Abandoned vessels

Hon. Nancy Greene Raine: My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Back in 2012, a Transport Canada report estimated that there were almost 400 abandoned and derelict vessels across Canada, along our coastlines, lakes and rivers. This is an environmental problem, a transportation problem and a commercial problem, impacting all levels of government.

The Oceans Protection Plan announced last fall by the Prime Minister states: “This new plan will prohibit owners from abandoning their vessels.” After many months of waiting, earlier today the government announced the Abandoned Boats Program with funding for removal projects, and for education and awareness for boat owners. However, it remains unclear how the program will actually prohibit owners from abandoning their vessels.

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Incidentally, today, five years later, quick facts from a media release from the Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, states that the number of derelict vessels has risen to 600. This is a problem that is growing.

Could the government leader provide more details on the announcement today and tell us how the government plans to improve the system to identify shipowners to ensure that the owners of these abandoned vessels take responsibility for their property?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): First, I thank the honourable senator for her question, and I want to take the opportunity to more formally welcome her back after her illness. We all wish you well in your recovery.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Senator Raine: Thank you.

Senator Harder: I welcome the question. It’s clear from even the preamble of the question that this is a matter that all sides of the aisle are deeply concerned about. I welcomed the announcement from the minister this morning and look forward to providing the additional details requested.

I would point out that this matter, as the question implied, has been unaddressed for some years and it is a particular pleasure for the new minister, after only 18 months in office, to have come forward with this plan and deposed it this morning; but I would be happy to find the additional information.

Senator Raine: Thank you very much. I look forward to that.

I would note that Bill C-695 was introduced in 2015 by private member John Weston of the House of Commons. In his bill, he sought to amend the act by adding the following:

Every person who, being the owner of a vessel that is not wrecked, stranded or in distress, abandons the vessel and does not take all reasonable measures to resume control and possession of the vessel commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than $100,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than one year, or to both.

I am hoping — and I look forward to you getting the details — that we can put some teeth in this, because it is important to take a look at it. Could you provide assurances that the responsibility and accountability of shipowners will lie at the heart of the government’s new remediation program, thereby reducing the burden to taxpayers?

Senator Harder: I will undertake to add this to my inquiry.