Madam Speaker, Canada has the longest coastline of any country in the world. For Canadians who live on the coast, there is a powerful pull and connection to the natural world. It is our identity, it is our livelihood, it is our life. Canadians are passionate about the health of the ocean. We watch and care about everything that happens on our shores, in coastal waters, and in offshore areas. Canadians have been calling for greater protections and the capacity to monitor and enforce those protections.
Bill C-55 is our government's legislation to protect marine ecosystems and to support the health of our oceans, in concert with forthcoming legislation under the Navigation Protection Act, the Fisheries Act, and the environmental assessment review.
Marine protected areas are a way to protect the ocean. These special areas seek to balance conservation and protection with sustainable use of our marine resources. They are living networks, where marine species are born, grow, reproduce, and thrive. It is by protecting these systems that we can protect the oceans and the maritime resources on which many Canadians depend.
Bill C-55 would enable the government to establish marine protected areas expeditiously, protecting critical and unique areas of our Canadian oceans as soon as within the next 24 months. These amendments would ensure that, when needed, an interim-protection marine protected area could be put in place so that new activities that could risk further harm to ocean ecosystems, habitat, or marine life would not be allowed to occur in these protected zones. The interim protection offered by the new provisions in the Oceans Act would be an important part of ensuring that Canadians who depend on fishing, whether for shellfish, finfish, or other marine organisms, could count on their livelihoods being protected over the long term. By establishing protection for critical marine habitats, we would protect the marine resources we rely upon.
A significant aspect of Bill C-55 is to strengthen the law and to lay penalties. We would ensure that enforcement officers would have the power to maintain the protected status of these marine protected areas. Under these proposed changes, the minister would have the authority to designate individuals as enforcement officers. For example, indigenous people currently working as guardian watchmen on the North Pacific coast or as members of provincial or local law enforcement could be designated the authority to enforce the Oceans Act within their waters. This provision would allow for greater collaboration with indigenous organizations and would distribute enforcement responsibilities to our partners. On the ground, this would make a significant difference to citizens, who have been begging for this kind of proper attention and collaboration.
The amendments would enable enforcement officers to make far better use of technology during an investigation. For example, an enforcement officer could require anyone being investigated to produce documents or electronic data, could examine the documents electronically, and could require that access to these devices be granted. It is hard to believe that we are talking about this in 2017, so it is important that we get with the times. These new contemporary powers are similar to those found in the Fisheries Act.
Not only would the powers of enforcement officers be strengthened but the amendments and additions proposed in Bill C-55 would be aligned with the powers of environmental protection officers under other statutes. Similar powers are found in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The proposed changes would better match those proposed under other natural resources laws. For example, the obligation to provide assistance to enforcement officers would be added to the Oceans Act. Under this new power, those involved would be required to provide reasonable assistance to enforcement officers during an inspection. The officer would also be able to examine, take samples of, and seize all objects that she or he had reasonable grounds to believe were obtained through the commission of an offence under the act.
Also, rights of passage would be added to the Oceans Act. When an enforcement officer needed to go through private property to inspect an area that could not otherwise be accessed, the officer would now have the right to walk through private property to gain access to the area of the ocean being inspected, such as a pier, a fishing vessel, or fishing apparatus. Ships that needed to be inspected could now be lawfully directed to or detained in any place in Canadian waters. Officers would have the authority to require this if they had reasonable grounds to believe that the ship or a person on board that ship had committed an offence related to the Oceans Act. Similar powers can be found in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act,1999, and the Antarctic Environmental Protection Act.
A new provision would also be added to the Oceans Act such that the legal owner of objects seized, locked up, abandoned, or confiscated, and persons entitled to possession of them, would be jointly and severally liable for the costs incurred by the government for their inspection, seizure, forfeiture, or disposition.
An offence under the Oceans Act could now also result in charges under other applicable Canadian legislation, such as the Fisheries Act or the Species at Risk Act. For example, fisheries closures could also be imposed in marine protected areas. A violation of such closures could expose a fisher to charges laid under the Fisheries Act, as well as charges for not respecting a prohibition in marine protected areas.
I will move on to the fines and punishments proposed under Bill C-55 to create greater certainty and administrative consistency. Under the current 20-year-old Oceans Act, contravention of the existing prohibitions can carry fines of up to $100,000 for an offence punishable on summary conviction, or $500,000 for an indictable offence. Penalties or punishments can vary, depending on the offence, and can include the imposition of monetary fines, licence suspension, prohibition orders, and creative sentencing, such as community service.
Bill C-55 seeks to align fines with those of other acts. The amount of the fine imposed on an individual would increase to between $200,000 and $300,000 for an offence punishable on summary conviction, and from $500,000 to $1 million for a criminal offence.
The bill also proposes to allow the courts to impose fines on corporations and ships. This is a measure that is consistent with other environmental laws, including the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
We would add new factors the courts would be able to take into account when they determined the fine that would be imposed on a person, corporation, or ship if they were found guilty. These would be the following: Was the offence a continuation of an offence? Did the offender do this numerous times or over several days, weeks, or months? Was this a second or subsequence offence? Was the offender found guilty of having committed another offence in the past? Were there any aggravating factors, such as having committed the offence despite having been warned by an enforcement officer not to start or continue the activity?
The courts would also be able to take into account such matters as small revenue corporation status and the liability of directors, masters, owners, officers, agents, and mandataries. The bill would also provide the possibility of leniency under the due diligence defence. This means that if one was accused of an offence, one could explain to a court that he or she was prudent and reasonable in the particular circumstances of the offence.
There would also be more court orders in the bill, such as the ability to charge an amount to monitor environmental effects, to promote the conservation and protection of marine protected areas, to conduct research, to assist a group for its work on the marine protected area, or to support an educational institution.
Bill C-55 is an important step toward providing Canada's oceans with the protection Canadians expect and have been asking for, and for me, as a representative of West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, this is an important step. It is a step toward protecting the livelihoods of many Canadians as well.
I look forward to continuing to participate in the protection of Canada's marine ecosystems from coast to coast to coast.