OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)
Monday, November 5, 2012
Speaker: The Honourable Andrew Scheer
Nuclear Terrorism Act
The House resumed from October 15 consideration of the motion that Bill S-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Timmins—James Bay.
The bill fulfills Canada’s treaty obligations to the UN under the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, including extending international measures and beyond protecting against proliferation to now include the protection of nuclear facilities. Also, it reinforces Canada’s obligation under the UN Security Council Resolution 1540 taken in 2004, to take and enforce effective measures to prevent the proliferation of nuclear materials as well as chemical and biological weapons.
At the outset, let me say that we generally support the bill. We think it is about time that the government actually lived up to its obligations under the UN, but we have some reservations about the scope of the bill.
I also want to point out that the government with its law and order agenda has an overarching propensity to deal with law and order as its prime focus. This is just one of 14 bills, I believe, that have reached the House dealing with crime or crime and punishment, or defining crime. There are many of them. There were bills about megatrials, human smugglers, mandatory minimums, military justice, the gun registry, citizens’ arrest, criminal and electronic communications, human smugglers, elder abuse, accountability of offenders, RCMP accountability, the faster removal of foreign criminals, terrorism and nuclear terrorism, which would lead one to belive that perhaps Canada is going through a spate of crime that is out of proportion to everything, because these bills are out of proportion to what we are doing here in the House of Commons.
However, that is not true. The facts suggest otherwise, that crime is on the decline in Canada and has been on the decline since before the government took office. Focusing on laws to scare Canadians into thinking that crime is on the rise and making the criminal justice system harsher and less flexible is not the way to go. On this side of the House, we believe that a flexible and more systematic approach to crime is a better of dealing with it.
The bill is necessary and we agree it is necessary to adopt these laws, to abide by our agreements with the United Nations, to deal with the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, et cetera. However, let us talk about what things are still missing from the government’s agenda while this bill is front and centre.
The government is making illegal certain acts of terrorism involving nuclear materials. Bravo. Canadians generally are glad that, if people try to use nuclear or radioactive material for terrorism, they will be doing something against the law and if they are caught and convicted they will face serious penalties. However, we note there are no mandatory minimums here.
What is the government doing about other things that are terrifying Canadians? In my riding of York South—Weston there was a recent spate of killings and maimings using handguns. Last week one person was killed and two others injured in handgun violence. Over the summer, there were six funerals of Somali youth who were gunned down in acts of violence all over the city of Toronto. Of course there were the horrific shootings at a block party on Danzig Street in Scarborough, which left two dead and 23 injured. What action has the government taken to stop the flow of illegal guns at our border?
It is all well and good to pass laws making terrorism and nuclear terrorism illegal, but if our citizenry is being terrorized by other things, what are we doing about that? What actions are being taken to get the guns that are already there off the street? There is no bill before us on that topic.
The government passed Bill C-19, which cancels and will destroy the long gun registry, so less will be known about what guns are out there, and people are fearful. People in my city are fearful about what that will mean for their personal safety. They are more fearful than they were before the Conservative government took power.
In my riding of York South—Weston the bill does nothing to prevent another thing that is the single biggest crime in my riding right now, the theft of cellphones and other electronic mobile devices. Kids are being mugged and people are being injured, and yet nothing is happening from the government. The solution is simple. Make it illegal to activate phones reported as stolen, and I brought forward such a motion in the House of Commons.
So far the government is silent on things that are terrifying people, that are making people feel they are less safe than they were yesterday. Yet, we are here discussing nuclear terrorism.
It also takes aim at the risk of the environment being threatened by nuclear terrorists. Again, bravo. Canadians are worried about the environment. They are worried about the climate changes that have been felt most recently from Hurricane Sandy doing damage to both the U.S. and Canada.
What else is the government doing about the environment? The definition of the environment in Bill S-9, this bill, is almost identical to that found in the new environmental assessment act. Essentially,
|“environment” means the components of the Earth, and includes (a) land, water and air, including all layers of the atmosphere; (b) all organic and inorganic matter and living organisms; and (c) the interacting natural systems that include components referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b).|
If a nuclear terrorist threatens any of these elements of the environment, they can be charged with an offence, and if convicted, they can face serious time. However, if they do something, the environmental effects of these actions cannot hurt any living organism, including humans. That is not so for the way that the government treats its own projects.
The definition of environmental effect in the new environmental assessment act is only about those impacts on fish, migratory species and birds. If a federal project harms the environment in such a way that human health is threatened, apparently the government does not care. Human health is no longer protected by the Environmental Assessment Act.
Bill S-9 protects human health. It therefore protects the environment better against harm than the environmental assessment act. Nuclear terrorists are treated more harshly than government projects or other projects that are of large scale and large effect and that can in fact harm the environment. Most of those projects are not nuclear terrorism, so nothing is wrong with harming human health, says this Conservative government.
Bill S-9 is a necessary part of living up to our obligations to the UN. We like the UN. We wish we were part of the Security Council. We wish we lived up to all of our obligations. One of those obligations is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the government signed on March 11, 2010. On that date the government promised, as a result of signing that convention, to report back to the UN within two years. It still has not done it.
There has been no report on what it has done so far to help persons with disabilities. So far, the government has done things to harm persons with disabilities. One of the things that treaty with the UN says very clearly we are supposed to be doing is making it possible for persons with disabilities to have equal access to information, equal access to the Internet. Yet, the government, in its last bill, removed community access funding. It therefore cut off thousands upon thousands of disabled individuals from having access to the Internet, which they had grown used to under that plan, and it is no longer available to them.
The government has apparently failed the disabled, and failed, again, one of the very important things we have signed with the UN. We agreed with the UN. We thought we would make life better for the disabled, with every measure we took and with everything we did. Yet, we have the government acting in opposition of that promise to the UN.
In addition, the bill does nothing to deal with one of the most pressing needs in my riding, and that is affordable housing. The bill is all about safety and security, but safety and security is one of the things that is most missing in my riding with regard to persons living in supported housing in the city of Toronto.
Fifteen years ago, the Liberal government got itself out of supported housing, and the federal government has done nothing to move back into that role. The City of Toronto is facing a $750 million deficit in terms of repairing these buildings, and thousands upon thousands of people are on waiting lists. Yet, we can do nothing about it. This is part of the safety and security of individuals in my riding in the city of Toronto, and in Canada as a whole.
However, the most important thing facing us is nuclear terrorism, according to the government. We have done absolutely nothing to assist those people in this country to feel more secure in where they live.
Mr. Speaker, these obligations go back to 2004, and no steps have been taken to ratify them until now.
The government seems to have a very mixed attitude toward the United Nations. It has tried to get on the Security Council, and they were turned down, many said, because of the government’s attitude on key issues. We have heard backbenchers attack the United Nations. We have seen the Minister of Foreign Affairs ridicule it.
I would like to ask the hon. member if he is concerned about Canada’s long-standing tradition of multilateralism being undermined by a government that seems to be very hostile towards our most important international body?
Mr. Speaker, as for Canada’s role in the world, one way of putting it is that we have always punched above our weight. However, since the government took office, we are less able to have an influence in the major and underlying issues facing this planet. Nowhere was that more evident than when we were rejected for a spot on the Security Council.
I am a supporter of the United Nations. I prefer to think that the United Nations is a place we can go to have large-scale discussions about the ills that face the world. Canada should be a part of that process.
More and more, since the government has taken office, we seem to be pushing ourselves to the outside of the UN. We do not want to make speeches at the UN. We do not want to abide by our commitments. It has been seven years since the commitment to the UN was made. It has been almost three years since the commitment on the persons with disabilities was made, and there has been no report from the government on that commitment.
Mr. Speaker, I was concerned as I listened to the member touch on a whole host of issues that are not directly related to this bill. However, I guess he has the right to do that.
I want to speak specifically to the issue of the flow of illegal guns into this country. The member was basically accusing the government of having done nothing on that, in spite of the fact that we have put increased resources into that at the border. We have increased sentencing for gun crimes because we felt that was an important thing to do in this country. We have armed officers at the border in order to protect them better, as well, and we have been screening arrivals and making sure people are checked so that the flow of guns is stopped.
The member also mentioned that the gun registry was shut down and seemed to somehow try to link that to handguns. I do not know if the member is aware, but the handgun registry has been in place for decades and it continues. The long gun registry does not affect handguns. If the member is talking about handguns in his riding, he should be clear and should not be misleading his constituents into thinking that somehow the government has not done anything with the handgun registry.
I have a specific question. It is the member’s opinion that people feel they are less safe today than they were years ago. I am just wondering, if that is the case, why have the NDP members opposed every initiative we have brought forward in order to protect people and make them feel more safe in their own homes and communities?
Mr. Speaker, the problem with the actions that the government has taken is they do not make people feel more safe. That has been the problem.
The government has taken action to remove a long gun registry, which in fact police were using every day. It has taken steps to make penalties for using guns harsher. I am not aware of too many criminals who read the law before they take a gun and shoot somebody. That is not what goes on in the minds of criminals.
What is necessary in order to make people feel safer is safer and more secure housing, and safer and more secure streets, which may mean we need some proactive way to get at the proliferation of handguns.
When I go into a high school and half of the children there admit to owning a handgun or knowing someone who does, there is something wrong with our society. When the proliferation of handguns is that pervasive that high school students think nothing of owning a handgun, there is something wrong.