House of Commons Hansard #53 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

February 9th, 2005 / 3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

There are 14 motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-12.

Motion No. 2 will not be selected by the Chair as it is similar to an amendment defeated in committee.

Motions Nos. 3 and 4 will not be selected by the Chair as they require a Royal Recommendation.

Motion No. 13 will not be selected by the Chair as it could have been presented in committee.

All remaining motions have been examined and the Chair is satisfied that they meet the guidelines expressed in the note to Standing Order 76(5) regarding the selection of motions in amendment at the report stage.

Motions No. 1, 5 to 12 and 14 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table.

I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1, 5 to 12 and 14 to the House.

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3:25 p.m.

Thunder Bay—Superior North
Ontario

Liberal

Joe Comuzzi for the Minister of Health

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-12, in Clause 5, be amended by replacing, in the French version, line 15 on page 3 with the following:

“professionnel de la santé qualifié à titre d'agent de”

Motion No. 5

That Bill C-12, in Clause 20, be amended by adding after line 7 on page 7 the following:

“(1.1) The health assessment shall be undertaken as soon as reasonably practicable but in any case within 48 hours after the quarantine officer requires the traveller to undergo it.”

Motion No. 6

That Bill C-12, in Clause 23, be amended by replacing line 6 on page 8 with the following:

“this right.”

Motion No. 7

That Bill C-12, in Clause 26, be amended by replacing, in the French version, line 1 on page 9 with the following:

“ordonner de se soumettre à un traitement ou à toute autre mesure visant à prévenir”

Motion No. 8

That Bill C-12, in Clause 33.1, be amended by replacing line 12 on page 12 with the following:

“authority of any province concerned if”

Motion No. 9

That Bill C-12, in Clause 33.1, be amended by replacing, in the French version, lines 35 and 36 on page 12 with the following:

“d) la façon dont il aurait contracté la maladie transmissible ou serait devenu infesté”

Motion No. 10

That Bill C-12, in Clause 40.1, be amended by replacing lines 28 to 30 on page 15 with the following:

“40.1 No person is required”

Motion No. 11

That Bill C-12, in Clause 40.1, be amended by replacing lines 28 and 29 on page 15 with the following:

“40.1 No operator of the conveyance, employee of an owner of the conveyance or employee of any person using it for the”

Motion No. 12

That Bill C-12, in Clause 40.2, be amended by replacing line 37 on page 15 with the following:

“public health authority of any province con-”

Motion No. 14

That Bill C-12, in Clause 57, be amended by replacing, in the French version, lines 11 and 12 on page 22 with the following:

“f) la façon dont le voyageur aurait contracté la maladie transmissible ou serait devenu infesté”

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3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, prior to entering into debate, I would raise a point of order, and you may guide me as to whether this is the proper time to do it. In your ruling on which amendments were acceptable and which were not, you did not rule against Motion No. 14. It would be my opinion that Motion No. 14 was not contemplated by the original drafting instructions approved by cabinet, and therefore was not included in the royal recommendation, as it seeks to make compensation mandatory for damage or destroyed goods or conveyances.

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3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

We will look into the matter. I have put Motion No. 14 to the House. If there is an error, I will get back to the House in a moment. However, I note it is the minister's motion.

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3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault West Nova, NS

No, Mr. Speaker, this is not the minister's motion. This is a motion moved by the member for Nanaimo--Alberni.

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3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

I think the hon. member is working from a different notice paper. Motion No. 14, which I just put, was moved by the Minister of State for Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario for the Minister of Health. I think that disposes of the point of order. The parliamentary secretary may now wish to debate the collection of motions now before the House.

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3:25 p.m.

West Nova
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I not only stand corrected, but I stand before the House to present Bill C-12, as amended and reported by committee. As members may recall, Bill C-36 was the first attempt to modernize one of Canada's oldest pieces of legislation, the Quarantine Act. This bill was introduced in the last parliamentary session on May 12, 2004, but died on the order paper when the election was called.

On October 8 of 2004, the Government of Canada introduced Bill C-12 into the House of Commons, the newly proposed Quarantine Act, an act to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases arriving into Canada.

The Quarantine Act is an essential tool to prevent communicable diseases from entering the country, spreading throughout the population, and from spreading outside of our borders. That is why these amendments to the act, which have not been significantly modernized since 1872, are a priority at this time.

During the clause by clause review, members of the Standing Committee on Health made significant contributions toward strengthening the bill. During witness testimony, committee members listened to the issues raised by external stakeholders and put forward amendments to reflect their ideas or concerns. Common themes emerged throughout this process and in the spirit of collaboration, resolution was achieved, meeting the expectations of all parties. This comprehensive bill reflects the efforts and commitment of dedicated members and responds to the modern challenges of public health in the 21st century.

As we know, report stage provides the House with an opportunity to further refine Bill C-12. In response to this legislative review process, the Government of Canada has taken the liberty to introduce report stage amendments to the bill. These amendments are minor and technical in nature, but critical in terms of producing an optimal piece of legislation to protect the health and safety of Canadians. They will add clarity to the bill and remedy drafting oversights largely due to the accelerated pace of this examination process.

In the spirit of collaboration, it is my wish that House members demonstrate ongoing support for the work and contribution made toward strengthening the bill on behalf of the Standing Committee on Health.

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3:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the bill. We have been through the bill clause by clause, and it is an important bill to support.

There are a couple of concerns. We need to be very proactive around dealing with things like the SARS crisis, and perhaps the bird flu. We need to be very conscious about developing regulations around this. We have seen that it can be an incredibly slow and tedious process. Therefore, it is critical that we get off the mark on it.

The use of screening officers is a major concern. It appears that we will be forcing customs officers to take on another role, that of medical professional. This would be on top of their present duties, including enforcing the Customs Act, looking for potential terrorists and stopping material that could harm our flora and fauna. It is too much to expect one group to enforce that many rules effectively. We need close consultation with our colleagues at customs.

The Canadian Nursing Association pointed out that the emerging diseases often have unique symptoms. Screening officers will have to be continually trained and supported to ensure they know what to watch for. A bad cough is not only the sign of a potential epidemic. The bill does not explain how this system would be supported over time.

One lesson we learned from the SARS epidemic was the lack of coordination and official communication responsibilities during the crisis. Again, the Canadian Nursing Association recommends that the chief public health officer and the Public Health Agency of Canada should have a critical role in any epidemic or suspected epidemic. They were not included in the bill because enabling legislation to create that position and organization is still being written.

We urge the government to act quickly on the legislation. Everyone who spoke to the committee emphasized how important it was to have a clear authority.

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3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois on Bill C-12 to update the Quarantine Act. Since this act dates back to the 19th century, the proposed amendments will modernize it and make it workable and more in line with today's various epidemiological contexts.

The Bloc Québécois supports the principles behind the bill, and raised a number of questions in committee. We need to realize first the ways epidemics spread in the 18th and 19th centuries are completely different the way they spread today. People were far less mobile, and if they did travel it was mainly by train. Nowadays, the major vectors in the transmission of epidemics include means of transportation such as aircraft. Certain provisions of the act will require all carriers to report any illness or death occurring on board before they arrive in Canada.

It is important to understand that the Quarantine Act has nothing to do with control mechanisms within the country. Those are the responsibility of the various public health agencies. Its purpose is rather to focus on the transmission of epidemics at the various Canadian entry and exit points.

In its present form, the bill requires travellers who have a communicable disease, or who have been in close proximity to a person who has a communicable disease, to present themselves to a screening officer or quarantine officer, so that a number of controls can be performed.

I must say that, throughout its proceedings, the Standing Committee on Health was concerned that the travellers who will be checked by a screening officer or a quarantine officer should have various forms of recourse available to them. For example, a number of committee members proposed amendments that were adopted to ensure that the controls performed by quarantine officers are carried out within a reasonable period of time. We felt that this period should be less than 48 hours.

As we know, the Quarantine Act gives to the Minister of Health the power to establish quarantine zones. We may think that these quarantine zones will be created primarily in airport facilities, but they will not necessarily be limited to these areas. If the Bloc Québécois has one regret, this is it. Even though we worked in relative harmony in committee, and even though the Bloc Québécois supports the objectives of this legislation, we would have liked the bill to clearly state that a quarantine zone and perimeter cannot be established without the approval of the health authorities involved.

Let us take the very specific example of the Dorval Airport. If, among a group of travellers arriving from Sri Lanka—I am giving this example to illustrate my point—a source of infection is identified, in this specific case, we would have liked the quarantine zone to be established only with the approval of the Quebec health and social services department.

This is why the Bloc Québécois proposed amendments which, unfortunately, were not adopted by the committee and, consequently, by the government.

We had many debates in committee, including on SARS. Although it is particularly relevant to Toronto and Ontario, the committee members asked specific questions. It is true that this bill will enable the minister to make regulations concerning a number of very important definitions and questions.

We considered whether it would be relevant to be able to offer compensation to people held in a quarantine zone and possibly prevented from returning to their work or families for 24, 48 or 72 hours. We wondered if it might not be a good idea to compensate those people.

Of course, it is not easy to set a standard. Some colleagues mentioned the average industrial wage. I think the minister should look into the question again.

Being in quarantine does involve some restriction of personal freedom and possibly being deprived of the right to work. However, the amendment on this was not adopted by the committee. I believe the chair did not want to agree to this kind of amendment in case it would commit public funds and thus require a royal recommendation.

We also looked at the responsibility of the operators of facilities, for example, an airport where quarantine has been declared. Obviously, an emergency is involved. The parliamentary secretary reminded us in committee that the Quarantine Act has not been used in the past 100 years. It is not therefore a everyday measure.

However, to the extent that the Quarantine Act is invoked, what responsibility should this government and Parliament assign to those running such facilities? In fact, they will have to give up their space, their equipment and collaborate with the government as is to be expected in socio-health crises. Personally, I must say that I agree with the idea of granting some type of compensation.

This is the fear, among others, of airline representatives. It must be recognized that often the airlines and their staff are the ones coming into contact with the passengers arriving at their facilities. Airports could be induced to give up part of their facilities. We are comfortable with the idea that there would be some compensation for this.

There is another provision in the bill, a schedule that cabinet will be able to review. This schedule lists a number of diseases that could result in quarantine. Some of the ones identified are viral. Others were added to the list based on changes in medicine.

In committee, we made sure, if it ever became necessary to add a disease or infection to the list in Schedule I of the bill, that the conditions were in place to allow this to be done quite quickly.

We therefore believe this is an exceptional bill in that it should be used in unusual situations. The aim of this bill is to make the Quarantine Act even more effective.

The Bloc Québécois will support this bill and the main amendments included in the notice paper . I believe that all the members did a good job in committee. In fact, we clearly understand that such a bill was essential in a world where germs and diseases can assume proportions that, today, require our vigilance as citizens and as parliamentarians.

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3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the people of Yellowhead and as vice-chair of the House of Commons health committee, it is a pleasure for me to speak at report stage of Bill C-12.

Bill C-12 is an important piece of legislation. It deals with individuals who may be carrying a communicable disease, travellers who are arriving by airplane or ship. It also deals with conveyances.

We have not really dealt with the Quarantine Act since 1872. This is the first time we have looked at it since that period of time, which was certainly long before air travel. We can imagine some of the changes that have transpired in our country since that time.

Bill C-12 is very important. The alarms went off with the spread of SARS in our country. When SARS first came into the nation we really did not know what it was. Canada was the nation that actually alerted the world to the threat of SARS. There was no name for it at the time; we really did not know what we were looking at.

It is interesting now when we see what actually transpired. We were very quick to realize that we are only a plane ride away from any communicable disease that perhaps is ravaging the world at any particular time. It is very important that we have a piece of legislation that can protect the nation from an onslaught of this type of disease.

There are other diseases such as the avian flu. We understand it began in poultry. I was at the agriculture committee yesterday. We had a review of the avian flu in birds which devastated the province of British Columbia. The World Health Organization is very concerned about the avian flu. It has now mutated. Dozens of deaths have occurred due to the avian flu in southeast Asia. We understand the potential of a global threat and perhaps a pandemic coming from a mutation of this one disease.

In light of SARS and in light of the advent of the onslaught of this disease around the world, it is very important that we look at this legislation. It was very important back when SARS hit, yet the government tabled the bill shortly before it decided to call an election. It was more important to play politics than it was to protect the nation.

My party believes that the number one thing a government can provide for its citizens is protection. That did not seem to be a priority back then, but it is a priority now. I am pleased that the health committee was able to seriously look at the legislation, review it, update it and offer some necessary changes.

There was good cooperation in the committee. I compliment the parliamentary secretary for his cooperative work on our concerns. The committee was able to achieve many amendments to this piece of legislation prior to report stage. From that aspect I think we are quite pleased with some of the things contained in Bill C-12. I am quite concerned with a couple of amendments that were deemed out of order.

For example, in clause 6 the bill talks about compensation for airports. I believe that after royal assent six airports will have to provide space for use by a quarantine officer. The airports will be obligated to provide not only the space but also all the fixtures to go along with it, such as heating and electricity, free of charge.

It is interesting that the government would put this kind of an onus on the airport authorities across the country. At one time the airports were federally run and controlled but now that is not the case. The airports are controlled by airport authorities. The airport authorities are paying a significant amount of money into the federal coffers. It is actually a tax upon our airport system and there is a real debate in the country as to whether that is fair. It puts our airlines at a considerable disadvantage to other airlines and airports around the world.

I believe that last year alone the airport authorities paid $235 million in rent for those facilities. As part of that rent they are providing services to the Canada Border Services Agency, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada, Transport Canada, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority and the RCMP. That is part of the arrangement that is included in the package.

Now six airports will be called upon to provide extra space. They will have cough that up without being able to recoup the cost. We all know there is only one way to recoup the cost and that is to raise the price of airline tickets. We are quite concerned about that.

The Quarantine Act is used very seldom, and rightfully so. It should be used very seldom. It removes a tremendous amount of rights and privileges that citizens of this country have. When the act is applied and those rights are removed, they are being removed for a greater good, which is the safety of the nation.

We believe the act should be applied very seldom, but when applied it should be applied very aggressively. The Quarantine Act will only work as long as it is complied with. It is very important that be the way we proceed.

Another amendment we put forward addressed the issue of a hotel being quarantined and everyone setting up shop in it. The hotel owner would not be compensated under this piece of legislation. In fact, the legislation indicates that it may or may not be compensated. It is purely at the discretion of the minister. We think that is a power we could have addressed in the regulations.

We will certainly be looking at the regulations when they come forward. We want to make sure there is as strong an indication as possible that the “may” will be more than just a suggestion and that it will compel the government of the day to be fair with its citizens. We do not believe that any one individual should be on the hook for protecting the nation. When an individual protects the nation, the nation should also protect the individual. That becomes a principle of fairness which we believe the legislation should reflect.

I am quite disappointed that a few minutes ago the Speaker ruled these amendments inadmissible. We were not allowed to present them in committee. We wanted to present them at report stage. We think they are valid and would be accepted by individual members of the House. The parliamentary secretary and I have talked about this and he actually agrees with me.

It was the department that had difficulty with the wording. It did not want its hands to be tied behind a “may”. We felt that the wording should be “shall compensate in accordance with the regulations” and have those details worked out in the regulations. I am quite disappointed, but we will look at the regulations when they come forward.

In conclusion, the security of citizens is paramount. We in the House and the federal government can undertake to look after our citizens and keep them safe. The avian flu and SARS are, and will continue to be, serious threats. Perhaps the largest threat is yet to come. Hopefully we have learned some lessons over the last couple of years as we have dealt with some of the issues that have impacted our country and the world and we will be prepared for what is perhaps coming down the road.

This legislation is very timely. It is very important. We have worked collectively as a committee to provide the best legislation possible for the citizens of Canada. I am a little disappointed that some of the amendments have been deemed out of order, but I support the legislation. We will do everything we can to make sure the regulations are appropriate and in the best interests of the people of Canada.

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3:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

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3:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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3:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on Motion No. 1. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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3:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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3:50 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.