House of Commons Hansard #131 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

I wish to inform the House that because of the ministerial statement government orders will be extended by 41 minutes.

National Defence Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

National Defence Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale
B.C.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak in support of Bill S-3, An Act to amend the National Defence Act, the Criminal Code, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act and the Criminal Records Act.

When this government took office, we promised to deliver on five key priorities. Those priorities were: first, to clean up government by passing the federal Accountability Act; second, to provide tax relief to working families by cutting the GST; third, to make our streets and communities safer by cracking down on crime; fourth, to help parents with the cost of raising their children; and fifth, to work with the provinces to establish a patient wait times guarantee.

I am proud to note that we have made progress on all five of these priorities, and we are moving ahead in other areas to improve the lives of Canadians. We are working toward building a stronger, safer and better Canada.

The bill we are debating today is directly related to one of our top five priorities, and that is cracking down on crime.

The existing Sex Offender Information Registration Act, or SOIRA, is an important tool for law enforcement. It provides police with rapid access to information regarding convicted sex offenders, which assists them in investigating crimes of a sexual nature.

The bill we have before us would bring the military justice system in line with the civilian criminal justice system through the SOIRA. During my time today, I want to explain how the bill would do just that.

I fully support this bill and I encourage my honourable colleagues to do the same. This is a complicated issue, so I hope to make it as clear as possible for my honourable colleagues.

I think we can benefit from looking at the current system for a moment.

In December 2004 the sex offender database was established under the Sex Offender Information Registration Act. The sex offender database is maintained by the RCMP. It assists police in investigating crimes of a sexual nature by providing them with rapid access to information regarding convicted sex offenders.

I emphasize that the obligation to register pursuant to the SOIRA is not intended to be a tool to prevent sexual offences. Nor is it meant to be an additional punishment for a person who has been convicted of a sexual offence. The sole purpose of the database is to provide law enforcement officials with an up-to-date investigative tool for offences of a sexual nature.

Let me give the House an example of how this works. If an alleged sexual offence occurs in Ottawa, the local police investigating the offence here can quickly access the database to determine what sex offenders reside in this area. When necessary, the police can interview such individuals to aid in their investigation.

I would like to emphasize that police officers cannot access the national sex offender registry for just any reason.

Police officers can only access the database if they are investigating a sexual offence. The national sex offender registry is therefore an effective tool designed to help police officers who are investigating sex crimes. However, when the sex offender database was created in 2004, it did not include people convicted in the military justice system. That is what Bill S-3 seeks to change.

Under Bill S-3, a court martial could order a convicted sexual offender to register in the sex offender database. The bill would maintain Canadian legal norms with regard to the SOIRA. It simply would ensure that convictions for sexual offences pursuant to the National Defence Act would have the same effect as in the civilian criminal justice system for the purposes of the national sex offender database. This means that if a Canadian Forces member is convicted of a sexual offence by a court martial, he or she could be required to register pursuant to SOIRA, just like a sexual offender convicted in a civilian court.

Although the amendments to the National Defence Act are designed to harmonize the military justice system with the civilian criminal justice system, they are not an exact copy of the provisions contained in the Criminal Code.

Under the SOIRA, offenders who leave Canada must provide notice and specify the dates of their departure and return. This system may work well for offenders convicted under the civilian criminal justice system. However, it poses potential problems in the case of military personnel, given the unique nature of the military operational environment.

Some Canadian Forces member can, for example, be deployed from their home base with very little advance notice. This can occur, for instance, in response to a domestic emergency or for a deployment overseas. Depending on the nature of the operation, the release of the member's date of departure could put in peril the security of our armed forces and our allies.

Bill S-3 recognizes this fact and a certain amount of flexibility is therefore built into the bill. The bill would provide authority to the governor in council to designate registration centres for the Canadian Forces that could be located both inside and outside of Canada. As well, the bill would allow the Chief of the Defence Staff to determine how a sex offender could fulfill the reporting requirements and exercise the rights established under the SOIRA. I will explain these rights in more detail later in my speech.

First, if an offender's operational obligations prevent him or her from exercising their legal rights or for meeting some of the SOIRA requirements, the bill would address the situation. The key to this authority is that it would be only used to remedy a situation involving two conflicting legal obligation. This authority would allow Canadian Forces members to exercise their rights or satisfy their obligation under the SOIRA once their operational obligations have been completed. Ultimately, the offender would be required to fully comply with the SOIRA requirements.

Second, the bill would allow certain information to be excluded from the database when the Chief of the Defence Staff determined the release of this information could jeopardize national security, international relations or certain types of operations. However, the Chief of the Defence Staff would not exercise the authority granted under Bill S-3 for just any reason. The Chief of the Defence Staff could only exercise this authority when a registered offender could not comply with his or her reporting obligation for operational reasons. We do not expect that this authority would be exercised very often.

In essence, this important provision would allow a sex offender to report under the SOIRA while ensuring that information which could jeopardize national security, international relations or operational security would not be disclosed.

To summarize, Bill S-3 would extend the registration scheme of the SOIRA to individuals convicted of sexual offenders under the National Defence Act. This would bring the military justice system in line with the civilian criminal justice system, while taking into consideration the unique operational requirements of the Canadian Forces.

Bill S-3 would also ensure that the military justice system would continue to reflect the same legal norms that exist within the civilian justice system.

Bill S-3 is a step forward in terms of the government's efforts to fight crime. This government has given the police more tools and resources to fight crime.

The Sex Offender Information Registration Act is a valuable tool for police to investigate crimes of a sexual nature. This is why we want to extend the SOIRA registration scheme to individuals convicted of sexual offences under the National Defence Act.

I am thankful for the cooperation of all members who have allowed this worthy bill to go forward.

National Defence Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in the debate on Bill S-3, An Act to amend the National Defence Act, the Criminal Code, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act and the Criminal Records Act.

First, it is important to clarify at the very beginning that this bill in no way seeks to discredit our Canadian Forces. On the contrary, they inspire pride and honour in us all. As we well know, our Canadian armed forces are now representing Canada overseas, whether in Afghanistan or in other countries. Some of our men and women have already made many sacrifices and some have paid with their lives to defend our great democratic values. In that respect, in particular, we must pay tribute to them.

Above all, we must not forget that they are also proud ambassadors of Canadian values. In addition, it is important to ensure that they properly represent the values that they are defending abroad. We must also ensure that the actions of these ambassadors respect the values that are enshrined in our own legal system. That is perfectly normal and consistent.

It must be understood that the bill we are discussing today refers to exceptionally rare circumstances. It must also be admitted that the provisions included in Bill S-3 are only rarely applied.

Nevertheless, the bill is an important legislative measure intended to ensure that the military justice system will continue to reflect Canadian legal standards. It ensures that the Canadian military justice system is integrated with the national sex offender registry, while taking into account military operational requirements.

Bill S-3 is almost identical to a bill in the last Parliament, Bill S-39, which was supported by all parties and I am especially pleased that we are proceeding with second reading of this bill today. While the name has been changed and there are slight amendments, it is essentially the same. I hope that it will receive the support of all parties in this House again today.

To properly understand the objective of this bill, we must first look at the current system.

In 2004, when the Sex Offender Information Registration Act was proclaimed and certain provisions were included in the Criminal Code, a registry was created of persons who had been convicted of certain sexual offences.

As part of this system, a criminal court judge can order a person convicted of an offence of a sexual nature to report to a police station on a regular basis in order to provide specific personal information. That information is then entered into a national database. The process can also be applied to persons convicted of a sexual offence who were serving a sentence at the time the act came into force.

I would like to underscore that the principal objective of the registry is to provide the various police forces with another tool to help in their investigations of sex offences, to identify potential suspects.

In that vein, I am sure everyone in this House will agree that it is in the public interest to ensure that military courts martial hand down the same sentences for sexual offences as do civilian tribunals.

I must also point out that members of the Canadian Forces who are required to participate in the National Sex Offender Registry may continue to serve in the military after a conviction. This will be possible by providing mechanisms to allow them to fulfill their reporting requirements from within the military operational environment.

As we all know, the remarkable work performed by the men and women of the Canadian Forces sometimes requires that information be withheld for security reasons. This is why subsection 227.16(1) was proposed.

It reads:

The Chief of the Defence Staff may determine that the communication, under section 6 of the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, of information that relates to an operation could jeopardize national security, international relations or the security of an operation that is within a class of operations designated by a regulation made under paragraph 227.2(b).

However, there are measures to ensure that police forces can obtain information required for an investigation.

I already see some honourable members frowning and questioning the transparency of the above clause. I would like to reassure them. There are provisions in place governing the use of this clause and providing for the transfer of the information to the Department of National Defence which, in turn, must report to the two houses of this Parliament. The provisions are found in section 221.171, which reads as follows:

227.171 (1) The Chief of the Defence Staff shall, within 30 days after the end of each year, submit a report to the Minister on the operation of sections 227.15 and 227.16 for that year that includes

(a) the number of determinations made under each of paragraphs 227.15(a) to (d) and the duration of the suspension resulting from each determination; and

(b) the number of determinations made under subsection 227.16(1) and the number of persons exempted under subsection 227.16(4) as a result of each determination.

(2) The Minister shall cause a copy of the report to be laid before each House of Parliament on any of the first 15 days on which that House is sitting after the Minister receives the report.

I believe that this provision provides sufficient reassurance as it clearly indicates that decisions made by the Chief of the Defence Staff with regard to this act will not remain internal untraceable decisions.

I would like to add one more thing to help us understand the pertinence of this matter. Individuals charge with such offences are rarely found guilty; when they are, they are discharged from the armed forces most of the time. If they do remain in the armed forces, they must undergo counselling and are placed on probation in order to help them.

This bill ensures that the military judicial system reflects the same values and rights as our civil judicial system and, consequently, guarantees that the systems are equitable. Thus, it is with pleasure that I move that this bill be adopted and I strongly urge my colleagues in this House to support it.

National Defence Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today on Bill S-3, which is before us today.

This bill is not very complicated. In December 2004 the House of Commons passed a series of measures requiring sex offenders to be listed in a registry. After this legislation passed and came into force on December 15, 2004, if memory serves, people realized that the military justice system did not have a similar provision.

I think it is important to explain for a few minutes what the difference is between civil justice and military justice. Some people will want to know whether this means that military personnel are treated differently in the military system than we are in the civil system. We have a typical example of this in the bill before us today.

When advances are made in the civil justice system, it is important for them to be incorporated into the military system as well. Some of the people watching us today may well wonder whether military system can be more permissive than the civil system. The answer is no. It is important, though, to have a military justice system and for it to be distinct from the civil system, even though it follows this system and adapts to it. The military environment is very distinctive. It has codes of honour. I have had the opportunity to attend courts martial and can assure the people watching us today that the application of the law in the military system is just as valid as in the civil system.

Everything needed for a valid justice system is there. There is a court, called a court martial. There is a judge, who listens to the case, and there are military defence attorneys and military Crown prosecutors who present the evidence. Then the judge decides. As I said, it is distinctive. It is true that it seems different because we are accustomed to seeing large provincial, federal and even municipal courts, and that is not the case at a court martial. For example, there are regular courts martial at the base in Saint-Jean. The trappings may be a little different, but when it comes to the gist of the matter, justice is done.

This bill just ensures, therefore, that Bill C-16 will apply and the military justice system will reflect the goals and objectives of that legislation.

The current Minister of National Defence, who was formerly the Conservative defence critic, stated something that was a bit different, though, back in 2005. He slightly criticized the forerunner of this bill, that is to say Bill C-16, saying that military personnel found guilty of sex offences should be taken out of the Canadian armed forces because the military is set up so that everyone can be replaced in every operation.

We must not confuse the sentence with the registry. The problem now is that the sentences are carried out. For example, someone from the Canadian Forces who was sentenced for a sexual offence before the implementation of Bill S-3 could receive a sentence, could actually be discharged from the armed forces for a serious offence, but they did not have to enter their name in a registry that already exists for civilians.

The bill before us simply opens up the possibility that, from now on, a convicted member of the military who has received a sentence, whether or not they are discharged from the armed forces, will have to register their name. As several of my colleagues have said, there will be registration offices here and there throughout Canada for people to register and the measures will be pretty strict. I think that is a good thing. In fact, I get the impression that is why Bill S-3 before us is being fast-tracked, that is, that one representative for each political party will speak to the bill and then it will be deemed to have been adopted at all stages. We must not think that the matter is extremely complicated. It is simply an adjustment.

I also said a while ago that military justice is just as valid as civil justice, but it must be recalled that it operates in a very different context.

There are some exceptions in the bill. For example, someone could be sentenced in a sensitive theatre of operations. The example is often given of the special forces, whose numbers are not known and who operate in a theatre in an unknown location. If someone is convicted of a sexual offence in a court martial, obviously the event cannot be given a lot of coverage. The chief of staff can even say that, although there are time limits in the act for registering, he will have to exceed these limits because he is in a specific theatre of operations and national security requires him not to reveal where he is. We must understand that this is an exception. We acknowledge this.

Furthermore in the bill before us there are provisions that ensure that this is not a loophole. Not only will the person convicted of a sexual offence be sentenced, but they will also have to register their name. It was said earlier: these are tools that will help the police forces carry out their investigations. The person must register their name in any case. There are even provisions for revisiting a case every 15 days and determining whether the exemption on grounds of national security is still valid. I think that this is something important in the bill.

People must not get the idea that anyone is trying to get away with something or that someone in the military who is charged with a sexual offence, and convicted, is to be exempt from the law. We do not want people to get the idea someone can get away with something, or avoid their obligations. That is not the purpose of the law, or of this provision. It is not to allow someone to evade the law. In circumstances in which military operations are underway, it is important that there be allowance for taking the theatre of operations into account, and for sentencing the guilty person when it is over. The person will have to serve a sentence, and may even be expelled from the army, but in any event will have to register. The law did not provide for that, and now it does.

We are pleased to support this bill. We believe that this is simply a matter of consistency with Bill C-16. There will no longer be any exceptions in society. Even though we have a military justice system parallel to the civilian justice system, there must still be some logic in how they apply, and previously there was not.

In fact I believe that the Senate realized this. I should say, rather, that the other house realized there was a problem. That is why it decided to send the bill to the House of Commons.

I think they have done a good job. I do not believe that we need an exhaustive study of this matter. We may have made mistakes at certain times, for example on the question of the Veterans Charter. At the time, we thought that an election was coming and that the bill had to be passed at top speed, skipping some stages. We may have made mistakes, because not only was the bill longer, but it also had more impact on veterans as a group.

This bill, however, is not particularly long, and it really does not have many consequences, apart, as I said, from updating the law to be consistent with what was done in Bill C-16.

I do not think that there will be any national outcry if we say today that we go along with Bill C-16, that we will fast-track it through the stages, as we have decided to do and as the House leaders have also decided to do.

In conclusion, I would like to reassure the public. The military justice system will now be as effective and as stringent, in dealing with sexual offenders, as the civilian justice system is. Those people will not be able to avoid their obligations. They will have to be registered in the database like everyone else.

I therefore believe that there will be unanimous agreement in this House, at least from the Bloc Québécois. I have heard my colleagues say that they support the bill. The Bloc Québécois also supports Bill S-3.

National Defence Act
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support Bill S-3.

I have supported the sex offender registry for a very long period of time, going back to before it was initiated and I certainly support this bill as well. The armed forces is a profession, and this would bring the armed forces into line with what we used to see in many other professions.

In our communities the issue of sexual offences is very top of mind for many people, partly because our media provides information to people so quickly. It is a subject which causes fairly high anxiety certainly in the constituency that I represent. Any tools that are available to help provide some level of assuredness to people are very positive steps forward.

What we have seen in the past, probably with the armed forces and certainly with other professions, is that offences have been committed and as there has been no registry there was no registration of the offence on a national registry. Therefore, the individual in practising a particular profession would simply move to another area and commit another offence. Parents and others in the public would ask how it could happen that someone with a history of sexually offences was hired.

The sexual offence registry ensured that there was a national database. Employers do a criminal records check and the police could use the national database registry.

The New Democratic Party has laid out three streams of justice policies, which are prevention, policing and punishment. This change, while simple in text, is really quite profound. It speaks to prevention and provides another tool for policing and ensures there is a database that is indeed complete.

One reason this is so important is that people in the armed forces are seen as being in a position of trust. I do not know if it is idealism, but a special respect is accorded to people in the armed forces or people who previously served in the armed forces. They are even more likely to be offered positions of trust. Given that they may be even more likely to be offered positions of trust, it is even more important that this registry be put into place.

When I talk to parents and other adults in the community, they tell me that they believe that because there is a sexual offender registry or criminal records checks they can relax a bit more. This is a very good tool and I absolutely support it, so it is not about this piece of legislation, but I always tell people that we as adults and parents or grandparents have to remain continuously alert. We must teach our children what they need to do to be safe and to report when they feel uncomfortable. Adults need to know what to do if they are uncomfortable or where they can go for help. When somebody is charged with a sexual offence, it is highly unlikely that it was the first time the person committed a sexual offence.

When a new tool is put in place, I do not want people to think that they can relax or be less alert. It is a very good tool but people still have to be very alert in their communities.

According to DND, within the last six years 20 people have been charged and convicted of sexual offences. It does not really matter to me if the number is 20 or it is two, as one is too many. I consider this small grammatical change to be a change with profound impact and matters as much as any number would matter. As I say, one offence would be too many. Anyone who has ever worked with victims of sexual offenders or have family members who have been victims of sexual offenders, and that would probably include most of us in the House, know that it affects the victim sometimes for the person's lifetime, and indeed the person's family and family dynamics. Any additional tool that will be available to the police is an important one.

The forces will deal with this as they see appropriate within the forces and in concurrence with the regulations in the armed forces. When that occurs, we must know that whatever consequences are handed out within the forces are reflected in a national database to which the police will have access.

I do not know how many times police officers have said that they wished they had known that a specific person had a history of sexually offending because they could have found the person earlier and they could have prevented future attacks and maybe even have done some prevention. This is a regulation that will allow that to happen.

National Defence Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Pursuant to order made on Wednesday, March 28, 2007, Bill S-3 is deemed read a second time and referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.

(Bill deemed read the second time, considered in committee of the whole, reported, concurred in, read the third time and passed)

Royal Assent
Government Orders

March 29th, 2007 / 11:35 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Rideau Hall

Ottawa

March 29, 2007

Mr. Speaker,

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, will proceed to the Senate chamber today, the 29th day of March, 2007, at 5:30 p.m., for the purpose of giving royal assent to certain bills of law.

Yours sincerely,

Sheila-Marie Cook

Secretary to the Governor General

The House resumed from March 28 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

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, the home for over 50 years of Canada's Emergency Preparedness College, I am pleased to participate in this debate about modernizing the Quarantine Act.

The Quarantine Act is one of Canada's oldest pieces of legislation. The original act was first adopted in Parliament in 1872. It is the only federal statute concerned with preventing and controlling the introduction and spread of communicable disease. The new Quarantine Act received royal assent in 2005 and is now in force. This legislative renewal initiative was a direct outcome of our Canadian experience with SARS.

As a member of the 37th Parliament, I had the privilege of representing the Ontario riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke during the SARS crisis. What I remember most about the debates in the House of Commons surrounding the SARS crisis, was the almost total lack of accountability from the Ontario Liberal MPs during that crisis and from the administration and the minister they were defending.

While I have certainly been pleasantly surprised by the concerns raised by Liberal MPs who are now in opposition, my question is, where were they during the 2003 SARS crisis? The purpose of a quarantine act is to be prepared for an emergency. This is the same reason we have anti-terrorism legislation, to be prepared. Canada witnessed what happens when government is not prepared. This was evident during the SARS crisis. Let us not make the same mistake twice. Our government is getting the job done.

The official opposition was irresponsible when it made the decision to go soft on terrorism. Canadians can only hope that lives will not be lost as a consequence. The bottom line in this discussion is saving lives, protecting the health of Canadians. It was the inability of the former minister for emergency preparedness in the old government who had the statutory authority but lacked a grasp of the importance of the portfolio that led to the travel advisory being issued against Toronto during the SARS episode.

Information was not communicated to the World Health Organization in a timely fashion. The leadership role that the minister in the old government was intended to assume never materialized. The minister responsible for emergency preparedness claimed it was the minister of health's responsibility to call the World Health Organization. The minister of health figured that in an emergency the minister for emergency preparedness was in charge. In the inevitable passing of the buck, Ottawa twiddled its thumbs as Canadians became ill.

It is shocking to hear MPs who are members of the old government now admit just how unprepared Canada was and how disorganized the government was to communicate accurate information to an alarmed populace for an epidemic of any kind, let alone SARS.

I listened carefully as alarmed Canadians were told to turn to no less than 17 sites on the Internet for information on SARS. This information was incomplete and the sites conflicted with one another. Given this kind of experience with a crisis, it is incredible that opposition members would want Canadians to be unprepared for a terrorism act when they voted down their own terrorism legislation. It is all about being prepared.

Canadians listening to this debate will know that it is partisan posturing to suggest that amendments to the Quarantine Act should have been our new Conservative government's first order of business when in fact Bill C-2, our new government's showcase anti-corruption legislation had to be the first order of business.

The people of my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke and more specifically the people of Arnprior know firsthand the actions of a corrupt government when the Emergency Preparedness College, which had been located in Arnprior for over 50 years, was shut down. It was wrong to close the Emergency Preparedness College in Arnprior and, as events turned out, it was not only the people of Arnprior who suffered because of that bad decision.

In the case of SARS, the cost to the tourism industry in Toronto and the rest of the province of Ontario was in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The SARS fiasco was the culmination of a whole series of missteps by the old regime that began with the political decision to discard over 50 years of tradition and teaching excellence when the politically motivated decision was made to close down the Emergency Preparedness College in Arnprior.

With the college in turmoil, the people who were supposed to be advising the government were ill-equipped to react even if the legislation tools such as we are discussing here today were in place. What is truly unfortunate about that wrong headed decision by the scandal ridden old government to close the Emergency Preparedness College in Arnprior was the price Canadians had to pay when it came time to act during the SARS crisis.

While taxpayers' dollars were made available to large urban centres like Toronto to deal with the drop in tourism as a result of the travel advisory issued against Toronto, the effect of that travel advisory warning by the World Health Organization rippled throughout the province of Ontario. Many businesses, including small businesses involved in the tourism industry located in my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke were adversely affected.

The old administration refused to take responsibility for the situation with SARS and it is to the credit of the former member of the House, long forgotten by his own party and frustrated by inaction, that a concert was organized to let the world know that it was safe to be in Toronto and a safe travel destination as well. It is with this background that I participate in the debate regarding Bill C-42.

The modernization of the quarantine legislation was a first step in a series of legislative initiatives, along with the establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the appointment of the new Chief Public Health Officer to help strengthen Canada's public health system. Bill C-42 is a minor amendment to the new Quarantine Act. It proposes new wording to section 34.

This amendment to the Quarantine Act is a minor and technical one. It does not change the policy objective but corrects the current language used in section 34. Section 34 is a provision that supports advance notification of very important health information to federal officials. It requires conveyance operators to report in advance before arrival in Canada if there is an illness, a public health concern or death on board a conveyance.

This provision enables quarantine officers, nurses and medical practitioners designated by the minister to coordinate an efficient response and to mobilize other key health and emergency responders.

In the event of a large scale outbreak and if necessary, this provision would allow the Minister of Health to better assess whether to order the diversion of a carrier to an alternate landing site in Canada to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

In its current form, section 34 would not satisfy its intended purpose. The problem was discovered when attempting to draft a supporting regulation which was necessary to make section 34 functionally proper.

Unfortunately, this issue created a barrier for bringing the new Quarantine Act into force swiftly and a newly worded section 34 is necessary from a technical point of view.

Today, I stand before members with this bill to be forwarded to the appropriate committee for review.

Quarantine Act
Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would ask the hon. member, in view of the fact that there was this technical problem that rendered the bill inoperable and that was identified probably 14 months ago, why has it taken the government this long to make this small technical change that would actually make the bill operable?

At the same time I would like to ask the member to actually fact check her remarks in terms of a so-called previous minister for emergency preparedness in terms of the fact that indeed that was the health minister and the fact that it was indeed the Conservative premier of Ontario standing outside, where there was absolutely no risk of SARS, with a mask around his chin. These kinds of optics actually created the kind of alarm and fearmongering that was very dilatorious to my city of Toronto.

In fact, long before the travel advisories, we knew that the Chinese restaurants in Montreal were empty, that there was a real problem in being able to get the information out that this indeed was a disease that one would have to break into a hospital room in order to get the disease. The problem indeed was that we did not have the science of the incubation period, the mode of transmission, or any of those things at that time when the science was lacking.

I guess I also want to know how the member can stand there when indeed the problem was a lack of communication between the Ontario government and the federal government in terms of whether that was one patient who had gone to two hospitals or two patients who had gone to two hospitals. We were faced with the issue of interference and whether or not data sets would be shared because of somebody worrying about whether they would be the principle investigator on a study. This was a huge problem as we learned from the Naylor report.

We, as the Liberal government, took every recommendation of the Naylor report very seriously. We put in place the Public Health Agency of Canada. We appointed David Butler-Jones as the first ever Chief Public Health Officer. We put in a Minister of State for Public Health. We supervised the first public health network for Canada in which 13 jurisdictions in the country would plan public health together in terms of chief public health officers from all of the jurisdictions, knowing that germs do not respect borders and that we did learn the lessons from SARS.

If we learned the lessons from SARS, put all of these things in place, could the member opposite tell us why it took 14 months for the government to fix this tiny technicality that has rendered this whole bill inoperable?