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

The House resumed consideration of the motion in relation to the amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-12, an act to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the NDP will be supporting Bill C-12, but I need to emphasize the fact that there are some issues which continue to need to be addressed. Whether they are addressed through the mechanism of this bill or through other mechanisms, I think it is important that we are on record.

A great deal of information has been left up to the minister to develop through regulations. As recent experience has shown with the Chrétien bill for Africa, which was Bill C-9 in the last Parliament, developing regulations can be an incredibly slow and tedious process. We cannot wait indefinitely for these kinds of regulations to be developed.

There is one area of concern in the report that came back to the House. It specifically indicates that the proposed regulations or any version of the amended regulations should come to both the House and the Senate. We are concerned that it will delay the process if regulations must be approved by both the House and the Senate. We would urge expediency in looking at this, because we are often dealing with issues that are in the nature of a crisis when we are talking about quarantine.

I have addressed this issue before, but I feel compelled to raise it again: 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 is on top of their already substantial duties, which include enforcing the Customs Act, looking for potential terrorists and stopping materials that could harm our flora and fauna. This is far too much to expect one group to enforce. We must take that into consideration when we are asking our customs officers to take on these duties.

Other organizations, including the Canadian Nurses Association, have pointed out some concerns. They have pointed out that emerging diseases often have unique symptoms. Screening officers will have to be continually trained and supported to ensure that they know what they have to watch out for. A bad cough is not only the sign of a potential epidemic; it can be the sign of some other things. They must be able to determine what the differences are.

Bill C-12 does not explain how this system will be supported over time. We must address this in order to protect the health and welfare of Canadians.

One of the lessons learned from the SARS epidemic was about the lack of coordination and official communication responsibilities during the crisis. Again, the Canadian Nurses Association recommends that the Chief Public Health Officer and the Public Health Agency of Canada have a critical role in any epidemic or suspected epidemic. They were not included in this bill because enabling legislation to create that position and organization is still being written. This is a serious oversight. We urge the government to act quickly on that legislation. Everyone who spoke to the committee emphasized how important it is to have one clear authority during a health emergency.

It is our hope, however, that we never need this bill, but if we do, we must make sure that the sweeping powers given to the minister to detain people, to use privately owned facilities and to force people to accept medical assessment or treatment, are not unchecked. There are not enough assurances in this legislation that the minister will act in a reasonable manner and that people's rights to privacy will be respected or that workers affected by the quarantine will actually be protected. My colleague from the Bloc spoke quite a bit about this.

Some of these areas of concern are going to be dealt with by regulation. We have already indicated how important it is that the government act quickly in this area.

There is one other area for which we know this government will soon bring forward legislation, especially around protecting workers, and that is a quick response during a health emergency to such issues as employment insurance claims, medical leave and health and safety standards for front line workers. It is absolutely critical, if we are asking front line workers to put their lives on the line for things like this, that we ensure there is a social safety net to protect them.

Another omission that was identified during the committee stage was that the bill covers travellers and materials in and out of Canada but has no provisions for interprovincial travel. Considering that it takes longer to fly to Vancouver from Halifax than it does to fly from Europe to Halifax, the possibilities for communicable diseases being transmitted from one end of the country to the other are quite available.

I also want to briefly mention the Canadian Medical Association “SARS in Canada” report. A couple of key issues the association brought forward are not specifically dealt with adequately in this bill. They include communications.

As we saw during the SARS crisis, and I will quote from the report:

Without a coordinated system to notify acute care facilities and health care providers of global health alerts, front line clinicians often have no prior warning of new emerging diseases.

One of the things that became apparent during the SARS crisis was the lack of a list of current fax numbers or phone numbers of family doctors. There was an inability to communicate with physicians in real time. We must ensure that a communication system is developed to allow us to deal with emerging crises. Many crises emerge very quickly and an early response time is absolutely essential.

One of the other issues that was raised by the Canadian Medical Association was the fact that there was no system. Again I will quote from the report:

There was a lack of a system to distribute protective gear to health care professionals in the province. Once this became apparent the OMA [Ontario Medical Association] identified suppliers and manufacturers and offered to undertake distribution of masks to physicians in order to protect them and their patients.

It is absolutely essential when a crisis emerges that we have lists of suppliers and that we have communication systems in place so that we can adequately protect not only our front line workers, but also the Canadian population as a whole.

Although we will be supporting Bill C-12, I would urge that we quickly address some of these glaring omissions and gaps in the legislation.

(Bill C-282. On the Order: Private Members' Bills)

Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Health of Bill C-282, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (export permits)

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

May 5th, 2005 / 3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Wajid Khan Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been consultations among all parties, and if you seek it I believe you will find unanimous consent that the order for the second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Health of Bill C-282, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (export permits), standing in my name on the order of precedence on the order paper, be discharged and the bill be withdrawn.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

3:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Is there unanimous consent?

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

3:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Order discharged and bill withdrawn)

The House resumed consideration of the motion relating to amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-12, an act to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, even though I do not have the witty eloquence of the hon. member for Hochelaga, who discussed this issue earlier, or the clarity of the hon. member for Verchères—Les Patriotes, or the poetic skills of the hon. member for Saint-Lambert, I am very pleased to rise in this House to address Bill C-12 once again.

It was a few months ago that we conducted the clause by clause review of Bill C-12. The Standing Committee on Health worked very diligently on this legislation. Indeed, it is important for Canadians and Quebeckers to have an act that is very effective in containing the dangers of communicable diseases, particularly in this age of supersonic jets, as the member for Hochelaga so aptly pointed out. People travel from country to country much more rapidly than in the past.

A few days ago, white powder spilled from a suspicious parcel found at Montreal's airport. Those who had been in contact with that parcel became sick and had to be taken to hospital. About 20 people were affected. We are not exempt from biological terrorism. Therefore, we have to be very careful and ensure that we have good legislation to deal with these problems.

Not long ago, I had the pleasure of going to South Africa with you, Madam Speaker, in order to attend the third session of the Pan-African Parliament, which is made up of 46 of the 53 countries on the African continent. Before that trip, I had no idea of what danger some people face. When we are safe at home, we do not realize the grinding poverty of certain countries and the huge shortage of drugs to combat certain diseases.

Recently, the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association discussed HIV-AIDS. Efforts are being made to halt the spread of this disease, but it is still far from being eradicated.

Sometimes we have an opportunity to see such situations first hand. You know that, Madam Speaker, because we both visited an orphanage in Bedoni, where one extraordinary woman cares for 105 children aged 2 to 16, whose parents had AIDS, and who are HIV positive themselves or have other problems. We saw the living conditions there, which were very rudimentary and difficult. Up to 18 children shared a small room chockablock with beds, measuring 7 by 10 feet. This woman and her few helpers look after all those children. We could feel the love and joy that surrounded them despite the circumstances.

When we are dealing with a bill that relates to the problem of transmitting disease, we also need to think of the human beings who will be protected by it. That is what I learned from my experience, to always think of the human beings.

My colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan has dealt very well with several of the points of concern to us in connection with this bill. I hope that the regulations will also address them.

When people travel, they have to have a number of vaccines. Before we went to South Africa, we had to have a whole series of immunizations. When we leave here, we can be pretty well sure that we will come back healthy. But if someone's journey starts out in a country where vaccines are virtually non-existent or harder to obtain, or perhaps have to be paid for, the situation becomes a bit more complicated. This is the case in the poor countries where medicine is not well developed. Even if it is, there is not always the money to deal with all the diseases that afflict the inhabitants, such as Ebola fever.

Recently, in one of the African countries, there has been a reemergence of a fever caused by a virus that is even stronger and more difficult to fight. In addition, with all the antibiotics we are taking even for small infections, there is no doubt that our immune systems are weakened.

It is clear that a bill like this one can pretty much ensure the continued safety of those we want to protect.

I think we have been very diligent, during the clause by clause study, in protecting ourselves against actions taken too hastily by the Minister of Health or anyone wanting to work with those capable or suspected of introducing any such disease or virus in this country.

We do not need, however, yet another procedure or the approval of another house to protect ourselves and take appropriate action, where new regulations would have to be considered and studied. There are enough adults in this place to decide whether the regulations we take are the right ones. We do not need another house for that.

Our friends the senators are also very diligent. They have no doubt done their homework. But once the bill is passed, I think that we can rely on ourselves to implement it properly. It is very important to us that, with respect to this legislation, theinterested political body be this House, and not the Senate.

I hope that the hon. members of this House will think twice before approving these amendments to the bill and that they will object to having to seek the approval of the Senate again.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Carr Halton, ON

Madam Speaker, I hope the member will forgive me if I did not understand the concern properly. In listening to some of the concerns that were put forward, I may have misunderstood what the member was saying, but it seemed that a lot of the concern related to the fact that it was the Senate that was leading this particular issue.

Did I read the member wrong? Is her major concern that it is coming from the Senate?

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, we are still confident that, while it did not fully meet our expectations, Bill C-12, as considered clause by clause by the Standing Committee on Health, can be amended through its regulations so that our needs are met.

But, as my hon. colleague indicated, the message from the Senate, asking that the bill be amended by specifying that the governor in council may only make a regulation under section 62 if the minister has caused the draft regulation to be tabled before both houses of Parliament, is simply unnecessary.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, I had not really intended to rise to address Bill C-12, but I have been moved to do exactly that given the events of today.

I certainly support the earlier comments of our public health critic, the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, and the comments she made in support of this legislation.

Having said that, given the present situation not only in the House of Commons but indeed in our country where we have a corrupt government in office that should not be in office for one day longer, I find that I simply must move the following amendment. I am pleased to have this seconded by my seatmate, the whip of the official opposition, the member for Niagara Falls. The amendment is self-explanatory.

I move that the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “that” and substituting that a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint their honours that this House disagrees with amendment no. 2, made by the Senate, to Bill C-12, an act to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases, because the passage of the amendment may be construed that this House has confidence in the Government, which is in dispute, and the adoption of this motion should confirm that it does not.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

The Chair will take the amendment under advisement. We will continue with debate on the motion.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Ottawa—Vanier
Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. We had a similar type of amendment presented this morning on the motion for concurrence on a committee report. The question as to whether or not it was in order was raised. We then waited a while for the Speaker to rule. We know the Speaker ruled earlier today that the particular amendment was not in order due to relevance.

Since we are talking about Senate amendments to a bill dealing with quarantine, one might wonder about the relevance of the amendment just proposed. Essentially, the House has already stated, by adopting this bill at first, second and third reading, that indeed the bill itself was more than acceptable to the House because it approved it and sent it on to the Senate.

I would ask that the Chair seriously consider whether or not we are again facing a situation where an amendment has been presented that is not in order and I would ask that the Chair rule on it.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, I have a couple of things for your consideration while you deliberate as to whether this amendment is in fact in order.

I want the House to take note of the fact that it is certainly in order for the House of Commons to accept or reject Senate amendments to a bill. On page 674 of Marleau and Montpetit it states:

--it is for the House itself to decide whether it accepts or rejects the amendments proposed by the Senate, and if the House so desires it may state the reasons for rejecting or amending them.

The House may want to reject the Senate amendments for a variety of reasons. In the actual amendment that I have just introduced to the chamber, it clearly states why I believe the House should reject these Senate amendments. It is contained in the body of the amendment itself.

As to the deputy House leader's assertion that because these amendments deal with a bill that had already passed through the chamber at a previous time, I would submit that events not only in the House of Commons but indeed in our country have changed dramatically since that bill proceeded through this chamber.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's South, NL

Madam Speaker, in his ruling this morning, which is what makes it entirely different from the present situation, the Speaker stated that the amendment was only to a part of the report, but it really referred to the entire report and therefore was not really relevant.

Certainly, in this case, this is not the case. The amendment that was made is very relevant as it relates to the piece of legislation, so we are not talking about apples and apples at all. We are talking about two entirely different cases.

If we look at the ruling the Speaker made earlier, given this type of amendment, the Speaker said quite clearly that this would be proper, right and acceptable.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Werner Schmidt Kelowna, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to refer in particular to the reference made by the hon. deputy House leader of the government when he stated that the bill had been presented to the House, was given third reading, and was before the Senate. That is a matter of fact. We know that happened.

What is being moved here is an amendment to the amendment from the Senate. That is not the same thing as the bill. That is an amendment to the bill itself which changes the bill.

This House did not approve that bill without the amendment. It approved a bill that was presented by the government. The Senate has made some amendments to that bill which is, in effect, to change that bill. It is argued that this is not the same bill simply because the amendment itself changes the bill.

Madam Speaker, it is absolutely in order and you should rule in favour of the amendment.