moved that Bill C-243, an act to provide for a Hepatitis Awareness Month, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure after three and a half years of researching, studying and working with activists to finally bring the bill for debate before the House of Commons.
I wish to thank the following people for their tireless efforts in promoting hepatitis awareness throughout Canada and the world. Mr. Bruce DeVenne and Mr. Neil van Deusen of Nova Scotia have been tireless in their efforts to bring an understanding of the effects of the disease to parliamentarians and to all Canadians. I also thank Mr. Joey Haché from Ottawa who is one of the bravest young men I have ever met and the House of Commons has ever met. Joey and his father, Joe Haché, are with us today and we thank them very much for coming.
Joey Haché has been very effective in raising the profile of hepatitis throughout the country on his bicycle tour across Canada. He has sent numerous e-mails and faxes to high schools and school groups advising children about the terrible effects of hepatitis and how it can be prevented. The House and the country owe young Joey a debt of gratitude.
I also thank the hon. Pat Binns, premier of Prince Edward Island. Through the efforts of young Joey Haché and myself to bring this issue to the attention of Mr. Binns, he and the legislature, without further ado, moved an enactment to make the month of May hepatitis awareness month in P.E.I. We are now trying to do that in the entire country.
We have breast cancer month, cancer awareness month and various months that are designated to bring awareness to the population as a whole. Hepatitis is a disease that is serious enough that parliamentarians at all levels and of all political stripes should do what they can to raise its awareness so that people will not be inflicted with it as they go through life.
I will now give more information about hepatitis. There are seven forms of hepatitis in the world today. Canada's first nations are at the highest risk of contracting hepatitis either through blood contact, sexual contact or, what is most frightening, drinking water.
Everyone knows what happened in Walkerton. Had the people of Walkerton been aware that they may contract hepatitis through their drinking water, the fear would have been even greater. Everyone is concerned about contracting hepatitis from drinking water, from sexual contact or from blood contact. Seven different forms of hepatitis can be contracted through these means. It is estimated that almost half a billion people in the world today may have one form of hepatitis or another.
When I began the debate on hepatitis three and a half years ago, my neighbour came over and told me that she had hepatitis. When I lived in the Yukon, some personal friends of mine called me and said that they had hepatitis. It makes me wonder how many other people in Canada have it?
It is estimated that over 700,000 Canadians are inflicted with one form of hepatitis or another. It is one of the most widely spread diseases and yet it is very rarely debated or talked about, except for hepatitis C which has been discussed at great length, not only in parliament but throughout the country.
However there are six other forms of hepatitis. What is frightening is the number of people who have hepatitis. There are approximately 50,000 people who are unaware that they have hepatitis. Some people find out when they go to their doctor for a blood check or medical treatment. It is very frightening that over 50,000 Canadians are unaware that they may have hepatitis.
We are not asking the government for any money or to stop all the business of the nation and just concentrate on this one issue. We are asking to make the month of May hepatitis awareness month and proclaim it through the House of Commons. That is not very difficult. The reason is that it is only through education and awareness that the disease will stop being spread as easily as it is now.
In all the things we do in life, awareness of a particular disease and education about the particular disease are extremely beneficial to unsuspecting people throughout Canada and the world. There are about six billion people on the planet and half a billion of them have one form of hepatitis or another. It is spreading because many people are basically ignorant of the disease itself.
It is extremely frightening. Some people find their daily lives hardened by this terrible disease, hepatitis C or the other forms. They really have to struggle. I consider myself extremely healthy. By the grace of God, I am very lucky because I do not have a disease like that. Nor do any of my family members. However I cannot help thinking about the over 700,000 Canadians who do.
In the previous parliament I passed around the bill and received 100 signatures in one day. I had over 60 members on the government side sign the bill willingly because they knew people who have hepatitis in their ridings. The official opposition signed it willingly, as well as the Bloc, the Conservatives and ourselves.
It was not a political motive. We are not discussing this issue because of politics. We are discussing it so that all parliamentarians can say to the nation that we recognize hepatitis is a terrible disease and thus will make the month of May hepatitis awareness month, just the same way we do with breast cancer month in October.
There is not a person in the House, either elected or working, who is not proud to wear the pink ribbon for breast cancer. We all know some women and we all have a mother in our lives. Some of us are fortunate to be married to a lovely woman like I am. I have two beautiful daughters and I am very concerned about them ever getting breast cancer, so the attention we pay to it is very important.
Another concern out there is hepatitis, and that is why I bring it forward. Many people over the years have contacted me through the e-mail system or knocked on my door and said that they have hepatitis. They ask me what they can do to promote awareness and education in terms of this terrible disease. I tell them to contact their members of parliament and their members of the legislature or house of assembly, wherever the case may be. I ask them to tell their counsellors, neighbours, doctors or anyone they speak to in order to get the idea across that hepatitis can be easily transmitted through blood, sexual contact or drinking water. Everybody should know about the effects of this terrible disease. Maybe then we can stop it from spreading.
It is too late for the over 700,000 Canadians who have it now. It will be too late for the over 50,000 Canadians who do not suspect they have it. However through awareness and education we can eradicate this disease. I have been an optimistic person all my life and we have the technology to help eradicate this disease. Several drugs companies have contacted me and said that they would like to help to assist in eradicating this disease. They would like to disseminate promotional materials throughout the country
I ask the government to assist in terms of proclaiming the month of May hepatitis awareness month. If we do that it will show Canadians that we recognize hepatitis is a terrible disease, especially after what happened yesterday. I am just as guilty as anyone for entering into the fray and for showing Canadians how silly parliamentarians can be sometimes. I apologize to my constituents and to the House for my own behaviour.
We have a chance to put that behind us and to move forward. We can say to those people who are inflicted with hepatitis that this House of parliament has a heart. It does care and we can proclaim the month of May hepatitis awareness month.
Unfortunately the bill is not votable as I have to wait my turn and it was not made votable. I welcome comments from fellow colleagues at the conclusion of my remarks and I hope to make the bill votable. I will be moving that motion at the end of the debate.
I thank colleagues who have come to me and discussed this issue with me, especially the former health critic for the Alliance who is extremely aware that this disease is very frightening. All members are aware of what we can do by educating people to be more aware of this terrible disease.
It was Mr. Bruce DeVenne of Lower Sackville, one of my constituents, who brought it to my attention. He came to me, not in a panic, a rush or condemning me or anyone else, but to educate me. I cannot thank him enough for that. Mr. DeVenne, Mr. van Deusen and Mr. Joe Haché have diplomatically shown me that there are ways we can work together to put political differences aside and move forward.
I even thank the hon. Mike Harris, premier of Ontario, who addressed this issue very quickly. I thank the other provincial premiers who addressed the issue as well, but we need to do more.
It is quite simple. If we can make the month of May hepatitis awareness month, then quite possibly we can eradicate disease in the near future. We have to think of the children because if we do this for them then we can give them a better life and a world free of diseases.
I know that sounds holistic and it may not happen. The government has been active in terms of financial contributions to the department of health. It has been working on one form of hepatitis, but we need to go a bit further and it does not cost any money.
All it takes is for members to stand and say that they support the bill and that they will make May hepatitis awareness month. Then we can tell Joe Haché, Neil van Deusen, Bruce DeVenne, their families and friends, and those 700,000 Canadians who have the disease that we recognize they have a terrible disease. We can tell them that education and awareness is the way to go and we as parliamentarians will do what we can to assist them in trying to eradicate this disease.
It has been over three and a half years since I first introduced the bill. Many members have signed the bill to make it votable and to move it forward. I will ask again at the end of the debate to make the bill votable.
I welcome remarks from my colleagues in this non-political debate. If we do this we will be doing a world of good for over 700,000 Canadians who are afflicted with hepatitis.