Mr. Speaker, it is only right that we say a few words on this bill simply because, as the Minister of Natural Resources just said, it is extremely important to our province and I am sure to Canada as a whole.
I do not necessarily agree with everything the minister said but on the whole we have seen a number of ships over the last few years polluting our waters on both coasts, in the St. Lawrence Seaway and on the Great Lakes. Absolutely nothing has been done and nothing is being done.
The government argues, by introducing this bill, that the fines are not high enough, that they are not a deterrent to boats that dump at sea, which is why they continue to do it. I am a bit skeptical. Perhaps it is because we are approaching an election and we see a rush of things happening, announcements here, there and everywhere. Yesterday we heard three ministers announce that they had issued two citations to two foreign fishing vessels for abusing the regulations on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks.
Over the last 10 years, as I have said, we have issued over 300 citations and the government would not even release information as to how many it had issued. People might say that 300 over 10 years is not a lot. However people must realize that we have very little surveillance and no enforcement on this gigantic area off the coast of my province. Therefore, if, with the minimal surveillance we have, we can detect and issue 300 citations for abuses, we have some idea how much is going on out there.
We do know, through the Access to Information Act, that over 300 citations are on record so why, possibly because it is a week before an election, do we have three ministers rushing out to tell everybody they issued citations?
A citation is like a warning ticket on the highway. It does nothing to stop the abuse. Five boats were boarded and two citations were issued. One of the boats they boarded had been issued three previous citations, one for fishing within our 200 mile limit. That boat is still out there fishing. What are the boats that were issued citations yesterday doing today? Are they in our port? Is the skipper being charged? Is the cargo being seized? Is the boat being seized? No. They were issued warning citations and they are still fishing and will continue to fish. It goes on and on.
Why the hoopla? You know, Mr. Speaker, I know and everybody else knows that it is only to draw attention to the fact that they are doing something. No, we did not do a thing that we have not done in the past, except that we are trying to make a story out of a non-story.
The same thing relates to this bill. For 10 years people have been pushing for stronger regulations in relation to pollution at sea. Year after year environmentalists in my province and the media have done some tremendous stories on wildlife, sea birds in particular, that are covered in oil, get to shore and die on the beaches because of pollution. We have seen some major disasters because ships completely and utterly ignore other people, other countries and just dump their bilge water and excess fuel at sea, and could not care less. We say that the deterrents are not there and the fines are not great enough.
The existing legislation we have is the Species at Risk Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act, but let us look at the Canada Shipping Act. Under the Canada Shipping Act it states:
Any person or ship that discharges a pollutant in contravention of any regulation made under section 656
(a) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable
(i) in the case of an individual, to a fine not exceeding two hundred and fifty thousand dollars...
(i) in the case of an individual, to a fine not exceeding one million dollars, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to both...
In reality, there are already fines, not under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, but under the Canada Shipping Act where those vessels can be charged fines anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million. Therefore, already in legislation we have exactly what the government is trying to bring in today to tell us it is going to bring in a strong enforcement mechanism.
There are two things. First, if the fine happened to be $200,000, how many examples have we had in the past where ships have been charged the maximum? It is not the amount of fine that counts if the courts are not going to impose the maximum fine.
We can all go back to a story that is thoroughly documented. CBC did a tremendous exposé of a boat called Tecam Sea which was charged with pollution in our waters. We had satellite tracking. We had over flights and clear cut pictures of the oil coming out of the boat. We had a foolproof case against that boat. The documentation was a mile high. The case was taken to court but, before it ever entered the chambers, on the steps of the courthouse, the day the case was supposed to start, the case was dropped. Why was it dropped? It was dropped because of an internal racket between the federal Department of the Environment and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Games were being played with internal fighting that led to a disagreement about a case where everyone, the officials and the legal people involved, all said that it was a foolproof case.
If we are not going to accept in court, satellite surveillance or the surveillance that we get from our provincial airlines that do such a great job out there, if we are not going to accept that kind of evidence when we are looking at the actual oil coming from the actual ship, it does not matter what size of fine we impose, whether we charge them $1 or $100 million because they will not be brought to court anyway, and if they are, the cases will be thrown out if what our own government people are saying is true.
The problem is not with the fine. The problem is not with the legal people who are there to prosecute. The problem is with the government on the other side of the House. The ministers, who are at the political end of it, do not have the intestinal fortitude to do what has to be done.
This is a sham, introducing a bill a week before an election call when the government knows that to get it through the House, to get it through the other place and to get it back here, there is not any time. It ain't gonna happen.
It is like the bills we saw last week dealing with aboriginal issues and the issue of driving while on drugs. The government can introduce them and go around the country and say that it is bringing in legislation but where has the government been for the last 10 years? The legislation before us should have been introduced sooner or, better still, the legislation that we have on our books should be enforced and we would not have this problem that we have in front of us today.
It is another day and another saga of the election preparation act which is what we should be calling this rather than the migratory bird act or the Canada Shipping Act.