House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I think that there would be consent of the House to grant the member's motion to switch positions with the NDP, provided that the Bloc member would retain his 40 minutes to start tomorrow, but that the House not adjourn. I think the problem was that he said that the House would adjourn. We would not adjourn, we would simply follow the normal process.

I would ask for unanimous consent for the Bloc member and the NDP member to switch positions.

Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent to proceed in this fashion?

Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois. It is with great pleasure that I rise in the House today because this is a very important debate for the New Democratic caucus.

I am very pleased to participate in the debate on a bill that addresses as important an area as Canadians' approach to assisted reproductive technology. As we have heard throughout the debate, there are many compelling reasons to support the regulation of reproductive technology.

We are all familiar with the sensational stories about human cloning, about eggs being sold over the Internet, and about the acrimonious lawsuits over surrogacy. Last December the Raelians claimed to have successfully cloned a human being. While that claim may be unsubstantiated, it certainly shows the need for urgent action. It is but the outspoken tip of a much larger iceberg of unregulated research. We know, and I am sure all members in the House agree, that there are others around the globe who are absolutely committed to this and other dubious research objectives.

We are living in a time when the term “designer babies” has become part of the North American vocabulary. Parents are selecting the biological traits of their children. Internet sites compete in the trade of celebrity reproductive materials while countless others profit from those Canadians who are more than willing to buy access to any healthy eggs or sperm that might assist in their drive to have children. Gender selection has become topical with all sorts of new rationales being put forward in its defence.

Many of us by now are very familiar with some of the less sensational personal stories that have emerged from these technological innovations. There are stories of joy and heartbreak, as well as sacrifice and pain during infertility treatment.

Reproductive technologies have become widespread in Canada yet unfortunately, they remain beyond the reach of government regulations. Therefore, the debate on this piece of legislation remains critically important.

The question for all of us here today is, what took so long? Why did it take more than 10 years to get to the point where we are actually debating a concrete piece of legislation that may be passed through the legislative process? We all know that Liberal neglect by delaying the introduction of this legislation has allowed developments in reproductive technology to mushroom outside a regulated environment. No one more than New Democrats in the House want this situation changed.

Cloning and gender selection are areas where Canadians have expressed unqualified support for regulation for a good number of years, going back to over a decade ago and the recommendations of the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies which reported in 1993. The Liberal government has had ample opportunity to move quickly to stabilize the clinical and research environments. If it was unable to come up with a strategy of its own, it could easily have thrown its support behind a private member's bill presented to the House by a member of the Bloc, a bill to ban cloning, for example, or accepted agreement among other parties to expedite certain areas to introduce some legislative standards quickly. The government chose not to. Instead it opted to plow ahead and even trampled over health committee suggestions for improving its bill.

After failing in its previous attempt at regulating reproductive technologies in 1997, the Liberal government has left us today with a no win, no choice decision, a trouble or nothing kind of proposition. As we said earlier in the debate, that is a choice we cannot make. It is a choice we refuse to make because several major issues have not been adequately dealt with in this final legislative proposition before the House of Commons. Several major issues have not been adequately dealt with that will govern the application of the research and technology that we are addressing.

I want to list some of those concerns, starting with the paramount concern for those of us in the New Democratic Party and I hope many others in this chamber, and that is the health of women. It is women's safety that remains our concern here today. From the beginning of the whole process with the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies, New Democrats have been working, fighting and insisting that women's health concerns be paramount.

A colleague of mine, Dawn Black, the former NDP status of women critic, was very adamant about this point here in the House. She consulted extensively with organizations representing women from across Canada in developing recommendations for the royal commission itself. She pursued those concerns through the parliamentary process and was as disappointed as other women across the country when legislative initiatives did not come to fruition.

Dawn Black and other women across the country knew then and know today that it is women who put their health at risk by undergoing drug regimes with unsafe products. It is women who undergo the painful intrusive procedures to secure eggs for treatment or research for example. It is women who must try to make informed decisions about the pressure of societal expectations and commercial service promoters.

Many have commented on this issue. I want to reference the work done in February 2001 by Anne Rochon Ford, who wrote in a paper entitled “Biotechnology and the New Genetics, What it Means for Women's Health”:

Particularly in the area of reproductive health, women receive a disproportionate percentage of medical tests including genetic tests and treatments. Many treatments and technologies once promoted to women as safe and effective were later found to cause harm.

She listed three: the hormone drug DES; the Dalkon Shield IUD; and of course as well we all know, the Meme breast implant.

Once again women are being asked to trust and comply with new technologies such as genetic testing and gene therapies about which relatively little is known. As the author went on to say, it is like being asked to take a leap into the genetic darkness.

That point is no more relevant than today with the news on CBC radio about its investigative reporting on unsafe medical devices which are currently on the market. The problem continues. We remain concerned that the government has not taken seriously the need to protect the health and well-being of Canadians at all costs and to ensure that the drugs we take, the medical devices that are on the market, the food we eat, the interventions that are made are safe beyond a reasonable doubt.

With today's news about Canadians who depend on implanted medical devices experiencing harm and danger as a result of using those devices, we ought to be concerned again when we acknowledge the fact that Bill C-13 does not do the utmost to ensure that the health and well-being of women are protected at all costs.

We tried very hard in committee to make those changes. We were successful to some extent, but on some very major issues we were not. Although we were able to improve the significance of women's health within the bill's principles at committee, the government has stubbornly refused to make precaution the overriding principle in terms of women's health.

If, as the government claims, the bill is concerned with women's health, what better way of giving that claim leverage for enforcement purposes than to state outright that the precautionary principle is the governing principle? Yet every single time we proposed amendments to entrench precaution, to ensure that the principle was imprinted in the legislation, our efforts were defeated by Liberal members.

We wanted to require the federal government to ensure that reproductive technologies, drugs and procedures specifically, are proven safe before they are introduced, that the risks and benefits of any treatment are fully disclosed and that the evaluation of reproductive health services include women's experiences.

Let me raise another issue of concern to us with respect to Bill C-13 that we have before us. It has to do with prevention. While it is crucial to have a regulatory framework within which these activities take place or do not take place, the intent of the bill should not be the creation of an industry. Our goal should be the reduction, as much as possible, of infertility in our society today. That overriding motivation would surely require the integration of an active prevention strategy as a critical element in the role of the new agency being created under Bill C-13.

When we were working at committee on the legislation, we proposed a stronger prevention mandate. Interestingly, this was again resisted by the government that in turn insisted on a narrow approach to a very broad issue. Unfortunately that has been the pattern. This is quite consistent with the government's overall approach to industrial and environmental health. Prevention is so much better for women but treatment is so much better for industry. For the government, that is unfortunately no contest.

Let me go on to briefly talk about a fundamental concern for New Democrats in the whole legislative process and that has to do with commercialization and commodification of reproductive technologies.

Many Canadians have expressed concern from the very beginning of the formal public discussion about reproductive technologies back in the 1980s. They have expressed concerns about the government agenda being driven by powerful biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries whose primary obligation is to their shareholders and not to women's health.

There is nothing in the bill, particularly relating to the control of research results, that distinguishes between the government's position and the interests of these industries. We raised the issue of patents and the need to ensure public access to the benefit of research. For us, patenting remains a critical issue.

Patenting remains for the government a separate issue while for most Canadians, and certainly New Democrats, questions of research and the control and application of research results are inexorably linked.

There is the recent experience with Myriad, the U.S. genetics company that developed genetic cancer screening techniques which it only made available at considerable expense, clearly demonstrating the hazards ahead.

We have to deal with gene patenting issues here and now, not off in Industry Canada stakeholder discussions but as an integral part of this debate on the future pertaining to women's health and the use of assisted reproductive technologies.

To ensure public interest was primary, we focused attention on the makeup of the board directing the assisted human reproduction agency. We have repeatedly cited the need to ensure the independence of decisions and advice made by the agency in its role as chief policy advisory body to the government on reproductive technology.

When the legislation was introduced, my colleagues in the NDP and I noticed immediately and were particularly horrified to find that the government had included no conflict of interest guidelines at all. We proposed and the health committee adopted strong requirements that would avoid potential conflicts. What happened? The government introduced an amendment at report stage that cut our proposal and the teeth out of the conflict of interest provisions.

The government claims to want to keep reproductive technology out of the commercial realm. We encourage the government to put some flesh on the bones of that sentiment. We encourage the government to follow the Manitoba government's example in returning private for profit clinics to the non-profit public sphere. This bill could have set that agenda.

By leaving clinics in the private, competitive, for profit sphere the government has provided no assurance at all that some more complicated procedures may not become inaccessible to women as commercial firms drop them to keep their success rates high.

The federal government's de facto encouragement of for profit services in the recent health accord further confirms that women will be at the mercy of service decisions made according to market values in reproductive health.

The law of the marketplace has consistently failed to protect women's interests over the years. The commodification of women's bodies plays right into the hands of those who would profit. There is nothing in the bill to indicate the proactive approach to enforcement necessary to ensure women's safety. The government's under resourcing of other health monitoring is not encouraging at all.

Let me go on to the issue briefly of surrogacy because this is another area where the health committee hammered out a solid recommendation that was either rejected outright or substantially weakened by the government during report stage.

It was the committee's position that permitting commercial surrogacy arrangements would commercialize women's childbearing capacity. With government supported amendments, we are now left with a confusing mixed message that tries to accomplish two contradictory goals at the same time: banning paid surrogacy activity on the one hand, while simultaneously supporting it financially on the other hand.

In some ways other aspects of the bill have been overshadowed by the controversy surrounding research options using human stem cells. After careful and lengthy consideration, the health committee had reached a common position on stem cell research. Instead of adopting that position however, the government has decided to pass what is essentially a policy decision off to an administrative agency.

In the last minute available to me, I would like to just touch briefly on the matter of eugenics because much of the bill deals with the technological capacity which was still in the realm of science fiction a brief quarter of a century ago. The selection of genetic traits, as much as cloning, falls within this brave new world. The magnitude of these discoveries would to most Canadians beg a thoughtful and critical examination of their relationship to our traditional societal values. We have reached this critical point, however, with no government leadership around such a public evaluation.

As it stands, the bill does not clearly set out a set of guiding principles that would recognize and safeguard the value and integrity of the lives of all Canadians. It fails to clearly challenge the assumptions held by some researchers whose overall goal is to perfect future generations and eliminate certain conditions through genetic manipulation.

The concerns that have been raised by groups representing persons with disabilities about the value and contributions of all members of our society have not been met. We made constructive proposals to strengthen this aspect of the bill in committee and tried successfully to introduce an amendment at report stage. Regrettably, we have been forced to once again resort to a private member's initiative to deal with the concerns of groups representing people with disabilities.

Finally, we are at the end of a long process. In many ways our work is just beginning because provisions around the agency have been left wide open for further regulations and depend very much on government commitments in terms of appointments to the board and truly acting on the possibility of conflict of interest.

We must remain vigilant. We must remain purposeful in our deliberations to ensure that the health and well-being of women, children and families is preserved and protected throughout this process of regulating reproductive technologies.

Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Before we proceed to questions or comments, I would like to inform the House that the amendment, as submitted by the member for Yellowhead, is in order.

Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-13 now before us is nothing new to the House, since it was first introduced as Bill C-47, in 1997, then as Bill C-56 and now as Bill C-13. Therefore, as parliamentarians, we have been pondering these issues for some years now.

Our hon. colleague from the New Democratic Party has raised a number of concerns. I would like to ask her a number of short questions, if I may.

First, I would like to know what she thinks of the make-up of the board of directors, which will consist of 13 members. At report stage, we recommended that half of the members be women. However, I understand that she would have liked to see more stringent provisions concerning conflicts of interests, and I would like her to elaborate on that.

I would also like to find out what she thinks of the requirement to disclose the name of the donors. There were two schools of thought on this issue. Some argued that the donors should remain anonymous and others thought that their names should be disclosed. I would like her thoughts on this.

Third, I would like to know if the preamble to the bill meets with her agreement.

I have other questions, but they will have to wait until next time. For now, I would like to hear what the member has to say about all of this.

Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for his questions. I will try to answer each and every one of them.

In dealing with the makeup of the board, I will not attempt to answer that in French. We tried very hard to convince the government that if it made sense anywhere, in terms of introducing the concept of gender parity and ensuring equal representation on a board or agency of the government, it was in the area of reproductive technologies. After all, we are talking about a women's health matter. Surely on such an issue, it makes sense, more than in any other area, to have women represented at least on a fifty-fifty basis.

We introduced the amendment at committee. We were successful. It came forward as part of the legislation and, lo and behold, the Minister of Health and her colleagues on the government benches decided to negate and nullify that amendment and the important work of the health committee. Interestingly, we came to the House with an amendment to put back on the table the issue of gender parity and equal representation on the board of reproductive technologies. Liberal members stood one after another and opposed the idea. Women themselves on the Liberal benches opposed the idea.

How could it have happened that on an issue as basic as this, we could not even get the government to show leadership on equality on a board like this? That is the tip of the iceberg on the government's handling of important issues put forward by New Democrats and dealt with at the committee level.

The second area about which the member asked me was conflict of interest and whether the provisions were significant to ensure that when appointments were made to the board, it would not be possible for representatives of big pharmaceutical companies and big biotechnological companies to be appointed to the board. Members should know that the government decided to veto, nullify and eliminate an important amendment presented by New Democrats at the committee and supported by the health committee. Again it was treated to the same disregard that we saw from the minister on the gender parity issue.

On two fundamental issues where the bill could have been improved, the government shut the door, turned back the clock and denied the work of the committee.

We also have concerns about the issue of donor anonymity. We believe very much that the identity of donors should be made known. That we believe to be necessary, after important deliberations at the committee level.

The preamble could have been strengthened. Suggestions were made by committee members to strengthen it to reflect some of the concerns about women's health and to ensure that the issues of people living with disabilities were included and incorporated into it. Some of those changes were ignored by the government.

Finally, after the intense discussions we have had on this bill and others, many of us are feeling a bit weary and anxious perhaps on one level to dispense with the rest of the day's agenda if possible and move on to tomorrow's work with new energy. However we have responsibilities to keep in mind. We have to keep cognizant of the fact that there are flaws in the bill. Although we want to see the bill passed and want to see legislation in place, we also know it could have been a much better product. It is on that basis that we will continue to express our opposition to this bill and our intentions to be vigilant in the days ahead.

Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 5.52 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Parthenon Marbles
Private Members' Business

April 1st, 2003 / 5:50 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should call upon the United Kingdom to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece in order to be restored in their authentic context, as the Marbles represent a unique and integral part of world heritage and should be returned to their country of origin, before the 28th Olympiad in Athens, Greece, in 2004.

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to repeat Motion No. 318, so that not just our colleagues but Canadians who are listening today could hear the motion again because it really is something very unique that we are debating here tonight.The motion says:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should call upon the United Kingdom to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece in order to be restored in their authentic context, as the Marbles represent a unique and integral part of world heritage and should be returned to their country of origin, before the 28th Olympiad in Athens, Greece, in 2004.

There is a significance to the 28th Olympiad in 2004 because these are trying and difficult times for all of us on this universe. We are seeing changes, conflicts and struggles. We are asking for the liberation of people. What used to happen during the Olympiad was that everyone laid down their arms no matter what conflict or wars existed. They all went as brothers and sisters to compete during the Olympic period in a truce. This also sends a very important message.

Let me give an historical perspective of the Parthenon or the Elgin Marbles as they are known. After Greece's victory over the Persians in 479 BC, Pericles wanted to rebuild the city and make it an artistic cultural as well as a political centre. The general artistic supervision of the Acropolis building was assigned to Pheidias. It took 15 years to build. The beauty of building this monument was that every citizen had the opportunity to participate.

Let me just fast forward several hundreds and hundreds of years. When Greece was ruled under the Ottoman Empire, the then high commissioner to the Ottoman Empire was Thomas Bruce, the seventh earl of Elgin, also known as Lord Elgin. We know and history has shown that Lord Elgin was an art collector and wanted to decorate his mansion.

We are looking at a piece of art that has been distinguished throughout history. Millions of people from all over the world have visited the Acropolis to see the Parthenon. I first went to Greece as a young boy of 11 years. It did not have the impact on me as it did when I visited it about four years ago when I actually had a tour guide walk me through and describe to me in detail why building A was situated on this angle and why building B was situated on that angle. It brought to life the golden age of Greece.

It was awesome for me to stand there and close my eyes, and try to go back in history to see democracy unfold on that spot. What happened during the Ottoman Empire was that Lord Elgin asked the Pasha, the ruler of that area, if he could get permission to take the marbles or the slabs, and basically take them. There was a document signed, which was under scrupulous circumstances, and translated by an Italian. The marbles were eventually crated and shipped to England.

The argument that was put forth was that they needed to be taken for observation and preservation. For years I think we accepted that argument because there was no facility at that time in Athens to house these treasures. Today there is a modern state of the art facility that is being built beside the Acropolis to house these artifacts.

Lord Elgin shipped them to England and from what I read they did not get there safely. Eventually they were dragged from the sea and Lord Elgin decorated his mansion. He then ran into some financial problems. Even the British government pointed out that the circumstances under which Lord Elgin took these marbles were a bit questionable. The British government gave him a sum of money and in its wisdom donated them to the British museum where they are today.

The other day my colleague from Hamilton and I were talking about the marbles. He actually visited the museum and just listening to the description of what he saw made me shiver. He has lent his continuous support on this matter.

This is not just a request that I am making personally. The other day I presented in the House of Commons one of many petitions. The latest petition contained over 2,000 signatures from right across the country. I visited the campuses of the University of Toronto and York University, and students of all backgrounds said it was the right thing to do. They were happy to sign the petition. I presented petitions from right across our country asking our government to call upon Great Britain to do the right thing because the time has come to indeed return these artifacts to their rightful owners.

People made the argument that it would be setting a precedent. On the contrary, it would not. A couple of years ago Canada returned a painting to Hungary. England returned the coronation stone to Scotland. If a precedent has been set, it has been set by Great Britain, Canada and other countries.

This is not a vase, a statue or a painting, it is a very unique piece of art that we are asking to be returned. These are actual slabs that belong to a structure that is not just Greek. It is a structure that is shared by the international community. It is a part of culture, history and civilization.

The motion requests that the British government go forward into the 21st century, do the right thing, and meet the deadline of the 28th Olympiad in 2004.

We can now confirm through various documents that Lord Elgin took the marbles under questionable circumstances. We are not here to condemn or criticize that. That was a different era and time. Those were different circumstances. We are now in the 21st century.

Over and over again there have been initiatives of this nature. I would be remiss if I did not mention the efforts of the late Melina Mercouri, who was the cultural minister of Greece in the 1980s. I must congratulate all the members of the various committees in Canada, the United States, Australia and Great Britain. I would like to point out that the attorney representing the initiative in Great Britain is Bruce Tattersal, a direct descendant of Lord Elgin.

UNESCO, the international body which we all respect and abide by, has supported this initiative. It was first introduced in 1982 by the late Melina Mercouri to the council of ministers of the cultural segment of UNESCO in Mexico.

In January 1999 the European parliament ruled in favour of returning the marbles to their original owner. The resolution of the 10th UNESCO intergovernmental council to promote bilateral talks between Greece and Great Britain showed the growing interest and importance that this issue has had in the international community at large.

It is not just this House that is bringing the motion forward. The United States congress passed a resolution. Let me bring it closer to home. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank the Quebec National Assembly which unanimously passed a resolution supporting the return of the marbles. We all know that it is only the federal government that speaks on foreign policy, but the fact that the gesture was made, or any gesture of this type that could be made at any level of government, is an expression of will and support. There is no question about that.

I know the Minister of Canadian Heritage has commented favourably over and over again, and I thank her for the continuous support that she has provided to this initiative. When she finds herself in international forums, she always brings this issue to the table and I thank her personally for her initiative.

What happened 200 years or 300 years ago should be forgotten. I stand in the House and ask that our country and Parliament support the motion to send the message asking the British government to return the marbles.

It is senseless for me to go on and provide pages of who said what and when it was said. The bottom line is that we not only must do the right thing, but we must do the honourable thing. Canadians have been noted to be leaders in many initiatives. We pride ourselves as peacekeepers. We pride ourselves in our high tech industry and cultural communities.

Parthenon Marbles
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

An hon. member

Agriculture.

Parthenon Marbles
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

That is right, we lead the way in agriculture as well as in our forests and clear cutting. We find ourselves so competitive in softwood lumber that our neighbours in other countries think we are subsidizing where, in essence, we are not.

I could go on praising what we have achieved as a country. Canada is a relatively young country compared to countries such as Greece or Italy, but in that short period of time we have distinguished ourselves because we have had to make those tough decisions.

I know in these difficult moments this might be a tough decision to make. However, should we find the courage to make this decision and support this motion, we would once again send a signal that Canada can make the tough and right decisions.

I know, Madam Speaker, you have been behind this effort as well. I know how hard you have worked in terms of communicating this right across the country and in your area of Montreal. This issue has been discussed, not only in British Columbia but in other parts of our country.

I am bringing to the House the voices of tens of thousands of Canadians, and let me point out, not Canadians of Hellenic descent. If one looks at the signatures on those petitions, they are a reflection of all Canadians of this diverse and beautiful mosaic that we often describe as Canada.

I believe in my heart that at the end of the day Canada and this Parliament will do the right thing and support the motion.

Parthenon Marbles
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

We are under the new rules, so there are five minutes for questions and comments. Are there any questions and comments?

The hon. Minister of Canadian Heritage.

Parthenon Marbles
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Hamilton East
Ontario

Liberal

Sheila Copps Minister of Canadian Heritage

Madam Speaker, my question is for the hon. member. How quickly does he think he can get the motion through the House?