Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-322, which would amend the Railway Safety Act and provide the Minister of Transport with an authority to order a railway company to construct a road crossing. I will explain the reasons why the government will not support the bill.
The Government of Canada does have a mandate to oversee the safety of federally regulated railway operations in Canada. Dating back to its inception in 1989, the Railway Safety Act, administered by Transport Canada, gives the current Minister of Transport direct jurisdiction over railways that fall within the legislative authority of Parliament, as well as the authority to oversee their safety.
Transport Canada's role is to monitor regulated entities, such as federal railway companies, local railway companies, provincial railways that operate on federally regulated track, and road authorities, which can include municipalities, provinces, and band councils, for compliance with the rules, regulations, and engineering standards under the Railway Safety Act through a robust oversight program.
Transport Canada also monitors for safety and has the authority to act to address threats and immediate threats to safe railway operations through various means, including ordering corrective actions. In fact, the Railway Safety Act provides both the Minister of Transport and Transport Canada railway safety inspectors with several authorities to address railway safety issues when there is a risk, threat, or concern caused by a railway operation to the safety of the public, as well as railway personnel, and the protection of property and the environment.
In addition, the Grade Crossings Regulations, which came into force in November 2014, contain a number of provisions that set out roles and responsibilities at federally regulated grade crossings, fostering collaboration between railway companies and road authorities toward improving safety.
Allow me to describe the existing authorities and mechanisms that are currently in place.
The Railway Safety Act provides inspectors with direct authority to conduct inspections and audits and to address safety threats. The act provides authority for an inspector to issue a notice to inform a company that a threat to safety has been identified. The notice is provided to the company identifying the threat and the company must provide a response as to how it will address it. Where a threat is deemed immediate by an inspector, the Railway Safety Act also provides authority to include an order in the notice restricting the company's use of railway equipment, infrastructure, or railway operation creating the immediate threat, or allowing that operations can continue but under terms and conditions specified by the inspector until the company mitigates the immediate threat on a more permanent basis.
In June 2015, the Safe and Accountable Rail Act was passed, which amended the Railway Safety Act and provided a series of broader authorities for both the Minister of Transport and railway safety inspectors to better address rail safety threats, risks, and concerns. These new authorities allow inspectors to issue notices, in the event of a threat to safety, to any person or entity that has responsibility in relation to that threat, including railways, road authorities, and municipalities. Furthermore, in the event of an immediate safety threat, an inspector may issue a notice and order to any person or entity, again including railway companies, road authorities, and municipalities, and order them to take specific corrective actions to remove the immediate threat.
These broadened inspector authorities complement a similar authority for the Minister of Transport. If the minister considers it necessary in the interests of safe railway operations, the minister may order the company, road authority, or municipality to stop any activity that might constitute a threat to safe railway operations, or to follow procedures, or to take corrective measures specified in the order, including constructing, altering, operating or maintaining railway work, which includes crossings. Another key consideration, in addition to these existing authorities under the Railway Safety Act, is that a process for opening new road crossings already exists.
Whereas Transport Canada is responsible for the safety oversight of railway operations, the Canadian Transportation Agency, an independent quasi-judicial tribunal, sets the ground rules that establish the rights and responsibilities of transportation services providers and users, and resolves disputes.
Rest assured that these responsibilities are complementary to addressing both safety and economic concerns with respect to rail crossings in Canada. Both organizations promote a collaborative approach for road authorities and railway companies to work together to determine whether to open a road crossing. Should discussions be unsuccessful, proponents can access services, such as mediation and adjudication, through the Canadian Transportation Agency.
It is important to note that agency decisions made through adjudication are legally binding and can include where crossings should be located, conditions the crossing must meet, and apportionment of the costs. In the exceptional circumstances that the minister orders the construction, alteration, operation, or maintenance of a railway work, the proponent may, if there is another beneficiary of the work, refer the allocation of liability and costs to the Canadian Transportation Agency for a determination.
In either instance, once a road crossing is to be opened, the road authority and railway company are responsible for the safety of the crossing and Transport Canada is responsible for monitoring compliance to the standards and regulations.
Moreover, Transport Canada takes appropriate enforcement action when safety concerns or instances of non-compliance to the regulations and standards are identified. In addition to the tools already mentioned, inspectors can use administrative tools, such as letters of concern sent to railways and road authorities, in order to mitigate safety concerns. In the event of non-compliance, Transport Canada's actions may range from a letter of warning to a fine through an administrative monetary penalty to prosecution and finally to the suspension or cancellation of the company's railway operating certificate, essentially shutting down its operations.
To be clear, when all other avenues have been exhausted and when there are exceptional threats to safety, the Minister of Transport already has the authority, under section 32.01 of the Railway Safety Act, to order a company, road authority or municipality to, among other things, take corrective measures to address a threat to safe railway operations, including constructing a road crossing.
We understand that certain communities living in close proximity to railway operations are struggling to combat willful trespassing on railway property. I believe the intention of the bill is sincere and is a way to address these trespassing issues. While the government fully understands the importance of this issue, the bill looks to amend the Railway Safety Act. However, doing so would duplicate existing authorities already in place.
As I have mentioned, under the Railway Safety Act, the Minister of Transport has the appropriate tools and authorities to respond to safety concerns or threats to safe railway operations. I know the Minister of Transport and Transport Canada will not hesitate to exercise these delegated powers when necessary.
It is for these reasons that the Government of Canada does not support Bill C-322.