House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was board.

Topics

Business of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to)

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

March 28th, 2007 / 3:25 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all notices of motions for the production of papers be allowed to stand.

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from March 23 consideration of the motion that Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When the House was last debating this matter, the hon. member for Surrey North had the floor. She has 18 minutes left in the time allotted for her remarks. I therefore call on the hon. member for Surrey North.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think it is a one line amendment and I am sure that I can talk for some time about the amendment. Although it is a very small amendment it would have a life-saving or potentially-life threatening effect if we do not carry it forward.

As I said the other day, this is really an amendment to the Public Health Act. It is a very interesting act. It was written in 1872. I do not need to give any history on it because the last time we did anything with it was in 1872.

Here we are now 135 years later. The House was full at the time and I think everybody did support it. It was probably right after a small pox epidemic which, in those times, was very frightening and killed many family members. We should never make fun or ridicule that kind of tragedy that occurs to families when there are diseases of epidemic proportions.

When this act was written people were concerned about the illnesses they saw in their countries. People died of small pox and the plague. They were concerned about what happened within their cities or their towns. They never conceived of the fact that a disease would travel to a country or a continent that they had never seen, never heard of and were never going to see. No one would have believed that a disease could be transmitted in that kind of way.

We find ourselves, 135 years later, in a very different kind of health environment. We need to take very seriously the fact that the potential for communicable diseases to move from country to country is significantly heightened.

We only need to look at the last few years and what we have seen in Canada to be reminded of that. Anyone who was part of responding to or living in a city where the SARS epidemic was so tragically seen, will know that the responses to that particular disease were late starting and we were not able to respond in the kind of quick fashion that we all would have liked.

If I were to be biased toward British Columbia, my home province, I would say that British Columbia actually led the way in many of the innovations that came about as a result of SARS.

I have a few concerns I would like to raise. I certainly support the amendment but it seems to me that there are one or two pieces missing in it.

What it does is it adds to the Quarantine Act the reporting responsibility to be expanded to include aircraft and commercial watercraft. Anyone operating an aircraft or commercial watercraft has the responsibility to report any person who has died or any person they believe has a potentially communicable disease or any cargo they believe is suspect.

What about one of the main ways in which people and products are transported around the country and into the country, which is by truck or by rail? This does not include either people or products transferred by rail.

From living in British Columbia, I know the truck traffic, and I assume it is the same in many other provinces, that goes back and forth across our border is lined up for miles. On any holiday weekend, we can turn on our radio and hear that there is a two hour wait at the border because so many cars are lined up to come into Canada from the United States.

The fact that rail and road traffic are not included in this causes me considerable concern. We have seen several times in the last year or so an alert not to buy a produce that has come across the border because of the concern it may be contaminated. I am concerned we have not covered off all of the potential ways in which a communicable disease could be transmitted.

This is particularly important in this day and age because we discover, on an annual basis, viruses that nobody has ever heard of before. I think there was a stage when people thought they had identified most of the kinds of viruses that affected particularly people. However, we now know that those viruses transmute until we have differing versions on a pretty continuous basis. Therefore, we have to be incredibly rigorous and vigorous in our actions to protect the population of Canada against in any way being susceptible to a communicable disease.

The whole issue of quarantine reminds me of what happened before people were immunized.There may be some people in the House who remember when people had the whooping cough, or diphtheria or whatever, their whole home was quarantined. Then we developed immunizations for many of those diseases for which we previously would have been quarantined.

What now has happened, which causes me concern because it is about quarantine and communicable diseases, is we do not know what our immunization rates are really like across the country. There is no mandatory reporting by any province of their immunization rates.

I know in certain parts of my province of British Columbia immunization rates of diseases, which have been designated communicable, are dropping. Therefore, we have the potential of seeing a disease we thought we no longer had to quarantine or we thought we had an immunization for it. However, if for whatever reason fewer families choose not to immunize their children, we could very well see another bout of some communicable disease that we thought was long behind us.

For a long time people thought that tuberculosis was a communicable disease with which we no longer had to deal. That is one that was quarantined for a long time. We not only learned how to treat it, but we also learned how to immunize against it. In many parts of the country, particularly in aboriginal communities and in urban centres where people live in conditions that are less than healthy for anybody, we see an increase of tuberculosis. We thought it was behind us, now it is not.

There is no mandatory reporting of that. Surely the federal government has a national leadership role to play in having that information available so Health Canada, CIHI and all health organizations, which have a responsibility for public health threats, have an ability to see a trend. If we only look at what is happening in our own provinces, we will not know if this is some kind of trend happening across the country that requires some national leadership.

We have seen SARS, the West Nile virus and avian influenza. All those things have caused the public health community to work well together, to develop better procedures, protocols and surveillance at least in the provinces, but I still am concerned that is not a mandatory responsibility of provinces to report potentially communicable disease.

This bill would broaden the coverage of the Quarantine Act, and that is a good thing. It would also help us meet our World Health Organization obligations as a signatory to the revised international health regulations. These regulations ensure maximum security against the international spread of disease, with minimum interference with global travel, and I know that is very hard to do. However, our first responsibility is to the health and safety of Canadians, but also a much more humanistic and moral way to the health and safety of people who live anywhere in the world.

Those WHO regulations are scheduled to come into effect in June of this year. This regulation would then put us in compliance, as we would wish to be, with the World Health Organization. It will know we are doing all we can in Canada to meet that health obligation.

There will be a creation of different kinds of responsibilities for people. There will be quarantine officers, which is a good step. Previously officers were designated by the minister, as was stipulated in the act. These quarantine officers will have very specific education and responsibility to collect information, to know how it should be disseminated and, wherever possible, to get ahead of something that might happen.

We are very concerned that this tool be able to be used by the Public Health Agency of Canada. It came from the report that Dr. Naylor did after the SARS epidemic.

I remain concerned about the lack of rail and truck cargo being included in this and about the fact that other communicable diseases, which are being less immunized for, are not reported nationally. There is no national database for that and we may put a next generation of children or potentially a current generation of adults, who are not immune to what we think of as children's diseases, at risk.

While I am speaking to the issue of communicable diseases and immunization, there is also a national leadership role. There is certainly a provincial role. I understand perfectly that provincial governments deliver health care services, but there may be a national leadership role that can be played by the federal government in terms of disseminating more education information or working with public health officers in each province to ensure that standardized information is getting to all the parents.

People take their new babies for their first immunization shots. Everybody does that because it is a good thing to do. A smaller percentage take them back for their second set of immunizations. If I were to go around Parliament and ask people if all their immunizations were up to date, I expect the majority would say no. We do not know the fact that we do not stop being immunized at age four. There are immunizations that we must continue to get throughout adulthood to protect ourselves from certain kinds of diseases.

There is a national leadership role that can be taken, working with public health officers in each province who have that responsibility, to ensure that we have a more vigorous initiative of getting out standardized information not only to parents of newborns, who get very good information about immunization, but to all Canadians so they know immunization should continue through adulthood in order for them to be safe. If adults are not safe, they may put their families at risk as well.

I support the amendment. I have expressed some concerns about the fact that it could go further. I also have expressed concerns about other things we could do around communicable diseases. For example, we could have mandatory reporting. Diseases we had previously quarantined may be at risk of being quarantined again if we do not vigorously address immunization like used to do, and more so under the Quarantine Act.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Surrey gave a very thorough overview of the bill we are speaking to today regarding quarantines. I want to pay tribute to the long experience that my colleague has as a former minister of health in the provincial government of British Columbia and the very worthwhile comments that she made today.

My comments and my questions to her are in the context of the role of the national Chief Public Health Officer in the context of quarantine protection. Also I would like to expand for a moment on the need for grassroots community involvement in the important work that the national Chief Public Health Officer does and the national institute of public health in the province of Quebec.

I would like the member to comment on an incident in Winnipeg. The riding of Winnipeg Centre is host to the only level four virology laboratory in the country where testing is done on the most dangerous diseases, such as Ebola virus. Any outbreak of a disease that needs attention if it were to be a national epidemic situation comes to Winnipeg.

The citizens surrounding the virology lab were very concerned because that virology lab was sent to Winnipeg Centre as a booby prize. Really what we wanted was the CF-18 airplane maintenance contract back in the Mulroney era and we all know what happened to that. It went to the highest bidder because that bidder happened to be in Quebec. To try and calm down the people on the Prairies who were so outraged, insulted and offended at losing the CF-18 contract, he gave us a disease lab, we called it then, now the virology laboratory.

To begin with, people were not thrilled to get a level four disease laboratory in the middle of a residential neighbourhood in the heart of my riding of Winnipeg Centre. There were great concerns about the security issues associated with having the most deadly microbes and viruses in the world being analyzed next to a school and next to a low income residential neighbourhood. We pulled together a citizens committee to deal with the federal government. We got some guarantees in place that the highest safety protocol available would be used in the transfer of the deadly viruses, germs and microbes.

We were not too concerned with what was happening within the four walls of the virology laboratory because they were two feet thick concrete walls. They were bomb proof. There was bulletproof glass. But how would the microbes, the germs or the viruses get from the point of origin to the laboratory for study and analysis? We were guaranteed that it would be done by Brinks armoured car. There would be three of them in a row and only one would be carrying the product; the other two would be dummies to fool terrorists, et cetera.

There is an incident I would like the member to comment on in the context of how important it is to have community involvement. It turns out there was a car accident on the corner of Arlington and Logan, right near the virology lab, involving a FedEx truck. Out of the back of the FedEx truck popped a bunch of vials of anthrax and Newcastle disease and all these deadly microbes that were on their way to the virology lab.

It turns out that in spite of the commitment and the promises that were made to us that the highest safety protocol would be used, anthrax was being shipped by FedEx. The pimple faced kid who was driving the FedEx truck drove it into a pole and the stuff spilled out into the street. That is not the highest security and safety protocol. What is next, Ebola by bicycle? There was anthrax by FedEx, so there might as well be Ebola by bicycle courier because that is about as secure as these materials are.

The Chief Public Health Officer has an obligation and a duty to oversee epidemics and runaway viruses to quarantined areas, but surely he has a duty and an obligation to listen to the best interests of the people in the community as well.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was not here when that happened, but it seems that the hon. member had asked for a plane maintenance centre and something else landed in his riding that was not what was actually requested.

By the way, the lab to which the hon. member referred does superb work. I want to congratulate the people who work there. It is a very challenging job. The hon. member is right that they work with highly contagious and life-threatening diseases.

I did not hear of the incident that the hon. member mentioned. I will certainly raise the question with the Chief Public Health Officer.

At the time that the chicken farms were being cleared out in British Columbia and other parts of Canada, great care was taken. Neighbours and schools in the area were extremely concerned about the waste material, not only about where it would go, but how it would be collected. They were concerned about whether it would it be wind driven or otherwise disseminated around the neighbourhood.

People in the member's community have every right to know that not only will the viruses and microbes be treated safely when they are inside the building, but also that they will be transported safely.

There have been all kinds of discussions about transportation of hazardous materials up and down the coasts of our country. Certainly on the west coast, the transportation of very dangerous materials by water up and down the coast is a subject of almost constant discussion.

It is not just the people in the hon. member's community that should be concerned. I would assume that the microbes and viruses are being transported across the country to the lab in Winnipeg. It is a Canadian service doing a service for Canadian people. Everybody deserves to know that it is being done safely, not only at source, but along the way.

I will raise that particular incident with the Chief Public Health Officer. I will ask him what the responsibility is of his office. I will get back to the member.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would ask you to seek unanimous consent that notwithstanding any Standing Order or special order, the debate scheduled to take place later today on the motion to concur in the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food be deemed to have already taken place, the question deemed put, and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to the end of government orders on Wednesday, March 28.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move this motion?

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her unique contribution to Bill C-42. It is easy to simply read legislative notes or extracts of the bill, but to bring some firsthand experience is always very helpful.

When we think about it, the bill exists as a consequence of events that transpired in Canada in recent years having to do with SARS, West Nile virus, avian flu. Indeed in responding to the SARS outbreak, a special committee was put together to make recommendations on how we could better respond. One of Dr. Naylor's recommendations and the committee's recommendation was to update the Quarantine Act.

That was back in 2003-04. It is now March 2007 and I would have thought that public health and safety in regard to possible pandemics of flu or other risks to the Canadian public would have been a higher priority for the government. I am wondering why after 14 months we are still only at second reading on a bill that should have been here in the first place.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, my general experience is that if governments want bills brought forth quickly because they are important, they bring them forth quickly.