House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was edc.

Topics

Hepatitis C
Private Members' Business

4:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Motion No. 303 and I thank my colleague for bringing it forward. I also wish to salute the hard work of the Hepatitis C Society of Canada and the Canadian Hemophilia Society in recommending the motion. They have done a lot of work to promote awareness of this disease and to support the victims of hepatitis C.

We all need to understand a little more about the disease and the problems that are caused because of it. I understand there was a conference in Montreal on hepatitis C this past spring with 72 speakers and 900 participants. That is a great example of federal-provincial co-operation coming together to bring awareness to this issue. I would like to congratulate the organizers of that conference and both levels of government for bringing together a conference to address the plight of those who are victimized by hepatitis C.

I remind the House of the individual who was in the gallery here last spring, Joey Haché. Joey, as a young boy of 12 or 14 years of age, was victimized by hepatitis C between the compensation years of 1986 to 1990. He was asking for compensation that was due to him after a three year plight of trying to get compensation. He brought awareness to his plight when he was here and before he got home that day there was a phone call that his settlement had come through. It is absolutely amazing that a government would work so slowly in this case.

There are many facts that need to be known about hepatitis C. We have talked about it many times in the House over the years. I will dismiss with going through some of the actual problems of hepatitis C because I think we all understand it needs further attention. The idea of an awareness month is something that would help in that vein.

We must help those who are living with this terrible disease on a daily basis and we must do whatever we can to prevent any further spread of it. It is worthwhile noting that hepatitis C is much easier to contract than HIV and that some of the strategies used to prevent HIV are not helping to reduce the rates of hepatitis C.

It is something that has been brought up in the health committee, which I vice chair. As deputy health critic I am concerned with prevention in this area, with the idea that we should do whatever we can to keep our blood in this country as safe as possible. The safety of our blood system is being challenged as we speak. We learned a lesson with what happened with hepatitis C and we dare not ignore it.

The idea of an awareness month is very important. The way the Liberal government dealt with hepatitis C and tainted blood has left a shameful legacy. The tainted blood scandal was a dark chapter in the nation's recent history. Thousands of victims contracted hepatitis C out of no fault of their own when they were most in need. They contracted this disease from a blood system that they were depending upon when they were ill and needed blood transfusions.

I have a problem with that situation because not only were they let down in their time of most desperate need, but when compensation finally came it was restricted to a four year period between 1986 and 1990. Many Canadians contracted hepatitis C through the blood system outside that four year period. Thousands of victims were let down by the federal government. Many who did qualify, like Joey Haché, had to wait years before they were compensated. That is a terrible legacy for the government.

Thankfully there were some bright spots. Some of the provincial governments rose to the occasion, such as Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. Again, there was co-operation among levels of government. They said they would compensate regardless and they had their own compensation programs. They are to be commended. However, many victims still continue to wait for justice.

The Canadian hepatitis C health consortium filed a class action complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against the federal government and eight provinces. It claimed that victims infected with hepatitis C through tainted blood were treated differently from those with HIV-AIDS.

According to Vicky Boddy, the group's president, HIV-AIDS victims were receiving close to a quarter of a million dollars in compensation. Their drugs were covered and they could access disability insurance under the Canada pension plan, whereas victims of hepatitis C got very little compensation, if at all, and were denied drug coverage and disability pensions.

Boddy contracted hepatitis C through tainted blood when she received multiple transfusions in 1994. She says that everyone should be treated the same. There should not be a distinction when it comes to hepatitis C and HIV-AIDS. Both diseases are killers. She says that their stories are just as horrifying as the stories we hear from people with HIV-AIDS. The disease has changed many aspects of her life as she used to know it.

She noted that thousands of Canadians were dying from hepatitis C every year. The government still has an opportunity to partially right some of the wrongs it inflicted on some of those outside that four year period from 1986 to 1990.

It was brought out in the health committee that there is still a surplus of some $900 million in the federal-provincial compensation fund that was set aside to deal with this issue. The money was to be used to help those excluded from the plan. According to Mike McCarthy, a policy adviser to the Ontario health ministry:

The numbers reflect that they grossly overstated the numbers of victims that would qualify from 1986 to 1990 in the package and grossly overpredicted the number of people who were excluded.

What a gesture it would be if the federal government used the occasion of this motion to compensate all hepatitis C victims who were infected through tainted blood outside the four year period.

I reiterate my support for the motion. This gesture however will be tainted if it is not accompanied by actual deeds. Unless the government acts hon. members can be sure that we will use the opportunity of hepatitis awareness month each and every May because we are prepared to bring awareness to this issue every year.

I look forward to next spring if the motion is not agreed to. I will bring it forward each and every year and as long as it takes until the Liberal government gets on its knees and apologizes for the way it has treated hepatitis C victims who contracted the disease outside the four year period between 1986 and 1990. I appreciate the idea of having an awareness month. Justice needs to be served and we need to have the political will to make sure it happens.

Hepatitis C
Private Members' Business

5 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate our colleague who brought forward this motion. I would remind the House that we have debated this idea of an awareness month, which would be the month of May, on several occasions. If memory serves me well, last May the New Democratic Party proposed a motion to that effect.

I wish members of the government majority would have been just as enthusiastic about that motion. I wish they would have been just as enthusiastic when we studied the Krever report.

Members will recall that, after three years of inquiry, the first recommendation made by the Krever commission, which had the status of a royal commission, was that all hepatitis C victims would receive compensation regardless of when they contracted the disease.

We know the government agreed to compensate those hepatitis C victims who became contaminated through blood transfusions, but only between 1986 and 1990. Thousands of Canadians were ignored, particularly those who contracted the disease before 1986 or after 1990.

It is rather shameful that, despite a royal commission, despite representations made by several groups, despite the support of all opposition parties in this House and despite the fact that three provinces, namely Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, have put in place their own compensation schemes, the federal government has not yet followed up on the recommendation contained in the Krever report.

Is that not the role of the government? The government said that it did not have access to the kind of testing that would have enabled it to detect the presence of the virus. However when such a tragedy hits someone--and we know there are different levels of hepatitis C--and it is the result of a blood transfusion, which is a public responsibility, is it not the role of the government to compensate these people and to help them get through such ordeal?

The fact is that hepatitis C is affecting increasing numbers of people. Each year, year in and year out, between 8,000 and 10,000 people acquire hepatitis C, but only 25% to 30% of them are aware of it. These people could be made a bit more aware of precautions to be taken. They might be provided with health care and be able to eventually come to grips with this new reality in their lives.

When we say that only 25% to 30% of people are aware they are hepatitis C carriers, this means that 70% are not. With this disease, there must be a clear differentiation between those who are symptomatic and asymptomatic, those who are contagious and those who are not. That is why the whole matter of prevention and awareness is so important.

Most certainly, there is not much funding available. Reference has been made to $15 million for the five components of Canada's hepatitis C policy. Fifteen million is most certainly very little, considering the significance of the disease.

True, this is a relatively recent phenomenon. Hepatitis A has been known about for some years, and hepatitis B for several decades, but it was only in the early 1970s that we were able to understand the entire symptomology of hepatitis C, to understand its origins and to have a clearer medical and clinical picture of this medical reality.

Once again, we are in agreement with the principle of having an awareness month.

We want this awareness to involve all the partners, including the Government of Canada, because it has a responsibility in epidemioliogy and in certain research programs, the provinces, naturally, because they are the primary health care providers, and we must not forget, the various community groups.

In each of our communities, there are groups comprised of volunteers, people who assume responsibilities on boards or who, by providing volunteer support to others who are infected, can provide real comfort.

So a real battle, real hepatitis C awareness, involves a partnership between the governments, federal and provincial, and the various community groups and public bodies, such as CLSCs, hospitals and all care providers.

We will therefore vigorously support this motion. I hope that next May we will have a real public awareness campaign. I also hope that, in the short term, the government will really follow up on the Krever commission and that it will act on its first recommendation and ensure that those who need financial support, or drugs, may find comfort in the federal government, which has the means of its policies and that, as the first recommendation of the Krever report proposes, we may have a compensation plan without regard to chronology.

Hepatitis C
Private Members' Business

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for St. Paul's for bringing forward this valuable motion to the House to further debate the concerns of victims of hepatitis C.

I want to correct a misconception from the previous two speakers. Canada already has a hepatitis awareness month, which is the month of May. I am pleased to say that I had a private member's bill which was drawn and debated in the last parliament. We tried to make it votable but unfortunately the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of health said no. However the minister, who has his own concern, announced at the hepatitis conference in Montreal that from that day forward the month of May would be known as hepatitis awareness month.

Even though the motion deals just with hepatitis C, those who follow the concerns of hepatitis know that there are seven different strains which have infected close to 740,000 Canadians from coast to coast to coast, with hepatitis C infecting over 300,000 Canadians.

I know the hon. member for St. Paul's has done a lot of work on behalf of people afflicted with hepatitis C. She should be congratulated by all members of parliament on both sides of the House for her continuous effort in this field

To reiterate, the month of May already recognizes the seven strains of hepatitis. The member for Yellowhead said he would like to bring forward recognition and awareness of hepatitis year in and year out. I encourage him to do so in his householders, mail outs, in his town hall meetings in his riding or for that matter throughout the country.

I know three individuals who have worked closely on the hepatitis file. They are Joey Haché and his family from Ottawa and two people from my riding specifically, Mr. Neil Van Dusen and Mr. Bruce Devenne. All three have hepatitis C. All three fought hard, not just for themselves but for all Canadians afflicted with hepatitis C, for some sort of financial assistance from the government. However the minister made a decision to make the window between 1986 and 1990. Unfortunately, anyone who contracted hepatitis C outside that window was not entitled to any kind of compensation or assistance in that regard.

I do thank the provinces involved for picking up some of the slack, but unfortunately people who have a disease of that nature are unable to work. While that kind of funding was welcomed, it was not enough to assist them. Canadians, and especially the Minister of Health and the government in charge, need to promote health wellness wherever we can.

The contraction of hepatitis C over the years has not just been through operations in hospitals and blood transfusions. It also comes from needles and other interactions that Canadians involve themselves in on a daily basis. We need to bring awareness to unsuspecting Canadians who may involve themselves in activities of that nature. We need to make them aware that whatever decisions they make may have dire consequences on their long term health or some may even die as a consequence.

I am not just talking about HIV-AIDS, which transmitted sexually or through needles. I am also talking about hepatitis which is very serious and contagious disease that can be contracted through various forms. One of those ways is through needles.

I encourage all Canadians who are listening to tell everyone, including their municipalities and health boards that more awareness of this very serious disease would go a long way toward the education of Canadians. Thus hopefully we can eradicate the disease from not only the face of the country but from the planet as well.

The New Democratic Party definitely supports the motion. Again, I thank the member for St. Paul's for bringing the issue to the floor of the House of Commons.

Hepatitis C
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate. I recall the debate and the problem about compensation for victims of hepatitis. The tone was slightly different, and we had a much more heated debate. Let us not forget what happened.

A number of my colleagues have raised the matter of compensation. Unfortunately, there are still problems. People have yet to receive all of the money they are entitled to under the agreement. Some have found themselves outside the terms announced by the federal government so that they could not benefit from the terms of the agreement.

As my colleagues have said, the motion before us concerns hepatitis C, a new disease. It was identified in 1989, that is only 12 years ago.

It is not the first time either that there is talk of making May a month for hepatitis C awareness. As my colleague in the New Democratic Party said, a bill was tabled in the House in this respect, but unfortunately it was not declared votable.

In response to a question, the Minister of Health announced that May would be hepatitis awareness month in Canada but this does not detract from the quality of the motion put forward today, far from it.

On May 17, the Minister of Health said, and I quote:

Mr. Speaker, Health Canada has designated the month of May as Hepatitis Awareness Month in Canada. I thank colleagues in the House for encouraging that step to be taken.

I do not recall that we supported him on this issue, not that we would have had any problem doing so.

Employees from my office did some research on the department's website. I do not know whether they were going at it the wrong way but they found no press release confirming this. They have searched Health Canada's website and found absolutely nothing.

It is therefore a bit strange that, twice now, members of the House have taken steps to designate a hepatitis awareness month in Canada, specifically for hepatitis C as this evening's motion suggests, that the minister has taken a decision, and that the New Democratic Party member says that this month has already been designated, when we can find nothing on the Health Canada website.

It appears that everyone agrees with the motion. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I would suggest that you seek the consent of the House to make this motion votable.

I repeat that the motion put forward this evening has unanimous approval. With the fine speeches we have heard, with the support of the government members and of opposition members, unanimous consent can be sought, because everyone is in agreement. I believe that with unanimous consent we could vote on the motion put forward this evening and officially give our support to the Minister of Health.

In closing, we greatly appreciate the member's work and I once again seek unanimous consent so that the House can officially vote on the motion.

Hepatitis C
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent?

Hepatitis C
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Hepatitis C
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Hepatitis C
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Madawaska—Restigouche
New Brunswick

Liberal

Jeannot Castonguay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to talk about an important subject that concerns all Canadians. I am talking about hepatitis C. I want to congratulate the member for St. Paul's for her dedication to this cause and for her efforts to have the month of May recognized as hepatitis C awareness month.

I know the member has worked tirelessly to defend this cause and I am glad she decided to raise the issue in the House.

Earlier this year, a motion to make the month of May hepatitis awareness month was debated in the House. The motion before us today is very much in line with the previous motion.

I will use the rest of my time to talk about hepatitis C and the initiatives taken by Health Canada to deal with this most important public health concern.

Hepatitis C is a virus that can be transmitted by blood. It infects the liver and can cause serious damage. A test to detect hepatitis C was developed in 1989 and was introduced in Canada when it became commercially available in June 1990. Before that, in cases of hepatitis of an unknown type, it was referred to as non-A, non-B hepatitis.

Among the groups most at risk of contracting hepatitis C are those who received blood transfusions before screening for the virus began in 1990, persons exposed to contaminated needles, and health care staff who suffer needlestick accidents with contaminated needles.

It is believed that the risk of transmission to newborns or transmission via sexual contact with an infected person is low.

In approximately 10% of cases, the source of infection is unknown or undisclosed. According to estimates, up to 8% of Canadians--somewhere between 210,000 and 275,000 people--carry the hepatitis C virus.

While some people may experience symptoms such as fatigue or jaundice, many others present no symptoms at the beginning of infection. The hepatitis C virus progresses slowly within the body. Symptoms may take up to 20 or even 30 years to manifest themselves after the initial infection.

In 1998 the federal government, more specifically Health Canada, allocated $50 million over five years to design a prevention, support and research program to assist Canadians with hepatitis C.

In addition, over the next 20 years the government will transfer $300 million to provincial and territorial governments in order to provide the medical care that people with hepatitis C require. This financial assistance guarantees that no Canadians, regardless of where they live, will be forced to pay for needed care and treatment, particularly services and treatment such as new drug therapies and home care nursing.

One of the main objectives of the prevention, support and research program is to educate Canadians and raise awareness about hepatitis C.

Consultations with key stakeholders revealed that the greatest challenge for an awareness campaign would be to inform and educate target groups without frightening them. It is of the utmost importance that messages not create false perceptions regarding the virus, and that they not contribute to stigmatizing those persons who are infected with or affected by the virus.

Among the general public, increased awareness of hepatitis C will help create an environment that is supportive of people infected with or affected by this disease.

For persons who are unaware that they are infected, early diagnosis offers the possibility of adapting their lifestyle to slow the progression of the disease. As well, there are promising developments in treatment options.

The hepatitis C program includes care and treatment support. This component is aimed at raising hepatitis C awareness by making the public better informed about the disease and the risk factors associated with it. During its first two years of existence, the program was aimed mainly at increasing capabilities and developing tools for professionals and other care givers as well as community support groups by providing medical and practical information on hepatitis C.

Prevention and community support are also part of the hepatitis C prevention, support and research program. Community support includes programs aimed at supporting both a strong community response to the needs of people with or living with hepatitis C, and a significant role for community organizations in the program .

Over the past year and a half, Health Canada has financed about 120 community initiatives at the local level, including peer support, hepatitis C education, needs assessments, training and strengthening of community capabilities.

Among the current hepatitis C national initiatives, there is the establishment at the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse of a database on hepatitis C and injectable drugs; the preparation of a series of working and research papers on topics such as injectable drug use and prevention of hepatitis C.

The research component of the program has increased the amount of available research results, bolstered the research community capabilities, and added a wealth of information to the data used to make decisions regarding hepatitis C policies and programs.

This component has financed 27 research projects and 11 research and salary awards through the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, and has contributed to the financing of a research chair on liver disease at the University of Manitoba Health Sciences Centre Foundation.

Several projects have been financed including HCV-HIV co-infection assessments, the establishment of social networks for injectable drug users as well as a review of the literature on animal models.

In co-operation with the blood borne pathogens division of Health Canada, the research on hepatitis C component has financed better monitoring sites, control of VHC, studies on the economic burden of VHC, and on its prevalence in first nation people and Inuit in four communities.

In partnership with the bureau of HIV/AIDS, STD and TB, the program has financed research on VHC and the young aboriginals on the street.

Finally, the research component has contributed to the creation of the Canadian network on viral hepatitis.

The implementation of the hepatitis C prevention, support and research program is a constant reminder that the Government of Canada is looking after problems such as those raised in the hon. member's motion.

For example, Health Canada supported the proclamation by the Canadian Liver Foundation of the month of March as the Help Fight Liver Disease Month. The hepatitis C virus can cause serious liver diseases.

Health Canada has been one of the main proponents of the first Canadian conference on hepatitis C, held in Montreal in May 2001. This event has been a convergence point for researchers on hepatitis C, caregivers for those affected by hepatitis C and people infected by the virus or affected by the disease.

This instructive conference was an opportunity to present research results, to share ideas, and to update one's knowledge. The Canadian Hemophilia Society, the Hepatitis C Society of Canada, the Canadian Liver Foundation and other not for profit organizations have co-operated with Health Canada so that this conference would be beneficial for all Canadians.

Hepatitis C
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired.

As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

Hepatitis C
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The House is suspended until 5.30 p.m.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 5.28 p.m.)

The House resumed at 5.30 p.m.

The House resumed from October 25 consideration of the motion that Bill C-32, an act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of the Republic of Costa Rica, be read the third time and passed.

Canada-Costa Rica Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

October 30th, 2001 / 5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 5.30 p.m. the House will proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion for third reading of Bill C-32.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Canada-Costa Rica Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from October 29 consideration of the motion.