Madam Speaker, it is a real pleasure to join the debate today on Bill C-218. To start, I would like to congratulate the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood for bringing forward for the House's consideration this bill and its important amendment to the criminal code.
I was a member of the 42nd Parliament, and during my time then I served as our party's justice critic in 2017. As part of my role, I became quite familiar with the Criminal Code and how out of date so many of its sections are and how important it is that the Criminal Code, as a very important federal statute with huge impacts on the lives of so many people, has regular reviews and revisions. To its credit, the Liberal government in the previous Parliament did try to revise many out-of-date sections, but because of the impact it has on institutions and so many individuals, it is important that we regularly review it.
That brings me to Bill C-218, because it would make a very minor, but I think important, amendment to the Criminal Code. It would amend paragraph 207(4)(b), which defines what lottery schemes are and explicitly prohibits provinces from allowing wagering on any “race or fight, or on a single sport event or athletic contest”.
Criminal law is an area of shared jurisdiction. The federal Parliament has exclusive jurisdiction in amending the Criminal Code, and of course the administration of justice is conducted by the provinces. This goes to show members that the actions of the federal Parliament can sometimes have wide-ranging consequences for provincial jurisdiction. I know in my own home province and in provinces right across the country the regulation of casinos and the different lottery corporations is very much under provincial control. Therefore, this is an area where we as a federal Parliament can have a positive impact by allowing provinces to have a bit more control over this very significant sector, one that currently, under its regulated form, employs a lot of people and provides a lot of benefits to many Canadians and communities across the country.
In recognition of what the member has done with this bill, I would be remiss if I did not also recognize my friend and colleague, the member for Windsor West, who in the previous Parliament brought forward a bill that was exactly the same as this one. That was Bill C-221. I was there on September 21, 2016, when that bill, unfortunately, was defeated in a vote of 156 to 33. It was defeated at the time because most Liberal members of Parliament voted against the bill. Here we are in the year 2021 and this is an ongoing issue. We could have resolved this back in 2016. It is a real shame that we have had to wait so many years before we are finally coming to a stage where it seems like we might have enough support to get this over the line.
I know that the member for Windsor West and his former colleague, Joe Comartin, who used to be the MP for Windsor—Tecumseh and another great New Democrat who first brought this issue to our attention back in 2010, had a lot of help in their respective ridings and from across the country. I know that the member for Windsor West is very appreciative of people like Dave Cassidy, the current president of Unifor Local 444, and the past president Ken Lewenza. Those two individuals and many others have really helped make the case for this bill, and as is often the case, it is our privilege as members of Parliament to take that strong collective community action and put it into a piece of legislation for our Parliament to consider.
I mentioned how most Liberal MPs contributed to the defeat of the previous bill back in 2016. I need to highlight that fact because we are now in a situation where we are debating this current private member's bill, but we also have a parallel bill that was introduced by the very same Liberal government in the form of Bill C-13. It was introduced on November 26 last year, but it is still stuck at first reading.
This gives rise to questions as to whether the Liberals are actually serious about this. When we come to a vote on this particular bill are they going to throw their support behind it? Are they going to slow play Bill C-13? I have heard some supportive speeches by current Liberal MPs, but we do not know where the vast majority of that caucus lies. It would be great to have some clarification on which way the Liberals are going to go this time.
With a closer examination of what Bill C-218 does, it is essentially amending the Criminal Code to give provinces the ability to allow wagers on single-event sports betting. I am certainly not an expert on this, but I think it is important to recognize that it is not only helping to modernize the Criminal Code in giving that jurisdictional responsibility to provinces, but is also a real recognition that this is a sector in the legal gaming sector that already employs so many Canadians. This sector contributes billions of dollars in tax revenues to governments of every stripe. It is one that employs thousands of Canadians.
I do not have any casinos in my own riding of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, but in the neighbouring riding of Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke. In the town of View Royal, there is a casino there. It is having tough times right now because of COVID-19. If we were to make this important amendment to the Criminal Code, it would help that casino and its patrons, allowing them to reap the economic benefits when we get to the recovery phase.
It is important to talk about why allowing it is so important. We know that single-event sports betting exists in both Canada and the United States. The main difference is that in Canada it is illegal by virtue of this existing part of the Criminal Code. We are in a situation where speakers on this current bill and its previous iterations, including in 2016, acknowledge that single-event sports betting exists. If it is going on illegally, that means it is the black market that is taking all of the benefits.
When we are dealing with the Criminal Code and looking at how various sections of it are acting, we have to make a very thorough analysis of whether keeping an existing section of the law is even worth it if so many people are in fact breaking the law and if most of the benefits from that activity are going to black markets.
If the revenues from single-event sports betting are funding illegal activity, such as the purchase of guns, and are contributing to the local drug trade, that is a bad thing and we need to find ways to properly regulate it under provincial authorities. I do not want to go into too much detail on this, but I think that in itself is an excellent reason for us to consider amending this section of the Criminal Code to bring it under provincial regulations. There are strong steps being taken to strengthen regulations in gaming as well.
In my own province of British Columbia, we have certainly seen some major inquiries into money laundering in casinos. I am not saying that casinos have not had their problems, but because of the actions of the people laundering money through casinos, the Province of B.C. has now stepped with tighter regulations. If we, as the federal Parliament, were to make this important amendment to the Criminal Code, provinces like B.C. and others, would bring in the necessary strong regulations.
If we look at the United States, Americans spent about $150 billion on sports betting in 2016. Here in Canada, it is estimated that Canadians illegally wager between $14 billion and $15 billion annually on single-event sports. That is not a small sum of money, and it is something we have take great account of.
I will end by noting that there is a list of great supporters of this, including the national Unifor union, the City of Windsor, the Canadian Gaming Association and, closer to home for me, the attorney general of British Columbia. We would do well as a federal Parliament to listen to those voices, from the private sector, labour and provincial governments, to make sure that we pass this bill.
I will indicate my strong support for Bill C-218 and hope to see us get it to committee where it can have that important analysis.