Hon. Serge Marcil (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I would like to address today a silent catastrophe that has been occurring along the Atlantic coast every winter. Bird watchers and people who enjoy walking along our beaches can tell you about this silent catastrophe. I am talking about the fact that 300,000 seabirds and maybe even more die every winter because some ships discharge their oily waste into the ocean.
No, they are not allowed to do so. Yes, there are laws against this. Because it is both easier and quicker to dump this waste illegally rather than dispose of it legally, the ships are willing to take the risk of getting caught and paying a fine which is not high enough. They know that the law is not enforced as stringently as it could be.
What exactly are they dumping in the ocean? Every ship produces oily waste. The waste accumulates in the bilges or the engine rooms and then is discharged into the ocean. Were you to take a sample of that water, you would notice that it always has oil on the surface. The ships should separate the oil from the water using special separators. It can be done through a special process that takes a little time. However, if time is short and the ship is travelling fast, the crew might decide it was easier to just discharge the waste into the ocean. It is done at night, of course, in dense fog and bad weather.
We would provide the necessary incentive for doing the right thing.
People who frequent our beaches will tell you—and we have videos showing this very thing—that huge numbers of birds are washed up on shore, already dead or struggling to survive.
As an example: a litre of oil may seem a very small amount, especially if dispersed over a large ocean surface. Obviously, a litre in the Atlantic is very little, microscopic even. But a tiny drop the size of a quarter is enough to kill a bird, just as a pinhole in the suit of a diver would kill him. Petroleum products destroy the bird's natural defences.
The cold winter waters of the Atlantic penetrate at the spot affected by the oil, and so the bird is no longer able to maintain its temperature, and dies of the cold. This is not something that happens just over one winter; the same thing happens year after year.
On Sunday mornings, volunteers walk the beaches of Canada's Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and they frequently pick up as many as 15 birds.
People living along the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes are also familiar with this problem. Some birds hang on for days, because, rather than dying from the cold, they starve to death because they are unable to move around.
The waters off Atlantic Canada, where the problem is more serious, are an important crossroads for seabirds. They teem with life that supports tens of millions of birds. Other species stop in this area as well during migration.
These include murres, puffins, dovekies and various species of gulls: herring gulls, great black-backed gulls, as well as black guillemots, common eiders, Atlantic puffins, Northern gannets, oldsquaws, common loons, red-throated loons, double-crested cormorants and black-legged kittiwakes.
People generally do not have an opportunity to come in contact with such a proliferation of species, particularly city-dwellers.
There are also South Atlantic albatrosses. I would invite everyone to visit Canada's east coast, be it the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Magdalen Islands, Nova Scotia or Newfoundland. They will be able to see for themselves what absolutely extraordinary things abound in nature.
Also affected are the phalaropes, several species of gull, eiders and eastern harlequin ducks, all categorized as of special concern in the endangered species classification.
Our scientists now know that 80% of dead birds found on Newfoundland beaches alone died from chronic oil pollution.
So much damage is done to so many wild species. What a tragedy that could have been avoided.
The bill before us will deal with this problem by increasing fines under the Migratory Birds Convention Act to as much as $1 million for people ignoring our environmental laws and discharging oil waste at sea.
It will hold these seamen and these operators, as well as their directors, responsible for their acts and will help to harmonize our approach with that of the United States, where fines have always been higher.
This act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 will also provide clarity for law enforcers as well as ship owners and operators in waters under Canadian jurisdiction, including the 200 mile exclusive economic zone.
We can say, at this time, that none of the species that I talked about today is endangered. This is good news. However, with such a high mortality rate, how long do you think that we will be able to prevent their names from being added to the list of species at risk?
Our own scientists say that it is clear that death from fuelling at sea can seriously reduce the abundance and growth of populations of sea bird species that have a long lifespan, particularly when mortality rates are sustained, adults are affected or species having small populations are suffering the consequences of fuelling at sea.
Do we want to be the ones responsible for some of these species being put on the endangered list? I think no one in this House wants that when we could have acted, and done something very simple that would have quite an impact.
The bill before us will send a very clear message. It will tell those in the shipping industry who do not care about the species with which they share the ocean that their actions are repugnant to us and that we are going to go after them with the full force of the law.
There are some in the shipping industry who find it deplorable that the Government of Canada makes laws to punish people for polluting, treating them like criminals in the sense that they could be held personally liable in a court of law.
Let me point out that it is people who pollute, not ships. Marine pollution should not be treated like a parking violation. It only makes sense that Canada demand that sailors and vessels' operators abide by the exemplary practices of their own industry and by the laws of our country.
It will tell people in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Quebec, British Columbia and other coastal provinces that we too care about the marine wildlife that makes us unique and enriches us. Also, it will tell Canadians that our environmental laws are consistent with their vision of preserving and protecting.
Such are the messages we can send by adopting the bill before us, a measure that will make a difference as early as the winter of 2005, when we are in a better position to detect offenders, charge those we catch, and deter others by imposing hefty fines that will eliminate oil dumping as a cost of being in business. Those are the messages we want to send.
Not all shipping lines, ship owners and ships break the law. Most ports have equipment to pump out oil waste. Most responsible shipping lines use this equipment. Those that do not may be considered sea vagrants. They dump their waste at night or when they have left our country. Obviously, when this happens in the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River, or the seaway, it is easier to deal with them, because they are still in Canadian territorial waters. We can force them to comply because we can board the vessels.
It is very often when they leave the St. Lawrence seaway and our coastal waters, in our 200 mile economic zone, that these tramps dump their oil waste at sea. The whole environment is affected.
In parliamentary committee, we were asked why we are introducing this bill now and why we did not do it earlier. As concerns the 1994 and 1999 legislation, you know that when Parliament passes legislation, it takes a while before it is implemented. The delay can be lengthy. Later on, when we assess these new statutes, we often find out there are shortcomings that make it impossible for us to deal with the issues in the way it was envisioned when the bill was passed.
Whether it is the Environment Act 1997 or other legislation, obviously, while members of Parliament are considering a bill, the public service is drafting it based on cases and facts. They bring it to us and we study it in the House and in parliamentary committee. We pass it in the House, with some amendments. It is sent to the Senate, which does the same thing. The senators consult people, rework the bill, pass it and send it back here to the House for a final reading before it is passed. Some people think that once it is passed, the bill becomes an infallible law.
In the present situation, there have been some rather important cases, particularly the Tecam Sea and the Olga . These two cases led us to discover the loopholes in our law. We realized that, even with the evidence we had for prosecuting them, we were not certain that we would be able to finish the job and punish them by fines or seizure of the vessels, and so forth. We had to let the charges drop.
In the past year, people have had to work on drafting a new bill that would arm us with tougher measures for those who break our laws, so that we could really intervene and set an example.
The bill before us is intended to amend the 1994 and 1999 statutes. Based on our experience in enforcing these two laws, we have drafted a bill that makes it possible for us to intervene with some real muscle, to ensure that we are able to punish these seafaring vagabonds, these people who take advantage of bad weather, storms and fog to flout our laws and dump their oily waste in our waters.
There have been many consultations. Some people say that we should have heard from witnesses in a parliamentary committee. Obviously, the basic work was done in consultation with the provinces and environmental groups, at the request of certain groups.
I shall simply give the example of the Shipping Federation of Canada, established by an act of Parliament in 1903, which represents ships involved in Canada's overseas trade, their owners and operators and their agents. The federation, representing 90% of the traffic in and out of Canada's eastern ports, from Newfoundland to the Great Lakes, encourages and promotes an environmentally responsible transportation system and supports initiatives to sanction operators that do not respect environmental standards.
In other words, when things are done the right way, any economic environment may be involved. People want standards that are clear and well defined for everyone. People who want to do things right do so in a positive environment. There are offenders, of course, because there always be people who will want to circumvent the laws.
However, our laws must be rigorous enough to allow us to intervene and sanction the guilty.
Also, like the Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Fund and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Canadian Nature Federation is doing its part by supporting the bill. These organizations applaud the efforts of the Government of Canada, which wants to protect nature and our species by passing this bill.
In closing, I would like to invite all parliamentarians to support this bill. They have already done so at first reading, as well as at the committee stage. Of course, one may question at times the rapidity of the process. However, I believe this is an emergency. We had already passed the legislation twice, in 1994 and 1999, and we really had to intervene. We know also that implementing this legislation will take time. Consequently, I invite all the members of Parliament to support this bill.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994