First, Mr. Speaker, I have a short question. I see that time is running out. I believe we are allowed a 40-minute period for the first speech and I was told that one of my colleagues would then make a 20-minute speech and two other colleagues would speak for 10 minutes each during the day. I believe you were informed of that. As for my 40 minutes, I think that I will have finished before the oral question period.
The Bloc quebecois will approve Bill C-8, in general. But we have serious reservations about it and we will ask for some amendments. After expressing these reservations, I will tell you about our intention to move these amendments, which we hope will clarify the bill and limit potential abuse.
I will stick with the fisheries issue. My colleague will explain to you later the more detailed position of the Bloc concerning the first part of the bill dealing with wardens in penitentiaries, I think, in any case the one that amends the Criminal Code. He will do it, I believe, more eloquently than I, at least I hope.
As I said, as the fisheries critic and also as the representative from the Gaspé riding, a traditionally maritime riding, I will dwell on the fisheries aspect of Bill C-8, because in fact the second part of the bill amends the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act.
After briefly explaining to you the substance of the amendment, I will also explain the risks involved.
In short, before its amendment, this provision, in our opinion, seemed as brief as imprecise. We understand what the government has done about this. So far, this legislation reads as follows: "A protection officer may arrest without warrant any person who the officer suspects on reasonable grounds has committed an offence under this act".
With its amendment, the government gives a structure to the power given to a protection officer. Once this government amendment is adopted, the new provision will read as follows: "A protection officer is justified in using, in accordance and to the extent permitted by the regulations, force that is intended or is likely to disable a foreign fishing vessel in these circumstances-" I wil not read all the conditions, but that is the basic point of the new legislation.
So what does this amendment intend?
It gives to a protection officer the right to inspect a foreign vessel. Therefore, the right of a protection officer to act is now included and protected by the law. We have to keep in mind that any protection officer already had this right and this bill simply confirms a current practice which brings us to ask a technical question first: Do the protection officers have the training required of people who hold such an important power? It is up to the minister to answer this first question.
In the end, what are our reservations about this bill?
First, let me point out that illegal fishing is only one aspect of the Canadian fisheries issue. Stock depletion is a complex issue which cannot be confined to illegal fishing.
Thus, the fisheries problem is much more than just a question of stock depletion as mentioned by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. We believe that the entire structure of the industry must be revisited. Instead of addressing these structural changes necessary to respond to the cyclical changes in stocks, the government-as it did in the speech from the throne-is still
looking for those responsible for stock depletion when it is the government that is responsible for stock management.
Surely, the government cannot allow illegal fishing. But it must also take other action. It must concentrate first on restructuring the fishing industry, on developing new trading practices. It must emphasize all sorts of alternatives in order to put more than 50,000 people back to work in this country. Illegal fishing must be stopped, but the problem goes beyond that. In our view, this bill looks like another element of a broader smokescreen. We hope that our fears are unfounded.
Now, here are some tangible reservations we have about Bill C-8. The Criminal Code allows a peace officer to use force in order to arrest a person who wants to flee. We agree with this principle in the context of the Criminal Code. However, we consider this is a poor approach when it comes to fisheries. The situation in the fisheries industry is so precarious right now that the amendment could result in violent incidents. Let me explain.
In the past, using deterrent firing has not permitted to inspect foreign ships at fault. Therefore, once the bill is adopted, the protection officers may think they can use a degree of force greater than the one they are using now to achieve what they set out to do. As I said, the situation is precarious and using a greater degree of force to disable a foreign fishing vessel may encourage illegal fishermen to respond to the measures taken by Canada by arming to defend themselves. So, without being alarmist, we believe that the risk is real and should be considered by the minister.
Second, one of the objectives of Canada is to show the international community its determination to stop illegal practices.
This is a commendable objective. However, it entails the inherent risk to view force as the ultimate solution to the problem. We refuse to view force as an end in itself. Using force does not allow us to get to the root of the problem of illegal fishing. It is only a short-term solution. The real solution will come from concerted international action.
In fact, and here I come to our third concern, Canada will not be able to stop illegal fishing practices without the help of other countries. Negotiation efforts with the international community must be pursued. Even though we keep a close watch over the 200 mile area, if, for instance, fishing activities outside that area are allowed to go on and harm our fish stocks, the amendment to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act will not solve the problem in any way. Canada cannot legislate in an international area. Therefore, negotiation is the only possible solution. We must not forget that when examining this amendment.
Other countries' input is all the more important since it is our firm belief that using force is only a temporary solution, one that we want to eliminate as soon as possible. Force is a short-term measure. We reject it on the whole but for purely dissuasive purposes, we tolerate reasonable use of force, that is force aimed at disabling a fishing vessel without putting any human life at risk.
Contrary to what the Criminal Code says, we do not tolerate using force likely to cause death in the case of fishing vessels. In our view, illegal fishermen are not criminals; often crewmen are not even aware of what is going on. We must understand that but since we must act rapidly, we are ready to accept it.
We take it that the bill applies exclusively to foreign ships because, in the case of Canadian vessels, there are alternatives to force which we cannot use in the case of foreign ones. In the case of Canadians, we could, for example, arrest identified offenders dockside or at home.
Therefore, through international treaties, the government should strive to have the countries involved implement arrest procedures similar to those we have on our territory. It would be the only efficient way to avoid using force and at the same time succeed in punishing those guilty of violating the law. We could avoid using force even in the case of offenses; through bilateral or multilateral agreements, we could have a ship captain arrested by the police of his own country. In such cases, if the fines were high enough, we could discourage smugglers without using any force.
While I am on the subject of international treaties, let me take this opportunity to talk about those that already exist, for example those with the United States and Quebec. I would like to give the House the following example, should Quebec ever become a foreign nation. Eighty per cent of resources found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are already shared among the bordering provinces under an individual quota system.
This system is backed by a dockside monitoring program. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is able to know, on a daily basis, what is being unloaded, where it is being unloaded, precisely at which dock, and by whom. Therefore, should Quebec choose sovereignty, contrary to what some of my colleagues claimed last time I rose in this House, we would not be locked into endless constitutional arguments; on the contrary, the work has already been done.
Resource sharing agreements are already in place. In the worst case scenario, the colour of the paper might change but the basis is already there. So, whether Quebec is a neighbour or a foreign state, using force, under international agreements, might not be necessary, or so I hope.
There are alternatives to using force. I would like to give other examples. Apparently, as we approach the year 2000, a satellite orbiting around the earth can read a newspaper over my shoulder. How can it be then that we are unable to keep up with new technology and track any vessel in our waters? We could increase security at sea and better protect our sovereignty on the
ocean. I do not claim to know everything there is to know in the field of electronics, but I do know that things can be done.
These alternatives to violence may prove important if we consider that the proposed amendment to the Criminal Code could be applied to worse crimes than poaching. It may be justified to use lethal force against a dangerous criminal but it would be unacceptable to do so with poachers, who pose a totally different problem.
We can arrest a captain because he caught too many fish, because he was fishing in the wrong place, because he caught the wrong species or because he did not have a licence. These are all serious fishing regulation offenses but none is so serious as to justify endangering the lives of the captain and crew while trying to stop their ship. This aspect of the problem is covered by an amendment we will bring forth later.
I want to get back to another point that I touched on briefly a while ago. I will phrase my comment in the form of a question. Is it really lawful to pass legislation that applies only to foreigners?
Clause 8.1 applies only to foreign fishing vessels. The bill does not authorize the use of necessary force to disable a Canadian vessel. We realize that other measures are in place to track down offenders in Canadian territorial waters. Consequently, there is no need to resort to the use of force in their case. We ask the Canadian government to apply the same policy to foreigners so that altercations can be avoided.
We understand that until such measures are put in place, the Canadian government must resort to the use of force. However, we will not stand for a policy based on a double standard. Therefore, it is imperative that we implement, along with the international community, effective measures to stop vessels from fishing illegally and to change a system where two kinds of law apply, one for Canadians, and one for foreigners.
In addition, it seems clear that the government is again, through this legislative provision, focussing attention on foreign fishing. At least that is how I see it. It seems to still be looking for a scapegoat when instead, it should re-examining the whole issue of the Canadian fishery.
The fourth point about which the Bloc Quebecois has concerns is the matter of the possible additional overlap between government departments. National defence vessels are already equipped to disable foreign fishing vessels. The inclusion of clause 8.1 could prompt the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to further equip its vessels so that they have enough strike power to intimidate foreign vessels. Should these investments be considered a priority given the crisis in the fisheries?
Furthermore, one can question the relevance of giving fisheries protection officers the mandate to disable a foreign fishing vessel. There is indeed overlap between the different department when it comes to maintaining maritime sovereignty. The report of the Malone Committee on maritime sovereignty states in no uncertain terms that savings could be realized if there were more co-operation and co-ordination between the departments of Transport, Fisheries and Oceans, National Defence and the RCMP. Today's amendment does nothing to restrict overlap and could quite likely increase its incidence.
To respond to some of its concerns, the Bloc Quebecois will move an amendment to the government's bill. We will add a line to the end of section 8.1 as follows: the use of force cannot be tolerated if the lives of the crew of the escaping boat are endangered. I do not claim to be a lawyer, but I submit that this is a very sensible resolution and I say it most sincerely.
The purpose of this amendment is clear: to set limits for the use of force. Since subsection 25(3) of the Criminal Code does not apply to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act, use of force as mentioned in section 8.1 of that Act is not limited by law. The Bloc's amendment is intended to limit the use of force in order to avoid possibly nasty incidents. Foreign fishermen are human. They do not deserve to die just because they wanted to make ends meet. In many cases, the people on the ships will not even understand the language used to arrest them and thus unreasonable use of force could lead to serious incidents.
I have another question about this bill: the government does not define what "disable" means when it says "force that is intended or is likely to disable a foreign fishing vessel". Since I am not a lawyer, I looked in the dictionary and saw that a "disabled" ship is unable to move because it has been damaged. Damaging a ship on the high seas-I do not know if some of you have ever fished, but any kind of weather may be going on out there at that time. Various kinds of vessels, made of various materials, exist: iron, wood and fibreglass. A .303 bullet hole could perhaps sink a ship, but if it did, it would be because it was fired through the hull as a warning, apparently. But if a shot were fired through a fibreglass fishing boat, I would not want to be a fisherman asleep between decks.
So I think that the use of force requires prudence and good judgment. And we know that life at sea can be tough. So remember that this right to use force must be exercised carefully.
This amendment is even more important in that the application of the law is subject to regulations issued by the Governor in
Council. It is really the regulations which will determine the scope of the law. If the regulations are too lax, the law as worded is dangerously open to abuse.
The bill in itself is not bad, but what seem less attractive are the motivations for it.
The government is giving fishermen a target, namely foreigners. When the cod stocks started to decline, some said that the increase in the seal population was mainly responsible. After all the twists and turns we have been through, scientists now tell us that seals are only one predator among many. Since the scapegoat is no longer there, another one must be found! What better than foreigners? Let us gladly hide the real problems behind the wicked foreigners. In the meantime, we do not talk about what will happen to the fishing industry after May 16. In the meantime, fishermen forget that the federal government was responsible for managing the stocks and that it is mostly to blame.
According to NAFO, barely 5 per cent of the cod stocks are in the nose and tail of the Grand Banks where the illegal fishing is now going on and about which this government is making so much fuss. We wonder why the minister is making such an issue of it. Does the government realize that it is politicking instead of solving the real underlying problem?
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans itself recognizes that it is practically impossible to estimate the cost of illegal fishing. What I am saying is that we should be discussing the fisheries of the future instead. The seals have always been there and the stocks did not collapse. Foreigners have always fished some of our stocks and our stocks did not collapse as they have now. Our whole industry must be rethought and quickly, because many people are idle and frustrated. These are capable people. Seafaring people are resourceful, but the government does not listen to them.
However, the traditional management imposed by the federal government disdains local initiatives for solving the problems of the fishing industry. Indeed, this is not the first big crisis of the fishing industry. I repeat what I already said, and I think it is important to repeat it. In the early 1970s, cod stocks were in almost the same state as they are today, but the resourceful fishermen then turned to crab fishing. A little later, in the late 1970s, with the collapse of haddock fishing in the Gulf, some fishermen turned to shrimp.
I gather from this that these maritime communities can adjust when allowed to interact. They can signal the presence of other, less popular species that can then be marketed. But this requires rapid channels of communication between decision-makers and the people on the front line, namely the fishermen. Quebec lost the opportunity for feedback in 1982, when the then Liberal government repatriated the fisheries jurisdiction. It is about time, in my opinion, that the federal government opened its eyes.
I have another, more recent example. In 1986, this feedback mechanism would have allowed inshore fishermen, who were the first to notice the decline of cod stocks, to adjust. While cod stocks were in decline, other species wrongly seen as unfit should have been made more attractive.
I want to reiterate that my motto on fisheries throughout this session will be this: A valid industrial policy on fisheries can only be consistent if the provinces share in the management of resources. The vulnerability of Quebec and the other provinces with respect to fisheries is due to the fact that the most decisive powers in this area are held by the federal government.
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans should talk about a new partnership between the various stakeholders in this sector. He should talk about the steps he intends to take to put fishermen in Canada and Quebec back to work. What tools will he give maritime communities to help them pull through?
Where I come from, we have a saying: "If you give a man a fish, you will feed him for one day, but if you teach him how to fish, you will feed him for life". I think it is also a Chinese proverb. We are very cultured in the Gaspe, are we not?
What tool should we use to enable former fishermen to find a new path? Similarly, what tool will we use to diversify this industry so that it can live through the next stock variation cycles? As I was saying during the election campaign, "A local problem calls for a local solution". The real solutions will not come, I am sorry to say, from Ottawa.
Today, because of the federal government's management mistakes, these communities are seeing their world turned upside down. Their lives will never be the same. They must find a new way of life. This revolution requires the various governments to provide maritime communities with new development tools.
The fishing world is undergoing massive changes and it would be an insult to all fishermen to unduly target illegal fishing or smugglers. We hope that this bill is not part of a plan to obscure reality and cloud the real debate on the fisheries' future. We support this bill, as I said earlier, but we hope it will be amended. Most of all, we are in favour of the government assuming its responsibilities and facing the crisis in a sector that is vital to many Quebecers and Canadians. That, Mr. Speaker, is something I have yet to see.
In closing, I would like to reiterate-because I have been talking a lot-the few questions I want to ask the government. I would like the government to answer these questions; I do not know how, but it should be able to respond before tabling the final draft of its bill.
My first question is this: are protection officers adequately trained to exercise such important powers? I know a few of them from my hometown but I know that Canadian regulations have different applications, regarding the bearing of weapons, for example. I know that two of the five Maritime provinces have asked for permission to refuse the bearing of weapons.
What will be the attitude of protection officers with regard to a use permitted by the regulations, although I do not know what regulations will be made under this legislation? That is a question I would really like answered.
Did the minister also think of the possibility that government initiatives could make things worse? The point I am making is that the fisheries are already in crisis. I would not want fuel to be added to the flame. Will the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans also step up his efforts in negotiating with the international community? And will the government reduce the current overlap between various federal departments, as I said earlier? The Malone report referred to a four-way approach.
Finally, will the regulations made under this legislation be tabled in the House of Commons to allow us to assess whether they are too lax and are leaving the door open to abuse or not?
In closing, I would urge the government to consider carefully the amendments the opposition will be proposing. This bill has numerous implications and deserves careful consideration.