Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a great pleasure to stand in this House to speak to Bill C-331, brought in by the member for New Westminster—Burnaby.
I know this particular issue has been very dear to him over many Parliaments. It is really great to see that we are in the second hour of debate on Bill C-331, which means it is probably going to come to a vote next week. We will finally see where members of this House actually stand on this issue, because it does matter to a lot of people.
The long title of Bill C-331 is An Act to amend the Federal Courts Act (international promotion and protection of human rights). The reason this is so important is that, at present, human labour and environmental rights are subject to few concrete, effective enforcement mechanisms. This bill fills this need for the victims of international rights violations when there is no forum available to them in the country where the violations are taking place.
By way of addressing my Conservative colleagues' concerns, this is not going to result in a flood of people coming to Canada. It is really just providing a forum in Canada when no such legal option is available to the person in the place where the violation happened.
Specifically, Bill C-331 is going to allow non-citizens to bring a civil suit against anyone for gross violations of the rights of indigenous peoples, and for basic labour, environmental and human rights violations when they are committed outside the country. Furthermore, judges on the Federal Court would have to satisfy themselves that their court is an appropriate forum to hear these cases.
This legislation, if enacted, is not going to force the court to hear every single case. It still specifies within the bill that Federal Court judges will have the ability to judge the merits of each case before them, and whether in fact there is enough evidence to proceed with trial.
When we look at Bill C-331 in detail, it is an amendment to the Federal Courts Act. The bill would add a specific section 25.1 after the existing section 25. Some of the claims listed within the bill are genocide; a war crime or a crime against humanity; slavery or slave trading; extrajudicial killing or the enforced disappearance of a person; torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment; prolonged arbitrary detention, and so on. These are crimes that really speak to some very horrible actions that take place around the world.
We are so very lucky to live in Canada under the rule of law. We have a judicial system that we place a lot of trust in. Generally, when people see police on the streets, we know they are doing their job. We have a lot of trust in those institutions, not only to keep us safe but also to hold people to account. In many places in the world, this is a luxury or simply does not exist.
Canadians, by and large, are fairly detached from some of the horrors that go on internationally. The unfortunate fact is that a lot of Canadian-based companies have actually been responsible for some of the worst behaviour around the world. We know some Canadian mining companies have been implicated in brutal crackdowns on local populations, because they were daring to protest a mining operation. They have employed paramilitary guards who have used sexual violence as a weapon. They have violated environmental rights by dumping mining tailings into a local drinking supply. These are companies that are based in Canada.
The issue here is to basically hold those companies accountable. We want to ensure that we are not engaging in a race to the bottom for economic reasons, while neglecting those very important rights.
We have corporations based here in Canada that generate a tremendous amount of wealth. That wealth is not equally distributed. Often, the wealth that is being generated is coming directly from the so-called global south and from countries that are rich in natural resources that are being exploited by companies, but the wealth is being unevenly distributed.
Therefore, corporate social responsibility should not be a voluntary thing. This is something we need to have firm legislation around and firm accountability. I believe that Bill C-331 is a step in the right direction.
If we look at Global Affairs Canada, we see, as I mentioned earlier, that 50% of the world's publicly listed exploration and mining companies are headquartered in Canada. If we look at the TSX, it is quite evident.
The federal government, just recently, in April, appointed Sheri Meyerhoffer as the first Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise. Before I receive any applause from my Liberal colleagues, they may want to listen to the next part of my speech.
This is what the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability stated when that office was announced:
The government announced that it would create an independent office with the power to investigate. Instead, it unveiled a powerless advisory post, little different from what has already existed for years.
United Steelworkers Canada national director, Ken Neumann, said:
With today’s announcement...of the appointment of a special advisor, without the powers of an effective ombudsperson, this government has again disappointed thousands of Canadians who were expecting serious action on human rights.
Again, we cannot just create the office and then walk away without giving it the necessary powers, the legislative framework and the resources necessary to actually act on these particularly egregious crimes against humanity. As listed in Bill C-331, these are some of the worst crimes imaginable.
I am proud to be a member of a party that has long demonstrated a keen interest in this particular issue. The member for New Westminster—Burnaby, as I said in the introduction of my speech, has been pursuing this through multiple parliaments. Our former colleagues, Paul Dewar and Alexa McDonough, and the Liberal member for Scarborough—Guildwood also saw this as an important thing. Several parliaments ago, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood presented Bill C-300, which unfortunately ran aground because not enough Liberals showed up at a key vote.
It is important that we act on this. It is a signal to citizens of countries where these rights do not exist. This is a signal to the world that Canada actually means what it says when talking about human rights, labour rights and environmental rights. Furthermore, we are actually going to provide a forum for the affected party to come here and use our Federal Court system to pursue justice. I can think of no better signal to the world than Canada actually standing by what it says and showing, through this proposed legislation, that it is going to follow through with it.
We have some great endorsements for this proposed legislation, and the endorsements have kept on coming from the member for New Westminster—Burnaby. We have the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers, the National Union of Public and General Employees and the B.C. Teachers' Federation. It is great to see Canadian civil society, and indeed international actors as well, come behind this legislation to recognize its importance.
To conclude, I am particularly and personally attached to this bill, because it is following in the same vein of what I am trying to do with my own private member's bill, Bill C-431, which would amend the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act to make sure that our public pension monies are no longer invested in entities that are guilty of human rights, labour rights and environmental rights transgressions. It is particularly shameful, when we ask the Library of Parliament to do research, that we find the Canada pension plan still invested in companies that are committing these kinds of rights transgressions around the world.
I am happy to see that we are going to put force behind our words, as New Democrats always do. I congratulate the member for New Westminster—Burnaby on this important bill, and I look forward so very much to next week, when I can stand in the House and vote on it on behalf of my constituents.