Mr. John Finlay (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-280, an act to amend the Criminal Code (selling wildlife). There are some admirable motivations behind this proposal and the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Langley has put them very well.
As a government, we fully support ensuring that wildlife is preserved and protected in the best possible way, and certainly that extends to species at risk. In fact, there are many years of conservation actions behind this in Canada and there are a number of statutes already on the books that accomplish this goal.
The proposed legislation would create three indictable offences under the Criminal Code for selling wildlife or wildlife parts, or for killing, capturing or possessing wildlife or wildlife parts for the purpose of selling them. Under this proposal there would be exemptions from prosecution for people who sell wildlife in accordance with a licence, permit or an exemption order. It also states that the sale of threatened or endangered species would mean high penalties and that all offences would be subject to the money laundering provisions of the Criminal Code.
As noted at the outset of my remarks, these are admirable objectives. However, we need to make sure that there is a good fit with other legislation already in place or pending. In this case, this is not so.
I would like to point out that in the Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1994 and the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, known as WAPPRIITA, there are dual procedure offences. These are also found in the Canada Wildlife Act. Dual procedure offences mean that they can begin with a summary conviction or an indictment. The maximum prison terms set out for proceedings by indictment in most statutes do not exceed five years.
Let us also consider the government sponsored Bill C-5, the species at risk act. This bill is currently under review by the Senate Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources. One of the offences created in Bill C-5 is the prohibition on the killing, harming, harassing, capturing or taking of a wildlife species that is listed as extirpated, endangered or threatened. Bill C-5 also includes a prohibition on the possessing, collecting, buying, selling or trading of a wildlife species listed as extirpated, endangered or threatened.
There is some overlap between this offence and the ones outlined in existing legislation, as well as the offences set out in Bill C-280.
Bill C-280 provides only indictable offences. The maximum prison terms vary from two to eight years, depending on whether it is a first or subsequent offence and whether the wildlife involved is an endangered species.
The question here is not that we need to do this. The question here is whether it is already being done or has been done, and in a better way.
Is Bill C-280 the best way to accomplish the goal? Are the provisions about prohibiting behaviour that is traditionally associated with Parliament's exercise of its criminal law power? Or perhaps we should say that Bill C-280 is describing a public welfare offence, traditionally associated with regulatory matters in a civil context. That is why we believe this approach is inconsistent with the classification of offences elsewhere in the Criminal Code.
The sale of wildlife, as I have demonstrated, is well covered in existing legislation. The bill is a duplication that is not necessary. I can also submit that in many cases we would be using the heavy hand of the Criminal Code for some sales that are quite minor, such as the sale of a few muskrat pelts. We do not need such a heavy approach.
Let me explain further. The offence of sexual assault is classified as a dual procedure offence, which means that the Crown may elect to proceed by summary conviction or by indictment. From a policy point of view, it would appear inconsistent to classify the selling of wildlife as an indictable offence when other offences considered more serious by society are classified as dual procedure offences.
There also would be a cost implication to the provinces and territories if straight indictable offences were created for the offences in Bill C-280. All persons charged with any of the offences under the act would have a choice of trial, including the possibility of a jury trial.
We need to remember that under the Canadian system provincial governments are those with the constitutional powers to regulate the use and protection of wildlife on provincial lands. We must also take note that these offences are well covered in Canadian statutes and will be reinforced with the passage of the proposed species at risk act.
Topic: Private Members' Business
Subtopic: Criminal Code