Mr. Speaker, today I rise to address the issue of shark finning.
I have listened to my colleagues on both sides of the House, and I am encouraged by the thoughtfulness with which all sides have addressed the issue. In truth, I do not think any private member's bill, except perhaps my bill, Bill C-211, has encouraged such a thoughtful and wholesome debate as Bill S-238 has.
Bill S-238, an act to amend the Fisheries Act and the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act regarding importation and exportation of shark fins, was brought forward by our hon. colleague Senator Michael MacDonald. The senator has worked tirelessly to bring this issue to the forefront of public consciousness. He is passionate about this issue. He is committed to seeing this bill receive its due consideration.
There are 465 known species of sharks living in our oceans today. Their importance in the ocean ecosystem cannot be overstated.
Shark finning has been banned in Canada under licensing conditions of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans since 1994. Even though the practice is banned in Canada, the importation of shark fins continues to be permitted. In fact, data suggests that Canada may be the second-highest importer of fins outside of Asia.
The fins are used to make soup and, historically, at a time when landing sharks was far more difficult, the soup was a rarity available only to the wealthy people of some Asian cultures. It was a small industry, with the fins usually salvaged from sharks wholly consumed for food. Today, however, as a sign of social status, shark fin soup is regularly served at weddings and banquets of a wealthier and rapidly expanding middle class. With a single dish of shark fin soup costing over $100 U.S., sharks are now hunted en masse, solely for the value of their fins.
In 2017 alone, Canada imported over 170,000 kilograms of shark fins, a number that represents a 60% increase since 2012. Bill S-238 would put an end to this practice by prohibiting the importation into Canada of shark fins that are not attached to the carcass. Bill S-238 would also define, and enshrine into law, the prohibition on the practice of shark finning.
The bill proposes to amend the Fisheries Act to prohibit the practice of shark finning. It also proposes to amend the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and lnterprovincial Trade Act to prohibit the importation into Canada of shark fins that are not attached to the shark carcass. The bill permits an exemption to the shark fin ban if the minister is of the opinion that the importation “is for the purpose of scientific research relating to shark conservation that is conducted by qualified persons” and “the activity benefits the survival of shark species or is required to enhance their chance of survival in the wild.”
Earlier in this Parliament, the member for Beaches—East York introduced a very similar bill, Bill C-246, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Fisheries Act, the Textile Labelling Act, the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act and the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act (animal protection). His bill was defeated at second reading and did not make it to committee for further study.
In the last Parliament, the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam introduced legislation to ban the import of shark fins. His bill, Bill C-380, was also narrowly defeated, but in my research I found some interesting points that I would like to bring up in this debate.
During the debate on February 11, 2013, the member for Cardigan said this:
It is dependent upon us as federal legislators to be very sensitive to the cultural and identity concerns of Canada's many different communities, while still taking a strong stance against the very cruel and inhumane practice of shark finning, which is still practised in countries around the world. Not all shark fisheries involve species that are threatened, and not all shark fishers participate in the cruel practice of shark finning.
This is also an important point to make. We must not put countries that do a good job of regulating their shark fisheries to prevent overfishing and cruelty in the same boat as countries that permit overfishing and shark finning. If we punish only those countries that allow these practices by banning imports from them we would send them a very clear message that this is unacceptable. Perhaps this would be an incentive for those countries to change the way they handle their shark fisheries and perhaps other countries would follow suit.
However, if we also punish those countries that are doing a good job regulating their shark fisheries and preventing cruelty, what message are we sending to them? We would be sending the message that it makes no difference whether they regulate their fisheries and prevent cruelty; that we will treat them the same as countries with unregulated fisheries that allow overfishing to destroy shark stocks and that allow the cruel practice of shark finning. I certainly do not feel that this would be a prudent thing to do.
I think the remarks that the Minister of Agriculture made then are just as important today.
It is important that we get this right. Our former Conservative government committed to addressing the serious problem of shark finning during our time in office. We acted on several fronts. We worked through regional fisheries management organizations, such as the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, to ensure strong management and enforcement practices globally, to prevent unsustainable practices such as finning.
The bill before us and the previous incarnations have not been without controversy. I have received tons and tons of emails, as well as recipes, at some point, for shark fin, so both sides of the argument have been heard in our office. As with previous similar pieces of legislation, cultural communities across the country have voiced their opposition to an outright ban on imports.
In late 2011, the City of Brantford, as discussed, became the first city in Canada to pass new bylaws to ban the possession, sale or consumption of shark fin products. In that medium-sized city, where no restaurants that served shark fin existed, there was no opposition to the ban, which was largely symbolic. Nevertheless, a handful of cities soon followed, notably Toronto, Calgary, Mississauga and several others in southern Ontario. Markham and Richmond Hill opted not to bring forth the motion, suggesting that this issue is a federal matter.
Chinese restaurants and businesses selling shark fin opposed the ban, and in late 2011, suggested that they would challenge the bylaws before the courts once fines were imposed. When Toronto imposed steep fines, the restaurants did just that, and they won. In late 2012, the Ontario Superior Court overturned Toronto's shark fin ban, ruling that the law, as written, was outside the powers of the city to impose without a “legitimate local purpose”, and was therefore of “no force and effect”. The judge accepted that the practice of shark finning was inhumane, but he did not agree with Toronto's justification of local purpose, namely, that the consumption of shark fins may have an “adverse impact” on the health and safety of its residents and on the environmental well-being of the city.
I want to be very clear. This topic has evoked a considerable amount of thoughtful discussion and debate, of which I am very appreciative. I also want to thank our colleagues for proposing this legislation. Canadians should expect this type of respectful discussion when legislation such as Bill C-238 is brought forth. It is what they expect us as parliamentarians and legislators to do. It is clear that we need to consider all aspects of this legislation, and I look forward to hearing from my colleagues as we continue this debate.