Mr. Speaker, I am rising in the House to speak to Bill S-203. Despite good intentions, this legislation is flawed in its current form. It should come as no surprise that there are many issues with this bill. In the short time it has been before the House for consideration, one of the major problems identified is an English-French language conflict in the text of the bill.
As we all know, Canada is a bilingual country. Our two official languages are French and English, and all legislation drafted and passed in Parliament reflects this. Anyone who has ever read these documents knows that the English text is on the left side, while the French text is on the right. We also know that Canadian laws and legislation must be applied in the same manner for all Canadians, regardless of language. This is fundamental for ensuring a fair justice system, which is key to our democracy. Otherwise, it would be grossly unfair and inhumane for a state to subject its citizens to different laws and penalties based on the language they speak. I hope in this place, and across Canada, we can all agree on that.
That is why I believe the mistake in Bill S-203 was an unfortunate oversight made by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Issues like this are more likely to happen when legislation is rushed through the process without being subject to a thorough study. As members may know, Bill S-203 was given only two meetings before it was pushed ahead without amendment.
It began on March 18, 2019. In a meeting of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, the government member from Miramichi—Grand Lake identified an important and significant language conflict in the text of Bill S-203. The following is a quote from the Evidence, as the member questioned a department official on this issue:
Another thing that would need to be clarified for me is clause 4 of Bill S-203 to prohibit the importation to Canada of living cetaceans as well as cetacean tissue or embryos, subject to a special permit. Apparently the English text of the clause refers to permits issued pursuant to proposed subsection 10(1.1) of WAPPRIITA [the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act] while the French version of the text is silent on the type of importation permit required. That sounds very odd. I wouldn't know of any other piece of legislation in which the French version would be different from the English version.
The departmental official replied, “I am not completely sure about the two clauses you are referencing. I haven't done a comparison of the English to the French so I don't have a response for you on that.” In response, the member asked, “Do you think we should clarify that?” The departmental official replied, “It would be important to make sure that the intent in both the English and the French is the same.”
Interestingly, it was a member of the current government, from a bilingual province, who flagged this critical language concern. It is also interesting how the department official stressed the importance of getting the language right.
The story does not end there. It continues.
On March 26, 2019, the Honourable J.C. Major, a former Supreme Court justice, penned a letter to all members of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. He, too, identified the same language conflict as the member did. However, rather than merely stating his concern, he elevated the issue to be a constitutional matter. In addition to that, he informed the committee that this part requires amendment.
This is what the Honourable J.C. Major wrote to the members of the committee in his letter:
I have reviewed the proposed Section 7.1 which is scheduled as an amendment to Bill S-203 of the Wild Animal and Plant Protection Regulation of International and lnterprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA).
In addition I have reviewed the French to English and English to French review certified by...ABCO International which on review concludes that the wording of Section 7.1 between the French and English version is starkly different. The question raised is whether the difference is so material that compliance is affected. In my opinion the differences are material and confusion is inevitable and an amendment is the only remedy that will clarify the intent and purpose of Section 7.1.
Canada, by virtue of the Federal Government's legislation, confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada and evidenced by the Charter of Rights, is officially bilingual. In addition, under S.18 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Part 1 of the Constitution Act 1982), both English and French are made equally authoritative.
Given that both languages are authoritative and that differences between the French and English drafting of Section 7.1 are materially different, it is apparent that revisions by way of amendment of that section would by its uniformity confirm Parliament's intention as the section would then be clear to parties affected by it and invaluable to the judiciary.
The latter consideration is important as explained below as case law is replete with decisions evidencing the difficulty the courts in all provinces have from time to time reconciling statutory conflicts and either succeeded in doing so or entering an acquittal.
Section 7.1 of Bill S-203 is an enforcement provision under the Act. Given the conflict in the English and French versions of the proposed legislation its passage without a clarification amendment would, in the event of an illegal violation and subsequent prosecution, present a dilemma to the court. An obvious example being that an application under the English version would be required to meet the conditions set out in s. 10(1.1) whereas an application adhering to the French version would not. In the result the same law would be different depending on the site of the application. Should a charge be laid under the proposed Section 7.1 the difficulty described would be left to the court then to attempt a reconciliation of the conflict in the language and if not possible to strike down the section and order an acquittal.
The foregoing is a brief response to the difficulties that are inevitable if there is no amendment clarifying the intent of the legislation.
It is of value to consider the unequivocal recommendation number 35 of the Uniform Law Conference of Canada which concluded “the English and French versions of a bilingual Act must be identical in substance”.
My observation is that the member and the former Supreme Court justice both share the same concern: There is a language conflict in the bill's text. That common ground should be encouraging. However, what happened next in the committee at clause-by-clause was anything but. My party brought forward two amendments. One would make the English text read the same as the French, and the other would make the French text read the same as the English. Both amendments were rejected by the government, and Justice Major's legal opinion was ignored.
My second observation at committee was about the four government amendments that the member for Miramichi—Grand Lake suddenly withdrew at clause-by-clause. The withdrawals came as a surprise to the opposition members, because they were sensible amendments. Their intent was largely to coordinate Bill S-203 with the Liberals' own Bill C-68, which I can understand. Both bills share overlapping objectives, and if both were to pass, their implementation could clash or create confusion. In short, it made little sense for the member to make those withdrawals, especially when the changes were responsible ones that the Conservatives were prepared to support.
Here we are then. This is the second hour of third reading of Bill S-203. This bill is flawed. A former Supreme Court justice was called in. Bill S-203 is a constitutional challenge in waiting, and the scariest thing is that this bill is about to come into force.
This is as good a time as any to remind all members of the House that it is our responsibility as parliamentarians to ensure that the bills we pass are constitutional and legally sound.
Given the government's majority position, this decision ultimately weighs on the Liberal government to do what is right. It must act in the best interests of Canadians. That action is passing legally sound and constitutional legislation.
So here we are, at the second hour of third reading debate. The bill, in its current form, is flawed. A former Supreme Court justice has weighed in on the constitutionality, and those changes needed to be made. Now is a good time to remind all members of the House that it is our responsibility as parliamentarians to ensure that all laws we pass are constitutional and legally sound.
Given these reasons, I hope the government reconsiders its position on Bill S-203.