moved that Bill C-217, an act to provide for the taking of samples of blood for the benefit of persons administering and enforcing the law and good Samaritans and to amend the criminal code, be read the second time and referred to committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to stand here today and speak in favour of Bill C-217, the blood samples act. Before I discuss the pith and substance of this legislation and give three excellent reasons why members should support the bill, I would like to tell the story of how this legislation came into being and how it developed to the stage it is at now.
On April 12, 1999, I received a letter from a father who lives in my riding. I will quote from his correspondence:
My eldest son was involved in an incident at work (Canadian Tire in Abbotsford) a few weeks ago which has raised a large question for me. He helped apprehend a would-be shoplifter and in the scuffle some blood from the accused came to be on my son. My son is now on medication from the Aids Prevention Society (St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver). We won't be able to test him to see if he has contracted any disease until after three months (because the HIV antibody does not show up until then). However, all it would take is for the accused to take a blood test to see if he has any such disease (he's a known heroin addict to the RCMP in Abbotsford). The accused refuses to take such a blood test and the law, I've been told, supports him in his refusal. Here again, is a case where the victim is being punished and the accused's rights take precedence over the victim's rights. What can we as a family do? What, as our MP, can you do to help us, to help my son?
I took this father's plea to help seriously and I started researching his very deep and legitimate concerns. What I found was that this father's assertions were correct. When a good Samaritan, a police officer, a health care worker, a doctor, a nurse, a paramedic, a prison worker, a security guard, a firefighter or an emergency personnel worker of any kind is exposed to someone else's bodily fluids in the course of their duties, antibodies for HIV, AIDS or hepatitis may not appear for weeks or months in their bodies after the initial infection.
Therefore, the best way for these individuals to know if they have been exposed to a particular virus at the moment of initial contact is to acquire a blood sample from the person who infected them and then have that sample tested.
The information from the blood test allows frontline workers and good Samaritans to make properly informed decisions about post-exposure treatment and lifestyle activities. It also helps reduce severe anxiety levels for them and their families.
For example, let me read to the House just the known side effects of post-exposure treatment for HIV: potential harm to reproductive capacity; hair loss; coughing; abdominal pain; kidney stones; higher risk of contracting diabetes; total exhaustion; severe headaches; and perpetual nausea. The Canadian Police Association is also tracking one case involving a police officer who is gradually losing his eyesight since taking the treatment.
If frontline workers can discover through a blood test that they have not been exposed to someone who has HIV or hepatitis, they do not have to take the drug treatment that causes these symptoms, symptoms that can last for several months.
Oftentimes blood samples are given voluntarily and people should be praised when they do so. The crux of the debate here today, however, is what should the government do and what should public policy say when someone refuses to give a blood sample to hurt someone else and has the legal right to do so, even when the information being held is extremely valuable to society?
To answer that question, I tabled Bill C-244 in the House of Commons on October 19, 1999. Bill C-217 is exactly the same legislation.
In a nutshell, Bill C-217 allows a judge to order the taking of a blood sample from someone who accidentally or deliberately exposes a good Samaritan, a health professional, an emergency professional or a security professional with his or her blood or other bodily fluids. The blood would be tested for HIV and hepatitis.
The legislation would only be applied on rare occasions when someone refuses to give a blood sample for testing. The information would only be shared with the medical staff and affected individuals. The blood test analysis would only be used for medical purposes, with the highest levels of confidentiality.
At this point, I do want to mention my deepest sympathy for HIV-AIDS and hepatitis sufferers in Canada. The trauma and pain they feel is great. I want to reassure all of them that this legislation does not single out any individual or group who may suffer from a disease in Canada. It will not make life more difficult for people who find themselves in such trying circumstances. Rather, it is designed for those rare occasions when someone refuses to give a blood sample, which will in turn damage someone else.
Bill C-217 is about helping others. It is about compassion.
After Bill C-244 was deemed votable, it received enormous support from thousands of individuals and organizations across the country, including the Canadian Police Association, whose members have been on the Hill today on their annual lobbying day.
Also on the Hill today is a lady by the name of Detective Isobel Anderson, who was exposed to a suspect's bodily fluids a few years ago. She has played an instrumental role in supporting and promoting this legislation.
Let me read to the House part of her story, which was published on November 15, 1999, in the Ottawa Citizen :
Isobel Anderson's nightmarish experience began when she arrested a man for armed robbery in October 1997. While searching for weapons, she reached into his pocket and felt a stab of pain. She pulled her hand out to find a bloody needle stuck in her palm. My first thought was “God, I have AIDS”, recalls Constable Anderson, a mother of three.
As she feared, doctors told her that the needle may have infected her with HIV. She was advised that if she started treatment with the anti-HIV medication AZT within two hours of being jabbed, she might not contract the virus. Then she learned that the robbery suspect refused to take the HIV test and could not be compelled by law to give a blood sample.
In this case, hours later the man agreed to be tested, but only after another police officer—and I hate to say this, but it is the truth—offered the man a hamburger. The man said for a hamburger he would provide a blood sample. Thankfully he tested negative for HIV, although he was positive for hepatitis C. Upon hearing this news, Isobel discontinued taking the drug cocktail that was causing her severe physical harm.
It is because of excellent and supportive people like Isobel Anderson and groups like the CPA, the paramedic association of Canada, hospitals, doctors and emergency workers of all kinds that Bill C-244 received unanimous consent to proceed to committee on March 21 last year. The legislation then went on to receive two days of committee hearings and died on the order paper October 22, 2000 due to the election call. I reintroduced it as Bill C-217 in the 37th parliament and that is the legislation before the House today.
Presently the questions before parliament are the following. Will we continue to support a system that allows those who help others to become helpless? Will we continue to support a system that allows those who sacrifice to become sacrificed? Will we still support a system that allows the heroes to become the victims? Or will we today, in the debate that follows, support cautious, moderate and balanced change in the form of Bill C-217 which will protect frontline workers and good Samaritans? For their sake, we need to send the bill to committee where experts can make suggestions, propose amendments, strengthen the bill and make sure that it is acceptable to the charter.
There are those who would oppose protecting frontline workers and good Samaritans by placing roadblocks in front of the legislation. Let me review some of these hindrances and why they can easily be overcome. I will then describe the three reasons why the House must support the legislation and send it to committee.
First, people will say that Bill C-217 does not meet the criteria for federal criminal law power, but that is not true. Let me explain why. For a law to form criminal law, it must meet three criteria. The first step is to consider whether the law has a valid criminal law purpose. Valid purposes include public peace, order, security, health and morality. Bill C-217 meets these criteria because it is aimed at providing security and protecting the health of those who help and protect society. It also attempts to contribute to public peace by protecting those who enforce the criminal code.
Second, in determining whether the purpose of a law constitutes a valid criminal law purpose, courts look at whether laws of this type have traditionally been held to be criminal law. Bill C-217 meets this criteria because the criminal code already contains two provisions that deal with the non-voluntary taking of bodily fluids: section 487.05, the DNA provisions, and paragraph 254(3)(b), the impaired driving provisions.
Third, the purpose of the law must also be connected to a prohibition backed by a penalty. The bill also meets this standard because it uses a penalty to prohibit the act of harming someone by refusing to give a blood sample. I have heard testimony from many police officers and prison guards who say that they have been confronted by a blood wielding opponent with a needle full of blood or bodily fluid who exposes them to it and then says they have AIDS or hepatitis. The bill tries to eliminate or reduce this harm by letting those officers know whether that is true or not.
Bill C-217 also places a criminal penalty on someone for failure to take a certain step. The supreme court, for instance, upheld the gun registry as criminal law because it penalizes someone for not doing something. In other words, it is not just a commission of a crime, it is also the omission, not doing something, which in that case, of course, was registering their firearm.
The second hindrance that people will put forward is that Bill C-217 would offend charter rights. There is no question that section 7 of the charter, security of the person, and section 8 of the charter, unreasonable search and seizure, are engaged by the legislation. Some argue that the bill should not become law because it would violate the charter in those respects. However, again I beg to differ, for the following reasons.
Bill C-217 provides a fair and proper balance between the charter rights of the sick, injured and perpetrators of crime, and the rights of those in the service of helping others. It is a balancing act. Under the present system, emergency and law enforcement professionals and good Samaritans have no right to the security of their own persons.
Bill C-217 would not violate the charter because it can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. A constitutional expert who appeared before the justice committee last June asserted that the Diment decision established a standard by which compulsory blood testing would be allowed under the charter.
He said the following about the decision:
The Justice writing for the Court said, and he made it very clear, that the invasion of privacy such as compulsory blood testing will only be sanctioned by the charter where societal claims outweigh the privacy interests and where clear rules exist setting forth the conditions under which the privacy right can be violated. Such rules would of course also be subject to charter scrutiny.
To summarize this point, for a case to be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society the societal claims must outweigh the privacy claims, and clear rules must exist setting forth the conditions under which a blood sample could be taken.
Does Bill C-217 meet this standard? Absolutely, yes. Emergency workers and police officers, the very people who help and protect us, receive protection under Bill C-217 and thereby society as a whole benefits.
There is some argument that emergency personnel do not receive any valuable information from the blood tests of those who expose them. I will rebut that argument in a moment, but I also want to say that in regard to clear rules, this legislation is only activated with the approval of a judge and with the utmost sensitivity to people's basic human rights and privacy. It is done in rare cases that warrant this kind of action.
The third hindrance that you will hear from people, Mr. Speaker, is that a blood sample does not offer societal value.
I would like to quote Dr. Shafran. He is an infectious disease expert from the University of Alberta who appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice last year on the bill. He said:
I think there are a number of benefits to the proposed legislation. The specific benefit of the legislation is that since the prevalence of infection with all three blood-borne viruses in Canada is low, the majority of individuals, if the source individuals are tested, will test negative and very quickly the anxiety level will be reduced in the exposed individual. Secondly, in the event that transmission does occur, there will be documentation as to how it occurred and this is relevant in terms of issues of occupational exposure.
Third, he stated further that:
The prompt identification of infected source patients will allow the most appropriate and judicious use of post-exposure prophylaxis. In the voluntary testing that happens in the hospital patients, if they test negative, we do not offer post-exposure prophylaxis. It very much influences the way we practice.
However, the best response to this question of societal value is the personal testimonies of the people themselves. Ask those that have been exposed if this has value. Ask Isobel Anderson and the hundreds of police officers who have been on Parliament Hill today. Ask the thousands of groups and people who support this legislation. Ask my young constituent and his father. Ask the police officer who is losing his eyesight. Ask the justice official who represented the Department of Justice before the committee last year when he said:
Don't get me wrong. If I were the one who had been involved in an incident like this, I would be very much interested in getting as much information as I could as to whether or not I had been infected.
In short, it is quite obvious that mandatory blood testing in rare cases would meet the societal benefit standard of the charter.
To sum up, there are three reasons why the House should support this bill. I hope all members will be able to do so.
Bill C-217 is about positive change to the legal system, change that would provide fairness, a better balance between differing rights and assistance for those who are in the service of others.
First, the blood samples act is about fairness. Presently emergency workers and good Samaritans do not have the right to know what blood-borne virus may have invaded their bodies from another person. We need a sensitive, balanced procedure to help those people make an informed choice about their health. Bill C-217 will do that for them. It is a balanced approach, it is fair, and it treats privacy conditions properly.
Second, the blood samples act is about balancing rights. Under the present system, only the perpetrator of a crime or the injured or sick person has the right to the security of their person. However, I believe the same security should also apply to the protector and the caregiver. Bill C-217 will do that. It will balance the rights so that charter rights are protected for both groups of people.
Third, the blood samples act is about compassion and helping those who help others in our society. If people put themselves in harm's way trying to help or trying to arrest someone, there should be some safeguards for them when they are exposed to risk. Let us be compassionate with this legislation and help those who are helping others. Bill C-217 will do that.
In conclusion, this legislation has also been called the good Samaritan act after my young constituent who was covered in blood during his good Samaritan act. Some would say it is also called the good Samaritan act because the bill would benefit the health and peace of mind of thousands of emergency, health and security and paramedic workers who give of themselves every day so that we can enjoy a better life.
I would also argue that Bill C-217 is also called the good Samaritan act because it provides an opportunity for members of parliament to act like good Samaritans. The choice before us today is clear. We can refuse to support the bill and in so doing deny frontline and emergency workers their health and their peace of mind, or we can in, the spirit of good Samaritanism, provide health, compassion and assistance to those who are hurt, needy and give of themselves in the service of others.
We must allow privacy sensitive, human rights sensitive and balanced mandatory blood testing in rare cases to build a system that allows those who help others to be helped and allows our heroes to stay heroes instead of becoming victims. Let us pass Bill C-217 to help those in the service of others.