An Act to amend the Quarantine Act

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.

Sponsor

Tony Clement  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the obligations set out in section 34 of the Quarantine Act that apply to the operators of certain conveyances arriving in or departing from Canada.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Message from the Senate
Royal Assent

June 22nd, 2007 / 12:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I have the honour to inform the House that when the House did attend Her Excellency the Governor General in the Senate chamber Her Excellency was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:

Bill C-12, An Act to provide for emergency management and to amend and repeal certain Acts--Chapter 15;

Bill C-294, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (sports and recreation programs)--Chapter 16;

Bill S-6, An Act to amend the First Nations Land Management Act--Chapter 17;

Bill C-40, An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act, the Excise Act, 2001 and the Air Travellers Security Charge Act and to make related amendments to other Acts--Chapter 18;

Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts--Chapter 19;

Bill C-277, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (luring a child)--Chapter 20;

Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act--Chapter 21;

Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA identification--Chapter 22;

Bill C-60, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the financial year ending March 31, 2008--Chapter 23;

Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (adoption)--Chapter 24;

Bill C-47, An Act respecting the protection of marks related to the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games and protection against certain misleading business associations and making a related amendment to the Trade-marks Act--Chapter 25;

Bill C-61, An Act to amend the Geneva Conventions Act, An Act to incorporate the Canadian Red Cross Society and the Trade-marks Act--Chapter 26;

Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act--Chapter 27;

Bill C-59, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (unauthorized recording of a movie)--Chapter 28;

Bill C-52, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 19, 2007--Chapter 29;

Bill C-288, An Act to ensure Canada meets its global climate change obligations under the Kyoto Protocol--Chapter 30.

It being 12:23 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, September 17, 2007, at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

The first session of the 39th Parliament was prorogued by royal proclamation on September 14, 2007.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act, be read the third time and passed.

Business of the House
Private Members' Business

June 14th, 2007 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have no objection to the order put forward, I just would like to clarify that the two government bills that will be dealt with are Bill C-42 and Bill C-58, and when they are completed, or at 9 p.m., whichever comes first, we would go directly to the emergency debate.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2007 / 5:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is quite right.

The problem is that the changes to Bill C-42 apply specifically to the operator, therefore the pilot of the aircraft, who will have to make the report. I think we should also ensure that airlines which know about it have to do so. Pilots can always say that they were not informed about the health status of one of their passengers. It is obviously time to ensure, therefore, that airlines are also involved.

As I read Bill C-42, only the operator, that is to say the pilot, is implicated. It could well be, though, that the airline did not tell him. People are always innocent, as we know, until proven guilty. So even if the pilot says that he did not know and was not told, under Bill C-42 he is still responsible. We should ensure that the airlines and all the personnel in charge are also required to follow up.

In clause 71, it says: “Every person who contravenes subsection 6(2), 8(1) or 34(2) or (3) ....” In my view, on the basis of my legal training, “every person” could also include a body corporate, that is to say, the officers of an airline.

This situation is obviously intolerable. I agree completely with my colleague. It is unacceptable for someone who knows that a person has a contagious disease not to inform the people at the destination. At least this bill will require an operator to do so as soon as possible. In this case, he should actually have done so as soon as he found out. I hope that corporations, or the bodies corporate constituted by airlines, can also be included.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2007 / 5 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act. This is an opportunity for us to look at a bit of history at the same time, since the Quarantine Act is probably one of the oldest pieces of public health legislation in North America. We are very aware of this in Quebec. In 2008, we will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of Quebec City. Today, we have a sign: our health critic is in fact the member for Quebec City, and I want to recognize her. Her work on the Standing Committee on Health is outstanding.

This is an opportunity to see the work that we can do in this House: today we are dealing with the text of a law that was first enacted in 1872—and it is important that we remember this.

Public health, like health, has changed considerably over the years. I will offer a little history here. You know that health is a matter within the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. Over the decades, the federal government has encroached on this jurisdiction, as a matter of political choice. Remember that the universal health care system we have today was set up during the 1960s, at the initiative of a premier of Saskatchewan. This produced the health care system we have today, with all its ups and downs. In the 1960s, even though health was still within the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces, the costs were split. So when the universal health care system we have today was created, the federal government was supposed to foot 50% of the bill. That was the agreement in the beginning.

You understand that because this is a privilege of the provinces, or a matter under their exclusive jurisdiction, the federal government made its contribution by way of transfer payments. That has indeed changed over the years, as successive federal governments, particularly Conservative governments during the 1990s, built up deficits. The Liberals in Pierre Elliott Trudeau's time, however, had also done their bit to increase the deficit.

Consequently, in the beginning, the federal government paid 50% of the bill for our universal health care system, which is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. This federal-provincial agreement, with the transfer payments, had been properly negotiated. In 1993, in the middle of the big Liberal budget cuts, the federal government's share of health care, through transfer payments, was 13%.

So we have a system, one that was created during the 1960s. In Quebec, it was the time of the Quiet Revolution. It was when the Quebec that we know today emerged. We got on board with the universal health care system, based on one premise: that the federal government, under the agreements signed, would pay for 50% of it. We thought that it was always going to pay 50% of the bill, but as I explained, since this was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces, the federal government used that to withdraw gradually from paying the bill, as its deficits rose. Little by little, we arrived at an agreement whereby in 2010 the federal government should be paying the percentage it was paying in the 1990s. That is the hard reality.

The latest agreement negotiated between the provinces and the federal government aims to re-establish or rebalance its percentage of the bill to what it was paying in 1990. This is one reason why Canadian federalism does not always work—at least in Quebec. Quebeckers learned very quickly that, any time we are dealing with Ottawa, Quebeckers are always the big losers. That is what happened with our health care.

Today we are debating Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act. From a health perspective, it is probably the only file that is truly a federal jurisdiction. A few years ago, we suffered a SARS outbreak, that is, severe acute respiratory syndrome. This disease from outside the country made the entire community, both the provincial and federal health networks, aware of the need to intervene.

In 2005, we therefore decided to make an important amendment to the Quarantine Act, in order to adapt it to the risk of epidemics from outside our borders or epidemics that we might export.

This still surprises me. Many decisions are made in this House and many discussions take place, but all the while, certain realities elude us and manage to slip through all the policies adopted here in Parliament or elsewhere.

At the WTO, discussions are currently underway concerning the agriculture file, which is not yet resolved. In this vast, global free trade system, the agriculture file is one of the most recent issues that the WTO is resolving.

The longer we wait, the more we will see that, theoretically, the only way a person can protect their health is by producing themselves what they eat.

I listened to my colleagues talk earlier about chemicals. The best way a person can protect their health is by one day successfully producing at home everything they put on their table. That is how it will be.

I am always shocked when I see the Liberals and the Conservatives trying to set aside the supply management system put in place by farmers in Quebec and the rest of Canada for dairy products, poultry and eggs. This system balances supply and demand within the provinces and Canada. Yet the Liberals and the Conservatives are tempted to set aside this system, which allows us to meet our own needs for products as important as milk, eggs and butter. These are things we eat every day. They are tempted to set aside this system, because some countries would like to sell us their milk and other products over which we have no control. We have no control over what other countries produce.

Today, we are talking about a bill on quarantine, epidemics and freight movement.

At the same time, we are letting our WTO negotiators set aside supply management, which would allow us to provide for our own needs and produce milk, butter, eggs and chicken, things we eat regularly. We need to be able to self-regulate in this area. Yet the system will probably be set aside one day. The Liberals were prepared to set it aside, and the Conservatives are tempted to do so in order to negotiate with other countries that want to sell us their products. One day, we will no longer be able to produce what we need, and we will have to buy consumer products from other countries, products over which we have no control. We do not know how animals are fed or what is used in producing these products.

This concerns me a great deal. Today, we are discussing a bill on quarantine, a public health bill. As I said earlier, it has been in existence since 1872.

Things were simpler back then. I realize that we must make sweeping changes today because, at the time, people and goods travelled by ship. When there was a quarantine, the ship would raise the quarantine flag. A law had to be adopted to deal with the people and goods on the quarantined ship. Thus, a bill was passed in 1872.

Today, over one hundred years later, we must revise the Quarantine Act. Section 34 establishes what kind of transportation will be covered by this Quarantine Act. It has taken us several years and that is understandable.

Today, this section applies to the operator of any of the following conveyances: a watercraft or aircraft that is used in the business of carrying persons or cargo. We have broadened the scope of the legislation to more than just ships. This had to be done.

In a few centuries from now, we will not be able to accuse the Conservatives of having looked too far into the future. Usually, they look in the rear-view mirror to see what lies ahead. We are recognizing new technologies for transporting goods. That is perfect.

That is why the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-42, which has the merit of involving operators and, as I was saying, “applies to the operator of any of the following conveyances: a watercraft or aircraft that is used in the business of carrying...or cargo”. This makes these carriers and operators take responsibility for their obligation to declare possible quarantines, illnesses or all manner of viruses that may be contained in their cargo, if they are carrying merchandise, or among the human beings travelling on board. This allows us to make adjustments.

However, as I was saying, it also requires us to take a look at our collective conscience. It is all well and good to pass quarantine bills. SARS showed us that despite all the good intentions of our health care systems, we are not sheltered from an epidemic or all sorts of unpredictable diseases. These are things that can happen. The severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS epidemic that happened in 2003, was a sad event that showed us the flaws in our health care system. In my opinion, it was time for Canada to adopt a public health policy together with the provinces. I believe that the Standing Committee on Health did good work in implementing a public health coordination service that is able to intervene and help provinces deal with situations like the one Ontario experienced in 2003. This is good for public health and a good investment for our collective environment.

In the meantime, we never wonder what causes these epidemics. There were others that just fizzled out. Avian flu does not affect people, just animals, and we do not know whether it will affect humans one day or not. The same is true for mad cow disease. It affects animals, but we do not know whether it will affect humans one day. We have to be careful what we import and put on our tables. The main thing we have to take from all of this is that we can now be prepared.

In truth, we are reacting after the fact. SARS struck Ontario in 2003, and that is the reason why we have adopted this bill to amend the Quarantine Act. That is the reality. One day we must try to prevent rather than always trying to cure after the fact. To achieve that, we must ensure that we produce what we put on the tables in this country. That is the hard reality. It is a fine thing to do business with all the other countries of the world, to exchange goods and services, but when it comes to food, to what we produce to put on our tables, one day, our representatives at the WTO must stand up and say that is not negotiable.

Indeed, we cannot allow other countries to send us products, if we cannot be assured of the quality of those products. Genetically modified organisms, GMOs, are already being widely discussed around the world. We must be able to regulate what comes to our tables. Until we can do that, we must ensure that every country is capable of producing what goes onto the tables of its citizens, so that if ever there is an epidemic, a virus or something that stems from the food or the animals that we consume, we will be able to control all of that through our own regulation system.

We are not there yet and I find that disappointing. I say that very politely to everyone. I am disappointed in the way the Liberals defended supply management while they were in power, and the Conservatives are doing the same thing: trying to cast aside supply management. That means if dairy products, eggs, poultry and chicken are removed, there will be no more controls and those products will be imported from abroad. Some day we will be inundated with foreign products because those countries, owing to their population, will be into mass production. At that point, we will no longer be competitive.

One day, we will poison our population. That is what will happen. We will make our own people sick. The new way of doing things will bring viruses. If we do not adopt legislation similar to the bill we are discussing today, then some day we will have to adopt other bills to try to counter those plagues.

It would be easy to ensure consistency in everything we do by adopting bills like the one before us today to modernize the Quarantine Act.

We also have to take a stand with the WTO and say that agriculture—the food we put on Canadians' tables—is not negotiable. We must maintain complete control over the quality of the products we eat. That is the way it is.

We are talking about this for all kinds of reasons, one of which is that in order to make a profit, companies are going too far and genetically modifying products. They want things to grow faster, and they put all kinds of things in there to make them stronger and healthier, but in reality, they are making them less healthful by chemically treating them. That is a fact.

The Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-42 to implement section 34 as amended. I will read section 34 of the Quarantine Act, which will come into force when this bill is passed. I will then read the amendments. Section 34 reads as follows:

34(1) Before arriving in Canada, the operator of a conveyance used in a business of carrying persons or cargo, or of any prescribed conveyance, shall report to the authority designated under paragraph 63(b) situated at the nearest entry point any reasonable grounds to suspect that (a) any person, cargo or other thing on board the conveyance could cause the spreading of a communicable disease listed in the schedule; (b) a person on board the conveyance has died; or (c) any prescribed circumstances exist.

(2) Before departing from Canada throug h a departure point, the operator shall report to the authority designated under paragraph 63(b) situated at the departure point any circumstance referred to in paragraphs (1)(a) to (c) that exists.

(3) If it is not possible for the operator to report before their arrival in or departure from Canada, the report shall be made at the entry or departure point, as the case may be.

(4) The authority shall notify a quarantine officer or an environmental health officer without delay of any report received under this section.

These are the operator's responsibilities, which are to be carried out upon entering or leaving the country.

The amendment introduced today in Bill C-42 completes section 34, which I read earlier.

34 (1) This section applies to the operator of any of the following conveyances:

(a) a watercraft or aircraft that is used in the business of carrying persons or cargo;

...

(2) As soon as possible before a conveyance arrives at its destination in Canada, the operator shall inform a quarantine officer or cause a quarantine officer to be informed of any reasonable grounds to suspect that

(a) any person, cargo or other thing on board the conveyance could cause the spreading of a communicable disease listed in the schedule;

(b) a person on board the conveyance has died;

(c) any prescribed circumstances exist.

...

The original section talked about the operator of a conveyance without specifying the type of conveyance. Now it mentions transportation by watercraft or aircraft. Furthermore, the original section talked about reporting at the entry point and now reporting is done beforehand, as soon as possible, so that quarantine officers are informed before arrival. The situation does not need to be reported upon arrival at the border, it needs to be reported beforehand, as soon as possible.

I want to acknowledge the work of my colleagues in the Standing Committee on Health, the hon. member for Québec, among others, and to say that it is good that we are updating legislation from 1872 to deal with reality.

These are diseases that can be transmitted by virus, epidemic or otherwise. However, it is also important to realize that this bill is a reaction to the SARS epidemic in Ontario in 2003.

I hope the WTO will make good decisions to ensure that our agriculture will be protected, so that the food we put on our tables will protect our constituents and that we will not have to pass another bill one day because we should have realized that what we put on our tables should be produced here, according to our standards, to ensure that food safety and public health are protected.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2007 / 4:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, with due respect to the member, he should know that when I was advised that Bill C-42 was coming forward for debate, I asked one of the pages to bring me the bill. The bill that the pages have available for members in fact is the most recent printing of the bill. It is the bill that was debated at second reading. It was in fact the one that has the exemption.

I wanted to understand why there was not another bill, the bill as amended by committee. When I asked the question of the parliamentary secretary, he pointed out to me there were amendments.

Then I went into the lobby and called up the minutes of the June 4 committee meeting, maybe about 20 minutes ago, and that is the first time I saw it, to see that in fact when the amendments were made, after the second amendment was agreed to, the chair asked, “Shall the bill as amended carry? Agreed. Shall the chair report the bill as amended to the House? Agreed”. It was reported back with the amendments in the report of the committee.

The committee chair did not ask the members whether they should reprint the bill. Therefore, there was no reprint. I have explained this twice now to the parliamentary secretary. I do not think it has quite sunk in, but I will keep doing it.

The minutes I have read are the minutes I have read because I wanted to understand why members were not getting the bill.

I raised his quote. The reason they excluded trucks, trains and buses, and I quote him, is that they “posed a limited threat to Canada”. That is what he said to this place. Then he said in his question here and I quote him again, “for absolute clarity we made the amendment to say a conveyance covering all conveyances”.

Including all conveyances, including buses, trucks and trains is not a clarification. It is not a clarification of aircraft and watercraft. It is in fact a very substantial change to the bill. The member again has misled the House. The Conservatives did not want to have those other items in there. They were caught by the member for Oakville for not having included the major conveyance of fruits and vegetables. The member wants to slough it off that for absolute clarity they made the change.

This is not a clarification. This is a substantive change involving the safety, security and health of Canadians. I do not accept for a moment that this is a clarification. It was a change that the government was embarrassed to have to make because it got caught.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2007 / 4:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-42. Since the parliamentary secretary is here and just posed a question to me, I will try to deal with that first.

For the first time in thirteen and a half years, when I asked for a bill from the Table so I could look at it, the bill that was delivered to me and other members who had asked for it was a first reading bill. Unless you have seen, Mr. Speaker, the Standing Committee on Health, in its ninth report, reported back to the House two amendments to the bill, which was debated at second reading.

I looked at the minutes of that meeting, which I believe was June 4, and noted that the chair of the committee had asked for the vote on the two amendments and then asked whether the bill should be reported back to the House, and it. However, there was no question on whether the bill should be reprinted. Therefore, we get into this difficulty where there might be a misunderstanding by members in this place, who were not on the committee, when they assume the bill they receive for debate purposes is the bill as amended. There is an opportunity for the committee to ask if the bill should the bill be reprinted, and in this case it was not.

In answer to the member's question, my question was based on the best information available to me by the House. It certainly was not partisan to continue to suggest that land buses, trains and trucks were still exempted. According to a copy of the bill I received, that was the case. However, the committee had made changes to it.

Maybe the member understands now why I asked that question earlier. For future purposes, should a bill not be reprinted after committee where changes have been made, maybe somewhere it should be stamped “amended” or have an addendum that says what the changes are. Sometimes it may be important.

In any event, I think that clears it up for the parliamentary secretary as to why I still thought that subclause 34(1)(a), dealing with the Quarantine Act, still had watercraft and aircraft and now is replaced by the words “a conveyance”.

It does raise an interesting question though. I am not sure whether the bill has a definition section where “conveyance” is a defined term. However, the bill does say that the minister may make regulations. I assume the regulations will proscribe conveyances from time to time, or be amended, and the minister can do that. The amendments made at committee were appropriate and were supported by all parties at the committee.

If we look at the three meetings, we have a bill that makes very modest amendments to the Quarantine Act in terms of their volume, but their impact is much more important because we are talking about health and safety issues.

We have the recent case of Mr. Andrew Speaker, who has a very contagious form of tuberculosis. He travelled from Europe to Canada and then by land conveyance, a car, or a cab or something, and crossed the border into the United States. During that trip, a number of people, particularly those on the aircraft, were exposed to this very dangerous strain of tuberculosis. This enhances the reasons why dealing with this matter was very important. Of course, the bill came forward before that event took place.

Events in our past have taken place which would have some impact on this. Probably the most significant was the SARS experience. Interestingly enough, if we were to look back at some of the detail, we had taken a number of steps to try to address it. Not many of them were very successful because we did not know very much about the disease itself in the first place.

One of the things we did know was it was an imported situation. In fact, it came from a province in China. It also raised an ancillary issue, which was transborder point to Canada turned out to be Taiwan.

As we know, we do not have diplomatic relations with China. Taiwan has been seeking, for a very long time, to at least obtain observer status at the World Health Organization. Its knowledge and technology would have been of significant help had that occurred at a much earlier time. I know there are still efforts being made to do that. However, one of the most significant threats to the Canadian public's health and safety was imported from China, through Taiwan, to Canada.

If we look at the meetings held by the health committee, one of the things I found fascinating was some of the witnesses in committee were representing public safety and security. There was a substantial amount of discussion about the security and prosperity partnership. This is might surprise some members. All of a sudden we were getting involved in an agreement between the United States and Canada, and Mexico was added, with regard to security and prosperity issues.

In fact, it is much broader than that. I understand that at the Cancun meetings in March of last year, some 300 to 400 bilateral activities were identified as being of interest to the security and prosperity partnership, but that it would be very difficult to prioritize them.

I raise this because at second reading the issue of the exemption given for cars, buses, trucks and trains was brought up in debate, but in the bill it was not explicit. It was by exclusion because the bill itself says:

This section applies to the operator of any of the following conveyances:

(a) a watercraft or aircraft that is used in the business of carrying persons or cargo; and

(b) a prescribed conveyance.

A prescribed conveyance is not defined, but I assume this is in a schedule or regulations that may provide other details, which normally are not available to members when they are in debate. The fact that it was specifically watercraft or aircraft led to the question about all the activity of conveyances, not only of persons but of products, fruits, vegetables, meat products and other things. It is a very important area.

I know a number of the members of border communities have been extremely concerned about the economic impact of having delays at the border, what it causes in terms of the backup for people trying to get across the border when trucks are lined up for many reasons.

I talked to a couple of members and raised the question about whether there were conflicting objectives taken into account when Bill C-42 was tabled in the House at first reading, for debate second reading, by the fact that the other conveyances were not named. The conflict is an economic objective pitted against the objective of health and safety.

I noted this in an early question in the House that this matter had been raised at second reading. It was the amendment to change the bill in subclause 34(1)(a) from a watercraft or aircraft and to replace that with a conveyance, which would cover any conveyance of persons or cargo.

I must admit I was taken aback when the parliamentary secretary made an attempt at an explanation. The explanation, as I read into the record, was it was determined, when the bill was done, that land conveyances “posed a limited threat to Canada” and that it was a conscious decision. I quote from the June 4 meeting of the Standing Committee on Health. The parliamentary secretary said:

When Bill C-42 was developed, a decision was taken to remove the requirement for advance notification by land conveyance operators, such as buses and trains, and to focus only on air and marine conveyances. This decision was based on an assessment that land conveyances posed a limited threat to Canada.

When we think about, it is a significant decision to have taken. Consider the volume of activity that goes across the borders between Canada and the U.S., certainly between the U.S and Mexico. If we read the media reports about products, fruit and vegetables, which have been produced in other countries and imported, the produce has been grown with chemicals that have been banned in Canada for a good reason.

In the last report I saw, Canada today imports fruit and vegetables from other countries. The produce has been produced with 10 or 12 chemicals, chemicals that have been banned in Canada, but not in the country of production. The question is an issue of food safety.

With regard to the United States, in the same report it indicated there were fruit and vegetables imported from other countries, which used some 17 chemicals that were banned in the United States.

In terms of using chemicals to treat fruit, vegetable, meat products and anything else, they may not be present in their pure form. The reason they would be banned by a country in the first instance is that the trace elements in those foods may be harmful to the health and safety of Canadians or those who will consume them. That is where a very large number of our imports come by rail and truck.

They are major distribution conveyances other than air or water. I have to question why the decision was taken that there was a limited risk to Canadians when there was some knowledge that there were some serious threats to the health and safety of Canadians by the importation of products which may have come by truck or rail. We have to ask ourselves whether or not those decisions were motivated by some objective other than health or safety.

Those are the reasons I have raised this issue.

I have looked at the evidence given at the health committee. Representatives appeared from the Department of Public Safety and Security as well as the department responsible for trade and the security and prosperity partnership.

The Quarantine Act is a very modest act. It is so small that it was not even reprinted after being amended.

We had some fairly substantive discussions at the Standing Committee on Health on some significant issues of which Canadians probably have very little knowledge.

I have seen some articles on the security and prosperity partnership, often referred to as deep integration with the United States. The Hill Times published a couple of substantial articles on it. For many people it raises a lot more questions than it gives answers.

We now, I believe, as a consequence have amended this bill in section 34(1)(a) to include “a conveyance”, putting that in and replacing “aircraft and watercraft”, and now includes all conveyances that are transporting or conveying persons, cargo or other things which may be a risk to Canadians.

I wanted to raise that because often things happen in committee which have very little to do with a bill. This is a case in point. If members are interested, they may want to look at the proceedings of the June 4 meeting of the Standing Committee on Health. The witnesses gave a detailed history of NAFTA and of the security and prosperity partnership. I am not sure why the primer was given, but I must admit it was very interesting.

The bill is important. I discussed much earlier public health threats such as SARS, but we also know that West Nile virus and the avian influenza are significant risks. There have been discussions about pandemics. Some experts have said it is inevitable that Canada will experience a pandemic. There have been discussions and public pronouncements that there may not be sufficient medications to treat Canadians and that there will be rules about who will have access to these medications. These issues need to be continually looked at.

Canadians need the assurance that public health and safety will not be compromised by economic expediency or by the objectives of another nation. Canadians need to know that Canada's objectives will be firm. We look to the government to give us assurance that when matters come up, public health and safety will not be compromised for economic objectives.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2007 / 4:30 p.m.
See context

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal member got up and made suggestions in regard to the act. He originally got up and incorrectly stated that the amendments to Bill C-42 did not include land conveyances. However, he continued to suggest otherwise. I wonder if the member could comment on the bill and confirm that it includes land, marine and air.

Before the member comments, let me just say I am quite disappointed in the previous questioner. He had his facts wrong when he first asked his questions, and that is fair enough, sometimes that happens. However, to continue on in that vein time and time again when the Minister of Health has demonstrated leadership on the health of Canadians is very disappointing and I wish the member would not be so partisan.

I wonder if this member could just confirm for everyone that marine, air and land is included in the amendment to Bill C-42.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2007 / 3:50 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak on Bill C-42. There was consensus on this bill in our committee. We worked in the best interests of the safety, and especially the health, of people who might be endangered by the transmission of contagious diseases. We need only think of the case that happened recently. A person in the United States had contracted tuberculosis and was at a stage when the disease could have been transmissible and been very contagious.

And so Bill C-42, which amends the Quarantine Act, is a bill that was intended to modernize a piece of legislation that in fact dated from 1872, although some amendments had been made to it in 2005. So the act was amended in 2005. It was modernized in the context of SARS after it hit Toronto, in Ontario. We know that in 2003 we were somewhat concerned about the transmission of SARS.

SARS led to a study, the Naylor report. That report recommended that certain parts of the act be revised to bring it in sync with a society that had changed, particularly in terms of transportation and the movement of goods and people. The act was not suited to meeting these new needs.

We know that the SARS period in Toronto was quite a hard time. Often when there are contagious diseases or an epidemic it can affect the economy of a country or a province. SARS affected the entire community of Toronto and Ontario because of the possibility the disease would spread. People were worried, but the worry was perhaps not grounded in fact. Was the problem exaggerated?

The Naylor report does a thorough review of that situation. The lesson we can take from it, looking in from the outside, is that we were perhaps not prepared to deal with this kind of challenge, to provide good information, and, especially, to make people feel safe. As to the possibility of contagion, SARS may have been a type of virus that it is more difficult to transmit casually, simply by contact with another person. All the same, we have to move forward, and that is why it was thought wise to revise the Quarantine Act in 2005.

Today, once again, we have to do some more work on it. Some of the previous speakers talked about section 34 which sets out the circumstances in which certain actions should be taken. We might think of people who travel frequently by airplane or boat and how we might be more aware of the fact that an individual or goods could be carrying viruses or diseases that could be contracted by people.

Now Bill C-42 seems to be a small bill, judging by the number of pages. It has very few pages, but at the same time the impact of this bill, if it is applied properly, if there are good regulations, could make all the difference, so that situations like SARS or the case of a disease as terrible as tuberculosis, for example, can be handled better. I am shortly going to talk about the case of Andrew Speaker, an American who was infected with a particular strain of tuberculosis. We do not know how far this may go, but we know that he was able to travel.

Here again, we have a bill, but when it comes to the mechanisms we put in place, there are people and authorities who very certainly have responsibilities.

It is necessary to act quickly and not take it lightly. Section 34 as proposed in Bill C-42 sets out the manner in which information is to be transmitted. The operator of an aircraft or land vehicle must first be informed that a carrier of a contagious disease is aboard the aircraft or land vehicle. Section 34 indicates very clearly the obligation to inform the operator of the fact that he could be responsible for the spreading of a disease. It also states how that operator must inform specific authorities that there is a person aboard the aircraft or vehicle who is a danger to the health of others.

The bill is also very specific concerning the operators of certain types of vehicles. The current act calls for the imposition of that obligation to all means of transportation. It goes much further than boats, aircraft and trains because the bill extends to all conveyances used to carry passengers or cargo. That was one of the amendments proposed by the parliamentary secretary and supported by all the members of the committee.

In section 34 of the act, the obligation of an operator to notify the designated authority in a reasonable manner before entering or leaving Canada, is replaced in the bill by an obligation to notify “if it is not possible for the operator to report.” We know very well that if someone is aware and is obliged to report, that party must still have the necessary means of notifying a quarantine officer. Accordingly, the bill provides that an operator must notify a quarantine officer rather than the designated authority, and it obliges the operator to inform the officer as soon as he becomes aware of the situation, but in a context where that is reasonably possible.

The case of Andrew Speaker led us to consider the different obligations of the responsible authorities who must transmit information. We should be concerned about the number of days that elapsed between May 10 and May 25. How was it that Andrew Speaker, who knew very well that he was a carrier of tuberculosis, was still able to leave the United States on May 12, even though he had been told on May 10 that it would preferable for him not to go abroad? Two days later, he left the country and went first to Paris and then to Greece.

However, on May 14, Mr. Speaker informed his doctor by email that he was in Greece. His attending physician knew full well that he had left the United States. On May 18, American health agencies were made aware of the fact that Andrew Speaker was in Greece with his wife. Between May 14—when he informed his doctor—and May 18, there was a danger and nobody, not even the American health agencies, had been notified. In addition, Mr. Speaker was the subject of an international search, and tests showed that he was carrying a form of tuberculosis that was extremely resistant to antibiotics.

Mr. Speaker was contacted in Italy by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. They recommended that he present himself to Italian health authorities and told him not to take a commercial flight. However, Mr. Speaker did not report to the Italian health authorities, thereby breaking the law.

There may well be some legal proceedings. People cannot simply be left to themselves like this. We cannot say to them that they made a mistake but it is not so bad. There are consequences to this. Some people, and some Quebeckers in particular, are currently being subjected to tests by health agencies to determine whether they have contracted this form of tuberculosis. During the two weeks between when Mr. Speaker knew what he had and when he could have acted and turned himself over to the Italian health authorities, he contravened certain restrictions placed on him before leaving.

The American health agencies were told on May 18 that Mr. Speaker was in Greece with his wife. On May 24, the European health authorities and the World Health Organization were given the same information. Between May 18 and May 24, therefore, there was a vacuum between the American health agency and the European authorities and the World Health Organization. Action must be taken when it is known that someone may be dangerous because he is carrying a contagious disease, a communicable disease, like tuberculosis.

The American authorities gave a simple answer: they did not know where Andrew Speaker was. There is a system in place, but it was not rigorously followed. We need to be concerned when we know that there are systems in place but people are lax about following various directives. Did Mr. Speaker infect anybody? We do not know. However, some people have to undergo tests to determine whether they have contracted this disease.

The situation surrounding this case must be clarified. The United States bears some responsibility. If it does not provide information on time, how can the other stakeholders know what is going on? How can the European or Canadian health authorities get involved if they have not been notified? Canada also bears some responsibility. When we passed the bill, we asked the director of the Public Health Agency of Canada whether there could be some provisions in it that would protect us against this kind of situation. Could Canada take legal action against another country that failed to take certain steps? Here too, things were allowed to drift. There is an investigation.

Some American senators are trying to find out what really happened. When I asked Dr. Butler-Jones, the Chief Public Health Officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada, he told me that he was waiting to find out whether there would be an inquiry or an investigation and that there were lessons to be learned from this incident. However, we have to go a bit farther than just learning lessons. We may have to put in place mechanisms to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.

Does the bill need to be improved? We have said it does not. We do not need to improve it, at least, not by creating legislation that could improve this scenario. We will see what happens. I hope that in the coming months, we will learn that a better reporting mechanism has been put in place. A physician can notify his or her patient, but when a physician tells a patient that he or she does not know what sort of virus or infection the patient is suffering from and the physician does not seem worried, how is the patient supposed to react?

Should the patient not be given even just a written notice to prove that the physician really told the patient not to leave the country?

We can see that even if we have a bill with all sorts of guidelines to protect the health and safety of the travelling public and people who come into contact with someone who has a communicable disease, this responsibility must also rest with any individual who could pose a threat to other people's health and safety.

It was time to improve Bill C-42 by amending section 34 so that it applies to people travelling by air, water or land. This bill must provide conveyance operators with guidelines as to their reporting obligations, given the serious consequences of spreading a communicable disease here in Canada.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2007 / 3:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Susan Kadis Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act, as it has recently been the focus for the health committee, of which I am the vice-chair. I believe that this bill, as amended in committee, warrants our support and passage in the House today. This important legislation is invaluable to the health and safety of Canadians, our top priority.

Only four short years ago this country was devastated by a SARS epidemic that led to 45 deaths in Canada, not to mention the enormous impact on our health care system and economy. One of the most serious consequences of the violent spread of a life-threatening disease is the fear and panic that it causes for Canadians.

The fear that plagued Canadians during the SARS outbreak was enormous. A deadly virus was spreading in our largest city and it seemed as though it could not be stopped or contained. The fortunate critical lesson we learned, and it was unfortunate as well, with the devastating tragedy and the loss of innocent lives, is that Canada is not immune to communicable diseases.

As a result of this catastrophic situation, Canada received a serious wake-up call and moved quickly to establish the needed tools in the management of disease, virus prevention and containment. The Quarantine Act, along with the passage of Bill C-42 as amended, is vital in protecting the health, wellness and lives of Canadians.

Prior to the new Quarantine Act, which had been given royal assent on May 13, 2005, legislation had not been modernized since 1872, five years after Confederation. In a globalized 21st century world that has come to know about the very detrimental rapid effects of the spread of influenza, the West Nile virus, et cetera, the original legislation in 1872 was greatly outdated and ill-equipped to deal with a SARS pandemic. In our increasingly smaller modern world where we move across borders within the global community, we must be ever vigilant and aggressive in taking preventive and protective measures to safeguard the health of Canadians.

The Quarantine Act was born in the wake of the SARS disaster and was introduced by our previous Liberal government in October 2004. As I mentioned, the Quarantine Act received royal assent in May 2005, though without this proposed section 34. Section 34 of the Quarantine Act requires advanced reporting from conveyance operators. Bill C-42 has ironed out the areas of concern that have been raised which originally held back this portion of the legislation and brings the Quarantine Act to completion.

I fully support Bill C-42 as amended. Bill C-42 was presented to the health committee with the government proposing to omit land conveyances from the act. After careful review and examination, my colleagues and I were in favour of ensuring that land conveyances are included in the mandatory reporting by conveyance operators in proposed section 34. This is paramount, as the legislation as amended and combined adds enhanced protection to Canada's public health system, and I truly believe that including land conveyances in the list of air and water transportation is an essential element of the act and will further enhance the safety of all Canadians.

Bill C-42 also streamlines the process of reporting by conveyance operators as the legislation requires that these individuals report directly to quarantine officers “as soon as possible” before a conveyance arrives at a destination if there is any suspicion whatsoever that any person, cargo or other thing on board the conveyance could cause the spread of communicable disease listed in the schedule, or a person on board the conveyance has died, or any prescribed circumstances exist.

The process of reporting these outlined instances to a centralized system of special quarantine officers “as soon as possible” closes up any holes by emphasizing the parties who must be in communication with one another and by eliminating any potential discrepancy of timing, as the legislation currently states that conveyance operators must report any suspicious incidents immediately, which was not good enough.

Finally, the bill, as amended, also adds the words “as soon as possible before” in proposed section 34; where a conveyance departs from Canada through a departure point, the operator must disclose any circumstances of concern. Once again, this emphasizes the urgency of reporting before the conveyance departs from the country of origin and crosses the border.

I would like to acknowledge that there is no time more appropriate than the present to pass Bill C-42 in the House. Only a few weeks ago, an Atlanta man with a rare strain of highly contagious tuberculosis boarded an aircraft from Europe to Montreal. He rented a car in Canada and drove back to his home in the United States. In the final step of his journey to the U.S., this individual used ground transportation to cross the Canada-U.S. border.

This case highlights several reasons why Bill C-42, as amended, must be supported and why this act is so critical to the health of Canadians and others, those in the United States as well. Although we hope people will self-report communicable diseases, it is clear that we cannot rely on this. We must have measures firmly in place.

While studying this bill in committee and upon debating whether or not land conveyances should be listed in section 34--as it was proposed by the government to delete them--one witness remarked that the exemption of land conveyances was justified as the risk of disease spreading from Canada's only land crossing to the U.S. was minimal. With the new information resulting from this recent TB case, we are now aware of the reality. There is enough of a risk between Canada and the U.S. to have firm, clear measures in place. We cannot take the chance with Canadians' health.

This recent incident of travel from Canada to the United States by land is a clear example reflecting how important this act is. If one individual can go from Canada to the U.S. with a communicable disease, then in fact there is a threat of disease spreading by land both ways. Again, it only takes one such person or incident to put people in both nations at risk.

As we have seen with the case of TB, sometimes that one person will not be willing or cooperative enough to self-report. Therefore, we must have mechanisms in place to prevent the spread of disease, and we need the strongest legislation possible.

Even more telling of the urgency to make sure that the Quarantine Act errs on the side of caution and covers all modes of transportation is that in Canada alone 266,000 travellers a day are coming in through 119 border crossing stations and international airports. The sheer quantity of travel activity is impossible to contain completely, and we all know that when we are dealing with such high volumes on a daily basis nothing can be guaranteed.

That being said, we must do everything possible to avert this type of catastrophe. This was one of the reasons why I, along with others, strongly advocated for land conveyances to be listed and included, as we had it originally, in addition to air and water travel. Given the daily activity of entry into Canada, we should have as many mechanisms in place within our control as possible, not fewer but more. When it comes to the public health of Canadians, it simply would be irresponsible on our part to settle for anything less.

The TB case also disproves another testimony that was presented by a witness at the health committee on the issue of self-reporting. The witness placed particular emphasis on individuals' ability to self-report, saying that we could rely on that, negating any need for land conveyances to be listed in the proposed section. As we have seen, we cannot merely count on individuals to self-disclose, rely entirely on the goodwill of people and put all Canadians' health in their hands alone. As we have seen, we cannot afford to take this route. It is far too risky. We must never leave the health and safety of Canadians to chance. Prevention is paramount.

Bill C-42, as amended, provides more protection for Canadians and allows us to better manage public health threats. Canadians look to their government for protection. They expect us to be ready to deal with health risks and they look to us to look out for their interests.

When Bill C-42 was first introduced in the House, I was surprised that it proposed that land conveyances be removed from section 34. I was very concerned that we had forgotten the steep price that we had to pay as a result of the SARS epidemic only a few years ago, in both human lives and economic fallout. I had constituents whose lives were tragically affected by the SARS crisis. The impacts were devastating.

Where possible, I stressed at the committee my views about strengthening the act, not diluting it. Accurate and timely information is a key element to the successful management of health issues and risks. We learned our lesson from SARS. We do not want to have to learn it again. We established the Public Health Agency of Canada. We appointed Canada's first Chief Public Health Officer to coordinate efforts in managing public health concerns.

We can never afford to be complacent when it comes to the safety of Canadians. It cannot be emphasized enough that Canada is not immune to outbreaks of disease and infection. Germs and communicable diseases do not respect borders.

I spoke vigorously, along with other members of committee, at those hearings to put land conveyances back in the legislation because the extra layer of protection that it adds for Canadians is essential to providing comprehensive coverage. It is illogical to list two modes of cross-border transportation while leaving out the third. I believe that when it comes to the safety of Canadians they would agree that this is in their best interests. The more mechanisms we have in place to deal with health risks in this day and age, the better chance we have to protect them.

This additional protection also serves to provide Canadians more assurances that the federal government is covering all the bases. The SARS outbreak caused a sense of panic in Canadians that I hope we will never know again. I want Canadians to have faith that their federal government is doing everything in its power to strengthen public health care safety, because panic and fear can spread even faster than a virus. We must be responsible leaders in doing our utmost to protect Canadians. I support Bill C-42 in realizing that central objective.

Of course, it is impossible to guarantee complete prevention. We do not live in isolation. The world has become smaller and travel has skyrocketed. Globalization and multinational and transnational corporations have made intercontinental travel seamless and a commonplace form of everyday business.

While little in this world, with the multitude of countries, can be 100% foolproof, it is our absolute responsibility to make sure that all parts of our quarantine provisions are tight and coordinated. Canadians need to know that, no matter what, as a federal government we have maximized our ability to protect our citizens. First and foremost, the federal government is accountable to Canadians.

We want to assure Canadians that we are doing our very best to minimize their risk and safeguard their health and well-being. I support Bill C-42 as amended. I believe that it seeks to accomplish this goal.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2007 / 3:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier I asked a question about Bill C-42. The copy of the bill that is being distributed by the pages is actually the first reading bill that was passed at second reading and moved to committee.

Maybe the member can confirm that the bill was not reprinted as a consequence of amendments made at committee and that the amendment made at committee was, I believe, amending line 8 on page 1 with “a conveyance that is used”. Is it the member's recollection from committee that the amendment made to include trucks and rail was to just refer to “a conveyance” rather than to “air and watercraft”?

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2007 / 3:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of Bill C-42.

Through the cooperation of all members on the health committee, we have together managed to amend and reach consensus on the bill and have done so in a timely fashion. I commend the committee chair, the parliamentary secretary and all the members of the committee for their efforts in this regard.

As has been mentioned, we amended the bill in committee and our amendments will bring section 34 of the Quarantine Act into force. Section 34 deals with reporting requirements of those persons entering Canada who have knowledge or suspicion that they or their passengers or cargo are carrying communicable diseases that could pose a health risk to Canadians. It imposes similar reporting requirements on those leaving Canada as well.

When the first Quarantine Act was passed in 2005, section 34 was not brought into force pending the development of appropriate regulations to deal effectively and efficiently with the act's reporting requirements.

Bill C-42 addresses these regulatory needs. It does so primarily by requiring those subject to the reporting requirements of section 34 to make their reports as soon as possible before arriving in Canada and that their reports be given directly or indirectly to a quarantine officer.

It is interesting to note that Bill C-42 as originally introduced by the government presented an odd dichotomy. On the one hand certain provisions of the bill constituted a slight strengthening of the reporting requirements, yet at the same time, the original bill sought to exclude those who enter Canada by land from any reporting requirements whatsoever.

Given that the majority of passengers and cargo entering Canada come across land via the United States, the net effect of Bill C-42 as originally tabled was to reduce the safety of Canadians. We would have been at heightened risk of exposure to communicable diseases when the entire purpose of the Quarantine Act is to protect Canadians from such risks.

Why would the government propose a regulatory change that threatened the safety of Canadians? It turns out that it is the same reason that the government has decided to harmonize the allowable limits on residual pesticide levels on our foods with the limits of the United States and Mexico.

Big business considers regulatory differences between Canada and the less restrictive American regime to be a trade irritant. In other words, our health might be jeopardized because our current health standards are impinging upon the seamless operations of transnational corporations.

In the case of pesticide residue on our food, we have been assured by the Minister of Health that Canada's new harmonized limits will be based on science and therefore ensure the safety of Canadians. However, one is left wondering what our current limits are based on if not on science.

The minister also assures us that Canada has and will maintain the highest standard of safety for pesticides and other toxins. However, Canada's current standards only seem appropriate when compared to the United States where 40% of regulated pesticide limits are higher than ours.

America's standards are set by the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency that was reorganized by the Bush administration and which has since been condemned by scientists within the United States for its “inappropriately cozy relationship with industry”.

A quick glance at Europe reveals a different view of Canada's standards. For example, our current limit on permethrin is 400 times higher than in Europe, and the Canadian cap on methoxyclor is 1,400 times higher. Canada's current pesticide limits are “middle of the pack” at best and now are about to be compromised further.

As Bill C-42 also demonstrates, if left unchecked, those interested in business deregulation can expose Canadians to health risks in their zeal for business fluidity.

What is the impetus behind these kinds of regulatory changes? It is an industry initiative called smart regulation, in which Mexican and Canadian regulatory regimes are being harmonized with those of the United States. What is rarely mentioned is that this effort is being organized through the security and prosperity partnership.

This international agreement was initiated in 2005 by the Governments of Canada, the United States and Mexico. It was the brainchild of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and its American counterpart, which want deep integration of the Canadian and American economies, military and culture.

This would include uniform regulatory regimes for a wide array of products and services, including food, drugs and environmental protection. It would include increased interoperability between the Canadian and American military. It would include a continental energy pact, whereby Canada would guarantee America's access to our energy resources and force Canadians to compete with Americans for our own electricity as we do now for our oil and gas.

It would include a North American security perimeter that could erode the civil liberties of our citizens. It would include common immigration and environmental policies and a host of other policies that together would dramatically undermine the sovereignty and autonomy of Canada and its citizens.

The participants in the security and prosperity partnership are well aware that this agenda would lack broad public support and have therefore committed themselves to what they call “integration by stealth”. The SPP is not a signed treaty and has never been brought before the legislatures of the three nations for discussion or for committee oversight. Its implementation is being coordinated not by parliaments, not by a broad spectrum of social groups, but by the North American Competitiveness Council, a working group of 30 corporate CEOs, 10 from Mexico, 10 from Canada, and 10 from the U.S.

This group meets regularly behind closed doors with senior government officials and ministers. One of its key objectives is business deregulation and harmonization, yet no other stakeholders have been given a seat at the table and the meeting minutes are not made public. Even more disturbing is that two out of the 10 representatives of Canada are actually American citizens.

The entire security and prosperity partnership is so profoundly undemocratic that 14 U.S. states to date have passed resolutions demanding that the U.S. Congress act to cease America's involvement. The impending changes to Canada's pesticide residue levels are just one small element in an ongoing effort to harmonize Canadian and American regulations in the interests of powerful businesses.

The Canadian government needs to replace corporate control over this partnership with a democratic process that involves parliamentary oversight and public input. It needs to ensure that efforts to reshape our nation are fully transparent and in the interests of all Canadians, not just an economically powerful few.

Fortunately for us, in the case of Bill C-42 the regulatory changes being sought required an amendment to legislation. This brought the changes to the attention of parliamentarians, and in committee we were able to reinstate the reporting requirements for those entering Canada by land.

However, one has to wonder, given the broad scope of the security and prosperity partnership, and given the speed at which its various working groups are proceeding, how many potentially harmful regulatory changes have already been made that might have escaped parliamentary oversight and input from Canadian stakeholders?

As noted at the outset, I am pleased that all members of the health committee worked quickly and cooperatively to reverse the potentially harmful nature of this bill as originally tabled. The resulting legislation will ensure that the health of Canadians is given priority over commercial interests and, as such, I am happy to support it.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2007 / 3:20 p.m.
See context

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I was only a couple of minutes into my speech before members' statements and oral questions, and I was just getting to the good part of it too. As I was saying, under the leadership of the Minister of Health, the government decided to put forward two amendments to Bill C-42. One requires advance notification by land conveyance operators. The other addresses potential confusion with respect to the availability of a due diligence defence for all operators. These amendments reflect the commitment of the minister and this government to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

The first amendment would revert to the original definition of conveyance operator as found in the Quarantine Act. This means that all conveyance operators in the business of transporting cargo and passengers, including buses, trucks and trains, would need to alert a quarantine officer in advance of their arrival in Canada should they suspect a person or thing on board could cause the spread of a listed communicable disease, or if a person has died.

Land conveyance operators, like air and marine, would only be required to inform a quarantine officer of a public health problem on board as specified in section 34. They would not have to perform health assessments.

This advance notice is critically important as it permits an appropriate response to health emergencies on board conveyances and permits the minister to divert conveyances before arrival, if required, to protect the health of Canadians. This would be over and above what the international health regulations require for advance notification, as member states need only to impose this obligation on air and marine conveyances.

As a signatory to the international health regulations, Canada fully intends to meet its international obligations under the instrument. In addition, Canada is prepared to go a step further. The obligations for land conveyance operators will be the exact same as those for air and marine conveyance operators engaged in the business of carrying passengers or cargo.

For conveyances travelling to Canada, conveyance operators will be required to notify a quarantine officer in accordance with the requirements in section 34, even before they arrive in Canada. The obligation to provide this advance notification continues until the conveyance “lands”, so to speak, at its first destination in Canada. For air and marine conveyances, this will be the first airport or port at which the conveyance touches down or docks.

We will also work to make it relatively easy for industry to meet its obligations under section 34.

To implement this requirement in a simple fashion, the quarantine program will develop an information bulletin that will explain what to look for in terms of symptoms, and provide a 1-800 number to call to reach a quarantine officer 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As well, an awareness campaign will be undertaken to inform land conveyance operators of the requirements in Bill C-42. Taken together, the use of a 1-800 number and the awareness campaign will make notification as simple as possible for conveyance operators.

Further, by having early warning of communicable disease threats approaching our borders, we may be able to ease the flow of cross-border traffic. Traffic flow could be eased, as early warning would allow authorities to direct travellers who are suspected of having a listed communicable disease to areas where they could be looked at quickly, while other border traffic continues unimpeded.

This amendment therefore strikes a balance between protecting Canadians from the threat of dangerous communicable diseases, and facilitating the movement of persons and goods across our international borders.

We are also proposing a second amendment to Bill C-42 to clarify that the common law defence of due diligence applies to all conveyance operators. This common law defence was always intended to be preserved in the Quarantine Act.

When we examined the language of subsection 34(4) in Bill C-42, we realized that our intention to preserve the due diligence defence was not entirely clear. Under the charter an accused person has the right to invoke such a defence if facing the possible penalty of imprisonment.

For an offence under section 34, conveyance operators could face up to six months in jail as a potential penalty. Clarifying that all conveyance operators have access to the common law due diligence defence will ensure that the charter rights of those who have made all reasonable efforts to comply with the law are protected.

It is important that we make sure that conveyance operators who make all reasonable efforts to comply with the advance notification requirements know that the defence normally associated with such efforts remains available to them.

Consequently, the second amendment will ensure it is clear that a reasonable effort defence remains available to all conveyance operators that make all reasonable efforts to comply with the requirements in section 34.

We are constantly striving to give Canada the best public health system in order to protect the health and safety of all Canadians.

Through these amendments, Canada will have the most complete advance notification requirements in the world for quarantine purposes.

I feel very strongly that a comprehensive set of legislative tools needs to be available with the intent to protect the health of Canadians so as to avoid the human tragedy and economic and social disruption that would inevitably accompany another event such as SARS.

Consequently, I am seeking hon. members' support to provide Canadians with a greater standard of protection from the threat of dangerous communicable diseases spread via land conveyances. I am therefore asking today for members' support for Bill C-42, as reported from the Standing Committee on Health.

I want to congratulate the Standing Committee on Health for its hard work with respect to Bill C-42. The committee's work on Bill C-42 is a fine example of what parliamentarians can accomplish through the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect for one another's opinions and points of view.

I call upon my hon. colleagues in this House to support the amendments and ask for their cooperation in securing speedy passage of the bill.

Again, it was a great pleasure working with the Standing Committee on Health on this important bill. It was a pleasure to have worked hand in hand with members from across the country from coast to coast to coast, and from each party to ensure that these amendments were brought forward and ensure successful passage of the bill.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act, be read the third time and passed.