House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quarantine.

Topics

Patent Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before we resume debate, I wish to inform the House that I neglected to mention earlier that there are 43 minutes remaining for debate on the motion for concurrence in the second report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts as provided by Standing Order 66. Accordingly, the debate on the motion will be rescheduled for another sitting.

Patent Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak today to Bill C-29, an important bill for which the country can be proud. However, with due honesty and respect for the operations of the House, we must take responsibility for the bill's delay. It has taken over 550 days to actually do something for the world.

I want to revisit some of the history and impress upon the House that once the bill is passed we have an obligation to ensure that it actually has results. The changes in the legislation may not produce the desired response.

I would first like to start by thanking the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Stephen Lewis, as well as the NGOs, Doctors Without Borders, the HIV-AIDS Legal Network and a number of different organizations that worked diligently for years to get this to the forefront of Canadian public policy.

Unfortunately, the legislation has been fraught with a number of different delays that are literally causing suffering and preventing us from being part of a solution.

We need to recognize that in Africa, as one example, 6,000 people die from HIV-AIDS per day and 11,000 contract HIV-AIDS daily. When we first had the opportunity to address the bill it was back on November 6, 2003. The WTO made a decision in 2003 that gave generic companies a brief patent for a specific area that would allow them to produce life-saving medications for tuberculosis, malaria, HIV-AIDS and other types of diseases that affect populations in third world and developing nations to be able to access newer drugs before patent protection expires.

It is important to point out that the bill would not even be necessary if the pharmaceutical industry would do more, take less profit and produce the drugs right now to get them out to those organizations and groups. What we are providing is the opportunity for the generic companies to fill that gap but that has created many complications.

The bill was first tabled as Bill C-56 in the dying days of the Chrétien government on November 6, 2003. It was not passed because of serious concerns by NGOs and health communities. It was really different in terms of its format at that particular time. A lot of people who came forward back then said that if we were going to be serious about this and pass legislation that it would have to be done properly.

What is really unfortunate is that almost two years later we are still faced with problems in the bill that we are dealing with today.

On February 12, 2004 the bill was reintroduced as Bill C-9. None of the changes and concerns noted by politicians, NGOs and health care advocates were changed in over three months since it was first introduced. When the bill died as Bill C-56 and came back as Bill C-9 there were three months in between where there was lobbying, negotiations and submissions but not a single word was changed in the bill. We were very disappointed to see that. We had been telling the government of the day that it had to make these amendments for the bill to actually work. Amendments included everything from delisting certain specific drugs and delisting countries so there would be a proper process.

This has been backed up by the WTO ruling that allows for that but the government has an ingrained philosophy for patent protection that is not necessary and has thus delayed and complicated the legislation. Hence we are still here today.

Bill C-9 was given royal assent on May 14, 2004 after the government finally made many of the changes required to make the bill workable. The only unfinished work was the regulations.

All parties in the committee worked very diligently together. There was a difference of opinion and heated arguments. I submitted over 100 amendments. We heard many different witnesses and had a bridging of differences by all political parties to at least come to a bill that would be moved at that point in time. There was a lot of pressure to get that done quickly.

On December 8, 2004, Bill C-29 was introduced in the House and was passed by the House of Commons on February 10, 2005, a little over a year from when Bill C-9 was introduced. I guess we are still seeing the problems that are delaying the bill, continuing to plague its final implementation. It relates specifically to regulations.

A lot of times I guess it is the technical elements that many Canadians do not understand. We are moving a lot of legislation, the mechanisms that really give it teeth and character, to regulations which are often outside the general workable parliamentary systems. When we move things to regulations parliamentarians give up the rule setting that often affects the effectiveness of a bill, the purpose of it and very much the character of it. That is what has happened to this particular bill.

Bill C-29 contains an amendment that would allow Senate committee members to sit on the committee that would decide the membership of the committee who would decide when pharmaceutical products would be eligible for export. There is an advisory panel that was created. As a New Democrat I cannot agree with the Senate. At the time I did not agree with it participating in the bill but it is being added. We are not going to object to it here but that is what happened. It went to the Senate. It was left out but it has put itself on it now as part of a regulatory body that will decide what drugs could be eligible.

This is where we get into a grey area and makes us very concerned about whether it is going to be effective or not. We could have certain drugs that may not be allowed to be vetted through this process, drugs that different countries could use to treat different diseases. There are often new drugs that have complex and different types of compounds that are brought together, maybe two or three drugs brought together, that are very effective in treating HIV or AIDS, for example. They are cutting edge drugs. They could be very effective. Their availability may not get listed but those drugs really could affect real positive change for people who are suffering right now.

I have to reiterate that it is because the expected profit margin in those drugs is so high the countries cannot purchase them. Government organizations cannot afford to distribute them. It is not all of the pharmaceutical industry. There are plenty pharmaceutical companies that are donating to certain programs but it is not enough. Once again, we are only having to do this because there is a wide gap regarding what they are willing to supply at low cost and hence we are asking the generic industry to fill the void for a small profit.

In March the government found a technical error that jeopardized the entire feasibility of the bill. It is amazing to look back after a year and a half to realize we have not seen the progress we really wanted. Once again it is really interesting to note that it has been approximately 550 days since this idea came to this place and it has been marred at the expense, I believe, of the Canadian reputation to participate in drug relief. It was interesting and really captured by the title of Jean Chrétien's aid to Africa bill but what people need to understand is that there are many nations outside of Africa that could also participate in the program. That is why we are hopeful it can work. There are other nations and I would give the good example of East Timor. We had to fight to get it on the list. The country has suffered recently in the last decade because of genocide. It has had a lot of turmoil politically. It has had a lot of difficulty with regard to malaria and tuberculosis. It was left off the list.

This is once again where we disagree. The WTO ruling that originally created the ability for this to take place and for Canada to get involved did not call for a have to be list so we created lists that have caused some problems. But just so people understand, it is not just Africa that could benefit from the relief program but actually other developing nations that would find benefits if it works.

In summary, I just want to say that as New Democrats we very much support this. We want to make sure the government understands that there is an onus for us to steer this in Parliament. The fact of the matter is that it has taken so long to get to this point in time and place and it gives me some concern that if the bill does not work that we are going to wash our hands of it. That is a real concern because if we cannot actually have a bill that is practical and that works, then what was the point of all this?

I do not want to be part of a bad public relations exercise for the world. I want to be part of changing it. I think that we have the technology and the capability to have the generic industries fill a very important gap and avoid a lot of suffering. I know the previous speaker was very eloquent in talking about the fact that in Africa a good example is that it is losing its whole institutional learning infrastructure because so many teachers are sick and there is no one to train new ones as replacements.

When we talk with Stephen Lewis about what is happening there, we learn that it is literally children taking care of children. They are losing the parenting ability that they once had to tutelage them through difficult times in life, to be there for them and to ensure they can provide for their families. They are losing this institutional knowledge of how to even operate as a society because the professionals and all the people who make up everything from law and order, education and public safety related to infrastructure are being infected with HIV-AIDS and are passing away. They cannot bring people in quick enough or train them quick enough to fill the gap. It is a spiral. It creates conditions for greater disease and greater conflict. It also provides a festering of the disease that could be eliminated.

We need to understand that these drugs that we are talking about can provide the stability necessary so people can live in decency and live longer lives. They can then create the centre of gravity that is necessary for their countries to rebound from this terrible disease of HIV-AIDS. There are other disease such as malaria and tuberculosis that are affecting other developing nations. We can cure these diseases right now if people have access to medications.

There are terrific non-governmental organizations out there which are a great conduit. They have already built up their credibility in terms of the local communities to assist people with their medications. They have built up their credibility internationally to exercise the necessary procedures and the procurement of funds, be they donations from people, companies or governments. On that note I wish we would fulfill our obligations.

We have all of that right now. What is missing is the sense of stability that the drugs can create. This is something I hope the bill, if passed, will do. If we do not, we will be seen as very irresponsible. At the end of the day if the government has a bill that does not work, then we will have misled the world for the past two years. We have then provided a false sense of hope.

There is an obligation on the members of this House to watch very diligently what is happening. We should not just put it to regulations or send it to a committee that might report back once every three years as I believe is in the legislation. If the legislation does not work, if the generic industries cannot get the deals they need and if the government agencies and the NGOs cannot get the programs underway, then we must revisit this as a priority.

What we have done is created a whole set of expectations. I do not want to be a part of a country that cannot fulfill those expectations.

Patent Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the remarks made by the New Democratic Party's spokesperson. I want to state unequivocally that the official opposition supports Bill C-29. The Senate amendments to this bill are very important.

For clarification, the first part of Bill C-29 amends the act to allow the other place and not just the House of Commons to assess and recommend potential candidates for the committee of experts. The second part of the act deals with patent fees and entity size.

All of this deals with trying to address the necessary drugs to combat AIDS in Africa. Certainly it is a very worthwhile initiative of the former government. It is interesting that it was former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien who undertook this initiative some time ago. Yet here we are in this Parliament, long after Mr. Chrétien has departed, still debating amendments to this piece of legislation.

Despite our support for the amendments to the legislation, I am very concerned about the time lapse we are dealing with. I wonder if my colleague is likewise concerned and questions why it would take so long to get this legislation in place.

One of the amendments, by the way, came about because of the Conservative Party's intervention at the committee stage. It shows that the Conservatives have been very involved in this process, just as the other parties have been involved. I do not think any of the political parties in this place has a monopoly on compassion, not only compassion for those in need here in Canada but compassion for those who suffer in faraway lands.

I wonder if my colleague from the New Democratic Party shares my concern. In the past government, not only under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien but also since the existing Prime Minister took over the reins of power, the Liberal Party, unlike now, enjoyed a majority. It certainly had the wherewithal to force through all sorts of legislation. It had that power and used it quite often. I have been here for almost 12 years now and I certainly saw the Liberals exercise that power by closing down debate on some controversial pieces of legislation.

It strikes me as odd that on something that has such wide-ranging support, the government would be reluctant to move that expeditiously through the process. It could have put it through in the last Parliament. The actual legislation could have been drafted properly so that we did not have to come back with another piece of legislation like Bill C-29 to make amendments to it to try and perfect it, as my colleague from the New Democratic Party has pointed out.

I am curious as to whether he, like me, is concerned about the time lapse and questions why the Liberal government would not have put this through long ago.

Patent Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, first I want to go back to when it started. I believe that we have gone about the whole bill in the wrong way.

Regarding the WTO and the TRIPS agreement, we brought in an expert from the United States who has served the United Nations for years, and from the testimony, we did not have to construct this complex legislation in many people's professional opinion. That was the choice we made. It was something we felt quite differently about from most of the other parties, but we all worked together to create something.

Instead of casting blame at this point in time, and I am very frustrated over it myself, we should look at the numbers. Over three million Africans have died and over five million have contracted HIV-AIDS since the government first brought the bill forward. Those are just general numbers.

We need to make sure on a regular basis that the bill is working and what we are going to do immediately to change it if it is not. That might require going up against some industrial issues. There is a wide range of opinion in the House of Commons. If we really believe in this, we need to make sure that the results are actually there. That is why we need to have a greater involvement.

I have been very disappointed to this point. It puts our country's credibility at risk in terms of the world and there is a demoralizing aspect as well if, at the end of the day, we have a bill that is not successful and we have delayed it even longer. Many Canadians have connections to developing nations and many Canadians have strong connections to non-government organizations. We could be great facilitators. If we miss this opportunity, we are going to regret it. It would be a moral blow to this nation and more important, it would make people suffer needlessly.

We have the ability to take corrective action. We would be remiss if we did not exercise that to make sure that this actually leads to drugs getting to people. Not a single pill has reached anyone yet, despite the two years it has taken to get this far. We need to make sure that at the end of the day medications get into the hands of people who are suffering.

Patent Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Patent Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Patent Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Patent Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Patent Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried unanimously.

(Motion agreed to, amendments read the second time and concurred in)

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

May 5th, 2005 / 1:25 p.m.

Ottawa—Vanier
Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger for the Minister of Health

moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-12, an act to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

St. Paul's
Ontario

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Minister of State (Public Health)

Mr. Speaker, increased population mobility and its relation to the rapid spread of disease is a heightened concern in today's globalized world. Our recent experience with SARS, the arrival of an avian influenza, and the looming threat of the influenza pandemic are stark reminders that public health is a cross-border issue of growing importance. A serious communicable disease can now spread to any part of the globe in less than 24 hours.

Although the principle of uncertainty prevails in global public health, officials do know that economic and psycho-social upheaval is contingent on how virulent the virus is, how rapidly it spreads from one person to another, the capacity for early detection, and how effective preventive control measures prove to be.

The challenge is containment, and the ability to block the disease in question will depend on vigilant monitoring activities at the borders. We will also have to depend on efforts by out-of-country partners for such things as health care delivery, hospital isolation of infected persons and quarantine of potentially exposed individuals.

Although the present public health system has served Canadians well, the time has come to update our legislation so that it better reflects the changes required for preparation and emergency intervention in this 21st century.

In response to this new risk and this threatening environment, the Government of Canada has moved promptly to modernize the Quarantine Act, which is one of the oldest pieces of Canadian legislation.

Bill C-12 plays a paramount role in the management of emerging and re-emerging threats to public health. Administered at Canadian points of entry, it is the first line of defence in protecting Canadians from the importation and spread of a communicable disease. It provides the Government of Canada with modern tools and additional authorities to ensure a rapid and effective response capacity in the event of our next public health crisis.

Members may recall that the Standing Committee on Health made significant contributions toward strengthening this bill. During the examination process members listened to the issues raised by external stakeholders and put forward amendments to reflect their areas of concern. Acknowledging the efforts and commitment of our committee members, the House passed Bill C-12, as amended, on December 10, 2004.

In keeping with the parliamentary process, the Senate of Canada recently completed its legislative review of Bill C-12. As a result of this process the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology introduced amendments pertaining to the tabling of regulations before Parliament.

Simply put, the Senate of Canada passed Bill C-12 on the condition that the Minister of Health lay proposed quarantine regulations before both chambers. This amendment reflects equal status for both Houses in parliamentary oversight of the regulation making process.

Further, the governor in council may only make a regulation under section 62 of the newly proposed quarantine act if both Houses have concurred in reports from their respective committees approving the proposed regulation, or a version of it amended to the same effect.

In the spirit of collaboration, it is my hope that members of the House of Commons will find merit in the work previously undertaken by the Senate of Canada and will concur with the adopted amendments to Bill C-12.

With this said, I wish to demonstrate continued support for this very important piece of health protection legislation. Today I stand before my fellow colleagues imparting that it is our collective responsibility to move Bill C-12 forward in the global interests of public health and the health and safety of Canadians.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Carol Skelton Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, today I rise on behalf of my constituents and the Conservative Party of Canada to speak to the amendments to Bill C-12, the Quarantine Act.

We have passed a series of amendments from our colleagues in the other place with the intent of approving the bill we sent to them. We have reviewed these proposals and agree with them. The amendments will bring additional oversight and accountability to this important legislation, which was lacking in the version the government has sent them before.

For the benefit of those who do not have the bill text before them, I will get to the heart of these amendments.

The original bill did not call for the oversight of both Houses of Parliament, but the proposed amendments would correct this. Should the Quarantine Act need to be enforced, this extra layer of prudence would be essential in ensuring the proper application. In addition, the amendments also call for and facilitate the ability to have public meetings and hearings regarding the act and its applications.

Once again, I welcome this change. It adds an extra layer of protection for Canadians affected and also allows for a broader consultation process. I would expect that at these hearings, if ever held, it would allow experts and affected Canadians to be heard. I support this approach.

I have been hearing many things regarding our preparedness for such a situation and the news at times is not encouraging. Recently I met with firefighters who informed me that over 70% of them do not have the necessary nuclear, biological and chemical emergency training. This worries me greatly, especially as I have had emergency preparedness training and know how important it is for first responders to have the training and tools to do their jobs. If they fail, so do those who follow.

I call upon the government to step forward and ensure that this training takes place as soon as possible. The next pandemic can take place at any time, and this training takes time. Such emergency training also needs to take place for those in our hospital emergency rooms.

Recently I met with our next generation of doctors. They have said that they would welcome this training, but believe that it is also essential. They and I agreed that if medical students were paid to take the training during their academic recess, they would graduate with proper training. What would be better than having our next generation of doctors enter service fully trained and without reducing current staffing levels in the process?

The legislation is just a piece of paper. It alone cannot protect Canadians. It is the people behind it who need to be prepared. In a pandemic situation, running through the streets and waving copies of this bill will not make us safe. Proper training and resources will. My colleagues and I will support the amendments, but we also will do so at the same time that we call for further action; action, not words.

SARS proved that hindsight is twenty-twenty. SARS has also proved that pandemics can cost human lives. Let us not repeat those mistakes.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to make a comment. I think the House is prepared to address the Senate amendments favourably, but the member did raise an ancillary issue with regard to the training for firefighters and other the first responders.

We had the opportunity to deal with the firefighters. I fully support their requests for the necessary funding for the training to ensure that they can protect the best interests of Canadians as they go about their business.

There are other issues such as the public safety officers' compensation fund, the amendments to the Canada pension plan system and I believe there was one other issue, but suffice it to say that in this place, the Canadian firefighter is held in very high esteem.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Carol Skelton Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague totally, but I also want to remind him that besides the firefighters, we have all other emergency personnel at whom we have to look very seriously. The general population has to accept that these people are in a continuous line of fire and that there is always a chance for them to develop disabilities because of their positions. I hope the bill goes one step further in protecting all the people whom we need to protect us.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have been dying for a long time to speak to Bill C-12, the Quarantine Act. I would like to thank my party's whip for enabling me to speak to a bill as fascinating as it is scientifically interesting.

We spent several committee sessions studying this quarantine bill. We were generally in favour of modernizing an act that dated back to the 19th century. It had been passed at a time when methods of transportation were developing especially quickly, including ships, which played a major role. Over all the years since then, new transportation methods have developed and new technologies have emerged. Nowadays, there are trains, airplanes, and even high-speed trains.

When one speaks about globalization and the heightened, ongoing and increasingly worldwide contacts among people, it becomes apparent that travel is no longer a marginal phenomenon. If we were to do a little poll here by show of hands to determine how many of us have visited one, two, three or four continents, we would soon see that travel is not unusual. People are obviously in closer contact than in the 19th century. There was an urgent need, therefore, to modernize the Quarantine Act.

Throughout the committee hearings, my colleague, the member for Laval and I were concerned about how frequently the wording of act left a lot of discretionary room to quarantine officers. For example, there were often no references to notions of time and accountability. The amendment that was clearly most often formulated by all the parliamentarians in committee had to do with the fact that there was no mention of the expression reasonable and probable cause, which is well defined in law.

We therefore tabled several amendments. We made the bill more acceptable and were in favour of its general arrangement.

Before going into greater detail about this bill, it should be recalled that we had two major reasons for concern.

The first was that the Minister of Health can designate the quarantine zones. This means that if there is an epidemic or pandemic, the Minister of Health can designate an area to be quarantined on his own without referring to his counterpart responsible for health and social services in Quebec, New Brunswick or any other province. The Bloc Québécois introduced an amendment on this matter, but it was unfortunately not accepted by the government.

We were disappointed to see that the government had not read our study asking for a quarantine zone. Of course, quarantine zones are often located in places such as airports, which do not pose any problems, because these come exclusively under the federal government's jurisdiction.

However, if a quarantine zone were established in a location that does not come under the federal government's jurisdiction, our critic on intergovernmental affairs would surely rise in this House and say that the government does not respect jurisdictions. He would be justified to do so. I should add that he is a vigilant person with a very keen mind, and we would never want him to be placed in quarantine.

So, we were concerned that the federal government might decide alone to designate a quarantine zone, without consulting authorities in the provinces affected.

We also had concerns about the medical technology. The real novelty in this bill is that the minister will designate certain persons. We wondered who these persons would be. Would they be doctors, nurses or health care professionals? Currently, it is primarily those who make initial contact with newcomers, such as customs officers and others. It is mostly they who control access at our borders when people arrive here.

We wondered what skills and conditions would be required to exercise the powers provided under Bill C-12. I will read clause 14, which is probably the most important provision in this legislation:

Any qualified person authorized by the Minister may, to determine whether a traveller has a communicable disease or symptoms of one, use any screening technology authorized by the Minister that does not involve the entry into the traveller's body of any instrument or other foreign body.

Of course, I sensed for a moment that all sorts of fantasies had gone through my colleagues' minds, but let us keep things at a medical level.

The expression “any...person authorized” was too vague and it was important to be more specific. As for the expressions “any screening technology” and “entry...of any foreign body”, hon. members will admit that they are very general. The Bloc Québécois, ever mindful of its responsibilities, tabled an amendment to refer instead to “appropriate medical technologies”. This amendment sought to set some limits.

The bill proposes a number of new points. For example, a new requirement applies to the operator and crew of conveyances. These may be planes, boats or land vehicles. They are required to report all cases of illness or death on board before their arrival in Canada. It is understandable that those responsible for these means of transport might be able to identify possible sources of infection. It is an act of civic duty—the obligation to report them—now enshrined in the law. The aim of the mandatory reporting is obviously to prevent the spread.

Clause 15 is also of some importance. It concerns the obligation on travellers who believe themselves to have a communicable disease or have been in contact with a person with a communicable disease. They must present themselves to a quarantine officer on arrival or departure. Initially it was felt that this should be a voluntary measure and not a requirement. A person who thinks they have malaria, German measles or measles is required to present themselves to the quarantine officer on their arrival or departure. Obviously, the quarantine bill concerns people from outside coming to Canada.

This is a fascinating bill. We have studied it for two weeks.