Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to speak about Canada's current role in dealing with the ongoing issue of abandoned vessels and wrecks across the country.
More specifically, I would like to address the issue in the context of Bill C-638, an act to amend the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, and why the government cannot support the proposed bill.
Our government has a robust mandate to deal with the safety of navigation and the environment. In fact, two of Canada's oldest pieces of legislation in the marine domain continue to be the foundation for navigation safety and the protection of the marine environment. I am referring, of course, to the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, and the Navigation Protection Act.
Canada's principal legislation governing marine transportation safety and the protection of the maritime environment is the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. The act covers a vast array of safety requirements for shipping and recreational boating and includes stringent provisions for the protection of the marine environment. It also includes international commitments varying from ship safety standards to ship source pollution.
In fact, part 8 of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, clearly outlines the roles and responsibilities of both Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard regarding pollution prevention and response.
Transport Canada is the lead regulatory agency for the pollution prevention and response regime, which includes management and oversight; the development of regulations and standards; and the implementation and enforcement of those regulations, notably relating to response organizations.
The Canadian Coast Guard is responsible for spill management under section 180 of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. Specifically, it provides a national preparedness capacity, manages the national response team, and is the federal monitoring officer, or on-scene commander, for marine pollution incidents.
Together, Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard work diligently to ensure that the safety and environmental provisions under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, are carried out efficiently for incidents, including abandoned vessels and/or wrecks that pose an imminent risk to the marine environment.
Regarding provisions for wrecks, part 7 of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, clearly outlines the functions and current capabilities of the receiver of wreck for wrecks in Canadian waterways. In general terms, these functions continue to serve the best interest of the Canadian public by helping protect the rights of the vessel owners and by assisting those who wish to salvage wrecks when and were possible.
The receiver of wreck functions are administered by Transport Canada's navigation protection program. These are the same Transport Canada officials who administer the Navigation Protection Act.
As members are aware, the Navigation Protection Act is Canada's principal piece of legislation allowing for the safe construction and placement of works in Canada's busiest waterways, while maintaining safe navigation.
While the main focus of the act is to review, authorize, and approve works, such as bridges and dams, in navigable waters, the act also includes provisions for being able to deal with obstructions in waterways listed in the schedule of the act.
For the purposes of the Navigation Protection Act, an obstruction can be a vessel, or part of one, that is wrecked, sunk, partially sunk, lying ashore, or grounded. This means that sections 15 to 19 of the Navigation Protection Act can deal with abandoned vessels or wrecks that have become an obstruction to navigation in navigable waters listed in the schedule of the act.
In addition, section 20 of the Navigation Protection Act allows the Minister of Transport to authorize any person to take possession of and remove the vessel, or part of the vessel, under certain circumstances.
I have presented a brief overview of our government's current legislative mandates that respond to the abandoned vessels and wrecks that pose imminent danger to both safe navigation and the marine environment and, in general terms, whereby the owner of these vessels are not known.
There are certain considerations that our government has taken into account in its review of the proposed bill.
First, currently, under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, part 7, the Minister of Transport can take action when and where necessary to manage wrecks that pose a hazard to navigation and the marine environment.
Making obligations mandatory would require the receiver of wreck to take action on every wreck and to take every reasonable measure to locate the owner of the wreck, regardless of its location or state. This would create a financial burden on the federal government, and that means on the Canadian taxpayer. In the same vein, it would be costly to the Canadian Coast Guard and it would divert resources from responding to priority vessels, causing damage to the marine environment.
Our government recognizes that the current part 7 of the Canada Shipping Act does not capture all wrecks that are vessels of concern. In particular, wrecks where the owner is known but unwilling to act are not captured. The proposed bill does not provide a solution to this issue.
In addition, the bill only addresses remediation through government intervention. It does not address the issue of vessel life cycle management. Public outreach focusing on the roles and responsibilities of vessel ownership is needed in order for any remediation program to be effective. I understand that work is under way to promote greater understanding among vessel owners of their life cycle management responsibilities.
The bill proposes that the Canadian Coast Guard be designated as receiver of wreck. However, designating the Canadian Coast Guard as receiver of wreck for all wrecks in Canadian waters will not only make it difficult for the Coast Guard to focus on its current mandate for pollution response, it will duplicate Transport Canada's functions, causing operational inefficiency and confusion.
Finally, I would like to point out that under federal legislation, the Coast Guard is not a separate legal entity in and of itself. It is considered part of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Therefore, the Canadian Coast Guard cannot be receiver of wreck or make regulations regarding their management.
While our government appreciates the importance of the issues surrounding vessels of concern and wrecks in Canadian waterways, Bill C-638 does not address them. Instead, the bill would obligate the federal government to use valuable resources on abandoned vessels and wrecks that pose no hazard to marine safety or the marine environment. In addition, the bill is impossible to implement under current federal legislation and therefore fails to present a viable solution to the issue of wrecks. For these reasons, the government opposes Bill C-638.
Prevention should be the focus of this issue, not mandatory government remediation measures. Our government supports the immediate initiatives being led by Transport Canada and undertaken in partnership with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and other interested parties to develop an implement a public outreach campaign. This proactive approach includes targeting the broader issue of vessels of concern and ensuring that owners have the information that they need to take responsibility for the life cycle management of their vessels.