Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise to address what I believe is a very important issue, one which members on the government benches had talked about in opposition. It is an idea that I believe this government has addressed in a very tangible way, which the member across the way, the sponsor of this piece of legislation, somewhat pushed to the side, and that is the creation of the ombudsperson for responsible enterprise.
Let me make it very clear that Canadians have an expectation regarding corporate or company responsibility, not only within the boundaries of Canada, but even outside of our country. There is an expectation that our companies and corporations would behave in a manner that would reflect the kind of values we have here in Canadian society.
I know that, in a previous session, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood brought forward legislation, Bill C-300, that attempted to ensure there was more of a social conscience or accountability for mining corporations. It was my local high school, Sisler, that brought it to my attention and asked that I get behind my colleague and friend from Scarborough—Guildwood, someone who I believe has been a very strong advocate, not only in the last couple of years but for many years, for this critically important issue of the social responsibility of corporations and companies that go abroad. This government has taken that issue seriously.
As coincidence would have it, we just had the appointment of a Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise, Ms. Sheri Meyerhoffer. The Minister of International Trade Diversification appointed her on April 8, 2019. The ombudsperson will review allegations of human rights abuses arising from activities of Canadian companies abroad. For companies found to be involved in wrongdoing abroad, the ombudsperson can recommend measures, which could include the withdrawal of certain government services, such as trade advocacy. The ombudsperson can also make specific recommendations to companies, including in relation to compensation, apology or corporate policy changes. I think that clearly demonstrates a government that is really in tune with the type of values Canadians have.
We can take a look at the fine work that members, and I have cited my colleague, have done over the years, reflecting what I believe his constituents and the constituents of many of my colleagues on both sides of the chamber have been able to express, which is the expectation and value system we have, that it is not good to violate basic human rights outside of our boundaries and we need to be able to support that in whatever way we can. In a relatively short span, we had a very aggressive agenda on a wide variety of things that have had a real impact on Canada's middle class. I can tell members that this critically important issue has become a top priority and we have seen specific action taken by this government. When I look at the issue, I feel very comfortable knowing that, with this ombudsperson, we will have a positive impact.
I come from the city of Winnipeg, where we have the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I drive by it every other week, when I am in Winnipeg and not in Ottawa. It is a beautiful symbol that constantly reminds Winnipeggers who drive by it or see it in Google searches just how important the issue of human rights really is for the constituents I represent and indeed anyone who is associated with Winnipeg and far beyond.
However, it is fair to say that Canadians recognize the importance of that issue. It is one of the reasons why this government has seen such an aggressive approach to provide some sort of action that would see tangible results. That will happen with the appointment of the Canadian ombudsperson, who will be responsible for enterprise. That is a good thing.
The proposed bill will amend the Federal Courts Act to provide that the Federal Court has jurisdiction with respect to certain claims involving violations of international law outside of Canada. Under existing law, the superior courts of the provinces and territories can hear lawsuits involving events that occur outside of Canada if there is enough of a connection to Canada. Lawsuits alleging that Canadian companies have been involved in violations of international human rights abroad, which involve claims for negligence or other violations of Canadian or foreign law, are based on existing bodies of law.
The question of whether the common law also allows a person to claim damages in a superior court, specifically for a violation of customary international law, is at issue in the case of Nevsun v. Araya, which was heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in January.
Unlike the superior courts, the Federal Court generally does not handle cases against companies or individuals for actions taken outside of Canada. The Federal Court's jurisdiction is limited both by the Federal Courts Act and by the Constitution. The Federal Court mostly hears cases involving judicial review of the decisions of federal boards and tribunals, lawsuits against the federal government and cases involving patents or maritime law. Civil claims between private parties do not usually end up in Federal Court except in those areas.
The bill would amend the Federal Courts Act to provide that the court may exercise jurisdiction over certain cases involving violations of international law outside of Canada. As the member for New Westminster—Burnaby has said, the bill was modelled on the U.S. Alien Tort Statute, or ATS. It provides “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”
The ATS has been controversial in the United States and there has been a lot of litigation about its scope. This has included disagreements about what kinds of claims are covered and the application of the statute to foreign defendants and corporations. Bill C-331's main provision is more complicated than the ATS, but the idea is very similar.
I would like to make some observations about the kinds of cases in which the federal court would have jurisdiction.
First, Bill C-331 appears to give Federal Court jurisdiction over existing types of legal things rather than creating new ones. It provides that the Federal Court will have jurisdiction to hear cases involving claims respecting conduct that arises from violation of international law. Jurisdiction delineates the scope of the court's authority, either territorially or by subject matter. Jurisdiction is not the same as the right of legal remedy.
For example, the Federal Courts Act gives the Federal Court jurisdiction in all case in which relief is a claim against the Crown. However, that does not mean the Federal Court can address any complaint a Canadian might have about the federal government. The act gives the court jurisdiction, but the court can only give a remedy if one is provided by Canadian law, for example, by a law governing contracts if the claim is one of breach of contract.
Second, the bill would grant jurisdiction to the Federal Court rather than the provincial superior courts. The Supreme Court of Canada has held that the Federal Court can only hear certain kinds of cases. It needs permission from Parliament in the form of a statutory grant of jurisdiction. In addition, the case must also be governed by an existing body of federal law.
I want to emphasize why it is important for us to recognize what this government has been able to accomplish on the trade file. We recognize the importance of international trade. We have also recognized the very critical importance of ensuring that companies and corporations behave in such a way that reflects what Canadian values truly are all about.
That is why, on April 8, we put in place the first Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise. It is all a part of corporate responsibility. It is about international trade. It is about protecting Canadians, not only in Canada but also to protect people and human rights abroad.