Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-34, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.
Let me start by saying that the Bloc Quebecois will be supporting this bill in principle, especially since more than 300,000 seabirds are killed each year in the waters around the Atlantic provinces, in the St. Lawrence River and the St. Lawrence Seaway, because shipowners and sailors dump ballast waters there. Obviously, this creates very serious situations.
Earlier, the minister said we all remember the Exxon Valdez disaster. We in the Bloc Quebecois are also thinking about all those poison ships that run aground all over the world, and, too often, get off easy.
That is the situation. While the Bloc Quebecois supports the principle of the bill, it is clear that, in committee, we shall make sure that the owners, companies and officers in particular are held fully responsible for any damage caused.
It is all very well to say in the bill that fines will go as high as $1 million, and that the masters, chief engineers, owners and operators of vessels and directors and officers of corporations will be held responsible, but we want to make sure that it will be possible to follow up, especially with corporations.
We know that the Birchglen , a ship belonging to CSL, changed its flag overnight. It lowered the Canadian flag and raised that of Barbados, while in port at Quebec City. That is typical of this industry.
It is not enough to simply provide for fines in legislation; we must ensure that it is possible to follow up on these corporations and to take the necessary steps so that directors and owners are harshly sentenced and required to pay the fines imposed under this legislation.
A lot of work will be done in committee to ensure that the industry fully understands that we are determined to have the polluter pay. Never again will ships be allowed to dump bilge in the waters of Quebec—the St. Lawrence river, estuary or seaway—thereby causing pollution and leaving death in their wake. Again, some 300,000 seabirds are killed in our waters every year because of ship owners, crew and operators who do not respect the environment.
I repeat, the Bloc Quebecois will support the principle, but the true objective is to make the company owners, administrators and representatives pay directly.
I will indicate to hon. members the concepts with which the Bloc Quebecois agrees in this bill:
to protect migratory birds from the effects caused by deposits of harmful substances, such as oil, in the exclusive economic zone of Canada;
to state that that Act applies to vessels and their owners and operators;
What we are especially interested in is the following:
subject masters, chief engineers, owners and operators of vessels and directors and officers of corporations to a duty of care to ensure compliance with the Act and regulations;
We will insist on the fact that we want the corporation and all related entities—including of course CSL, Canada Steamship Lines, CSL International and all the subsidiaries of the Canada Steamship Lines consortium—to comply with the legislation. This is a model typical of that industry. Indeed, it is not just that they want to avoid paying taxes in the countries where they operate by registering their vessels in tax heavens to sail flags of convenience. They are also doing this to avoid having to comply with the environmental laws in the countries where they operate.
The Bloc Quebecois wants to ensure that all these companies, subsidiaries and consortiums will be accountable and that the managers who run these businesses will be convicted for any damage that they may cause.
Of course, it is said that the bill will:
—expand the enforcement powers to include orders to direct and detain vessels found to be in contravention of that Act or its regulations;
It goes without saying that we agree with the fact that, when this occurs, the vessel can be boarded and put in dry dock in a selected location.
It is also said that the bill will:
—expand the jurisdiction of Canadian courts to include the exclusive economic zone of Canada;
This is, of course, for reasons relating to international law.
We want to ensure that anyone causing damage within our territory will be prosecuted.
The bill increases the amount of certain fines. Members are certainly aware that we are in favour of fines that can be as high as $1 million, but we must ensure that the person who committed the violation can pay such fine.
I repeat, when we see that the Birchglen , this rusty ship sitting in dry dock in the Quebec City port, was able to switch its registration overnight from Canada to Barbados, it gives us a good indication of what the industry could do if environmental crimes were committed. It is amazing to see how quickly a change of flag, a change of allegiance or a change of owner can take place.
We want to make sure that these things are not tolerated and that the parent corporation can be prosecuted for any damage caused by its subsidiaries, even if they happen to be located in tax havens or in countries that do not have environmental regulations.
The bill proposes to permit courts to impose additional punishments in the form of orderscovering matters such as environmental audits, community service and thecreation of scholarships for students enrolled in environmental studies.
We are in total agreement with having corporations do community service in affected areas, on top of having to pay for damages. Of course, here again, if one wants to sentence corporations to community service, someone has to be made accountable.
It is always the same concern. We must make sure that the heads of corporations, their owners, and family-owned consortiums such as Canada Steamship Lines, are not able to escape the law just by changing the country of registration to Barbados, as the Birchglen , that rusty old ship moored in the port of Quebec City, did overnight. In that particular case, it was to avoid taxes. Nevertheless, it could be to avoid environmental responsibility.
We would never be a party to a bill that would allow corporations to avoid facing up to environmental crimes. We will make sure that, at committee stage, the bill is as specific as possible so that corporations, employees, management and all sister companies of a consortium are not above the law.
Of course, as members know, committee work has to follow the rules set by the Liberal government. Even though we agree with the substance of the bill, its introduction just before an election will not give the committee the time to do its job. Again, we are pleased to debate the bill today, but it will not be adopted before the end of the session because of the forthcoming election.
Since the Bloc Quebecois agrees with the principle of the bill, it will take part in the committee's work. We are ready to review the bill without delay so that it comes into force as soon as possible. We want to make sure that owners, board members and managers of corporations or consortiums pay for damages and are made to abide by the penalties imposed on them and that, if they do not, they are made personally accountable to the public for any damage they might have caused.
The Bloc Quebecois agrees with the principle of the bill, but it will defend the territory of Quebec. We will no longer accept the deaths of over 300,000 birds every year in our waters because of shipowners emptying their holds, dumping bilge water, and destroying bird life. All that these birds have done is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We do not wish to see this happen ever again in the St. Lawrence, the St. Lawrence Estuary or the St. Lawrence Seaway, or indeed in any of the other territorial waters of Canada.
We will be sure to bring the appropriate pressure to bear in committee. Regardless of which shipping company is involved, be it Canada Steamship Lines, Canada Steamship Lines International, or another, be it a consortium or conglomerate, we want to make sure that all shipowners, officers and shareholders will pay for the harm done to birds on the territory of Quebec.