative.
The bill reflects an important trend today. It is a consumer oriented trend. We are talking about honesty and accuracy in the labelling of food products. We see concerns about accurate labelling of food everywhere today in the matter of genetically modified foods. We have had debate on that and on mandatory labelling of irradiated foods. Some people want labels to accurately distinguish organic foods from non-organic alternatives. Those are all legitimate debates that need to take place. However, this one is much more simple in that we want truth and accuracy in food labelling.
Just last month my colleague, the member for Scarborough Southwest, led off debate on the first hour of a food labelling bill that he introduced, Bill C-398. The bill would expand requirements for nutritional information on food labels.
The bill before us today really concerns the use of dairy terms in the labelling of food items. Specifically, it aims to ban the false or inaccurate labelling of non-diary products with terms traditionally associated with dairy foods. We are talking about the use, and the alleged misuse, of words such as milk, butter, cream and yogurt, when there are none of the constituent ingredients in the product, and people are misled by that.
The Dairy Farmers of Canada, the national association that represents Canada's dairy industry, has been seeking such provisions for several years now. They have tried to prosecute companies that they believe have crossed the line in this area, using what is called Canada's guide to food labelling and advertising. Maybe that is the problem. It is a guide and does not have any real force of law by way of real teeth. They have also tried to use provisions in law to challenge trademark applications. Rarely do they meet with success, and current guidelines seem to be unenforceable.
That is why we need a new law. There is an absence, a vacuum, so we need this law, the dairy terms act, which would be enforceable and would protect consumers and producers alike.
One case that the Dairy Farmers of Canada challenged at the trademark application level was a brand of popcorn called “Gout de Beurre”. Not only was the term butter in the name, but the imaging on the package was of a piece of popcorn slamming down into a slab of what appeared to be butter. The name and the image gave a rather different impression than the reality and the actual facts of the case. Another case involved a product called “Molly McButter”. They attempted to take those cases forward under the registration of trademarks, but they lost in these and other cases.
Interestingly, Canada has backed provisions, such as those found in the bill, on the international stage. The bill is actually intended to bring Canada's domestic policy in line with the commitments that we have made overseas. Canada participates in the process for developing and amending the Codex Alimentarius, the international food code produced by an international body set up through the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
The codex was amended in 1999 to strengthen provisions on dairy labelling, and far from opposing that international move, Canada endorsed the codex general standard for the use of dairy terms. Unfortunately, the Liberal government has not been willing to implement these pro-consumer measures in Canada. It is a question that we are engaged in today and we hope to have the support of the government in respect to this so it can follow through in terms of that particular international commitment and its agreement to these particular measures.
Dairy term regulations do exist at the provincial level, but in the year 2000 a government established working group did recommend deregulation at the provincial level. The working group was set up in September 1999 at the request of the federal/provincial/territorial agri-food inspection committee, which is responsible under the agreement on internal trade. It is supposed to deal with interprovincial technical barriers to trade. The purpose of the working group was to examine the regulatory options available to balance producer protection in the development of new products and the need to protect consumers with accurate labelling and the prevention of practices that could mislead consumers.
This position was based on the idea that sufficient federal controls exist through the Food and Drugs Act, other relevant legislation and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising to prevent fraud and consumer misunderstanding. The Dairy Farmers of Canada's experience trying to combat some questionable labels, however, suggests that stronger federal measures need to be implemented. That is why I have introduced this dairy terms bill. This recommendation to deregulate at the provincial level adds impetus to the need to pass the dairy terms bill as soon as possible.
With that background I now want to discuss some of the specific concerns related to the misuse of dairy terms in the labelling of non-dairy food products.
In many cases consumers looking for a dairy product know it contains good, nutritional dairy calcium and many other minerals and vitamins. However they could unintentionally buy a non-dairy alternative due to the misuse of dairy terms on the label.
On the other hand, there are consumers out there who are lactose intolerant or maybe they cannot have a big amount of dairy products. They might be looking for a non-dairy alternative and they may mistakenly overlook some substitute products when those products are labelled in such a way that suggest at first glance that they contain dairy ingredients.
The greatest concern, of course, is consumers who purchase a non-dairy product thinking that it has dairy ingredients. Young moms going into a shopping centre, assuming that they are buying a healthful dairy product, could be buying a product that has little or no dairy ingredient. Since quality and nutritional value are believed to be leading reasons for the popularity of dairy products, accurate labelling is essential. Misleading labels can have negative health implications for consumers.
Canada's dairy producers spend over $75 million each year on advertising dairy products and promoting the nutritional benefits of dairy foods.
It is kind of hard, Mr. Speaker, to be talking over the noise here. I wonder if my colleagues across the way could kind of shut it down temporarily. I know the member across the way on the Liberal side supports the bill so he will want to give me his rapt attention.
I do not think anybody in the House believes that it is right for the producers of non-dairy products to tale advantage of the marketing of dairy foods with labels that misrepresent the presence of dairy ingredients in their alternative products. Not only does this impact the health of consumers, but it illegitimately takes market share from the dairy industry, taking money out of the pockets of Canada's hard-working dairy producers. It is not right, not honest and not accurate, and there is a moral underlying theme.
When manufacturers of dairy alternatives use dairy images, such as cows or slabs of butter, in the labelling of dairy products, it is quite obvious to me that there was clear intent in likening their products to the original dairy items. Such actions reinforce the claim of dairy products that dairy terms are an important selling feature for foods because of the quality and nutrition that consumers associate with these food products.
It is the evidence of intentional misrepresentation in the use of dairy terms that demonstrates the need for this dairy terms bill. It would protect consumers and it would protect dairy producers from false labelling and marketing. Consumers are entitled to that. I am convinced of that. We need truth in sentencing and we need truth in labelling. Consumers should have the right of a properly informed choice in the matter of dairy products and non-dairy alternatives.
In 2000, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which does not have a vested interest, performed a consumer survey which demonstrated the importance that consumers place on product labels in terms of their expectation of what important ingredients are in the food item. Despite acknowledging these results and offering verbal support for concerns about the reliability of dairy terms in product labels, the government has failed to act, unfortunately.
This proposed dairy terms act, I need to make plain, would not ban all uses of dairy terms. Exceptions are recognized. The main category of exceptions is non-dairy foods that people are sufficiently familiar with due to their historic usage. Let us be clear that the bill would not require the renaming of apple butter. We all know what that is. It is not purporting to be a dairy product. Peanut butter, maple butter, cocoa butter, coconut milk or milk of magnesia are things that do not fool or mislead the public. That is not at all affected or changed by the bill or the effects of the bill.
When people walk into a pharmacy and grab a bottle of milk of magnesia, they are obviously not walking in there for the purpose of pouring it on their children's cereal the next day as they head off to school. There is not a need to make adjustments in respect of these terms where people are long familiar with them through their historic usage.
I hope the proposed dairy terms act, if passed, will be used in a very positive, useful way in the country. It is not intended to be a heavy-handed instrument indiscriminately and blindly used. The intent of the bill is to deter intentional deception in the use of dairy terms for non-dairy products.
The dairy terms bill also provides room for some flexibility with terms such as creamy that could refer to the dairy content of a product or it could be just a reference to the texture. That is well and fine. Also, with many of the names listed as acceptable due to their historical usage, we know that the use of butter in the name refers to the texture of the product and the way that it spreads like butter. These would not be things that are banned. We are not going after that. When it is describing texture, it would be very permissible.
The Dairy Farmers of Canada have noted how some producers seem to design their labels in a way that seems to highlight the dairy term, while making the reference to texture much more obscure. One is hard pressed to think up a reason, other than intentional misrepresentation, for why a label would be designed in such a fashion.
I can speak from personal experience on this. I drink a soy beverage. I enjoy dairy products such as cheese and milk, but I have to be careful not to consume too much of it. I know about this on a personal basis. People use soy products. We call it soy loaf if it is a cheese like product, but it is not cheese. Let us not deceive the public about that. If it is a drink, it is called a soy beverage. This does not have any effect on those as long as there is accuracy in the labelling that way.
As I see my time has run out I will cede the floor to others and perhaps respond to questions in order to shed a little more light on the subject.