House of Commons Hansard #16 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was arctic.

Topics

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the input of the member for Scarborough—Rouge River on this legislation. He has raised a very important point.

It has always been a challenge for members of the House, whenever we are dealing with legislation that tries to address the possibility of terrorist threats, in this case bioterrorism, to find the right balance between protecting the public and ensuring due process according to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I understand what the member is saying. Obviously, I am concerned that we do not allow a focus on individual rights and freedoms to give any licence to the government to move away from a well-resourced inspection capability that is given all the money and resources it needs to proactively investigate and search for any toxins or pathogens that could cause serious harm to any Canadian anywhere.

However, before we head off to committee, I would like the member to give us some advice with respect to which witnesses he thinks it would make sense to invite to our committee. How does he envisage that fine balance we are always trying to find in terms of human rights and protecting the public?

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the standards that we should be according to the citizens with respect to powers like this are fairly well known to the Department of Justice. The problem is that as every new government moves in, it says to the Department of Justice to make those powers just a bit more robust. The line keeps being pushed. They keep pushing up and they refer to Supreme Court cases and Court of Appeal cases.

I think someone from the Department of Justice not associated with the creation of this bill should be a witness to outline the current standards of civil liberties vis-à-vis government powers. That would be a good standard.

Another example, in clause 71 of the bill, the word “knowingly” has been deleted. A citizen who is in possession of a toxin or pathogen, when the bill comes into force, has a problem unless he or she notifies the minister. It is an offence. That section should contain the word “knowingly”. Clause 6 of the bill contains the word “knowingly”. The citizen should have to know that he or she has the item before he or she is found criminally or quasi-criminally responsible for an offence.

I think the Department of Justice could give some very good answers.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is not difficult to imagine how pleased I am to speak to Bill C-11. I thank my party whip's office for providing me with this wonderful opportunity.

This bill may seem technical on the surface. But when we examine it a little more closely, we see that it is a technical bill through and through.

Nevertheless, in spite of its technical nature, this bill is important because it deals with pathogens, those micro-organisms that can carry infection and disease, that can cause devastation and that can transmit viruses and sources of infection. This bill is about pathogens, toxins, laboratories and research. It is also about our desire to ensure that research facilities are safe and secure without adversely affecting research activities carried out throughout Canada.

When it comes to health—my colleagues know this—we can always question if this is a federal jurisdiction. I would like to remind members that when the 33 Fathers of Confederation met, in what was called a constituent assembly, they divided the powers.

Naturally when we examine the facts, we know very well that when we ask which authority has the constitutional power—known as a head of jurisdiction in constitutional law—to intervene in a particular area, we must read sections 91 and 92. We note that health may well be an area of greater concern to the provinces because it deals with providing care to the population and it concerns the operation of health establishments.

In all modern societies, many resources are allocated to the operating budget of the various departments because health is a concern of all citizens. I am pleased to remind members that, from 1995 to 1997, the government refused to make investments in health. There were campaigns throughout Canada and a federal-provincial conference including all health ministers of all political stripes. The Bloc Québécois took out ads in the papers calling on the federal government to assume its responsibilities and to make significant investments through its health transfers. The Bloc was obviously speaking on behalf of the National Assembly of Quebec.

I am not trying to suggest that the federal government has no responsibility for health. For example, we know that the federal government has fiduciary responsibility for aboriginal people. In addition, if I am not mistaken, more than half the federal health department's programming has to do with aboriginal people. The federal government obviously has a role to play in patents, and that responsibility is shared by the Department of Health and the Department of Industry.

I have wondered about the whole issue of patents. Are they in consumers' interests? How do we strike a balance? There needs to be a public policy of investment to promote research. Ten years can easily go by from the time a molecule is isolated to the time a drug is available to consumers. That is an investment cycle involving several million dollars. There needs to be a balance between consumers' interests and policies that promote research, because there are major investments involved.

The federal government has a role to play with regard to aboriginal people, patents and epidemics. Perhaps we need to look at this bill in that light.

This bill says that guidelines exist for pathogens that may be viruses or major sources of infection. The idea is to create a stricter system of regulations for pathogens and toxins.

I read in the bill we received and the research notes prepared by my party that there are thousands of labs in Canada that may not fully comply with policies that are not as strict as what is proposed in the bill.

From now on, we will need a licence or permit to conduct what are being called controlled activities. People in labs will need a licence to possess, handle, use, produce, store, authorize access to, transfer, import, export, release, abandon or dispose of human pathogens or toxins.

We could ask if such a system is necessary. I believe that my colleague, the member for Verchères—Les Patriotes, mentioned that the Bloc Québécois is not opposed to the bill, but we would like to know a bit more about the repercussions. For example, what will this mean for the research institutions? What will this mean for the laboratories?

One of the great advances for humanity in recent years is that we do not simply talk about old age anymore, we now talk about very old age. As a human society, if we are prudent, if we do not drink too much, if we do not smoke, if we do a bit of physical activity, if we go to the gym regularly and if we pay attention to what we call health determinants, chances are good that we will live to be 100 or more. That is what we mean by very old age. We have met centenarians in our ridings. I could ask my colleagues how many of them have, in their activities as a member, met people older than 95 or 100. There are more and more of them. In Canada, it is said that there are more than 100,000 centenarians. I have no doubt, Mr. Speaker, when I look at you and see how healthy you are, that you will be a centenarian yourself, and I wish that for you.

We live in a society in which there are more and more centenarians, in which people are living much longer and in better health, and this is thanks to research. It means we are able to control certain diseases that used to be crippling, and not all that long ago. Remember, just a few years or a few decades ago, mononucleosis was a fatal disease. Today, there are some differences, depending on the strain in question, but people do not die from mononucleosis. It has been called the kissing disease. Of course, I do not wish to get too autobiographical about it.

That said, I think my point is clear. More and more of our fellow citizens are living longer and longer thanks to research, and this research may require the use of pathogens that must obviously be isolated in conditions where this is no contamination, understandably. As an aside—and I am sure you know this, Mr. Speaker—I have 16 years of service in this House and I have had various responsibilities within the Bloc Québécois caucus. My first role was as our research and development critic.

I recall Lucien Bouchard, a great leader whom I respect and regard very highly, inviting me to a meeting in his office. I had been elected in October 1993. At the time, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien had recalled the House for January. We did not sit in November and December because Prime Minister Chrétien had to attend various international meetings with NATO.

When Mr. Bouchard appointed his shadow cabinet, he gave me a very important responsibility: research and development. I told Mr. Bouchard that I was flattered. During the 1993 campaign, we were very concerned, as a political party, about the fact that there had been a lot of public investment in the national capital region, where several public laboratories were—and still are—located, and very little investment on the Outaouais side. There was a lot of investment in the national capital region, but even though research was being done, compared to the numbers for the Outaouais, there was a huge disparity.

The Bloc Québécois wants to make sure that this bill's worthy objectives result in all laboratories complying with human pathogen handling standards. We have been told that several thousand labs in Canada do not follow Health Canada's biosafety guidelines. The government wants to make the guidelines more coercive by introducing a licensing system. It wants to ensure that organizations conducting research will not be penalized. The bill's schedule differentiates between pathogens that can be very harmful to public safety and those that are less dangerous. We see that different classes of licences will be issued.

The Bloc Québécois would like to know what this means for research. I was a member of the Standing Committee on Health when we studied the bill to create the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. In the 1990s, John Manley was the minister responsible for that file: as minister of industry, he was responsible for research and development. The OECD had released a report that lambasted Canada for investing so little in research and development. The bill was introduced.

The Bloc Québécois had a number of concerns. We wanted to ensure that various funding organizations, such as the Medical Research Council of Canada, would continue to support us. In good years, Quebec received nearly 30% of the funding. We wanted to be sure that, under the new Canadian Institutes of Health Research, we would hold on to our share of research contracts.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is a network of virtual institutes across Canada. Some of these institutes are concerned with population health, while others focus on cancer, aboriginal people, mental health and so on. The institutes are connected to each other in a structure that can produce interesting outcomes. Certainly, within these publicly funded research labs, research involving pathogens is being conducted. If the bill is passed, what will that mean? That is one question the Bloc Québécois has.

We also have questions about fines. As I said, we are told that biosafety guidelines already exist. In Canada—and I feel it is my duty to share these figures in the interest of full disclosure—there are 7,500 labs, nearly 4,000 of which allegedly do not comply with the guidelines. In addition, 5,500 labs, including 1,100 in Quebec, reportedly import pathogens. This comes as no surprise, considering how vibrant the research sector is in Quebec. There are apparently 24 labs in Quebec and 150 in Canada that are working with group 3 and 4 pathogens and are subject to these guidelines.

This bill tries to impose a system of offences that opens the door to criminal proceedings. We must always be extremely careful when it comes to imposing fines.

I used to sit on the Standing Committee on Health. That was a great time in my life. I was the health critic for at least five years. I focused on research and development. I was a bit surprised when Mr. Bouchard told me he was giving me the research and development file, because I was someone who had trouble plugging in a VCR. But I learned about it, I took an interest in it, and I understood its importance. I then became the immigration critic. Immigration is an extremely important issue, and as I am a member from Montreal, it was an issue in my own community. After that, I was the health critic for five years. Today, I am the justice critic. I have led an interesting life, when you sum it all up.

I would remind the House that when I was the health critic we examined the issue of new reproductive technologies. I was very disappointed to learn something about the regulations for new reproductive technologies. We know that one in five couples in Canada is infertile. Therefore, it is important that the issues of surrogate mothers, gamete conservation and donations be covered by regulations. I am very surprised to see that the regulations we have been expecting for at least two years have not yet been submitted to the Standing Committee on Health. I hope that the Minister of Health will remedy this situation because we worked very hard in committee.

The Government of Quebec went to court to challenge certain legislative provisions with respect to new reproductive technologies, known as assisted reproduction, because some of the legislation's provisions meddled in provincial jurisdiction. Quebec already has its own support system for infertile couples.

Why am I mentioning this? To make a link with the offences established by the bill. Failure to obtain a permit would result in a hefty fine of $250,000 for a first offence and increasing fines for subsequent offences.

It is not clear to me—nor does the bill provide clarification—how this system of fines will be administered. Will there be an inspection system? How will licences be issued? How will laboratories be monitored? And how will inspectors carry out annual inspections of the 5,000 or so laboratories that are deemed not to be compliant with the guidelines? And what will that mean?

It is a complex bill that may have a noble goal, taking precautions against possible transmission, but certain aspects of it are troubling. I know that the members of the Standing Committee on Health would like to ensure that this bill, before obtaining royal assent, has been the subject of proper consultation. Have universities and hospitals been consulted? Have large research and development associations been consulted? And the pharmaceutical industry, in terms of both generic and brand name drugs, has it been consulted? If we looked a little more closely, we would find that the consultations have been rather superficial.

I am being told that my time is running out, which is too bad because I have many more things to say about a bill as gripping as this one, but I will finish with three things. First, the Bloc Québécois will work very hard in the Standing Committee on Health to make sure that we have a thorough understanding of this bill.

Second, we hope that the principal stakeholders will appear before the Standing Committee on Health. Finally, we will judge the bill according to its merit.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like first to express my deep appreciation to my colleague from Hochelaga on his eloquent address.

As he explained so well, the hon. member for Hochelaga has a wealth of parliamentary experience. I was listening so hard during his speech that I could not check the schedules to find out what the security level is for the pathogens that cause mononucleosis. If he so desires—because this topic seems especially close to his heart—I could delve into this a bit more deeply.

My question is for him because the hon. member for Hochelaga is the justice critic for the Bloc Québécois.

Bill C-11, as written, institutes penalties for persons or institutions that are negligent, fail to take precautions or intentionally release pathogens into the environment. I would like to know if he, as our justice critic, knows whether the Criminal Code already deals with intentional attacks on public safety, such as terrorism, or unintentional acts, such as criminal negligence?

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Verchères—Les Patriotes for anything more he can possibly do to lift the veil on the kissing disease, also known as mononucleosis. I get the feeling he is very interested in this. I would be eternally grateful to him for anything he can do to refine my knowledge of the consequences.

My colleague is quite right. When it comes to the legal realm, two factors must be borne in mind. In order for charges to be laid, there must first be mens rea—a legal term denoting the intent to commit a criminal act—and then there must also be an actus reus, or the deed itself.

Take the example of a professor at McGill University who is putting his third-year medical students through their paces. Say they are handling pathogens because they want to study smallpox, a very serious disease. There is nothing small about smallpox. If we were to determine, through an inspection system yet to be established, that McGill University did not have its licence, could the students who engaged in these studies be found guilty? That is what the Bloc Québécois wants to know. Everyone knows, of course, that there are already provisions in the Criminal Code covering criminal negligence and certainly terrorism.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to turn the member's attention to the whole notion of how government regulates on the one hand and on the other hand provides the coordination of regulation, which arguably it is trying to do with this legislation. When it comes to imposing, embedding and sensible follow-up, it makes me think of the whole crisis with the BSE. The government's own veterinary scientists said that there was a problem. They said that when cows were fed rendered materials, they would get BSE. Instead of listening to them, the government fired them. I think of Shiv Chopra who is now in front of a disciplinary committee. We are spending millions of taxpayer dollars on a guy who has blown the whistle for human health.

Even though we have legislation like this, what needs to be done to protect Canadians against human pathogens and toxins? If we do not have the right people in government, if we do not have the right people hired in the health protection agencies in government, how can this help in the long run?

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question.

I have also been alerted several times, especially when I sat on the Standing Committee on Health, to the fact that scientists who challenge some of Health Canada’s regulatory policies can be fired. The hon. member is quite right, therefore, to remind the House that when a regulatory system is being established, it should be left up to scientists to determine how appropriate it is and what the best way to implement it is.

The advice I would give my colleague—and I am sure that my colleagues on the Standing Committee on Health will adopt this as well—is that a bill like this is going to involve a lot of regulations. It would be best if, three years after taking effect, they could be reviewed by the Standing Committee on Health, as will be done for assisted reproduction and the tobacco regulations.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for giving me the opportunity to speak to Bill C-11, An Act to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins. Although technical in nature, this bill is very necessary and important federal legislation. It is a public safety issue as much as it is a public health bill. Bill C-11 proposes a mandatory licensing system for the federal government to track the human pathogens that exist, such as anthrax, salmonella and influenza.

While many Canadians do not consider the flu to be a national threat, we need only remind ourselves of the 1918 flu pandemic, commonly referred to as the Spanish flu, that spread to nearly every part of the world, including the Arctic and remote Pacific islands. The Spanish flu did not claim simply those normally at risk, such as the elderly, infants and the infirm; in fact, it claimed the lives of normal, healthy adults, mostly because it tricked strong immune systems into a catastrophic overreaction. It is estimated that anywhere from 20 million to 100 million people were killed worldwide, roughly double the number of people killed during World War I. Indeed, many of those who survived the horror of trench warfare ironically succumbed to this deadly strain of influenza A, a form of bird flu.

Modern science has made it possible to recreate influenza A and other pathogens. That is why it is necessary to implement government controls to track who is in possession of them in Canada.

Many residents of Toronto remember the social and economic impact of the SARS outbreak in 2003. Severe acute respiratory syndrome is believed to have originated in China, but within weeks it had been reported in 37 countries around the world, including Canada. It resulted in 800 deaths, 44 of which were in Toronto. This virus tested international containment efforts and changed the way Canada deals with pandemic threats.

Many of the staff on Parliament Hill recall the extraordinary measures that were taken in 2001 following the anthrax attacks, when letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several media outlets and the offices of two U.S. senators. This attack killed five people and infected 17 others. Anthrax is one of the oldest recorded diseases of grazing animals and is even believed to be the sixth plague mentioned in the book of Exodus. One can see I read religious books. It occurs in nature, but it also has been harnessed as a weapon of war. Sheep and cattle are especially vulnerable to anthrax spores because they are soil-borne and are inhaled or ingested while the animals graze. For the people who did not know about it, I am giving a lesson in agriculture.

Anthrax spores were harnessed as bioweapons in both world wars. Thousands died in Manchuria in the 1930s when anthrax was tested on prisoners of war. It was stored as a weapon of mass destruction in the arsenals of the former Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States until 1971. However, the 2001 anthrax attacks were classified as weaponized or weapons-grade strains of the spores. While that should have made it easier to identify the attacker, it was not until August 2008, seven years later, that the FBI identified the culprit as a scientist who worked at a government biodefence lab.

That is why it is absolutely necessary that Canada and the federal government modernize the capability of tracking human pathogens and toxins. This legislation, Bill C-11, will give inspectors enhanced powers to ensure that the laboratory biosafety guidelines, called LBG, are followed properly. That is why the official opposition supports sending this bill to committee for an in-depth study.

Bill C-11 will require laboratories handling deadly toxins to register with the Public Health Agency of Canada's Office of Laboratory Security. Bill C-11 will require an import permit to bring a human pathogen or toxin into Canada. It will require a permit to transfer a pathogen or toxin between laboratories in Canada. Bill C-11 will require laboratories to notify the Public Health Agency when registered pathogens or toxins are disposed of. All in all, the bill will bring Canada in line with the more stringent regulations in the United States and the United Kingdom.

As has been eloquently stated by my colleague from Etobicoke North, it is in the best interest of all countries, including Canada, to support initiatives to control infectious diseases. The world is now an island. There is free flow of traffic, human beings, goods, services and food. As such, all countries should be alert and develop strategies to minimize the risks from infectious diseases. As I mentioned before, we have seen examples of the avian flu, SARS, et cetera.

Microbiological agents and toxins can and do impact global health. As I mentioned before, in 2003 SARS killed 800 people. Biosafety is essential if we are to mitigate the deadly effects of infectious diseases. The World Health Organization urges countries to: one, promote biosafety practices for the safe handling, containment and transport of microbiological agents and toxins; two, to review the safety of laboratories and their existing protocols; three, to develop programs that enhance compliance of laboratories; and four, to encourage the development of biological safety training.

Thousands of infectious samples are shipped daily around the world for clinical trials, disease investigations, surveillance, et cetera. Animal and human specimens need to be transported efficiently, legally, safely, and on a timely basis. Shippers must be aware of regulatory requirements, personnel must undertake appropriate training, and specimens must be packed to protect transporters from risk of infection.

Best practices regarding the transport of microbiological agents and toxins must be used to protect the environment and human health. Perhaps more support is needed to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases from other countries and among other provinces.

It is therefore imperative that laboratories have strict facility safeguards, microbiological practices and safety equipment that protect laboratory workers, the environment and the public from exposure to infectious microorganisms and toxins that are stored in the laboratory.

Responsible laboratory practices will help prevent intentional release, loss, misuse, theft, or unauthorized access of biological material and will contribute to preserving important scientific work for future generations.

To conclude, this is not a partisan matter. This is about the health and safety of Canadians. That is why my Liberal colleagues and I are proud to support the bill. Bill C-11 is a great improvement over Bill C-54. Infectious diseases know no boundaries. Pathogens are not restricted to one's own airspace. As such, we should do everything to increase biosafety.

Since the bill requires licensing and the provinces and territories are responsible for licensing, it is important to have a further study and review of this legislation. As well, we must ensure that there is transparency, effectiveness and accountability at the ministerial level as well as at the level of inspectors. We need to build trust so that Canadians and the world can be assured that they will be safe and secure when it comes to activities involving pathogens and toxins.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the discussion on this important bill.

The bill requires disclosures, but the track record of the government of disclosing information, even under the Federal Accountability Act, is abysmal. In fact, there is a recent report with regard to the listeriosis outbreak in which 20 Canadians lost their lives. The government has systemically withheld the release of access to information requests for a number of months, thousands and thousands of pages.

With regard to the bill, is it fulsome enough to ensure that not only is it the law in Canada, but that there are repercussions when a government fails to respond to the letter of the law?

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, from looking at the bill, I understand that accountability and transparency are issues. It is important that the bill goes to committee to ensure the minister and inspectors do not have unlimited powers and whatever powers they have are transparent and accountable.

I agree with the hon. member that the government so far has not been very accountable in that respect. Therefore, it is important the bill goes to committee for further study.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
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1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-11, an act to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins.

There is a number of pieces of legislation of a same or similar nature in which I have had some involvement. The discussion that has just taken place in House is with respect to the need for openness and transparency as key issues.

Let me briefly look at some of the basics of the bill.

First, Bill C-11 proposes a mandatory licensing system for the federal government to track what human pathogens exist, those being anthrax, salmonella and influenza, for example, where they are and who possesses them in Canada. It also proposes to provide enhanced inspection powers to inspectors to help ensure compliance with laboratory biosafety guidelines and to ensure that the legislation is applied properly and consistently across Canada.

That is a very succinct but important statement on behalf of the Government of Canada. This is a very important bill for us to have.

As the previous speaker had indicated, in a response to the question that I posed to her, there have been questions of openness and transparency with regard to the reporting of important information to the public.

In terms of the key messages, I think all members in the House are committed to improving the safety and health of Canadians. I have often said that the measure of success of a country is not so much an economic measure as it is a measure of the health and well-being of its people.

When there are circumstances where the health and well-being of people is being impacted by matters beyond their control, such as the importation or storage of such things as anthrax or salmonella or influenza, it is relevant.

We support the measures that have been proposed to improve the safety and security of Canadian laboratories for all Canadians. We want to review the legislation at committee to ensure that it is accountable, transparent and as effective as possible.

The purpose of the act, as I indicated, is to establish the safety and security regime to protect the health and safety of the public against the risks posed by human pathogens and toxins. The bill does establish that legislative framework that extends beyond the present importation and storage regime for pathogens and toxins.

The current regime requires that all labs that import human pathogens or toxins adhere to the requirements, but that these existing guidelines are not mandatory for laboratories that acquire human pathogens and toxins from domestic sources. This is a problem.

Even though they are applied widely on a voluntary basis as an industry standard, voluntary guidelines are not good enough when it comes to the health and safety of Canadians.

The bill also requires that all Canadian labs that possess human pathogens or toxins, regardless of where they were acquired, adhere to these guidelines. Bill C-11 specifically includes a number of provisions which will help to achieve these objectives.

It requires laboratories carrying out activities with risk groups two, three or four human pathogens or select toxins have to register with the Public Health Agency of Canada Office of Laboratory Security. It also subject licensees with risk group three and four pathogens and possibly select toxins to stricter operating regulations.

It requires an importation permit to import the human pathogen or toxin. It requires a transfer permit to send and receive any human pathogen or toxin between laboratories within Canada that are not part of the same facility. It also requires the authorization from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada to export agents on the export control list. It also requires licensees, as a part of their annual or biannual update of inventories, to notify the PHAC of the nature of the disposal of human pathogens and toxins.

These changes are meant to bring Canada in to line with more stringent regulations, which are in place in the United States and in the U.K., for example. It also gives substantial regulatory powers to the minister and inspectors. It will be necessary to further study these powers to ensure the transparency, effectiveness and accountability. This leads me to my specific contribution to the debate, which is with regard to the accountability aspect as well as the regulatory powers.

I have had the opportunity to be a member of the scrutiny of regulations committee, the standing joint committee of the House of Commons and Senate, for a number of years, and was its chair for a couple of years. What struck me was the regulatory guidelines and requirements, as laid out in certain pieces of legislation, tended to push the envelope with regard to a concern about what is called backdoor legislation. Backdoor legislation refers to providing undertakings or responsibilities in the regulations where that authority is not enabled by the legislation itself. It means putting something into the legislation that is not even part of the bill itself, simply covered under, “The minister may make regulations from time to time”.

When the regulations are required by a bill, the bill in the end will not show that it comes into force on receiving royal assent, but will be at a date specified by order-in-council, which is by cabinet. The reason for that is so the regulations necessary and called for under the legislation can be properly drafted, reviewed and gazetted et cetera prior to their enforcement.

There is some concern when we get to matters like this. We have seen far too many examples of where regulations have not been prepared on a timely basis. It represents a reluctance by the government to have legislation come into force. It may just simply be, here is a bill that will do all these wonderful things and it will be the law in Canada when the regulations are done.

Time and time again there have been delays in the implementation of legislation simply because regulations have not been done, and I can give an example.

One was the reproductive technologies act that I was involved with through the health committee. This dealt with the whole question of embryonic stem cell research and the establishment of a committee that would review the application of researchers to do research involving embryonic stem cells.

At that time, the officials told us in committee that the regulations required to make this happen would take something like two years, yet the government said that we needed it, that it was pursuant to a royal commission report on the reproductive technologies. It was urgent and had some very significant recommendations, but much of the legislation from years gone by is still not in place. One of the reasons for that was we put into the legislation that the minister was required to submit the proposed regulations to the committee for its comments. The minister of the day refused to give the committee the authority to amend or to reject regulations. They were simply there for review and comment.

With regard to that legislation, and it is years now after the royal commission report, which was about 15 years ago, we now have a situation where regulations pursuant to that legislation, which was passed at all stages in this place and in the other place, still are not the law in Canada. In fact, the committee to establish it has not been established and all the regulations related to the research permissions or authorizations are not in place.

Notwithstanding that Parliament as a whole, along with the Senate, passed urgent legislation, the law has not been totally put into force because regulations have not been promulgated, which totally frustrates the responsibilities of Parliament to do its job. I hope to have an opportunity to follow up with the new health minister on what the minister is doing in this regard.

However, that is a good example of a situation where legislation has gone through all stages, with two or three months of comprehensive committee hearings, and it is still not fully in force primarily due to regulations and the fact that the government has not even come forward with them.

It is not a matter of whether the regulations were a problem. As the members well know, when we deal with legislation in this place we do not get to see the regulations. We do not get to see those fine-tuning items that give us an idea of the scope or the intent of the legislation. There is a fine line at which a regulation will go beyond what was enabled in the legislation.

The Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations is there to review these things as they occur but after the fact to determine whether the regulations have been properly enabled within the legislation.

I raise that because it leads to the whole question of whether we have backdoor legislation where regulations are trying to do things that were not enabled in the legislation and whether the proviso that there be regulations made, which the government chooses not to make, could delay or even stop legislation that goes through the entire parliamentary process from ever becoming law in Canada.

How can Canadians keep ahead of the curve when they do not know whether legislation that is passed in Parliament will become law. We have far too many examples. It goes to the true question of accountability and transparency.

One of the first things the current government did was bring in the Federal Accountability Act. It puffed its chest and said that it would be accountable. When I first looked at it I thought that people should understand what the expectation was from accountability. I was looking at some of this material on the weekend and I came up with a definition that I challenge the government to follow. The definition of accountability is to explain and justify one's actions or decisions in a clear, concise and truthful manner. To synthesize this down, it means to be honest and give the straight story. I want to understand and I want to understand why the government took that decision.

If a government promises to do something and it does not do it, accountability demands that it explains and justifies that decision. Sometimes we make decisions to do things but circumstances change and it is important to back off and rethink the decisions. There is no point in going forward with something that changes because there is new information. However, when I think of some of the examples, such as promising not to tax income trusts but imposing a 31.5% tax one year later, really did not do much for the government, which boasted that it was helping seniors by introducing things like pension income splitting when it knew that over 85% of seniors would not benefit from it simply because they were in the lowest tax bracket, did not have eligible pensions or were seniors who had no one to split with.

When we take it to that extent, when the government claims that it represents 100% of a group and then does something for a group that only 14% or 15% actually can benefit from, that is not being accountable.

I have many examples of that and I hope to get a chance to talk about them at some other opportunity.

On February 22, CP had an article dealing with access to information requests. It is relevant because the concerns that have been raised by the opposition with respect to this bill have to do with transparency, accountability and openness. According to the Canwest news service, since January 2008 the Department of Foreign Affairs has prevented the release of more than 160,000 pages of government records on everything from the mission in Afghanistan, to new free trade deals with NATO, to material being left at the home of the girlfriend of the former minister of foreign affairs. It goes even further.

The Access to Information Commissioner has said that the government has demonstrated a systemic problem of inhibiting the intent of the Access to Information Act by having most of the releases vetted by the Prime Minister's Office or the Privy Council Office. This is contrary to the spirit and the intent of the law.

With respect to one of the releases, the government asked for a four month extension but once the four month extension expired the government said that even though it had the documents they were not really relevant to what was asked for so it had nothing to give. The Privy Council Office, on the other hand, turned around and said that it could not give the information because it was secret and could not be given out.

When Mr. Marleau, the Access to Information Commissioner, says that there are systemic problems in the government and that the worst offenders of the spirit and intent of the Access to Information Act are the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council Office, one can understand why the opposition is concerned about accountability, transparency and openness. An officer of Parliament, appointed by this Parliament, has said that it is the Prime Minister's own office that is the biggest problem in ensuring that Canadians do not get the information to which they are entitled.

Access to information, openness and transparency are foundations of our democracy. The Prime Minister, by denying the workability of the Access to Information Act, is taking away the opportunity for Canadians to experience what they can get under a truly democratic system. Canadians have the right to know.

If the government is not going to support the Access to Information Act and its intent and its principles, then now is the time for it to say so. If it wants to back away from the Federal Accountability Act now is the time to say so.

In these challenging times for Canadians, now is the time for the government to put the interests of the people ahead of its own partisan interests. The government has spent all of its time campaigning, not governing, and the country needs the government to govern. The government must be accountable. This litany of unaccountability must stop now in the best interests of the people of Canada.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it surprises me when a Liberal stands and talks about accountability or access to information.

I would love some information on which Quebec riding associations received money in the sponsorship program but I do not see that member offering that kind of access to information.

I am prepared to set aside most of the bluster of the member as he really did not speak to the bill at all. I am not really sure he knows what bill we are actually debating.

I would love to ask him about a recent announcement in his riding that was positively received. The Prime Minister and the Premier of Ontario recently announced significant upgrades to GO Transit in the province of Ontario. I would love him to talk about how that will benefit the people of Mississauga because it was a great announcement.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like the member to know that we are debating Bill C-11, important legislation that would provide information to Canadians. It would enable us to track human pathogens, such as anthrax, salmonella and influenza. However, the speeches that have been given today by the opposition members have to do with concerns about accountability, transparency and openness.

During my speech, I gave some examples of where we have not had the transparency and openness that Canadians deserve. It is a part of the foundation of democracy. If the member does not agree with what I had to say, I accept that because he has the right to do that, but if his only reaction to a speech that demonstrates clearly that the government has not been accountable to the people of Canada and if his only concern is what somebody did in the province of Ontario when we are talking about an important bill on human pathogens, it tells me more about the member than it does about me.

It is important for us to understand that transparency, openness and accountability are fundamental to the foundations of democracy. The opposition has raised certain considerations. We are prepared to support the objectives of the bill but we do have concerns about the mechanisms in which the transparency, openness and accountability will be delivered given the abysmal track record of the current government.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order. When debate resumes on this matter, there will be seven minutes remaining for the hon. member for Mississauga South for questions and comments consequent on his speech.

It being two o'clock, we will now proceed to statements by members.

Israel
Statements By Members

February 23rd, 2009 / 1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, Ontario's largest public sector union, CUPE, is targeting academics simply because of their nationality and religion. This behaviour is unacceptable to Canadians and it is unacceptable to this government.

Last week our immigration minister represented the Government of Canada in London at the conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Commission for Combating Anti-Semitism, where he explained our government's concern. This new anti-Semitism seeks to deny the right of the Jewish people to secure existence in their homeland, the state of Israel.

Surely this should be an issue that all sides of the House can agree on, but unfortunately that is not the case. Even here there are those who want taxpayers to fund organizations that call Israel a racist state and members of the Bloc who circulate videos from banned terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Parliamentarians must stand up and condemn those who deny the Jewish people their right to a homeland.