House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was iraq.

Topics

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

4 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I wish to inform the House that, because of the ministerial statement, government orders will be extended by 23 minutes.

The House resumed from January 27 consideration of Bill C-13, an act respecting assisted human reproduction, as reported (with amendments) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 4.

Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise again on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to complete my remarks on Bill C-13 on assisted human reproductive technologies and related research.

We oppose the bill unless it is amended. Before I continue my remarks I will summarize what I said yesterday.

The Canadian Alliance minority report recommended that the final legislation clearly recognize the human embryo as human life and that the statutory declaration include the phrase “respect for human life”. All human beings possess the fundamental human rights of life and freedom. I also said that it is in the best interest of every child to know who his or her parents are. No sperm or egg donors should be anonymous.

AHRs, assisted human reproduction clinics, would have to be licensed and tightly regulated. All regulations must be laid before Parliament and automatically referred to the health committee.

I also stated that I strongly support and encourage health sciences research and development, and research on adult stem cells. Thus, we are calling for more funding of adult stem cell research. I support provisions against human and therapeutic cloning, animal-human hybrids, sex selection, gene line alteration, buying or selling of embryos, and paid surrogacy.

Commercial surrogacy would be banned but the expenses of surrogate mothers could be repaid. Thus, surrogate mothers could result in effective commercial surrogacy. That is why we oppose Motion No. 52.

The health minister wants to undo the amendments made at committee which would make counselling for surrogacy mandatory and which were supported by the Canadian Alliance. It waters down the intent of members of the health committee that such counselling be required, ideally by a third party and not by a fertility clinic.

Becoming a surrogate is a very serious matter to the extent that the health committee saw fit to amend the bill to prohibit surrogacy for women under age 21. Surrogacy can have profound effects on relationships between husband and wife, within families, between surrogate and adopting parents, and most important, on the surrogate children themselves. Therefore counselling should be mandatory. I wonder why the health minister is not explaining or defending her amendment.

We also oppose Motion No. 72. The minister again wants to undo the committee amendment requiring board members of AHR agencies to come under conflict of interest rules. Board members should not have commercial interests in the field of AHR or related research, for example, fertility clinics, biotech companies, et cetera.

Imagine an employee or investor in a biotech company with a financial interest in embryonic stem cell research making decisions for Canadians on the regulation of such research, including the definition of the word “necessary” as specified in clause 40. Or imagine a director of a fertility clinic making regulations on the limits of sperm and egg donations or the number of embryos produced for IVF treatments. Such conflicts of interest need to be prevented in the legislation. The minister needs to explain and defend these amendments.

In a nutshell, we oppose the bill. On the particular motions I mentioned, I indicated whether we support or oppose them. I would like to make clear that I support stem cell research but we would like to put a moratorium on embryonic research for a period of three years.

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4:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise in the House of Commons in the new year on behalf of the constituents of Calgary East. I am very happy to speak to Bill C-13, an act respecting assisted human reproductive technologies and related research.

As we all know, at the beginning of the year the Clonaid company said that it had cloned a human being, the first cloned baby. This sent shock waves around the world. All religious leaders and people who want dignity given to human life were shocked and stunned by the news. I was stunned also. I hope we do not go along with that research.

The bill is an attempt to not go toward the route of cloning, but the route of research, the route of human reproduction technology. There are a lot of consequences for this research.

We tried to draft this in a bill in committee. A committee researched the issue and presented its report. The report indicated that we needed to address the issue and bring in rules and regulations and try to stop the free-for-all research which has the potential of going in the direction that society in general does not want to go and respect the basic principle of human life.

The government presented Bill C-13 to try and address the issue. While the intent is there to have some control and some rules and regulations, some sort of ethical behaviour and ethical dimensions to this point, nevertheless like anything else the government does, it is job that has only been half done. The bill tries to do everything and in the process, it ends up doing nothing. That is the essence of why the Canadian Alliance opposes Bill C-13.

My colleague has presented many amendments. We hope that these amendments will be accepted and will make the bill stronger. Then we can address all the issues and ensure that there are no loopholes or cracks in the system. This is a subject that is creating a tremendous amount of debate among Canadians.

In Motion No. 72 the government has created an agency that will be given the mandate to create some ethical guidelines as well as rules for doing research on stem cells, whether they are embryonic or adult stem cells.

The problem as usual is there seems to be a lack of commitment by the government. It is somehow afraid to take a tough stand. There are no conflict of interest guidelines. The minister has the power to appoint anyone to the board.

If the minister appoints a person who falls under the conflict of interest rules, what stops that person from having a conflict, such as working for a biotech company? Of course, the minister will say that it is not possible and they are going to do due diligence. But again what is the problem? Why can it not be put in the bill to make it transparent that a person who has a conflict of interest will not be appointed to the board? That is clear, plain and simple. Yet that is missing, and it gives the authority to the minister.

Canadians know very well the record of the government on transparency. They know about the boondoggle in the gun registry.

This afternoon the government introduced the bill on political party financing. In the dying days of his regime, the Prime Minister is now bringing in this legislation. He wants to leave a legacy but he has opened up to the fact that his Kyoto legacy is going off on a tangent and his African legacy is having severe problems. He wants to create that as a legacy, despite opposition from his own members. He is talking about bringing in transparency, but the government's record on transparency has left Canadians shaking their heads. With this bill, it is again showing up here.

It is amazing how the government is so afraid to step into the area where people are held more accountable. I do not know what the government is afraid of. The Prime Minister will not give accountability even to his backbenchers. Look at the vote we had on choosing the committee chairmen. The Prime Minister is the one who had problems with that.

The government's record on transparency and allowing openness is on the record and Canadians will not buy into it. The same thing is happening on the subject of stem cell research, which is a subject of the future. The potential for research and for finding cures for many of what ails the human race through stem cells is tremendous. There is a desire to see that this research carries on, but in a manner that is acceptable to the Canadian people. We do not want to go down the road of what we heard when that company came out of nowhere and said it had cloned a human being.

It is critically important as we debate this bill that we in the official opposition point out what we think are the flaws of this bill. Therefore, it is difficult for us support the bill.

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Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this bill.

Right off the bat, I would like to commend one person and a group. I want to commend the Alliance Party critic, the member for Yellowhead, for the outstanding work he has done in dealing with this issue. Along with that, I congratulate the committee which has come up with some pretty good recommendations and amendments at the committee level that have been presented to the minister, which are now amendments that the minister wants to eliminate and undo. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why that is the case.

The minister should be in the House explaining for example why there should not be mandatory counselling for relationships between husbands and wives, surrogate parents, children and all the people involved. Counselling should be mandatory because of the possible deep effects on the relationships of the individuals involved.

Why in the world would the minister want to not make that kind of counselling mandatory as recommended by the committee? It makes no sense for that kind of motion to be proposed without the minister standing in this place and trying to explain to people why that kind of a change would be so necessary. It makes absolutely no sense that she is not available to defend the stand in that regard.

I apologize if I have wandered off into things I should not say, but I do want to point out that--

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Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Let me interrupt very briefly to remind the House, since we have just come back from the Christmas break period, that the longstanding practice in our Chamber has always been to not refer to the absence of any members in the House given the very varied tasks that we are all called upon to perform in our duties.

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4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I did not wish to refer to the absence or presence of anyone. I just wanted to refer to the fact that there has been no explanation from the department or the minister's office to explain to me and other members why this kind of proposal would be brought forward.

As the opposition, one of the major problems we have had with practically all departments, HRDC, justice, heritage and so on, has been accountability. That is one area in which the government has demonstrated its weakness over and over again. For the minister to want to undo an amendment presented by the committee which required the board members of the human reproduction agency--

Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Again I hesitate to interrupt the hon. member but I have a point of order from the hon. member for Yellowhead.

Assisted Human Reproduction Act
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4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This is arguably one of the most important pieces of legislation that we will be dealing with in the 37th Parliament. It is important that we look at it in all seriousness. I would like to ask for a quorum call.

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4:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I see quorum. Resuming debate.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

David Anderson Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. For the record, while there happens to be a quorum in the room, I notice only three members of the Alliance, one to listen to the hon. member--

Assisted Human Reproduction Act
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4:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Respectfully, that was not a point of order but I am encouraged that more members are present in the Chamber. At any time it is always very pleasing to the Speaker.

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4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, if I did not shame the environment minister, who would make such a mistake after I have just been severely scolded for talking about who is here and who is not, he should not be doing those kinds of things. One would think that as a minister of the crown he would know better.

We were talking about accountability before we had to call for quorum. Accountability is one of the biggest weaknesses of the Liberal government. It has been demonstrated over and over again and has been reported in every Auditor General report that I have ever read. Accountability is so weak that we cannot even ask for receipts from some ministers who claim up to $80,000 to $100,000 worth of expenses.

However we have a committee doing a great job of making sure that the board members on the agency, under Motion No. 72, would be accountable. The committee wanted board members to come under the conflict of interest rules. That makes sense. That is called good accountability. We cannot allow conflicts of interest in these particular matters. These issues are extremely important.

We now have a minister who wants to undo that amendment. She is not worried about appointing different individuals to this board in regard to possible conflicts of interest and she wants the board to report directly to the minister.

When will we decide in this House that we are a Parliament of the people, that we have a responsibility to all Canadians and that reporting to Parliament is a good idea when it comes to boards and committees that are working on our behalf? Why do they always report to one?

The lack of accountability is a disgrace. It is shameful and it is a practice that ought to be stopped. I would hope that the governing bodies would start thinking about that. If we are going to truly be accountable to the people who elect us and put us in our seats, then we have a right to know what is going on as well as the minister.

Unfortunately, we have found over the past that reporting is sometimes not as accurate as it ought to be, and we would like to hear it directly. I, for one, as a member of Parliament, would like to hear directly from these various committees that are working on our behalf, instead of just the minister who insists that they report to him or her and no one else.

If we were to put our imaginations to work we could imagine all kinds of things that could go wrong with the kind of body of people who would not have to live under conflict of interest rules, and maybe some other things that could have a major impact on what they are trying to do with this particular legislation.

I really encourage all members to not support Motion No. 72, in particular, and not to support Motion 52 as it weakens the intent of the committee and its hard work in trying to come up with the answers that would make this whole idea work tremendously.

We are quite enthused with the reports that we have been getting on certain aspects of adult stem cell research, even from the umbilical cord of a newborn, and how it can be used in a positive way. I think we could just forget about creating embryos for that purpose. It is a bad idea.

Mr. Speaker, I know you might not think that the speech last night on TV by the President of the United States, George Bush, would have much to do with the topic that we are discussing today but has to do with one thing. I was proud to hear the President of the United States stand in his place and say that under his representation he would guarantee to the people of America that cloning would never be allowed in that land. I would like to see our Prime Minister rise to his feet and say that under his leadership, and as long as he had a say, that cloning would never be part of Canada's plan. Cloning is not something we should get into. Cloning is not for humans to decide how this should happen.

I like the old process of creating humans myself. Maybe that is because I am a little older than some, but cloning is such a dangerous thing that I really appreciate the president's comments on behalf of the American people. I wish the Prime Minister would make the same kind of comments on behalf of Canadians.

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4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, we are back again speaking about the assisted human reproduction act. It came before us previously as Bill C-56. We are talking now mainly about the Group No. 4 amendments. I want to make some general comments before I get into the specifics of the Group No. 4 motions and amendments.

One of the reasons that we need to have a discussion about this important issue is that we are setting the stage, not just for a single bill but for a legislated attitude toward people. We are setting up a bill that sets out a legislative attitude toward other human beings in our society. The conclusions that we reach in the House about our attitude and our decisions about other human beings will have great consequences.

For example, we have seen throughout this century what happens when governments and ideologies decide that individual human beings are not unique and that they are only basic economic units. I had the opportunity in university to sit under three years of teaching that bombarded us with Karl Marx's political theory that all events can be analyzed from a particular economic perspective, and that human beings then must fit into that perspective and into that analysis. Individuals are never seen as unique in that ideology. They are seen as a commodity that needs to be used.

Interestingly enough, through the last century we have seen that theory lived out through various socialistic and communistic governments on this earth. In the last century there has been more brutality from those regimes than anywhere that we have seen in the history of mankind. It is important that we have a unique view of the uniqueness of human life and what it means.

I can think of a couple of examples. In Stalin's Russia, one of the results of his decision to get control of the middle class farming communities was that he was willing to starve them until they disappeared. He had no concern for the uniqueness, the individuality or the greatness of human life.

In China, even today, we see that it subjects its individual citizens to the wishes of what it would call the collective. We see this show up in different situations where there is brutality toward people who may believe differently than their leadership does.

In the Sudan we see another socialist regime that is only too happy to wage war for money. It has little responsibility toward its own people and it seems to care little about the human life of its citizens.

It is important that we decide what our attitude and our view will be toward human life. Where there is a weak position taken regarding human uniqueness and individuality, there is definitely a loss of compassion for others. I would suggest that we are not as immune from this as greatly as we think we might be.

We see a number of places where the government already refuses to deal with issues that involve the value of human life. We spent a day earlier this week talking about child protection and child pornography. I would suggest that the unwillingness of the government to deal directly and decisively with child pornography is one such example of a government that is refusing to deal with those issues that say that human life has ultimate value.

Last spring we had the opportunity to meet with the police officers who deal with this material. After seeing their presentation I would agree with my colleague from Wild Rose that there is absolutely no excuse for allowing this to continue.

I was embarrassed the other day by the NDP's position that as long as people can create things out of their own imagination, that there needed to be some reason to defend that. After talking to the police officers who have to deal with the child pornography issue on a daily basis, I guess I do not have the tolerance that others might. This material is repugnant. It is abhorrent. The failure to deal with the issue really touches at the heart of how the government views the people who are its citizens.

We need to take a look at a couple of questions. One of them is, when does human life begin? Although present law says that human life begins at birth, that is a ridiculous position from a scientific perspective, and it really is nonsense. I was reminded of that the other day when I saw one of the beer companies' advertisements. They had a picture of a fetus in the womb on their poster. The point that was made was “When you drink, she feels it”. I thought it was interesting that beer companies will accept the fact that fetuses and embryos are human beings but our government refuses to do that.

Clearly, I would suggest that the point at which being becomes human is when the union of the genetic material takes place and when we have the completion of the DNA package. Whether we want to embrace that or not, scientifically that is the only point where human life really begins.

Scientists have thrown out a couple of red herrings. One in particular is when they say that they have picked a 14 day period and after that 14 days is the arbitrary decision that now this is human life. That decision has not been based on science. It basically has been meant to avoid the scientific discussion and to stay away from the discussion of when does human life really begin.

I would suggest that scientists generally have failed the test of speaking clearly on when human life begins. Because of that, they run the risk of disqualifying themselves by not dealing honestly with this issue. It has become for many scientists more of an economic than a scientific or ethical decision. They want to have the open field. They want to have the free rein to run the experiments. They do not want to deal with the moral choices that need to be made so they try to avoid doing that at all costs. It is important that someone in the country address this issue and I would suggest that it is the responsibility of Parliament to deal seriously and decisively with it.

I think we can accept that human life is put together at conception when the DNA material is put together, but there is a second important question that needs to be asked. What is human life worth? Throughout history we have traditionally valued human life from its natural beginning. There has been much discussion of it over the years but most belief systems, most religions and most philosophies have accepted that until the last few years.

In places and times we have seen the devaluing of that idea and that value. I guess one of the prime examples would be Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany where there was a prevailing ideology that he set forth, and that was that not all people were worthy of living out their natural lives. He targeted particular groups. We know that he targeted racial groups, the weak, the handicapped, the visually identifiable groups and in lots of places skin colour and complexion was enough to be questioned and persecuted.

I am reminded of a saying that no one does what they think is wrong. We all justify our behaviour and we are prepared to do that. We need to remember that Hitler's focus was on genetics; it was just on a different stage of development. We need to be very careful where we go with this issue, with this bill and how we begin to treat other human beings and human life.

I want to talk a bit about what is the result of taking a low view of human life. If we cannot come to an agreement on what human life is worth, we will always have inevitable consequences from that. One thing that happens if we set a low view of human life and we do not say that human life is unique right from its beginning, is that we always devalue the defenceless and the ones who do not have a voice. I think we have begun to see this already in the Netherlands where many who are in hospitals do not even know that they are being euthanized. They do not have a voice. They do not have the ability or the strength to say no. Because of that they are not given the voice to say no.

As I mentioned, it seems there is an inability to deal with the child pornography issue. This government cannot bring itself to deal with the issue. It shows a willingness to live with a bad and I guess some people would call it an evil court decision. A casual attitude to human life begins to manifest itself in so many different areas and I hope we are not beginning to see that in our own country.

A casual attitude to human life also shows a willingness to assign different degrees of worth to different human beings. We had the issue a few years ago, and it will continue, with Tracy Latimer, the choice her father made to end her life and the government's uncomfortable silence about that issue. As we look at the issue of human life, I hope it will not progress to include others who have what some people would say no use in our society, and that is the handicapped and the elderly.

I know my time is running out and I will have an opportunity to speak to this issue later. However we need to reconsider what we do here, take it seriously and treat it very carefully as we move into this area and issue of what we do with human life.