Mr. Speaker, the extended time I have today to speak to such an abstruse topic will allow me to address a number of points that members have unfortunately, or cleverly, not raised in the debates on enshrining the four nuclear terrorism offences in law.
This speech could not have been better timed given that the media this morning were reporting on the failed cooling system at the Fukushima plant. A few minutes ago, a colleague mentioned the Fukushima situation, and I will inform the House of the latest developments.
There was a power failure at the Fukushima plant. Power was cut to cooling systems for the three spent-fuel pools at the Fukushima plant on Monday after a power outage. The Japanese news agency reported that the neighbouring command centres did not record any significant changes in radiation levels after the power outage, which happened on Monday just before 7 p.m. local time.
When industry supporters say that it is possible to contain radioactive waste, I cannot help but be doubtful, especially in the face of such news. Facilities, buildings and structures built by humans have a limited lifespan. The pyramids of Giza are thousands of years old, but they just may be the oldest structures on the face of the earth. Trying to contain radioactive waste for millions of years seems downright impossible to me.
During my last speech, I focused on the procedural aspects of introducing these four new offences into the Criminal Code. I spoke about creating them and enshrining them in law from a practitioner's point of view. As I have said time and time again, I am a criminal lawyer, but I specialized in the areas of health and mental health. That is why I had some misgivings about how these offences were worded.
I thought about cases that I had dealt with up until recently, over the past two years. There is a possibility that some of my clients would be labelled as terrorists a bit too hastily. That is a rather derogatory description for clients with mental health issues.
When I appeared for certain cases, my clients were often in a fragile state and troubled. They might make threats. The judges took note, but they fairly often let things go, considering the state of the individuals who were sometimes dealing with toxic psychosis and who would utter threats right and left. We have already heard that. However, sometimes charges follow when an individual in the dock decides to threaten everyone in the courtroom. I have seen the same type of behaviour with clients.
When I spoke at second reading, I was recalling these cases, knowing full well that some of my clients uttered threats without necessarily having the opportunity or physical ability to put these threats into action and make them a reality. It is sort of on that basis that I said in the House that I had some reservations about the possibility of an individual being given the fairly notorious label of nuclear terrorist. I am just saying that this would not look too good on a resumé.
The scope of this bill gradually directed my arguments at second reading in order to highlight the impact of the provision creating the offence in which someone would:
possess, use or dispose of nuclear or radioactive material or a nuclear or radioactive device, or commit an act against a nuclear facility or its operations, with the intent to cause death, serious bodily harm or substantial damage to property or the environment;
With the words “cause death”, we see that it is a crime of intention, but it also mentions possessing and disposing of nuclear or radioactive devices. This is not something you buy off the shelf. The last I heard, you had to have very good connections to get your hands on nuclear devices or even radioactive material.
The second clause concerns threats to:
use or alter nuclear or radioactive material or a nuclear or radioactive device, or commit an act against a nuclear facility or its operation, with the intent to compel a person, government or international organization to do or refrain from doing anything;
commit an indictable offence under federal law for the purpose of obtaining nuclear or radioactive material, a nuclear or radioactive device, or access or control of a nuclear facility;
Still, some degree of preparation goes into each of these offences. I know that it is ultimately up to the crown prosecutor to assess each individual case to see if there are grounds for a lawsuit. However, if prosecutors follow the letter of the law, there could be many more cases. Some clients who are not necessarily of sound mind could be given the label of terrorist and charged. However, a certain degree of organization and preparation are required to acquire a nuclear or radioactive device. It is not easy and it is not just anyone who can do it.
I would now like to talk to you about my own experience with the nuclear industry. The first time I had dealings with this industry was in 2009. At the time, I was a lawyer for my own band council. One morning, we met with a Romanian engineer who owned an engineering firm in Sept-Îles and had come to see the band council to warn us of the potential danger facing our community.
Unbeknownst to band members or leaders, uranium exploration was being conducted near my home reserve. This individual came and made such an eloquent presentation to my band council that, a few weeks later, the council had launched a lawsuit. The band council had documentation and a resolution on the lack of consent for mining exploration on traditional lands.
This was the first experience I had with the uranium and nuclear industries. That year—2009—was a busy one. Among other things, we held many public information briefings. One conference, which lasted several days, was hosted by industry specialists, but opponents were also present. Through the networking I did at that conference, I was able to meet other stakeholders and individuals. Experts from across Canada, as well as from the United States and other countries, came to meet with the people of Sept-Îles for a week.
Certain materials were brought to my attention, including polonium 210. I will come back to that later. We will see that nuclear terrorism is taking a strange twist in 2013, particularly when we look at actual cases of nuclear terrorism and the media coverage of those cases.
My cursory research of the subject we are examining and incidents and examples of nuclear terrorism tend to indicate that media coverage of the real impact of such criminal activity is fairly limited, other than when it comes to the cases involving the poisoning of international political figures that have occurred over the past few years. To my knowledge, there have not been hundreds of such cases, but the number has been fairly high nonetheless.
I will talk about a case discussed in 2009 at the symposium, the case of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who died in 2006. At the time, he was living in England and was poisoned with polonium-210. This has been proven. Doctors conducted analyses and discovered that he had ingested polonium-210. What is insidious about this substance is that it can be added to drinks or food, and thus be ingested, and it is also possible for an individual to be poisoned by breathing it.
The person in question died within three weeks. He was given a rather massive dose of polonium-210. I learned about this incident this morning while researching this issue, and I committed it to memory. This incident is one of the first hits in a quick search for “nuclear terrorism” on the Internet and also in Wikipedia.
This specific case clearly shows the potential for the misuse of radioactive materials and how it is difficult to detect their harmful effects on the human body. We should also remember that, in Canada, there are obvious deficiencies in the supervision and management of tailings sites and the transportation of radioactive materials, and this opens the door to malfeasance and criminal misappropriation.
This afternoon, I began by mentioning Fukushima to prove that humans cannot control radioactive and nuclear materials.
Industry stakeholders will always tell us that all these materials can be stored and that it is possible to properly manage radioactive waste. But that is not true.
No man-made structure can house this waste for many years. These materials have a half-life. It is so complicated that I cannot explain it. However, I can say that the potential health hazard lasts for thousands or even millions of years. That is what I was told. Reputable scientists came to give us all this information. I got the same information as everyone else on the north shore, but the information provided was so detailed and worrisome that I had to speak today.
There are difficulties. It is almost impossible for human beings to manage this problem. Look at what is happening in Japan. For now, the problem has been contained. There are no major problems. But who is to say that this cooling down is unnecessary and that there will not be other problems?
We must also see that there is a real threat of a terrorist attack in Canada since we store radioactive waste.
Highly radioactive materials, such as contaminated metal beams, are being sent back into the civilian market. I will provide an example of this later on. This is an issue in Canada right now, but the problem is contained. It would be disturbingly easy for a malicious terrorist group to target strategic storage locations in Canada and Quebec.
In Quebec, the topic of uranium mining often represents a serious question of identity. Uranium mining has been criticized and people have spoken out against it. Gentilly-2 is currently being decommissioned. Discussions on uranium mining are taking place and action is being taken.
The Matoush project has also been strongly opposed by the public. This is a topical issue, but there is a dangerous potential for terrorism at our door, near Toronto, as my colleague pointed out.
How much time do I have left, Mr. Speaker?