Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from LaSalle—Émard.
I am pleased to speak to Bill S-14, An Act to amend the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act.
In looking at this bill, and given the record of the government, I find myself yearning to have a companion bill introduced in the House that would be entitled, “an act to amend the corruption of domestic public officials act”. There is a whole host of things we could be dealing with.
In terms of domestic corruption, we could be trying to deal with $90,000 payments to senators made by officials in the Prime Minister's Office allegedly to cover up illegal activity. We could be investigating Canadian senators fraudulently claiming housing and living expenses. We could be looking into people like Arthur Porter, another Conservative and a former appointment made by the Prime Minister to the CSIS oversight board, who apparently helped himself to millions of taxpayer dollars in Montreal and fled to South America. We could be looking into Conservative candidates like Peter Penashue, who spent over the election limits and effectively bought his seat by cheating. We could be looking into robocalls where the Conservative database was used to commit election fraud. Then we watched the Conservative Party try to obscure things and fight against any attempt to bring transparency into that procedure.
There is domestic corruption of public officials galore with the Conservative government. I look forward to the government introducing a bill that would attack corruption and finally clean up politics in this House for Canadians, but unfortunately, that is not the bill before us. We are dealing with foreign public officials.
The NDP, being a party that stands for ethics and transparency in Canadian politics, is proud to support this bill for referral to committee.
This bill makes four main changes to the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. First, it increases the maximum sentence of imprisonment applicable to the offence of bribing a foreign public official from 5 to 14 years. Second, it eliminates an exception for so-called facilitation payments—there is a euphemism if I have ever seen one—where a foreign official is paid to expedite the execution of their responsibilities. The government calls it a facilitation payment, but I call it a bribe. Third, the bill creates a new offence for falsifying or concealing books or records in order to bribe or conceal bribery of a foreign official. Fourth, it establishes a nationality jurisdiction that would apply to all of the offences under the act, such that Canadian nationals could be prosecuted for offences committed overseas.
Again, New Democrats have long supported clear rules requiring transparency and accountability by Canadian individuals and corporations overseas, which usually have been opposed by the Conservatives, unfortunately. This bill complements legislative efforts by New Democrat MPs to encourage responsible, sustainable, and transparent management practices.
In Canada, our inability to enforce anti-corruption laws is a source of embarrassment to the country. We are pleased that the government is finally looking into these problems, but it is deplorable that it has taken so much time and that Canada had to be condemned and discredited before the government took any action.
Canadians want Canadian companies to be successful and responsible representatives of Canada. We want Canadian companies to have clear and consistent standards for international business. Enforced loophole-free regulations would create a level playing field for all companies while ensuring environmental, labour and human rights protection of which we all can be proud.
In a 2011 report, Transparency International ranked Canada as the worst of all G7 countries with regarding to international bribery, with “little or no enforcement” of the scant legislation that exists. Since then the government has been responding to this national embarrassment. However, there have only been three convictions since 1999, two of which were in the last two years. I would like the government to get tough on corruption. When there have been only three convictions since 1999, that is hardly being tough.
By repealing the facilitations exception, this bill would bring Canada into line with the practices in 36 of 39 other OECD countries. However, while the rest of the bill would come into effect at royal assent, the rules on facilitation payments would take effect at an unknown future date at the will of cabinet.
The books and records rule is already being enforced in the United States at the civil level by the Securities and Exchange Commission, but Canada has no equivalent regulator. While criminal law achieves the same effect, we should be increasing our efforts in this regard.
This bill is particularly relevant to the extractive industry, where the NDP has been and remains the strongest advocate for accountability in the House. Examples include my hon. colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster's Bill C-323 as it then was, which would allow lawsuits in Canadian courts by non-Canadians for violations of international obligations; and my colleague from Ottawa Centre's Bill C-486, requiring public due diligence by companies using minerals from the Great Lakes Region of Africa.
I point out that the mining bill was opposed by the Conservative government and 13 Liberals failed to show up for the vote, which led to the narrow defeat of that bill by six votes. Again, Canadians can only count on the New Democrats to bring corporate social responsibility of Canadian mining companies into international normative standards in the House.
The political elites that profit from corruption, particularly in those countries and sectors where corruption is most problematic, consist mainly of men. At the same time, it is primarily women who lack government protection.
While we support the bill for referral to committee, we do have some concerns. It would amend the definition of a “business” to include not-for-profit organizations. The New Democrats believe this clause should be carefully studied at committee, in relation to its impact on charitable and aid organizations, which may, in the world we live in, have to make occasional payments in order to expedite or achieve delivery of essential assistance. We must take great care around that.
The committee should also study the consequences of establishing an indictable offence, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, as this is the threshold at which conditional or absolute discharges or conditional sentences become impossible.
Finally, the committee should study whether the rule on facilitation payment should take effect at the whim of cabinet, as is in the current text of the bill, rather than when ordered by Parliament.
Here are some key facts and figures to consider.
There have been three convictions, as I have mentioned, under Canada's foreign bribery law since it took effect in 1999: Hydro Kleen Group was fined $25,000 in 2005 for bribing a U.S. immigration officer at the Calgary airport; Niko Resources was fined $9.5 million in June 2011 because its subsidiary in Bangladesh paid for a vehicle and travel expenses for the former Blangladeshi state minister for energy and mineral resources; and, Griffiths Energy International was fined $10 million in January of this year, after it agreed to pay $2 million to the wife of Chad's ambassador to Canada and allowed her and two others to buy shares at discounted prices in exchange for supporting an oil and gas project in Chad.
We all are watching the newspapers as we see the difficulties that SNC-Lavalin has got itself into in terms of allegedly paying bribes to foreign officials to secure contracts abroad, in the millions of dollars.
The Transparency International Bribe Payers Index in 2011 ranked the oil and gas and mining industries as the fourth and fifth most likely sectors to issue bribes. This should be of great concern to Canadians because Canada is a world centre for mining and oil and gas industries and companies. These companies, among all sectors as stakeholders, should want to establish very clean, high-level regulations and rules regarding acceptable corporate conduct. Moreover, the mining and oil and gas industries are the second and third most likely to engage in grand bribery targeting of high-ranking officials and politicians. This makes a bill like Bill S-14 especially important in these sectors.
The fact that the government does not enforce the anti-corruption laws is a national shame. We are pleased that it is finally paying attention to these problems. It is nevertheless deplorable that it has taken so much time, and that Canada had to be condemned and discredited before the government took any action.
For business, for the environment and labour and for Canada's international reputation, we urge that this bill go through Parliament and I urge the Conservatives to make the amendments necessary to get the support of all parties in the House.