House of Commons Hansard #160 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was housing.

Topics

National Seal Products Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

An hon. member

It makes for a good poster.

National Seal Products Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

It makes a for good poster, as my colleague points out, Mr. Speaker.

National Seal Products Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

An hon. member

Rex Murphy.

National Seal Products Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Yes, that's right, Mr. Speaker. Rex Murphy said the same thing, it makes for a good poster.

The seal face in the ocean, on the ice, the harvesting, the red on the white, if everyone knows what I mean, made a good poster, and that is the problem we had, because we never had a fair shake from the very beginning.

I will go back to why we are here, the seal products themselves. We have celebrated so much over the past little while. It is not just the products for wearing or consuming but art as well. We have seen some fabulous art created. My goodness, even in St. John's, there are some great seal products: jackets, hats, and so on and so forth. It is really quite elegant.

My colleague from Labrador makes a valid point. Let me return to the point of the seals used for a good poster. What happened back then, in 1987, was that, first, we were condemned for the killing of baby seals and seal pups. We recognized them as whitecoats. They still use them to make a good poster, and as a result of that, since 1987, we stopped harvesting baby seals, and that is where we stand today. That goes to the responsible part of it. My goodness, we have responsibly harvested seals more than so many other species that are consumed every day.

I will never forget the time a former senator went to Europe with us. He stood and said he could not believe Europe was condemning the harvesting of seals. He looked at everyone in the room and said that everyone had just eaten foie gras. If I were to tell members how foie gras is made, they would never eat it again, and they would be sick as we sit here. He brought up a good point. I am not condemning anybody who eats foie gras. I do not really like it myself and would rather sit down with a nice hotdog. It is probably the same kind of texture; it is just that one is pricier. The problem is that the lack of understanding, unfortunately, inhibits our ability to talk about things like fantastic seal products.

I encourage all members of the House to please support us on seal products day.

National Seal Products Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I know the member has long been an advocate for a very important industry, not only for one region of the country but many areas of the country. There is a great deal of understanding in terms of its importance, both socially and economically. I wanted to take this opportunity to applaud my colleague's efforts, because I know how important the issue has been to him over the years, and to my other colleagues in the Newfoundland and Labrador area.

Would the member give us a historical perspective of some of the things that have happened in the House with respect to the debate today?

National Seal Products Day ActPrivate Members' Business

April 5th, 2017 / 6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Madam Speaker, my colleague is from an area that knows full well the traditions of harvesting seals out on the deep ocean of Winnipeg North. I am sorry, I do not mean to be sarcastic. The member's ability to be in the House, and to know every issue that is being talked about is laudable. He does know a lot about this issue and it astounds me. Nevertheless, that tells me that Winnipeg North is being served well, and Canada for that matter.

I forgot to mention that my colleague from northern Quebec is here. He knows full well how important this issue is and he celebrates it just like we do. It is tied to traditions that date back 500 years on the commercial side alone. Before that, we go back to the Beothuk of Newfoundland and Labrador who harvested this. Unfortunately, the Beothuk are no longer with us, but nevertheless seal harvesting played a crucial role to their survival as well, predating us of course.

When we look at the situation now, that is why seal products day means so much, because of the cultural and traditional ties that we aim to celebrate.

National Seal Products Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Long Range Mountains Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

Gudie Hutchings LiberalParliamentary Secretary for Small Business and Tourism

Madam Speaker, the subject debated by my hon. colleague and friend is something we are all passionate about. Could the member give the House an estimate of the number of seals on the east coast of our country? What does he think could be sustainable, and what does he think the impact of such a number of seals would be?

National Seal Products Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Madam Speaker, that is a valid point and my colleague from Long Range Mountains certainly shares in that tradition. As far as harp seals are concerned on the northeast coast, I mentioned the Gulf and the Front, there are 8 to 10 million harp seals, although I just received a picture from a friend who shows a polar bear eating a seal off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, so it is 8 to 10 million minus one.

Nevertheless, it is not a species in decline. It is not threatened or endangered, which is why some of the protests lack the sincerity and lack the information. That is why we have to fight with initiatives like this and talk about seal products. Again, not just for us on the east coast but for all indigenous communities and not just Canada. There is northern Finland, the Arctic Circle into Russia, Greenland, and even into western Alaska. For all of these indigenous communities, this is a big deal for them to celebrate their culture and traditions.

National Seal Products Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to rise in support of Bill S-208, a bill to designate May 20 of each year as national seal products day.

I am so pleased to speak in this debate that I went to my closet this morning to retrieve one of my several sealskin ties. I realize that my hon. colleague from Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame sported a snappy bow tie when he introduced the bill that was passed in the other place, and is now here for consideration in the House. I have chosen a more substantial piece of neckwear, in square centimetres at least, wonderfully fabricated from the pelt of a harp seal.

I wear it because I am proud that the Conservative Party of Canada is the only party to explicitly state its support of the seal harvest in its official declaration. I recall fondly the first policy conference of our reconstituted party in Montreal in 2005, a conference that I attended as a journalist. The conference so impressed me that barely three weeks later I was a fledgling candidate for the election that followed, which elected the first mandate of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Members will recall that it took me one more try to join my Conservative colleagues in this House, but that is another story for another day.

The point I was making before interrupting myself was the construction of the sound Conservative policy platform I witnessed at that first policy convention in Montreal in 2005. The policy that was passed, now included in section 123 of the Conservative Party's policy declaration, states unequivocally:

We believe [the Conservative Party of Canada believes] the government must continue to support the Canadian sealing industry by working to eliminate unfair international trade bans on Canadian seal products.

Those unfair international trade practices have taken a terrible toll on Canada's sealing industry, which is a historically important cultural and economic driver in Canada's eastern Arctic and northern communities. It has been, for centuries, an integral part of Canada's rural culture, and a way of life for many thousands of Canadians. Indigenous people have a constitutionally protected right to harvest marine mammals, including seals, as long as the harvest is consistent with responsible conservation practices.

As recently as 2004, seal products in their different forms: meat; oil, which is rich in omega 3 fatty acids; pelts, not only sold as neckties but as jackets, coats, boots, slippers and mittens, all of these products accounted for about $18 million in exports to markets around the world.

Today, unfortunately, seal product exports amount to only several hundred thousand dollars, because of ill-informed, misguided, in some cases, blatantly hypocritical, discriminatory regulations, and outright bans.

In 2010, using justifications built on seal harvest practices that were outlawed decades ago, the European Union banned the import and sales of all seal products. The Fur Institute of Canada, along with successive Canadian governments, Conservative and Liberal, have countered the myths and misrepresentations with clear and accurate facts.

Since 1987, seals have not been hunted until they reach maturity. No other young animals receive the same preferred treatment. Lambs, pigs, calves, and chickens all are slaughtered before maturity.

I used the word myth advisedly. Let me offer a few of the classic myths about the seal harvest along with the realities. The most flagrantly argued and propagandized myth is that the Canadian government still allows sealers to harvest whitecoats, seal pups. In fact, that practice has been illegal since 1987, as is the harvest of adult seals during breeding or birthing times of the year.

Another classic myth is that seals are skinned alive. In fact, a 2002 study carried out by independent veterinarians proved that to be false.

Yet another myth is that Canada's traditional and commercial seal fishery is unsustainable and endangering seal populations. Again, this is absolutely false. Scientists and researchers at Fisheries and Oceans Canada have all the evidence. In fact, the seal population is very healthy and growing, in some cases in overabundant numbers that are seen to be threatening the recovery of overfished, depleted, saltwater, Atlantic groundfish populations, such as the cod.

Harp seals alone, for example, are said to consume more than 12 million tonnes of fish every year, the equivalent of more than 10% of the world's annual commercial wild harvest. As well, the overabundant grey seal population off the Maritimes is also a particular threat to Atlantic cod and salmon, and it is not because they are consuming all that they kill. In fact, the grey seal very often eats only a few bites of an 80 to 100 pound cod, leaving the large wounded fish to die and to waste.

It is also relevant to point out that since the European Union imposed its misguided, misinformed ban on seal product imports and sales, a number of EU member countries have actually authorized the culling of their own seal populations to protect their national fisheries. A spokesman for Canada's fur institute pointed out the cost of those contradictory policies several years ago, saying that the culls in Europe are both hypocritical and wasteful because the killed seals can only be used under EU laws for personal consumption, which is unlikely, and cannot be used as commercial products because of the EU's own ban.

There are two final myths I would like to address. One is that Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which we know well in this House by the acronym, DFO, provides subsidies for the seal hunt. Again, that is outdated. Sealing is, as many of my colleagues have argued, an economically viable industry. All subsidies were ended in 2001, and even that economic assistance was for market and product development. In fact, the Canadian government has provided far less in subsidies to the sealing industry than was recommended by the 1986 Malouf Royal Commission on Seals and the Sealing Industry in Canada.

The final myth that I would like to dispel this evening is that the Canadian seal hunt is rife with brutality and inhumane practices, and that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans does not adequately police or punish illegal hunting activities. The reality is quite the opposite. Fisheries enforcement officers conduct surveillance of the hunt by air and by sea, and with dockside inspection of landing vessels returning from the hunt. As well as this close monitoring of the hunt, infractions of the regulations draw severe penalties, which can include not only very significant fines, but the seizure and forfeiting of fishing vessels and their gear, of catches, and of the sealers' licences.

I know my time is short, so to wrap up, I would like to express again that across Canada's remote northern and coastal communities, sealing is an important traditional way of life and a critical source of income for thousands of families. The seal fishery contributes to the often inconsistent range of income sources in remote fishing communities, and in some years, seal hunt revenues offset poor catches in those other fisheries.

Bill S-208 would impose no direct cost to the federal government and would not create a legal holiday, but designation of May 20 as national seal products day every year would provide invaluable symbolic support of a legitimate, humane, and sustainable fishery. It would provide an annual opportunity for me and my colleagues to once again wear this tangible evidence of a historic past, a worthy present, and a highly sustainable future.

National Seal Products Day ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I am honoured to take part in the debate on Bill S-208, particularly because there are people in my riding, especially in Nunavik, who rely heavily on seals.

Over this past week, it has been obvious for us here in the south to feel the changes of spring returning to the land. For indigenous peoples, in our languages, the names marking the passage of time are interconnected with the environment and wildlife surrounding us. Our traditional cycles of yearly activities are closely tied to what the animals and plants are doing.

In Nunavik, for instance, this time of year is called Tirilluliuti, which is the season for bearded seals to have babies. How fitting that we are here at this time recognizing the importance of these animals to northern communities, as the member for Thornhill just said.

I would like to quote Sheila Watt-Cloutier, who comes from the community of Kuujjuaq in my riding. While writing about the social and cultural importance of the seal hunt, she said:

It's hard to describe the excitement that would flash through Kuujjuaq when word came that hunters were returning with a large harvest, like a seal.... Word spread from neighbour to neighbour, from house to house, and everyone headed to the home of the hunter.... Sitting or squatting on the floor, the men and women would begin to cut up the carcass with sharp knives or an ulu.... Everyone else, including the children, would sit circling the seal. Pieces of meat would be passed around...to eat.... The liver was one of my favourites. But the best moment was when we would [all] reach into the...seal and dip our hands, coating our scooped fingers with sweet, rich blood, which we licked off like honey.... Those precious moments, sitting on the floor with my grandmother and mother, my brothers and sister, my uncle and his family, and so many members of my community...were treasured times.

But the importance of country food to my community goes far beyond taste.... Country food is the fuel we need to thrive in the Arctic.

That passage comes from her book The Right to be Cold.

Besides her description of sharing with her community the product of a hunt, what I love about this memory is the message she teaches us, which is that Inuit need seal to thrive in the Arctic. Inuit hunt seals for food, clothing, and many other products, and they market the by-products of the sustainable hunt internationally today. Recognizing and honouring the Inuit seal harvest and products with legislation that would mark May 20 as national seal products day also recognizes and honours the traditional Inuit way of life.

Article 20 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms the right to maintain and develop indigenous “political, economic and social systems or institutions, to be secure in the enjoyment of their own means of subsistence and development, and to engage freely in all their traditional and other economic activities.” For many Inuit, this means a continuation of the seal hunt, and the diversification of traditional uses toward commercial markets and new products.

Colonizing society, organizations, and governments violates that inherent right when it attempts to place misinformed restrictions on seal products, restrictions that have caused immeasurable harm to indigenous communities across the north. Inuit originally joined the commercial seal market due to pressures from colonization. They were herded into permanent settled communities and actively prevented from living traditional lifestyles. Sled dogs were shot by the RCMP. The Inuit people turned to the monetary economy to buy fuel for their snowmobiles and to survive.

The banning of products from the Inuit hunt caused economic devastation, and I can attest, personal humiliation among Inuit communities. The seal skin market is so important because it allows Inuit to maintain a piece of their traditional lifestyle, and in doing so, assert autonomy and control over their social systems.

Nunavik Creations is an example of the tremendous entrepreneurship in the north of my riding. The award-winning company employs Inuit women from various communities in Nunavik as seamstresses, designers, creative analysts, sample makers, pattern makers, and in administrative roles promoting Inuit culture through their unique garments.

Creating a day each year when all of Canada supports the inherent right that Inuit have to participate in the economy, take care of their families and communities, and thrive in this millennium would go a long way toward truth-telling and making amends for previous wrongs done to indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples, as stewards of their territories, have the obligation to care for the land and waters. For Inuit, the right to maintain and promote spiritual practices is closely connected to hunting seal. Throughout the Arctic, stories are told about an aquatic female character, sometimes called Sanna. She controls the sea mammals and determines the fate of surface dwellers. She is someone to beg when a hunter is hopeful, and someone to blame if a hunter fails. If we are to advance our understanding of Inuit-defined sovereignty, the first important entity we must recognize is the sea. In doing so, we must respect all Inuit practices connected to the sea and Sanna's children, the sea mammals.

The relationship between humans and seals, which has developed over thousands of years through precise observations while out on the sea ice waiting to harpoon a seal, while monitoring seal breathing holes, birthing dens, and migration patterns, is central to Inuit culture.

I am proud to stand in the House and say that I fully support Bill S-208, legislation that supports the inherent rights of the Inuit to maintain their social, cultural, political, and economic relationship to the seals, to Sanna, and to the sea.

National Seal Products Day ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I believe that the seal hunt is something people will have a better understanding of, in terms of what is being proposed, through education. As was pointed out by a Conservative member across the way, the designation of a day does not necessarily mean it is a holiday. However, it is a wonderful opportunity to ensure that there is a higher sense of education in terms of how important this industry is.

We often underestimate why the seal industry is so important. We can talk about heritage and the economic benefits. I would I like to spend a little time on those issues but also bring a bit of a different perspective on how important seals are to the north.

I have had many discussions about wildlife, in particular about polar bears and how they are very much dependent on seals, so there is a wildlife element.

I want to go to the economic and heritage sides. When we look at the communities that have been dependent on the seal hunt, we can get a better appreciation of the remoteness of the industry and what the individuals who are engaged in the industry have to do to sustain themselves.

We often take things for granted, whether it is clothing or food or economic survival. In larger municipalities, or even in rural areas, we can find grocery stores and economic opportunities. Once we get to the more remote areas, it takes a great deal of effort. I made reference to Newfoundland and Labrador, but it affects more than one province.

My colleague made reference to populations of between six million and eight million, minus the one that was possibly killed a little earlier today by the polar bear, as was referenced. There is a healthy population of seals.

We can think of the economic benefits. Without that seal hunt, there would be many communities whose existence would be more challenged. For others, it is their livelihood. Often it provides a supplementary income. Many individuals will be involved not only in the seal hunt but in other aspects of our fishery industry.

It is something that is often driven by heritage. Over the years, indigenous people, and even some non-indigenous people, have taken to heart the importance of the industry and the heritage aspect of it. As has been pointed out, it is something that has been going on for literally hundreds of years.

I look at it in two ways. One is from the heritage point of view and the other is the economics.

I started off by talking about education. Often, whether it is motions or legislation that will ultimately designate a day, and often even a month, we want to recognize something of significance for Canada. That really is what we are debating today. Bill S-208 would designate May 20 as a day when we would show appreciation of the importance of the seal hunt and seals to our country.

There are different ways we can deal with those designations. It is really going to be driven by members across the way. The member for Thornhill talked about his tie. We have seen a number of members around the House wear the seal tie. If we talk to members such as the member for Thornhill, they will express a sense of pride in the tie, because it is a very symbolic yet very important gesture that supports the seal industry. I know there are members of the Liberal caucus who have the same sort of seal tie. I am not part of that club as of yet, but I recognize that there is a very high sense of pride in those seal products.

My colleague from Labrador has brought seal meat to the lobby on occasion. I have had the opportunity to try some. I thought it was different, but interesting. I understand there are different ways of cooking it. I would not hesitate to try it again, perhaps cooked a little differently. I understand some people even eat it in the raw form.

The point is that there are ways we can celebrate the importance of the industry. I would like to think that we could even look at ways we could take it into a classroom. We can imagine how a school trustee, an MLA, or a member of Parliament could look at ways to highlight what we believe are important issues to the communities that we represent, even though, as my colleague pointed out, we do not see many seals around Winnipeg North. However, I recognize what it is and the industry as a whole, and I would love to see some class time dedicated by a teacher who has taken an interest in the industry, because it is about education.

There has been misinformation. We have heard that throughout the debate from individuals who really are not necessarily thinking of the well-being of the industry as a whole but are approaching it with a bias. The bias is to stop the seal hunt, not appreciating the heritage and the fact that we have a healthy seal population. There is not only a role for us to recognize the history of the seal hunt and what is happening today, but as has been pointed out, there is also a promising future.

When we talk about the importance of recognizing a single day, I suggest we allow members to appreciate it and recognize it in many different ways, from bringing it into the classroom to debating the issues and bringing them up in future S. O. 31s here in the House to sharing our ideas with members of the media. As with many different industries throughout the country, we need to appreciate and value those industries that have really touched the hearts and souls of so many, not only today but throughout the years. In particular, I focus on how important it is for our indigenous communities in recognizing and supporting the very strong leadership that has come to the table on this particular issue.

National Seal Products Day ActPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, for the first time I find myself in violent agreement with the member for Winnipeg North. This is surely unprecedented. When I first saw the title of the bill, I thought we might be speaking about trained seals, which we have spoken a lot about in recent days, but instead, we are talking about actual seals. I would not want to insult seals by comparing them to any members of this House.

I want to thank my friend from Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame for bringing this motion forward. We have had a chance to get to know each other quite a bit in recent days with time spent at PROC. I have not always supported initiatives the member has brought forward, as he may recall from some of the brief comments I made at that committee. I am very pleased to be here to support this important proposal from a member who happens to be part of the government, but certainly this is something that all members of the House should be able to get behind. This is a common-sense proposal. It reflects a recognition of our heritage, but also real common-sense when it comes to appreciating what hunters do in this industry and in other industries across the country.

Really, this represents a coming together of Canadian voices in opposition to, sometimes, some of the misinformation that we hear, albeit from celebrities, and voices internationally who do not really understand what the seal hunt is all about, and do not really understand the realities of it. Sometimes, this happens on certain kinds of issues, environmental but other issues as well, where people get a specific image in their mind about it, and it is very hard to remove that image even if that image runs completely contrary to the facts and realities of the issues.

There are a lot of things that we and I think many members of this House know about the positive, effective management of seal products in this country, of seals as a resource, and yet, that information does not always get out there. Therefore, we have an opportunity, through this initiative, to start to push back against that misinformation, to have a vehicle for pushing back against that information.

In that context, I want to make a few comments here about what happens in this industry in general, and first to read a position statement. This is from 2012. It is a comment made by the WWF, the World Wildlife Federation. It said:

WWF recognizes that hunting seals is an important part of the local economy, culture and heritage of many coastal communities in Atlantic Canada, the Arctic, and many other maritime nations. Most importantly, from the perspective of a conservation organization such as ours, the harp seal population is at a near record high with more than 5 million individuals and current harvest practices pose no apparent threat.

This is pretty clear from a wildlife organization. It recognizes in that position statement that there are different points of view on this issue, perhaps within its own community, but members of the organization said that clearly it is not a management of the resource issue, and there is no danger to this population. Of course, all of us would recognize that when there is a danger to a population, a risk of endangerment or extinction, that needs to be managed in a completely different way, but that is not the case with this particular resource. Very clearly, there is no reason to be concerned with respect to that when that is very clearly the information and the evidence that we have, and that members have seen.

At the same time, we know, in terms of the hunting methods that are used, that there are humane methods. Recognizing the effective management of the resource and also the humane methods of hunting, there is not really a coherent basis on which to oppose this unless perhaps, as some people do, they take the view that all hunting and all killing of animals is somehow wrong or immoral. Certainly, there are some people who have that perspective, but unless we go to that extreme, there is absolutely no reason to oppose the humane and environmentally effective and efficient, culturally, socially, and economically beneficial use of our seal resources.

In spite of what I have just presented and in spite of what we know to be these realities, we see these challenges come sometimes from people in Canada, but also internationally. It is important that we stand up to that. In 2009, for example, the European Union banned import and trade of seal products other than in cases of hunting by indigenous communities.

As Canada moves forward with our free trade agreement with Europe, certainly an important trade initiative, I hope we will be able to persuade our friends in Europe, recognizing the facts that I have identified, how much they could benefit from being able to import seal products that come from Canada.

Europe does not ban hunting. Europe does not ban livestock. People kill and eat animals in Europe as well as they do here. There is no consistent basis on which to have this limitation in place. I hope, coming forward from this motion, there will be international advocacy from our government's trade representatives around the importance of countries taking a consistent approach with respect to these issues at the very least.

Europe should not ban the importation of products from one kind of animal from one other country in a way that is not consistent with its own domestic approaches to the management and use of animals. There might be a spectrum of opinion philosophically with regard to what ways it is and is not appropriate to use animals, but those distinctions should be coherent. They should not be made on the basis of banning animals from a country that somehow would not apply that same standard in its own country.

As we talk about this legislative initiative, this is about having a national seal products day, and we support that. It is a positive step in recognition. We do this a lot in the House, especially around private members' business. We have these moments of recognition, where we all come together and affirm something that is important, whether it is a heritage month, a day of recognition, sometimes a week, sometimes simply a point of affirmation. These moments are important because they can provide an opportunity for awareness, for recognition, perhaps for particular communities to understand the affirmation and support they receive from legislators. These things are important.

However, it is not good enough to just stop at these points of recognition. If we have a national seal products day and then we close the file at that point, that certainly is not good enough. There is a need for ongoing advocacy, ongoing activities of recognition and to continue that dialogue domestically and internationally, and not shy away from that. Recognition alone does not have that much of an impact on the ground. It is really what we do after that, what we do with a particular day, how we proceed going forward. This is something that all members should take on board. It seems we will move forward with this and support it, so there should be constructive, clear action that comes out of this.

Coming from Alberta, the seal industry is not particularly important for us. However, we deal with questions of weighing out environmental criticisms that may not always be based on fact. Perhaps a comparison would be some of the images of ducks from our oil sands. A couple of images get sent around the world and there is such misinformation that comes out of that. In reality, there are all kinds of reclamation activities that take place, when there are risks to birds associated with many energy alternatives such as wind farms. Yet, we see one image and people run with it. We sometimes see that happen with the seal issue. People look at one image and they draw conclusions from it without looking at the facts. This is an important proposal that calls for us to focus on the facts. Let us move forward on that basis.

National Seal Products Day ActPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:30 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Pursuant to Standing Order 97.1(2), the motion to concur in the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, recommendation not to proceed further with Bill C-226, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences in relation to conveyances) and the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, presented on Thursday, March 9, is deemed moved.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, thank you for giving me the floor.

I would like to remind everyone tuning in that the bill we are debating today takes aim at repeat offenders and the leading criminal cause of death: drunk driving. I would like to point out that Parliament has brought the bill to second reading.

Today, I would like the House to vote on sending this bill back to committee so that it can continue its work for one simple reason. This bill gives us three ways to reduce the number of traffic accidents caused by drunk driving.

First, the bill brings in minimum sentences for drunk drivers who repeatedly cause fatal accidents. Sadly, there have been several such incidents lately. Second, it will prevent the courts from getting bogged down in cases that go on forever because people invoke irrelevant provisions. The third is very important because it has to do with a measure that Canada should have adopted a long time ago: routine screening. This measure was introduced in Finland in 1977, more than 40 years ago, so Canada is lagging far behind. After it went into effect, the number of impaired drivers dropped by 58%.

In Ireland, where this measure was introduced around the same time, the number of fatalities dropped by 19%. This means that this measure works. It is based on scientific evidence. Many countries, including France, Switzerland, Finland, and New Zealand, have adopted this measure, as have most European countries and Australia. This is a remedial measure that we must take, because impaired driving is the leading cause of death in this country.

This measure allows a police officer to screen for the blood alcohol level of someone behind the wheel. Of course, no one is going into people's dining rooms or bedrooms, just public places. When one is driving, one has certain responsibilities: having a driver's licence, obeying the rules of the road, and abstaining from alcohol. As Senator Boisvenu said, when someone drives while under the influence, it is as though he or she has a gun and could fire at any second. It is the same thing.

As parliamentarians, we have a duty to introduce legislation that will save lives. I was lucky enough to appear before the committee with representatives of victims associations, including Families For Justice and MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

All of them are supportive of this measure, as well as security and safety groups. Some people in the House have personally experienced the horror of impaired driving and we have an opportunity as parliamentarians to reduce the number of deaths in the country related to impaired driving.

I am asking for a recorded division and for the three parties in the House to ask the committee to continue its important work. This bill was crafted with great care.

Now, without further delay, I will table three documents. The first is in response to the comment made in committee that there is no legal basis for the bill. This is the legal opinion of one of the leading authorities on the Canadian constitution, Peter W. Hogg, who wrote the two-volume Constitutional Law of Canada, which is in its fifth edition, and who also serves as a constitutional adviser. I will quote the conclusion by Mr. Hogg. By the way, this letter can be downloaded from my website.

“My opinion is that, if the Criminal Code were amended by Parliament to replace breath testing on reasonable suspicion with random breath testing, the amendment would be constitutional.” Let us say this clearly and loudly. This amendment is constitutional and is saving lives.

It is important for members to look at this clearly. I want members of the committee to invite the constitutionalists to hear for themselves that this is sound legislation that will save lives.

In the very last line he says, “I am confident that a constitutional challenge would be unsuccessful and that random breath testing would be upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.” We do not need to be lawyers to know that this law would pass the constitutional test, and as I said earlier, would save lives.

The most important thing we can do as parliamentarians in the House is to make laws that are legal and can save lives. We have a choice that is clear. There are victims, there are families of victims, there are criminals, and there are people who are addicted to alcohol. The choice is clear. We have a bill that will save lives and it is constitutional. This is the first document I table.

I have a second document to table and this is a letter written from the member for Papineau. This letter talks about a bill that has mandatory minimum sentences for drunk drivers. He says, “That bill will increase penalties against anyone who drives while severely intoxicated, and will also increase the penalties for impaired driving causing death”. What is the member for Papineau saying? He is saying that this is a heartbreaking story. He says, “I will also be supporting Bill C-590”, which was tabled by one of my colleagues, “a second private member's bill coming before the Justice Committee”.

Who is the member for Papineau? The Prime Minister of our country. One of the pillar's of this legislation is mandatory random breath testing, mandatory minimum sentences, supported by the Prime Minister of our country, and streamlining the judicial process at a time when justice delayed is justice denied.

This legislation would bring those important issues forward. It has been prepared with the help of officials in the justice department, who have put their hearts and souls into drafting the bill.

We as parliamentarians have the responsibility to go thoroughly through every clause of the bill. The committee should send it back to the House so we can vote on it with our conscience. That is the second document I am tabling.

Now I have a third document to table. I have been working on this bill with families, justice officials and my colleagues from beautiful Abbotsford and Langley. How many lives will have to be taken so that we as parliamentarians enact legislation that can save lives?

This third document is a picture of a young woman who lost her life.

I am tabling in the House a photograph of Kassandra Kaulius.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:40 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Order. I would like to remind the member that he cannot use props in the House. I know that it is a photograph and that this is a very personal issue. The member was a minister previously and knows that he is not supposed to do that in the House. He can talk about it, but he cannot show the object in question.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:40 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

I am going to table the picture, Madam Speaker. You should know that I have permission from the family. I had the privilege to stand in front of the committee with the mother of this young woman who lost her life. How many other lives will have to be taken before this Parliament stops its partisan politics and starts to stand up for victims? The bill is about that.

I happen to be a Conservative but this bill is for all Canadians. As a private member's bill, members of the House have the responsibility and the privilege to stand and say whether they are in favour of saving lives with robust legislation or to just let Canadian lives be lost because we do not enact legislation that we know, on both a scientific and legislative basis, is sound policy.

I ask for a vote so the committee can finish the work it has to do for all Canadians.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:45 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to table the documents?

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:45 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Since there is no unanimous consent, the documents cannot be tabled.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, I am sorry, but I have here a legal opinion, a letter from the Prime Minister of Canada, and a photo of a young victim of drinking and driving. I am asking the House again, so that my colleagues do not look like a bunch of morons, whether I can table these—

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:45 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Order. Unanimous consent was sought and denied. By doing what he just did, the member is continuing debate. He does not have unanimous consent to table the documents. I can ask the question a second time.

Does the member have the unanimous consent of the House to table documents?

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:45 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I am sorry, but there is no unanimous consent.

Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:45 p.m.

Scarborough Southwest Ontario

Liberal

Bill Blair LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to join the debate on the motion related to private member's Bill C-226.

I would like to begin, first of all, by acknowledging the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis for his efforts, his passion, and his commitment to this important public safety issue.

I also wish to acknowledge the eighth report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, which recommended that Bill C-226 not proceed further. It also recommended that our government introduce robust legislative measures to reduce the incidence of impaired driving at its earliest opportunity.

Bill C-226 is an ambitious proposal that seeks fundamental reform not only to the impaired driving provisions of the Criminal Code but other transportation-related provisions of the code as well. Although the standing committee was not opposed to the intent of the bill, it had concerns that I share with some of the elements of the proposed bill. As the committee noted in its report:

The Committee recognizes that impaired driving, either by drugs or alcohol, is a serious issue in need of robust and comprehensive federal action. The Committee recognizes the crucial need to support victims and public safety officers in these cases, and to do so in a way that appropriately balances the public safety of Canadians with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I believe all members would support that statement. Impaired driving continues to be the leading cause of criminal death in Canada. In 2015 alone, there were 72,039 alcohol- or drug-impaired driving incidents reported by the police. In 2013, 480 Canadians died needlessly in accidents involving a drinking driver. In that same year, 31% of fatally injured drivers had been drinking, and 76% of those were over the legal limit. In addition, we know that it is our youth, those aged 20 to 24, who show the highest rates of impaired driving.

In my view, this bill includes a number of excellent measures aimed at addressing these concerns. For instance, the bill seeks to modernize and simplify the language and structure of this complex area of the law. Impaired driving cases are the most litigated provisions of the Criminal Code, and they take up a substantial portion of trial court time. Reducing the complexity of the impaired driving laws would make a substantial contribution to freeing up court time and reducing delays, which is a continuing priority for our government.

In addition, the bill clarifies what the crown is required to disclose to the defence for the purposes of proving a driver's blood alcohol concentration. It also proposes to simplify how blood alcohol concentration is proven. These elements would further contribute to efficiencies in our criminal justice system.

In addition, Bill C-226 proposes to remove the bolus drinking defence, also known as the "drink and dash" defence. Bolus drinking is a reckless practice where a person consumes alcohol, quickly drives to another destination, and then argues he was not impaired while he was actually behind the wheel. The Supreme Court of Canada has commented negatively on the validity of this defence, and I agree that this type of irresponsible behaviour should be eradicated. Legislation on this point could eliminate needless litigation and, again, improve the efficiency of our courts.

In spite of the bill's very positive elements, I nevertheless am compelled to support this motion not to proceed for several reasons.

On June 9, 2016, during second reading debate, I raised a number of concerns with the proposed legislation. First, I have serious concerns with the new and higher mandatory minimum penalties proposed in the bill. In particular, I would draw members' attention to the proposed five-year mandatory term of imprisonment for impaired driving causing death, which can raise serious charter concerns. As members may already be aware, the Minister of Justice has indicated her intention to bring forward reforms to the area of mandatory minimum penalties in the very near future.

Also on June 9, I raised concerns with the proposed mandatory consecutive sentencing provisions in the private member's bill.

Both of those issues are problematic from a policy and charter perspective, yet remain in the bill. I maintain the view that these provisions cannot be supported.

In addition, since the introduction of this bill in February 2016, there have been a number of intervening events that impact on the criminal justice system, which necessitates further analysis.

The June 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision in Jordan highlighted the need for a thoughtful examination of the efficiency and efficacy of the criminal justice system. In the impaired driving context, the provinces and territories have raised very serious concerns with some of the measures contained in Bill C-226, particularly that a reform of this magnitude could create significant trial delays and invite unnecessary litigation if it were not supported by a robust parliamentary record.

Unlike during the private member's bill process, the parliamentary record for a government initiative would far more effectively articulate some of the policy and charter rationale of the proposed measures.

Another intervening event since the introduction of Bill C-226 was our government's timeline to introduce legislation to legalize cannabis in the spring of 2017. In its election platform, our government also committed to stronger laws to punish those who drive under the influence of cannabis.

There are elements in Bill C-226 that address the current drug-impaired driving framework, such as the presumption to better link the existing drug recognition evaluation with the observed signs of impairment. It also includes a provision to codify the Supreme Court of Canada's recent decision in Bingley, which held that a specially trained drug recognition officer does not need to be specifically qualified to give expert opinion in a trial. This would be better placed, in my opinion, in a comprehensive government-led drug-impaired driving initiative.

Finally, a reform of this nature would have substantial implications for the provinces and territories, as they are responsible for the administration of justice. I understand that some provinces have expressed very serious concerns about how the reforms proposed in Bill C-226 would work in practice. For example, some provinces have raised concerns with a very short coming into force date, given that these reforms would require amendments to provincial legislation and in some cases new or modified information technology systems. It is essential that provincial concerns be considered, as the provinces are responsible for enforcing the Criminal Code.

In light of all of these circumstances, I am pleased to reaffirm that the Minister of Justice intends to introduce legislation this spring that will carefully address both drug- and alcohol-impaired driving. The new legislation will take a thorough, comprehensive, and strategic approach, having regard to the minister's overall mandate with respect to criminal justice reform. In this way, our government is working to keep our communities safe, protect victims, and hold offenders to account.

Taking into account the recommendation produced by the standing committee, as well as our government's plans to address impaired driving in upcoming legislation, I will be voting in support of the motion not to proceed.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank once again the member who sponsored Bill C-226 by bringing forward what I believe to be a very well-intentioned private member's bill. This area of law is highly complex, and I agree completely with him that it is deeply in need of reform. The past few decades have seen impaired driving provisions modified in a piecemeal fashion, and overwhelmingly a more comprehensive approach is required.

I would also like to thank the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for its thoughtful and thorough consideration of the bill. Its members heard from numerous expert witnesses and carefully analyzed the evidence placed before them. Their dedication and concern for striking the right balance between charter rights and improving the safety of our roads is to be highly commended.

In conclusion, I will be voting in support of this motion, but I sincerely look forward to further discussions in the area of impaired driving with all members in this House, including drug-impaired driving, as our government moves forward with a comprehensive response on this important issue.