Debates of March 24th, 2004
House of Commons Hansard #28 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.
- National Kidney Month
- National Volunteer Week
- The Budget
- St. Lawrence Seaway
- Surrey Central City
- The Budget
- Nicole Demers
- Pay Equity
- Rail Tourism
- The Budget
- Status of Women
- The Budget
- Women Entrepreneurs
- The Budget
- Sponsorship Program
- Sponsorship Program
- Human Rights
- The Budget
- Correctional Service of Canada
- Employment Insurance
- Veterans Affairs
- Regional Economic Development
- Human Resources and Skills Development
- Points of Order
- Canadian Human Rights Commission
- Government Response to Petitions
- Committees of the House
- Canada Pension Plan
- National Ovarian Cancer Month Act
- Holidays Act
- Workers Mourning Day Act
- Official Languages Act
- Committees of the House
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Question No. 22
- Question No. 62
- Questions Passed as Order for Return
- Question No. 20
- Motions for Papers
- The Budget
- Criminal Code
Private Members' Business
Sue Barnes Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, impaired driving charges represent 11% of all Criminal Code charges according to Statistics Canada. Overall the conviction rate for impaired driving charges is 71%. This is the highest conviction rate among all Criminal Code offences. Nevertheless the impaired driving conviction rate has fallen by about 10% over the past 10 to 15 years.
Anecdotally, prosecutors indicate that impaired driving trials take up 30% to 40% of the trial time in provincial judges' courts. Again anecdotally, some observers believe that fewer accused impaired drivers are pleading guilty to their charges because the consequences of a conviction have increased over time.
One example of the increased consequence for convicted impaired drivers is the 1999 amendment by which Parliament increased the Criminal Code's prohibition from driving anywhere in Canada that applies to a convicted impaired driver.
The minimum driving prohibition on a first offence moved from three months to one year. On a second offence it moved from six months to two years. On a subsequent offence it moved from one year to three years. In addition, an offender will face increased costs for facility insurance. There will also be provincial consequences that can include a provincial driving licence suspension, assessment and treatment for alcohol or drug abuse, and installation of an ignition interlock device once a provincial driving licence is reinstated.
Bill C-452 aims to improve the processing of impaired driving trials. This is a very laudable goal and I commend the member for bringing this forward. However I cannot agree with the specifics of the proposed solution in Bill C-452.
The bill goes against the very base and premise of our criminal justice system. The bill would make three notable changes. First, it would require a court to give reasons if “on all the evidence” it “gives preference to the evidence given by the accused”. Second, it would require the accused to provide that the analysis equipment or procedure was faulty if the accused challenged the result of a breath or blood test. Third, Bill C-452 would extend the time period for taking a breath sample as it relates to the prosecution obtaining an evidentiary presumption so that the time period for the presumption would equal the time period that a peace officer has to demand a breath sample.
I will focus my remarks upon the suggestion that reasons must be given if the court gives preference to the evidence of the accused. In a criminal trial it is not the job of a court to pick which side's evidence it prefers overall. The test for a criminal trial is constitutionally entrenched. It is, did the prosecution prove beyond a reasonable doubt all the elements of the offence? This is called burden of proof and it remains with the prosecution at all times and an accused only needs to raise a reasonable doubt in order to be acquitted.
For cases involving a charge of driving with a blood alcohol concentration that is over the legal limit of 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, Bill C-452 would appear to obscure, if not totally revise, the criminal test. Even if the test for criminal cases were not constitutionally entrenched, it would defy logic for Parliament to create a lesser test for the crime of driving with a blood alcohol concentration that is over the legal limit while having a higher test for every other Criminal Code offence.
Society reserves the criminal law for its strongest disapproval of unwanted behaviour. The criminal sanction carries a high stigma and consequences. The prosecution is therefore required to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. This implies that there will be some individuals who have actually done the prohibited behaviour but who cannot be convicted because the evidence and proof of the offence simply do not meet the beyond a reasonable doubt standard.
A court may be left with a high degree of suspicion that the accused did the prohibited behaviour, but unless there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, there can be no conviction. It has been said that the rationale behind the criminal standard is that it is better that 99 people who committed the offence go free than the one innocent person be convicted.
Practically, if Parliament wanted to eliminate the application of the criminal standard of proof, it could eliminate the criminal offence of driving while over the legal limit and leave to the provinces, under highway traffic legislation, the ticketing and fining of persons who are over the legal limit.
My own view is that driving over the legal limit is very appropriately a criminal offence and should stay in the Criminal Code. It should, and it does, attract Criminal Code penalties.
The flip side of this is that the prosecution will have to meet the criminal test, which is proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, in order to secure the conviction.
In my view, we have come a long way in Canada from the days when impaired driving was seen as not a real crime. I am happy to see that many people have now altered their behaviour so that they plan to have a designated driver if they drink alcohol away from home. Some people stay over, or they take a cab home, or they limit their drinking, which is not a bad idea.
I would not want to see us going back to the days when some people would think that having one more drink for the road was somehow funny or clever.
I would hope that all members share my view that eliminating the legal limit criminal offence and relying on provinces to create a driving infraction with some lesser standard of proof would not be the way to go.
We need to keep the legal limit offence in the Criminal Code. We need to keep criminal law penalties for driving while over the legal limit. We also need to keep the proof beyond a reasonable doubt standard for all criminal trials.
Impaired driving is a problem that has no magic solution. Education is certainly part of it.
I firmly believe that to the extent that criminal legislation can be sensibly used as one of the measures to combat the problem of impaired driving, it should be used.
However, as I have previously indicated, Bill C-452 has serious flaws. It is not well-conceived as a measure against impaired driving. My view is that it should not be supported by members in this House.
Having said that, I acknowledge this is a serious area in Canada. More people should be very conscious of what happens, and what can happen criminally in a courtroom, when they drink and drive, and not only what happens to their personal safety and the impact on their employment and on their own families.
Private Members' Business
Richard Marceau Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC
Mr. Speaker, broken families, grieving families, injured people, people with both physical and emotional scars, these are the results of impaired driving in Canada and in Quebec.
Although society has made considerable progress in recent years in its battle against impaired driving, despite all the efforts by governments, despite all the advertising, all the public awareness campaigns, there are still too many people falling victim to drunk drivers.
I would like to make it clear that, at this stage in the legislative process, the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of the member for Lakeland's bill. I would like to congratulate him, moreover, for this initiative, which gives the House an opportunity to debate this issue.
We agree with the idea of extending to three hours the current two hour period within which a sample can be taken to determine whether an individual is impaired. We see this change as logical, and it would enable police forces, law enforcement agencies, to be better equipped against the scourge of impaired driving.
We do, however, have some reservations on one aspect of this bill. I hope to have the opportunity, if the Liberals become more kindly disposed, to explore this aspect further in committee.
Let us recall, for the sake of those across the way, and those listening to us, that we are at the second reading stage, or the point of adoption in principle of the bill. It seems to me that, if there is a desire to combat impaired driving, this principle needs the support of all colleagues in this House. If some Liberal colleagues have problems about the bill, any problems with certain specific details, any hesitations, any more technical reservations, these can be dealt with at the committee and third reading stages.
For instance, there is a clause in the bill stating that to reverse the presumption by which a sample taken corresponds to the true concentration of alcohol, there must be a preponderance of evidence. We frankly have some doubts as to the constitutionality of reversing this burden of proof. This is why we would want to hear in committee from legal experts, lawyers, constitutional experts, academics and so on. We would like to hear their point of view on this very specific aspect of the bill.
We must be extremely careful when we talk about rights and freedoms and charters. That is why the right thing to do would be to vote in favour of the bill at second reading and allow members to hear different opinions and different experts on this aspect of the bill.
There is a chance then, that if the debate goes to committee, we will make certain amendments to clarify and specify and perhaps change various parts of the bill by the member for Lakeland. The Bloc Quebecois is prepared to do this work. We are prepared to do this work, and we want to do it in committee.
That is why I ask and implore my colleagues opposite to vote in favour of the bill.
I want to take this opportunity to ask my colleagues opposite, the government and the Minister of Justice to accelerate this process to create legislation on driving under the influence of drugs.
As the House knows, the special committee on the non-medical use of drugs tabled two reports. The first dealt with the potential decriminalization of certain quantities of marijuana. This was the subject of extensive debate both inside and outside the House. The other aspect we must not forget is that this committee had asked the government to table legislation compatible with the first bill as soon as possible in order to fight more effectively against driving under the influence of drugs, as this is more difficult to detect, recognize and therefore combat.
If I can summarize in two points my entire speech, I would say that, first, the Bloc will support the bill by the member for Lakeland, and I ask my Liberal colleagues to do likewise. Second, the government must accelerate the adoption of legislation to fight against driving under the influence of drugs.
On that note, I thank members for listening to my speech.
Private Members' Business
Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North Centre, MB
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to support the legislation introduced in this chamber, which has been initiated by the member for Lakeland. I want to congratulate him for his initiative and publicly acknowledge the importance of this legislative proposal before the House today.
As the Bloc member said, I think it is very important to send this bill to a committee of the House to be studied and discussed in depth.
It is very important that we recognize the initiatives taken in the House to deal with the very serious problem of drinking and driving in our society today and that we do everything we can as a Parliament to study, review and hear witnesses on legislation as we have before us today.
I know the Liberals in the House today have suggested there are some problems with the bill. It is my preference to ensure that we get this before committee to have a full discussion, hear witnesses and, if necessary, to amend the bill to ensure that it is in full compliance with the charter provisions.
There is nothing more important we can do as parliamentarians than address a very serious problem in our society today which has had such a major impact on the lives of Canadians everywhere. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to stand in the House and support the bill.
I know when the Mothers Against Drunk Driving were here in their last lobby on Hill, they challenged each and every one of us to take action. They were looking for MPs to do something concrete, not to give lip service. I regret I have not had the opportunity to present an initiative in the House, a bill or a motion, but I am very happy to support the initiative of the member for Lakeland, and any other suggestions before the House that deal with a very serious problem.
It has been said throughout this debate, and the evidence has been recapped many times over, that we are dealing with the number one criminal cause of death in Canada. It shocks me every time I see the statistics, and realize that an average of 4 Canadians are killed and 200 are injured everyday as a result of drunk driving. We know from each of our own communities the impact this kind of tragic situation has on the lives of families.
Recently in Winnipeg two young people, just beginning their lives with great expectations and hopes, were cut down in the prime of their lives, one in a traffic accident with a driver who was drunk and the other a pedestrian who was cut down by a drunk driver. The families of those individuals are devastated, and we lost two young people who had so much to offer the country. Everyday we hear stories like that repeated over and over again.
In the year 2000, 1,069 people were killed in alcohol related crashes, and 75,000 Canadians are impacted by impaired drivers every year. Impaired drivers getting behind the wheel of a car occurs 12.5 million times every year. However, only 70,000 are charged with impaired driving every year. The death rate from impaired driving is two to three times the national murder rate. Road crashes are the leading cause of death for persons aged 10 to 14. Thirty-six per cent of fatally injured drivers were drinking prior to the collision. The list goes on and the statistics go on. It is a serious problem, a grave problem and one that is entirely preventable.
Everything we can do as a Parliament to improve legislation, to work with organizations like MADD and to urge our provincial counterparts to take other action is important.
I am very proud that I come from a province where the government takes this matter very seriously. The minister of justice, the Hon. Gord Mackintosh, has undertaken numerous initiatives to deal with the serious problem of drinking and driving. As a result, Manitoba, by all accounts, is at the top of the list of provincial governments that are prepared to take on this issue with a vengeance.
I know other provinces are doing their part. We will continue to make progress, but for many affected by this horrible situation, progress is too slow. Change seems to be at a snail's pace.
The bill before us is one way we can speed up the agenda and address it with a vengeance. I appreciate the fact that we have before us legislation that would actually enhance police enforcement and eliminate spurious defences.
We have heard about the intention of the bill which is to respond to the Carter defence, whereby the accused testifies that he or she has had only a small amount to drink prior to the offence. The defence calls a toxicologist to confirm that the accused's blood alcohol content would definitely have been below the legal limit if such a small amount were consumed.
The court accepts the accused's evidence. The test results are completely disregarded, even if they were administered properly, consistent with the reading on the roadside screening device and are supported by the officer's evidence that the accused showed signs of intoxication.
That is the Carter defence and is one of the things the bill attempts to do to address the outcome of that kind of defence. I believe the bill would give courts the ability to use the sample results as proof of the accused's blood alcohol content at the time of the alleged offence,
I also know that if the accused disputes those results the bill would then place the evidential burden on the accused to establish factors that affect their reliability.
It is an important initiative. It has been identified by Mothers Against Drunk Driving as one of those areas that needs attention. The member for Lakeland has taken up that challenge and brought before us a bill to do just that.
We owe him a debt of gratitude for doing that and I hope that we in the House will support such a bill and get it to committee. If fine tuning were needed, we would do that and make it a law so that we would have a further tool in our arsenal to deal with a tragic and serious problem in our society today.
I understand that Senator Marjory LeBreton has also taken up the challenge in the Senate. She of course suffered personally from an incidence of drunk driving and has had the courage to go forward, using her time as a senator, to actually effect change where she can. She has introduced a Senate bill to enhance police powers in the apprehension, gathering of evidence, and charging of impaired drivers. That is also important.
The challenge for all of us is to do what we can, wherever we can, and certainly to support the initiative by the member for Lakeland. I encourage all members to do the same.
Private Members' Business
Vic Toews Provencher, MB
Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the member for Lakeland on this timely initiative.
Speaking as a former prosecutor and also as the director of constitutional law for the province of Manitoba, I have had quite a bit of involvement in terms of the difficulties involved with the prosecution of impaired driving offences. I have worked with the former justice minister in Manitoba, James McCrae, who implemented, as a politician, the first administrative licence suspension program in Canada. Manitoba, indeed, is a leader.
I had the honour to work with the attorney general at that time, as the director of constitutional law, in researching the existing problems with the law, developing a new system, and coming up with a system that has led Canada in terms of reducing the number of drunk drivers, and more importantly, deaths, injury and property damage caused by drunk driving.
One of the difficulties--and why the Government of Manitoba had to use its powers under property and civil rights--was because the federal government was unwilling to move in terms of making meaningful amendments that would stop impaired driving. It was very frustrating.
Speaking as a prosecutor, I recall that one of the most difficult charges to prove was impaired driving. When we look at impaired driving without any blood alcohol testing device, it is very difficult to prove. That is why I have expressed this concern about the decriminalization of marijuana. It will create additional difficulties if that encourages the more widespread use of marijuana.
However, when it comes to per se impairment, that is when someone blows into a breathalyzer machine and it reads over .08, one is presumed to be impaired. The theory was great. The technicalities though, that have developed, have been just astounding.
If we look at the legislation in the Criminal Code and the case law in annotated Criminal Code, perhaps Martin's Annual Criminal Code , there are many precedents cited, all dealing with technical defences on how to avoid convictions under the Criminal Code. It is very frustrating.
As a prosecutor, I would have much rather prosecuted a serious assault. Proving assault causing bodily harm or other serious assaults, indeed, somebody even suggests murder is easier to prove than .08 because of the technical nature of these defences.
Judges have been ingenious in developing ways of avoiding convicting individuals. Some of the ways that have been developed by judges, at the urging of defence counsel, are the two issues that this bill addresses: the Carter defence and the last drink defence.
The Carter defence is basically using expert evidence to rebut the evidence produced by the breathalyzer. The last drink defence is essentially the defence saying that an individual was at a party, quickly chugged three or four drinks and then got in the car and tried to make it home before getting over .08 alcohol absorbed in the blood. This is absolute foolishness and yet judges accept it as a matter of course.
Not only is it foolish, it is dangerous. We have seen these kinds of defences accepted by judges in this country. I do not blame defence counsel for raising these ridiculous arguments because judges apply these defences. If we had judges who would say, as they should, that this is nonsense and just put away these defences, then we would not be worried about the kind of amendments that my colleague from Lakeland, who has been such a strong fighter in this area, has put forward. We would not need these kinds of defences.
Specifically, we addressed these two defences in Manitoba's administrative suspension law. When I drafted that Manitoba legislation, we eliminated these two defences. We said that if the police were to catch people and they blow into that breathalyzer and it shows .08, the defences of when they had their last drink or the expert evidence that could be called to rebut that would simply not be available. The breathalyzer was conclusive evidence that their blood alcohol level at the time of the reading was in fact the level at the time they were stopped while driving.
What that does is put a little bit of fear into people who wonder if they should risk it. They could always chance getting a stupid judge. We should try to eliminate not the Carter defence and the last drink defence, but the defence we are talking about of how many judges buy this nonsense. That is the real defence.
In the Manitoba legislation we simply stated that we did not have any room for stupid defences like these. It was conclusively proven. As a result of that--and I make no apologies about the tough stand that the Conservative government in Manitoba took--we have seen a decrease in death, injuries and property damages.
I can look my constituents in the face and say we have saved lives and we have kept families together. That is what we need to do federally. We need to make it clear that this is a crime. There is nothing funny about drinking and driving, and killing people.
If only we could rely on the common sense of judges to do what is right. To do what is implicit in the legislation, we have to come up with these technical kinds of defences.
The effort by my colleague from Lakeland is an excellent effort. It needs to be done. But the moment we put this in the Criminal Code, I can already see the gears working in the minds of the criminal defence bar, saying “What other stupidity can we come up with that we can actually get a judge to buy?”. It has become quite a challenge. Lawyers would not go to all this trouble and go to all this length if judges did not buy these defences.
I am encouraged by this initiative. I support this initiative fully and I want every member in the House to take this amendment seriously. If we can pass this kind of amendment, it will decrease the ability to get away from one's responsibilities as a licensed driver on the road and increase accountability. It will decrease deaths, injuries and property damage.
Private Members' Business
John Maloney Erie—Lincoln, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am sure all members agreed that despite significant progress in the past two decades, impaired driving is still a complex criminal justice, health and traffic safety issue in the country. I want to believe that we all see impaired driving as a serious problem that requires the combined efforts of governments, police agencies, organizations, families and individuals.
Impaired drivers produce hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries and millions of dollars in economic damage each year. This is all the more tragic precisely because impaired driving is so avoidable. I am told that impaired drivers and their passengers make up about three-quarters of the deaths that are attributed to impaired driving. Of the impaired drivers who die in motor vehicle crashes on public roadways, some 70% die in single vehicle crashes.
A survey by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, which was conducted in 2003, indicated that some 3% of drivers do 86% of the impaired driving trips. Another 5% of drivers do the remaining 14% of impaired driving trips. That represents more than a million drivers who, combined, do millions of impaired driving trips every year. The overwhelming majority of the impaired driving trips in motor vehicles on public roadways are taken by persons who repeatedly do this behaviour. These are startling statistics.
What we are debating with Bill C-452 is not whether we are against drinking and driving. Nor are we debating whether it is a good idea to better process impaired driving incidents. In this House I take it as a given that we are all opposed to impaired driving and support improved processing of impaired driving incidents. That is most definitely my position. Rather what we are debating tonight is whether some very specific proposals should be placed within the criminal law.
While we all can agree on the problem, we do not always agree on the specific measures proposed to eliminate impaired driving. The Criminal Code makes it an offence to drive while impaired by alcohol or a drug. It is a separate and distinct offence to drive with a blood alcohol concentration that exceeds 80 milligrams per cent. It is the latter offence that often is a subject of a criminal trial because there is no need to prove signs of impairment, as the status of driving with the offending concentration is the offence.
The summary to Bill C-452 tells us that the bill would extend from two to three hours the time allowed for the taking of a breath or blood sample from an accused in the investigation of an alleged offence. This leaves the impression that the police currently have only two hours to obtain a breath or blood sample, which is not the case.
Currently, a peace officer may demand a breath sample or, in certain cases a blood sample, from a person the officer reasonably believes committed the offence in the previous three hours. Where the driver is unconscious, the police have four hours to obtain a blood sample under a warrant, if they reasonably believe that the driver was committing an impaired driving offence and was involved in a collision resulting in injury or death.
The Criminal Code creates a presumption that, absent of any evidence to the contrary, the blood alcohol concentration at the time of breath testing equals the concentration at the time of the alleged offence. The prosecution obtains the presumption if the first breath sample was taken within two hours of the alleged offence. Without the presumption, the prosecution would have to call an expert to relate the blood alcohol concentration at the time of testing back to what it would have been at the time of the alleged offence. Bill C-452 would change the prerequisite for the presumption in respect of a breath sample from two hours to three hours, which matches the time the police have to make the breath sample demand.
The Criminal Code also creates the presumption that, absent of any evidence to the contrary, the blood alcohol concentration at the time of blood testing equals the concentration at the time of the alleged offence. The prosecution obtains the presumption if the first breath sample was taken within two hours of the alleged offence. Quite surprisingly, Bill C-452 would not increase the prerequisite for the presumption in respect of the blood sample from two hours to three hours, as it proposes to do for a breath sample.
Alcohol has a stable rate of absorption and elimination. After one hour and certainly after two hours from the time of consumption, alcohol will have been absorbed, and at that point in time the blood alcohol concentration level will be on a downward slope because the body by then has absorbed the alcohol and is eliminating alcohol.
Before the first hour, the proposed presumption that the blood alcohol concentration is not less than the blood alcohol concentration at the time of the alleged offence might be scientifically inaccurate, if the alcohol is still being absorbed into the blood. This could also be said of the existing wording in the presumption that the concentration at the time of testing is equal to the concentration at the time of the alleged offence. Not a lot turns on the different wording proposed by Bill C-452 because the Criminal Code already makes it clear that any evidence to rebut the presumption must tend to show that the concentration was not simply different at the time of driving, but that it was lower than the legal limit. The important feature of the presumption aspect of Bill C-452 is the proposal to change the prerequisite for the presumption in respect of breath samples from two hours to three hours.
In practical terms, the vast majority of impaired driving investigations by police will see the police obtaining the breath or blood sample within the two hour period that is the prerequisite for obtaining the presumption. In a trial the blood alcohol concentration would be entered without the need for an expert to relate the concentration at the time of testing back to what it would have been at the time of driving. Extending to three hours the prerequisite for obtaining the presumption in order to match the period in which the police may demand a breath sample would mean that the prosecution would not have to call the expert in some cases where it now must call an expert. However, as already mentioned, Bill C-452 only addresses the breath sample presumption and not the blood sample presumption.
I compliment the hon. member for his concerns on the state of impaired driving in the country, and I share those concerns. MADD also shares those concerns. However, for the reasons stated, I feel that the bill has some very serious shortcomings, some very serious reservations and some very serious implications.
Private Members' Business
Carol Skelton Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK
Mr. Speaker, I want to talk a bit about what the whole issue does to families. I want to support my colleague from Lakeland for what he has brought forward. Over the years in Saskatchewan and working years ago with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, I have found out that we really must strengthen the laws. My colleague spoke about the province of Manitoba and what it has done to right the legislation that was wrongly written and to put forward laws that stop drunk driving.
We have to look at the death rate from drunk driving. Death by impaired driving is three times the national murder rate. Impaired driving kills three times as many people as those who are murdered every year. Approximately 75,000 Canadians are impacted by impaired drivers every year.
Impaired drivers get behind the wheel of a car 12.5 million times a year, but there are only 70,000 charges. Our justice department, our police officers, our RCMP officers across the country do not have enough staff to stop impaired driving the way they should. There is no way they can be out across the country stopping and charging impaired drivers.
We see people who have been charged with impaired driving released and allowed to travel again. As my hon. colleague from Provencher said, they go into court. I remember a person who went into court and said that because he served in the armed forces he could not blow in the breathalyzer, and he got off. To me, that is not safe and it is something we need to change.
My hon. colleague has brought forth valuable legislation that will help. We have to take and study this. It has to go to committee. It needs to be looked at very seriously because it is a huge problem and we have to ensure that it is looked after.
In the year 2000, 30% of the fatally injured drivers had been drinking prior to the collision. Note that this reflects driver deaths only, not injuries. Nor does it reflect those who may have been killed or injured as a result.
The House should seriously look at what my hon. colleague has brought forward, and I thank him on behalf of all Canadians country for what he has done.
Private Members' Business
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)
The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.
A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.
Svend Robinson Burnaby—Douglas, BC
Mr. Speaker, earlier this month I raised a question in the House, to the Minister of Natural Resources, concerning the biased panel that has been appointed by the federal Liberal government to review the possible lifting of the moratorium on oil and gas exploration off the west coast of British Columbia.
I pointed out that the panel includes Roland Priddle, who is the director of an oil and gas company that is involved in offshore exploration overseas, as well as Don Scott, a former mayor who actively lobbied to lift the moratorium. As well, I noted that the B.C. director general of Environment Canada warned some time ago that this panel would be seen as biased toward industry interests.
As a result, I asked the minister to fire these two members of the panel and to appoint a panel which would be clearly seen to be unbiased by the people of British Columbia. I am emphasized that perception is critically important. This is a review panel that is hearing from the public to make recommendations with respect to the possible lifting of this moratorium which has been in place since 1972 federally and since 1989 provincially.
The provincial moratorium in fact was imposed following the disaster of the Exxon Valdez , and today is the 15 anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster. I would point out that disaster, which occurred in Alaska's Prince William Sound, spilled 11 million gallons of Alaska crude oil into the ocean. Harbour seals, Pacific herring, three different species of cormorants, harlequin ducks, pigeon guillemots and a family pod of killer whales are still listed as not recovering.
A study that was published late last year in the Journal of Science found that the devastating effects of Alaska's waters and beaches from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill has lasted far longer and is far worse than first suspected.
Why has the provincial Liberal government of British Columbia, aided and abetted by the federal Liberal government now and a Minister of Natural Resources who seems absolutely determined to lift this moratorium, overlooked the devastating consequences of lifting this moratorium?
They overlooked as well the implications in terms of the rights of first nations people in that area. Indeed, today and tomorrow in the Supreme Court of Canada, the Haida Nation and the Taku Tlingit Nation are in court seeking an affirmation by the court that their fundamental rights must be respected. This process rides roughshod over the rights of the first nations in that area.
This is a magnificent area with great biodiversity. I would point out as well that oil and gas development contributes to climate change. Far from expanding the oil and gas industry, we should be investing in alternate energy sources and certainly not nuclear energy as the minister is pushing on a regular basis.
It is essential that the Liberal government recognize that the people of British Columbia wish to maintain this moratorium. They recognize that lifting the moratorium will not provide many jobs to the north coast. Instead we should be diversifying the economy there. It is a biased panel. We should maintain the moratorium.
I call on the government now to do the right thing and fire these two people who clearly are not perceived as being unbiased by the people of British Columbia.
Newfoundland & Labrador
R. John Efford Minister of Natural Resources
Mr. Speaker, in the hon. member's short remarks he mentioned two or three issues.
First, I would like to talk about lifting the moratorium. Absolutely no decision has been made to lift the moratorium on the west coast of Canada. I will talk about that further in a second.
Let me go back to the issue of offshore oil and gas. I am from the province of Newfoundland and Labrador where the offshore oil and gas industry has been very successful. Since the first well was drilled up until the present day, the fishing industry, the marine industry and the offshore oil and gas industry have all worked well together off the east coast of Canada. There have been absolutely no problems whatsoever.
In the Gulf of Mexico, 40,000 wells have been drilled and there have been no major problems.
Let me now talk about the offshore oil and gas industry on the west coast of this country.
Right now one process has taken place and two more are to be completed. The Royal Society of Canada has already completed its comprehensive review. This review was conducted by an intellectual group of scientists who have given their report. The second report that is supposed to be done is the Priddle report. Individuals are consulting with communities and people and will bring their report back to the government. The third report that will be done will be done in consultation with first nations.
When those three reports are completed they will be provided to the government. One has already come back to the government and the other two will come back when they are completed. As the Minister of Natural Resources I will take their recommendation to government and then we will make a decision based on all of the information collected as to whether the moratorium will be lifted.
I am appalled that the hon. member is suggesting that individuals be fired because they are collecting information. He should be providing input to the panels. He should be making presentations. I have been Minister of Natural Resources since December 12 and there has not been one occasion that the hon. member has come to me and asked to have a meeting to discuss the potential of offshore oil off the west coast of Canada, to discuss the panels or to discuss the procedure, and yet he goes out in public and makes statements telling us that we should be firing people. I will not. I have no intentions of firing these individuals.
Mr. Priddle, Mr. Scott, and Dr. Diana Valiela are all very competent individuals. They deserve respect for their ability to consult with the people of British Columbia. They have an obligation to bring back their recommendations to government. At the time they bring back their recommendations, it will be the government's responsibility to make a decision.
The hon. member should respect their integrity and their ability and give them the opportunity to have their consultations. If he chooses to go out and make a presentation, he has every right to do so, but he does not have the right to condemn these individuals and their ability to do due process.
March 24th, 2004 / 7:15 p.m.
Svend Robinson Burnaby—Douglas, BC
Mr. Speaker, the issue here is not competence or integrity. The issue here is perception by the people of British Columbia, most important, and the people who will be appearing before this tribunal.
When the tribunal was originally established, according to the terms of reference of the tribunal, it states:
The Public Review Panel is represented by unbiased, well-respected experts appointed by the Minister of Natural Resources Canada....
How can anybody seriously suggest that a director of Talisman Energy is unbiased on this? How can anybody seriously suggest that the former mayor who lobbied actively to lift this moratorium is unbiased? These people clearly have a bias, and this makes a complete mockery out of this process. It is a stacked tribunal. Obviously the Conservatives and Liberals together are doing whatever they can, together with their friends in the provincial Liberal government of British Columbia, to move to lift this moratorium.
How can the minister possibly say these people do not bring a bias when they clearly support lifting the moratorium?
R. John Efford Bonavista—Trinity—Conception, NL
Mr. Speaker, what does it take to get through to the hon. member that the individuals, very competent individuals, on the panel do not make the decision about lifting the moratorium?
The process to be followed is to consult with the people of British Columbia, with the communities, with the stakeholders, gather all the information and bring it back to the Minister of Natural Resources, who will in turn bring it to the Government of Canada to make a decision. The hon. member just does not understand the process that has to be followed.
He also does not speak for all of the people in British Columbia. I have been in British Columbia on several occasions. On no occasion during my visits to British Columbia has anybody complained about the panel or suggested that we should not be following due process.
Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON
Mr. Speaker, the practice of the government in providing less than complete responses to questions posed by the official opposition during question period prompts me to ask for greater clarification from the Minister of Public Works regarding the fraudulent misappropriation of $160 million in taxpayer funds from the Department of National Defence.
As the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, it is my honour to have Canadian Forces Base Petawawa in my riding. I pay tribute to the fine job the forces are doing on behalf of all Canadians. I say welcome back to all the Petawawa soldiers returning home from Afghanistan and Bosnia.
It was with shocked disbelief that my constituents, particularly the returning soldiers and their dependants, greeted the news that $160 million had been stolen from DND. The men and women who work at the Department of National Defence, as do all Canadians, see this as a theft.
The federal government can lose $160 million, but when it comes to its employees, it cries, “No money”. Wages at DND have been frozen for seven years, but $100 million would pay for a 3% wage increase for 150,000 employees. How credible is a government that tells public servants it has no money and it freezes their wages for seven years, and then turns around and with a straight face tells them the government has no money, yet it can lose $160 million?
Negotiations are taking place right now between Treasury Board and public servants. I hope the government treats its employees with honesty and the respect they deserve.
My question to the minister is the same question being asked by all Canadians, who are outraged by the financial incompetence and the mismanagement of the government. How can an individual at the level of director in a department get away with stealing $160 million?
The individual in question was a CS, a techie. He was not even a procurement officer. A CS is not even a classification with signing authority. He was specifically delegated with signing authority and he should not have had it.
Is it not a coincidence that his immediate superior, a director general, has put in for his retirement on April 1? Was it not the same director general who signed that contract for the defective grenades with no default clause?
The minister said, “if something was done of a criminal nature”. The individual in question has been fired. Obviously the minister considers him guilty or he would not have been fired. The Prime Minister also fired Alfonso Gagliano as ambassador to Denmark, but he would not have fired him if he was not guilty in the $250 million sponsorship scandal. People are fired if they are guilty.
What the people of Canada are afraid of is that a cover-up in the Department of National Defence will happen in the so-called name of national security.
What Canadians are afraid of is that not one dollar will be recovered, not one person will go to jail for stealing millions of dollars from Canadians. Every dollar stolen is one dollar less that goes to health care, highways, seniors, children, the environment, job creation, and the list goes on.
Canadians do not believe that the individual acted alone. He had help, inside help. I am told that the individual who was fired from DND rented a private plane for thousands of dollars an hour, boarded it with bags of cash, and flew to a Caribbean island. The money is lost.
Walt Lastewka Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to address the question of member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke on this very important matter.
As part of a routine audit of contract records completed in April 2003, Public Works and Government Services identified irregularities in the management of the Department of National Defence's IT hardware maintenance services contract with Hewlett-Packard.
To resolve these problems and to help prevent similar problems, actions were taken. HP is to make significant changes to its Canadian management personnel and organization, and to change its management of government contracts to ensure that these issues are fully addressed. HP had also agreed to have the government review the effectiveness of changes made to its financial systems.
Public Works and Government Services and DND are to strengthen financial controls, contract management and oversight, to intensify monitoring, to review the management of relevant contracts, and to strengthen Public Works and Government Services management of cost audit programs and support. In addition, at the same time Public Works started a competitive procurement process to establish a replacement contract to be awarded in April 2004.
The Crown is continuing to investigate the amount of money that has been wrongfully paid out under contracts entered by Public Works on behalf of DND. These irregularities are taken very seriously and, as such, the following actions were taken.
The government is withholding payments pending the final outcome of audits and investigations.
The matter has been referred to the RCMP and outside counsel has been retained.
The government has issued a demand letter to the contractor to recover funds.
Officials at Public Works and DND are working with the prime contractor to ensure that any relevant contract administration issues are addressed.
The investigation is ongoing to determine whether the goods and services were received in respect of all funds paid out.
I believe that Public Works and DND, working together, have done the right thing.
Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON
Mr. Speaker, who else helped make that $160 million disappear? What prominent Ottawa law firm with extensive Liberal Party connections helped distribute this cash with no questions asked, a law firm with the type of party connections to get members of the firm appointed to the bench? Where did the money go?
No one believes Mr. Gagliano when he claims ignorance. We see the same pattern emerging with this theft at DND. No one will be identified to take responsibility and the investigation will be covered up under the guise of national security, just like last time.
Canadians believe they should have the answers and they deserve to. They deserve the answers now. They deserve those answers before the election is called.
Walt Lastewka St. Catharines, ON
Mr. Speaker, I think it is outrageous that this member should make remarks she has in the House. If she has documentation on lawyers and law firms, let her bring it forward. Let her table it. It is easy to make remarks in the House, but let her bring the data to the table. When it comes to the misappropriation of taxpayers' funds the government has taken matters very seriously and it took action as soon as possible.
Let me reiterate the actions taken. The government withheld $49 million in payments to Hewlett-Packard. The government issued a demand letter to recover funds. The file has been referred to the RCMP. DND has developed a rigorous management plan to strengthen the internal financial and management controls. Outside legal counsel has been engaged to maximize the recovery of funds.
I am very disappointed that she would make accusations like that about DND and Public Works and about other items without tabling those items in the House.