Madam Speaker, I want to thank the senators and members who have gotten involved, directly or indirectly, in tackling the issue of human trafficking, slavery and forced labour in Canada and Quebec and elsewhere in the world. I sincerely thank Senator Miville‑Dechêne, in particular, for her commitment. I do not think my colleagues will hear me thanking senators in the House very often. I am, however, capable of doing so, because what we are talking about today is so important.
The bill we are debating sets out what we need to do to make our supply chains more ethical and to rid them of the scourge of forced labour and child labour. Not many members in the House had to listen to testimony from Uighurs who fled China. I participated in the study conducted by the Subcommittee on International Human Rights. I had to look into the eyes of these victims who lived under a totalitarian regime. I struggled to hold back tears as they described the abuse they suffered at the hands of those tormenting and exploiting them in Xinjiang. I was speechless as I listened to their stories. Then, I was forced to tell them that Canada is doing nothing to deter their tormentors and exploiters. The most optimistic among us would say that we are not doing much, but the truth is that we are doing nothing.
Less than a week ago, I tabled a motion about recognizing the genocide being perpetrated by the People's Republic of China against the Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in East Turkestan. Although no one could claim to be unaware of the situation, my motion was rejected by many Liberals, who refused to even let me read it. The status quo is a powerful thing. That is why this bill is so necessary. Even if it is incomplete, as my colleague said earlier, it is a first step that must be taken.
Very early on, as children, we are taught that making a purchase is not a trivial act. It is a decision. It comes with significant power: the power to choose. However, in order to choose, we need to be fully informed and make sure that we compare the available options. That is why, when we choose between two items, we want to know where they come from, how much they cost. When we choose between two foods, we want to know how much they weigh, how many calories they have. For some things, however, it is not that simple.
This might seem obvious. We know that anything made in Canada is made by paid workers, not forced labour. Unfortunately, not everything sold in Canada comes with that certainty. Even though we live in a modern state with progressive labour laws and an aversion to all forms of slavery, believe it or not, a consumer cannot take it for granted that a given sweater or pair of gloves was not made by a person forced to work, not even here.
Given everything we know about China and similar regimes, it is high time we made sure that no product tainted by forced labour shows up on store shelves in Quebec or Canada. The people who elected us to represent them expect us to at least try to make progress on this issue. Unfortunately, Canada often lags behind on these issues. Let me share one example. While the Americans block entire containers of goods and demand proof that they are not the product of forced labour, we wait for the phone to ring. We wait for a call from border services saying that they have evidence of forced labour for a given container from Xinjiang. That is when it is seized. How ridiculous.
While Parliament knows that a genocide is happening in Xinjiang and has acknowledged it, Ottawa waits for a phone call. While members of the House, including myself, have heard disturbing testimony about forced labour, Ottawa waits for a phone call. While international experts and our neighbours act consistently in the face of well-documented facts, Ottawa waits for a phone call.
Worse still, I can say that a shortage of telephone operators is not the problem. Last fall, the Canada Border Services Agency seized, for the first and only time, a shipment of clothing produced using forced labour. No big alarm bells are ringing. Meanwhile, the United States has intercepted over 1,400 shipments. If that is not proof of the inefficiency of the Canadian system and the need to improve it, I do not know what is.
The problem does not start at the border; it starts with our companies. Consider for example the genocide in China. Canadian companies are among the top five investors in the Xinjiang region. Canadian companies are not only failing to control goods from forced labour, they are actually encouraging and participating in modern slavery. The problem is obviously not limited to China, but this is a clear example. The truth is that Quebeckers and Canadians are unaware of the extent to which successive federal governments have allowed the problem to escalate, as though supply chains built on forced labour did not affect us. Guess what? They do affect us.
For 2020 alone, World Vision estimates that 7% of goods imported to Canada were produced by child labour or forced labour.
If we believe the actions that have been taken to date, or rather, the one action that has been taken to date, Quebeckers and Canadians ought to be reassured, but that is not at all the case.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill for the simple reason that it will lead to greater transparency on the measures companies are taking or not taking to combat the use of forced labour, whether in Canada or abroad.
Bill S‑211 would create an inspection regime and confer additional powers on the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, including the power to require an entity to provide certain information about its application of the legislation. Each year, the minister will also have to table in each House of Parliament a report on the measures taken to prevent and reduce the risk that forced labour is used.
All of that is good. This is progress, but obviously it is not enough. We have to do what the Americans are doing and reverse the burden of proof if we want to discourage forced labour. We also have to coordinate with our other allies on several other related issues. What are we currently doing about the ineffectiveness of border services, about businesses that are underpaying their staff, and about those corrupting local authorities? We are doing nothing. It is unavoidable: The House will have to take an overall look at corporate due diligence.
Bill S‑211 is a step in the right direction, but only as we wait for the rest of Canada's laws to be given more teeth. If anyone in the House believes that we need do no more than what is in this bill, I would advise them to speak to the Uighurs or any other peoples who are victims of exploitation. I would advise them to go to speak to activists fighting western mining companies that abuse their power to violate human rights, usually under the Canadian flag. I would advise them to speak to the people at the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, which does an outstanding job of informing elected representatives and citizens.
I hope that in their interventions, my hon. colleagues will not forget that voting for Bill S‑211 is not a sign of leadership, but just the bare minimum they must do to be able to look in the mirror. I know that I have mentioned this dozens of times, but when I get up in the morning, the first thing I see is a little note that says: “Who do you work for?” I work for the people who gave me a mandate to represent their values and their interests to the best of my abilities.
Quebeckers believe in fairness. As kids, they learn that they should not do to others what they would not want done to themselves. They know that it is important to surround themselves with people who respect each individual's human rights. They want their elected officials to walk the talk, to be consistent and to fight for what is right.
Frankly, our public policies fall short of what we project on the international stage. This bill brings us closer to that level, but it is hardly worth bragging about. It is not as binding as the due diligence laws that already exist or are being debated in European parliaments. This bill is the bare minimum, as I was saying, and we will have to move in the same direction as the Europeans and pass human rights due diligence laws. Requiring accountability is a start.
We will soon have to enforce real, harsh requirements to change bad practices. By tolerating the commission of, or even participation in, human rights violations of any kind, we are complicit in actions that are against the law in Canada. This would also provide a solution to the limitations of import controls, which can no longer be ignored, and would prevent consumers from purchasing products manufactured through modern-day slavery.
I urge our hon. colleagues to support the demands of 150 civil society organizations from around the world, which have published model due diligence legislation. Much of the work has already been done. Now we just have to rise to the occasion. We need to act, we need to be effective and, above all, we need to be fair.