I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak to regulatory changes being contemplated by the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission. In fact, the commission has recently finalized draft amendments, two regulations that are consequential to what is now known as chapter 7 of the Statutes of Canada, 2007, formally known and presented to this committee in January as Bill S-2.
As vice-president of corporate services and adjudication of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, I have the responsibility for the development of both regulatory and legislative policy.
I would like to provide you with a brief overview of the Commission and the proposed regulatory amendments, after which we will be happy to take your questions.
I will give a brief overview of the role of the commission--you may recall I spoke of this earlier. It is to manage the trade secret component of the workplace hazardous materials information system, commonly known as WHMIS, or SIMDUT. WHMIS is a federal, provincial, and territorial hazard communication system established in the late 1980s through a consensus of industry, organized labour, and the federal, provincial, and territorial governments.
Among other things, WHMIS requires that product labels and safety documentation fully disclose the identity of hazardous ingredients within a product, the specific hazards posed by the product, the precautions to be taken in handling the product, and first aid measures to be applied in the event of exposure. The goal of WHMIS is to ensure that workers using hazardous materials have the information they need to minimize the risk of illness and injury.
HMIRC operates as a quasi-judicial independent agency with a mandate to grant exemptions from the full disclosure requirements of WHMIS while ensuring that the documentation on the safe use of the products is provided to Canadian workers and is accurate and complete.
The Commission's role is a dual one as it ensures a balance between workers' right to know what is in the products they work with and their hazards, and the industry's right to protect its trade secrets. The activities of the Commission can be broken down into three key components of our mandate.
First, we conduct an economic analysis to determine whether the claimant's information is truly a trade secret and whether disclosure will have economic consequences. Second, we conduct a scientific analysis to ensure that the health and safety information being supplied to employers and workers about the product is accurate and complete. The third part of our mandate is the administration of an appeals process. When a claimant or any affected party, such as a worker representative, challenges a decision of our commission, an independent appeal board is appointed to hear that challenge.
The governance of our commission is unique in the sense that the oversight of this three-part mandate is provided by a council of governors. On this 18-member council there are two representatives of workers, one representative of employers, another representative of the suppliers who supply the materials into the workplaces, and every province and territory has a member on this council, including a representative of the federal minister responsible for occupational health and safety.
Under our act the council has the statutory mandate to make recommendations to the minister on procedures for reviewing claims, appeal procedures, changes in fees and other related matters, and regulatory changes. The regulatory amendments we are currently proposing were developed under the aegis of this council as the means to deliver on commitments made to stakeholders as provided for in chapter 7. As did Bill S-2, the regulatory proposals have the unanimous support of our stakeholders as represented on our council of governors.
I would now like to turn to the issue that brings us here today, the proposed regulatory amendments consequential to Chapter 7 of the Statutes of Canada 2007.
The last time I had the pleasure of addressing this committee was regarding the legislative amendments to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act set out in Bill S-2. The Bill received the unanimous support of this Committee and was reported back to the House of Commons for Third Reading where it received the unanimous support of all parties and received Royal Assent on March 29, 2007. At this point, the Bill became law as Chapter 7 of the Statutes of Canada 2007.
I would like to briefly review the legislative amendments, because there is a strong link between the legislative amendments and the regulatory amendments: one, allow a claimant to make a declaration that the information for which protection from disclosure is sought is a trade secret and that substantiating information is available upon request; two, allow a claimant to enter into an undertaking with the commission to voluntarily correct the health and safety information without a formal order; and three, allow the commission to provide factual information to appeal boards upon request.
These amendments, you may recall, were designed to reduce the administrative burden both on the claimants that come to the commission and on the commission staff itself, to speed up the correction of information that is required to get to workers concerning the health and safety information, and to expedite the appeals process.
However, in order for these changes to be fully implemented certain regulatory amendments are also required. The proposed regulatory amendments touch each of the Commission's three area of activity.
In terms of the first regulatory amendment regarding the information required to substantiate a claim—we're talking about the economic analysis side of our commission—under the declaration approach introduced by chapter 7, claimants declare that the information for which they are seeking exemption, the trade secret, is in fact a trade secret, and they provide a summary of the supporting documentation. However, the commission will require full documentation in support of a claim in the following instances: one, when an affected party challenges or makes a submission to the commission; two, when the claimant's declaration has been selected as part of a verification scheme; or three, when the screening officer within the commission has reason to believe the information may not be accurate.
The regulatory amendment outlines the basic information that will be required in a claim for exemption using this declaration approach, in addition to the detailed information that some claimants will be required to provide when their claim is selected for verification.
So the regulations spell out, one, that there's a basic new claim for exemption using a declaration approach, and two, that there's a second claim for exemption approach that requires full documentation.
Under this verification process, Screening Officers will be able to verify that the information provided by claimants with their declaration is accurate, and ensure there are no frivolous or false claims.
I will not outline the amendments related to the Commission's review of health and safety information provided by claimants.
You will recall that the second amendment to the Act allowed for the voluntary correction of safety documentation by claimants. Allowing corrections to be made voluntarily will expedite the process of getting complete and accurate information into the hands of workers, because the corrected information will be available immediately upon correction, rather than having to wait until after the publication of orders and subsequent appeal period expires at which point the correction orders become binding.
To ensure the transparency and openness of this process, we're proposing two regulatory amendments. The first, in the interests of transparency, proposes to publish the content of these compliance undertakings in the Gazette with a link from our website. This way the workers will know exactly what information has already been corrected, and in this way it provides them access to the corrected information and allows them to verify that this corrected information is actually available in the workplace.
The second amendment allows for the appeal of these compliance undertakings by affected parties to allow for recourse if the affected parties challenge the undertaking.
It's important to note here, and it was mentioned again when we talked about Bill S-2, that a formal correction order will always be issued if the claimant chooses not to make the corrections or if the undertaking has not been made to the satisfaction of the screening officer; in other words, full compliance will be realized in any case.
Turning to the appeals process, again, chapter 7 allows for the commission to provide factual clarification of the record of the screening officer to appeal boards when it's needed to facilitate the process.
Appeals are heard by independent boards with three members drawn from industry, labour and the chair of the appeal board, representing government. Most, if not all, appeals heard to date by the Commission's appeal boards would have benefited from additional explanatory information from the Commission, but this was not permitted under previous legislation.
The proposed regulatory amendments regarding the appeals process outline the process by which a party to an appeal may make a request for such clarification from the commission. This request requires unanimous support from the appeal board, and, if supported, the commission will be required to provide the appeal board with a written response.
In addition, the proposed amendments also allow for an appearance by the commission. In this case, it would be where the commission's written response already provided requires further clarification or, due to the urgency of the matter, if an appearance by a commission official would better aid the resolution of these issues.
None of this will interfere with the statutory independence of these independent appeal boards, as this is absolutely essential for the acceptance of appeal board decisions.
There are other housekeeping amendments.
There are additional proposed amendments to the regulations that are not related to Chapter 7. Among these amendments are wording updates, including those required to comply with the Bill to Modernize the Statutes of Canada, provisions to permit the electronic filing of claims, and minor amendments to streamline the appeal process.
In conclusion, I'd like to re-emphasize that the commission's regulatory changes have been developed in the same manner as Bill S-2, through extensive consultation with our stakeholders, consultations that commenced several years ago at the time the legislative amendments were being developed. Unanimous support for these regulatory amendments was most recently received from the commission's council of governors, literally last Friday at our annual council of governors meeting. Again, council of governors represent all of our stakeholders--labour, industry, employers, and each province and territory, as well as the federal government. At that meeting, our stakeholders' message was quite clear: these regulatory amendments are an extension of Bill S-2, which received unanimous support from our stakeholders and unanimous support from this committee and from all parties.
These amendments do not compromise worker health and safety. They will reduce the time to review economic information in support of claims; they will allow efficiency gains to be reinvested into the health and safety side of our business; and, when implemented, they will speed up the correction of health and safety information that needs to get into the hands of workers.
We feel these changes are a positive step forward for workplace health and safety in Canada. Thank you very much.