House of Commons Hansard #50 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was arctic.

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Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

In my opinion, the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, May 6, 2009, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Suspension of Sitting
Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

It being 11:25 a.m., there is still time before government orders is set to commence, so I would propose suspending the sitting until noon.

Suspension of Sitting
Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

An hon. member

No.

Suspension of Sitting
Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I attempted to rise earlier and I found that the rules prevented me from doing so. At this point in time we have a half hour of dead time and I propose to raise a point of order at this point, now that I am on my feet, with respect to private member's Motion No. 277. I will continue with my point of order unless, Mr. Speaker, you have another view.

I will argue that the motion is unconstitutional and should not even be here. There exists under our Constitution an equality between our two houses of Parliament, the Senate and the House, where each house offers comity or reciprocity to the other house in relation to the disposition of the bills that are moved back and forth.

What this motion fails to recognize and what members have failed to recognize is that before a bill comes to this House, that bill in the Senate is fully passed by the Senate, another house, just as our bills are passed. If we can alter the constitutional basis on which bills come from the other place to here, the same thing could happen with government bills that come from the Senate to here.

The fact is that a bill should be treated with full respect from the Senate. I maintain that our constitutional conventions provide for that. Consigning a bill fully passed by another House to an individual private member in this House is incompatible with our Constitution.

Suspension of Sitting
Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

That is a point of debate that the hon. member has already expressed in his speech, but I do find that is a point of debate.

Chapter 9 of Marleau and Montpetit does provide for a situation where the item before the House during private members' hour is dealt with before the hour is finished. One of the options available for the Speaker is to suspend the sitting of the House until the time provided for government orders, so I will suspend the sitting of the House until noon.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:29 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 p.m.)

The House resumed from April 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-11, An Act to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins, be read the third time and passed.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

May 4th, 2009 / noon

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, on Thursday when this bill was last debated, I asked a question of one of the hon. members about the privacy implications that are included in the bill on human pathogens and toxins. I was not quite sure whether I got a full answer but I did ask what the disposition of the concerns were with regard to privacy. The indication was that there was a letter from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner responding to a couple of points.

That letter was written on March 11 and was sent to the chair of the Standing Committee on Health. To make a long story short, it appears that the health committee had arranged its affairs in order to look at the health implications of Bill C-11.

In Bill C-11, in clause 38(1) and some ancillary matters to do with the Privacy Act the Privacy Commissioner had indicated an interest to appear before the committee to discuss the concerns with the committee. In addition to the letter of March 11, there is a letter dated March 30. I may want to table both of them. In the letter, the Privacy Commissioner's office laid out the process it went through. There was some consultation with that office. They met with officials. They did not receive a privacy impact assessment. That is a critical element that is required to do a proper assessment of whether or not the activities related to the Privacy Act are going to be handled in a matter which is appropriate and also in a manner which does not conflict with other areas of the privacy legislation.

In going through these, the Privacy Commissioner's office had a couple of suggestions right off the bat, for instance, including the word “reasonableness”. It says, “the minister has the authority to order private personal information and confidential business information to be disclosed without limit and without any conditions, simply to order it to be”. That raised some concern in my mind. The Privacy Commissioner indicated there probably should be the normal wording that there was a test of reasonableness, that the minister should have reasonable cause to believe that this information was vital to the administration of the act.

That change was made. In fact, based on the written input of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, an amendment was made by the government at committee.

There was a subsequent letter, and a few other changes were proposed.

The reason I am rising is not with concern related to the health aspects, the safeguards that are being proposed in the bill to ensure the safety and security of human pathogens and toxins and those who have access to, custody of, or responsibility for them. My concerns relate to how this piece of legislation impacts on privacy rights of Canadians.

The member for Eglinton—Lawrence gave a wonderful speech last Thursday. Members may want to consult it to see more detail about the concerns that have been raised. I think that would be a very good place to start. I will not repeat the points made there, but the argument was made very clearly that there were some holes.

In fact, subsequent to the March 11 letter, based on which some government amendments were made, the letter dated March 30 I think was written on same day the committee did its clause-by-clause study and passed the bill and sent it back to the House. I did not get a chance even to read this letter, for the members' edification, and I am pretty sure that the members probably received or at least were advised of the letter of March 11. I am pretty sure, also, that when the members voted on the bill clause by clause they were not even aware of the March 30 letter.

That raises a very significant problem with regard to the manner in which the committee conducted its affairs. The members of the committee were not apprised of relevant information to do with that on a matter which did not even have a witness before it for them to even make the necessary enquiries. This raises some concerns about whether or not that committee discharged its responsibilities in a fashion which is expected by the House. That is a matter the committee members may want to review as a committee.

It also raises the issue that should the other items incorporated in the letter of March 30 from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner raise substantive items, and I believe they are substantive, it puts us in a situation where, very quickly, somebody had to decide whether we do something about this. There are a couple of ways to deal with it. One way would be to make a motion to send this bill back to the health committee. That process requires that we identify the specific clause or clauses for reconsideration. I am prepared to do that, but I am not sure whether it would get the support of the House because the details are not there. For all the members having to deal with this, the details are not there.

I hope the government members, the government House leader and the government whip will consider the options. One is to send the bill back to committee to hear a witness who knows what he or she is talking about when it comes to protecting the privacy rights of Canadians. The second option would be to say that we do not have much choice, and if we cannot send it back to committee, we will have to either defeat the bill or pass it. I think it is unlikely that the members will want to defeat this bill. It is an important bill in that we are dealing with health implications here.

However, in my view, there are some changes that are necessary with regard to the Privacy Act implications. A privacy impact assessment was not, and has not been, provided to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to enable it to give an informed opinion on whether or not the scope and the intent of the content of the legislation as it stands now are compatible with our obligations to protect privacy rights.

In the absence of the option of defeating the bill, I would suggest we have to pass it. That means this bill would go to the Senate. There is no doubt in my mind that the Senate does good work on legislation review. The Senate would look at the speeches of the day. It would look at the speech given by the member for Eglinton—Lawrence and see that some very serious questions have been raised. The member quoted extensively from both letters. If that is the case, it is my view that the problems in Bill C-11 as they currently exist are such that the Senate may have no choice but to make amendments to the bill and send it back to the House. Then we could send it back to committee for the committee to hear a witness and to fix the bill and then bring it back to the House and go through the process. It would be much more extensive.

I am calling out right now, in the middle of my speech, to the government House leader, to the whip, to the health critic, to the parliamentary secretary and to the Minister of Health to have a quick look at the situation. If they agree that this is the best opportunity for us to repair this bill, then a motion should come forward by a member speaking to this bill at this time to send the bill back to committee with regard to clause 38 and the clauses to which it relates. That is the reason I am rising, to ask the government to quickly consider the options before us.

I think the fastest route is to revert to committee to look at the matters, to consult with the Privacy Commissioner, not by exchanging a letter but by having representatives from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner appear.

It is a very substantive portion of this bill. It means that disclosure of personal information and confidential business information, not only of a person who has access or custody or responsibilities for human toxins or pathogens, the bill is so broad it could also lead to the disclosure of information about the person's family members. On top of this, the bill also allows this information to be shared with foreign governments.

One of the key issues the commissioner raised in this letter was what she termed “anonymize” the information about those who have custody or access or responsibilities related to human pathogens or toxins. That would mean instead of having the person's name disclosed to those it is necessary to disclose to so that we have the tools necessary to properly administer Bill C-11, it would not put on the record tes person's name, personal information, family's information, confidential business information or anything else it would dig up without explanation, limits or conditions on the minister.

The reason it just twigged with me is that I happen to be the chair of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. The Privacy Act comes under my committee's purview. We meet with the the Privacy Commissioner regularly. We are now working on some quick fixes to the Privacy Act, because it has not been touched in over 25 years.

These are important issues, and if we allow another bill to compromise the privacy rights of Canadians and effectively undermine the intent of the Privacy Act, then we have a ripple effect. It is not right.

I want to highlight a couple of things in the letter of March 30, which I do not believe the committee members even saw. It was sent directly to the chair of the committee. It would have been very difficult to have it go through the process of going through the parliamentary secretary and the government officials for health, maybe even the health minister, and then to distribute it to the committee members, who are entitled to get copies of all correspondence related to the matter before them.

In this case the assistant privacy commissioner actually signed the letter, thanking the committee for including some of the suggestions they had. They said there seemed to be a preliminary exchange of emails between the Public Health Agency of Canada and some of their officials. That was in May 2008. It was almost a year ago that they were talking about this. The privacy officials, the Privacy Commissioner, and Dr. Butler's agency, the PHAC, were aware of this.

It causes me great concern. If the Ministry of Health and the Public Health Agency of Canada, the PHAC, were aware of these items, these concerns on the Privacy Act, and still put forward a bill to the House of Commons that did not take into account the substantive concerns that the Privacy Commissioner had, it causes me grave concern. Somehow the system failed the House of Commons. Or, there is a reason. I am not going to speculate on whether someone wanted to pass by the input of the office of the Privacy Commissioner or pass by the prior consultations from almost a year ago with the Public Health Agency of Canada.

This is serious. Something has gone wrong in the operation of the committee, in the drafting of legislation, in the circulation of correspondence, and in the assessment, getting a privacy impact assessment so that the Privacy Commissioner could actually do the job.

It does say, “...we did not have many details and did not receive materials other than what was then Bill C-54, at that time”. That was the bill from the last Parliament.

That is all they received. How could we expect the Privacy Commissioner to do her job when there is no consultation and no communication with her on this bill specifically, until afterwards, where someone somehow picks up on a couple of items?

This involves two acts. One is the Privacy Act, which has the oversight with regard to the government departments, but also there is the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act; it is referred to as PIPEDA. These two acts together are related, and they are involved in this matter. It is not straightforward.

The letter goes on to say:

We recognize that the intent of the legislation is to deal with the personal information of laboratory workers; however, we still have concerns that there is nothing in the Bill to restrict the collection of ancillary personal information, such as patient information.

We are getting into areas that are so sensitive.

Another ancillary collection could be personal information about a laboratory worker's family members, should they come into contact with a regulated pathogen or toxin. As well, we are aware of the potential for function creep and would therefore prefer to limit the collection of personal information.

It goes on to say:

We look forward to these issues being addressed in the privacy risk assessment work to come.

They still have not received the privacy impact assessment. That is the tool, the approach in which we look at the implications to the Privacy Act of any legislation that touches on it. There is a protocol to go through here. It is the way we do our business, because Lord knows that members of Parliament cannot be experts in every statute we have responsibility for.

We have a responsibility to make sure that the work is done. We second the responsibility for the detailed knowledge, the day-to-day knowledge, to the people who work on it in the departments, in the agencies, we have established to do this.

But the matter has not come forward. It did not come forward to the committee. It did not come forward to the House. It was not disclosed by the parliamentary secretary in his speech. It was not disclosed by the minister at any point. No release. No information. We have done a very, very poor job as the House. It is a reflection on all of us.

However, we now have an opportunity. We have identified a potential problem here. It may be nothing. I may be wrong, but the Privacy Commissioner does not think so.

I believe the best course of action is to remedy the concerns that have been raised in the letter of March 30 by the commissioner, to ensure we learn from this example, to ensure that legislation, before it is signed off by all of the cabinet, that members did their due diligence. Did they check off on every piece of information? We have the formal checklist. Are they representing that this is constitutional, that it does not contradict any other laws of Canada, that it follows the model or the protocols we have established to make sure our bills and statutes work?

We also have a grave concern about the regulations. Bill C-11 requires substantive regulations. But if there is no consultation on the bill, I am not sure we will see any consultation related to privacy when the regulations are drafted and gazetted and promulgated.

One of the other areas is clause 67. It says that this may “diminish controls over personal information”. I guess that is the point of all this.

Having said that, I would like the unanimous consent of the House to table photocopies of both letters to the chair of the Standing Committee on Health: one dated March 11, one dated March 30, both in relation to Bill C-11.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to table these two letters?

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

There is no consent.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am rather perplexed by the suggestion that the House would refuse to accept a motion to table two documents, which can be made public and which were solicited by the chair of the Standing Committee on Health, forwarded to the chair of the committee, and in the context of the way that Parliament and committees work should have been distributed to all members of the committee prior to the consideration of those clauses of the bill in question.

A member of Parliament stands before the House and says he would like to make them available to every member of Parliament so that he or she can take the consideration of this bill in its fullest context, keeping in mind that the health issues are not the ones being addressed but really the privacy concerns associated with the gathering of data pertinent to health issues. And members of the House have said, no, they do not want that information.

It might be well worth our while to ask the member to propose that again, given that members have now had a few brief moments, because that is all they would require to make an intelligent decision. If he were to present that motion again, we might find that members of the House may be disposed more favourably to receiving information that is for the public benefit and for a mature decision on this bill.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pretty sure that I cannot make a motion during questions and comments. I thank the member for the chance, or at least the gesture.

I can say that I am not here to put blame on anybody. I am here, as a member of this place, to suggest that there may be a problem with this bill. There are a few ways to handle it, as I indicated. Let me review them.

Number one is to make a motion to send the bill back to committee with specific reference to clauses 38, 67, and any other clauses that flow from those, for the health committee to hear the appropriate witnesses, to remediate the bill as necessary and to return it to the House.

The second thing would be simply to defeat this bill and make the government come back with another bill that has the changes in it.

The third thing is to pass the bill with the potential or alleged flaws in it and let it go to the Senate. Then the Senate will have an opportunity to review these matters in some detail, and it will send the bill back to us and we will probably have to send it back for consideration at the health committee anyway.

The most expeditious way to find out whether we have a serious problem is to send it back to committee. If anybody would like the letters, I would be happy to provide them. I am asking hon. members to rise in their place to debate Bill C-11 and make the motion to revert it to committee. I know my Liberal colleagues would be prepared to support that.

At this point we need members to review the information, look at the options we have and try to find the best manner in which the House of Commons can dispose of an important health bill.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to reflect on the intervention by my colleague, the member for Mississauga South, that the hands of the House are tied and that we would be essentially dependent upon the decisions made in the other place for how to address this bill, keeping in mind that one is talking about protecting the rights of citizens to information that is personal and private, while we take a look at all of the issues that are important from a health perspective with respect to transporting and dealing with human pathogens and toxins.

The House would owe, from my perspective, very humbly, a debt of gratitude to members of the House, like the member for Mississauga South, who underscores sometimes occasional problems associated with issues that are related to the importance of citizens' interests on privacy.

I wonder whether we can have his comment on that as well.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would think this is potentially a bit of an embarrassment to some people, but the bottom line is that the members of the health committee did not receive the second communication from the Privacy Commissioner, which laid out at least four different areas of concern. One of them is this has no limits on how long that personal information can be kept.

That is fundamental to any legislation. If a person leaves the employ and is no longer involved, there is no sunset date as to when it has to dispose of this information. That has to be changed because it is consistent with every other treatment we have with regard to matters as it touches on the Privacy Act. I know some members are a little concerned about whether we will open up a problem area here.

I am not convinced the privacy commission is satisfied with the bill in its current form, but I do know they will participate in the continuing activity of this review. If the House is not prepared to deal with it, I am pretty sure hon. members of the red chamber, the other place, will look at this carefully to make absolutely sure that the legislation we pass in the Parliament of Canada is the best possible.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, as a member of the health committee, I would like to reassure the hon. member opposite that we have had great, lengthy conversations regarding the privacy assessment and privacy issues. At the end of the day, we also know that the regulations will address some of the issues about which we need talk. There was consent, both by his party and ours, to move the bill forward.

This is very important legislation. Yes, the privacy issues need to be dealt with and I feel very sure that we will move forward in a proper and proactive way.