Mr. Speaker, today I am taking part in the debate at third reading on Bill S-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, or the Nuclear Terrorism Act.
I have a keen interest in this bill. In fact, I can identify with a number of aspects of the nuclear issue as they are related to various stages in my life. My speech might be called “slices of life”.
After an innocent childhood light years away from such concerns, it was in my teen years that I realized the incredible potential of nuclear energy, although I did not immediately become aware that there were major disadvantages hidden behind its advantages.
I lived in Trois-Rivières my whole life, and in the 1970s I saw the first nuclear power plant built. Gentilly-1 was an experimental plant if ever there was one, and it was the pride of Canadian technology. It promised an incredible energy future and garnered international renown for Canada’s CANDU reactors. In addition, a friend's father, who worked for Atomic Energy of Canada Limited at the time, was sent to Korea to take part in the building and start-up of nuclear power stations using Canadian technology. To my mind, nothing but good could come of this, because I knew him.
Remember, it was the early 1970s, a time when we thought that, by the end of the century, we would have a four-day workweek and a leisure society and floating cars, just like in the Star Wars films. Of course, at the time we also thought finding a solution to the problem of radioactive waste would be child’s play. During my first visit to Gentilly-1, the storage ponds for uranium fuel bundles and the use of robots in the handling procedures left me feeling confident in our ability to succeed. Life is so simple when you are young.
This idyllic view of the world was shattered by my first 20th-century history courses, when films of the fallout of the Hiroshima bombing made me realize that a major scientific breakthrough could be either beneficial or destructive, depending on whose hands it fell into.
During my university years in Quebec City, while travelling along the 138 by the St. Lawrence River, I noticed the construction of Gentilly-2, which was in service from 1983 until 2012, and which produced a great deal of radioactive waste that is still stored on site. All the tourists who enjoyed a cruise on the St. Lawrence at Trois-Rivières were invariably told all about these two nuclear power stations during their trip.
It was not until much later, not until the disasters at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, that I began to be more concerned about the issue of security at these facilities. Although terrorism was not a factor in these two disasters, I found that, while security of access to the Gentilly plants by land was adequate, access by the St. Lawrence River was significantly more problematic. In fact, my fears in this regard have not yet entirely dissipated, and my opinion is the same as it was back then.
Today, however, we cannot deny the possibility of a terrorist attack. While its former international reputation made a Canadian passport the best calling card for travel throughout the world and gave us the impression that we would never be targeted by terrorist movements, since this government came to power, the global community's ideas about Canada have changed radically, and there is very little to suggest that we are still sheltered from attacks or reprisals.
I am somewhat encouraged to see that we are discussing a bill today that could enable Canada to meet some of its international obligations, including under the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings. The latter would extend the application of international measures beyond protecting against the proliferation of nuclear materials to include protection of nuclear facilities. I live next to Gentilly, and our region is the only one at risk in Quebec and will be for years because even though the power plant was shut down in December, it still needs to be decommissioned and dismantled.
This bill could help reassure millions of Canadians like me who live near a nuclear facility. Despite the complexity of the matter and the situation, the bill is relatively easy to understand.
The bill on nuclear terrorism includes 10 clauses that create four new offences.
This bill makes it illegal to 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.
It made me chuckle to see a Conservative bill that even bothers to mention the environment.
The bill also makes it illegal 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.
It also makes it illegal to commit an indictable offence under federal law for the purpose of obtaining nuclear or radioactive material, a nuclear or radioactive device, or access to or control of a nuclear facility.
Finally, it makes it illegal to threaten to commit any of the other three offences.
With these four new offences, this bill also makes major amendments to the code.
For example, one amendment would ensure that the four offences be considered primary designated offences for the purposes of issuing warrants. One provision regarding wiretapping would allow for the rules to be applied to these new offences.
If Bill S-9 is passed, Canada would have legislation enabling it to ratify the two international conventions I mentioned a few minutes ago. Although such a bill is necessary, we cannot ignore the fact that it raises some concerns.
As a result, we must ensure that the scope of these new sections will not lead to excessive criminalization and will not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
We will continue to oppose the fact that the government is introducing bills through the Senate, because we do not think that this unelected chamber should be the starting point of our legislative process.
However, as New Democrats, we are determined to support multilateral diplomacy and international co-operation, particularly in areas of shared concern. That is why we will vote in favour of the bill at third reading.
Terrorism is certainly a shared concern. Many people associate nuclear terrorism with plots from action movies such as James Bond or Die Hard. However, between 1993 and 2011, the International Atomic Energy Agency identified close to 2,000 incidents related to the use, transportation and possession of nuclear and radioactive material.
Canada must take a leadership role to ensure that at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit, the participants implement the amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, which was amended in 2005.
Canada, as well as the United States, could play an important role in making sure that happens. However, 2014 is not far off, and that is one reason why my party is supporting this bill at third reading.
Since the September 11 attacks, Canada and the United States have tightened up security protocols surrounding their own nuclear material, to convince other countries to adopt a responsible approach to reducing the risk of theft of nuclear material and nuclear terrorism. As a result, these two countries should set an example by implementing responsible measures at home.
A total of 97 of the 145 countries have to ratify this treaty for it to be enforceable. Fifty-six countries have already ratified it in their parliaments. The call was put out during the Seoul summit, and we need to step up.
The threat is real; according to Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General, nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest threats we face today.
We do not have the right to allow incidents to happen because we did not try to guard against a terrorist attack.
I will conclude by saying that it would be wrong not to anticipate events as tragic as those in Fukushima, which were caused by natural forces beyond our control. We cannot assume that they will not happen as a result of situations that we could have avoided.
There are two fundamental reasons why I am voting for this bill. For one, it is designed to fight potential nuclear terrorists before they strike and, two, it will help Canada regain some of the credibility it has lost internationally.