Derelict boat bill dies in House of Commons

MP John Duncan and all but one Conservative MP voted against the bill; MP James Lunney did not cast a vote

A private members bill to deal with derelict vessels in Canada drowned at second reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Bill C-638 was put forward by Nanaimo-Cowichan MP Jean Crowder earlier this year. It would have made the Canadian Coast Guard the sole receiver of wrecks, taking on full responsibility for aging, abandoned boats in the country.

Crowder called the result “disappointing.”

“This bill received strong support from British Columbians… Conservatives ignored that support and voted down a piece of legislation that would protect British Columbia’s coast from abandoned derelict vessels which are a hazard to safety and the environment,” she said in a statement after the vote.

In March, regional district officials, including both Parksville and Qualicum Beach mayors, pledged their support to Crowder’s bill by sending a letter to Ottawa.

The issue hits close to home as Parksville Qualicum Beach is one of many coastal communities plagued with derelict vessels. In Deep Bay alone, at least 15 abandoned boats were recorded last year and RDN chair Joe Stanhope said it’s a problem that’s not going away.

“It’s a big thing,” said Stanhope. “This keeps coming up all over coastal communities and we had a recent situation in Deep Bay once again — it was a derelict vessel and there was concern it could pollute the shellfish industry.” He noted a substantial amount of the province’s shellfish industry is rooted in Deep Bay.

“To me it’s a big issue and it’s not going to go away,” said Stanhope.

“We have to protect our water system…We’ll keep pushing it, certainly from the AVICC level I’ll put it on the agenda.”

Executive director for the Georgia Strait Alliance Christianne Wilhelmson echoed Crowder and Stanhope’s disappointment.

“Derelict and abandoned vessels in our coastal waters are a safety hazard, visual eyesore, and release fuel and other toxins into the marine environment, putting marine life and habitat at risk,” she said.

According to Wilhelmson, the biggest challenge involved in mitigating the impacts of derelict and abandoned vessels is the “jurisdictional quagmire” that surrounds them.

Derelict vessels fall within the jurisdiction of both the provincial and federal governments and in many cases local governments have been tasked with dealing with them.

Earlier this year, Conservative John Duncan, MP for Vancouver Island North and government whip who is running in the upcoming election for the Courtenay-Alberni riding, told The NEWS he wasn’t sold on Crowder’s bill.

Duncan said he favoured an American-style system that would see a user group set up some type of fund that people contribute to specifically for the purpose of taking care of derelict vessels. He said contributors would be people “with a vested interest in derelict vessels.”

Duncan, along with Conservative members, except for one MP John Weston (West Vancouver), voted against Bill C-638. Independent MP James Lunney did not cast a vote.

Duncan said Friday Crowder’s bill “was not the way to go… it’s not appropriate for the federal authority to take over all liability when it’s simply not currently their authority — much of it is provincial responsibility. There’s a vacuum in the law right now. We should be addressing it, not going in the direction of Crowder’s bill. The vacuum is when someone abandons a boat there’s no way to create penalty or criminal offense, so that’s our current direction, we are looking at making personal responsibility for abandoning these vessels. We recognize there’s a big problem. We want to address it — that’s our first avenue of approach.”

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