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House of Commons Hansard #208 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was witnesses.

Topics

Ban on Shark Fin Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

moved that Bill C-380, an act to amend the Fish Inspection Act and the Fisheries Act (importation of shark fins), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to begin debate on second reading of Bill C-380, which would amend the Fish Inspection Act by legally banning the importation of shark fins, not attached to the rest of the shark, to Canada. It would also amend the Fisheries Act by enshrining in legislation Canada's current prohibition on shark finning.

My bill seeks to address a conservation crisis that is happening in oceans around the world. Right now, we are witnessing the rapid decline of sharks due to the demand for their fins. Up to 73 million sharks are being killed each year, primarily for their fins. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, over one-third of all shark species are currently threatened with extinction.

Sharks are being finned. The practice of finning is brutal. If I could show an image of a shark getting its fins cut off before being dumped back into the ocean, people would be horrified. Let me describe how sharks are caught and killed. Long lines, often 85 kilometres or so long, are placed in the ocean. These lines have multiple hooks, which indiscriminately catch sea creatures such as sharks, turtles, swordfish, tuna and other big fish. Sharks are hauled into the fishing vessel. Some are dead, but many are still alive. Once they are in the boat, the fins are cut off the shark and its body is dumped back into the ocean. It is left to die a slow and painful death as it sinks helplessly to the bottom of the ocean.

This is not only unethical, but it is a terribly wasteful practice. Scientists estimate that in just a few short decades some regional shark populations will have declined by over 95%. Experts also predict that if current trends continue, up to 20 shark species could become functionally extinct by 2017. That is only four years from now.

Sharks have long life cycles and are slow to reproduce. They predate dinosaurs. They are apex predators and play a critical role in maintaining the health and balance of our ocean ecosystems. For these reasons, sharks cannot sustain the intense fishing practices they are under. Humans are causing irrevocable harm to our marine ecosystems by continuing to fish sharks into extinction. The consequences of not addressing this problem will significantly and permanently harm the health of our oceans. As parliamentarians, we must consider how Canada can play a positive role in this global conservation crisis.

I propose that Canada adopt an importation ban on shark fins, as it is a practical and effective way for Canada to help curtail the illegal global shark fin trade. The primary reason for the rapid decline of sharks in our oceans is the demand for their fins. Unfortunately, shark finning has become a prevalent practice in various parts of the world. While some countries have banned shark finning, global demand for shark fin continues to drive illegal, unreported and unregulated shark fisheries. On average, shark fins sell for $400 per kilogram, while shark meat is worth about 50¢ a kilogram. Consequently, a highly profitable, underground shark fin market has emerged, which exploits threatened and endangered shark species to maximize profits. Organized crime is very much involved with the sale of shark fin around the world.

Canada imports, on average, just over 100 tonnes of shark fin a year. Some consumers of shark fin soup falsely believe only shark fins from properly regulated and well-managed fisheries are allowed into the country. This is simply not the case. The fact is that there is no quick and easy way to verify whether imported shark fins came from a sustainable or humane shark fishery. In fact, most do not. It has been proven that fins of threatened and endangered sharks are being sold in Canada today.

Last year, CTV News and the Vancouver Animal Defense League purchased dried shark fins from various shops in the Lower Mainland and had the DNA tested by a lab at the University of Guelph. Of the 59 samples tested, it was determined that 76% of those fins came from sharks listed as threatened or endangered by the IUCN. In fact, 10% of the samples came from scalloped hammerhead sharks, which the IUCN lists as endangered. These hammerheads are also listed under appendix 3 of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This is the international treaty intended to protect species from overexploitation.

As a member of CITES, Canada is asked to assist in controlling the trade of these sharks, but it is clear that we are not living up to our commitment. Despite being a signatory to CITES, Canada is contributing to the global trade of illegal shark fins by continuing to import fins indiscriminately. This is a black eye on our reputation as a world leader in ocean conservation and stewardship.

It is also important to note that existing international regulations and protocols have not demonstrated that they can swiftly respond to the urgent threats facing overexploited shark populations. Proposals to strengthen finning bans and to add more shark species to endangered species lists are failing to gain consensus due to member countries' competing self-interests. Even Canada has been criticized for being the only country to oppose listing porbeagle sharks as endangered at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.

It is clear that current regulations are not enough to protect sharks from being fished to extinction for their fins. The best way to put an end to this horrific practice is to legislate a ban on the importation of shark fins to Canada. By adopting an import ban, Canada would be joining a worldwide conservation movement to protect sharks. Other countries with shark fin bans include the Bahamas, Chile, Ecuador, Fiji and Guam, as well as the U.S. states of California, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon and Washington.

Across Asia, there are numerous examples of the growing movement to protect sharks. The Chinese government recently announced it would stop serving shark fin soup at official banquets. Prestigious restaurants and hotels across Asia have removed shark fin soup from their menus, including major high-end hotel chains such as Peninsula, Shangri-La, the Marriott and the Sheraton. Cathay Pacific Airways halted its role in the shark fin trade when it decided to stop transporting shipments of shark fin and other shark products.

In Canada, efforts to protect sharks have gained significant momentum over the past few years. Growing numbers of Chinese restaurants have taken sharp fin soup off their menus, including Floata Seafood Restaurant in Vancouver, one of the largest Chinese restaurants in the country. However, some restaurant owners, while recognizing the harmful impact of shark fin soup, feel that if they take it off their menus their customers will take their business elsewhere. This is the case for Veronica Kwan, owner of Kam Fung Chinese Restaurant in Brossard, Quebec. She wrote to members of Parliament urging them to support Bill C-380. She writes:

A ban on the import of shark fins to Canada would level the playing field for business owners such as myself who want to do what it is ethically and ecologically responsible while still remaining commercially competitive.

Increased awareness and action to protect sharks is due in part to grassroots organizations such as Shark Truth, which is fostering change through positive campaigns such as its Happy Hearts Love Sharks wedding contest, which encourages couples to go fin free at wedding banquets. Organizations such as the Humane Society International-Canada, WildAid Canada and United Conservationists have also raised national awareness of the urgent need to protect sharks.

I must also highlight the work of Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart, whose 2007 film, Sharkwater, opened the eyes of millions of people to the exploitation of sharks through finning and the rampant corruption present in the shark fin trade. Through stunning original footage, Stewart documents how even sharks in marine reserves are targeted by poachers. His film has reached large audiences in Canada and around the world and is in part responsible for increased awareness of the realities of shark finning.

Numerous municipalities in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia have responded to the growing public awareness of threats to sharks by adopting bans on shark fin, and many more cities across the country are considering similar bans. Last year the Union of British Columbia Municipalities passed a near unanimous resolution calling on the federal government to ban the import of shark fins to Canada. Cities across Canada are taking action to protect sharks and they are calling on the federal government to do the same.

Before drafting my bill, I consulted with Chinese Canadian business associations, restaurant owners and individuals, as well as academics, elected representatives from all levels of government, environmental organizations and the wider public. I had polling done in English, Chinese, Cantonese and Mandarin in British Columbia, which found that 76% of Chinese-speaking respondents and over 83% of English-speaking respondents support a federal import ban on shark fins.

It is clear that there is widespread support for the federal government to ban the importation of shark fins to Canada. Tens of thousands of Canadians have signed petitions and written to their members of Parliament urging them to support Bill C-380. I have heard from many members that they have received calls and emails, especially in the last few weeks. I want to thank Canadians for writing and contacting their members to let them know how important this issue is.

I have introduced many of these petitions in the House of Commons and I can tell my colleagues that they come from all corners of this country. Children are particularly passionate about shark conservation and I have been amazed by their enthusiasm to create change. In my riding, a class of grade one students and their teacher from Moody Elementary made a great presentation to Port Moody city council in support of a municipal ban on shark fin. They researched the environmental impact of shark finning and were excited to share their learning with the council and the public.

I must say it was quite moving when these young people came into council chambers with their very organized messages and signs. They gave a very compelling presentation and I have never seen members of a council react so quickly. They wanted to pass a ban that night. It took a while in Port Moody, but it became the first municipality in British Columbia to pass a ban on shark fin. That caused a chain reaction with the other municipalities in British Columbia, which is now the province that has the most municipal bans in Canada.

The facts before us today make the case that Canada must take immediate action to address the crisis of rapidly declining shark populations. We are facing the likely extinction of shark species around the globe, largely due to the demand for their highly valued fins. Canada must stop indiscriminately importing fins from endangered and threatened sharks. We must put an end to our role in the illegal global shark fin trade.

I ask all members to support Bill C-380 at second reading so it can be studied further at committee.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleague a bit more about the principle behind his bill. He talked about a conservation crisis and used words such as “rapidly declining shark populations”, “pending extinction”, and so on, though there are many shark populations that are quite healthy. If this is the motivation behind the bill, is he suggesting that for other species that might be facing a conservation crisis, let us say tuna, the same approach should be taken and that Canada should ban the importation of tuna?

Would he then suggest that every other country should follow Canada's example and not allow the importation of tuna, which could negatively affect both our own tuna fishers as well as those who fish for shark within Canadian waters? I wonder if he has thought that through.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the parliamentary secretary raising the issue of tuna. The protection and conservation of tuna is critically important, and I hope that Canada will take action.

My bill is focused specifically on shark conservation. Sharks are being targeted for their fins, not their meat. The meat is, as I mentioned in my speech, about 50 cents a pound. The fins, on the other hand, are valued at up to $400 a pound or a kilogram. The shark fin is what is being targeted here.

As some scientists have predicted, we could lose some species as early as 2017—in other words, in this decade—if we do not take dramatic action. Canada can become a global leader by becoming the first country to ban the importation of sharks and really focusing on the shark fin as the source of the issue, which will help conserve our shark populations.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, a number of my constituents are Chinese Canadians, and they have approached me with concerns about this bill.

Like the hon. member, they are dead opposed to finning, and they are totally opposed to the importation of sharks that are an endangered species. They accept both principles. At the same time, they view an outright ban on shark fin soup as an attack on the Chinese culture. I think there is a way around this.

My question for the hon. member is whether he would entertain amendments to his bill that would allow the use of shark fin soup in Canada, but only on the condition that it is not made with sharks that have been finned or sharks that are endangered and that the importation would be limited to countries that obey international law in these matters.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

February 11th, 2013 / 11:20 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member raised three issues I could respond to.

In terms of consultation, I consulted with a wide variety of stakeholders, including Chinese business associations. Their concern is that they want a level playing field. They want to see an importation ban. They feel that it is the fair way to go.

I want to clarify that this bill does not impact what is sold in the country. This bill focuses on what is coming into the country. It actually does not address the issue the hon. member was talking about in terms of a ban on shark fin soup. That is more a provincial jurisdiction in terms of sales and trade.

The importation of shark fins, which is really getting at the illegal finning trade, is what this bill focuses on. It will curtail that important demand that exists in the world right now, in which Canada plays a part.

In terms of addressing issues at committee stage and entertaining amendments, I think that is what committee is for. There will be a healthy discussion and debate. I hope all hon. members will consider supporting this bill at second reading so that we can get this bill forwarded to committee for further discussion. Perhaps there are amendments that might need to be made. That discussion will be at committee.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking in response to Bill C-380. It goes without saying that this is a difficult issue.

Our Conservative government is committed to addressing the serious problem of shark finning. We are taking action on a number of fronts to end this deplorable activity. It is very important to note that shark finning has been banned in Canada since the mid-1990s.

The ban applies to Canadian waters and Canadian licensed vessels fishing outside our territorial waters. Canada is one of the first countries to implement a national plan of action for the conservation and management of sharks.

Our government believes that working through regional fisheries management organizations, such as the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, to ensure strong management and enforcement practices globally, is the most effective way to prevent unsustainable practices such as finning.

We take seriously our legal obligation to prevent the import of products from shark species that are currently listed as endangered and are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

These species are the great white shark, the whale shark and the basking shark.

I will speak specifically about the proposals in the bill that pertain to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's food safety obligations and the proposed changes to the Fish Inspection Act.

Let me begin by reiterating our government's unwaivering commitment to food safety and the role of the CFIA. The CFIA is already exploring what can be done on the importation of shark fins. Shark products for human consumption fall under regulations that address the importation of fish and seafood products. These regulations set standards for quality, safety and identification and are enforced by the CFIA.

The CFIA focuses solely on food safety and quality as well as consumer protection. All licence holders for Canadian shark fisheries and for fisheries where sharks are landed as bycatch are subject to licence conditions that prohibit them from engaging in shark finning. All licensed shark fishing vessels in Canada are subject to 100% monitoring. Non-compliance with a licence condition constitutes an offence under the Fisheries Act, as enforced by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

As my hon. colleagues are aware, Bill C-380 proposes to prohibit the importation of shark fins unless authorized by a permit issued by the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. The expertise and jurisdiction to make these determinations lie with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which therefore renders the licensing scheme in the bill through the Fish Inspection Act completely unfeasible.

I would first like to analyze this proposal in relation to Canada's existing Fish Inspection Act and then in relation to the new Safe Food for Canadians Act.

The Fish Inspection Act regulates issues related to the quality and safety of fish and seafood intended for human consumption. The importation ban set out in the Fish Inspection Regulations applies only to fish products that pose a risk of harm to human health.

However, there is no evidence that shark fins post a risk to human health.

If CFIA were to restrict the importation of shark fins for any reason other than food safety, it would leave Canada vulnerable to a trade challenge at the WTO. The proposed ban on shark fin imports does not prohibit the legal production and sale of domestic shark fins in Canada; it prohibits imports of shark fins that were legally produced in other countries. It is a protectionist policy, one that is not good for trade. This could pave the way for other countries to impose protectionist policies on Canadian imports with little to no basis. In fact, Canada is currently challenging the EU at the WTO on a similar type of ban on Canadian seal products.

Bill C-380's recommendations go beyond the framework of the existing regulations and the new, forthcoming regulations on food safety.

The bill also comes at a time when Canada's Fish Inspection Act will be repealed as our government's Safe Food for Canadians Act comes into force. The Safe Food for Canadians Act, which received royal assent this past fall, strengthens and modernizes our food safety system to make sure that it continues to provide for safe food for Canadians.

This legislation will provide appropriate measures to ensure that Canadians can continue to have faith in the effective protection provided by the CFIA. The main objective of the new legislative measures on food safety is to strengthen our ability to protect Canada's food supply and the health of Canadians.

The Safe Food for Canadians Act will allow us to achieve that by incorporating the provisions of various acts and regulations, including the Fish Inspection Act, in order to ensure more uniform treatment of food products.

Our government is unable to support the bill. However, it will continue to support responsible, legal shark harvesters and will crack down on those who break the rules.

I appreciate my hon. colleagues' full attention on this matter.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-380, an act to amend the fish inspection act and the fisheries act (importation of shark fins) sponsored by my hon. colleague, the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

Bill C-380 is an important bill with very important implications. It would enshrine in legislation Canada's ban against shark finning. Shark finning is a cruel and inhumane practice that I believe the Government of Canada should be doing whatever it can to end on a global basis. Besides cruelty, shark finning is an awful practice for a number of reasons.

Shark fin fisheries are associated with excessive mortality, as the fishing effort is not limited by hold space. Shark finning threatens the sustainability of fisheries. Finning hinders the collection of the catch data needed to monitor population trends and set sustainable catch levels. Overfishing, which may be driven by finning, is widely recognized as the greatest cause of extinction risk to sharks.

The removal of large numbers of top predators may destabilize marine ecosystems.

It was a Liberal government that banned shark finning in Canada back in 1994. It has been enacted through fisheries regulations and management plans since then. Bill C-380 would place it directly under the Fisheries Act. This would be a good step to take and would send a clear and renewed message that Canada would never accept this practice in any shape or form. It would be a strong symbolic gesture of Canada's stance on the issue.

The stocks of some shark species are in bad shape, and some of the problem can be traced to the practice of shark finning by those countries that allow it. Canada should be doing its part to take a strong stand and take effective action against others who participate in this awful practice.

It is the other part of the bill, which I partially support, that gives me some hesitation. This part of the bill would add to the Fish Inspection Act a prohibition against importing shark fins that are not attached to the rest of the shark carcass. It would also allow the minister to import fins used for scientific research related to the survival of shark species.

In 2011, Canada imported over 100 tonnes of shark fin, which were worth $6.3 million. None of these fins were attached to the rest of the carcass at the time of import. Therefore, this bill would essentially ban all shark fin imports to Canadian soil without making a difference as to whether they were obtained through shark finning or through sustainable and proper fishing methods.

About half of the 2011 shark fin imports came from other countries that already ban the practice of shark finning. I wonder what message it sends if we completely ban the import of shark fins and do not note the difference between the countries that ban the practice of shark finning and those that still allow it to take place. I believe that we must make a distinction and send a clear message to those countries that still allow the practice to take place in their shark fisheries.

If we do not make a distinction between which species the fins come from, I would also wonder whether they were from endangered species or from those with stocks that are in good shape. These are important points to make.

As it is currently written, the bill would place a federal ban on imports of a food that is still seen as very valuable and very important by many in the Chinese Canadian community. I do not believe that a complete federal ban on all shark fin imports to this country, whether they were obtained through shark finning or through proper sustainable fishing methods, would send a very good message to those countries.

I believe that we should have the right to choose to eat a culturally important food as long as it is obtained properly from species that are not threatened and that the shark fishing did not involve cruelty.

It is dependent upon us as federal legislators to be very sensitive to the cultural and identity concerns of Canada's many different communities, while still taking a strong stance against the very cruel and inhumane practice of shark finning, which is still practised in countries around the world. Not all shark fisheries involve species that are threatened, and not all shark fishers participate in the cruel practice of shark finning.

This is also an important point to make. We must not put countries that do a good job of regulating their shark fisheries to prevent overfishing and cruelty in the same boat as countries that permit overfishing and shark finning. If we punish only those countries that allow these practices by banning imports from them we would send them a very clear message that this is unacceptable. Perhaps this would be an incentive for those countries to change the way they handle their shark fisheries and perhaps other countries would follow suit.

However, if we also punish those countries that are doing a good job regulating their shark fisheries and preventing cruelty, what message are we sending to them? We would be sending the message that it makes no difference whether they regulate their fisheries and prevent cruelty; that we will treat them the same as countries with unregulated fisheries that allow overfishing to destroy shark stocks and that allow the cruel practice of shark finning. I certainly do not feel that this would be a prudent thing to do.

I would like to explore the bill further in committee and see whether we can make a distinction between where the shark fin comes from and what species it comes from. Some shark fins may very well come from countries that ban shark finning already. The shark may be of a species that is fished sustainably and in an appropriate manner by countries that ban shark finning. The fin may also be separated from the carcass properly once the shark has been landed and brought to the shore of that country. Other shark fins may come from countries that allow shark finning, or from threatened species of shark. These fins are the fins we should focus on banning from importation to Canada.

If Bill C-380 passes as it is currently written, it would make Canada the first country in the world to ban shark fin imports. It is a very important bill and we must look at it closely. I agree completely that shark finning is an awful practice and we need to do more to pressure those countries that engage in this practice to stop it from happening. We must do what we can to make sure shark fins coming into Canada are legally harvested.

I come from an area of the country where fisheries are very important. Having sustainable fisheries is something that is truly important to me and to the many people involved in the fisheries in my riding of Cardigan and in the province of Prince Edward Island. We all agree that a sustainable fishery is something we must have. However, the people involved in the fishery must be able to make a living if they are fishing the proper species of shark and if they are using the proper methods.

We should not punish those people involved in sustainable shark fisheries. We cannot lump them in together with people who fish critically endangered species and those who practise shark finning. I believe if we look at the bill more closely at committee and are able to make some amendments, it would serve this purpose.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start my speech in this new year of the snake by wishing you and all my colleagues a happy year of the snake. Chuc mung nam moi.Xin nian kuai le kung hei fat choi.

I would like to thank my colleague from New Westminster—Coquitlam, who introduced this bill. I would also like to thank him for all the groundwork he has done to convince many people of the merit of this bill, which is important to me. I believe we should all support it.

I would like to explain why I am giving my full support to this bill and why it is so important to me. I am a certified scuba diving supervisor and instructor. Unfortunately, since being elected I no longer have the time for it. When I taught the “open water” level to beginners, I talked about the importance of preserving our environment, especially the marine flora.

I also showed them the documentary Sharkwater, which was filmed by a Canadian and, I believe, won 31 international prizes. It is a beautiful film that provides a simple explanation of the problem of shark finning. It also provides insight into the impact of the phenomenon on the shark population and the reason for this fishing practice.

I cannot help but talk about my Asian heritage. I grew up eating shark fin soup. However, things are changing. The new generation supports this bill, and I will talk about this a little later. Things are changing and I believe it is important for parliamentarians to make that change happen.

After going on a dive and returning to the boat, having had the chance to see a real live shark, which is truly a pleasure, everyone on the boat will have a smile.They will talk about how amazing the creature is, how important it is, and how privileged we are to be able to swim with it. A lot of people have seen Jaws, but that is Hollywood. In real life it is a beautiful creature and an important creature because it keeps our ecosystem in equilibrium.

One thing that is really important to point out is that a tremendous number of sharks are being killed just for their fins; I repeat, just for their fins. The people are not eating shark steak. My colleague mentioned the price of fins versus the price of meat. The reason we do not eat shark meat is that a shark is the apex predator and it contains a lot of mercury. I do not hear about a lot of people eating shark steak.

The real problem is that sharks are often finned alive. Why are we doing this, just taking their fins? In my community, in the Chinese and Vietnamese community, it is important to treat guests well. At a wedding, for instance, guests are brought shark fin soup. The soup might taste really good, but it is not because of the shark fins but because of the pork broth or chicken broth, which gives it taste. Shark fin has no taste. It is a cartilage and it has no nutritional value. It is basically just a question of prestige.

My colleague from New Westminster—Coquitlam mentioned that he has approached a lot of kids and people in different communities. It is really important for them because there is a difference between the value and the fact that they want the banquet to look good for others. It is not necessary to do that. Even the Chinese government has realized that. A lot of hotel chains have started banning shark fin soup.

If we think about it, it is not really a matter of culture.

I heard government members say that we were targeting Chinese and Asian cultures. That is not true. Cultures and traditions evolve. I am part of a new generation. I have spoken to many people. We believe that we must maintain our roots and evolve at the same time.

I therefore urge my colleagues to support this bill, which is very important for future generations.

An often-used example is ivory from endangered species. Ivory was harvested, just as shark fins are now.

I heard my colleagues say that we should focus on certain fins. A 2012 CTV report revealed that, out of 59 shark fins from which DNA samples were taken, 76% were from endangered species. So even though cutting shark fins is not allowed at the moment, the reality is that, in practice, it would be nearly impossible for inspectors to conduct DNA tests to figure out where every fin is coming from.

If my colleague had watched the film Sharkwater, he would also know that there is a massive black market. It is completely illegal. How do we implement the checks? Where do the fins come from? Do they come from a country that does not ban this type of shark-fin cutting, which is often done while the shark is alive? How can we truly know that the fins are not from the black market? That is the problem and that is what the bill is trying to address.

My Liberal colleague has said that he wants the bill to go to committee so that it can be studied and amendments can be made. We completely agree. Unlike another party, we are open to amendments and discussion. The goal is to fix a problem, namely shark finning. It creates an imbalance in nature and marine life. What is more, it is unnecessary.

My colleague mentioned tuna. If we apply this principle to shark fins, should we apply it to tuna as well? They are completely different situations. We are talking about the practice of killing a shark to take its fin and use it in a traditional dish. Unfortunately, this does little other than add to the cost. We have already seen what will happen if this practice continues. There is already an imbalance in nature, in the protection of marine life.

If my colleague wanted to protect fish, he would know that taking sharks out of the system creates an underwater imbalance. We are talking about protection and, as a scuba diver, it affects me greatly. Future generations need to be able to see sharks. In 2009, the International Union for Conservation of Nature stated that one-third of shark species were endangered because of this trade.

This is a real problem. Every year, 73 million sharks are killed. That is a stupefying number. If we do nothing, future generations will pay the price, and I am not talking only about the students who are already in school. There is a great public outcry. I am sure that my colleagues have received emails about this issue, and maybe even some tweets.

I think we have to listen to what the next generation is saying. They are saying, “Protect the sharks; keep them for the next generations”. If we are not doing anything now and we know the reason for bringing in shark fins is simply a question of prestige, at one point we have to react.

We know that the regulations in place are not doing the job right now. This is why we have to move forward.

There is a tremendous amount of support from the communities, from scuba divers and even from the Chinese community.

I would like to thank Veronica Kwan from La Maison Kam Fung in Brossard, in my riding, who is aware of the issue and supports the bill. I would also like to thank Canada's branch of Humane Society International, which has done a lot of work on this issue.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Mr. Speaker, again, I want to thank the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam for bringing this important issue to the attention of this House.

I think I can safely say that every member of this House, as do I, thinks the practice of shark finning is an awful thing. It involves the removal of the shark's fin while it is still alive and discarding the rest of the animal into the sea to die of suffocation or predation. We all agree that this is deplorable. Where we might disagree is on how to deal with the issue of shark finning, and I am not yet convinced that Bill C-380 is the way.

To remind hon. members, the bill proposes to amend two federal acts: the Fish Inspection Act, to prohibit the importation of shark fins; and the Fisheries Act, to prohibit the practice of shark finning in Canada. As my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, has spoken on the Fish Inspection Act, I will focus primarily on the changes proposed to the Fisheries Act.

Bill C-380 calls for amendments to the Fisheries Act to ban the practice of shark finning. However, the bill attempts to fix something that is not broken. Shark finning is banned in Canada and has been for almost two decades. In fact, the practice of finning has been banned in Canada since 1994, through licensing conditions under the fishery general regulations. That ban applies to Canadian fishery waters as well as licensed Canadian vessels fishing outside of our territorial waters.

Shark fishing in Canada is governed by sustainable management plans that include strong enforcement regimes to ensure that finning does not occur in Canadian fisheries, and these apply to all shark fisheries in Canadian waters. Indeed, only a few shark species are harvested in Canada, including spiny dogfish, porbeagle shark, shortfin mako shark and blue shark. These harvests are carefully managed based on the best scientific advice, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada is allowed to monitor shark populations in order to ensure their conservation. The shark fishery in Canada is highly regulated, with rigorous dockside monitoring. In fact, Canada maintains the first and only shark fishery in the world to be certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

As mentioned, in 1994, due to rising concerns over the practice, the Canadian government prohibited shark finning. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans was given the ability to do this under section 7 of the Fisheries Act, which sets out the minister's authority to issue leases and licences for fisheries or fishing. Section 22 of the regulations provides the minister with specific authority to set out targeted licence conditions for the proper management and control of fisheries and the conservation and protection of fish. These provisions provide the minister with the authority to impose measures to eliminate shark finning as a licence condition.

Therefore, the regulations already allow the minister to impose, as a licence condition, measures to eliminate shark finning, which has been done. Today, all licence holders for Canadian shark fisheries and for fisheries where sharks are landed as bycatch are subject to licence conditions that prohibit them from engaging in shark finning. Why try to reinvent the wheel with Bill C-380?

The ban is enforced through a number of different internationally accepted methods across Canada. One approach requires that the number of fins correspond with the number of shark carcasses landed by shark fishing vessels. Under a second and more common approach, the number of fins on shark fishing vessels cannot exceed 5% of the overall weight of carcasses onboard when it lands. Both methods are intended to ensure that sharks are not being caught solely for their fins.

All licensed shark fishing vessels in Canada are subject to 100% monitoring to ensure this ratio is respected. Any violation of a licence condition is an offence under the Fisheries Act. Penalties for those found to be in contravention of their conditions of licence range from warnings, to prosecution, to requests for a court-imposed licence suspension and quota penalties, to loss of the privilege to renew the licence.

These measures were put in place to ensure Canada's shark fishery conforms to sustainable harvesting practices. It is a very practical approach and it has worked well. There has been only one minor breach in recent years; otherwise shark finning has not been an issue in Canadian fisheries. I would also add that Canada's approach is an internally accepted standard within regional fisheries management organizations.

While the bill is flawed, there are other ways to address the issue. For example, the proposed amendments to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act would provide new tools for Canadian officials to seize shipments of fish products that have been caught illegally, such as shark fins. The proposed revisions to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act currently being reviewed by the Senate, as Bill S-13, would provide the legislative authority for Canada to prevent the import of fish products from illegal sources. Additionally, Canada has worked with other countries to put an end to this practice. The Government of Canada will continue to work with our international partners to ensure sustainable management of sharks, including the prohibition of the practice of finning.

Globally, Canada promotes the sustainable management and conservation of sharks through international organizations, including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and regional fisheries management bodies, such as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. There are also a number of international agreements, to which Canada is a party, which govern the conservation management and trade of certain at-risk shark species. For instance, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, usually called CITES, protects the great white shark, and basking and whale sharks. Imports of any of these shark species, or any of their parts, into Canada is only permissible if accompanied by an export permit from the country of origin that certifies the imported shark, or products derived from it, was caught in a scientifically proven sustainable fishery.

Furthermore, proposals have been submitted to have three more added, at the sixteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties convention to be held in March.

To summarize, Canada has taken action against the deplorable practice of illegal shark finning. This practice has been banned in Canada since 1994. Canada believes that working through regional fisheries management organizations to ensure strong management and enforcement practices globally is the most effective way to prevent unsustainable shark fishing practices, such as finning. A complete trade ban would penalize responsible legitimate fishing practices without addressing overfishing practices or improving global fisheries management. We will continue to support responsible, legal shark harvesters and crack down on those who break the rules.

Given the above, the government cannot support the private member's bill, Bill C-380.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate, for a short period of time, in this important debate.

Let me first add my words of congratulations to the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam for bringing in Bill C-380. The member has recognized there is a problem that exists in this country, and that in fact there is a problem that exists globally, with respect to this issue of the illegal trade in shark fins. He has said he is going to do something about it.

The member has been talking to Canadians, municipalities, members of this House and school children, and people support what he is talking about. We have heard members on all sides in this House say that they too agree the international trade in shark fins is deplorable. The practice of shark finning is deplorable. We have heard everyone agree with that.

However, the only one who has come forward with a plan to stop the problem is the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans had all kinds of excuses as to why the Conservatives are not going to support our attempt to ban the illegal trade in shark fins.

Let me highlight one point that the parliamentary secretary made, and that is the work the government is doing in international co-operation with other groups and organizations, be they regional or otherwise. One example is ICCAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, which has held meetings recently to deal with issues of tuna conservation but also the subsequent impact of that fishery on the porbeagle shark.

In 2008, a joint ICCAT-ICES assessment for the northeast Atlantic population of porbeagle gave the following advice:

Given the state of the stock, no targeted fishing for porbeagle should be permitted and by-catch should be limited and landings of porbeagle should not be allowed.

The EU and that committee then went on to set limits on the total allowable catches. In 2012, at ICCAT meetings in Morocco, the only country that objected to a ban on the fishing of the porbeagle shark, which is facing extinction, was Canada. This is one shark that is not included on the list right now because of the work that Canada has been doing. To suggest we can solve the illegal trade in shark fins across the world and deal with the impact of conservation on sharks and the devastation on the marine ecosystem through existing agreements and existing relationships is simply fanciful.

My colleague has said, with the support of his colleagues in his caucus, and I believe I heard some support from the Liberal caucus, that we should bring this bill forward, pass it at second reading, move it to committee and have a good discussion. If we agree, and we have heard everyone say they do, and Canadians by the thousands are reporting that they want this practice stopped, then let us move this bill, which is the first attempt in this Parliament to begin to deal with the problem, into committee. Let us deal with it once and for all.

Let us make a commitment on behalf of Canadians and on behalf of our marine ecosystem, on behalf of those who recognize the fact that we need to step up and stop the illegal trade in shark fins. We need to stop this practice, so let us actually do something about it.

I understand that my time has come to a close. I want to urge all members of the House to vote in support of Bill C-380 and to do something about this deplorable practice of shark finning.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour will have four minutes remaining when this matter returns before the House.

Bill C-42. Third reading

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-42, the enhancing RCMP accountability act.

With a history extending back to the very formation of our country, few national institutions are more symbolic of Canada than the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For many Canadians and people in other countries, the Mounties have come to represent certain values associated with Canada, the values of integrity, honesty, courage and determination. When those values are questioned or tarnished, it not only undermines the functioning of the RCMP but also affects the very heart of how others see us and how we see ourselves.

For that reason, the government has taken a key interest in modernizing the RCMP to meet the challenges of the 21st century. I remind everyone that the RCMP Act was last substantially amended in 1988, some 25 years ago. The world has changed very much in the last 25 years. Canadians are rightly demanding greater accountability from the RCMP, alongside heightened transparency. The cumbersome RCMP human resources management framework, which is so heavily reliant on paperwork, only makes the situation worse, and the well-publicized charges of sexual harassment are further evidence that far-reaching changes are required within the RCMP. Yes, the institution has made valiant efforts to correct its problems through its transformation agenda, but these internal changes can only go so far. What is needed now is an overhaul of the legislation affecting the RCMP's oversight and operations.

The RCMP and Canadians understand the need for legislative changes. It is very unfortunate that the NDP cannot understand this and, sadly, will not be supporting this important bill. It was made clear throughout the committee hearings that there are structural deficiencies that must be fixed within the RCMP. There are management challenges that must be faced. There are issues of trust and confidence that must be resolved. The government is determined to deal with these questions head on.

As members will recall, the government came to office on a platform of clear priorities. These included enhancing public safety and security and strengthening accountability and transparency. Bill C-42 contains many of the provisions included in legislation introduced in the last Parliament to address accountability issues within the RCMP.

I would now like to review the key components of the bill along with amendments that were introduced at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

Canadians recognize the limitations of the current system of RCMP oversight. They want to know that public complaints against RCMP officers are handled expeditiously with thoroughness and impartiality. They want greater transparency so that justice is not only done but also seen to be done. The government has listened carefully and recognized the need to strengthen external oversight of the RCMP.

I do not want to suggest for one moment that this move denigrates the valuable work that has been accomplished by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, the CPC, since its inception in 1988. It has done excellent work. Yet we must also acknowledge the concerns raised in many quarters that the current legislation hampers the CPC from doing its job thoroughly. For that reason, Bill C-42 proposes replacing the CPC with an arm's-length body to be known as the civilian review and complaints commission for the RCMP.

Bill C-42 enhances the powers of the CPC. For example, the new entity would continue to focus on reviewing public complaints through enhanced access to information. It could also summon witnesses to testify at a hearing. In addition, the new body would be able to more broadly review RCMP activities in a particular area of interest and report on its findings. What is more, the new commission would also be empowered to share information or conduct joint complaints investigations with counterparts in other jurisdictions, and it would produce customized reports on public complaints for each jurisdiction holding contracts with the RCMP. These reports would analyze the number and nature of complaints in a given period. They would also identify any trends within the complaints. In this way, the new commission would deliver a tailor-made report that would meet the needs and expectations of contract jurisdictions. These new measures have become the standard tools for modern review bodies.

One of the most sensitive areas of RCMP conduct involves what is known as “serious incidents”. These are cases where RCMP contact with the Canadian public results in serious injury or death. In these high-profile events, it is vital that investigations of these cases is carried out independently, transparently and impartially. As I indicated earlier, it is important to the integrity of these investigations and the reputation of the RCMP that this impartiality be apparent from the very start of the investigation of these serious incidents. That is why the proposed bill would require the RCMP to refer all cases of serious incidents to a civilian investigative body within the relevant province. This body would ensure that the investigation is conducted in an impartial, transparent manner.

Of course, not every province has a civilian investigative body that can handle cases of this nature. If a provincial civilian agency does not exist, the case would then be referred to another police force. However, there are situations where there is no civilian body or other police agency available to conduct the investigation. For instance, at some remote RCMP locations the legislation would provide for this third possibility. In the absence of an external body, the RCMP would investigate the incident itself. Since this would justifiably raise all of the old concerns about independence, transparency and conflict of interest, the proposed legislation would go even further. If the RCMP or another police force were in charge of investigating these serious incidents, the jurisdiction in question or the new commission could appoint an independent observer to assess the impartiality of these investigations.

The government has worked hard to promote the accountability and transparency demanded by serious incidents. I know we have succeeded with the provisions that are outlined in Bill C-42.

Until now, I have concentrated my remarks on how the bill would enhance the accountability of the RCMP to all Canadians. However, accountability is also a concern within the RCMP itself. Over the past year, incidents related to alleged misconduct and sexual harassment in the RCMP have been well documented by the media. The current human resources management framework clearly does not allow for the commissioner to deal with these internal issues expeditiously. That is why a large portion of Bill C-42 is devoted to revamping and modernizing the RCMP discipline, grievance and human resources management practice. The chief concern with disciplinary action is the requirement to turn over serious cases to an adjudication board. The current policy embedded in existing legislation accomplishes and, in some cases, results in two things. First, it sets in motion a bureaucratic nightmare, a process full of delays that can stretch on for years and can create animosities that poison workplaces. Second, by taking away power from front-line managers, the latter lose the ability to correct behaviours and return the members to work quickly and put the incident behind them, or to demonstrate to others in the workplace that inappropriate behaviour is not acceptable. Currently, front-line managers do not have the ability to do this within the RCMP. It is time they have the ability to manage the people they work with in a modern, efficient way.

Bill C-42 would modify this process substantially. Most significantly, it would empower front-line managers within the RCMP. Under the bill's provisions, these managers could impose consequences or measures for most contraventions of the code of conduct. For example, managers could impose remedial training or corrective action or, in some cases, dock the officer's pay. Managers would only hand over the case to a conduct board if the review could lead to the firing of an officer.

The grievance process is just as troubling as the process for discipline, perhaps even more so, if that is possible. There seem to be as many processes as there are issues. A member who has a problem with his or her terms and conditions of employment goes one route. A member appealing a discharge goes yet another. Another member appealing a disciplinary sanction takes yet a third route. There are so many different administrators and processes for each one of these incidents that through it all, front-line managers are kept in the dark many times. It is time to shine the light of accountability on it and to find solutions.

Under Bill C-42, a single process would be instated for both grievances and appeals by members. The same set of administrators would deal with them. The same decision-makers would review the results. In this way the system would be much simpler, more consistent and operate with greater efficiency. Complementing this formal approach, front-line managers would be encouraged to deal with minor problems informally and at the first occurrence, as human resource managers across the country in other police forces are able to do before these occurrences become official grievances and before they undermine a positive workplace culture.

Our improvements to RCMP management would not be complete without also considering the important role of the commissioner. In short, the commissioner currently lacks authority for decisions that would be part of any senior manager's tool kit, including those provided to other police chiefs. To rectify these shortcomings the proposed legislation would give the commissioner new authorities. These include, for example, the power to demote and discharge members, to appoint commissioned officers and to investigate disputes involving workplace harassment.

I have highlighted the major provisions of Bill C-42 for consideration by the House. I would now like to take note and explain the changes that were adopted by the House of Commons at report stage. The committee accepted three substantive amendments. These were issues that were raised by witnesses throughout the hearings. We were pleased to further strengthen the legislation by these amendments.

As amended, the bill now supports the establishment of a strengthened reserve program, relying heavily on retired RCMP and other police officers. Currently, reservists are limited to how long they can serve consecutively. This change is important for a number of reasons, one being that it gives managers much needed staffing flexibility and helps ensure a healthy and strong workplace by reducing the amount of overtime worked by regular members. I am pleased that the committee agreed to enhance the RCMP's ability to benefit from the reserve program without interruptions in service time.

The second amendment provides clarity for the chairperson regarding immunity. The original provision provided immunity to every member, officer or employee performing the duties, powers and functions of the new commission. This was always intended to include the chairperson. As such, the committee saw fit to formally spell out in the legislation that the chairperson also has immunity. The final amendment clarifies that the RCMP commissioner cannot refuse to investigate a complaint initiated by the chairperson.

The proposed legislation, together with the three substantive amendments, would bring the laws governing the RCMP into the 21st century. It is puzzling that the NDP would work with us at committee to further strengthen the legislation and then sadly play these games at report stage and now not support this important piece of legislation. I sincerely call on the NDP to support the legislation and to work with our government to help stop harassment within the RCMP.

We heard repeatedly at committee stage that the proposed legislation would give the RCMP the flexibility it needs. At the same time, by addressing structural problems it would enhance accountability and transparency. In doing so it will bolster trust and confidence in the RCMP by both Canadians and Mounties.

While sadly it seems that the NDP will not put aside its ideological opposition to our common sense reforms, I can assure Canadians that our Conservative government will be supporting the bill at third reading.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would use the word “astonished”. The member knows we worked quite closely together on the bill. We took it quite seriously in committee but the government rejected each and every one of the amendments that we proposed to the bill. It is surprising to me how the member could be surprised at this point that we are not supporting the bill. Obviously both sides of the House accept the seriousness of the issues we are dealing with, but we were disappointed that the government rejected all the amendments that we proposed at committee.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would challenge my hon. colleague that his amendments were not productive amendments, although we appreciated them being brought forward.

However, right now we all agree on the bill before us. It is a good bill. It seems to me as if the NDP is throwing the baby out with the bath water. Those members did not get exactly what they wanted. They have a bill before them that we and witnesses at committee see as a good bill, which will address many of the issues within the RCMP. Instead of NDP members taking a principled stand and doing the right thing for the RCMP and the people of Canada, they are saying no. Because they did not get the amendments they wanted they will not support the bill. I call on the NDP to put aside what I would call a selfish outlook and be leaders, represent their constituencies, stand up for the RCMP, do the right thing and support this important piece of legislation.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, we will be supporting the bill, but I do have a very serious question for the parliamentary secretary.

I have been solicitor general and really understand the reasoning behind giving the commissioner more power to demote individuals and discharge members in certain instances. However, one of the huge problems in the RCMP relates to the person who may become commissioner and whether he or she uses that power in the way in which it was intended. Power can be a good thing or a bad thing when in the wrong hands.

Therefore, are there safeguards within the legislation to protect the rank and file from a commissioner who may have a vendetta against a certain member or any other reason?

That balance is extremely important. I wonder if the parliamentary secretary could give us some advice on that.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, certainly my hon. colleague does raise an important issue. There are measures currently in place whereby the commissioner is held accountable. However, in specific cases where RCMP members are concerned, there is still a very thorough complaints process whereby RCMP members can go to the board, bring their complaints forward and have them ruled on.

Therefore, as is the case with other police forces, there are ways that members can disagree with their police chiefs or come forward and lodge complaints, because there is a very practical human resources process in place, especially under this new enhanced and modernized RCMP accountability act. There are ways for RCMP members to do that. We have a great commissioner and are so happy with the work that he has done, but certainly every leader and every commissioner needs ways to be held accountable.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I am quite pleased that my colleague spoke to the bill today because it is very important. I am very proud of the work that she has done on this file and in moving the bill forward.

In preparation for the debate today I was looking at some of the feedback that we have had from stakeholders across the country on the bill who would see a direct impact because of its proposed passage. For example, Catherine Ebbs, the chair of the Canadian Mounted Police External Review Committee stated:

Bill C-42 creates the opportunity for the force to renew and modernize their internal processes, and one focus in that development will be streamlining processes.

I think that's a very worthwhile exercise.

There are all sorts of people who would see a direct influence or impact with respect to the bill who have supported it because it is necessary. I was hoping my colleague could speak to some of the feedback that she has heard across the country on this important piece of legislation.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, we certainly have had a lot of positive feedback. This has been requested for so long by not only the RCMP but also the Canadian public. Therefore, the feedback has been tremendous.

My colleague from the opposition, the critic for public safety, was upset that some of their amendments were not adopted. One of the measures they wanted to introduce was yet another big bureaucratic investigative body in place of what we already have, regionally and within jurisdictions.

Mr. Tom Stamatakis, the chair of the Canadian Police Association, commented on that just recently. He said that it would add layers of infrastructure and duplication of offices and that police were capable of investigating these serious incidents. “You need to have the right kind of independent oversight of it so you can ensure that the investigation is conducted...but I think there are models that are more efficient than just adding more and more layers of bureaucracy to these kinds of incidents.” That was his response to a question that I posed to him about one of the NDP-proposed changes to the bill.

The police do not want more bureaucracy or to add costs. This is a good bill that will have a very good three-pronged process for investigating serious incidents. The support is there. We support it. It is great to hear that the Liberals will support it. Will the NDP do the right thing and vote in support of the bill to end harassment within the RCMP?

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, when 200 women decide to take action and file a class action lawsuit, I think that speaks volumes about the problem of sexual harassment in the RCMP.

The term “sexual harassment” does not even appear in Bill C-42, and the Conservatives rejected an amendment as simple as providing all RCMP members with training in that regard.

Can someone explain this for me?

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, with respect to my hon. colleague, we give the tools to an organization such as the RCMP to put processes in place to stop not only sexual harassment but harassment, bullying and any kind of negative, wrong behaviour to any one of its members. To put that kind of terminology in legislation actually limits the legislation and limits what the RCMP are able to do under practical, best practices within human resources management.

I would ask the NDP to do a little research, to look at other companies and organizations, private or public, and how they address forms of harassment. They have good policies and processes in place. The bill gives the RCMP the ability to do that. When we start embedding very specific terminology in the legislation, it can limit it. We want to give the RCMP the ability to address every form of harassment, and that is what the legislation would do.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, could the hon. member tell us which independent witnesses, in other words those who were not government officials, RCMP officials or otherwise holding public office, appeared at committee in support of the government's bill? My recollection is that absolutely no independent witnesses supported the government's position at committee.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, as I already mentioned, Tom Stamatakis, the head of the Canadian Police Association, whom I would suggest my hon. colleague would not want to discredit, supports the legislation. There were a number of them.

The opposition members somehow suggest that the bill has not been asked for by the RCMP and that it is not supported. It might not be exactly the way the NDP wanted it worded, maybe they did not get their amendments passed, but they supported these changes. They need to do the right thing. Maybe they did not win everything they wanted, but it is not about the NDP. It is about the RCMP. It is about doing the right thing for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It is not about NDP members being able to say they scored a political point. They should stand up, do the right thing and support the bill.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-42 at third reading today.

First, I want to begin by paying tribute to the women and men of the RCMP who work every day to help keep our communities safe. Often we talk about the wondrous blessings of this very large and diverse country, but I would also add that sometimes it can be a large and cold country, which can be a curse as well as a blessing. With the conditions we faced in most of the country over the last week, I think we need to remember that the emergency services people, the RCMP and all those other front-line people, are still out there working in the cold, keeping us safe despite the harsh weather conditions that keep many of the rest of us at home.

I think that the opening of the third reading debate is a good time to remember why the bill is before the House. The government likes to emphasize the word “modernization” and say that it is time to review the act, that this is the first major revision over 25 years and, therefore, that we can bring things up to date since we last debated this in the House in 1988.

I would like to argue that it is before the House not just because time has elapsed and it is time to look at it again; it is before the House because we have very serious concerns to address regarding the RCMP.

I do take exception to the position that has been stated this morning, that somehow the NDP has an interest in this. What we are talking about is what we heard from witnesses and from stakeholders about some things that needed to be in this bill and were not there. We did propose amendments at the committee stage, and again at report stage, to address the serious concerns. I want to just remind the House what those are.

First, there is a declining confidence in the RCMP, despite the fine work done by women and men on the front lines every day. Overall, we have seen the public losing some of the confidence it has had over the years, which confidence has made the RCMP a national symbol in many ways.

Yes, the public still has confidence in the RCMP, but that decline in confidence, no matter how small, has to be a concern for members in this House.

Second, we have a clear problem with sexual harassment within the RCMP. We also heard in committee that we have problems with other kinds of harassment. Therefore we have to address that problem directly. It is not just updating the bill; it is dealing with something that has happened inside the RCMP over time that has led to 200 women bringing a lawsuit against the RCMP for the damage to their careers that happened as a result of sexual harassment in the RCMP.

Third—which the government focuses on almost exclusively, and I would agree—there is a need to deal with serious concerns about management of human resources and labour relations inside the RCMP.

Let me talk about each of those in a bit more detail and start with the declining confidence.

Obviously, we have had a number of unfortunate high-profile incidents over the last few years involving the RCMP, which resulted in deaths and serious injuries to the public. Some of this loss of confidence is to be expected whenever there are serious incidents of this kind.

However, in large part, I think the loss of confidence is attributable to the police investigating themselves. In these cases that involve, as I said, serious bodily harm and/or death, the public worries that somehow when police investigate police there will be a tendency to take care of one's own and to perhaps not pursue the investigation to its full length.

I believe that the police, generally, do a good job investigating themselves. However, if the public does not have confidence in that investigation, then we need to proceed in a different way.

Some of that loss of confidence is a direct result of public concern about the structures we use to hold the RCMP accountable.

Yes, the hon. member who is the parliamentary secretary talks about a very confusing set of overlapping jurisdictions, and we would agree with her. That is why we proposed, in committee, that there be one clear independent body that is able to investigate in these kinds of incidents; not adding that as another layer on top of existing bodies, but having one national civilian investigative agency in which both the public and the police could have confidence in the investigations that take place in these very serious cases.

Second, I talked about the problem we obviously have with sexual harassment within the RCMP. We cannot just brush this aside, saying the RCMP will deal with it, because obviously it has failed to do so. Anytime, as I mentioned, 200 members of the RCMP, for any reason, go outside the normal RCMP processes and ask the courts to intervene because of what they see as very damaging policies and practices within the RCMP, then we have a serious problem—and it is not a problem of just a few bad apples, but it is a systemic problem within the RCMP.

We on this side have a serious concern that there is a flaw in the culture of the RCMP, which is now deeply ingrained. It is a culture that all too often tolerates harassment in the workplace, specifically sexual harassment. Therefore, we put forward an amendment to the section that lists the responsibilities of the commissioner of the RCMP. This section outlines certain things that the RCMP commissioner must do, but does not list everything the commissioner does, as the hon. member on the other side implied. It establishes some clear responsibilities.

In committee, we heard from representatives of women who are bringing forward law suits. We also heard from experts on sexual harassment that, instead of trying to deal with the problem at the back end using discipline, there is a necessity to change the culture of the RCMP through training at the front end and make people aware of what they sometimes do not even perceive as harassment.

I know this from serving on a municipal police board. Some 10 years ago, we required all employees on the police board to go through harassment training. At the end of that training, some officers whom I respected said they had done some things over time that they had not realized had an impact on others within the police force.

That is the importance of stressing that putting harassment training into the responsibilities of the commissioner would help change the culture that results in the limitation of careers of women within the RCMP. We spend a lot of money training these officers, they gain a lot of experience, and they find their careers blocked or frustrated by a practice that is unacceptable, which is sexual harassment.

As I have said, when we have so many instances come forward, we have a systemic problem. This not an NDP proposal that would benefit the NDP, but most organizations have dealt with sexual harassment at the front end through training. Therefore, it is beyond me why the Conservatives fail to accept at least this one amendment, which is a very simple amendment, to add harassment training to the specific responsibilities of the commissioner.

Also, adding this specific responsibility for training would create accountability. When the commissioner comes before the House at the public safety committee, if there is a specific responsibility listed in the act, then it makes it possible for members of Parliament to ask questions on how that responsibility is being carried out, what the commissioner has done in this area, and how he or she has met the statutory responsibilities, instead of leaving the act silent on the question of sexual harassment.

As my hon. colleague said in his question, the words “sexual harassment” do not even appear in the bill that is put forward as a solution to the problem of sexual harassment. I will accept the parliamentary secretary's argument that harassment is not just sexual in nature and that there is a larger problem in the culture of the RCMP. However, that is why we put forward the amendment, which was rejected by the Conservatives, to make the bill something that would be part of the up-front efforts to change the culture of the RCMP. I believe this is a measure that would go a long way, along with independent oversight, to help restore confidence in the RCMP.

Our third concern, the management of labour resources, I think really comes down to what the parliamentary secretary raised. It is a discipline process that seems convoluted, sometimes arbitrary and often ineffective. We have had some egregious examples, especially in dealing with discipline regarding sexual harassment.

For example, a senior officer in one of the provinces was found guilty through the internal process of numerous incidents of sexual harassment of his female colleagues. The punishment that came out of this disciplinary process was to transfer him, near the end of his career, from a posting in a very cold part of the country to a posting in what I, of course, regard as one of the best parts of the country when it comes to climate. It did not seem like much punishment. It did not seem like very effective punishment to simply transfer the person, with no training required, and without any remedial work being done with the person. It was to simply transfer the person to another jurisdiction, and those problems may in fact have been transferred with the individual.

Therefore, we agree that the discipline process is sometimes convoluted, slow, arbitrary and ineffective. Of course, if the discipline process is not effective, it does make it difficult to deal effectively with all of those other challenges the RCMP faces.

Bill C-42 is before the House this session, and we on this side supported it at second reading because we acknowledge the seriousness of these challenges currently facing the RCMP, and we hoped to have a dialogue at committee that would result in a stronger bill. We heard from many witnesses and, as I said in my question to the parliamentary secretary, we heard from no one who was an independent witness, who was not an official of the RCMP, that he or she actually supported this bill.

I have talked at great length with the president of the Canadian Police Association, and he does have reservations about this bill despite the comments of the parliamentary secretary.

The Conservatives presented this bill to the House last summer, just before the break, and on this side we responded with the serious set of hearings of witnesses in the fall. I would argue we had a good set of hearings. We dealt with the issues substantively.

However, what it demonstrated was there was lots of room for improvement in this bill. Again, we put forward a package of amendments that we believed would serve to strengthen the bill and address those serious problems. All of those amendments were rejected. We also put forward amendments at report stage, and once again they were rejected.

It should come as no surprise to the government that on this side of the House we have found that we cannot support the bill at third reading. It leaves those major issues unaddressed.

It really exacerbates the problems that result from the paramilitary model that the RCMP initially adopted. When the RCMP was set up, the Government of Canada looked to the Royal Irish Constabulary, which had been established in Ireland in 1822. This was a paramilitary model that was designed to help police an Irish population that was hostile to what it saw as the British occupation.

There is another model from Britain, a model that I believe would better serve the Canadian context. That model is nearly as old. It was set up in 1829 for the Metropolitan Police of London based at Scotland Yard. Instead of being a paramilitary organization, the Metropolitan Police was set up on a community policing model and a model of shared governance, where there was more consultation with the cop on the beat about how to do policing and less of a top-down structure.

The solution in terms of administration and labour relations that the government has adopted here is to give the commissioner more power. To me, a lot of the problems we are facing result from that concentration of power in the hands of one person. What we suggested were some amendments that would help spread out that power, increase the authority of the external review committee, increase the confidence that rank and file members would have in the internal discipline process in the RCMP and, therefore, also increase public confidence in the RCMP.

We are opposing this bill because we believe that in the House of Commons we have a duty to do the best we can in terms of reforming an act, especially when these kinds of issues only come before the House once every 25 years.

To repeat, sexual harassment is still not in the bill. Our solution to tackle sexual harassment at the front end through training and a change in the culture rather than simply the disciplinary end was rejected by the Conservatives.

In terms of oversight, what we suggested in our amendments was a fully independent complaints commission reporting to the House of Commons. What do we have in the bill? We have a complaints commission that continues to report to the minister, and a commission that cannot make binding recommendations; it only can make non-binding recommendations to the minister and the commissioner.

To have a more fully independent commission, we thought some changes were needed: to report to the House of Commons, to allow binding recommendations. Those suggestions were rejected by the Conservatives.

Even the parliamentary secretary mentioned that there are four provinces, and of course the three territories, where there is no provision for independent investigation of the police. In those serious incidents involving serious bodily harm or involving death, in four provinces, even after this bill passes, we will still have police investigating police. This remains a serious confidence problem for the public.

The minister and the parliamentary secretary have both mischaracterized our proposal as one of adding to bureaucracy. Instead, what we were suggesting is an independent, civilian, national investigation organization that could replace some of those other organizations, replace some of the duplication, but most importantly would establish public confidence that when there are unfortunate incidents, they have been thoroughly investigated and will result in an outcome that has the appropriate consequences.

I want to take a couple of minutes to talk about two statements made by witnesses at the public safety committee. They both spoke about the solution of giving additional powers to the commissioner. One of those was Mr. Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association. In committee, on October 29, this is what he said:

Bill C-42 provides the commissioner with extraordinary powers in this regard, powers that go beyond what one might find in other police services across Canada. For example, in Ontario, a police officer who is subject to a disciplinary process retains the right to appeal the decision to the independent Ontario Civilian Police Commission, a quasi-judicial body that provides an impartial review of the process and ultimately a decision. Without any additional, and most importantly, independent avenue for appeal, I would suggest there is a possibility that RCMP members could lose faith in the impartiality of a process against them, particularly in situations in which the commissioner has delegated his authority for discipline.

In short, what Mr. Stamatakis was saying was in line with the amendment we proposed. We have an external review committee that looks at disciplinary decisions within the RCMP, but it only makes recommendations to the commissioner. If a rank and file member appeals his or her discipline, it goes to the independent external review committee, but the commissioner does not have to pay any attention to its decisions. Our amendment suggested that we could have greater independence for the external review committee, and that was supported by the Canadian Police Association.

Other witnesses at the public safety committee also spoke out against the power imbalance, in terms of labour relations, within Bill C-42. Most recently, we heard from Rob Creasser, media liaison in British Columbia for the Mounted Police Professional Association. It is sometimes called the non-union union, since the RCMP is prevented from unionization. What he said in committee was:

One major problem that exists in the RCMP is the tremendous power imbalances within the organization. Bill C-42, rather than mitigating these issues, will only make them exponentially worse.

If Bill C-42 is passed in its current form with the charter violations and avenues for continued abuse of power by managers, rather than correcting the issues that have plagued the RCMP, our Parliament would be promoting the bad behaviour and cronyism by legitimizing this type of behaviour.

That is a somewhat stronger statement than I might make on this issue, but it points to the direction of our amendment, which is that we need a more collaborative management structure, not a strengthening of the powers of one person and not a concentration of those powers in the hands of the commissioner alone.

It became apparent to us, after hearing witnesses and experts at committee, that the bill has deep flaws that will not fix the concerns the public and the rank and file members of the RCMP have.

Since Bill C-42 was passed in committee, 2,000 members of the RCMP have signed a petition stating that they were not properly consulted on the changes in the bill and that they do not believe the government is representing their best interests in this bill. Two thousand serving RCMP members signed the petition opposing this bill.

Bill C-42 still allows, in four provinces, for police to investigate police. Really, the solution adopted by the Conservatives is to dump responsibilities onto provincial investigating agencies rather than to guarantee that there is one high-quality civilian agency at the national level.

The NDP has put forward its package of amendments reflecting what independent witnesses said in the committee and reflecting the things we believe are necessary to address the three main concerns I talked about earlier in my speech.

Measures to address harassment training at the front end are critical to changing the culture in the RCMP. Measures to strengthen the independence of review bodies are critical to restoring public confidence in the RCMP.

The Conservatives are standing by their argument that putting more power in the hands of the commissioner to fire individual officers will curb all the ongoing issues in the RCMP. Giving the commissioner this concentration of power, we believe, would contribute to ongoing problems and not solutions.

I would conclude by saying that the NDP wish we could have supported the bill at third reading, but the government was not able to see its way clear to accepting any of the amendments that would have addressed these serious concerns.