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On This PageBill 13Its ImplicationsOur ResponseHow You Can Help

Bill 13

Bill 13 is a private members bill table by Toby Barrett, (MPP for Norfolk-Haldimand-Brant). The title of the Bill is the Ontario Marine Heritage Act. It describes itself as An Act to preserve Ontario’s marine heritage and promote tourism by protecting heritage wrecks and artifacts Private members bills are bills that are tabled by individual MPP's. Since these bills are not officially supported by the party, the members vote as they see fit, and are not constrained to vote the way the party wishes them to vote. The lack of full party support on these bills means they generally do not pass as often as those bills receiving official sanction.

The intent of the bill is to give the government clear title to all the submerged and partially submerged wrecks in Ontario waters. It then specifically bans any diving activity on these wrecks unless the visitor is licensed. It is common in bills to leave the details, such as what is a 'heritage wreck' and what the conditions of a licence are, to regulation designed behind closed doors after the bill has passed. If you read the text of the bill carefully it makes no exclusion for sport divers, or the associated industry. The fines for breaking the law would be up to $5000 for individuals and $250,000 for businesses, as well as the seizure of any equipment used in the activity.

The following list of links will familiarize you with the bill, and other resources related to the process of government.

Its Implications

As worded, the bill specifically prohibits diving any shipwreck in Ontario, without a licence. Typical of most bills the details are left to regulation done after the bill is passed. The use of very broad terminology in the bill gives the regulators who enforce the bill a great deal of freedom afterwards in its interpretation and execution. The Bill defines "heritage wrecks" very vaguely, leaving the definition of what wrecks the government will seize as its heritage property to later regulation. The required "licence" to dive is also not covered in the bill, but left to following regulation.

This trend to leaving critical aspects of legislation to a committee that operates beyond public scrutiny is undemocratic

Our Response

In recent years there have been several high profile incidents involving shipwrecks in Ontario waters. The Tasmaniahad her anchor stolen, but it was recovered and returned to the wreck. The Atlantic has created controversy on both sides of the border because of its alleged cargo of riches and because an American company is claiming salvage rights to a wreck in Canadian waters. It is possible that the case of the Atlantic is the motivation for this bill. However, this is speculation on my part.

The motivation for the bill is irrelevant. Judged from the clauses in the bill, this law would be unnecessary, unenforceable, and not address the real issues of wreck preservation in Ontario. Unnecessary, because there already exists legislation that protects these wrecks. Unenforceable because there are thousands of wrecks that could be deemed heritage wrecks scattered throughout the province. It also fails to really protect the wrecks because the ravages of the environment and time destroy these wrecks as surely as a thief. Shipwrecks throughout Ontario have been subjected to unwitting damage by anchors, and have been torn apart by fishing nets. Funding for marker buoys would do more to save these wrecks than licencing divers. Colautti Enterprises is writing a formal response to this bill. This letter to Mr. Barrett will be printed in its entirety here after he receives it.

How You Can Help

If you agree that this bill should be stopped you should write to Mr. Barrett directly, and to your own MPP if you are not in Mr. Barrett's riding. Express your concern. A form letter will be available here for you to use if you wish.

What Not to Do

Do not be rude or insulting. Mr. Barrett is an elected official with a right to table bills. If you object to the bills content, express your specific objections in the letter. Do not launch a personal attack on Mr. Barrett. Here is a sample letter you may use:

To the Honourable Mr. Barrett: I have become aware of Bill 13, The Ontario Marine Heritage Act, 1999. As a scuba diver in Ontario waters it concerns me greatly that this legislation is about to ban me from diving on the shipwrecks in Ontario. I do not feel it is necessary to licence scuba divers, or ban them from the shipwrecks of Ontario. The bill states that it is intended to protect these wrecks for tourism. How can these wrecks be used for tourism if the bill bans divers from entering the wrecks? I believe that the passage of this bill will severely damage the sport diving industry in Ontario. I have sent a copy of this letter to my local MPP, and would like your response.

Mr. Barrett can be contacted at:

Barrett, Toby PC
Haldimand––Norfolk––Brant
PA to the Minister of the Environment
135 St. Clair Ave. W., 15th Floor, M4V 1P5
Telephone: 325-8404 Facsimile: 325-8408
barrett@nornet.on.ca

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© M. Colautti 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999