I call to order the meeting of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in this 42nd Parliament. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are starting a study of ocean war graves.
To all of our members, welcome back, especially Kelly. We missed having you with us.
To the various individuals and witnesses, thank you for coming.
From the Department of National Defence, we have Steve Harris, acting director and chief historian, directorate of history and heritage.
From the Department of Transport, we have Ellen Burack, director general, environmental policy, and Nancy Harris, executive director, regulatory stewardship and aboriginal affairs.
From Parks Canada, we have Marc-André Bernier, underwater archaeology manager, and Ellen Bertrand, director, cultural heritage strategies.
Welcome to all of you. Thank you for finding time in your busy schedules to come before the committee today.
We would like to start with the Department of National Defence.
Madam Chair and members of the committee, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to appear before you today as part of your study on ocean war graves.
I am Dr. Steve Harris, the acting director and chief historian at the directorate of history and heritage, National Defence headquarters. I began my career there in 1979, became chief historian in 1998, and have been the acting director since 2012. As such, I am ultimately responsible for the DND/CAF casualty identification program, which is managed by DHH within military personnel command. This program is just under 20 years old, and exists because in the late 1990s the Commonwealth War Graves Commission transferred its responsibility for identifying recently discovered remains of commonwealth sailors, soldiers, and airmen killed in the two world wars to the participating national authorities. This task was given to the chief of military personnel and delegated to DHH.
Using historical research and physiological records, we identified our first casualty in 2002—a soldier missing from the Lincoln and Welland Regiment whose remains were discovered and reported two years before.
Until 2005, our experience was entirely with remains found on land—soldiers or victims of an air crash—and whether in Europe or in Canada, clear protocols were followed. The discovery was reported to the police, who police determined that the remains were likely a war casualty. When evidence suggested that the individual was from a commonwealth service, the remains were gathered and stored by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. If evidence suggested that the individual was Canadian, we were informed and began our work.
In 2005, however, the wreckage of an RCAF Nomad aircraft was discovered in Lake Muskoka, Ontario, by civilian recreational divers. It was not known at the outset whether the aircraft presented an environmental hazard, whether it carried any ordnance, and whether the crew were still on board. It was also not clear at the outset whether the wreckage should remain where it was and hopefully be declared to be a war grave should legislation exist, or whether it should be removed. Eventually it was removed, and the remains of the crew were given a proper military burial in 2015.
That was the first occasion upon which we at DHH became involved in discussions about defining a “war grave”, an occasion complicated by the fact that Lake Muskoka waters are in the purview of the Province of Ontario, not Canadian jurisdiction, as such. What we saw then was no clear way to provide protection for the wreck and the human remains in it. In discussions that followed, however, we realized that although the Nomad case had raised our awareness, it had become very clear that our involvement in wrecks was limited to those that contained human remains and that could be defined as a war or operational grave.
If something is going to be defined as a war grave, that suggests that the wreckage and the human remains are not going to be touched, removed, and reburied. In that case, DHH has no involvement whatsoever. The question for us has always been whether there is a requirement to consider whether a wreck in easily accessible waters is likely to be exploited despite its having been declared a war grave. From what we know, that consideration will apply mainly to aircraft, not ships, the Nomad in Lake Muskoka being the prime example. In that case, the lack of legislative means to declare the wreck a war grave was part of the decision-making process that led to its being lifted and human remains removed and buried. However, another part of that decision-making process was that it was easily accessible, and even if there had been a mechanism to secure Ontario Provincial Police assistance in shielding it, the likelihood that it would be dived on, and human remains potentially tampered with, was high. That was clearly a factor, too.
I would be pleased to take any questions.
Madam Chair, members of the committee, it's a privilege to be here with you today to discuss the role of Parks Canada in the protection and management of heritage wrecks in the context of the study of ocean war graves.
Parks Canada protects and presents nationally significant examples of natural and cultural heritage, and we administer 47 national parks, four national marine conservation areas, and 171 national historic sites. The Parks Canada Agency Act established Parks Canada as the federal lead for federal archaeology and built heritage. Over the past 50 years Parks Canada has built an international reputation as a leader in the field of underwater archaeology through work on projects such as the excavation of a 16th-century Basque whaling ship in Red Bay, Labrador.
The agency is currently the only government entity that has the operational capacity for evaluating and managing heritage wrecks. This is expertise is led by a team that my colleague Marc-André heads up at Parks Canada. A high-profile example of this expertise is the work we did discovering, excavating, and documenting the wrecks of Sir John Franklin's ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, in Nunavut.
Under the Canada Shipping Act, which is still in force, the and the Minister responsible for Parks Canada Agency have joint authority for making regulations to protect and preserve wrecks with heritage value. These authorities came into force in 2007, but no such regulations have yet been introduced. Bill would transfer these authorities to section 131 of the new act.
Regulations, whether developed under the existing act or a new piece of legislation, would establish a definition of heritage wrecks that would be exempt from certain salvage provisions, for example, entitlement to a salvage award, which could include the wreck itself. These regulatory authorities would allow for the creation of an inventory of heritage wrecks and, importantly, a requirement to report new discoveries. They would also define activities directed at heritage wrecks that would require a permit. This might include searching for a wreck, excavating a wreck, and removal of artifacts.
Of the thousands of historic shipwrecks in Canada, a small but significant portion is military wrecks. In addition to the wrecks of vessels and airplanes belonging to the Canadian Forces, we estimate that at least 50 military wrecks belonging to foreign governments have been located in Canadian waters. We estimate that perhaps another 100 remain undiscovered. Approximately 90% of these foreign military wrecks in Canadian waters are the property of the governments of the U.K., France, and the United States of America.
In some cases, a foreign government has identified Parks Canada to act on its behalf to ensure the appropriate management of the wrecks. The management of the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror is a good example. We have a memorandum of understanding with the Government of the U.K., but under future heritage wreck regulations, Canada would be able to protect these foreign military wrecks from unauthorized disturbance.
Wrecks are often the final resting place of those who perished on board. Almost all Royal Canadian Navy vessels that sank in Canadian waters have had at least one loss of life. However, human remains are found on other wrecks as well.
A poignant example is the wreck of RMS Empress of Ireland, an ocean liner that sank in the estuary of the St. Lawrence in 1914. Over 1,000 passengers and crew perished, making it the worst peacetime maritime disaster in Canadian history.
While the Province of Quebec put into place specific legal measures to protect this particular shipwreck in response to years of looting at the site, the proposed heritage wreck regulations would provide automatic protection of such underwater grave sites from unauthorized disturbances.
Heritage wreck regulations would also support Parks Canada's ratification of international agreements that would help to protect wreck sites at the international level, including sites that contain human remains.
In 2001, Canada and 85 other countries voted to support the language of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. Member states agree to cooperate and work towards the protection of underwater cultural heritage within their jurisdiction and the high seas. To date, there are 58 state parties to the convention. Before ratifying the convention, Canada would need to demonstrate that adequate measures are in place to protect underwater cultural heritage, including heritage wrecks.
Similarly, Canada worked with the U.S.A, the U.K., and France on a draft agreement to protect the wreck of RMS Titanic, which rests at the edge of our continental shelf, beyond the exclusive economic zone.
Over 1,500 lives were lost, and after it was discovered in 1985, explorers penetrated the hull and removed over 5,900 artifacts. They removed them largely for commercial purpose and profit.
While the agreement is not yet in force, it does promote in situ preservation of the wreck as a memorial and a historic site. The proposed heritage wreck regulations could be extended extraterritorially to such an area to provide legal tools to regulate activities of Canadian nationals and Canadian vessels directed at the Titanic.
It is the view of the Government of Canada that the introduction of regulations would provide an effective solution to protect all heritage wrecks in Canadian waters under Canadian jurisdiction, including those that may be considered ocean war graves. To that end, Parks Canada has recently begun reviewing past work in this area and has had preliminary discussions with Transport Canada, the Department of National Defence, and Veterans Affairs to look at options to develop a regulatory regime for the protection of heritage wrecks under the existing joint regulatory authority in view of the new piece of legislation.
We would like to sum up by saying that if there is a clear framework and a management regime through regulations, the Government of Canada will be able to protect these important cultural sites.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair, for your kind words welcoming me back. I recognize that I was not here for the completion of our study on Bill , but I want to thank you for considering the amendments that were put forward by the Conservative of the committee. Also, thank you very much for your response to those amendments and for agreeing to hold this study on this very important issue. I am very glad to be back to be able to take part in it.
I also want to note that as part of this study, I've been made aware—I'm learning as we go—that there are a number of acts that could relate to this study. As has been mentioned, there is some work being contemplated between a number of ministries.
I think you referenced the question that was in my mind before you gave your opening statement, but I am wondering if you could expand on what kind of legislative framework would make the most sense in providing protections to these ocean war graves.
Do you see it taking place in regulation, as I think I heard? Would you see amendments being made to the acts that might provide oversight to this issue, or would you see, perhaps, the creation of a new act toward this end?
We see the regulations as being sufficient to offer the protection of heritage wrecks in Canada. Maybe I could go over some of the core elements of what's contemplated in the regulations.
There would obviously be a definition of “heritage wreck” or “designated heritage wreck”. The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage has a time limit of 100 years. Anything that is older than 100 years would automatically be considered a heritage wreck under that convention. In Canada, in the work that we've done, we've proposed 50 years, so anything older than 50 years would be a designated heritage wreck.
The regulations, importantly, would exclude heritage wrecks from salvage provision, so as I referenced in my opening statement, it would exclude a salvor from getting an award. It would take away the incentive to go after a wreck and bring up artifacts or bring up parts of the hull, for example.
The regulations would also exclude heritage wrecks from disposition and destruction provisions, so it takes those parts of the legislation and sets them aside.
We would also define a number of activities that would require a permit. If somebody wanted to search for a ship, like they do, for example, in the territory of Nunavut, they would need an archeology permit to go look for underwater archeological sites.
We would also provide for interim protection zones, so if something has been discovered, and we wanted to protect the area around a ship where there might be a debris field, we could define that under regulation. We can also create prohibitions to restrict access and restrict activities directed at that heritage wreck.
There would be mandatory reporting of a found wreck to appropriate authorities, and we would have this inventory—a database of wrecks.
This is a fairly robust set of regulations that we think would cover and offer protection for heritage wrecks, including those that have human remains on them.
Yes, there are multiple examples and multiple ways of doing it. Some countries have archeological laws that protect at large, as these regulations would. France is one example. Australia is another. In Europe, 45 countries signed the Valletta Convention, which basically covers archeological sites on land and underwater.
Other countries have taken a different route and have specifically targeted military wrecks in addition to heritage wrecks. The U.K. is probably the prime example, and the United States also has specific regulations for military wrecks. In those cases, they cover not only shipwrecks that sank at a time of war, but also anything that can conserve and cover wrecks and human remains. It's not specifically war graves, but military wrecks. The U.S. covers not only American wrecks, but also protects other countries' wrecks in their waters. You have a vast array of possibilities.
The regulations under this one act, I think, would help us with the fact that we have to deal most of the time with the jurisdiction of the provinces, who have archeological legislation for the seabed. The Canada Shipping Act, for example, is more addressed at wrecks in the water column. The regulations would allow us to have a common approach, and one-to-one agreements with the provinces to manage the permits, for example.
Of course, the heritage value of a wreck can be determined in a variety of ways. It varies by country. At the international level, UNESCO has come up with a solution that respects the approach it wants. We are talking about 100 years of coverage. Everything that has been in the water for more than 100 years would therefore automatically be protected. Using age as a basis is easier administratively speaking.
Having said that, there are other ways of proceeding and other criteria. A wreck may be important locally or regionally, or even nationally or internationally, as is the case with the Titanic.
After consulting with the provinces and many partners, including groups of divers and interest groups, we suggested uniform coverage beginning around 50 or 70 years, so that we can capture parts of our national history, including the period of the two world wars, especially the second.
We are talking here about military vessels, but there is also the merchant navy. It doesn't benefit from the international protection offered to vessels or flagships belonging to a fleet. Our sources indicate that 72 Canadian merchant navy vessels were lost during the Second World War, resulting in the loss of more than 1,500 men. According to UNESCO, these vessels would not benefit from 100-year coverage. However, we would like this period to be covered, because in Canada it has had a considerable impact.
The heritage value of a vessel can therefore be defined by the age of the vessel or by what it has accomplished.
I want to make reference to your document, on the second page, second to last paragraph, you say:
||If something is going to be defined as a war grave, that suggests that the wreckage and the human remains are not going to be touched, removed, and reburied. In that case, DHH has no involvement whatsoever.
My question is to all three departments. Can you explain if, when, and how your role would be with respect to heritage wrecks, war graves, military wrecks, or human remains? We're dealing with so many components. Who does what, when, how, and which department? This needs to be clarified.
There are many steps. The first one is to identify whether the wreck is known or not and whether it's a Canadian wreck or a military wreck. Then, depending on which one it is, you will involve either DND or Global Affairs.
Once you identify human remains, we do have a protocol within Parks Canada that is a “no touch” and “leave in place” protocol. I'll give you one example, quickly.
In 2009, an American PBY airplane was found with human remains in the St. Lawrence. At that time, knowing when we found the plane that there were human remains inside, we stopped everything, contacted the U.S. through the former department of foreign affairs, and worked with them to recover—they wanted to recover the human remains to repatriate them, so we helped them out.
It's basically a collaborative effort. In approaching this issue we are talking to DND, Veterans Affairs, and other departments, because it has ramifications.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I do want to thank the witnesses for being here today and helping us to put something in place or, one hopes, adding to what's already there. This is extremely important to this committee, and the intent is to solidify a pragmatic process to ensure that we can deal with this in a most respectful manner, moving forward.
My first question has to do with the special designation for heritage wrecks and war graves.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but am I now hearing that it's multi-ministerial? I heard Parks Canada, Transport, Defence, and also Veterans Affairs mentioned. Are those the different ministries that are going to be involved in this? I thought I also heard that Parks Canada would be the lead.
Thank you, and thank you, Madam Chair.
How much time do I have left? Two minutes? Great.
I want to get a bit deeper into that as well. What I'm trying to do is to find a mechanism for us to get to that next step, to actually have this done in a shorter time frame versus longer.
When I look at article 303, point 1 of UNCLOS and I compare it to article 303, point 3, they're actually contradictory. Article 303, point 1 places a duty on states “to protect objects of an archaeological and historical nature found at sea”, whereas article 303, point 3 states that nothing shall affect “the law of salvage or other rules of admiralty”.
Is there an opportunity here as well to help, or contribute to ensuring that those sections don't contradict each other, so that, moving forward, we don't run into hiccups or challenges to our really looking after a lot of these sites?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
In 2004, the United States introduced the Sunken Military Craft Act, which seeks to protect sunken military vessels and aircraft, and the remains of their crew, from unauthorized disturbance.
The website of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lists 430 shipwrecks and sunken aircraft are protected in the national marine sanctuary program.
Several numbers have been mentioned since the beginning of the meeting, but I'm having a hard time linking these numbers to what is happening here.
How do we know how many shipwrecks and sunken aircraft are protected by our current legislative instruments and Canadian federal government programs? I get the impression that I can get a lot of numbers from elsewhere, but there are none about Canada.
Good afternoon, Madam Chair and members of the transport committee.
Inasmuch as my colleague, Vice-Admiral Denis Rouleau, former vice-chief of defence staff, has eloquently articulated the case for ocean war graves on my behalf at the committee's meeting on February 7, it falls to me only to reinforce his urging that the Government of Canada should recognize and acknowledge the concept of ocean war graves as I have defined it in the various documents I have submitted, and should take appropriate measures that will protect them from unscrupulous pillaging specifically, and unauthorized interference generally, thereby according those sailors whose remains and personal effects are entombed in their ocean war graves the respect and gratitude they have earned and deserve, and ensure that they will never be forgotten.
In his mandate letter to the newly elected , the wrote, “Veterans and their families have earned our respect and gratitude. Veterans should not have to fight their own government for the support and compensation they have earned.” For our sailors, there are no flowers among the crosses row on row, no pristine, manicured cemeteries. However, there is a dedicated naval cemetery in Iceland for the 14 who were lost in the grounding of HMCS Skeena in 1944. Otherwise, the final resting place for our sailors is somewhere in the twisted wreckage of the ship in which they served. Surely the most horrible thing to contemplate is the compartment where many of our sailors were and still are trapped because the escape hatch was and remains forever jammed shut due to a twisted bulkhead.
I've been fighting my own government for the past five years on this issue, and for the respect and gratitude of which the spoke, not so much about compensation, at least in monetary terms, but for the recognition and acknowledgement of the concept of ocean war graves and the action to make this so. The achievement of the foregoing objective will no doubt require legislative action of some sort, while keeping in mind that warships are state vessels and remain so until the state informs the international maritime community to the contrary. Although merchant ships are not warships, in one case at least, a merchant ship was given equivalency to a warship. This occurred when descendants of sailors who were lost pleaded that at the material time, the merchant ship in question was defensively armed and in military service. See the decision of the U.K. Appeal Court with regard to the SS Storaa, October 5, 2006. The case of the merchant ship Avondale Park is unique, as far as I know, in that this Canadian flag merchant ship, torpedoed and sunk with loss of life one hour before the beginning of VE Day, has since about 1960 been under the protection of the Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland.
When Vice-Admiral Rouleau was asked which of the French heritage code and the U.K. Protection of Military Remains Act, 1986, he preferred, no doubt recalling my successful dealings with the Republic of France, he naturally chose the latter. That was because my negotiations with the Republic of France respecting the Canadian shipwrecks HMCS Athabascan and HMCS Guysborough, which rest in France's exclusive economic zone, were successfully concluded within a time frame of only five months. There was nothing more to discuss. In other words, that mission was accomplished.
That is not the case with respect to the negotiations with the Royal Navy, which administers the U.K. act previously mentioned, concerning the wreck sites of HMC ships Alberni, Trentonian, and Regina, which lie in U.K. territorial waters, as do several U-boats whose torpedoes sank them and which are protected by the U.K. act at the request of the German government.
Negotiations with the Royal Navy were close to a successful conclusion nearly two years ago, but they were brought to a screeching halt upon the transmission of the following email dated August 23, 2016, from the office of MP Karen McCrimmon. It states in part, “I am following up on the request to our office to provide a letter to the British High Commission regarding sunk warships. The Government of Canada will not be providing a letter in support for this project.”
I respectfully draw the attention of the committee to article 12 of the 9th commission of the Institute of International Law, on war graves:
||Due respect shall be shown for the remains of any person in a sunken State ship. This obligation may be implemented through the establishment of the wreck as a war cemetery or other proper treatment of the remains of deceased persons and their burial when the wreck is recovered. States concerned should provide for the establishment of war cemeteries for wrecks.
Canada is not, to my knowledge, a signatory of the Institute of International Law. Absent enabling legislation respecting warships, perhaps the U.K. Protection of Military Remains Act of 1986 could be deemed to apply in and be the law of Canada mutatis mutandis. Precedent of such action may be found in subsection 5(2) of the Canada Prize Act, RSC 1970.
Consideration should also be given to the wording in the following: the Criminal Code RSC 1985, chapter C-46 at section 182, and the Cemeteries Act (Revised) RSO 1990, chapter C.4, section 75.
In the time allocated, I hope I have made it clear that my concerns are for those young Canadian sailors whose lives were taken from them in their service to their country, and for their personal effects, and less so for the ships in which they served and which have contained their remains for three-quarters of a century.
The nine state vessels and warships, and the 10 merchant ships that lie in Canadian territorial waters have rested there for nearly three-quarters of a century. The extent of their natural deterioration is not known, because they have been ignored. As previously noted, the state is responsible for state vessels unless and until the state informs the international maritime community accordingly.
These ships were constructed with materials, some of which may be banned today—for example, asbestos—and will almost certainly contain explosives and munitions. Inevitably, these wrecks will deteriorate to the extent where contaminants will begin polluting their surroundings. The state has a special duty as the warships' owner to monitor them and take proactive measures to deal with inevitable environmental damage.
With respect to the sailors, at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them, will we not?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Madam Chair and members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to appear on the topic of protection for Canada's ocean war graves.
Before I begin my remarks, I must acknowledge the presence of merchant navy Captain Paul Bender, whom I'm honoured to be sitting with today. As the committee already knows, Captain Bender has led the call for protection of Canada's ocean war graves, demonstrating tireless perseverance in his work.
Captain, sir, thank you for your service to Canada. It's a privilege to be supporting you on this initiative.
I would like to offer my thanks to all members of the committee for agreeing to hold this meeting today and for your comments during the clause-by-clause consideration of Bill . It's truly appreciated to hear that our request for assistance did not fall on deaf ears and that all parties are interested in working together to ensure that the remains of our sailors are given the same respect as those of our soldiers and aviators.
I would also like to particularly thank the clerk and the analysts of the committee for their work behind the scenes to gather information for protection of ocean war graves and for their support in keeping the torch carried by Captain Bender burning bright.
With the report by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities on protection for Canada's ocean war graves, I am optimistic that we are one step closer to providing the critically needed protection that the final resting places of Canada's sailors rightly deserve.
In my previous remarks before the committee I spoke of the importance and urgency of safeguarding Canada's ocean war graves. Today, I would like to offer some insight with regard to the problems that arise when involving multiple government departments in an issue, and to provide some specific recommendations for possible legislation to provide protection for Canada's ocean war graves.
In leading Project Naval Distinction and calling for Royal Canadian Navy recognition of Canada's greatest ship, HMCS Haida, I have gained some familiarity with multi-departmental issues. In these files, once one government department learns that an issue may partially fall under the scope of another, the collective response appears to be paralysis and the creation of a of leadership vacuum. I believe this is what has happened with the ocean war graves file, which has led to a long fight to act on something that no one seems to disagree with. Filling that leadership vacuum between departments is an incredibly difficult task for the Government of Canada, but one that can and must be solved at the political level. Therefore, it is critical that one minister in the Government of Canada be assigned to lead in protecting Canada's ocean war graves.
I would respectfully ask the members of this committee to assist in finding that minister and not to table a report in the House of Commons only to then leave it to gather dust. I would further ask members of this committee to request that that minister or even a fellow member of Parliament put forward a bill on this issue as soon as possible.
In terms of recommendations the committee might include in their report, I respectfully offer the following six points.
First is that a bill be drafted similar to the United Kingdom's Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 to provide protection for Canada's ocean war graves, including punishments in line with those of desecration of land-based war graves.
Second is to ensure the definition of an ocean war grave is enshrined in legislation to distinguish such graves from other wrecks or property of general heritage value.
Third is to request that cabinet examine all options to use existing legislative powers to provide immediate protection for Canada's ocean war graves as an intermediate measure until a bill has time to pass through Parliament and receive royal assent.
Fourth is that with the co-operation of all parties, speedy passage be given to a bill to provide protection for Canada's ocean war graves with the goal of achieving royal assent before Parliament rises this summer.
Fifth is that the Government of Canada make a formal request to the Government of the United Kingdom to add Canadian ocean war graves in U.K. waters to their list of protected places and controlled sites under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986. They have already offered to do this and are waiting on that formal request.
Finally, sixth is that any Canadian bill drafted to provide protection for Canada's ocean war graves be given an informal title of the “Captain Paul Bender Act” in honour of the man and veteran who has proudly carried the torch on this important issue.
I look forward to answering any questions.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I want to thank you both for joining us today.
Thank you so much, Captain Bender, for your service to our country and for leading the charge on this initiative. Thank you so much for your testimony here today. I truly appreciate what you have been working on and are proposing to this committee.
I would start by saying that we've heard from our departmental officials in the hour previous to this opportunity to hear from you. With all due respect to our departmental officials, I am left feeling that there needs to be a distinction between a heritage wreck and an ocean war grave. I'm also left believing that I would like to see Canada follow the actions of perhaps the United States or the United Kingdom in introducing stand-alone legislation in this regard. That's after reading what I've read and hearing what I've heard.
I certainly am not terribly intimate with all the work that's been done on this project, so I'm left wondering if you could comment and provide some input back to us on what you may have heard in the hour previous to this one, given there's a recommendation to this committee that this issue be addressed through regulations—regulations that would be perhaps overseen by numerous departments.
Thank you very much, Captain Bender, Mr. White, and Alex Bender—and Captain Bender's son, as well. Welcome.
Perhaps it's easiest to start by saying thank you for your work on this file. Speaking for myself, I'd like to do something to help you guys accomplish what you set out to do. The devil, of course, is in the details, and I don't want to do it halfway.
I'm curious on the issue. My gut reaction was similar to Ms. Block's. There might be a need, in my mind, to distinguish ocean war graves from heritage wrecks. Captain Bender, you suggested that there may be adequate authority in the regulations today under the Canada Shipping Act, which are being shifted to Bill , which we just dealt with. Do you think it would be necessary, or even helpful perhaps—if this were done by way of the regulations you referred to—to distinguish ocean war graves as a particular type of heritage wreck? To the point Mr. White made, would this be helpful to families or those interested in seeing that respect is given to our seamen at the same level that it is given to our army and our air force? Do you think that a distinction in the regulations would satisfy that need?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would like to thank the witnesses for their presentations.
Unlike my colleagues, I didn't have the opportunity to take part in the committee's work on Bill . So I have to do a bit of catch-up today. However, your testimonies have really helped me to understand the importance of the matter, so thank you.
Mr. Bender, you said that you went to the United Kingdom, where three Canadian corvettes have sunk in British territorial waters. On your own initiative, you have asked the High Commission to submit a request for all three vessels to be protected by a special United Kingdom law, called the Protection of Military Remains Act. As I understand it, this law is strictly aimed at adding sanctions in international maritime law for vessels that sank in British waters. When the United Kingdom authorities examined your request, they asked if it was possible for a higher authority to present it. You told us about an email received in August 2016.
Am I to understand that you didn't get the support of the Naval Association of Canada to further your request?
Thank you for your question, Ms. Sansoucy.
One of the things that becomes a problem when you group ocean war graves under general heritage designations is that you might end up with a situation where someone who desecrates an ocean war grave would only be committing a regulatory offence. They could find themselves in contravention of the Canada Shipping Act and could have a fine imposed on them, but the equivalent is that you're desecrating a cemetery. Human remains have been dumped in mass graves, as we've seen in the Java Sea off Indonesia as these salvagers have ripped these vessels apart. As Captain Bender has rightly said, the concern isn't for the metal or the ships. The concern is that these are metal tombs.
One of the things I remember, which Captain Bender has just mentioned, is Criminal Code provision 182. Essentially, you're looking at Criminal Code provisions that allow us to say that Canada's domestic laws will include criminal sanctions for those who desecrate ocean war graves. If you were to go the route of using just the Canada Shipping Act provisions and say that we'll add them under the heritage provisions—which under Bill would be section 131, currently section 163 of the act—it would mean that you're not capturing the spirit of what an ocean war grave really is: you're just lumping it in with some of the other heritage property, which I've mentioned. A stronger Criminal Code provision I think would be in line with the same kind of Criminal Code provisions that might apply to the desecration of a cemetery or any other war graves that Canada protects.
Even from just listening to what the officials were saying, as I think some members of the committee have picked up on, if you have to wait 50 years for something to be designated a heritage property, then the benefit of having legislation similar to that of the U.K. is that it's also forward-looking. God forbid that anything happens in the future, but the navy does take risks. I know, because I've also deployed. With separate legislation that doesn't classify naval wrecks or something to that effect as just heritage property, you could have protection that exists the minute those vessels or even aircraft go down. I think there was an issue in just the last few weeks when a United States Air Force plane went down with a pilot inside.
There are various elements, I think, as the committee has certainly picked up on. It is definitely appreciated in that regard—
On that issue, there's something technical in play. I apologize, because I'm thinking it through in response to your feedback. The regulatory authority you've referred to, which is currently in the Canada Shipping Act, essentially will be transferred pursuant to Bill into the new piece of legislation that deals with abandoned vessels, if my memory serves me correctly. I can't remember a provision, though—my memory is imperfect—that is limiting in the same way that the Canada Shipping Act is, as you correctly pointed out.
This would lead me to think, at least in the moment—and I will go back to do my homework on this before we land on specific recommendations—that the minister responsible would have the authority to designate a state vessel that could be essentially a heritage wreck, which I think would open the door to include in regulations a sub-definition of war vessels.
If I'm correct in my analysis, do you still have reservations about the regulatory authority? I recognize that Mr. White has raised separate issues, which I'll get to in a moment, time permitting, but if that limiting factor in the Canada Shipping Act is not present in the new Bill , which we have just dealt with at this committee, would it be okay with you to offer protection through that scheme?
Maybe just quickly, there is one issue I'd like to raise. Why I keep coming back to this issue of regulatory schemes versus a separate piece of legislation is that I think there's an opportunity to do something now, and I don't want that to pass me by.
Should we recommend as a committee that the government adopt a stand-alone piece of legislation from scratch, I fear that over the next number of months, despite what may be the best of intentions, things will take longer, as they always do. As a new member of Parliament, I will say that they take a lot longer than I would like them to. There is an opportunity to offer some protection today, recognizing that it may not be perfect. The one stumbling block I have is that perhaps the criminal component Mr. White referred to would likely be absent, but we've seen very serious penalties through a regulatory scheme—of an administrative monetary nature, for example—that are quite effective at serving as a deterrent.
I wasn't quite with you every step of the way when you described the fact that the vessels in service of the crown, because what can be.... Because essentially regulations hold the same force and effect of a piece of legislation for the purpose of the law being implemented, I still think there might be an opportunity—and if you disagree, please let me know—to classify ocean war graves as essentially a subcategory of a heritage wreck under the regulations for Bill . That would give us the opportunity to remove the carrot, so to speak, that's provided for salvage operators and implement a stick of some kind through another kind of regulatory penalty scheme.
If in my work to follow I am confident that's the case, are there still going to be obstacles that prevent us from taking advantage of the opportunity that's staring us in the face today?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I do want to thank the witnesses for coming out today, particularly you, Captain Bender, for really taking the next steps with respect to what we're trying to do.
I mentioned earlier that this is extremely important to this committee. I think what's most important is that we take to the next level what's already been established through existing regulations, as well as what continues to be established by folks like Captain Bender, and solidify a pragmatic process or processes with our partners to ensure that the desires of Captain Bender and many other folks, not just here in Canada but around the world, are once again established.
Madam Chair, I would put forward a recommendation for some direction with respect to the next steps and to have the analysts come back with a report that of course would be established with an expected dialogue with the partners, such as the ministries. I say “ministries” because we've heard from Parks, Environment, Transport, Defence, Veterans Affairs, the Coast Guard, and Fisheries and Oceans, and from Captain Bender himself and the folks who I'm sure you've worked with, Captain, and other partners who would be interested in taking this to the next level. If we can have a report come back with that dialogue being established by the analysts, hopefully we can then make recommendations that in fact will fill the gaps and, once again, take this to the next level.
I have two budgets here for the committee to adopt. One is for $800. The other is for $18,000 for the study on automated vehicles.
If we adopt these today, even though we may change our minds, I'm going to suggest that on Wednesday, when we do the supplementary and interim estimates, we hold back 15 minutes at the end of that meeting so that even if we adopt the budget and then decide to make a change, we just don't end up spending the money.
Is that okay with the committee members?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: So I'll save 15 minutes for committee business. We have both ministers coming on Wednesday, the minister of as well as the minister of . It will be a busy meeting.
Do I have everybody in favour of these two budget requests that are before us?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: That's carried. We can have a further discussion, a side discussion, on the automated vehicles as well. All right? Thank you very much.
Can we possibly get a group photo with Captain Bender, all of us? Wouldn't that be kind of nice?
Could we get a group photo with you, Captain Bender?