Mr. Speaker, the New Democratic Party will support Bill C-8 at third reading, because the fight against counterfeiting is so important to our economy.
First of all, it is a matter of respecting the economic rights of creators and copyright or trademark owners, who have invested their research into developing their product. This requires time and money. Very often, they invest in advertising and marketing for their product, to demonstrate its quality and the significance of buying it.
Some people pay the bills, while the counterfeiters run off with the profits. This is a great recipe for making a respectable company go under. In addition, when the counterfeit items are of poor quality, both the company’s market and the value of its trademark collapse. If we want to protect our businesses, we must ban this kind of practice.
We must make sure that consumers are really buying the product they are paying for. If you pay $3,000 for a beautiful Rolex watch, you expect it to contain a little bit of gold and silver. If you pay $15 for it in a back alley in New York, of course there will not be any gold or silver in it. It cannot be anything but a toy. Nonetheless, the brand of the watch is being undermined.
Let us imagine that a counterfeiter makes an almost exact copy of a watch but replaces the gold and silver with lower quality metals. First of all, he increases the amount of profit he makes from this inferior product. Then the legitimate company loses the sale and the brand value declines, because the owner believes the watch should last a lifetime but it stops working after six months. It is the value of the brand name that takes a hit. It is important to preserve it.
Very often, it is just a question of keeping the public safe. For instance, children’s toys cannot have lead paint in them. All the major brand companies know this, and the counterfeiters do as well. However, the counterfeiters sometimes like to make a little more money and do not comply with essential international public health standards. They use hazardous products.
If these people started making prescription drugs, there would be a problem. In Canada, we feel it is absolutely awful that prescription drugs we import may be of poor quality, depending on the plant where they were manufactured, even within a company. The plant manager lowers the quality of the brand-name product. This has happened in the United States, where some companies have been banned from selling prescription drugs. We hope of course that control will happen in Canada. It is a matter of public health.
If we expect a prescription drug to contain 70% of active ingredients, and there is a problem if it only contains 50% or if it contains 115%. Doctors write their prescriptions for medications whose properties they know. If someone starts playing around with them, it becomes a public health issue.
With regard to food, Canada bans a certain level of pesticides. If this level is exceeded, the food in question is not safe. The counterfeiters will use poor quality products in their cans and stick on a label from a company that has a good reputation to sell them. They do not meet the standards and this also poses risks.
This is why the NDP is in complete agreement with Bill C-8. We have to make sure this protection is provided in order for food, toys, drugs and even construction materials to have real value. This is the era of globalization, and very often we receive by-products that are incorporated into our own national production. That is what the problem of contamination is all about. If a contaminant enters our production chain at some point, then when the product comes out the end, our chain of production will have a lower value. The estimated value of our product will not be what we had hoped because we will have been duped. This is therefore important. It is a question of security, not just physical but also economic.
One major flaw must be noted, however. It is all very well to enact the finest laws in the world, but if there is no one to enforce them, then things are not going to work. Unfortunately, in recent years, a significant amount has been cut from the budget of the Canada Border Services Agency. That has led to 549 jobs being cut. That is a huge number. We can imagine how many containers inspectors can check and how many long-term investigations they can do into counterfeit products that appear on the market. Those investigations are important. Legislation is nothing if there is no structure to ensure that it will be enforced.
We recently discussed a free trade agreement with Honduras. The problem I raised at the time was that there is no point in having a law that prohibits murder in that country if the leaders of the country can go around killing people with complete impunity because the police will never bother them for it. This is somewhat the same problem.
Prohibiting counterfeiting in a piece of legislation is all very well, but it is not going to stop a fraudster from trying to do it. What is really going to stop them from doing it is telling them that all the lovely dishes from China with lead paint that we find in their container are going to be destroyed with a crusher and the container is going back to China. If we do that once or twice, I guarantee that the third time, they are not going to be interested in bringing in a container with dishes that have lead paint. That is the border. That border is important. It is called the law and the justice system. It is not just thinking that because we are pure of heart, everyone is going to have the same ethics as we do. Ethics have to be protected.
Obviously, it goes without saying that this is difficult to quantify. As I said, we do not have the number of inspectors we need. We know that counterfeiting exists and is here. We have a general idea because companies say their sales are down. How do we determine the value of an underground activity when it is hidden and there is no one to ferret it out? We have seen it grow. The RCMP says that in 2009 it seized $7.6 million worth of goods, and that in 2012 it seized $38 million worth. That is just the tip of the iceberg, because we cannot determine the extent of this underground activity. It is hidden and we do not have the personnel we need to shed light on it.
I will quickly conclude by saying that giving our customs officers the powers they need and instituting civil and criminal penalties for counterfeiting trademarks enables them to share information with the owners of the trademarks and the products. These are things that the NDP and the international community agree with entirely.
We are going to support the bill and we are even going to try to improve it in committee.