Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to speak today on Bill S-36, in which I have a special interest. In fact, I had the opportunity, during various parliamentary missions, to visit countries and meet people living in countries affected by war. Often “war” means “money” and “buying weapons”, which was unfortunately the case in some African countries.
If I may, I want to come back to Bill S-36, which makes essentially administrative amendments to the Export and Import of Rough Diamonds Act. Essentially, this bill will have two effects. First, it will authorize the government to compile and distribute data on international trade in diamonds. The adoption of this amendment, which would make the diamond trade more transparent and easier to control, is necessary for Canada to remain in compliance with its international obligations pursuant to the Kimberley process. Second, it will exclude very small diamonds from the Kimberley process requirements.
In number and in weight, the great majority of the diamonds dealt on the market are tiny. They are not used to make jewellery, but have more of a utilitarian function. They are to be found, for example, in turntable needles, in watchmaking and in certain industrial knives.
Unlike large diamonds whose scarcity makes their price exorbitant, these diamonds are of no great value, and the administrative burden associated with the Kimberley process can be prohibitive. I might mention that Canada recently became the world's third largest diamond producer. In Quebec, even though no diamond mine is yet active, seven mining companies hold licences on such mines, basically in Abitibi, Témiscamingue and the Northwest.
Deposits of kimberlite, the ore in which diamonds are found, have been discovered in five sub-regions of Quebec. As far as the Kimberley process and conflict diamonds are concerned, I will read an excerpt from Partnership Africa Canada:
In 2000, the international diamond industry produced more than 120 million carats of rough diamonds with a market value of $7.5 billion U.S. At the end of the diamond chain this bounty was converted into 70 million pieces of jewellery worth close to $58 billion U.S.
Of total world production, rebel armies in Sierra Leone, as well as in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are estimated by De Beers to traffic in about 4 per cent. Other estimates place the number higher.
The Export and Import of Rough Diamonds Act ensures that Canada is in compliance with the Kimberley process, an international agreement which has established a process for certifying the origin of rough diamonds. The Kimberley process is basically designed to limit the trade in conflict diamonds, which are sold by armed factions to finance their wars.
At the beginning of my speech I mentioned these countries that have gone through harrowing wars, and that often have a high poverty rate.
Because they are small and highly valuable, the diamonds are easy to market and can be very profitable.
Now I will provide some statistics on wars funded by diamond trafficking. In the 1990s, this trade was a veritable scourge, and a major component in the funding of wars that displaced about 10 million people in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
When this issue first came up, only NGOs were critical of this funding. In 2000, the UN broke the story and published a report on the funding of the war in Angola, confirming everything that the NGOs had been proclaiming for years: the diamond trade was being used to finance the war.
These two events, that is publication of the UN report and of other information on the war in Sierra Leone, demonstrated that African conflicts and their connection with the diamond trade had now, unfortunately, become common knowledge.
That is when countries and companies that produce diamonds began to be concerned. Obviously, when this became common knowledge, everyone started wanting to solve the problem. But it was already too late. The moment that diamonds become synonymous with war, rape and murder and not with dreams and wealth, they lose their core value.
Responding to the invitation of two NGO groups, 37 countries and the principal diamond merchants agreed to sit down together with the NGOs to find a solution to the problem.
Continuing with the historical background, the first meeting was held in May 2002 in the city of Kimberley, South Africa: hence the name the Kimberley process. At the end of a series of meetings, they agreed that the best way to civilize the diamond trade was to put in place a system for certifying the origin of diamonds. Under this system, all diamonds exported from a country participating in the Kimberley process must be placed in a sealed container and accompanied by a government-issued certificate of authenticity called a Kimberley certificate.
There is plenty I could say about Bill S-36. I will, however, raise a few of its minor weaknesses before closing. First of all, the bill ought to have been evaluated, and this was not done with the first version. Now we are coming to amend the bill but it has not yet had a concrete evaluation in this Parliament.
The law will have been in effect for three years this coming January. The government wanted a prompt evaluation of its application and any shortcomings, but that was not done.
In conclusion, I would just like to add that the principle of Bill S-36 is a highly important one and that the Bloc Québécois will continue to follow developments in this sensitive situation with interest.