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House of Commons Hansard #65 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was panama.

Topics

The House resumed from October 25 consideration of the motion that Bill C-310, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Langley has four minutes left to conclude his remarks.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a real honour to speak to this bill from the member for Kildonan—St. Paul. I describe her as “Canada's Wilberforce”. Bill C-310 is an important private member's bill that would impact modern-day slavery, or human trafficking. The bill would push it back into its dirty corner and hopefully kill it for all time, in Canada and in the world. The member for Kildonan—St. Paul has been on this journey for years. Her whole family has been very involved, through the police, in trying to stop this horrific crime.

I am amazed that Canada is blessed to have Miss Canada come from my riding of beautiful Langley, British Columbia. Tara Teng is that person this year. We will be passing the torch on to young, new leaders such as Tara Teng in years to come. We wonder what these leaders are working on. She is working with this member of Parliament to stop human trafficking, a noble cause. It is understandable that we want to end this horrific evil. We have some of Canada's brightest lights taking on this problem. I want to thank both the member for Kildonan—St. Paul and Tara Teng. We encourage them to never give up. As individuals, as the Government of Canada and as parliamentarians, we do not give up until the job is done.

I recently received 245 letters from students at Walnut Grove Secondary School. They were horrified to find out that slavery actually exists today. They found out about this private member's bill, Bill C-310. I would like to read a letter for the record so members can understand what our young adults think about the problem of human trafficking. This is a letter from Emma. She is a grade 9 student who says:

This problem about human trafficking is horrible and something should be done about it. Young innocent girls and boys being taken into the sex trade is a major problem. The presentation I heard today made me feel like this should not be left aside. Everyone should help to make human trafficking be put to a stop. I know that if anyone I know, or in my family, got taken away to be human trafficked... It would kill me! I would be devastated. No family should have to go through this; losing a child and not knowing where they are. I strongly hope that something will be done to stop this!

Well something is being done. I encourage every member to support this very important bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-310, which would amend the Criminal Code to address the cruel and serious problem of human trafficking in Canada.

I congratulate the member who sponsored this bill for introducing a bill that will have the support of all parties in this House. This is the first time I have supported a government initiative and I congratulate her on it. I hope that in the future the opposition parties and the Conservative government will have many opportunities to work together.

This bill proposes two very important amendments to the Criminal Code that will make it easier to prosecute perpetrators of human trafficking. This heinous crime has destructive effects on the victims, which reminds us that in a not-too-distant past, slaves were treated similarly by Canadians and by our neighbours to the south. Unfortunately, at a time when human rights and individual freedoms should prevail and at a time when we would have thought our attitudes had evolved enough to eliminate this abominable crime, there are still people in this country who can deny their own humanity and sell people who are just as deserving of freedom as any other person.

Therefore, I believe that the House has the duty and the power to hold these individuals accountable by proposing and adopting a legal framework to eliminate this form of slavery and severely punish the perpetrators, so that we can set an example for the rest of the world.

This bill targets the real criminals—the traffickers. This bill would extend Canada's jurisdiction beyond our borders, which means we could go after traffickers with Canadian citizenship or residency regardless of where they are in the world. I would once again like to congratulate my colleague opposite for developing a bill that targets the real criminals and not the victims.

However, since there is a distinction made between human trafficking and human smuggling, I have to wonder about Bill C-4, which targets the migrants instead of the smugglers in cases of human smuggling in Canada. Migrants are the victims in this fraudulent scheme, and the real criminals are those who deceive these people by promising them a better future. I would have liked to see the government use Bill C-310 as an inspiration and to withdraw Bill C-4 from the Order Paper.

The first section of the bill amends the Criminal Code in order to apply Canadian extraterritorial jurisdiction to the offence of human trafficking. This will give the Canadian government the legal means to prosecute a Canadian or a permanent resident of Canada involved in human trafficking, regardless of where he or she works, lives or operates. Introducing extraterritorial jurisdiction using the nationality principle in international law is compatible with our international obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, the Palermo convention. Given the international nature of human trafficking, extraterritorial jurisdiction is crucial. We simply cannot allow Canadian traffickers to live a comfortable life without any fear of being held responsible for their crimes just because they can hide behind international borders.

Thus, I am convinced that our government has a responsibility to ensure that our legal system can prosecute those responsible for such crimes to the full extent of the law through this extraterritorial jurisdiction. We have the right to hold our citizens to a certain standard of behaviour, even those who are outside our borders.

In her introductory speech, the sponsor of the bill said that it would ensure justice in cases where the offence was committed in a country without strong anti-human trafficking laws. I agree with her completely, but I find it unfortunate that this government did not live up to this standard during the previous Parliament with regard to Bill C-300, An Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries. Once again, I hope the government will learn something from this private member's bill.

Coming back to Bill C-310, before 2005 the only legal action that could be taken against human traffickers was based on charges of kidnapping, threats or extortion. Section 118 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act prohibits anyone from bringing someone into Canada by means of abduction or fraud. In other words, human trafficking was not considered a criminal offence per se until 2005. Since then, only five people have been prosecuted on the basis this new offence.

Crown prosecutors and experts blame the lack of prosecutions on the current definition of exploitation, which requires proof of a threat to safety. This proof is difficult to obtain, which results in traffickers being found not guilty.

This leads me to the second amendment to the Criminal Code proposed in this bill. The member sponsoring this bill has every reason to propose expanding the current legal definition of the word “exploitation”, which defines the conditions for a person to be considered a victim of human trafficking. The current legal definition of this word in the Criminal Code does not contain any precise examples of exploitation. Therefore, this second amendment would add evidentiary foundations to enable courts to give clear examples of exploitation, such as threats or use of violence, coercion and fraudulent manipulation. This would update the legal terminology and would give courts the legal tools they need to successfully prosecute these criminals.

Once again, I congratulate the member on her wise and well thought-out bill.

I will conclude by talking about human trafficking in Canada. In Canada it is tragic to see that aboriginal women and girls are disproportionately more likely to be victims of human trafficking. This tragedy is the result of a number of factors, and to address this, our government will have to combat it from all sides. We absolutely must recognize that poverty, lack of housing and very difficult living conditions for aboriginal women and girls are factors that explain why they are disproportionately more likely to be victims of human trafficking.

I would like to point out a coincidence. Today, the Standing Committee on Status of Women will present its report on violence against aboriginal women. This report is the product of two years of study on a very serious issue and an unfortunate tragedy in our country. Over the course of this study, the committee heard from about a hundred aboriginal women and people working with victims and their families. I had the opportunity to listen to some of this testimony when I sat on this committee. It is clear that to fight violence against aboriginal women and girls, including human trafficking, we must acknowledge the poverty and economic marginalization they experience.

I truly hope that this report will lead to concrete recommendations for improving the economic conditions of these women and decreasing their vulnerability to violence and human trafficking. I strongly encourage all of my colleagues in the House and the general public to listen to the presentation of this report today. Once again, I thank my colleague for this wise and necessary bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of Bill C-310, a bill which the Liberal Party also supports.

The sad and tragic reality is that human trafficking is not going away anytime soon. Indeed, news broke just this past week that a human trafficking police action in China resulted in 700 arrests and secured the rescue of 178 children.

Human trafficking is a particularly serious problem in China, and as CNN reports:

Since the government launched a national campaign against human trafficking in April 2009, police have arrested almost 50,000 suspects, rescuing more than 18,000 children as well as some 35,000 women, the ministry said.

Those are horrific numbers, although even one is horrific.

We cannot look at just one country, of course, and human trafficking in isolation. As OSCE special representative and coordinator for combatting trafficking in human beings, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro noted in an address to global parliamentarians last month that human trafficking is:

--not a marginal phenomenon, but a new form of slavery on a massive scale in which people lose their freedom of choice, and are reduced to commodities for the benefit of their exploiters.

The statistics are shocking and saddening in their own right. We have heard many figures in House debates on human trafficking, such as the UN estimate that nearly 2.5 million people from 127 countries are being trafficked into 137 countries around the world, that trafficking has an annual revenue of more than $5 billion, that profit from human trafficking may be in excess of $31 billion annually, that 1.2 million children are trafficked globally each year, and that more than a million children are in situations of forced labour as a result of being trafficked.

With all these numbers, it is easy to forget that behind every number is a name, a face, a real person, a life, a world shattered by the evil that is human trafficking. Lest it be thought that Canada does not have any role to play in this global phenomenon, the U.S. state department, earlier this year, released a chilling report on human trafficking which found that:

Canada is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Canadian women and girls, particularly from aboriginal communities, are found in conditions of commercial sexual exploitation across the country. Foreign women and children, primarily from Asia and Eastern Europe, are subjected to sex trafficking;--

That is talking about Canada.

Indeed, some Canadians have a hand in human trafficking, and we must send a strong signal that complicity in the trafficking of persons is not acceptable in any way. This includes extending the reach of our laws to actions that happen beyond our borders.

Canada, last year, prosecuted a child sex tourist, a Canadian who abused girls in Cambodia and Colombia for violating subsection 7(4.1) of the Criminal Code. Bill C-310 expands this provision to apply not only to sexual offences against children, as it does now, but to offences related to trafficking in persons. Indeed, with specific regard to Bill C-310, World Vision Canada has said:

This bill is a significant and necessary step in responding to human trafficking, and a vital part of a broader strategy to tackle trafficking at home and overseas from the key internationally recognized intervention angles: prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships.

I think I may speak for all members of this House when I say that these are goals we wholeheartedly support.

While the bill we are debating today is a step in the right direction, there is much more that needs to be done to address all aspects of the trafficking process. In that regard I would like to note two other items the U.S. report of this year found with respect to Canada. First:

Canada's law enforcement efforts reportedly suffer from a lack of coordination between the national government and provincial and local authorities, which prosecute most human trafficking cases.

Simply put, changing the law is not enough without adopting a national approach to its enforcement that includes and co-operates with provincial and local authorities.

Second:

--there were no nationwide protocols for other government officials to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as women in prostitution or migrant workers. Victim support services in Canada are generally administered at the provincial level. There were no dedicated facilities or specialized programs for trafficking victims.

That is very saddening and disappointing.

We must ensure that we are not only looking at human trafficking with a view toward punishing and prosecuting those involved but also with a view to helping those who have been victimized in the process.

Addressing and redressing this most profound of human rights assaults, an assault on human dignity, requires a comprehensive approach, an approach that will allow us to prevent problems to begin with and to protect the victims of trafficking, while also pursuing the traffickers themselves, and subsequently prosecuting and punishing them.

To make human trafficking offences abroad subject to prosecution in Canada is, as such, a step in the right direction and something all Canadians can support.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul for her dedication to this important issue. I am honoured to have the opportunity to speak in support of legislation that would strengthen Canada's ability to prosecute human traffickers.

Bill C-310 is an important piece of legislation that proposes an amendment to section 7 of the Criminal Code which would add the current trafficking in persons offences to the list of offences which, if committed outside Canada by a Canadian or permanent resident, could be prosecuted in Canada.

I proposed a similar type of legislation, Bill C-212, which would empower the courts to prosecute the offence of luring a child when the offence is committed by a Canadian or permanent resident outside Canada's borders. Giving our courts the ability to prosecute offenders regardless of what jurisdiction the crime was committed in is an important tool in combatting crime like human trafficking or child exploitation in the 21st century.

Bill C-310 also proposes an amendment that would provide evidentiary definitions for exploitation by providing specific examples of exploitative conducts, such as use of threats, violence, coercion, and fraudulent means. The courts would be able to provide clear examples of exploitation.

Human trafficking, also referred to as the modern day slave trade, is a despicable crime against humanity that I know all members of this House would agree requires our utmost efforts to eliminate.

The international trafficking of people is a problem larger than average Canadians would assume. We often hear stories of the sex trade of women and girls, and men and boys occurring in faraway countries. However, when it comes to human trafficking, Canada is a destination country, a transit country, and a source country. Up to 16,000 people are trafficked to or through Canada every year.

The U.S. state department estimates there are between 600,000 and 800,000 global victims of human trafficking each and every year. While the majority of victims are women and girls, men and boys are also victimized. Regardless of gender, victims are knowingly lured into a criminal world that views them as objects, to be bought and traded, used for a certain amount of time and, in many cases, discarded when they no longer serve the criminals' purposes.

As a source country, many of our young vulnerable Canadians have been lured away from communities by the prospect or the promise of economic opportunity, and then sold into a dark underworld that steals from young people their freedom, their hope and, in some cases, their lives.

In Canada, we know young aboriginal women are particularly vulnerable to being victimized by traffickers and other parasitic criminals. We know about the Stolen Sisters, some 500 missing or murdered aboriginal women from across Canada. In northern British Columbia, Highway 16 has earned the unfortunate moniker “Highway of Tears”. There are a series of unresolved disappearances and murders of aboriginal women in the region and of course, we know of the dozens of prostituted women who have fallen victim to unspeakable crimes in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

In Canada, and around the world, victims of human trafficking and other forms of exploitation often come from the impoverished and marginalized conditions that make them vulnerable to violence and abuse. What cannot be ignored when discussing human trafficking is its root cause, which is poverty.

Growing economic inequality across the globe is a major cause for concern. In fact, this is the foundation of the occupy Wall Street protests and the similar protests it has sparked in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and, indeed, across the globe. Economic inequality creates conditions where people are desperate to provide a more secure future for themselves and for their families.

As labour markets increasingly see no borders, people are easily preyed upon by those offering the promise of a new job in a prosperous country. Once they fall into the trap, they are often manipulated into believing they themselves are criminals and oftentimes, the safety of their families are threatened should they ever try to escape.

Predators of human trafficking are often highly sophisticated, multinational criminal organizations that are experts at trading humans, just as they would weapons, drugs or firearms. The existence of modern-day criminal organizations like this requires our governments to enact clear, legal frameworks to protect victims and prosecute offenders. Experts argue that to effectively combat human trafficking we must adopt a three-pronged approach: prevention, prosecution and protection.

Bill C-310 would strengthen our ability to prosecute human traffickers. I believe Canada must also take steps to strengthen the prevention of human trafficking and the protection of its victims. In so many complex issues our community faces today, the key to achieving success is prevention, but often politicians have a difficult time justifying investing taxpayer dollars in preventive measures, which, despite a policy's proven effectiveness, may not have the same immediate gains like a new ice rink or a ribbon-cutting ceremony would.

In terms of prevention, we know that education is the key. A lack of awareness about the issue of human trafficking persists in our society. We need a national strategy to combat human trafficking that emphasizes coordination and partnership with various levels of departments of government, the RCMP, other countries, non-profit organizations and others. This level of coordination is key to ensuring protection is adequately provided to the victims of human trafficking.

There are many obstacles to identifying the victims of human trafficking. Oftentimes the first and only opportunity to identify them is at the border when many of them may still falsely believe that they are entering the country for legitimate purposes.

When we come across a potential victim of human trafficking, there are many challenges to providing the necessary elements of protection. We must protect them against unjust detention and deportation. There is a need for support services, such as shelter, health care and counselling. As I mentioned earlier, the lives of these victims and their families are often threatened, which makes it imperative that we offer witness protection services.

Members of the House have spoken about the police resources required to combat human trafficking. Our communities have been asking the federal government to provide adequate levels of resources so police can do their jobs. Canada's New Democrats have been calling for an increase of 2,500 police officers and resources to combat gangs and gang violence and to prevent our youth from being lured into criminal organizations.

In 2006, the government issued new guidelines for the issuance of temporary resident permits to victims of human trafficking, a step forward in combatting this serious crime. However, these permits have had their shortfalls. According to the Canada Council for Refugees:

—the temporary residence permits have proven inadequate: they are discretionary and are not always offered to trafficked persons; they impose an unreasonable burden of proof on the trafficked person; and the mandatory involvement of law enforcement agencies has deterred some trafficked persons from applying.

Canada's official opposition is calling on the government to provide victims of human trafficking a permanent option to stay in Canada. We call for this in part due to the shortcomings of the temporary resident permit, but also because of the very nature of this heinous crime. Victims must be given the choice to remain in Canada as permanent residents. They must be protected from prosecution themselves. There must be mechanisms in place to ensure victims are offered a full range of support services rather than treated as criminals.

I am hopeful that all members rise to speak in support of this bill. They will recognize that the fight against human trafficking is not over. Much work remains to be done to ensure that our country is doing all it can to combat the widespread scourge of human trafficking.

I would again like to recognize the efforts of my hon. colleague from Kildonan—St. Paul and would call on all members of the House to support Bill C-310.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to again speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-310, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons).

I will begin by thanking all hon. members who spoke today, as well as those who spoke during the first hour of debate on October 25. The careful attention paid to this legislation, and even more so to the issue of modern-day slavery during the speeches, is quite encouraging. There are few matters of justice that require our constant attention as much as slavery.

Bill C-310 would amend the Criminal Code to add the current trafficking in persons offences, sections 279.01 and 279.011, to the list of offences, which, if committed outside Canada by a Canadian or permanent resident, can be prosecuted in Canada.

Extending extraterritorial jurisdiction to Criminal Code offences is, indeed, a rare step. This was noted by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, as well as the NDP justice critic, during the first hour of debate. In particular, the parliamentary secretary stated that, in the limited number of cases in which Canada has extended prosecutorial discretion, it was because there was an international consensus to do so.

However, I want to refer to an extensive report on the practice of extraterritorial jurisdiction released by the Law Commission of Canada entitled, “Global Reach, Local Grasp: Constructing Extraterritorial Jurisdiction in the Age of Globalization”. This report states that, while most exercises of extraterritoriality are deliberately multilateral, it is open to Canada to act extraterritorially in advance of consensus having been formed; in effect, to attempt to lead international opinion by example.

What is most notable is that the report provides Canada's child sex tourism laws as an example of this and states that the child sex tourism provisions, though now perfectly in line with international treaties, actually preceded the signing of these treaties. Bill C-310 is an opportunity for Canada to again take international leadership in combatting this heinous crime.

I want to note that, during the first hour of debate, I mentioned that I would be seeking a friendly amendment to add sections 279.02 and 279.03 to this clause. These are offences of receipt of material or financial benefit from human trafficking and withholding or destroying travel documents in the process of human trafficking. This would ensure that all of the acts around human trafficking are covered by extraterritorial offences and there is no chance of a Canadian human trafficker falling through the cracks. I am pleased that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice was supportive of this amendment and I look forward to the discussion at committee.

The second clause of Bill C-310 amends the definition of exploitation and the trafficking in persons offence to add an interpretive aid for courts to consider when they are determining whether a person is exploited. The heart of this amendment is to provide an aid to the courts that clearly demonstrates the factors that constitute exploitive methods. In my amendment, I have proposed including use of threats of violence, force or other forms of coercion and fraudulent means.

I will also be seeking a friendly amendment at committee to include the terms “use deception” and “abused a position of trust, power or authority”. These minor changes would ensure that the bill is sound and accomplishes what we all want it to do.

Trafficking in persons is a fast growing crime in terms of profit, and it is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to confront slavery in all its forms, both within our nation and abroad. That is why I am so pleased to see the unity of members on all sides of the House taking such a strong position on this matter before us today. By supporting Bill C-310, each member of the House plays an important role in strengthening the tools used by police officers and prosecutors and to secure justice for victims of trafficking, both here in Canada and abroad.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time provided for debate has expired.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would ask that you see the clock at 12 o'clock.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is that agreed?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Suspension of SittingCriminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The House stands suspended until 12 p.m.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:36 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 p.m.)

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

December 12th, 2011 / noon

Conservative

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

Noon

South Shore—St. Margaret's Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to the Canada-Panama economic growth and prosperity act. I was worried that I would not get here on time; my plane was delayed.

This is an important piece of legislation, as we can tell from the opposition benches. There is a lot of interest in it and we certainly encourage and look forward to the support of the opposition on this important bill.

Our government is committed to protecting and strengthening the financial security of hard-working Canadians. Our focus continues to be the economy, creating jobs and economic growth to benefit Canadian workers and their families. That is why we are continuing to deliver our job-creating pro-trade plan. The Canada-Panama economic growth and prosperity act is a key part of this plan.

We Conservatives understand, as do hard-working Canadians, that trade is a kitchen table issue. By that I mean that Canadians intuitively understand that trade is the key to their financial success. One in five Canadian jobs and over 60% of our annual GDP is generated by trade. Trade is a matter of fundamental importance to workers, as it helps put food on the table and helps families make ends meet.

In the past few months we have seen a vivid reminder to all of us that the world economy remains in the grip of a global economic crisis. The fragility of global markets has emphasized the importance and urgency of continuing to diversify our trade relationships and expanding our exports with emerging market economies like Panama.

These are challenging economic times. Problems in the global economic situation continue to persist. That is why our government is taking action today to create jobs and help our businesses and their workers succeed in the years ahead. That includes our ambitious pro-trade plan to help businesses expand their presence around the world.

In these tough economic times, Canadians expect their government to do everything it can to enhance the ability of Canadian firms to participate in global markets and to create an advantage for Canadian businesses. That is why our government took action on our budget 2010 commitment to make Canada a tariff-free zone for industrial manufacturers.

Eliminating tariffs on goods used in manufacturing helps Canadian companies lower their production costs and increase their competitiveness. This contributes to a stronger economy, creates jobs and growth here at home, and reinforces our G20 leadership in the fight against protectionism.

It is actions such as this that demonstrate our government's clear understanding that there is a link between open markets and free trade and jobs and the quality of life here in Canada. We know that when Canadian companies succeed, Canadian workers succeed.

Free trade agreements help small and large businesses. In fact, small businesses in particular are responsible for 43% of all Canadian exports. This free trade agreement would help small business exporters do what they do best: create jobs and wealth for this country.

With this legislation we are one step closer to giving Canadian businesses the access they need in Panama. By improving access to foreign markets for Canadian businesses, we are supporting the Canadian recovery and creating new jobs for Canadian workers.

In the midst of the global downturn, this government has demonstrated its commitment to seek out more trade and investment opportunity for our businesses.

Through the Canada-Panama economic growth and prosperity act, Canada is also sending a strong message to the world. Canada will not resort to protectionist measures and will continue to fight for an open rules-based system.

As a trading nation, Canadian workers, companies, producers and investors need access to the international marketplace to stay competitive. Canada is an export-driven economy, and pursuing bilateral and regional trade agreements is essential to bringing continued job prosperity and economic growth to Canadians. That is why our government has established an ambitious pro-trade plan.

A free trade agreement with Panama is also a part of our government's efforts to strengthen Canada's engagement in the Americas. Panama occupies a unique and influential position in the global trading system, thanks to the Panama Canal. This vital gateway is currently being twinned. Our government recognizes that Canadian firms are well placed to help. It should be noted that when the twinning of the Panama Canal is finished, it will carry approximately 5% of the entire trade on the planet. That is an opportunity Canada cannot turn its back on.

The Canada-Panama economic growth and prosperity act would generate increased export and investment opportunities for Canadians by creating a preferential and more predictable trade and investment environment.

For example, for exporters of Canadian goods, Panamanian tariffs on over 90% of Canadian goods exported to that country would be eliminated upon entry into force of the free trade agreement. Most remaining tariffs would be eliminated over a period of between five to fifteen years.

For Canadian service providers, the free trade agreement would help expand market access opportunities in areas such as information and communications technology, energy and financial services.

This agreement would benefit workers in every region of this country.

For example, Quebec would benefit from the elimination of Panamanian tariffs on key exports, such as machinery, vehicles, pork products, pharmaceuticals and aerospace products.

Investment and services provisions would benefit the engineering, construction and transportation sectors.

Ontario would benefit from the elimination of Panamanian tariffs on key exports, such as pharmaceuticals, machinery, information and communications technology products, and electrical and electronic equipment.

Financial services provisions would benefit Canadian banks and financial service providers operating in Panama.

Western provinces would benefit from the elimination of Panamanian tariffs on key export interests, such as fats and oils, processed food, pork, information and communications technology products, pulses and cereals.

The Atlantic provinces would benefit from the elimination of Panamanian tariffs on key export interests such as frozen potato products, trees and plants, fish and seafood, and forestry products.

For Canadians looking to invest in Panama, the free trade agreement includes a chapter of comprehensive rules governing investment. The rules provide greater protections and predictability for Canadian investors and their investments in Panama.

The free trade agreement also provides Canadian exporters of goods and services greater market access to Panama's government procurement opportunities, including those related to the Panama Canal expansion and other infrastructure projects. It is clear that this agreement would benefit Canadian workers and their families.

I am also pleased to report that in July 2011 the OECD formally placed Panama on its list of jurisdictions that have substantially implemented the international standard for exchange of tax information, commonly known as the white list. This is an extremely important achievement. It demonstrates Panama's commitment to combat international tax evasion. I trust it will appease concerns regarding taxation.

Panama is committed to the implementation of this free trade agreement and has already completed its domestic ratification process.

Canada is not the only country with whom Panama has negotiated a free trade agreement. Panama is deepening its regional economic partnerships and is expanding its global reach through the negotiation of trade agreements with countries such as the United States and the European Union.

As members of Parliament may be aware, the United States Congress approved the United States-Panama trade promotion agreement on October 12, 2011. This agreement, which could enter into force as early as 2012, would provide American firms with preferential access to the Panamanian market. Many Canadian goods and services compete directly with those of the United States in Panama. Canadian products would be at a significant competitive disadvantage if they continued to face duties while products from the United States enjoyed duty free access.

We cannot stand by and let Canadian companies compete on an uneven playing field. We must act quickly to ensure our businesses and workers can compete and remain competitive in the Panamanian market and reap the substantial benefits of this trade agreement.

I think all Canadians should be proud of this agreement. This treaty is a high-quality comprehensive agreement that would be beneficial for Canadian workers and their families. As I mentioned before, a free trade agreement with Panama would give Canadian exporters, investors and service providers preferential access to a dynamic up and coming economy. Two-way merchandise trade between Canada and Panama reached $213.7 million in 2010. As these figures demonstrate, Canadian exporters have been very active in the Panamanian market but there remains significant untapped potential.

Once the new agreement is in place, Canadian businesses will benefit from lower tariffs. This agreement would eliminate tariffs on 99.9% of recent non-agricultural imports from Canada with the remaining tariffs to be phased out over five to fifteen years. Tariffs would also be lifted immediately on 94% of Canada's agricultural exports to Panama. Panama currently maintains tariffs averaging 13.4% on agricultural products, with tariffs reaching peaks as high as 260%. This significant reduction in trade barriers would directly benefit a number of sectors that already have established business ties in Panama, including agriculture and agrifood products, pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper, vehicles, machinery and information and communications technology products among others. By eliminating tariffs on these goods and many others, Canadian exporters and producers would become more competitive against competitors from other countries such as the United States, the European Union, Chile and Singapore which already have or are seeking preferential access to the Panamanian market.

This agreement would also help Canadian businesses take advantage of the new investment opportunities in the Panamanian market. Panama is an established and growing destination for Canadian direct investment abroad, particularly in areas such as construction, mining, and banking and financial services. The stock of Canadian investment in Panama is expected to grow in the years ahead. It reached $121 million in 2010, in part due to the many infrastructure projects planned by the Panamanian government and the private sector. Once this agreement is implemented, Canadian investors will enjoy greater stability, transparency and protection for their investments.

The agreement would also ensure the free transfer of capital related to investment protection against expropriation without adequate and prompt compensation and non-discriminatory treatment of Canadian investments. Under this free trade agreement, all forms of investment would be protected, including enterprises, debt, concessions and similar contracts. These reciprocal commitments would serve to promote bilateral investment flow which is crucial to linking Canada to global value chains.

Among the most important benefits of this agreement would be the increased ability of Canadian companies to participate in large-scale infrastructure projects funded by the Panamanian government. Indeed, with the Panamanian government investing heavily in its country's growth and strategic importance, government procurement opportunities were a key driver for the negotiation of a free trade agreement with Panama.

As a case in point, Panama is currently undergoing a $5.3 billion expansion of the Panama Canal. This expansion, which began in 2007, is scheduled to be completed by 2014 which will mark the 100th anniversary of the canal. It should be obvious that activities related to the ongoing expansion of the Panama Canal provide many opportunities for Canadian companies. Canadian companies in the areas of environmental technology, capital projects, human capital development, construction materials and marine technology stand to benefit greatly from this ambitious project.

However, this is not the only opportunity for Canadian businesses. Just last year, the Government of Panama laid out a five-year strategic plan in which it plans to spend $13.6 billion on the country's infrastructure. Under this plan, $9.6 billion would be allocated to infrastructure investments and other economic programs designed to stimulate further growth.

Some examples of projects the government is looking to undertake include airport construction, expansions and upgrades, a new convention centre, a new water treatment plant, power generation projects, agriculture irrigation systems, and a $1.5 billion metro system. These are areas where Canadian businesses possess the necessary experience and expertise to successfully bid on these projects. With the passage of this agreement, Canadian workers and businesses will be able to capitalize on these opportunities.

I am pleased to say that the Canada-Panama free trade agreement includes strong government procurement provisions that guarantee Canadian suppliers will have non-discriminatory access to a broad range of procurement opportunities, including those under the Panama Canal authority. This means that Canadian workers and companies, wanting to bid on a government procurement contract for goods and or services, will receive the same treatment as Panamanian firms. It is thus important that Parliament acts fast and enables Canadians to take advantage of these opportunities right away.

Canadian services providers and their workers also stand to benefit considerably from the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. On services, this agreement will provide a transparent, predictable and rules-based trading system to Canadian services providers, while ensuring they are treated equitably with Panamanian companies.

Canada negotiated enhanced market access opportunities that would go well beyond Panama's World Trade Organization General Agreement on Trade and Services commitments in services sectors of key interest to Canada. This means that Canadian providers in such areas as professional services, engineering, mining, construction and environmental services will have preferential access to Panama's market.

This agreement would provide a great opportunity to take our current bilateral trade and services to a new level in the years ahead. As we can see, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement is a comprehensive agreement covering everything from market access for goods to cross-border trade and services to investment and government procurement. It would provide rules to assist Canadian businesses doing business in Panama and would deepen our commercial engagement with a strategic partner.

Canadians understand that international trade is the lifeblood of our economy. Canadians value the real and tangible benefits that trade brings to our country. That is why they have entrusted this government with a mandate to focus on economic growth by forging new trade opportunities around the world.

It should not come as a surprise therefore that Canadian businesses have been strongly advocating in favour of this agreement. Let us listen to what Jason Myers, from the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said about this agreement's potential to improve market access. He said it:

—will improve access to two growth markets for Canadian goods, services and investment at a time when Canadian manufacturers and exporters are focusing on finding new customers and business opportunities around the world.

Closer economic integration with Panama promises to deliver further gains for Canadian exporters, investors, consumers and the economy as a whole.

At a time when Canadian businesses are faced with the challenges of the global economic slow down, the quick implementation of the Canada-Panama free trade agreement is of tremendous importance to our economy.

I reach out to opposition colleagues in the House and I would ask them to support this agreement. This is an important agreement, not just for the Government of Canada, but for the country as a whole. Certainly, our government is focused on broadening and deepening our trading relationship, as it protects and creates jobs and economic growth for Canadian workers and their families.

I have some advice for my opposition colleagues. There are a number of special interest groups that continue to push their job-killing anti-trade agenda and they will continually invent any reason to oppose trade. I ask the NDP members, in particular, to stand strong against those groups, to be reasonable in their position on this important agreement for Canadian workers and to help us support the quick implementation and passage of the bill through the House.

This is important legislation. It means jobs in every part of the country from coast to coast to coast and where there are jobs, there are opportunities.

It has been pleasure to speak to the bill. As members know, this is the same bill we introduced in the last Parliament. During the 40th Parliament, the legislation was debated for 15 days and almost 30 hours. I think the debate is over. It is time to get this through the House.

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12:20 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that the member finished his comments on the supposed position of the opposition.

We have to be careful with the speed at which these trade deals go forward and also the blind faith that the Conservative government has that any trade deal has to be a good trade deal. With Panama, there are some significant issues.

My hon. colleague mentioned how investment would be protected in this trade deal, but that may be a problem. We know that Panama has various tax havens, particularly for drug money. One of the most important parts of its investment economy is laundering drug money.

What does my hon. colleague have to say about protecting Canadians from drug cartels?

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12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, earlier I asked the NDP members to support the quick implementation of the bill. I will ask them again and stress the importance of it.

We have to look at Panama's record. Panama was on the grey list for many years for money laundering, but it is no longer on it. It is now on the white list. The OECD group decides that, not an individual country. Panama has come light years from where it was only a very short time ago.

As for the NDP position on supporting free trade agreements, I would ask those members to look at their own record. It is a dismal zero. NDP members have never supported a free trade agreement.

I will quote the member for Hamilton Mountain, who, at second reading of the Panama free trade agreement, stated the NDP's position quite clearly. She said, “this is not a trade agreement that I can support”. However, she should have added that there was no trade agreement she could support. That is the NDP position.

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12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary is correct. The bill was debated for a considerable length of time during the last session and there were quite a number of questions raised. My NDP colleague, who just spoke, raised a couple of those serious concerns that were raised in the last Parliament and I would hope the parliamentary secretary could give us some answers in that area.

There is no question that we will be supporting the bill going to committee, but there is a serious issue around tax havens and money laundering, especially of drug money. The U.S. Congress has spelled out some serious concerns about the money laundering and on Panama not being committed to the kind of commitments that should be made in terms of ridding the country of the money laundering possibility.

Does the parliamentary secretary have any answers on those two critical areas before this goes to committee?

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12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, first, I welcome the comments from the hon. member for Malpeque that the Liberals will support the bill going to committee. It is beneficial to the Canadian economy that we get this agreement through the House and to committee as quickly as possible.

To answer his second point, as I answered the hon. member from the NDP, the OECD has taken Panama off the grey list and put it on the white list. This signifies that Panama's money laundering difficulty, one it had for many years, is being worked on. There are terrific improvements being made by the Panamanian government when it comes to money laundering.

The other thing that should be noted from the hon. member's statement is that the U.S. has signed a free trade agreement with Panama. The European Union is in the process of doing so. Obviously they have satisfied any concerns they had as to money laundering. I see no reason why we should not be satisfied with the advancement that Panama has made in that area.

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12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder Conservative London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been privileged to be part of the international trade committee since being elected by the great constituents of London West. In that time we have had an aggressive approach toward free trade agreements throughout the world. Panama is particularly important in a lot of ways.

The issue that comes up in every free trade deal is agriculture. Colleagues from all sides of the House have just come back from Europe where we talked to the Europeans with respect to that.

Knowing the importance of agriculture as it relates to this free trade deal and what it would mean from a tariff standpoint, could the parliamentary secretary please explain to the House why the issue of tariff-free products, particularly as it relates to agriculture, means so much to Canada and to the agricultural community in our country?

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12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

I can break it down quite simply, Mr. Speaker. There would be an immediate gain. There are average tariffs on agricultural products of 13.5%, which goes much higher on certain individual items. A number of agricultural products will now come in tariff free, or basically tariff free, including everything from oilseeds and pulses to frozen potato products, which come from the riding of the hon. member for Malpeque, to fish, beef and pork. All of these products will have improved access to the Panamanian market.

The other thing that should not be missed is the fact that the Americans have signed a free trade agreement. They are our competition in North America and throughout much of the world when it comes to agriculture. For us to have an opportunity to have preferential access to agricultural products is an opportunity that our country cannot afford to miss.

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12:25 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to seek some further clarification on the issue of Panama being a tax haven.

The parliamentary secretary indicated that Panama had been taken off the grey list, but as recently as November 5, French President Sarkozy added Panama to a list of countries that he said remained tax havens and would be shunned by the international community.

Would the parliamentary secretary not agree that this casts some doubt on the government's contention that Panama has come a long way and that everything substantial has been done to deal with the issue of Panama being a serious tax haven and a problem in relation to trade?

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12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour only has to go back and check the records. It was in July 2011 that the OECD formally placed Panama on its list of jurisdictions that had substantially implemented the international standards for exchange of tax information, commonly known as the white list. This important achievement demonstrates Panama's commitment to combatting international tax evasion and I trust it should appease most of the concerns of the opposition.

The question is not whether Panama is on the grey list or on the white list. Panama has moved forward. We can either accommodate that and congratulate and reward Panama on that, or we can punish Panama and put it back on the grey list.

With the twinning of the Panama Canal, in 2014 Panama will be about to carry 5% of the entire trade on the planet earth. Canada is in a terrific position and an advantageous position to participate in that. We would be foolhardy not to congratulate Panama on the steps forward it has made and not continue to broaden our trade with it and bring it further into the community of nations in the OECD.