Interventions in the House of Commons
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View Paul Dewar Profile
View Paul Dewar Profile
2013-06-18 10:36 [p.18511]
Mr. Speaker, we have certainly talked a lot about corruption recently in this place. As I have mentioned before, it is interesting that this bill on corruption comes from the Senate.
Let us look at what this bill would do. It is trying to bring us up to speed with other countries. There are some problems because it actually does not go far enough. My colleague will know where Canada ranks in terms of transparency internationally and it is low. We need to go further. We on this side have said that we need to strengthen our transparency measures. A communiqué came out of the G8 and we will be interested to see where Canada stands.
My question is this. Is this all the government is intending to do? It is clearly not enough. We have had only three cases of corruption dealt with in the last number of years, which I believe the member mentioned in his comments. We need to not only strengthen and amend the legislation, but go further. Is the government satisfied with just this? Is this going to be the status quo and is the government okay with it? Second, with respect to enforcement, we cannot deal with corruption unless we dedicate resources. The government has cut resources to deal with this issue, be it in the Department of Justice or the Canada Revenue Agency where it has cut resources.
I will summarize my two questions. First, is this all the government has on corruption and, second, what about enforcement?
View Charlie Angus Profile
View Charlie Angus Profile
2013-06-18 10:40 [p.18511]
Mr. Speaker, I think my hon. colleague will agree that Canada's international mining presence is a major driver in our economy. We can actually set the standards for what could be seen as the best in the world.
Unfortunately, Canada's reputation has suffered because of the actions of some bad actors. They have damaged the legitimate companies and damaged our interests. It is really important that the government takes this seriously, to show the world that the Canadian standard is something that we should be proud of.
I would like to ask my hon. colleague a question in terms of the issue of bribery and corruption. We have very large corporate interests overseas, but we also have the small players. It is some of the small players that have gotten us into trouble. Should we be looking at different thresholds for what has to be revealed? For smaller players, 10,000 euros could be a huge amount of money in terms of getting a deal, as opposed to 100,000 euros. A lot of the areas that they are moving into could be bandit countries so money is being used all the time to grease wheels.
I would like to ask the member about thresholds for development, the development companies, the smaller players, the juniors versus the bigger players, and whether we need two standards.
The other question is on enforcement. It is happening overseas. It is happening in some pretty rough-and-tumble places where the rule of law simply does not exist. How do we ensure that we have the transparency to be able to say that we will hold these companies to account?
View Paul Dewar Profile
View Paul Dewar Profile
2013-06-18 10:48 [p.18512]
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak, yet again, to Bill S-14. We on this side of the House have mentioned before that we support the bill. We believe that we could go further, as I mentioned in my comments and questions to the parliamentary secretary.
As I have done with all of these bills, I have to start off with our concern and my concern about the way the bill came to us. We have a bill on foreign corruption that has come to us from the other place. When a bill has an “S” in front of the bill number, it is an indication that it comes from the Senate. It has been said numerous times since we have been debating the bill that the government should have seen fit to start this bill here in the House. After all, the elected representatives, I think, are the best people to actually look at corruption, notwithstanding what is happening in the other place, speaking of corruption. Every day there is another story of corruption in the other place. I have to start by underlining that point.
The government seems to not even blush anymore when bills are sent over from the other place. At least on this bill, it should show some contrition that there is a bill, an act to amend the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, that would crack down on foreign corruption, yet it comes from the other place, an unelected body, that is mired in corruption right now.
It is rather stark to see this happening with the current government, which claimed that it was going to be different. Now it has become just like the other guys. The government brings in closure and uses the Senate, abuses the Senate, to do its toil. That is what the government has done with Bill S-14. No one even blushes anymore. It is just business as usual with the current government. It uses the Senate to do its bidding, even on something as important as foreign corruption.
The bill itself, as has been mentioned, would simply bring us up to the minimum standard of our allies. The government was embarrassed by our critique, on this side of the House, in terms of how the standards of our companies abroad have fallen in terms of enforcement on corruption and corporate social responsibility. We just saw a news report last night about what happened in Bangladesh. We should not forget that. The NDP called for hearings at the foreign affairs committee. We would like to see more done on that.
It is about Canada getting back into the game and actually leading. The bill does not go far enough.
I will just give a quick résumé. The bill would make four major changes to the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act.
It would increase the maximum sentence, as was mentioned by the parliamentary secretary.
It would eliminate the exception for so-called facilitation payments, which is basically paying someone to grease the wheels to get a contract moving. Interestingly, we saw allegations of that happening in Montreal. Maybe we should be applying those rules more forcefully here. Maybe the government should be taking a look at who its candidates are when it recruits them and who it hires as staff when ministers hire ex-candidates. Hopefully, it will do a better job on that.
The bill would also create a new offence for falsifying or concealing books or records. We just received a communiqué from the G8, which came out half an hour ago. In fact, if the government is going to live up to what it has signed on to, it would actually have to amend the bill further, because there is an incentive in this communiqué for the government to do more in this area and to be more transparent in terms of books and records.
The fourth part of the bill would establish national jurisdiction such that Canadian nationals could be prosecuted for offences under the act that are committed overseas. They cannot go overseas and do something they could not do here.
I think it is important to put it into context. As I mentioned, we just received the communiqué from the G8 conference. It touches on many of the aspects we are dealing with in Bill S-14. It is a 10-point communiqué. I am not going to read all 10 points, because they are not all directly related to the bill we are debating.
The first point the G8 leaders signed on to is that “[t]ax authorities across the world should automatically share information to fight the scourge of tax evasion”.
When we talk about the corruption of foreign officials, a lot has to do with the way money moves around. I am delighted to see that this is in the communiqué. We will see if the government takes this seriously.
Second is that countries “should change rules that let companies shift their profits across borders to avoid taxes, and multinationals should report to tax authorities what they pay where”. This has been mentioned already by the parliamentary secretary. It would mean more transparency of companies' operations.
Third is that “[c]ompanies should know who really owns them and tax collectors and law enforcers should be able to obtain this information easily”. If we do not have this in place, the S-14 provisions would be very difficult to enforce, in some cases, because if we do not know who owns companies, we do not know who is influencing the companies. We do not have a full profile. In other words, if we were trying to establish that there was a payment to a company official, and we did not know who the company belonged to, it would be very difficult to prosecute.
We have heard from the G8 meetings that Canada was fighting this. We should be fighting back and getting the government to comply. It turns on the issue of beneficial ownership. That means that a company is hidden behind a shell. What the G8 is looking at, and what Mr. Cameron is pushing for and what number three in the communiqué is about, is that there be full disclosure. Companies can no longer have this parlour trick of hiding behind beneficial ownership. That means having a public registry of all companies showing exactly who owns them. We do not have that right now. Prime Minister Cameron said, “Personally, I would hope the whole world will move towards public registers of beneficial ownership”.
Aid agencies say that private registries would be second best. In other words, there would be a registry, but it would not be public; it would be in government. We are hearing that only the U.K. and the U.S. have committed to having public registries.
I hope the government will take this seriously, because if we are to deal with foreign corruption, we have to have transparency. If we are serious about this communiqué we have signed on to, we have to have a public registry of all companies, who owns them and where they sit. Otherwise, we will not be able to live up to the spirit of transparency.
Fourth is that “[d]eveloping countries should have the information and capacity to collect the taxes owed them—and other countries have a duty to help them”. This is critical when it comes to the issue of being able to influence foreign officials. What we often hear, on the ground, in emerging or developing economies is that officials are able to take advantage of their power to approve projects, et cetera, mainly because there is not a requisite tax system with the proper enforcement and oversight, so they can get away with it. This is what leads to corruption, because there is no proper oversight.
This is extremely important, because obviously, it would help benefit their citizens. It is also a way to deal with the potential for corruption. If there is full disclosure and sunlight, if you will, on who owes taxes and whether they have been paid, it is a disincentive for officials to use their power for corruption.
The fifth point is very important for us in the NDP: “Extractive companies should report payments to all governments—and governments should publish income from such companies”.
We have heard a positive message from the government that it will get behind this. We need to see legislation. From what we have seen and heard from the government, there is no requirement that these reports are to be made public. It is important that we fully embrace transparency and not go just halfway.
By the way, mining companies have said that they would sign on to this. I am hoping that all the extractives will get behind it.
Number six is very near and dear to my heart. It states: “Minerals should be sourced legitimately, not plundered from conflict zones”. As members know, this is the whole issue of conflict minerals. In places like the eastern part of the Congo, where there are human rights abuses and massive corruption, it is a conflict zone. Minerals that go into all of our devices, such as BlackBerrys and cell phones, come from a conflict zone. In essence, we are all, unknowingly for many people, carrying a piece of a conflict in our electronics, because we do not have the proper sourcing of minerals.
What the communiqué says is that “Minerals should be sourced legitimately, not plundered from conflict zones”. This is a challenge to the government. Are the Conservatives going to get on board? Bill C-486, which I put forward, would allow us to comply with what we have seen in the United States with Dodd-Frank. Legislation is in place to ensure that all minerals are from legitimate sources and are not aiding and abetting conflict. The Europeans are moving in this direction. The OECD, which we talked about in terms of this bill, has provided guidelines on ensuring that there is proper and appropriate oversight when it comes to sourcing minerals.
The sixth point is very important, and it is something I have worked on with a lot of people, including people in this place, to get Canada on board and at least get us up to the standard that has been established by others.
Number seven is very important: “Land transactions should be transparent, respecting the property rights of local communities”. When it comes to the corruption of foreign officials, one of the biggest trends we have seen in the last while is the acquisition of land by foreign countries, particularly in developing countries. There is a massive land grab going on right now, particularly in Africa. I will name some countries. China is big into this right now. It is banking land, taking over land. We need to ensure that local communities are respected.
Let us be honest. We are not perfect here in Canada. When we talk about social licence for companies to do their work in extractives, oil and gas, we need to respect local communities. This is an extremely important and urgent issue in developing countries, because we are seeing massive land grabs. It is about food security and about certain countries banking land and keeping an eye on their needs for minerals, oil, gas, et cetera, and in some cases, even food.
Number eight states that governments should roll back some measures on trade that they think would be helpful for trade.
Number nine is about ensuring that things are streamlined, particularly at borders between countries. We certainly know that issue with respect to our friends south of the border. Mr. Speaker, representing your constituency, you do not have to be told that this is extremely important.
Number 10, the last part of the communiqué from the G8, states: “Governments should publish information on laws, budgets, spending, national statistics, elections and government contracts in a way that is easy to read and re-use, so that citizens can hold them to account”. That is actually for us. I am going to read that one again. It is cogent, because if we are going to talk about fighting corruption abroad, we need to be transparent at home. The G8 has signed on to this.
“Governments should publish information on laws, budgets”—think about the parliamentary budget officer here—“spending, national statistics”—this is very interesting, considering what we have done to Stats Canada—“elections and government contracts in a way that is easy to read and re-use, so that citizens can hold them to account”. Number 10 needs urgently to be brought into force here.
I have listed these G8 points that just came out in the communiqué, because as I said in my comments when I questioned the parliamentary secretary, this bill does not go far enough. If we are going to seriously deal with corruption abroad, and we are going to actually be leaders, then it is not good enough just to get up to a minimum standard. That is not the Canadian way. I feel that we are living in the past with the current government.
The way the current government seems to operate, and the parliamentary secretary said it well himself, is that the Conservatives brought forward Bill S-14 because the OECD had cited us as being laggards. It was not until that happened that the government decided to bring forward this legislation. That is not the Canadian way. We should be leading. We should be looking at our practices to see where we are in terms of other jurisdictions.
Everyone knew that we were laggards. Transparency International has been saying so for quite a while.
We can look at this 10-point communiqué of the G8. Are we going to at least meet the standard of our allies? I would like us to see us go further.
For instance, I am concerned when it comes to the issue that Prime Minister Cameron cited about companies being transparent about who owns them so that we can deal with tax evasion. We are hearing that Canada is not going to do that. We are not going to publicly publish who owns a company.
As I mentioned, we need to deal with corruption seriously. We need to have full daylight, and if the government is only going to go halfway on this initiative, we will again fall back. We will be back in this House debating a bill to bring the standard up yet again. The government should embrace what both the U.K. and the U.S. are planning to do and have public registries listing who owns which companies. It should stop the shell game, particularly this practice of “beneficial ownership”.
The point is to make sure that we are transparent when it comes to the extractive industry. The government talked about signing on to the initiative for ensuring that all payments made between foreign governments and Canadian companies are transparent, but to whom? Is the information going to be kept within government, or would it be public? Will we have to ATI to obtain it, or would government do what other governments have done and make it transparent?
As I mentioned before, we must ensure that we get up to the standard of other countries on the issue of conflict minerals so that we no longer are looking the other way when it comes to the sourcing of the supply chain for many of the things that we rely on in our technologies.
If we are serious about it, we would embrace these initiatives of being fully transparent on who owns what companies, being fully transparent and pushing transparency when sourcing minerals in the supply chain for our electronics, and being fully transparent about payments between companies and governments abroad. Then we would be at the same standard as our allies. If we do not meet that standard, then we will be left with what we are doing here, which is trying to catch up.
I will be a bit partisan: what we have seen from the Conservative government is that we have become laggards. We sign on to international treaties, but then we do not follow up with implementation that lives up to the treaty.
For example, we have been called out by Norway and the Red Cross on the fact that the cluster munitions treaty that we signed on to will be undermined by Bill S-10, the proposed implementation legislation, which we have debated. It would undermine this international treaty.
We must think about this for a second. The International Committee of the Red Cross never comes out and criticizes government, but they just did yesterday. It said that Bill S-10, the implementation bill for the cluster munitions treaty that we have signed on to, would actually undermine the treaty. It is shocking.
I am very concerned that when we sign on to this communiqué for the G8 that we actually follow up, live up to the spirit of what we have signed on to and not undermine it.
Another example when it comes to international treaties is the arms trade treaty we agreed to. Then we find the gun lobby taking it over from the government. It is astonishing.
Instead of embracing the future, these guys are living in the past. They are affecting our reputation. Instead of getting on board with progress, they are holding us back just because of their ideology.
Bill S-14 will be supported by the NDP simply because it is the least the Conservative government can do. However, what we want to see is full transparency. When we see the follow-up to the communiqué on the G8, we will be holding the current government to account to at least come up to the standard of our allies.
Personally, and I am sure I speak on behalf of my colleagues, we would like to see Canada lead and not be a laggard. It is something I think most Canadians want to see as well.
View Paul Dewar Profile
View Paul Dewar Profile
2013-06-18 11:10 [p.18515]
Mr. Speaker, I did not mean to exercise the minister to the extent that he seems to be so exercised. I simply made a comment. I did not mention one senator.
I said it is ironic, irony being a literary device, that we are dealing with a bill, Bill S-10, which deals with corruption and which comes from the other place. That is all I said.
Maybe the member is feeling defensive about payments from the Prime Minister's chief of staff to a senator. I do not know what he calls it. I do not call it enlightened behaviour. I would call it enlightened behaviour when we have a party that calls upon us to bring ourselves up to an ethical standard and have integrity in how we do our business.
When a person makes a mistake, he or she owns up to it. We have not seen that from the Conservative government.
In case he was not listening carefully, I did not name any particular senator. I talked about the irony. I would encourage him not to get too exercised about it. Maybe I will use a metaphor later, but he should not take it personally.
View Paul Dewar Profile
View Paul Dewar Profile
2013-06-18 11:12 [p.18516]
Mr. Speaker, I want to touch on two aspects of my colleague's question. One is what we can do domestically. We need to be a lot more ethical in our standards, obviously, as politicians. We have to make sure that the people we appoint to senior posts are going to live up to that ethical standard.
In the case of Arthur Porter, here was someone who was appointed to essentially oversee national security and ensure that there was accountability there. Now we find him in a jail in Panama. That could have been avoided. We on this side think that we should have a public appointments commission that would allow for the vetting of appointments of senior officials.
However, the Conservatives are so stubborn on this issue. They just avoid it. They thought their guy, Gwyn Morgan, who they thought was somehow objective and unaffected by partisanship—and I leave it to others to look into that—was the only person out of 30 million who could do the job. Then they picked up their toys and went home. They killed the public appointments commission.
That is the problem with the current government. We should have that in place. We should have all ministerial staff abiding by an ethics code, as they do in the U.K. That was part of the NDP's platform in the last election. We should have ethical standards for advisers and we should have more accountability in ministers' offices. We should allow Parliament to be a little more autonomous from the executive branch. Clearly we have seen problems in that area with this government.
That would be a start. Maybe later on we could talk about what we could do internationally.
View Alain Giguère Profile
View Alain Giguère Profile
2013-06-18 11:14 [p.18516]
Mr. Speaker, corruption is an evil thing that is very similar to cancer. Unfortunately, when Canadian companies are allowed to get away with things too easily, once they become corrupt, it rubs off on the lives of Canadians as well as on our institutions and our representation.
All too often, at our embassies overseas—
View Alain Giguère Profile
View Alain Giguère Profile
2013-06-18 11:24 [p.18516]
Mr. Speaker, if we are serious about fighting corruption, we should also discuss the often inappropriate behaviour of the Canadian government, which provides scholarships, immigration opportunities and jobs in our embassies to foreign students whose parents or families are associated with foreign governments.
Will our diplomats not only seek to enforce this legislation but also ensure that, ethically, they are beyond reproach?
View Paul Dewar Profile
View Paul Dewar Profile
2013-06-18 11:25 [p.18516]
Mr. Speaker, when we talk about accountability and oversight, it is important that all our officials abroad are going to be involved.
I heard the parliamentary secretary talk about the training of our diplomats to deal with issues like the one we are discussing today. However, it needs to have strong oversight when it comes to the government of the day being able to assure its citizens that everyone who is working abroad is doing it for the public good. That is why we have touched on the need for more ethics in ministers' offices, for instance. It is high time that the staff and advisors to ministers provide the highest ethical standards that they can provide to their ministers. We have asked to see that happen. The same has to happen with our diplomatic corps. We have to see that they are going to be abiding by the highest ethical standards.
However, I am more concerned now with the relationship between some who are involved in commerce abroad and dealing with foreign governments. The rules have not been clarified. Businesses will tell us that if there are clear rules they will follow them. The problem is that the government has not clarified the rules. We need to see more of that.
View Sylvain Chicoine Profile
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Ottawa Centre for doing a great job as the foreign affairs critic for the official opposition. At the same time, I would say I am rather shocked that the minister has failed to recognize the hon. member's excellent work.
Indeed, judging by his question to my colleague, he seems to have been offended by some of the points he raised, yet my colleague was quite right when he said that this bill does not go far enough and will barely lift Canada out of Transparency International's bottom rankings, in terms of the transparency measures in its anti-corruption legislation.
My colleague mentioned several extremely interesting points. I would like him to talk about them a bit more. In particular, he stated that Canada is a laggard when it comes to bringing its legislation in line with the international treaties it signs. Often, Canada simply does not live up to these treaties.
What does my colleague think Canada can do to improve its image, which has taken a serious beating in recent years?
View Paul Dewar Profile
View Paul Dewar Profile
2013-06-18 11:28 [p.18517]
Mr. Speaker, simply put, we need to start living up to the treaties we sign. We need to make sure that when we bring in legislation to enact these treaties, we are not undermining them. We must also sign on to the ones we have agreed to, like the arms trade treaty.
That would perhaps get us going in providing more credibility in the international community. Our international image is suffering. The government is seemingly living in the past. It is time to get on with living in the real world and getting on with the standards that have been seen set by our allies.
On the G8, let us hope that this communiqué is not going to be just words and that we will see action from it.
View Libby Davies Profile
View Libby Davies Profile
2013-06-18 11:41 [p.18518]
Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my hon. colleague's comments on this legislation. I certainly agree with him that the bill is long overdue.
I just wonder whether he also picked up on the communiqué from the G8 that my colleague from Ottawa Centre mentioned earlier in the debate. One of the items that he focused on in looking at the G8 communiqué was the need to have a public registry, a need to have much better transparency for companies operating abroad, and to get away from the practice of hiding behind a shell company. Even if we do want to enforce the law, it is hard to know on whom it should be enforced.
Does my colleague agree that we need to go further than this legislation and adopt measures such as a public registry to avoid shell companies being set up?
View Hélène LeBlanc Profile
View Hélène LeBlanc Profile
2013-06-18 11:43 [p.18519]
Mr. Speaker, in its 2012 report, Transparency International indicated that active enforcement was a real way of combatting this type of foreign bribery. We also know that the RCMP is the body responsible for conducting these investigations and reporting the facts.
I would like to know what my colleague thinks about the cuts that have been made to the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP in successive budgets.
Can he elaborate on that?
View Djaouida Sellah Profile
Mr. Speaker, first, it is important to point out that this bill originated in the Senate. In a report released in 2011, Transparency International ranked Canada as the worst of all the G7 countries with respect to international bribery. The organization pointed out that Canada rarely, if ever, enforces its negligible anti-corruption legislation.
There have been only three convictions under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. Does my colleague agree that this is an embarrassment to our country?
View Libby Davies Profile
View Libby Davies Profile
2013-06-18 11:54 [p.18520]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill S-14, an act to amend the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, and as we are debating this at second reading, it still has to go to committee.
I have listened with interest to the debate in the House today. It appears that all parties will be supporting this bill. We are debating it in principle but, nevertheless, it is important for us to go through the bill to examine it, as we should all legislation, and then it will go to committee.
I want to begin by saying that these last few weeks in the House have been particularly difficult because the government has used time allocation, a form of closure, I think 47 times, if I am keeping the tab correctly. It is really quite incredible that so much legislation has been rushed through.
We serve our constituents in this place. We do our work in the constituency, but our role in this House is due diligence in examining legislation and going through it. Even if we are going to support it, we have to go through it. That is part of holding the government to account in our parliamentary democracy, so it is very disturbing that we see the pattern over and over again. It has become routine. Other colleagues in the House have commented earlier that bills are now pro forma. We are expected to have a couple of hours of debate and take a cursory look, and then there is a time allocation for going through committee, report stage, and third reading. It is all established by timelines.
As members well know, that is not the way to do parliamentary business.
I wanted to begin my remarks with that because, as someone who has been around here a few years, I have watched the erosion of parliamentary and democratic practice in this House.
I can almost hear the voice of Bill Blaikie in my head, the former member for Winnipeg—Transcona. He was one of those folks in this place who had the long-term memory to know what had changed over the years. When change happens incrementally, just a little snippet at a time, it is difficult to get that overview. I think it would be useful one day to have that overview and to actually look at how much certain practices have changed in the House, say, from 10 years ago or 20 years ago. I think we would all be quite shocked, actually, no matter what matter party we belong to.
In any event, we are debating this particular bill today.
I want to begin by saying, as others have remarked today, that the bill is long overdue. Canada has, really, an embarrassing record on corruption overseas, in terms of lack of legislation.
As many have pointed out today, Transparency International, a very credible organization that monitors corruption and bribery in terms of what happens in different places in the world, in its 2011 report, ranked Canada as the worst of all the G7 countries with regard to international bribery. It pointed out that we had little or no enforcement, based upon the very minimal legislation we had.
There is no question that this is absolutely long overdue. It begs this question. Why does it take so long?
We look at the legislative agenda and look at all of the little boutique bills that come through on the Criminal Code, when they do not need to happen. Why has it taken so many years for something as major as this, which would deal with crime and corruption? Why has it taken so many years for anything to come forward? Where is the balance here? Where are the priorities? We are sort of pulling apart the Criminal Code clause by clause and adding in more mandatory minimum sentences. We have had so many Conservative backbencher bills, yet with something as major as this, in terms of Canada's role in the international community, we are hauled on the carpet by an organization that monitors international bribery and corruption, which has said, “You guys have got a pretty bad record; in fact you're basically the worst of all of the highly industrialized countries”. This is an embarrassment.
Further, there have only been three convictions in the last number of years, in fact, since 1999, and two of those were in the last two years. This is a pretty appalling record.
Suffice it to say I am glad, at least, that we are debating this bill today. At least the bill would take some steps.
Just to focus for a moment on what this bill would do, for those who are watching the debate, there would be four main changes to the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. One of them would be to increase the maximum sentence of imprisonment applicable to the offence of bribing a foreign public official from five to fourteen years. That is a fairly significant change.
The second change in the bill would eliminate an exception that had been in operation for what is called facilitation payments, where foreign officials are paid to expedite the execution of their responsibilities. I will come back to this, because there are some concerns about it. While we agree that this exception should be eliminated, we have to examine the impact of that, for example, on NGOs that are operating in extremely difficult circumstances in political environments that are very risky and where they have to provide payments to get essential emergency humanitarian goods through—for example, going through police checkpoints. One does have to find that balance.
Third, the bill would create a new offence for falsifying or concealing books or records in order to bribe or conceal bribery of a foreign official. This is a very important change in terms of ensuring that transparency goes right the way down the line.
Finally, the bill would establish a nationality jurisdiction that would apply to all of the offences under the act. What this means is that Canadian nationals could be prosecuted for offences that are committed overseas. Again, that is a very important measure.
I want to say very clearly that New Democrats have long supported clear rules that require transparency and accountability by both Canadian individuals and corporations overseas. In fact, the NDP has had a number of bills in this regard. One of my colleagues, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, had Bill C-323, which would allow lawsuits in Canadian courts by non-Canadians for violations of international obligations. The member for Ottawa Centre had Bill C-486, which would require public due diligence by companies using minerals in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
These are very important issues for Canadians, because we know that the extraction industry in Canada and the way it operates overseas is a major business concern. The way those companies do business is something of great concern to Canadians in terms of ethical practices. We have seen many movements here in Canada, including NGOs, the labour movement and individual citizens who have made sure they became active on this issue.
I want to point out something about a bill we voted on not that long ago, Bill C-300, which was a Liberal member's bill. When I raised transparency in the debate, the Liberal member for Charlottetown who replied to me pointed to Bill C-300 as another attempt to bring about better transparency and corporate accountability in foreign practices.
What is really interesting, and I am sure many members here will remember, is that it was defeated in part because 13 Liberal members voted against it. I remember the bill when it came up. There was intense advocacy for the bill from major NGOs across the country. They did an incredible job. The bill itself was very reasonable. It laid out basic standards for practice. However, there was, of course, a lobby against the bill. It was really quite shocking that 13 Liberal members voting against the bill resulted in the bill being defeated by a mere 6 votes.
We actually did come close to having that bill go through the House of Commons. I know that many of the organizations and individuals that had supported the bill were quite shocked that it had been defeated and were hugely disappointed about the amount of energy, time and effort that had gone into it.
It was a wonderful example of how Canadians look beyond their own border, look globally to see what Canada is doing. They had paid great attention to the need for Canadian corporations, companies and businesses to be accountable, to engage in ethical practices and to ensure there is not bribery and exploitative practices taking place in terms of labour rights or the environment.
These are things Canadians are actually very concerned about. I always feel very inspired when I see these organizations and people, whether they are putting out petitions or sending us emails. People really care about what we do in other parts of the world. We care about whether or not people are being exploited.
Just a little while ago, my colleague from Ottawa Centre talked about the situation in Bangladesh. I saw the story too, last night on CBC, and it is gut-wrenching and it makes us want to jump up and ask what we have to do to make sure these kinds of terrible, appalling conditions no longer exist.
We are talking about thousands of people who lose their lives because they work in terrible conditions where safety is disregarded, where people are not paid decent wages. If we layer on top of that all of the bribery and corruption that goes on, this is a multi-billion dollar business in terms of corruption and unethical practices.
I do not think the bill before us would address all of that, so the other bills we have before the House, particularly from the NDP members that I mentioned, are critical to ensuring there is a comprehensive approach to the way we are dealing with this situation.
We do have some concerns about the bill, which I would like to put on the record. assuming that the bill does get referred to committee. Because the bill would amend the definition of a business to now include not-for-profit organizations, we believe that this should be studied very closely at committee, and obviously witnesses need to be brought in to look at the impact of this particular change on charitable and aid organizations. As I mentioned earlier, the reality is that those organizations do sometimes, out of sheer necessity, have to make payments to expedite or achieve delivery of very essential items and humanitarian goods. This is something that is out there in the real world.
The bill is really tackling corruption and bribery, from the point of view that money is being made, money is being put in people's pockets and officials at embassies and so on are being bribed. That is what we are trying to get at, so I think we have to be very careful that we do not, by consequence, lay down a rule that could actually have a negative impact on organizations that are legitimately and in good faith trying to do very important work in some of these global areas where there is political, military and civil conflict going on. To make sure that kind of aid is delivered in a proper way is very important. We are hoping this issue would be examined more closely at committee.
The second item we think needs further examination is that the committee should also study the consequences of establishing an indictable offence punishable by up to 14 years in prison, because once 14 years is reached, it is actually the threshold at which conditional or absolute discharges of conditional sentences become impossible. It is obviously a much more serious penalty, and the committee, when it receives the bill, should examine that very carefully to make sure there is a balance in terms of our judicial system and conditional sentencing or the question of absolute discharges.
It is easy to make a blanket case, and again we have seen that so often with the Conservative government. It tends to make harsh, blanket rules that do not allow for discretion within our court system. Our court system has a history and a tradition of allowing judicial discretion, so judges can actually examine individual cases and the circumstances that warrant a harsher or a more lenient approach. That is what balance in the judicial system is about.
Therefore, one has to be very careful that in bringing forward new legislation we do not tip that balance and create a system that becomes so rigid that it becomes counterproductive. As the penalty is so harsh, people could end up pleading not guilty more frequently, or prosecutors may even be more reluctant to bring forward charges. There could be unintended consequences of having penalties that are so harsh. This is an issue that we think should be looked at in the bill. We support, in principle, the penalty being increased and the sentencing threshold being increased. However, we have to look more carefully at whether 14 years is the right cut-off.
Finally, in terms of changes that we think need to be looked at, there is the question of the rule on the facilitation payments that I spoke about earlier. We need to figure out how it impacts NGOs and non-profits. That issue would not be part of royal assent but rather would be under the consideration of cabinet, which is in the current text. That one aspect of the bill, if this bill were passed as is, would not go ahead with the rest of the bill. Therefore, that has to be examined. We need to know the reason that is being put aside. The discussion on the facilitation payments as they would impact NGOs might help inform that debate, but it is something we need to look at.
I also want to talk briefly about more current situations. We heard today from the member for Ottawa Centre, who updated the House on a communiqué he had received from the G8 that is currently taking place. It was quite interesting. He pointed out that in this communiqué the issues of corruption and transparency were quite prominent. His point was that we need to know that our own government is committed, not only to the words in these communiqués, but that it is actually going to follow up. I thought the member used a very good example when he spoke about international treaties that we sign for which there is no follow-up.
The example he used was Bill S-10 that was rushed through this House a few days ago, on cluster munitions. I was one of the people who spoke to that bill. The member pointed out very clearly in the debate on that bill that the NDP believes Bill S-10 would actually undermine the very international treaty that it is meant to be following up. The point is that when these communiqués come out and these commitments are made in places like the G8, we need to know they are actually going to be followed up. We need to know that those commitments mean something.
Again, we get back to this particular bill, Bill S-14, that has taken so long to come forward. Why has it taken so long? Why is there not a greater priority and emphasis on these kinds of bills? In the G8 communiqué, among the issues that were flagged, was the need to have greater transparency and a public registry.
The member for Ottawa Centre told us that one of the proposals is the need for a regime whereby companies would not be able to set up a shell company. Even if there is good legislation, if enforcement is to be taken on issues of bribery and corruption, it is very difficult. There could be a lack of political will, as I have just spoken about, or it could be that they are trying to figure out who the operatives are in a particular company. There is the idea of a public registry and the need for better transparency, as well as the notion that we should not allow elaborate legal complexities for the setting up of shell companies that in effect allow individuals and operatives to hide behind other entities. That makes it much more difficult to figure out who is doing what and where enforcement should be applied.
That is a very significant issue, and it is not covered in the bill, so it does show us that the bill does not go far enough. I think that was the member's point this morning.
Nevertheless, we are supporting the bill at second reading. We will pay great attention to it in committee. We will seek to improve the bill so that it lives up to its spirit and intent, which is ensuring that we tackle bribery and corruption by public officials in other countries.
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