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House of Commons Hansard #189 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was terrorism.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker Mr. Barry Devolin

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Bill C-45—Notice of time allocation motionJobs and Growth Act, 2012Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I must advise an agreement has not been reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) concerning the proceedings at report stage and third reading of Bill C-45, a second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures. Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the Crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at those stages.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill S-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

When this matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Winnipeg North had six minutes remaining in questions and comments. Questions and comments.

Seeing none, resuming debate, the hon. member for Manicouagan.

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with my colleague.

Preparing this curious speech to defend the claims in a bill on nuclear terrorism was, in a sense a personal act of bravado. When I say bravado I mean that when I looked at the House calendar and saw that a question dealing with nuclear terrorism had been entered, I told myself it was a golden opportunity for me to reconnect with my old passions.

When I was a graduate student, I often took part in these types of exercises. Graduate studies at university often involve oral presentations and plenary sessions. That is why obscure topics are studied and discussed. Moreover, it is why I decided to embark on a discussion of an issue that may appear inaccessible and intangible at first.

Over the past few days, I invested some effort in reviewing case law and the definitions of “threat” and “terrorism” in the Criminal Code, as well as concepts such as criminal intent or mens rea. This helped refresh my memory of concepts that I learned during my legal training and allows me today to spend a little more time on them and investigate them more deeply.

In light of the scope of the issue, as well as its specificity, I would like to focus particularly on the concept of threat set out in this nuclear terrorism bill. A few offences are mentioned in the bill, including the threat of use of nuclear material and devices. I will focus on this specific concept.

The degree of specialization associated with the scope of the bill gradually helped direct my arguments toward highlighting the impact of the provision creating the threat offence. Here I will rely on the text of the bill. This is not something I am in the habit of doing, but considering the specialized nature of the bill, it is just as well to remain close to the text and refer to it. The bill refers to the threat to possess, use or dispose of nuclear or radioactive material or a nuclear or radioactive device, or to commit an act against a nuclear facility or its operations, with the intent to cause death, serious bodily harm or substantial damage to property or the environment.

With regard to "substantial damage to property", it is important to understand that in the Criminal Code, more often than not threat is limited to two situations, either threats against persons or threats against property. I will come back to this later on, when I go into greater detail on the concept of threat, its impact and its use in this bill.

The bill before us also refers to the threat of using or altering nuclear or radioactive material or a nuclear or radioactive device, or committing an act against a nuclear facility or its operation, with the intent to compel a person, government or international organization to do or refrain from doing any act.

Here, I will focus on the concept of nuclear facility as provided in the bill before us. I will refer to it in my conclusion, when I briefly address nuclear facilities in Canada. It should already be possible to see where I am going with my speech.

Finally, the bill refers to the threat of committing an indictable offence under federal law for the purpose of obtaining nuclear or radioactive material, a nuclear or radioactive device, or obtaining access or control of a nuclear facility.

This particular bill incorporates notions that are already covered by the Criminal Code, such as the definition of threat as an offence, as well as the notion of terrorism. With regard to the definition of threat—I have already taken a few steps along this path—the Criminal Code sets out two very specific cases, that is, the threat to the integrity of an individual and the threat against property. These two cases are covered here, in the bill.

In the case of threat, there is very little in the way of a defence that can be made when an accused faces this type of charge. Ultimately, the accused must show that the threat as expressed should not have been taken seriously because it was only a joke or pure fantasy.

This is the notion of threat. In my view, that is the only defence available under the Criminal Code. However, it must also be understood that the notion of threat, as it is set out in the Criminal Code, does not necessarily involve an investigation of the individual’s ability to commit the act or the medium that was used to formulate and make the threat. The threat may be expressed orally or it may even be sent through an intermediary on the Internet. There are countless methods of transmitting a threat.

Ultimately, the Criminal Code does not consider the actual ability of the person making the threat. His or her actual ability to make good on a threat is not necessarily taken into account. This is what I would like to emphasize because nuclear materials and devices are quite specific.

At the very least, it might be worthwhile to introduce a degree of nuance regarding the possibility for an individual to formulate a threat relating to nuclear devices and to determine whether the individual is in fact able to get his hands on a nuclear device. Even though we support this bill at second reading, it must be understood that, once the bill has become law, the terrorism aspect will automatically apply when this variable, the nuclear aspect, enters the picture.

The offences created under this bill are far-reaching and are very likely to lead to a serious record for an individual. Therefore, we should be very careful in this regard.

While I will support this bill at second reading and despite the fact that the threat offences, as defined in the Criminal Code, disregard an offender’s ability to commit the intended offence, the high level of specialization inherent in the handling of nuclear materials should militate in favour of tightening the criteria relating to the threat offence involving nuclear devices or materials.

As I was saying, these concepts are imported. The Criminal Code already contains very specific terminology and provisions relating to threats and terrorism. If we incorporate these same notions in this bill, we must ensure that the distinction is made. This is a big challenge in light of the fact that, as soon as someone is found guilty of one of the offences set out in this bill, he will automatically be labelled a terrorist, and there is quite a stigma attached to that label. These are very important matters that must be carefully examined.

As some of my colleagues mentioned this morning, this notion of threat goes far beyond Canada's international obligation. This bill was initially drafted to fulfill our international obligations, but we must not get carried away.

In conclusion, I will say—a message from our sponsors—that the greatest nuclear threat is here, in Canada. Some members of my team have told me that some plants here in Canada are storing radioactive waste, including the plants in Gentilly, Quebec, and in Toronto, Ontario. Right now, a rather large and measurable quantity of nuclear waste is being stored in Canada, right under our noses, which is a problem. The nuclear threat is hiding right here in Canada.

I humbly submit this information and hope that I have made members more aware of and interested in this issue.

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech by my colleague from Manicouagan with great interest. We are lucky to have people in this House who have practised criminal law and are in a position to have a really very specific and very expert perspective on these particular points.

He clearly explained the two types of threats: threats against a person and threats against property. In the case of a threat to use fissile material or nuclear material, one of the issues I had not been aware of until now is the question of actual ability to act on a threat: a person could threaten to use a nuclear weapon without being in possession of such a weapon.

Can my colleague comment further on the conflict that might arise if a person were convicted of making threats to use fissile materials when they were not in possession of any such materials?

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. First, I would note that I will be sharing my speaking time with my colleague from Terrebonne—Blainville.

To answer my colleague’s question, when I was working on this bill, I recalled my psychiatric clients. Sometimes, my clients simply stopped taking their medications, and as a result they were disorganized and made threats.

I think there are cases where someone is really not in possession of all their faculties and threatens to use a nuclear device to blow up Canada. I have heard people say things like that, but there was really no nuclear device involved. It would be worth ensuring that the bill require that people actually have the ability to get their hands on a nuclear device or nuclear material, before we think about charging them and accusing them of making threats.

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague for his excellent speech. I would also like to ask him a question about the fact that this bill comes from the other chamber, the Senate.

Perhaps he could reiterate our position on the Senate and the bill before us here, which comes from the other chamber.

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. She will also be the next to speak on this subject.

We will be supporting the bill at second reading. The principle and the international obligations are of crucial importance, although the Conservatives should also be paying attention to the other international obligations they must honour. This important bill is a priority, and that is why we will be taking the path of reason and supporting it.

Bills have to go through the Senate eventually anyway.

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a brief question concerning the fact that we should have acted urgently at the time to adopt all of the legislation and ratify these conventions.

I would like my colleague from Manicouagan to talk about the image that Canada may be projecting on the international scene when we do not act promptly.

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question.

We have seen so many examples of fast tracking on the part of the Conservatives—in fact, I only learned the term here in the House in the past year and a half. It is important that this not become their trademark, because anytime things are done too quickly, certain aspects can be overlooked and sometimes corners are cut, as they say.

In my opinion, having studied the bill, the government was somewhat lax about this for a number of years. Now, at the last minute, the Conservatives want to fix everything. Of course that must be done, out of necessity, but it should not become their trademark. Some subjects warrant careful consideration and must be studied for many years.

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support Bill S-9 at second reading. I would like to say, however, that our position on the Senate, the other chamber, is well known. That chamber has become a place of partisanship and of rewards for friends of the Conservatives, and their family members too, sometimes.

Naturally, it still bothers us to receive bills from the Senate. We disapprove of the fact that it is a completely undemocratic and unelected chamber that wastes a lot of money. At a time when we are seeing cuts everywhere, cuts to services that directly affect my constituents, that chamber is wasting money. I am not reluctant to say it is a waste, because that is what I sincerely believe.

At any rate, we are debating Bill S-9, which is a good bill in principle, and we will study it thoroughly. This bill amends the Nuclear Terrorism Act and creates four new offences in part II of the Criminal Code.

First, this legislation would make it illegal to possess, use or dispose of nuclear or radioactive material or devices, or commit an act against a nuclear facility or its operations with intent to cause death, serious bodily harm or substantial damage to property or the environment; use or alter nuclear material, radioactive material or a device or commit an act against a nuclear facility or its operations with intent to compel a person, government or international organization to do or refrain from doing any act; commit an indictable offence under any act of Parliament, with intent to obtain nuclear material, radioactive material or a device or to obtain access to a nuclear facility; or threaten to commit any of these three offences.

Bill S-9 also amends the Criminal Code in relation to these four new offences, and that is important as well. It also defines certain terms used in the new offences, including “environment”, “nuclear facility”, “nuclear material”, “radioactive material”, and “device”. The bill also amends the definition of “terrorist activity”.

The bill adds a new section to the Criminal Code to ensure that industries that commit or attempt to commit one of these offences while outside Canada can be prosecuted in Canada. It also amends the Criminal Code provisions on electronic surveillance to ensure they apply to these new offences.

The bill amends the Criminal Code so that these four new offences are considered “primary designated offences” for the purpose of DNA warrants and collection.

Finally, the bill amends Canada's rule against double jeopardy so that if an individual has been tried and convicted for the four new offences outside Canada, the rule against double jeopardy will not apply when the foreign trial did not meet certain basic Canadian legal standards. In such circumstances, a Canadian court may try this person again for the same offence of which he or she was convicted by a foreign court.

My party and I think it is extremely important to ratify the international conventions and agreements we have signed. This bill is the result of the ratification of agreements signed in 2005, the ICSANT and CPPNM. We ratified these agreements in 2005 but have not taken the next steps, and it is now 2012.

Of course, it is important that we act in a spirit of international co-operation and concern for the world's safety. It is important that we take action and not just make promises. Therefore, we support Bill S-9 at second reading so that it can be sent to committee and studied more thoroughly.

To date, only 56 countries have ratified the agreement and incorporated the measures included in that agreement into their respective laws.

In my opinion, it is important that Canada take the initiative and ensure that its laws comply with the conventions and agreements that it has signed and ratified. In so doing, we may be able to put pressure on countries that have not yet changed their laws to meet the requirements included in the agreements.

I would like to quote Matthew Bunn, associate professor of public policy at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He said:

At the moment, unfortunately, the mechanisms for global governance of nuclear security remain very weak. No global rules specify how secure a nuclear weapon or the material needed to make one should be. No mechanisms are in place to verify that countries are securing these stockpiles responsibly. Fukushima made clear that action is needed to strengthen both the global safety and security regimes because terrorists could do on purpose what a tsunami did by accident.

A central goal leading up to the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit must be to find ways to work together to strengthen the global framework for nuclear security and continue high-level attention on this topic after nuclear security summits stop taking place. Ratifying the conventions that are under consideration now is important, but it is only the beginning.

Matthew Bunn raises an excellent point. The Nuclear Security Summit will be held in 2014, and it is important to adjust Canadian laws in order to meet the commitments that we made in 2005 and be ready for 2014. We will thus be able to say that we did what the international community pledged to do. Now, what is the next step?

However, I would like to point out a few of our concerns about the bill. These concerns were also raised when this bill was examined by the Senate.

The first concern relates to overbreadth. The intent of the Department of Justice was to stay as close as possible to the provisions of the convention. However, some of the new offences in the Criminal Code are broader than the offences set out in the international agreements. We must therefore make sure that the overbreadth of those sections will not result in excessive criminalization and will not be contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada does have such a charter. It is important that every act and every bill introduced in the House be obeyed.

The second concern raised during study of the bill in the Senate relates to sentencing. The maximum sentences that may be imposed for one of the four new offences are significant. Three of the four offences are liable to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. However, that meets the requirements in the ICSANT and the CPPNM, under which member nations must make the offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.

It should be noted that the bill does not impose a mandatory minimum sentence and that this continues to be a matter of concern. It will be our job to examine that question at greater length when the bill is considered by a committee of the House of Commons.

One of the amendments was proposed by the Senate, and I welcome it because, in my opinion, it is very positive: making a nuclear or radioactive device, which is prohibited by the ICSANT but was not originally prohibited by the proposed amendments to the code. The Liberals therefore put forward an amendment to include this, and I congratulate them for that. I think it is a good amendment. I am glad the bill we are now considering includes that amendment.

I will conclude by saying this. Over time, we have seen various threats to security, and the international community has to respond accordingly.

We responded accordingly after the cold war, after everything that had happened during that era in which nuclear arms were still new. That was the first time we saw this on the international scene. It is important for nations to come together and discuss at greater length what they are going to do to combat present-day threats to security.

I concur with this bill, because it is a step in the right direction.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank my hon. colleague from Terrebonne—Blainville for her speech, which I found very informative. I enjoy listening to her.

The NDP believes that we need to have a serious look at the issue of nuclear safety and meet our international obligations in order to co-operate better with other countries with respect to strategies for fighting nuclear terrorism.

This bill was introduced in the Senate. The NDP usually opposes bills introduced in the Senate, because we believe that it is an unelected house and that these kinds of things should be examined in this House.

Can my hon. colleague from Terrebonne—Blainville explain why the NDP wants to study this bill carefully in committee?

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question.

There are several reasons we want to see this bill move forward and go to committee for further study. For instance, Canada has made certain commitments by ratifying agreements, and it is important that we act accordingly.

It is important to remember that we are seven years behind on this. The agreements were signed in 2005. Thus, we have already waited seven years to amend Canada's laws accordingly. It is important that we take action based on our obligations and what we have promised to do.

Of course, as my colleague pointed out, we take exception to the fact that so many bills are coming from the Senate, which is an undemocratic house.

At one point, the Senate opposed a bill and voted it down, even though it had been democratically passed here in this House, and all the parties had supported it. It was a bill on environmental accountability, a very important and crucial piece of legislation that would have changed all of our positions and policies on the environment. Unfortunately, the other place rejected it.

I regret and condemn that kind of undemocratic activity.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was taken by the comment the member just made about the Senate being an anti-democratic body. The last time I looked, there were a couple of parties represented by senators and some independents. They have sessions, much as we do, with a Speaker. They have free votes in the Senate, and every senator is able to express his or her ideas on any particular subject before voting.

I would like to ask the member, unless I am really missing something, how she sees that as undemocratic, when it operates basically the same way this House does. Apart from the fact that senators are appointed rather than elected, the operation is exactly the same. She was referring to the operation as being undemocratic. I would like her to explain that.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, yes, the Senate does have some good ideas about certain things. However, I am sorry, but senators are not elected. Voting for our representatives is the very foundation of democracy.

I would remind my hon. colleague opposite that three senators—we all know who I am talking about—even said they no longer wanted to be senators and instead wanted to run for a seat in the House in the election. They were defeated. The public rejected them. And what did the Prime Minister do? He reappointed them to the Senate. That is a flagrant example of the partisanship and the lack of democracy that characterize that chamber.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I am honoured to speak to Bill S-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, or the Nuclear Terrorism Act.

This bill was introduced in the Senate on March 27, 2012. It amends the Criminal Code in order to implement the criminal law requirements contained in two international treaties to combat terrorism.

The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, commonly referred to as the CPPNM, was amended in 2005 and ratified by Canada. If my memory serves me well, Canada also signed the 2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, the ICSANT.

The Nuclear Terrorism Act includes 10 clauses that create four new offences under part II of the Criminal Code. This legislation will make it illegal to possess, use or dispose of nuclear or radioactive materials or devices or to commit an act against a nuclear facility or its operations with the intent to cause death, serious bodily harm or substantial damage to property or the environment.

Second, it will make it illegal to use or alter nuclear or radioactive materials or devices or to commit an act against a nuclear facility or its operations with the intent to compel a person, government or international organization to do or refrain from doing any act.

Third, it will make it illegal to commit an indictable offence under an act of Parliament with intent to obtain nuclear or radioactive material or a device or to obtain access to or control of a nuclear facility.

Finally, it will make it illegal to threaten to commit any of the three other offences.

These are serious offences that have dangerous consequences for the safety of Canadians. Bill S-9 was introduced to address these concerns and to comply with the requirements of the various conventions that were signed or ratified by Canada in 2005. This responds to these problems and the danger posed to the safety of Canadians by acts that could be carried out from close by or far away with nuclear materials or devices. That is why we support the bill. We hope it will be referred to committee so we can properly examine the bill and make the necessary changes, and in order for a report to be prepared.

As an aside, this is what the government should have done with Bill C-45. The government should have split the bill into a number of smaller bills so that they could be examined in committee in keeping with procedure and democracy. Unfortunately, the government did not do so.

Let us get back to Bill S-9, which is what we are talking about today. This bill finally meets Canada's international obligations under the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. This means that we must extend the application of international measures beyond protecting against the proliferation of nuclear materials to include protection of nuclear facilities.

This bill also reinforces Canada's obligation under UN Security Council resolution 1540 to enforce effective measures to prevent the proliferation of nuclear materials as well as chemical and biological weapons, but that is another matter.

Finally, I must point out that this law meets a requirement with which Canada has been supposed to comply since 2005. Yet, it is rather strange that it was the Senate, an unelected chamber, that finally fulfilled this obligation.

On the other side of the House, the Conservatives have been twiddling their thumbs since 2006 instead of fulfilling the obligation resulting from the international convention that Canada ratified in 2005, which seeks to implement laws and measures to prevent direct or indirect nuclear threats and ensure that Canadians are safe.

In this regard, it is important to mention that the NDP is determined to promote multilateral diplomacy and international co-operation, particularly in areas of common concern, for example, everything to do with keeping Canada and the world safe from nuclear threats. We must therefore work with the other main countries working on ratifying these conventions.

Canada has also agreed to be legally bound by these conventions. Therefore, it is important to fulfill our obligations before the implementation process at the national level is completed. If I am not mistaken, that is coming very soon, in 2014. So, it was time to act. Unfortunately, as I said, I do not understand why the Conservatives dragged their feet during all that time. They have been in office since 2006 and they have done absolutely nothing. Had they asked for the NDP's co-operation, we would have helped them pass this legislation, which respects international conventions.

In fact, we want to be co-operative. That is why we are going to support this bill at second reading and examine it more thoroughly in committee, pursuant to a democratic process, as I mentioned earlier. In Canada's democratic institutions, it is absolutely necessary, critical and relevant to follow a process whereby a study is properly conducted by a committee. We must have time to prepare, to call experts, to listen to them, to weigh the pros and cons, and to write a report that is submitted to the House of Commons. Again, that was not done in the case of Bill C-45. The approach used was undemocratic, and the Conservatives are the ones who resorted to it.

It is quite telling to see that it is the Senate, an unelected body, that proposed this legislation at last. What was the Conservative government doing during all that time? Nothing. The Conservatives stood idly by. That is what is deplorable, because the NDP was prepared to co-operate with them.

We fully support respecting international conventions. Since 2005, Canada has signed two of those very important conventions. That is the direction we must take. We must properly follow a legislative and democratic process. That is why we support this bill. We want it to pass.

Incidentally, the New Democratic Party also believes that we should take a serious look at the issue of nuclear safety and meet our international obligations to co-operate more efficiently with other countries. It is important to ensure international co-operation. We have long enjoyed a good international reputation. Unfortunately, under the Conservatives, that reputation has really been tarnished, whether we are talking about compliance with conventions or the environment.

We are presently in Doha and, once again, we are collecting fossil awards because we refuse to co-operate with other countries. We now have a bad reputation on the world stage. That is not what New Democrats want. On the contrary, they want co-operation, whether the issue is nuclear safety or the environment.

I would urge the Conservatives to change their ways to ensure better co-operation with other countries. We must all support this bill to ensure the safety of Canadians and of other countries.

1 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, it was introduced via the Senate. We had Senator Dallaire, a former general, who suggested that we needed to amend it. One of the things he made reference to, and they had moved it, was to allow for prohibiting the making of radioactive devices.

The point is, as we go into committee there is a need for us to recognize that in principle this is legislation we can and should support. However, Canada does have a larger role to play in looking at what we are doing internally, and what we could do to further enhance the strength of this legislation so we are speaking from a position of strength at the local level.

Could the member comment on that?

1 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his very relevant question.

As I mentioned in my speech, it is very important for Canada to take a leadership role in international negotiations. Canada could show a lot more leadership and initiative in terms of nuclear security.

My colleague mentioned the support of Lieutenant-General Dallaire, whom I respect a great deal for the excellent work he has done both here and abroad. He is a very committed man and I admire him a lot.

It would be very important for Canada to take a leadership role. An NDP government would work to improve our international co-operation.

1 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is regarding the timing. We know that both of the treaties were signed in 2005, and we are now sitting at the end of 2012. We know that the treaties cannot be ratified until domestic legislation is up to par with the needs to meet the treaty requirements. The bill is trying to do that, trying to ensure that our domestic requirements are met so we can actually ratify the treaty.

My question is twofold. One, why has it taken so long? We have had the same people in government since 2005, when the treaties were signed, and it is now 2012. Also, why was ensuring Canadian and global security against nuclear terrorism not a priority for the government?

1 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member. She also made an excellent speech on Bill S-9 earlier today.

She is absolutely right. It is completely unacceptable and it makes no sense. Why has the Conservative government been dragging its feet since 2006?

As I mentioned earlier, we would have offered our full co-operation to comply with the international conventions. We must do even more than simply complying with them; we must be a leader when it comes to negotiating treaties, whether they have to do with the environment or—as is the case here—protecting Canadians from nuclear risks.

The Conservatives dragged their feet and missed their opportunity to take responsibility for the conventions that they signed in 2005. That is why they are dealing with this fallout. The Senate finally woke up and introduced this bill, but it should have come from this House. The Conservatives have unfortunately not done their job here.

1 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill S-9, which would amend the Criminal Code to implement the criminal law requirements of two international counterterrorism treaties.

The NDP does support the bill at second reading, and it is important to get the bill to committee and to study it further. It is also important to have a fulsome debate in the House of Commons to explore different issues and problems, and to work together with other MPs, regardless of political affiliation, to try to glean a better understanding of this legislation and what changes Canada needs to make to the Criminal Code to deal with nuclear terrorism. This is a good opportunity for us to come together and have a debate in the House. We will support this legislation at second reading so we can get the bill to committee and then hear from experts, and whomever we need to hear from, to make sure we are putting forward the best bill that we can.

To start off, I thought we could look at our international treaty obligations. The bill was introduced in the Senate earlier this year to implement the criminal law requirements of two international counterterrorism treaties, specifically the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. To date, Canada has not ratified either of these treaties, and that is because Canada does not yet have the legislation in place to criminalize the offences that are outlined in these two documents. In a case where the implementation of a treaty requires amendments to Canadian legislation, a treaty is ratified only when such amendments or new legislation has been passed.

The amendments in Bill S-9 would introduce into the Criminal Code, Canada's efforts to align our domestic legislation with what is required by both conventions internationally. If the amendments become law, then presumably Canada will be in a situation where we could ratify these two treaties, something that Canada as well as other countries committed to working toward, both at the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., and the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, Korea.

The NDP is committed to multilateral diplomacy and international co-operation, especially in areas of great common concern like nuclear terrorism. No one could possibly not agree that nuclear terrorism is a great common concern, no matter where one is living in the global community. We need to work with other leading countries toward ratifying these conventions.

Canada has agreed to be legally bound by these conventions. We have said out loud to the world that we would like to be bound by these conventions. It is important to fulfill those international obligations, and we cannot do that until the domestic implementation is complete. We welcome the bill and the government's attempt to implement our obligations and start down the path toward ratification.

However, we do need to talk about some important considerations concerning the bill, both in the House as well as at committee. It is interesting to note that these considerations arose during the bill's study in the Senate. It is important to look at what happened while this was being studied by the Senate because some very interesting things came out. As I pointed out, this issue is of great common concern, but it is also an issue that we need to get right. We need to fully understand how to address this issue and make sure we are putting the best piece of domestic legislation forward.

I am going to talk about three main areas that came up in the Senate study. The first is that of overbreadth.The intention of the Department of Justice drafters was probably to adhere as closely as possible to the defined terms in the convention, but some of the new Criminal Code offences are broader in scope than the offences found in these individual international agreements. We have to be certain that the overbreadth of these sections will not result in undue criminalization, and we have to make sure they will not go against our charter of rights. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is unique to Canada. We need to spend extra time making sure we get this right.

The next subject that arose, and again it is not a huge concern, but it is of enough concern that we need to have a fulsome study and gain greater understanding of this issue, is penalties.

The maximum penalties that can be imposed for any of the four new offences are substantial. We will even see a life imprisonment maximum for three of the four offences. The penalities are substantial. They are strict. They reflect the requirement, under these two treaties, that parties make the offences punishable by penalties appropriate to the grave nature of the offences. There are no mandatory minimums in Bill S-9, and I think that is to be noted.

I am not saying that this is a piece of great alarm. I am not saying that it is something we need to throw out. I am just saying that there needs to be a very fulsome consideration of this issue at committee. I think we need to bring in as many experts as we possibly can to help us understand whether the penalties are actually appropriate to the nature of the offences, whether they go too far or whether they do not go far enough. That is something I am not prepared to make a decision on standing here. I would want to hear from experts to see whether the penalties are appropriate.

As I have indicated, the NDP supports this bill going to committee. We will vote for it at second reading. We expect to vigorously participate at committee. We expect that we will probably vote for it at third reading as well, because we are anxious to make sure we have the domestic legislation to fulfill our international treaty obligations. Overall we are completely behind this bill. It is a necessary measure of Canada's international co-operation against threats related to nuclear terrorism of various forms.

In a world of technological sophistication that increases the ability to steal material, attack installations, make radioactive devices and so on, it is impossible to overstate the importance of such co-operation. Indeed, it is impossible to overstate Canada's role in that co-operation.

We wish to see the bill become law as rapidly as possible, while, at the same time, it achieves that balance. We emphasize that we need close technical scrutiny of the bill in committee. This is still called for to ensure that it has been drafted in the best way to fulfill our obligations under these two treaties. Then we can go on. Once we ratify, we will no longer be in non-compliance.

That brings me to another issue that came up in the Senate study that I think we need to address both here in the House and at committee. That is the fact that there seems to have been a major omission in the government's bill, the bill that went to the Senate before coming to us. What was that omission?

In the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, ICSANT, article 2(1)(a) includes the offence of making a radioactive device. Bill S-9, in its original form before the Senate, did not include this activity, despite mentioning every other type of activity that was also in the two treaties: possession, use, transport, export, import, alteration and disposal. The Senate caught this omission, which is great. The mistake has been rectified, and now we do not have a problem with the bill we have before us from the Senate. I think that underlines the point that we should take a pause and ask questions.

If something as significant as making a radioactive device was missing from the original treaty, perhaps something else could have been overlooked. What if there is some accident of inaccuracy? What if we are not including something we have not thought of in the drafting of this bill?

That is exactly why we have the legislative process we have. We can debate in the House. We can go to committee. We can hear from experts and Canadians from coast to coast to coast. They can be part of the legislative process. They can guide us and give us advice, whether it be technical or about their hopes and dreams or their vision for a safe country.

We need to have that exploration at committee. I do not think it is something that can be rushed. We will all look forward to that debate and discussion at committee.

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, when I was addressing the issue, I made reference to the fact that these are agreements that were signed many years ago. In fact, if we look to their origins, we can date some of them back to former Prime Minister Chrétien and former Prime Minister Paul Martin, who recognized them as important issues and ultimately played a role in terms of the agreements being signed.

The issue we have to address, at least in part today, is the substance of the legislation. However, one could also call into question why it has taken the government so long to process it through the House of Commons. It seems that the support is there from all political parties in terms of the principles of trying to deal with the importance of nuclear terrorism.

Would the member provide comment as to whether she thinks the time has come to get this done?

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, there is a balance required between delay and having a fulsome discussion and study. This was introduced in the last Parliament. I do not have any advice as to why the bill was not brought forward. The technical procedural elements and those kinds of delays are different from spending time looking at the legislation and hearing from witnesses with respect to it.

I do appreciate that the member brought up the point that we have signed this international obligation and that it is important for us to have domestic legislation. I do wish those requirements would have been asked with respect to other pieces of international treaties, such as the international convention on social and economic rights, which we signed in 1970. It states that there is a right to housing in Canada; yet we do not have any domestic legislation with respect to that. Therefore, I wish that in some of those other treaties we had the requirement to bring forward domestic legislation in order to ratify those treaties.