Bill C-12 (Historical)
An Act to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases
This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.
Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
April 18th, 2007 / 4:20 p.m.
March 28th, 2007 / 5:10 p.m.
Nicole Demers Laval, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my remarks by mentioning the beautiful light that shines on this side of the House. This is not a coincidence. The sky is blue and God is a sovereignist. We are going to take advantage of this light to enlighten our colleagues, the members opposite, who form the government. I hope they will be wise enough to listen.
I could not help but smile when I saw that this legislation was coming back here to be amended. Let us not forget that, at the beginning of this session, a bill was rammed through the House, namely Bill C-2. We felt that this issue had not been debated long enough to ensure that this legislation would provide measures that could be implemented, and that it would be responsible and meaningful for our fellow citizens, whom we represent here.
Today, I see that we have to go back to Bill C-12, which was passed in 2005, when I was still a new member in this House. In fact, this bill was my first experience with the legislation here. I had to learn how to debate it in the Standing Committee on Health, along with my colleague, the member for Hochelaga, who was then our party critic on health issues. Even at that time we had serious reservations about the provisions that the government wanted to include in the bill, because we often felt that they were too intrusive or not logical enough to allow for concrete, easy and effective implementation.
We have to be very cautious and serious when we talk about infectious and communicable diseases, about viruses and bacteria that proliferate. We have to take our role seriously. At the time, we deplored the fact that people would be accountable to an authority designated by the Minister of Health, because we felt that this was a somewhat complex process that would prevent the bill from being an effective piece of legislation.
When I saw the bill and saw that there was a move to amend this section, that is, section 34, I thought to myself, “Two years later, people are finally seeing that, once again, the Bloc Québécois was right.” Naturally, it was members of the Bloc Québécois who were the first to oppose that part of the legislation, which called for an authority designated by the minister. We did so because we believed that the bill encroached too much on provincial jurisdictions, especially in the area of health.
In Quebec, our department of public health is very effective and takes great care to protect us against all communicable and infectious diseases. I know that this is not necessarily the case everywhere. A hospital in Vegreville had to close its doors this week. Also, in Loyds, hundreds of patients had to be informed that they had probably contracted HIV or hepatitis, because the doctor had not reported, as one must, these diseases to public health authorities.
It is not enough to simply enact legislation. That legislation must be respected, obeyed and enforced, and we must be able to use that legislation effectively to protect ourselves against what we could call barbarian invasions. Any mention of tuberculosis, west Nile virus or SARS is sure to arouse fear. I would remind the House that the original Quarantine Act was drafted around 1872, if I understood my hon. colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska correctly.
We know that diseases crossed borders with the influx of pioneers who came here to start a life for themselves and become proud citizens of what was then Lower Canada and Upper Canada, in other words, the Quebec and Canada of today.
Infectious diseases did not stop crossing our borders just because we passed this legislation in 1872. In the early 1900s, around 1910 or 1918, right here in Hull, on the other side of the river, a very serious Spanish influenza outbreak killed many people. It decimated entire families. We still see traces of those families today in the names of the hon. members sitting in this House and the people nearby, who live in Hull, in Gatineau. These people probably have in their lineage, among their ancestors, people who died from the Spanish flu. At the time, even though the legislation existed, we did not have the means to enforce or apply it.
As far as such epidemics are concerned, we have to think about all these soldiers we send abroad. Often we pay more attention to what is going on over there in terms of equipment, tools and armament, and not pay much attention to what they might be bringing back with them when they come home. This can be very dangerous for them. These days, a number of women take part in these missions. Many of them come back and can also spread infectious diseases to their families and children because they did not receive the necessary care when they were abroad on a peacekeeping mission or, unfortunately, at war.
It is not enough to have laws, we also need the political will to apply them. We have to start resolving the problems in our own backyard. We currently have tuberculosis epidemics in a number of our first nations communities. It is unthinkable that in 2007 there are still people suffering from tuberculosis. That is the direct responsibility of the federal government. It is a responsibility that it neglects far too often and which it has not respected because the epidemic is spreading, not stopping.
In Kashechewan, people may be forced to leave their homes and to be relocated because their water is not potable. However, they cannot do it today because there is no money. If we have billions of dollars to invest in arms, we should at least have a few million to invest in providing safe, healthy housing where individuals can live with dignity and respect. At present, this is not the case. It is much easier to adopt a laissez-faire attitude. Hundreds, even thousands of individuals will suffer from these illnesses, including tuberculosis and other diseases. They will contract them because of unhealthy living conditions. Nothing is being done about that.
The previous government ratified the Kelowna accord. We all voted in this House to honour that accord. However, the government decided otherwise and is not making any further commitments. That is most unfortunate.
First nations communities, Inuit communities, all these communities find it difficult to carve out a place for themselves in our society. It is difficult for them to have access to adequate health care, appropriate education, and affordable, healthy, safe housing. It is difficult for them, but they have been abandoned even though it is our first responsibility to help them. We abandon them, we do not invest in these societies. Why? Why is there constant encroachment, to the tune of millions of dollars, on provincial responsibilities and jurisdictions when we do not even take care of our own responsibilities?
I do not understand. And yet, some small countries who have very little do much more for their citizens. I regularly visit Cuba, because I love the island and the people. Someone will say to me that they do not have a great deal of freedom, but I sometimes wonder which one of us has more freedom. I know that they have first class health care. All Cubans can study as much and as long as they wish. Education is free. Later, the government assigns the doctors it has trained to various countries to work for humanitarian causes. These doctors are very well trained.
Whenever I go to Cuba, I am never afraid of getting sick. I know I will be taken care of. When we went to Taiwan last fall, my travelling companion got a toothache on Taiwan's national holiday. The person I was with had a toothache. We had to go to a hospital because there are no dental clinics. At the hospital, two doctors took care of us. In under 10 minutes, my companion was in a chair and personnel had administered a sedative and something to take away the pain, and all of this happened on Taiwan's national holiday. Of course, thousands of people live there and their hospitals do not have all the equipment we have here. But their government chooses to invest in human resources to provide a standard of care and services that we rarely find here.
That service standard is rare here largely because of our provincial governments. Why do our respective governments not have enough money? Because previous federal governments cut transfer payments. Beginning in 1994, cuts to provincial transfer payments, including payments to Quebec, resulted in the sorry state of our health care systems today compared to those of some small countries that have much less than we do, but that care about their citizens' health.
We support the principle underlying this bill. We are not against it. Obviously, we cannot be against what is right, but today, as we study this bill, we must ask ourselves a question. Will this bill provide enough money to train quarantine officers? Will enough money be invested in training customs agents and all of the front-line staff who meet people at the border?
That was one of the concerns expressed by the Standing Committee on Health in 2004-05. We were not certain that all steps would be taken in order to enforce Bill C-12. After two years, we see that enforcing it is very difficult indeed, and that it was not really being enforced because there were flaws in the bill. In the years to come, we will likely find other flaws in the bill, given that the Standing Committee on Health had considerable reservations about approving the bill, which was adopted on division.
If we all minded our own business, there would likely be fewer bills of this kind to review. For example, despite what the government thinks, Bill C-2 was adopted very quickly, and a number of its sections are still not in force.
Why are we asked to debate bills that seem so important to the government, only to then have it dismiss everything we determined, everything we decided, everything we wanted to be able to give to our citizens as members of Parliament here in this House? We wonder why.
I do not know. I only hope that, in the future, we will be more careful. If it is true that Bill C-42 is crucial to the proper enforcement of Bill C-12, through the amendment of section 34, it is also true that there are several other sections of the bill that should be reviewed. In enforcing—
Message from the Senate
May 13th, 2005 / 10:05 a.m.
Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:
May 12, 2005
I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bills listed in the schedule to this letter on the 12th day of May, 2005, at 4:10 p.m.
Secretary to the Governor General
The schedule indicates that royal assent was given to Bill C-33, a second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 23, 2004--Chapter No. 19; Bill C-12, an act to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases--Chapter No. 20; and Bill C-45, an act to provide services, assistance and compensation to or in respect of Canadian Forces members and veterans and to make amendments to certain acts--Chapter No. 21.
May 10th, 2005 / 5:30 p.m.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)
Pursuant to the order made on May 6, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion in relation to the amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-12.
Call in the members.
(The House divided on the motion which was agreed to on the following division:)
May 6th, 2005 / 10:45 a.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, that is certainly the big question that has been raised by a number of members. It has a great deal to do with the rights of the individual and Canadians at large covered under the charter and the responsibilities of a government and health authorities to protect us against something that the consequences of which could be enormous. The consequence could be a pandemic that could kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people if not checked and dealt with at its early stages.
When the member read from clause 22, he may have misspoke himself when he said that it would require a traveller to undergo an investigation. The bill in fact states “medical examination”.
If we are talking about a quarantine officer, a medical officer, a doctor, a nurse or whoever is going to be responsible for making these assessments, I do not believe they are there to do harm. They are properly training and are there to protect Canadians. They will not detain someone for some personal whim, personal bias or whatever it might be.
In clause 26, the member said, “if the quarantine officer has grounds to believe”. This is not a matter of frivolous grounds. In a matter of emergency someone has to make some serious decisions and we first need to ensure that those who are put in those positions of authority have the tools to do these things, are properly trained and are acting in the best interests of Canadians.
The member kind of asked the questions almost in the context of what if we get somebody who maybe is not doing things in good faith and is just doing it to somehow disrupt the rights and freedoms of individuals, of travellers or to be invasive.
Medical examination is one thing but a medical examination does not tell us where the person has been, who the person has seen and in which place where there were problems has the person been. Those things are not part of a medical examination. A medical examination is with regard to that individual and the individual's own condition.
If there is some basis for looking at people's travel documents, or whatever it might be, and it would be helpful to get information to do an investigation, then I would say that it is a proper thing to do and a responsible thing to do because individuals themselves coming into a country who have gone through a medical examination may not even know what exactly has been going on, what the problem is, what the disease is or what causes it. There is an awful lot of information, much of which is not readily available through simply the process of a individual screening or maybe some sort of a medical exam.
This is a very good example of where parliamentarians often get into the situation where we have conflicting interests, and sometimes people will describe it as the lesser of evils, but in this particular case the act is prescribing the tools to be used by properly trained medical professionals who are prepared to take on the responsibility and to discharge that greater responsibility, which is to protect public health. It is in the best interest of not only that individual, it is also is in the best interest of the country at large, which is the greater question. We do make these tough decisions. In this regard I would say that the provisions, in my opinion, within Bill C-12 are fair and reasonable.
May 6th, 2005 / 10:30 a.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, the behaviour by the Bloc Québécois has been going on for some sitting days and it is quite disruptive to the operations of the House.
The particular provisions within the bill to do with rights of individuals will be sensitive issues to a number of members who have been active in the aspect of basic human rights and the rights and freedoms of the individual. When we consider the conflicting interests here, the rights of the individual and the responsibility of the health authorities to protect the health and well-being of Canadians, it does raise some important questions about whether there is a demonstrably justified infringement on the rights of the individual.
I recognize there are some conflicting interests here, but members know that there is a responsibility of discharging the health measures provided by the Quarantine Act to ensure the health and well-being of all Canadians. We had the example with SARS. We now have discovered and learned that the disease is a communicable one. Also, some evidence shows that it could be transmitted through the air.
Let me make a few other comments on the implications of the bill and its scope.
First, because the bill has not been modernized for many years, we have to take into account, as legislators, that over time things change. There are emerging and re-emerging health threats and SARS is certainly one example. The most important part of this is that these communicable diseases do not respect borders. It is much like pollution. For instance, we know that in the 401 corridor of Ontario, going from Windsor down to Toronto, the major source of pollution, of poor air quality and particulate matter, comes from the Ohio Valley in the United States, which is densely populated with coal-fired hydrogenerating stations.
Similarly, we have a situation where problems in Canada are not necessarily domestically sourced. Taiwan had a very similar problem with regard to people coming into Taiwan from mainland China.
Countries have to take important steps to ensure that we take all the defensive measures necessary and the best possible course to ensure that communicable diseases do not become a serious problem as they have in the past, particularly with SARS.
The advances in technology and rapid air travel is now a reality in the daily lives of Canadians. It replaces the long days that people used to travel on ships or by rail. The new age of jet travel has paved the way for increased population mobility. This is a very important issue. There are so many people coming and going. We are not just talking about people who are coming to visit Canada. We are talking also about Canadians who have travelled abroad in some affected areas and who come back. It is important that we take all those precautions as well. This does not just affect people who are visiting our country but also those who are returning from trips abroad, for whatever reason. An enormous number of people travel through the airports of our country.
Members may recall when the mad cow crisis was at its peak, travellers coming to Canada had to walk on a mat to disinfect their shoes. We were not sure whether they may have somehow picked up some materials that may have been a threat to the agriculture industry. This is yet another instance where defensive measures are extremely important.
We are told by experts that a serious communicable disease can spread to any part of the world within 24 hours. We know some of the impacts of these diseases, but we do not know anything about them. SARS was an excellent example. When it hit, we did not know what it was. We did not know how it acted. We did not know how it was transmitted. What we did know was that a large number of people with a common bond of association, whether it be from a nursing home or a hospital ward, all of had the indicators that there was the starting of an epidemic.
It required the immediate mobilization of a large number of people. It goes without saying that we are very grateful to the health care providers, the doctors and the nurses and all the other important health care providers, who literally put themselves in harm's way to help those who were afflicted by these diseases, without knowing. It is much like firefighters. Firefighters run in while others flee to save themselves. We saw that in 9/11.
Let us not forget the importance to the caregivers who tried their very best under situations of very little information on how to deal with it.
The new reality regarding the health of immigrants is becoming a growing transborder problem as well. Members of Parliament have an important responsibility in their ridings to deal with people who are being sponsored by constituents to come to Canada, either to obtain landed status and perhaps ultimately to become citizens.
We all know the health requirements to enter Canada are extremely rigorous as well. It is important that they be enforced. This is also a very important issue because of the transborder problem.
This entire situation has many health ramifications. This is one reason why we now have a public health representation in the cabinet. We also have the chief public health officer, both of whom have important roles to play in addressing any future disease outbreaks, such as SARS. We also have established a centre in Winnipeg similar to the Atlanta centres for disease control. Things are happening. Bill C-12 is part of that process.
The existing health protection system has served the interest of Canadians well. Obviously we have to update our laws to take into account the new reality of the mobility of our own population and the expanding numbers of people who are visiting Canada from other lands. It means that the policy and procedures we use in Canada must reflect and be updated to reflect this new reality.
The member for Oakville previously mentioned that Dr. David Naylor prepared the main report on this. The report contained some very important recommendations. Those recommendations have been well taken into account, not only in this legislation, but in other activities.
I also want to comment on a couple of other aspects. Bill C-12 serves to modernize the Quarantine Act, but it is only one of the tools in our health tool box. As I indicated, we now have the public health agency with the appointment of Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's first chief public health officer, and the Canadian pandemic influenza plan. All are essential elements in the government's strategy for strengthening Canada's public health system.
As I indicated, the existing federal powers under the Quarantine Act are basically outdated. That is the reason why this legislation needs to be passed by Parliament. I hope the legislation will have the support of all hon. members in this place.
That is why we are moving forward quickly with the legislation. It will give the government the means to cope with and control disease outbreaks and ensure better communication, collaboration and cooperation among public health partners. This aspect was very evident during the SARS outbreak. There were more questions and answers, as can be appreciated, and there was a lack of coordination of the public health bodies across the country. Although there were regular press conferences to assure the public, the public also had an important need to know about how they could safeguard themselves.
In those types of serious circumstances we all need to be well informed so we can be part of the preventative measures to ensure a communicable disease outbreak does not spread any further and is in fact wrestled to the ground. The collaboration and cooperation that were necessary was demonstrated even within the government departments. An issue such as SARS touched virtually every department.
I recall the bulletin that came out informing the public about SARS and suggesting that if people had some questions or wanted further information they could go to a website or two but there was no website or two. There were about 21 different website addresses and they were all to different areas of the government, all of which, in their own way, had a reference to SARS as it related to their department.
With the creation of this new cabinet post, that will not happen any more. There will be a central communications point in which important information on a comprehensive basis can be communicated to all stakeholders, all interested parties, Canadians, caregivers and others who may be affected or involved in this.
The scope of the new act is limited to ensuring that serious communicable diseases are prevented from entering Canada or being spread to other countries. It will also mitigate the risk of future threats to public health at home and beyond, to our international partners.
Because of our experience in the SARS epidemic, Canada continues to be a leader in terms of being a model for other countries in terms of addressing matters such as this. I know the World Health Organization has taken great interest as have other countries. We have also had many visitations to Canada with regard to the way in which we have set things up.
With the proposed changes to the Quarantine Act, which I am sure will be passed by this place, I think Canada will finish the loop in terms of providing the best possible protection and prevention for Canadians as it relates to communicable diseases.
May 6th, 2005 / 10:25 a.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, this morning we are debating the Senate amendments to Bill C-12. I have had an opportunity to review the prior debates to try to ascertain some of the concerns of members. I see in the House this morning a number of members as well as the previous speaker who have all worked on this legislation.
The member for Oakville said something that I think is worth reflecting on. It is that these health issues transcend partisan interests. I think all members would agree that when it comes to the matter of public safety and public health it is the number one priority of Canadians and certainly of the Parliament of Canada.
I also want to say I am delighted that we are back debating important legislation, which has progressed for some time. As we know, there is much speculation about an election and what the consequences might be. Most are political, but in the reality for Canadians we are talking about the work of Parliament over the past months.
We have a large number of bills, much legislation and other initiatives at various stages throughout the legislative system. I am aware of a number of them. One is even one of my own initiatives on fetal alcohol syndrome. An election call would kill all these bills and the other legislation, as well as an enormous amount of work done by I believe some very talented people in the committee and legislative system and by parliamentarians at large. I just want Canadians to know that we are trying very hard to have important legislation passed in this place as quickly as possible because it is in the best interests of Canadians.
Bill C-12 is an act to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases. This enactment repeals and replaces the existing Quarantine Act, which has not been modernized since 1872. The purpose is to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases in Canada.
It is applicable to persons in conveyances arriving in or in the process of departing Canada. It provides measures for the screening, health assessment and medical examination of travellers to determine if they have communicable diseases and measures for preventing the spread of communicable diseases, including referral to the public health authorities, detention, treatment and disinfestation. The provisions for the administrative oversight of the detention of travellers are also included in the bill.
It provides for additional measures such as the inspection and cleansing of conveyances and cargo to ensure that they are not a source of communicable diseases. It imposes controls on the import and export of cadavers, body parts and other human remains.
It contains provisions for the collection and disclosure of personal information if it is necessary to prevent the spread of communicable disease and, under certain circumstances, for law enforcement purposes. It also provides the Minister of Health with interim order powers in the case of public health emergencies and enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with the act.
Excuse me, Mr. Speaker, but there seems to be a fair bit of noise in the House right now.
May 6th, 2005 / 10:20 a.m.
Bonnie Brown Oakville, ON
Mr. Speaker, the legislative design of Bill C-12 supports a prudent approach consistent with responsible government spending, that is, to determine an appropriate level of compensation only after an incident or an outbreak. It does provide the flexibility to provide compensation to industry in the event that quarantine facilities are required to isolate at risk travellers.
It does not speak directly to the issue of compensation for travellers detained under quarantine powers, but the Government of Canada could provide assistance to travellers who are inconvenienced by such measures.
In the event of a public health crisis, the government has the ability to, first, assess the situation and determine the need for an appropriate level of compensation based on the merits of each case, and then determine the possible means of compensation.
May 6th, 2005 / 10 a.m.
Bonnie Brown Oakville, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today on Bill C-12, the new Quarantine Act. We are updating the Quarantine Act because the piece of legislation we are working with is absolutely antiquated. It has not been significantly modernized since 1872.
The purpose of the Quarantine Act is very clear and straightforward. It offers protection to the Canadian public at our border points of entry by authorizing the use of public health measures to prevent communicable diseases from entering the country and spreading throughout the population. Our recent experience with SARS has not been forgotten. With the global threat of avian influenza and the heightened risk of a human pandemic, health experts and the public are acutely aware that new diseases can swiftly emerge and change in such a manner that all governments require a modern set of tools at their disposal to ensure rapid and decisive action.
Many of us will remember the important work undertaken by Dr. David Naylor, chair of the national advisory committee on SARS and public health. The newly proposed Quarantine Act reflects action taken by this government in a direct response to the recommendations put forth in the Naylor report and later echoed by the Senate committee.
In a modern era, diseases do not arrive by boat on transatlantic voyages. They arrive by plane and present themselves at our doorsteps within hours. By moving forward this important piece of public health protection legislation, the Government of Canada will have the authority to address immediate concerns related to global disease transmission, a cross-border issue of growing importance.
As members may recall, Bill C-36 was the first attempt to modernize the Quarantine Act. The bill was introduced in the last parliamentary session on May 12, 2004, but died on the order paper when the election was called.
Last fall, Bill C-12 was reintroduced. This revised bill reflected the comments of many stakeholders including provincial and territorial public health experts. After an extensive review process, including witness testimony and amendments adopted by the Standing Committee on Health, the bill was passed by the House of Commons on December 10, 2004.
Recently, the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology underwent a similar examination process of Bill C-12. Amendments were adopted by committee members specifically related to the tabling of quarantine regulations. The House committee on health had asked that these regulations be tabled, so that it could review them. The Senate saw that amendment in the bill and decided that it would like to see the regulations as well.
If the House concurs today in the proposed amendments, the tabling of regulations under Bill C-12 will reflect the role of the Senate of Canada by reinforcing the equivalent authority of this chamber in the parliamentary legislative process.
Canadians want protection. They expect government to draw upon an array of modern tools to manage future risks to public health. The revised Quarantine Act before us complements provincial and territorial public health legislation, for each jurisdiction is responsible for maintaining public health.
The federal Quarantine Act will operate as the first line of defence. It will play a mitigating role in protecting the health of Canadians from the importation of disease. The importance of jurisdictions working together is paramount when protecting public health, even more so when health threats emerge. The complementary legislative design of Bill C-12 helps to create a web of protection for Canadians.
Indeed, we do not need another health crisis to reinforce the critical importance of working in concert with our provincial and territorial partners.
After the SARS crisis, the Government of Canada moved immediately to strengthen public health. This act would become an important instrument in carrying out that commitment for it would add another tool in the pan-Canadian toolbox for public health. The newly created Public Health Agency of Canada and the appointment of the Chief Public Health Officer will serve in the management of any new infectious disease outbreak.
It is not only our obligation to Canadians that we need to consider. Currently, the World Health Organization is undertaking revisions to the international health regulations. Canada is a major player in that process.
Bill C-12, our new Quarantine Act, complements this effort. It is compatible with global public health efforts. This new legislation appropriately balances individual rights and freedoms in the protection of the public good. In a globalized world, it reflects the increased complexity in public health, making linkages with other authorities to support a coordinated response capacity, and including local and provincial partners, customs officials, the RCMP and the World Health Organization.
Revisions to Bill C-12 would ensure better communication, collaboration and cooperation among partners, as well as better clarity about who does what when. It would build on the expertise and the strengths already in place in the disease management spectrum to ensure that Canadians are safeguarded by a seamless public health system throughout this country.
Once enacted, our new Quarantine Act would ensure that the Government of Canada has the proper legislative tools to respond rapidly and effectively in the event of our next public health crisis.
In the spirit of collaboration, it is my wish that House members demonstrate ongoing support for the work and contributions made toward strengthening this bill on behalf of the Standing Committee on Health of this House and the Senate of Canada.
May 5th, 2005 / 5:30 p.m.
Don Bell North Vancouver, BC
Mr. Speaker, I welcome your ruling as it enables us to carry on with the debate on this important piece of legislation. To try to use a procedural opportunity for what I would call partisan politics to delay debate on this important bill is unconscionable.
Dealing specifically with Bill C-12, the public health system in Canada is central to maintaining the health and safety of our population. Public health is the science and the art of protecting and promoting health, preventing disease and injury, and prolonging life. It is the public health system that will identify and monitor health threats and invoke appropriate interventions to mitigate the risk at hand. Ultimately a strong public health system will improve the health status of Canadians. In the context of emergency preparedness and response, our public health system is often the first line of defence against emerging and ongoing threats.
As we know, diseases do not respect borders. In today's global village they arrive by plane and they present themselves at our doorstep within hours. This is why Canada's public health system must be equipped with an array of modern tools to maintain a state of readiness to effectively manage the next wave of disaster, and we have no idea what or when that is going to be.
There is an intricate web of protection in place that is invisible to many, but it reflects the tireless efforts of those on the front line and those who support local response capacity in public health. When the public health system is working well, few take notice, but in the event of a new emerging disease like SARS, the role of public health is captured in the public's eye.
The country's response to SARS highlighted the urgent need for national leadership and coordination of public health activity across the country, especially during a health crisis. Rapid decision making, decisive action, and effective response measures are critical to managing future threats to public health.
Many of us remember the important work undertaken by Dr. David Naylor, chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health. Examining the events surrounding SARS, the Naylor committee made recommendations for change, including the need for legislative reform in the area of public health management.
In support of these recommendations and the vision that inspired the Naylor report, the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology was also authorized to examine and report on the infrastructure and governance of Canada's public health system.
In addition, the Kirby committee examined Canada's ability to respond to public health emergencies arising from infectious disease outbreaks. In the Kirby report, initial steps were identified to facilitate the renewal and reform of health protection and promotion in Canada, including the creation of a new health protection agency to be headed by a nation's doctor, a chief medical officer of health.
Public health is a shared responsibility in this country. While provinces and territories bear primary responsibility for protecting public health within Canada, the federal government provides quarantine services at Canadian points of entry, the oldest health measure to date.
Once a traveller passes through customs, each province and territory has its own public health legislation to contain and to control the spread of a communicable disease within its own jurisdiction. Recent experiences in the global public health arena, including SARS, mad cow disease, West Nile virus, and the arrival of avian influenza, have underscored the urgency for updating public health legislation across Canada. To date, many health protection laws are woefully outdated, including the federal Quarantine Act which has been largely unchanged since 1872.
The need for a legislative overhaul in public health is required to manage contemporary public health threats with local, provincial, national and international ramifications. Action now in terms of legislative renewal will help ensure that Canadians feel confident once again that their governments are indeed protecting them from future health threats.
The Government of Canada has moved swiftly to strengthen public health by establishing the newly created Public Health Agency of Canada and the appointment of the first chief public health officer. The modernization of the Quarantine Act will complement the government's strategy in strengthening Canada's public health system and serve in the management of any new disease outbreak that might threaten the health and safety of Canadians.
The revised Quarantine Act, Bill C-12, was designed to complement existing provincial and territorial public health legislation. It offers protection at Canada's international borders and ports of entry by controlling the import and export of a communicable disease. Simply put, this bill will add another layer of protection in public health. In the pan-Canadian toolbox for public health, this legal instrument provides the federal government with the authority to detect public health risks at the first point of contact when travellers, conveyances, goods and cargo are entering the country.
The Quarantine Act is one of Canada's oldest pieces of legislation and, as I have stated already, it has not been significantly modernized since 1872. Once enacted, a modernized Quarantine Act will ensure that the federal government has the enabling authority to mitigate the risk and threat of global disease transmission.
It is not only our obligation to Canadians that we need to consider. Public health protection must be a global effort. Currently, the World Health Organization is initiating revisions to the international health regulations to ensure that countries around the world are doing their part to support rapid, decisive action to stem the spread of disease.
There are a number of important features of Bill C-12 that make it truly useful in the disease management program. It is very powerful legislation for the Public Health Agency that requires due diligence when administered.
With quarantine officers stationed at major international airports, Bill C-12 provides these federal agents and the Minister of Health with the authority they need to marshal a comprehensive and immediate response capacity at points of entry. Bill C-12 does not affect the interprovincial movement of travellers and conveyances but complements existing provincial public health legislation.
Recognizing the need for ongoing collaboration with our partners in public health, the newly proposed Quarantine Act will streamline the process embedded in public health by eliminating the distinction between listed and other diseases. It will modernize enforcement powers, including ministerial authority to divert air carriers to alternate landing sites or indeed to prohibit entry into Canada. Further, it gives authority for the procurement of quarantine space anywhere in Canada, including the ability to compensate the owner of a facility in a manner consistent with responsible and prudent government spending.
What about human rights under this new quarantine legislation? Bill C-12 will also ensure that human rights are adequately protected for providing the right to legal counsel, an interpreter and a second medical opinion. It will clarify authority to collect and share personal health information for the purpose of protecting public health.
The new bill appropriately balances individual liberty rights in the need to protect the public. It also respects the jurisdictions of our provincial and territorial partners, clarifying roles and responsibilities in the shared public health domain.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has engaged many shareholders in the development of Bill C-12, including the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. The final product enables the federal government to carry out what is essentially a responsibility to the citizens of Canada and further to the international community.
We also cannot ignore that in addition to the serious and significant health issues obviously related to the passage of this bill, I would like to remind all members of the House that there are also severe economic impacts of infectious disease issues. I would remind members of the disastrous economic impacts of the SARS outbreak which occurred in Toronto. The public concern translated very quickly and definitively into an economic slowdown, both in terms of retail sales and, more important, also on tourism.
I should note here that as a result of that impact on Toronto and the impact on tourism and to the economy of Toronto and Ontario, our government decided to show confidence in Toronto. Our Prime Minister called what I understand was the first federal cabinet meeting ever held outside of Ottawa. This was a show of confidence not only in Toronto and Ontario but in Canada, and showing us to the world.
The economic impact of SARS affected tourism travel around the world, not just Canada. I do not need to remind my colleagues in the House about how important tourism is to the economy of Canada, and not just to a city like Toronto because it could be any major Canadian city that has an air travel hub to other parts of Canada. The negative economic impact on tourism is not just related to the city with an international airport, but to all areas of Canada to which tourists are attracted. Tourists travel through those hubs to the various parts of Canada, from sea to sea to sea.
This is important to all of Canada, and I can speak for my province of British Columbia and in particular the greater Vancouver area. As members know, Vancouver has both an airport and a busy seaport and is recognized as the gateway to Asia Pacific. We know and have discussed in our various committees in Ottawa and in the government about the importance of the emerging Asia Pacific market and Canada's role in that.
Of recent note, I could talk on the issue of tourism. We are now in the process of finally securing approved destination status for travellers from China. This has long been an issue that has been recommended to us by tourism groups across Canada. These tourists will come through either Vancouver or in some cases directly through Toronto. This has the opportunity to significantly increase the number of tourists, particularly from China.
The kinds of fears that occurred during the SARS outbreak were such that they had a very serious potential impact on travellers who wanted to come from Asia Pacific. I can tell members of personal knowledge relating to Japan where parents were afraid either to come or to have their children come to Canada because of the SARS impact. In China, which has a one child policy, they are very nervous about sending their children here to learn English or to experience Canadian culture because they only have one child.
Regarding the impact on my region of greater Vancouver and British Columbia, we have over 20,000 foreign students currently engaged in some kind of English second language training in the greater Vancouver area, and the effect of SARS was dramatic. My riding of North Vancouver has an international college that relied heavily on Japanese students. It had a dramatic reduction in the number of students to the point that it caused it to have to refocus and change the way it operated. The college has now varied its program to include other adult students as well. In the end there was a positive impact and net effect, but we still have not regained total confidence in terms of some of these Asia Pacific countries with the fear of having their young people come to Canada.
The benefit of having them come here to be educated is they learn about our Canadian way of life, our Canadian democracy and our values. When they go back to their countries, they are some of the best ambassadors we could have as they grow up and take a role in their countries.
I would mention also the port of Vancouver. It is the second busiest port in North America after Louisiana, which is mainly an oil base port. It is not only the busiest port in Canada, but the second busiest port in North America. The movement of goods and services, which can be affected by an infectious outbreak or the discovery of some substance, such as a powder, can have a huge impact which can shut down that port.
Recently, as a government, we decided that we would lend support in recognizing the growth of the port trade to Canada and to British Columbia, which is the new container port in Prince Rupert. Forty million dollars of federal money will be flowing to help the economy in that area. This provides us now with a second major rail connection for goods into Canada.
The port of Vancouver, for a variety of reasons like rail capacity, is struggling to handle the container capacity. Some of those goods are going past British Columbia, either flowing through American ports and in fact going all the way around Panama to come up on the east coast, which adds costs and time delay and makes us less attractive as a country.
COSCO, the Chinese overseas shipping company, in the last few years named Vancouver as its first port of entry in North America, which was a huge economic advantage to us.
We have the ability now, with the port of Prince Rupert, to have a second major rail connection that will benefit Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and all of Canada. Importers now can bring goods both into Canada and flow them through to the United States.
All those issues can be affected by a serious health outbreak, an infectious disease outbreak, which can come in the form of product into Canada as well. As we know, there is the risk of the West Nile virus, which is not coming from west to east, but coming from east to west across North America.
Last weekend, when I was in my home riding of North Vancouver, I read newspaper articles and heard radio accounts of the preparations that were being taken for West Nile, which had not yet arrived visibly in British Columbia and the greater Vancouver area, but it was felt it was just a matter of time.
The potential impact and the effect this will have on municipalities with the spraying program, with the proximity of the spraying to school children and to recreational areas, which are very important, is of huge impact.