Madam Speaker, I rise to speak this evening as the Bloc Québécois critic for international trade. The themes we are discussing are definitely linked to this issue. Of course, we are all in favour of trade, but not at any environmental, human or social cost. I believe that this means that we should study this bill very diligently.
Before dealing with the substance of the bill, I would like to salute the absolute sincerity of the member for Scarborough—Guildwood and also of Senator Miville‑Dechêne. Since 2018, they have tried three times to pass a bill about this issue. Therefore, I want to say that I admire their efforts.
We know that the member for Scarborough—Guildwood has been looking at potential corporate abuses abroad for a long time. Back in 2010, he introduced a bill to make Canadian mining companies abroad accountable. It was defeated. We had a minority Conservative government at the time. With support from the opposition parties, it could have passed, but it was defeated because too many members of his own party had fallen ill at the same time. Consequently, he did not have enough votes to get it passed. It is a shame, because it would have been a bit of a step forward at the time.
I also have to say that this is an issue that is very important to me, both personally and in my capacity as critic. I recall moving a motion for unanimous consent that set out what a true due diligence policy could look like. I think that is the right term. Unfortunately, I could hear shouts of “no” off to my right, in every sense. The Conservatives yelled “no” so it did not pass.
I also tabled a petition in favour of such a law, such a policy, last June, if I am not mistaken, signed by nearly 2,000 Quebeckers who were calling for due diligence legislation.
I also have here the report of the Standing Committee on International Trade that was tabled in the House not that long ago, regarding the study it did on the activities of Canadian mining companies abroad. We heard a lot of testimony on that subject, some of which made my blood run cold. We are talking about mining companies, of course, because we have often heard about the abuses committed by Canadian mining companies abroad. However, we could also talk about the textile industry, which, as members know, is hardly above reproach. Then there are the coffee, cocoa and palm oil industries. There are tons of industries like those, where we know that their activities and ways of doing things are having real consequences. Even if we like to have these sorts of products on our store shelves, there is an ethical and humane way of doing things.
It should be noted that Canada is a paradise for mining companies. Because Canada is a flag of convenience, a lot of companies that are not actually Canadian will come register here, incorporate here, because of the legal, tax and speculative advantages that the Canadian framework provides. After that, there is no real mechanism, except for this puppet ombudsman that was created by Ottawa a few years ago and that ultimately just gives this or that excuse, giving the government the right to say that it has taken action.
Taking action can be dangerous. Empty shells can be dangerous. Even certain policies can be dangerous, when they start out with laudable intentions but ultimately cause us to sit back and do nothing, unfortunately.
I would of course also like to talk about Bill C-226, which was proposed by my NDP colleagues and which I am co-sponsoring. I gladly put my name on it. A cause like that should not be partisan. It is too important. Lives are at stake; human dignity is at stake. That is why I am co-sponsoring the bill.
Unfortunately, I am going to have to make a comparison that is not very flattering for Bill S-211 and compare it to Bill C-262. The Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability produced an excellent document entitled “Don't Mistake Reporting for Accountability”.
The subtitle states, “Canada must require Canadian companies to respect human rights throughout their supply chains.”
This document contains a wonderfully clear, concise chart that compares the two bills. I would like to read it for all our colleagues who are present. This chart compares the features of Bill S‑211 and Bill C‑262, the bill I co-sponsored that was introduced by our NDP colleagues.
The first question is, “Does it require companies to respect human rights?”
In the case of Bill S‑211, unfortunately the answer is no. The chart states that the bill requires companies “to report annually on whether they took steps to identify and prevent the use of forced labour, and what they found. It does not require companies to respect human rights.” In the case of Bill C‑262, the answer is yes. The chart states that the bill “recognizes that companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, and must proactively take steps to prevent human rights violations throughout their supply chains and global operations.”
Here is the second question: “Does it require companies to prevent harm?”
In the case of Bill S‑211, the answer is no. The chart states that the bill “requires an annual report” but that it “does not require companies to prevent harm.” In the case of Bill C‑262, the answer is yes. The chart states that the bill “creates an explicit obligation for companies to prevent serious adverse impacts throughout their supply chains and global operations.”
Here is the third question: “Does it require companies to take steps to identify, mitigate, prevent and account for human rights and environmental harm in their supply chains?” We are talking about due diligence here.
In the case of Bill S‑211, unfortunately, the answer is no. The chart states that “[c]ompanies are not required to take any due diligence measures. A company may report that it has not taken measures and be in compliance with the law.” In the case of Bill C‑262, the answer is yes because there is “an explicit obligation for companies to put in place adequate due diligence procedures.”
The fourth question is, “Are there meaningful consequences if companies cause harm or fail to implement adequate due diligence procedures?”
In the case of Bill S‑211, the answer is no, because “[t]here are no consequences for failure to prevent harm or for failure to implement due diligence procedures.” In the case of Bill C‑262, the answer is yes because the bill “provides people with a statutory right to sue a company”. That is the important part. That is what is missing from the role of the ombudsman, which basically serves as an online complaints office. It is a nice website the government created a few years ago.
The fifth question is, “Does it help affected people to access justice or remedy?”
In the case of Bill S‑211, the answer is no. The bill does not address this. In the case of Bill C‑262, the answer is yes, because “[t]here are several ways in which the legislation helps address existing barriers to accessing Canadian courts.”
The sixth question is, “Does it provide agency to impacted communities / workers?”
In the case of Bill S‑211, the answer is “no”, because “[t]here is no role for impacted community human rights defenders and workers.” In Bill C‑262, however, “[c]onsultation with rights holders is required in a company's due diligence procedures.”
Here is the seventh question: “Does it apply to companies of all sectors and all sizes, down the entire chain?”
Bill S‑211 applies only to “companies with 250+ employees, with significant revenue or assets.” However, Bill C‑262 “applies to companies of all sizes, from all sectors, down the entire value chain.” Human rights abuses need to be called out, no matter how big the business is or how much money it makes.
Here is the eighth question: “Does it apply to all human rights?”
Bill S‑211 applies to forced labour and child labour. We applaud that and are quite pleased. However, “[t]his ignores the internationally accepted principle that human rights are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent, a principle upheld by successive Canadian governments.” In contrast, Bill C-262 “upholds the principle that companies must respect all human rights. It makes reference to the core international human rights conventions, the fundamental ILO conventions...” and even “makes specific reference to the right to a safe, healthy and sustainable environment.” Now that is real legislation with teeth.
Now, what do we do with Bill S‑211? Of course we know that it could be a step in the right direction. We know that an obligation to report cannot be a bad thing in and of itself. However, as with the ombudsman created by the government, these situations have extremely serious consequences, particularly at a time when we are thinking about a new world order post-COVID-19. In this new world order, trade would not be an absolute, and we could show more respect for sovereign states, the environment and peoples. Unfortunately—