House of Commons Hansard #93 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

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The House resumed from May 5 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, and of the motion that this question be now put.

Quarantine Act
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10 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today on Bill C-12, the new Quarantine Act. We are updating the Quarantine Act because the piece of legislation we are working with is absolutely antiquated. It has not been significantly modernized since 1872.

The purpose of the Quarantine Act is very clear and straightforward. It offers protection to the Canadian public at our border points of entry by authorizing the use of public health measures to prevent communicable diseases from entering the country and spreading throughout the population. Our recent experience with SARS has not been forgotten. With the global threat of avian influenza and the heightened risk of a human pandemic, health experts and the public are acutely aware that new diseases can swiftly emerge and change in such a manner that all governments require a modern set of tools at their disposal to ensure rapid and decisive action.

Many of us will remember the important work undertaken by Dr. David Naylor, chair of the national advisory committee on SARS and public health. The newly proposed Quarantine Act reflects action taken by this government in a direct response to the recommendations put forth in the Naylor report and later echoed by the Senate committee.

In a modern era, diseases do not arrive by boat on transatlantic voyages. They arrive by plane and present themselves at our doorsteps within hours. By moving forward this important piece of public health protection legislation, the Government of Canada will have the authority to address immediate concerns related to global disease transmission, a cross-border issue of growing importance.

As members may recall, Bill C-36 was the first attempt to modernize the Quarantine Act. The bill was introduced in the last parliamentary session on May 12, 2004, but died on the order paper when the election was called.

Last fall, Bill C-12 was reintroduced. This revised bill reflected the comments of many stakeholders including provincial and territorial public health experts. After an extensive review process, including witness testimony and amendments adopted by the Standing Committee on Health, the bill was passed by the House of Commons on December 10, 2004.

Recently, the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology underwent a similar examination process of Bill C-12. Amendments were adopted by committee members specifically related to the tabling of quarantine regulations. The House committee on health had asked that these regulations be tabled, so that it could review them. The Senate saw that amendment in the bill and decided that it would like to see the regulations as well.

If the House concurs today in the proposed amendments, the tabling of regulations under Bill C-12 will reflect the role of the Senate of Canada by reinforcing the equivalent authority of this chamber in the parliamentary legislative process.

Canadians want protection. They expect government to draw upon an array of modern tools to manage future risks to public health. The revised Quarantine Act before us complements provincial and territorial public health legislation, for each jurisdiction is responsible for maintaining public health.

The federal Quarantine Act will operate as the first line of defence. It will play a mitigating role in protecting the health of Canadians from the importation of disease. The importance of jurisdictions working together is paramount when protecting public health, even more so when health threats emerge. The complementary legislative design of Bill C-12 helps to create a web of protection for Canadians.

Indeed, we do not need another health crisis to reinforce the critical importance of working in concert with our provincial and territorial partners.

After the SARS crisis, the Government of Canada moved immediately to strengthen public health. This act would become an important instrument in carrying out that commitment for it would add another tool in the pan-Canadian toolbox for public health. The newly created Public Health Agency of Canada and the appointment of the Chief Public Health Officer will serve in the management of any new infectious disease outbreak.

It is not only our obligation to Canadians that we need to consider. Currently, the World Health Organization is undertaking revisions to the international health regulations. Canada is a major player in that process.

Bill C-12, our new Quarantine Act, complements this effort. It is compatible with global public health efforts. This new legislation appropriately balances individual rights and freedoms in the protection of the public good. In a globalized world, it reflects the increased complexity in public health, making linkages with other authorities to support a coordinated response capacity, and including local and provincial partners, customs officials, the RCMP and the World Health Organization.

Revisions to Bill C-12 would ensure better communication, collaboration and cooperation among partners, as well as better clarity about who does what when. It would build on the expertise and the strengths already in place in the disease management spectrum to ensure that Canadians are safeguarded by a seamless public health system throughout this country.

Once enacted, our new Quarantine Act would ensure that the Government of Canada has the proper legislative tools to respond rapidly and effectively in the event of our next public health crisis.

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

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10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member opposite spoke to us about quarantine, customs, the RCMP and border patrol officers. I have a question for her. If we remove RCMP officers from border patrol, if there is only one person assigned to customs duties and we want to protect Canadians by applying quarantine in the event that people cross the border with the flu or other diseases, what can we do to inspect these people if they just go straight across the border, as is often the case?

How can we have control, put people in quarantine or do anything involving quarantine if there are no more police officers, nothing or no one to stop these people at the border?

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10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Oakville, ON

Madam Speaker, the Quarantine Act addresses the largest group of people coming into this country. That takes place at our airports. Air travel is another factor where people arrive at our border quite ill or on the verge of becoming quite ill. The main measures of this bill would be taken at airports.

However, at other border crossing points, the usual measures would apply and there are both provincial and municipal police forces that can do whatever job the RCMP used to do. I do not believe that RCMP officers were actually picking people out of cars and saying, “You look sick. You had better go into quarantine”. I think that would be a misuse of their time. I think it is creating a myth to suggest they used to do that at all.

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10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the intervention of the hon. member for Oakville, who is the chair of the Standing Committee on Health and has led parliamentarians through extraordinarily important legislation over the last number of years.

It is also important to note that this is a very significant bill, particularly to people in Ontario, where the SARS incident had such an enormous impact. Many people died and many others were ill. Entire communities were brought to a total halt. I know that the Ontario members of Parliament were particularly concerned about the procedures, because during the SARS epidemic we did not know how to deal with those kinds of things.

In fact, as subsequent inquires found, a number of things were not done as well as they could have been, but we learned from them. Part of this process is to learn from things that did not go as well as they should have. It is one of the reasons why the Quarantine Act has not been updated since 1872 or something like that, which I think the member mentioned.

It would be useful to have the member provide a bit of insight about some of the matters related to the SARS epidemic. It is a very good example of why this particular act should go forward and be passed by Parliament.

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10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of my colleague. While he is not a formal member of the health committee, he tries to attend frequently to keep himself updated.

The first thing I would like to say about this bill is that if there is any one issue in the House that should not be subject to partisan politics, it is the provision of public health measures in this new world that we live in. It is to be hoped that all members here present today will support this bill in order that the provisions of it can be put in place, because basically they are there to protect the health of Canadians.

My colleague is correct in saying that those of us who are from the metropolitan area of Toronto and close to the Pearson International Airport were tremendously struck by the rippling impacts of SARS. Most of us knew at least one family, perhaps the family of a health care worker, that had been quarantined over a period of time, and we knew about the impact that had on the other members of the family, all as a matter of protection for the wider community and a measure that we agreed with.

Once a disease like this gets started, the ripple effects on personal, family and children's lives and on the economy make it a far bigger thing than one thinks it is going to be when one first hears of it. That is why we were so delighted to have the appointment of a new Minister of State for Public Health, the member for St. Paul's, and the acquisition of a chief public health officer to coordinate these efforts across the country. I invite all members to go to their offices in suburban Ottawa. They are most impressive to see and will reassure members about their role as parliamentarians in protecting the public health of Canadians.

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10:20 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful to the member for her comments this morning and I am glad that the NDP is supporting this bill, because it is an important update to our quarantine laws. I am glad that the New Democrats are on board with this. I have one question.

There were some concerns raised at committee, one of which was the whole question of screening officers and the extra duties that this is going to put onto our customs officers, who are already required to enforce the Customs Act and have various security concerns they have to take care of, as well as agricultural concerns. Now we are adding a sort of medical screening to that.

I am wondering if the minister could comment on overloading our customs officers or what extra training might be available to them to actually carry out this important function.

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10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, there was some discussion about that, but we were reassured that customs officers would not be doing any in depth medical evaluation. It will be a simple kind of screening and they will have the training to prepare them to do that. None of us want to burden these very important officials of the Government of Canada with more work than they can handle. None of us want to slow down the customs process for travellers and tourists, et cetera. They will simply be a sort of first line and adequate medical personnel will be available to do any evaluation that needs to be done.

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10:20 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, the question I have for the hon. member has to do with compensation. It was a big issue at committee.

There was a whole range of issues that came up regarding space at airports, whereby the airport authorities would have to give up space for public screening in an emergency without compensation, providing fixtures and a whole range of other things. These airports have very expensive leases with the government. Also, other facilities could be taken over without compensation. A curling rink or an arena could be taken over for public health measures without compensation. It is at the discretion of the minister to compensate.

Unfortunately, because of royal recommendation, the committee was not allowed to accept amendments that would cost the government money. Is the member satisfied that the public's interest will be protected and that private citizens' and corporate interests will be protected by the minister?

Quarantine Act
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May 6th, 2005 / 10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the legislative design of Bill C-12 supports a prudent approach consistent with responsible government spending, that is, to determine an appropriate level of compensation only after an incident or an outbreak. It does provide the flexibility to provide compensation to industry in the event that quarantine facilities are required to isolate at risk travellers.

It does not speak directly to the issue of compensation for travellers detained under quarantine powers, but the Government of Canada could provide assistance to travellers who are inconvenienced by such measures.

In the event of a public health crisis, the government has the ability to, first, assess the situation and determine the need for an appropriate level of compensation based on the merits of each case, and then determine the possible means of compensation.

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10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, this morning we are debating the Senate amendments to Bill C-12. I have had an opportunity to review the prior debates to try to ascertain some of the concerns of members. I see in the House this morning a number of members as well as the previous speaker who have all worked on this legislation.

The member for Oakville said something that I think is worth reflecting on. It is that these health issues transcend partisan interests. I think all members would agree that when it comes to the matter of public safety and public health it is the number one priority of Canadians and certainly of the Parliament of Canada.

I also want to say I am delighted that we are back debating important legislation, which has progressed for some time. As we know, there is much speculation about an election and what the consequences might be. Most are political, but in the reality for Canadians we are talking about the work of Parliament over the past months.

We have a large number of bills, much legislation and other initiatives at various stages throughout the legislative system. I am aware of a number of them. One is even one of my own initiatives on fetal alcohol syndrome. An election call would kill all these bills and the other legislation, as well as an enormous amount of work done by I believe some very talented people in the committee and legislative system and by parliamentarians at large. I just want Canadians to know that we are trying very hard to have important legislation passed in this place as quickly as possible because it is in the best interests of Canadians.

Bill C-12 is an act to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases. This enactment repeals and replaces the existing Quarantine Act, which has not been modernized since 1872. The purpose is to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases in Canada.

It is applicable to persons in conveyances arriving in or in the process of departing Canada. It provides measures for the screening, health assessment and medical examination of travellers to determine if they have communicable diseases and measures for preventing the spread of communicable diseases, including referral to the public health authorities, detention, treatment and disinfestation. The provisions for the administrative oversight of the detention of travellers are also included in the bill.

It provides for additional measures such as the inspection and cleansing of conveyances and cargo to ensure that they are not a source of communicable diseases. It imposes controls on the import and export of cadavers, body parts and other human remains.

It contains provisions for the collection and disclosure of personal information if it is necessary to prevent the spread of communicable disease and, under certain circumstances, for law enforcement purposes. It also provides the Minister of Health with interim order powers in the case of public health emergencies and enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with the act.

Excuse me, Mr. Speaker, but there seems to be a fair bit of noise in the House right now.

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10:25 a.m.

The Speaker

There are perhaps a lot of questions for the hon. member from Mississauga, but they are going to have to wait until the end of his speech.

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10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

When we look at the summary of the legislation, we realize that this particular bill touches on a lot of areas on which there has been extensive debate in this place. In fact, we are even talking about charter rights, on which we have had a great deal of debate in this place, and the various provisions, the rights and freedoms of the--

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10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

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10:30 a.m.

The Speaker

Order, please.