Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Scarborough—Rouge River.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak, however briefly, to this particular subject. In a previous Parliament we had many a debate over the Nuclear Liability Act, and many of those issues are very important to us all. I really do not see any reason why debate in the House on such an important issue should be curtailed simply because we all agree on things. We are looking for better answers throughout the time that we work on a bill. Certainly this bill is no exception. No one can say that the bill comes from experience, because not everyone has experience with radioactive waste and not everyone has experience with what happens with radiation when it gets into the environment.
I want to preface with a couple of experiences that I have had in my community and in the north.
The first one deals with the transport of yellowcake from the Port Radium mine on Great Bear Lake in the 1930s, when it was transported by gunny sack down the Mackenzie River and over the portage at my town of Fort Smith. Sixty years later, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited came through to deal with the residue that came from the yellowcake that was carried on people's shoulders in gunny sacks. This was after many of them suffered radiation-induced cancer throughout the system and that is something that can be referenced by googling the Deline radiation issues.
In any event, when passing through the community, one of the bags happened to fall off a cart. Sixty years later, we could identify precisely where that bag fell off the cart. The residue remains in perpetuity unless we do a very massive cleanup.
The second incident I want to talk about is COSMOS 954. COSMOS 954 was a satellite that the Russians lost control of in 1984 or 1985, somewhere in that range. This was a nuclear-powered satellite with a reactor the size of a football. It exploded coming through the atmosphere and the debris from that explosion covered an area of some 30,000 square kilometres, including my community of Fort Smith, which was on the edge of that radius.
When the cleanup started, people with Geiger counters could go through the community and sort out the pieces of radioactive material that littered the entire community. A team of people worked all summer long with Geiger counters, picking up the pieces as they went around.
Radioactive material is dangerous material. Radioactive material in any size, shape or form can cause difficulties for human beings. We are seeing this now on a more massive scale with what has happened at Fukushima, where radioactive releases are costing the economy of Japan a huge price and will continue to do so. We can look at Chernobyl where large numbers of deaths occurred, but the impact on the countryside and on the people who lived in those areas was huge as well.
Now we come to the potential for dirty bombs—that is, someone taking some radioactive material and blowing it up in a populated area, say over Ottawa, using a Cessna 172 filled with some explosives and some radioactive material they happened to get somehow from Chalk River or from some other place. The impact upon the city of Ottawa would be immense. The cleanup would be incredibly costly. The cost to the community over time would be incredibly serious.
What we are talking about are serious issues. These are issues that can affect us all. I have seen the effects of very small amounts of radiation escaping from the system. Deliberate efforts to create radiation issues with something such as a dirty bomb would be devastating to anyone in the areas that was hit by it.
We might not see it today. It might not be something that kills everyone in its surroundings, but it would kill the initiative of people to live in that area. It would take away so much from any community affected by it.
When we talk about the act, are we taking it seriously enough? Have we identified any criminal offences that could be put against people who might, without malice or intent to injure or create serious bodily harm, simply make mistakes or do something that was wrong with the material moving through the system?
Let us remember that there are thousands of sources of radioactive material around the world. There are thousands of sources of radioactive material in Canada. The problem is very large. Would this act give enough impetus to those who are in charge of radioactive material any sense of their mistakes or apprehensions, or perhaps cover criminal activity in selling it to someone else or in dealing with it in a bad fashion, even not with the intent to injure or kill? Would it cover completely what we want to do with those types of people? That would be my question with the legislation. That is why I am standing here today and talking about it. It is important to have debate and discussion over these types of issues.
I notice the Conservatives have not spoken up on the bill in front of us to explain to their constituents and to us in Parliament how they feel about this issue. Simply to push it through without debate and without understanding is not the thing to do. We need to understand the issue. We need to explain to Canadians what we are doing, how it works and what the legislation is intended to accomplish. If we simply say we will push it through and someone else can take care of it, and we simply fulfill our role under treaty obligations, we do not know if we are doing enough to protect Canadians, because we do not understand this issue that well.
Is that what is happening here with this question as we stand up and debate this subject in Parliament? I find that reprehensible in some ways, and that attitude should be looked at very carefully by all members of the House. When we talk about this issue, there are many things to say. I have said what I really wanted to say about it because we want a full discussion of those issues at committee. It is not good enough that the Senate has done it; we are elected members. We need to make sure that the work that is done is correct.
I hope that all members will enter into thought about this issue. It is serious. It is one of the more important items that have been brought forward to protect Canadians in my time here in Parliament.
We speak about protecting the victims of crime. This is a great opportunity to do just that, because these are preventative measures. It is not good enough to have a bill that simply deals with the after-effects of criminal activity in this regard; we need to prevent this type of activity from happening.