Bill C-51 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
Tony Clement Conservative
Not active, as of April 8, 2008
(This bill did not become law.)
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment amends the Food and Drugs Act to modernize the regulatory system for foods and therapeutic products, to strengthen the oversight of the benefits and risks of therapeutic products throughout their life cycle, to support effective compliance and enforcement actions and to enable a greater transparency and openness of the regulatory system.
It also amends other Acts in consequence and includes transitional provisions and coordinating amendments.
June 10th, 2014 / 10:05 a.m.
Professor, School of Health Policy and Management, York University, As an Individual
I certainly think we need more information about natural health products. I work in an emergency department. When people come in and they say they're taking various natural health products, I really have no idea of, one, the inherent risks associated with those products, and two, how those products interact with any prescription drugs that those people may be taking.
I'm not alone. I think most of my colleagues are in the same position. We definitely need more information about the safety of these products. But I think one of the things that killed Bill C-51 was the opposition from the natural health products community. I would hate to see Bill C-17 killed because of that same kind of opposition. I think we need to move forward with better regulation of natural health products. But I agree that I think it can be done at a later date.
June 10th, 2014 / 9:50 a.m.
Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada
I have just a comment on one of your questions.
The Food and Drugs Act hasn't been amended in, I think, about 50 years. If you are asking, are we lagging behind? We are lagging behind a little in the authorities for Health Canada.
My understanding is that there were more complex bills proposed, Bill C-51, Bill C-52. They were comprehensive, complex, and they weren't enacted. This is a more simplified, to-the-point bill to take a step forward in safety in Canada.
Thirdly, Canada is leading in some ways already. There are only a handful of countries worldwide that post their adverse drug reaction reports online, available to the public and practitioners. Two other countries that I know of are the Netherlands and the U.K., and then there's Canada. We have taken some steps to show leadership worldwide. In the United States they do make the device incidents available online, but not the adverse reaction reports.
I just wanted to share with you a little bit about where Canada sits worldwide.
Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)
May 27th, 2014 / 1:05 p.m.
Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC
Mr. Speaker, I take special interest in federal policies, legislation, and the regulations that govern the pharmaceutical sector. The western part of Montreal, a great part of which falls in the riding of Lac-Saint-Louis, includes many brand-name pharmaceutical companies and medical equipment suppliers that together employ a great many of my constituents. As a result, I am fortunate to be regularly kept apprised of issues impacting this industry. Constituents also contact me to share their concerns about matters like the cost of drugs and drug safety.
Liberals support sending Bill C-17 to the health committee for review and improvement. Whether the government agrees to important amendments at committee will signal whether it truly takes the safety of Canadians with respect to pharmaceutical products seriously.
Incidentally, I applaud the member for Oakville who has been relentless in pressing for enhanced drug safety in Canada. I have been witness to his interventions at health committee and can attest to his tenacity and expertise on the issue.
Bill C-17 however is a delayed response to an issue that has demanded our focused attention going back to the very beginning of the Conservative government's mandate.
A key pillar in the national pharmaceutical strategy launched in 2004 was “Strengthening evaluation of real-world drug safety and effectiveness” to strengthen surveillance of prescription drugs.
An earlier attempt to address the issue, Bill C-51, languished on the order paper when the government, violating its own fixed date election law, triggered the 2008 election. That was six years ago. Canadians would like to know what has taken the government so long to address such a vital issue.
Let me get to the bill. What would Bill C-17 do? The bill applies to prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vaccines, gene therapies, and medical devices. The main features of Bill C-17 are as follows:
First, the bill would require mandatory reporting by health care institutions, presumably meaning hospitals, of adverse drug reactions in patients so that the government may know whether to re-evaluate a drug's safety.
Second, the bill would empower the government to order recalls of unsafe drugs without first entertaining representations from the manufacturer or being obliged to negotiate the recall with the manufacturer, provided the Minister of Health “believes that a therapeutic product presents a serious or imminent risk of injury to health...”. Astonishingly, the government does not already possess this authority when it comes to therapeutic products like drugs. On the other hand, the federal government currently has the power to recall bad toys, tools, cleaning supplies, clothing, and food, something it does with varying degrees of efficiency, but not unsafe drugs. Currently, drug recalls are at the discretion of the manufacturers and distributors. This is hard to believe but true.
Third, not only would Bill C-17 give the government the power to recall drugs, it would create stronger penalties for the marketing of unsafe pharmaceutical products, including jail time and new fines of up to $5 million per day instead of the current $5,000.
Fourth, the bill would authorize the Minister of Health to order a person to provide the minister with any information in the person's control regarding a therapeutic product that the minister believes “may present a serious risk of injury to human health” and that “the Minister believes is necessary to determine whether the product presents such a risk”.
Fifth, the bill would also authorize the Minister of Health to require label or packaging changes if the minister “believes that doing so is necessary to prevent injury to health...”.
Finally, the bill would allow the minister to order therapeutic authorization holders to conduct assessments and provide the results to the minister and in order to improve understanding about a product's effects on health and safety, compile information, conduct studies and tests, or monitor experience regarding a therapeutic product.
The bill is seen to have some important loopholes that compromise its ultimate effectiveness.
First, the definition of “therapeutic product” does not include a natural health product within the meaning of the National Health Products Regulations.
Furthermore, stakeholders are concerned about what constitutes a “prescribed health care institution” under the bill. Does this definition only mean hospitals or does it include clinics and doctors in family practice?
Also, the bill raises the real-life distinction between sellers of therapeutic products and holders of drug authorizations, underscoring the fact that in the complex modern marketplace, they may be different entities.
Incidentally, a therapeutic product authorization is:
....the authorization that permits the import, sale, advertisement, manufacture, preparation, preservation, packaging, labelling, storing and testing of a therapeutic product.
As an example of the distinction, and to quote an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal:
...the company holding the market authorization may...license distribution to another company.
An historic example shows us why the distinction is significant and why there is a need for the bill to cover both sellers and those with authorization. When, in the 1960s, thalidomide was suspected of being harmful, manufacturers eventually withdrew the drug after some negotiation with Health Canada, the kind of negotiation this bill would presumably no longer require. However, free samples, the primary form of the drug's distribution, were still sitting in doctors' offices across the country. Health Canada did not have the legal authority to control or contain this problem.
The power the bill gives to the minister to recall or suspend drugs appears limited to sellers only. According to the CMA Journal, the health minister:
...should be explicitly empowered to issue suspensions and recalls to both types of “persons”.
Another issue related to the question of the federal government's capacity to fully protect Canadians from unsafe drugs has to do with whether it has the financial and human resources to ensure that drugs important to Canada are manufactured under strict quality control standards, along with ensuring quality control in manufacturing facilities in Canada.
We know that the government has been cutting in areas related to environmental protection and health protection, whether at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or Health Canada. For example, budget 2012 cut 275 positions from the health products division at Health Canada, the group responsible for monitoring the safety and efficacy of prescription drugs.
Constituents have spoken and written to me because they have been concerned about conditions abroad in plants that manufacture drugs, often generics. Their concerns have often followed news of recalls of drugs such as Ranbaxy's atorvastatin calcium, the generic version of Pfizer's Lipitor.
For example, a 20 milligram tablet was recently found in a sealed bottle marked for 10 milligram tablets of the drug, resulting in a 64,000 bottle recall. This situation followed another episode, where glass particles were found in other batches of this same generic Lipitor.
As a result of such incidents, the U.S. FDA has apparently increased its presence abroad with a view to auditing certain facilities. What is Health Canada doing? Does it have the resources, financial and human, to do anything? Is it working with the FDA?
Whether in the U.S. or Canada, we need drug monitoring systems that catch problems before unsafe products are in consumers' hands and bodies.
This bill is obviously a good step in the right direction, but we have to ensure that any loopholes that would compromise its efficacy are closed. This can be done at the health committee. We also have to ensure that the government, quite apart from this bill, commits the funding necessary to guarantee that we have a safe drug system in Canada. It obviously has to work with the FDA and other international partners in the process of doing so.
Again, I congratulate the member for Oakville for his assiduous efforts in this area. I look forward to seeing what happens to the bill in committee.
Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)
May 27th, 2014 / 10:20 a.m.
Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC
Mr. Speaker, I rise to support this bill, but to support sending it to committee. While this bill is a substantial improvement on the status quo, it has still taken the current government eight years, even though as Liberals we have pushed the government to change the way it regulates, the way it develops, and the way it looks at drug safety for Canadians.
However, the Conservatives have put the bill forward and there are some pieces of the bill that we like, but we think it falls short. There are other things we would like to see in this bill, and the minister herself has said in the House when she introduced the bill that she is open to amendments. So we are taking the minister at her word, and we are going to say we would like it to go to committee, and we hope the minister will be true to her word and will look at our amendments then.
Here are some things we like about the bill.
We think that the minister getting the power to recall drugs is a very important piece that has been a long time coming. The minister has to be able to do so without first getting the manufacturer's approval. Before this, the minister had to get the manufacturer's approval to recall a drug or to say that a drug has severe side effects. The new language says that “If the Minister believes that a therapeutic product may present a serious risk of injury to human health...”. That is good language, and we support the minister getting those powers.
The minister used to have to overcome the reluctance of the companies to want to give that information. Now the minister would have the ability to compel industry to provide the information about the drugs that the minister wishes to either seek a notice of compliance on or that are actually out there in the public, and be able to recall them. This is all common sense, but it is crucial because nobody but the company itself knows the background of the clinical trials, of how the company formulated the drug and how that innovation occurred. Therefore it is important that the company is made to be forthcoming with some of that information.
What we also like about this bill is that the minister would compel health care providers and pharmacists to mandatorially report at-risk drug reactions. As a physician, I can say that was a difficult thing to do because it meant that physicians, after a whole busy day of seeing patients, at the end of the day then had to report all these things. It can take sometimes two hours out of their day. Now that the minister would provide an electronic means by which this could be easily done, it would make it much easier for physicians to comply with this.
The minister's ability to enforce conditions on market authorization and to compel changes to product labels is also very important, and the ability to move that forward would ensure patient safety. We think that is important, but we also want the minister not to do so in a hurry so that it would stop due diligence in terms of the ability to get the kind of information we need.
The fines of up to $5 million a day for the failure to remove a drug or the failure to obey the enforcement measures by the minister is also a very positive area.
Members will notice that we are saying that there are some very positive things about this bill. However, before this bill came about, I was writing a bill on this very same thing because we got a little tired of waiting for the government to do this after eight years; so I had some round-table meetings with experts on the issue. Here are some of the major elements that these experts feel are missing from the bill, which would make the bill stronger: better implementation of the ability to ensure patient safety, to ensure that there are appropriate regulations, and to ensure pre- and post-market surveillance of drugs.
This is about the precautionary principle, which should give the minister the power to ensure that the first and foremost thing she or he is concerned about, wherever possible, is being sure that on reasonable grounds, to prevent potential injury to a person or a citizen, the minister has that power to recall or remove a drug or not allow for notice of compliance. “Reasonable grounds” is sufficient. The minister should be protected for her ability to do this, using the term “reasonable grounds”. The minister's power should not just be limited to those who sell the drugs, because we know that in some areas the people who manufacture the drugs are not the people who sell the drugs.
They have different production arms and different distribution arms that distribute their drugs under different names. Therefore, it is important for the minister to look at the whole chain of distribution not merely at the manufacturer when recalling a drug.
Right now I think that the definitive issue of injury or harm is up for interpretation. For instance, let us look at the birth control drugs that did not work recently. No one felt that this was an important reason not to allow the drug a notice of compliance or to recall it, because they felt that if women became pregnant when using a contraceptive that did not work, it was not an adverse reaction and it did not cause severe injury or harm, because pregnancy is a lifestyle choice. I think that was a bending of the interpretation of what harm is. If women are taking a contraceptive, it is because they do not want to get pregnant. If they get pregnant, that is an adverse reaction. I think the ability to define what is injury or harm should be more clearly spelled out for two reasons: one, to protect the patient; and, two, to protect the minister from any kind of reaction from the company because it is clear what she means and what the legislation means by injury or harm. That should be clearly spelled out. It should be based not on subjective but on objective criteria that are in keeping with what we know about risks and harms pertaining to drugs. That would provide the minister protection and give her broader powers.
As well, we know that we cannot tell the adverse effects of a drug purely from the clinical trials. When a drug is undergoing clinical trials, it is done with a cohort of people who have been chosen, and out of that cohort it can be decided what the negative and adverse reactions are to the drug. However, when the drug goes out into the main community, into the citizenry at large and the general public, individual reactions to drugs can differ. While people may not have had reactions during the clinical trial, others in the main community may show adverse reactions. Therefore, the minister must have the ability to say that, although the government gave the drug a notice of compliance, due to the new reporting requirements for physicians and pharmacists it has noticed that after a year or six months there are adverse reactions that were not intended and did not show up in the clinical trials and that the drug will be recalled temporarily while we check on these. Then, ensuring that the precautionary principle is in place, the government can look at the drug and either put it back on the market if changes have been made or permanently recall it before it does any further harm.
To clearly define what we are doing is in the best interests of the minister. It would protect her from any kind of legal suit and so forth. That is an important piece we would like to see included.
The Auditor General has spoken on many an occasion about the lack of transparency in Health Canada's decision-making process. For instance, Health Canada publishes only very limited information on drugs and high-risk medical devices for which a notice of compliance is applied for. However, it does not tell us why it did not allow a drug a notice of compliance. It does not tell us what its opinions are about the drug, even though it may give it a notice of compliance and say that it is generally safe. There may be other clinicians who have said there are some concerns about the drug. Health Canada should put that out there to the public, so that pharmacists, prescribers, and patients would know that there could be some conditions under which the drug was allowed to go out there. There may be some potential negative effects with which the minister and the department are concerned, but they are releasing the drug anyway. That was in the bill when it was put forward as Bill C-51. I noticed it has been removed. I wonder why, because it was a very good piece in that legislation that we agreed on and that the Auditor General wanted to happen. That enhances the transparency of Health Canada in terms of its regulations and looking at drug safety.
We cannot afford to use the fact that the manufacturer does not want us to give out trade secrets. We do not have to give out trade secrets when we are saying that we think there may or may not be a problem that we have in the back of our mind even though we have put the drug out there. It is an important thing to do. Europe is doing it. The European drug agency is putting out what the negative opinions are on a particular drug, even though it felt that the benefits outweighed the risks and that is why it put it forward.
There should be a legal requirement to register clinical trial data. This should be open to physicians, patients, and pharmacists so that they are able to know what clinical trial data shows. Now, I know that the government thinks that would let out trade secrets. However, the European drug agency is doing this.
The clinical data that is put out in terms of the clinical trial does not have to disclose proprietary issues regarding the drug itself or its trade secrets. It is about the ability to ensure patient safety, which is foremost in the mind of Health Canada, as it should be. Therefore, to release the full report of pre- and post-clinical trials and surveillance on an ongoing basis is an absolute necessity, but it is not in the bill. Not only is the European drug agency doing this, it is thinking of expanding it to bring in anonymous or non-nominal general patient responses to the drugs so that, again, there is full knowledge and full disclosure. Also, the FDA has just tabled its intention of doing the same thing.
Canada is way behind both Europe and the United States in terms of looking at patient safety, in terms of full disclosure, and in terms of acquiring full disclosure by the manufacturers, who do not seem to be worried about the proprietary issues of trade secrets because they know what to put in and what not to. Clinical information is not a proprietary trade secret. The formula of the drug and how the innovation occurred are proprietary trade secrets, but not clinical trials or data about them.
It is important for the minister to strengthen the bill by doing this and to do everything under the rubric of good independent research, and not just the companies' research. There should be an independent body that looks at those clinical trials, and not just Health Canada. Again, Europe is doing that, and the FDA has tabled its intention to do that. It has to be done in the name of public safety and good evidence-based information.
We would like to see more transparency from Health Canada on why it gives a drug a notice of compliance and why it does not. What are the reasons? Again, we need to know that about certain drugs. People read about drugs, and when they find out that other countries use certain drugs, they wonder why Canadians cannot get it. They want to know why they are not allowed access to drugs that could save their lives, et cetera.
Good information helps people understand why certain decisions are made. However, right now we do not know anything about why Health Canada approves a particular drug or not, why certain drugs are suspended, and why some drugs remain on the market in spite of adverse reactions in other countries. These are some things that we feel would strengthen the bill.
Disclosure in the name of public safety is always very good. We need to ensure that the first thing in the mind of Health Canada when it approves a drug, or not, is that people can trust Health Canada to make good decisions in their best interest, and be able to do so in an objective and clinical evidence-based response. I think that right now Health Canada faces a great deal of mistrust from the public and drug prescribers because it is not transparent in some of these things.
Why would the bill allow government and cabinet to impose stringent rules favouring data protection of manufacturers under the Food and Drugs Act? We do not think that should be able to stand alone.
We have seen issues where people have asked for drugs, but the government has said that the Food and Drugs Act is the reason it is not doing certain things. However, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled very clearly that the issues of right to life, liberty, and the security of the person trump any piece of legislation, which is under section 7 of the charter. Patient safety should be foremost in anything that the bill would bring forward.
We oppose the amendment to the Food and Drugs Act in the bill to protect manufacturers' data. It should only be for proprietary data protection and not for anything else. The government should be protecting the patient, and Canadians.
The Liberal Party thinks that the bill is long overdue. There are some good points in Bill C-17 that move forward, with some steps we approve of, to enhance patient safety and knowledge of drugs for therapeutic prescribers.
The minister said that the bill should be open to amendments. We have, as I said just now, about five amendments we would like to see that would strengthen the bill. We approve of big chunks of the bill, and we would like to see the bill go to committee. We hope that the minister will be true to her word and allow for amendments to come forward so that the bill can go to the House and be accepted by all of us unanimously, because it is in the best interest of patient safety.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
April 4th, 2012 / 6:05 p.m.
Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON
moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand among my fellow parliamentarians today as I speak in support of my private member's legislation advancing to third reading.
Bill C-313, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (non-corrective contact lenses), has received unanimous all-party support at every level of debate since its introduction in the House. Even at the committee review stage, all parliamentarians from the various parties have expressed their full support.
In the few months since my legislation was first introduced, there have been millions of non-corrective contact lenses recalled across the North American marketplace for quality control issues. Such stories have become more common, and Canadians are just beginning to open their eyes to the importance of their eye health. As we shed more light on this issue, we will continue to hear about such product recalls in the news. That is why Bill C-313 is supported across party lines and by virtually all Canadian eye health professionals. Canadian policy-makers are keenly aware of the impact my legislation would have across Canada, just as many of my colleagues have followed my legislation's progress.
Organizations like the Canadian Association of Optometrists have been key players in helping to spread the word on this important consumer health issue. The Canadian Association of Optometrists, the Opticians Association of Canada and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society have all come out in support of this legislation, and many more provincial bodies and their representatives have voiced their support as well. I will share some of their opinions with the House in due course.
I would like to thank the individual optometrists and ophthalmologists who have taken time from their busy practices right across Canada to write to me to voice their support. I realize that many of these same professionals took the time to write to their own MPs, asking them to support this private member's business, and for this I am grateful.
As we discuss the bill now at third reading, I intend to share medical evidence with the House that will provide clear reasons why we need my legislation. However, before we discuss Bill C-313 further, I want to take members back to the autumn of 2007 in the 39th Parliament of Canada.
One of my first responsibilities as a new member of Parliament was to be a member of the Standing Committee on Health. Looking back at my time on that specific committee, I was particularly seized by the concerns that were brought to me by professional eye care organizations from across Canada about the lack of regulatory oversight of what were called cosmetic contact lenses.
It is easy to break down the main concern brought forward to me all those years ago. A cosmetic contact lens is identical to a corrective lens in its impact on the human eyeball, with the only difference being that it does not correct a sight imbalance. However, despite the fact they are identical to a corrective lens, these cosmetic lenses have been free of regulatory oversight similar to the provisions in place for corrective lenses. It was with this in mind that I began to work in 2007 to further understand the risks of cosmetic contact lenses.
After extensive study, liaising with health researchers and eye care professions and meeting with our own experts from Health Canada and engaging with the opposition health critics, I developed a strategy that would go further toward protecting the eye health of Canadians everywhere. The result was private member's Motion No. 409, which proposed that cosmetic lenses should be classified as medical devices and be regulated accordingly under the Food and Drugs Act. The actual text of Motion No. 409 read as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, the Minister of Health should regulate non-corrective, cosmetic contact lenses as medical devices under the Hazardous Product Act or the Food and Drugs Act.
This motion passed unanimously on March 7, 2008, in a fractured minority Parliament no less, which I believe is testament to the fact we are discussing an important health matter that could impact many Canadians, especially our youth. When faced with the facts on non-corrective contact lenses in 2008, we as a Parliament did the right thing by supporting Motion No. 409 and we stand to do so again with Bill C-313.
I was pleased that the government acted upon the unanimously passed motion. It was 2008 when the Government of Canada, upon advice from Health Canada, introduced my motion as an amendment to former Bill C-51, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. That act was introduced in April 2008 but also died on the order paper upon the election in the fall of 2008.
That was unfortunate. Having already used my private member's spot in the 39th Parliament, I found myself near the bottom of a long private members' business list. It can be a long wait before MPs have the opportunity to again bring forward legislative items once they have used their spot on that list.
Moving ahead to late 2010, in the 40th Parliament it became evident that I would be able to bring forward private members' business. Knowing that Canadians still had concerns about the existing policies in Canada surrounding non-corrective cosmetic lenses, I directed my research staff to determine what types of legislative remedies could be brought forward. In short order, they developed opinions to deal with my previously unfinished private members' business as a stand-alone piece of legislation.
More time passed. Subsequently, we had another election and I was re-elected by the good people of Sarnia—Lambton. With the return of the 41st Parliament, my name was near the top of the list for private members' business, meaning that months of research and efforts by my office were about to be realized and we would finally be able to bridge the regulatory gaps that exist for decorative non-corrective lenses.
This legislative process has taken place across three different sessions of Parliament and now stands at third reading before the House of Commons.
With this background on my bill before the House, I would like to speak directly to Bill C-313, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (non-corrective contact lenses).
Eye health professionals have been saying for a long time what we now know to be fact: National distribution of these products without professional oversight, fitting and training significantly increases the risk of public harm. This is the main finding captured by independent research reports. It is what Canadian eye health organizations have found. Now we see peer-reviewed science from reputable academics and institutions across the globe now fully supporting these findings.
To speak to the potential medical issues than can arise from the use of non-corrective contact lenses, stating that a decorative lens is potentially a harmful product may seem to some to be an overstatement, yet medical researchers have shown otherwise.
A list of the complications that could occur due to unsafe handling and the wearing of an improperly fitted lens in one's eye includes the following: conjunctivitis; corneal abrasions; giant papillary conjunctivitis; microbial keratitis; and other forms of bacterial, allergic, and microbial infection, as specified by the eye care industry.
Already, we know that these complications all occur with prescribed corrective lenses, which is exactly why Health Canada regulates the use of these products through opticians and regulatory bodies. Furthermore, it has been proven through peer-reviewed studies that non-corrective lenses are much more likely to cause complications to users because of a combination of factors, including lack of oversight of the product for the consumer, in particular how to use the product and issues with the potential quality of the product.
The Internet market for these products has grown immensely, even since 2006. We are talking about a market share in the millions and tens of millions of dollars. Much of this revenue is taken offshore. We need to ensure that Canadian consumer are protected when it comes to such operations.
To date, we have now seen several studies on the issue of decorative lenses and the harm they can cause to consumers. Perhaps the most well-known study in Canada is the human health risk assessment of cosmetic contact lenses conducted by Dillon Consulting Limited. Also known as the Dillon report, the final assessment was submitted to Health Canada in September of 2003 and outlined the scientific evidence, which at that point was still being debated by public health officials, namely that the level of risk associated with the use of cosmetic contact lenses is comparable to that associated with corrective lenses, and may potentially be higher. The main issue here is that corrective lenses are subject to professional monitoring and proper regulatory oversight. Cosmetic lenses are not.
The Dillon report also called for the following risk management strategies: individual screening should take place before a cosmetic lens is sold to a customer; proper fitting should be ensured; adequate instruction on cleaning and sterilization should occur; and consumers should be made familiar with potential symptoms related to the condition of the eye; and regular aftercare is needed.
To date, not one of the suggested risk management strategies called for in this report has been adopted, while corrective lenses are strictly defined by Health Canada. My legislation would address this problem.
Whereas the long list of issues associated with non-corrective contact lens use was once viewed somewhat contentiously by policy-makers, such health concerns are now considered an accepted fact of non-corrective contact lens use, due to a recent study that appeared in Acta Ophthalmologica, the official medical journal for optometrists and ophthalmologists in Europe. In this study, research conducted by the department of opthalmology at Strasbourg University Hospital in France clearly indicated the following:
Patients who acquire CosCL [cosmetic contact lenses] are less likely to be instructed on appropriate lenses use and basic hygiene rules. Consequently, CosCL wearers are experiencing acute vision-threatening infections.
The study in question focused on a bacterial infection known as microbial keratitis, a common yet preventable infection that can occur in wearers of contact lenses, both the corrective and non-corrective, cosmetic varieties. This study showed that wearers of cosmetic lenses were indeed at higher risk, with 79% of the control group of cosmetic contact lens wearers suffering from corneal scraping. However, the study showed that only 51% of the corrective contact lens wearers suffered similar effects. Meanwhile, more than half of the cosmetic lens wearers who were shown to have suffered corneal scraping were also shown to have serious microbial infection in the eye.
The study concluded that the increasingly documented risks of easily accessible cosmetic contact lenses were a serious concern in the country of France, where the study took place. In this regard, there is no reason to believe that the situation is any different in Canada, and in fact the Dillon report of 2003, which in many ways served as a ground-breaker on this issue, also came to the same conclusions as the French study in 2011.
Considering the medical evidence that clearly shows the need for the provisions contained in Bill C-313, it is important to note that Canada is at least a decade behind other jurisdictions, such as the United States and Europe, in achieving proper regulations for non-corrective cosmetic lenses.
In 2008, M-409 was able to obtain the full support of all opposition parties and their health critics, in addition to the support of the government and the Minister of Health.
Today, with Bill C-313, I ask hon. members to stand with me once again as we deal with this important issue. Listen to what some of our leading eye care experts from across Canada have had to say about this piece of legislation.
An optometrist from Newfoundland has stated, “In my province there are novelty shops and drugstores that are selling these lenses without regard for the possible health implications to eyesight. All our opticians want to stop this activity of unregulated dispensing”. Moreover, Clearlycontacts.ca, a Canadian ebusiness provider of vision-care products, has also stated on the record that, “At Clearlycontacts, we support regulatory oversight in the sale of non-corrective contact lenses and fully support Bill C-313”.
Dana Cooper of the Canadian Association of Optometrists has said that:
Bill C-313 is a commonsense initiative that aligns all contact lenses in the same federal regulatory environment. Bill C-313 makes sense from a vision health perspective, a consumer protection perspective, and is justified based on the concerns and actions already taken and being pursued by governments around the world.
In addition, I have also received strong endorsements from the Opticians of Manitoba, the Saskatchewan College of Opticians and also the School of Optometry and Vision Science in Waterloo, Ontario.
Internationally, Bill C-313 has the support of esteemed groups, such as the Contact Lens Institute of Florida and the American Optometric Association of Virginia.
The need for this legislation has never been greater than it is today. The Internet marketplace has opened doors for international buyers and sellers of these products like never before, and as policy-makers we have a duty to ensure that the eye health of Canadian consumers is protected as much as possible.
I believe that Bill C-313 is the first step in this direction, and today I call on all esteemed members of this House to stand in support of my private member's legislation.
March 29th, 2012 / 9:25 a.m.
Deputy Minister, Department of Health
Thank you for the question.
My understanding is that in 2004 there was a recommendation from the committee, and in fact, the department took a number of steps at that time. It had some expert witnesses, I understand. It looked into the question of what was feasible, and what was reasonable in terms of clinical trials.
As was noted, for example, there was a bill that was introduced at that point, Bill C-51, which addressed some of that, so a lot of energy went into understanding whether we should do things as part of the legislation. When that legislation did not go forward, the department made a number of changes. It increased the transparency by focusing.... It actually encouraged, as we write a letter to a clinical trial site, that we ask them to put their posting on one of the WHO international sites. So we have a number of clinical trials that are now doing that.
March 29th, 2012 / 9:10 a.m.
Assistant Deputy Minister, Health Products and Food Branch, Department of Health
Mr. Chair, I thank the member for her question.
It's true that our powers are somewhat limited with respect to our ability to request a change on…
the monograph, the labels. We do have limited powers to demand or impose label updates on products as we see them. We end up working in collaboration with the companies in order to negotiate the sorts of changes we would like to see.
The process to obtain an update on instructions for a drug is now being negotiated with the industry.
We find that this works for us. Obviously we exert a fair amount of influence over industry to comply with our requests.
We have the power, if we feel that industry is not complying, to simply issue a warning saying we've asked the industry to do x and they've declined. Oftentimes that's enough to have industry come into compliance with our recommendations. We do have powers beyond just the negotiation.
In Bill C-51, a previous piece of legislation, there were some proposals that would have allowed us to go beyond simply working in a collaborative nature with industry, to one that would be imposing our direction upon them. Given what happened with that piece of legislation, we are taking a look at what other steps we can take to ensure the regulatory framework we have allows us to move as quickly as possible.
The one problem I would acknowledge with the current process is that it does take a bit of time in terms of negotiating rather than simply directing.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
January 31st, 2012 / 6:30 p.m.
Jacques Gourde Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-313. This bill would have non-corrective cosmetic contact lenses covered by the same regulations as medical devices, under the Food and Drug Act and the Medical Devices Regulations.
Cosmetic contact lenses are also known as theatrical, decorative or non-corrective contact lenses. These products are sold in a wide range of colours and styles and are easy to purchase. Consumers can buy them in stores and on the Internet. Research reports show that the use of these products is growing, especially among adolescents and young adults.
There is every indication that the use of cosmetic lenses will increase and that they will be worn for all types of occasions. These contact lenses are called cosmetic because they do not correct vision. They change the colour or the appearance of eyes purely for aesthetic reasons.
You may be asking why we are considering such a frivolous item as a costume or fashion accessory. In response, I will say that they are not just costume or fashion accessories. As the sponsor of the bill, the member for Sarnia—Lambton, has said, this is about people's eyesight.
Users of cosmetic contact lenses place them directly on the cornea. I am convinced that you will agree with me that placing a contact lens directly on the cornea poses health risks, even though the product is especially designed and manufactured for the eye.
The consumer who buys this product over the counter is not always aware of the risks. We are interested in introducing simple and practical measures to mitigate this very real risk to health.
There are real differences between cosmetic and corrective contact lenses. Corrective contact lenses improve eyesight; cosmetic contact lenses only change the appearance of the eye. In Canada, the authority to determine whether a medical device is distributed by prescription rests with the provinces and the territories. At present, Canadian consumers who want to purchase corrective contact lenses must have a prescription.
However, non-corrective contact lenses can be purchased without a prescription in retail outlets, such as costume shops, or on the Internet. In fact, cosmetic lenses and corrective lenses are similar in many respects. Both are made with the same materials using similar production methods. Both are applied directly to the eye and both pose health and safety risks to those who wear them.
Some of the health and safety risks associated with wearing contact lenses include lacrimation, tingling and dry eyes. In extreme cases, these problems can lead to blindness.
For a number of years now, we have heard warnings about wearing contact lenses. As far back as 2000, Health Canada warned the public of the potential risks associated with wearing cosmetic contact lenses and recommended that these products be used only under the supervision of an eye care professional.
In addition to the information published by Health Canada, there have been many public communications regarding cosmetic contact lenses. Many Canadian associations for eye care professionals provide consumers with information on the risks associated with wearing cosmetic and corrective contact lenses and how to prevent these problems.
These professional associations adopted the position that the potential risks associated with wearing cosmetic contact lenses are equal to or greater than those associated with wearing corrective contact lenses.
The United States Food and Drug Administration also issued consumer warnings about the risks associated with wearing cosmetic contact lenses.
In 2008, our government introduced Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, under which all contact lenses would be regulated as medical devices. However, Bill C-51 died on the order paper when Parliament was dissolved and the election was called.
Cosmetic contact lenses are currently not classified as a medical device since they do not provide any therapeutic benefits. That means that cosmetic contact lenses fall under the general prohibitions of the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, which was passed in this House and came into effect in 2011.
This act is a solid piece of legislation that requires suppliers of consumer goods to report any safety-related incidents, recalls or other regulatory action in other jurisdictions.
The Canada Consumer Product Safety Act gives the government broad powers to take corrective measures, such as recalls and product corrections. It therefore authorizes the government to adopt corrective measures in all cases where a consumer product presents an unreasonable danger to people’s health and safety. Under this legislation, products must be assessed one by one in order to determine whether they represent an unreasonable danger, but only once they have been put on the market.
I would now like to reassure Canadian consumers that the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act provides greater protection than before when it comes to cosmetic contact lenses. As medical devices, cosmetic contact lenses fall under the Food and Drugs Act and the medical devices regulations. Companies would be obligated to ensure that their cosmetic contact lenses meet safety and quality requirements in order to be able to sell their products in Canada.
Health Canada may also request additional information regarding safety and quality before or after a decision concerning their sale in Canada. Therefore, as medical devices, cosmetic contact lenses would be subject to the same labelling requirements and consumer information standards as corrective contact lenses, before they are put on the market.
Moreover, the medical devices regulations contain permit issuance and inspection requirements to which importers and distributors are subject, in addition to a mandatory declaration by companies concerning any serious incidents that may have occurred. Many contact lenses are sold directly to consumers over the Internet and are subject to minimal or no safety and quality oversight measures. It is not mandatory to consult an eye care professional.
Bill C-313 does not address any obligation to obtain a prescription in order to purchase cosmetic contact lenses, nor any obligation on the part of consumers to consult an eye care professional to obtain a prescription. The regulatory authority of the medical devices regulations does not address these concerns. The onus would be on the provinces and territories to make decisions and implement measures, since the authority to set regulations forcing consumers to obtain a prescription to purchase this kind of contact lens falls under provincial jurisdiction.
I am, however, firmly convinced that Bill C-313 is better for Canadians because it will mandate greater oversight over the safety and quality of these products than is currently the case both before and after they are put on the market.
As a regulatory body, Health Canada will continue to provide health care professionals and the public with product safety information, and will continue to promote industry compliance with rules and regulations. Industry will be obliged to meet the requirements of the Medical Devices Regulations. A large number of companies that sell contact lenses in Canada also sell them in the United States where all contact lenses, whether corrective or cosmetic, have been regulated as medical devices since 2005.
It is our government's priority to harmonize these regulations with those of its foreign counterparts and to promote Canada-American co-operation in the regulatory sphere. Bill C-313 is an important step in this process. Support for Bill C-313 will also enable our government to meet its commitment to ensure Canadians' safety. This bill gives us the opportunity to address an important health risk. It comes in response to the concerns expressed by health care professionals.
In closing, Bill C-313 will make two similar products with comparable risks subject to a single regulatory mechanism.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
January 31st, 2012 / 6:15 p.m.
Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation
Madam Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to commend and express appreciation to the member for tabling this bill and drawing attention to this important issue.
The member has been advocating for this issue since 2008, first by tabling a private member's motion and now with the introduction of this private member's bill. Bill C-313 proposes an amendment to the Food and Drugs Act, which would see cosmetic contact lenses classified and regulated as medical devices.
In Canada the authority to determine whether a medical device is subject to dispensing by prescription rests with the provinces and territories. Currently Canadian consumers wishing to purchase corrective contact lenses require a prescription, however, non-corrective contact lenses can be purchases without a prescription at retail establishments such as costume and party stores or over the Internet.
Cosmetic contact lenses are coloured lenses that, like corrective contact lenses, are inserted directly into the eye. However, unlike corrective lenses, cosmetic contact lenses are used only to change the normal appearance of the eye. They are not used to correct vision.
These lenses, which are sometimes referred as theatrical contact lenses, are often worn by actors in movies or TV shows. For example, in July 2010, CTV reported that Lady Gaga used cosmetic contacts to enlarge her eyes during the filming of her video Bad Romance.
Members will be interested to learn that the same news report cites Dr. Desmond Fonn of the Centre for Contact Lens Research at the University of Waterloo, saying that he finds it worrying that the lenses are so very cheap:
We don't know what these lenses are made of. We assume they're regular soft contact lenses, but because of the way in which they're sold, they must be made less expensively to make them marketable.
CTV reported that the doctor's biggest concern was that “the majority of the young kids who use these lenses buy them but have no education about them”.
Today, on special occasions like Halloween, many young people wear dramatic cosmetic contact lenses to go with their costumes. What many Canadian consumers may not be aware of are the risks associated with wearing these lenses.
Wearing cosmetic contact lenses can pose all of the same risks as wearing corrective contact lenses. This can include eye irritation, itching and burning, sensitivity to light, dryness, blurry vision and infections. In the most serious cases, these infections can lead to blindness.
In the case of cosmetic contact lenses, these risks are escalated due to the fact that there is no labelling requirement to warn consumers about potential risks and safety issues associated with wearing cosmetic contact lenses. There is also no requirement to include information or instructions relating to the proper use and care of these lenses. This means that after buying cosmetic contact lenses in stores or on the Internet, a consumer may not be well-informed about the potential risks and how to use and care for these products safely.
Unlike cosmetic contact lenses, corrective contact lenses are medical devices under the Food and Drugs Act and must comply with the medical devices regulations.
Cosmetic contact lenses are not considered medical devices because they are only used to alter appearance. As a result, they are not subject to the same level of regulatory oversight for safety and quality. Bill C-313 would help us address this discrepancy.
In the U.S. cosmetic contact lenses have been regulated as medical devices since 2005. Bill C-313 would enable us to align our regulatory approach on these products with our neighbours south of the border. It would also contribute to Canada's commitment to regulatory co-operation to better align the regulatory approaches on both sides of the border.
The use of cosmetic contact lenses is not a new issue. Eye care professionals have been concerned for a long time about the health risks of cosmetic contact lenses. They have called on our government to increase regulatory oversight of these products. In fact, on October 5, 2011, the Canadian Association of Optometrists, the Opticians Association of Canada and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society issued a joint press release welcoming the introduction of this bill.
That press release quoted Dr. Lillian Linton, president of the Canadian Association of Optometrists, as stating the following about the regulation of cosmetic contact lenses:
[It is] an important vision health issue and the optometrists, opticians and ophthalmologists of Canada are asking for unanimous support from the House, Senate and Health Canada to adopt this amendment and enact it with haste.
Health Canada has long acknowledged the risks associated with the use of cosmetic contact lenses. Over the past decade, Health Canada has communicated the risks of cosmetic contact lenses and has provided safety information for contact lens wearers. In 2000, Health Canada issued a public notice warning of the dangers of wearing cosmetic contact lenses.
Health Canada has in the past and continues to recommend that cosmetic lenses be used only under the supervision of an eye care professional. In addition, the wear time should be limited to the shortest duration possible. Cosmetic contact lenses must never be worn while asleep and should not be shared with others.
Our government's support for this private member's bill is not our first attempt to strengthen oversight. In 2008, there were two opportunities to enhance the safety and quality of cosmetic contact lenses. First, this House supported a motion by the member for Sarnia—Lambton calling for cosmetic contact lenses to be regulated as medical devices. Later that same year, this government tabled Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act, which would have resulted in cosmetic contact lenses being defined as medical devices. When the election was called, Bill C-51 died on the order paper.
This government moved to help protect the health and safety of Canadians with modernized consumer product legislation through the Canada Consumer Products Safety Act, which came into force in June of this year. While the act may provide protection for Canadians who use cosmetic contact lenses, we feel that cosmetic contact lenses would be more appropriately regulated as medical devices under the Food and Drugs Act. It would be clearer for consumers and industry alike.
With the exception of the respective functions of corrective and cosmetic contact lenses, the two products are essentially identical. They have similar manufacturing processes, they are used in the same manner and they pose the same health risks. When put this way, it only makes sense that both products be subject to the same level of regulatory oversight for safety and quality.
If cosmetic contact lenses were regulated by medical devices regulations, manufacturers would be required to attest to the safety and quality of their products before they were sold in Canada. Cosmetic contact lenses would also be subject to the same labelling, consumer instruction, licensing and inspection requirements as corrective contact lenses.
Bill C-313 would permit the pre-market safety and quality requirements for medical devices to be applied to cosmetic contact lenses. This would mean that Canadians would have access to clear consumer information about the risks associated with wearing cosmetic contact lenses and the proper and safe use and care of the product.
I will conclude by saying that Bill C-313 would allow for a consistent regulatory approach for similar products with comparable risks.
It is clear to Canadians that the risks associated with wearing cosmetic contact lenses are no lower than the risks associated with wearing corrective lenses and that it is important to be familiar with and follow the directions for using and maintaining both products. One of the most important measures that consumers can take is to consult an eye care professional before wearing either corrective or cosmetic contact lenses.
The government is committed to protecting the health and safety of Canadians. We should support Bill C-313 to help us attain this goal.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
October 31st, 2011 / 11:20 a.m.
Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON
Mr. Speaker, this is an issue I brought forward in 2007. It was a private member's motion that was supported unanimously by the House. It was not only supported by the House, it was also supported by the government and Health Canada. That motion was put into Bill C-51 that was before the House. If it had not been for the fact that the bill died on the order paper because of an election, this would already be in legislation.
The government does support it. It has tried to bring it forward. It is not a case of the government not supporting it, or being negligent by not doing this. There has been support all the way through on this bill and on this issue from Health Canada and the government.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
October 31st, 2011 / 11:05 a.m.
Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON
moved that Bill C-313, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (non-corrective cosmetic contact lenses), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, today, I am honoured to speak in support of my private member's bill, Bill C-313, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (non-corrective cosmetic contact lenses), in order cosmetic or decorative contact lenses under the same medical device regulations as corrective contact lenses.
I thank the professionals within the eye care community who have contacted my office in recent weeks with their kind words of support for my private member's bill.
Each member in the House today has representatives of the eye care industry in their riding, and I hope members will heed their warnings about the dangers of the incorrect use of decorative contact lenses that we are hearing more about each day in news reports and medical studies.
Bill C-313 has gained the support of three eye care organizations representing various professionals from the eye care industry. The Canadian Association of Optometrists, the Opticians Association of Canada and the Canada Opthalmological Society are important stakeholders in any discussion on eye care related to their profession.
Today, I intend to share medical evidence with hon. members that will show the clear need for the provision sought after by Bill C-313.
Before we discuss Bill C-313 further, I want to take members back to a different time and place, to the autumn of 2007 in the 39th Parliament of Canada. It was during that period that the concerns of eye care professionals from across Canada were first brought to my attention. At the time, I was an active member of the Standing Committee on Health.
There were many concerns that were brought forward to the parliamentarians on that committee, and while all the concerns were important, I was particularly seized by the concerns that were brought to me by the professional eye care organizations in relation to the lack of regulatory oversight on what were called non-corrective cosmetic contact lenses.
It is very easy to break down the main concern brought forward to me all those years ago. A cosmetic contact lens is identical to a corrective lens in terms of its impact on the human eyeball, with the only difference being that it does not correct a sight imbalance.
However, despite the fact that they are identical to a corrective lens, these cosmetic lenses were and, to this day, continue to be free of regulatory oversight similar to the provisions in place for corrective lenses.
It was with this simple fact in mind that I began work in 2007 to further understand the risks of cosmetic contact lenses. We must remember that cosmetic, decorative and plano contact lenses are all referring to the same product. I will use all three terms in my discussion today.
After extensive study, liaising with health researchers and eye care professionals, meeting with our own experts from Health Canada and engaging with the opposition health critics, I developed a strategy that would ensure that Canadians' eye health would be protected. The result was private member's Motion No. 409, which proposed that cosmetic lenses should be classified as medical devices and be regulated accordingly under the Food and Drugs Act.
The actual text of Motion No. 409 read as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, the Minister of Health should regulate non-corrective, cosmetic contact lenses as medical devices under the Hazardous Product Act or the Food and Drugs Act.
The motion passed unanimously on March 7, 2008, in a fractured minority Parliament, no less, which I believe is a testament to the fact that this is not a political issue. Rather, we are discussing a human health issue that could impact many Canadians, especially our youth, which I will speak to shortly.
Due to the importance of the motion to Canadians' health, I was able to obtain the full support of all the opposition parties and their health critics, in addition to the support of the government and the Minister of Health. Today, I seek that same support from across the aisle.
I was pleased that the government acted upon the unanimously passed motion. It was in 2008 that the Government of Canada, upon advice from Health Canada, introduced my motion as an amendment to the omnibus Food and Drugs Act amendment in the former Bill C-51, which was introduced in April 2008, but which also died on the order paper upon the election in the fall of 2008.
It was unfortunate that having already had my private member's spot used in the 39th Parliament, I found myself near the bottom of the long private members' business list. This meant I would not have the ability to bring this legislative change forward for some time.
Moving ahead to late 2010, now in the 40th Parliament, it became evident that I would possibly have the ability to bring forward private members' business. Knowing that I had unfinished business, I reached out to the professional eye care organizations to begin discussions on the types of legislative remedies that could be brought forward.
My main concern was to ensure that my private member's bill would adequately and fully address the concerns held by myself, other parliamentarians and thousands of eye care professionals across Canada.
Of course, we have had another election since then and, upon being re-elected by the citizens of Sarnia—Lambton, I found myself returning to a new House of Commons in the 41st Parliament. I also found myself near the top of the list for private member's business, meaning that months of research and effort through my office were about to be realized in terms of finally bridging the regulatory gaps that exist for decorative non-corrective lenses.
The culmination of this long process now stands before the House of Commons for debate. With this brief background on my bill now before the House, I would like to discuss Bill C-313, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (non-corrective cosmetic contact lenses), with everyone today.
I can sum up the situation regarding the need for my legislation in one sentence regarding non-corrective cosmetic lenses. National distribution of these products without professional oversight, fitting and training significantly increases the risk of public harm.
The difference between 2007, when I first brought my private member's motion forward, and 2011, is that I now have the peer reviewed medical evidence to back up my claim. Today, we now know that the warnings on cosmetic lenses dating back to October 23, 2000 by Health Canada are, in fact, quite well warranted and now demand a legislative recourse to alleviate the potential harm that could be done to consumers of these products.
To some, it may seem that to deem a decorative lens as a harmful product is somewhat overreaching, yet eye care professionals and medical researchers have shown otherwise. A short list of the complications that could occur due to unsafe handling and wearing an improperly fitted lens in one's eye, along with the lack of professional oversight when these products are initially obtained by the consumer, includes the following: conjunctivitis, corneal abrasions, giant papillary conjunctivitis, microbial keratitis and other forms of bacterial, allergic and microbial infection as specified by the eye care industry.
Already we know that these complications all occur with prescribed corrective lenses, which is exactly why Health Canada regulates the use of these product through opticians and regulatory bodies. What has now been shown as fact through peer reviewed studies is that non-prescribed decorative or cosmetic lenses are much more likely to cause complications to users for a combination of factors, including lack of oversight on the product for the consumer in terms of how to use the product and in terms of the potential quality of the product.
It should be noted that some businesses import cosmetic lenses from parts of the world where production of the device to be fitted into a human eye does not necessarily take the best precautions in terms of the quality of their product, leading to the rise of bacterial infections and microbial issues. These companies make large profits off a consumer base that is woefully unaware of the potential harm they are causing to their own eye sight.
A recent search on the Internet for cosmetic contact lenses Canada brought up over one million hits. The top hits on the search were for several large marketing and distributing companies that sell cosmetic lenses made in certain regions not as well-known as Canada for having strong consumer protection measures. This is extremely concerning and we can be sure that the regulatory oversight that Bill C-313 would provide should help to shed some light on the businesses that are importing and providing these products to consumers with little to no oversight or concern for the consumer of their product.
To date, we have now seen several studies on the issue of decorative lenses and the harm they can cause to consumers. Perhaps the most well-known study in Canada is the human health risk assessment of cosmetic contact lenses conducted by Dillon Consulting Limited, also known as the Dillon report. The final assessment was submitted to Health Canada in September 2003 and it outlined the scientific evidence, which at that point was still being debated by public health officials, that the level of risk associated with the use of cosmetic contact lenses was comparable to that associated with corrective lenses and maybe potentially higher. The main issue here is that corrective lenses are subject to professional monitoring and proper regulatory oversight. Cosmetic lenses are not.
The Dillon report also called for the following risk management strategies: individual screening should take place before a cosmetic lens is sold to a customer; proper fitting should be ensured; adequate instruction on cleaning and sterilization should occur; familiarization with recognition of potential symptoms related to the condition of the eye; and, regular aftercare.
To date, not one of the suggested risk management strategies called for in this report have been adopted, while corrective lenses are strictly defined by Health Canada. With this in mind, we must all ask the question why this has been allowed to occur for so long despite the long-standing pleas of the eye care industry and medical researchers.
To recap our discussions thus far, the main concerns Bill C-313 seeks to redress is that cosmetic or decorative cosmetic lenses are being dispensed without a prescription or fitting from unlicensed vendors. Consequently, uninformed lens wearers are experiencing acute, vision threatening infections and inflammation.
This has now become an accepted fact due to a recent study that appeared in Acta Ophthalmologica, the official medical journal for optometrists and ophthalmologists in Europe. In this study, research conducted at the Department of Opthalmology at Strasbourg University Hospital in Strasbourg, France, clearly indicated that:
Patients who acquire CosCL are less likely to be instructed on appropriate lenses use and basic hygiene rules. Consequently, CosCL wearers are experiencing acute vision-threatening infections.
The study in question focused on a bacterial infection known as microbial keratitis, a common yet preventable infection that can occur in wearers of contact lenses, both corrective and non-corrective cosmetic varieties. This study has shown that wearers of cosmetic lenses were at higher risk, with 79% of the controlled group of cosmetic contact lens wearers suffering from corneal scraping. However, the study showed that only 51% of corrective contact lens wearers suffered similar affects. Meanwhile, more than half of the cosmetic lens wearers who were shown to have suffered corneal scraping were also shown to have serious microbial infection as well in the eye.
The study concludes that the increasingly documented risks of easily accessible cosmetic contact lenses were a serious concern in France where the study took place.
There is no reason to believe that the situation is any different in Canada. The Dillon report of 2003, which, in many ways, served as a groundbreaker on this issue, also came to the same conclusions as the French study in 2011.
Considering the medical evidence that clearly shows the need for the provisions contained in Bill C-313, it is important to note that Canada is at least a decade behind other jurisdictions such as the United States and Europe in achieving proper regulations for cosmetic, decorative or plano lenses.
No matter what we want to call them, it is scientific fact that there are issues with these lenses being improperly sold and used in our nation. The risk was sufficient enough that, in 2000, Health Canada issued a public health warning. In 2003, a human health risk assessment was conducted. In 2008, this House of Commons unanimously agreed with the viewpoint that cosmetic lenses were indeed a risk to Canadian consumers and that we must take action.
Although I have spoken at great length as to the risks of cosmetic contact lenses and, therefore, the need for the provisions of Bill C-313, I will share with the House a quote from Dr. Lillian Linton, president of the Canadian Association of Optometrists, who stated:
This is about people’s eyesight…and in most cases young people’s eyesight! There are daily news stories from around the world about the complications that can arise due to ill-fitting cosmetic lenses or improper use and handling. It is an important vision health issue and the optometrists, opticians and ophthalmologists of Canada are asking for unanimous support from the House, Senate and Health Canada to adopt this amendment and enact it with haste.
I could not agree more with Dr. Linton.
The time has come for us as parliamentarians to join together to support Bill C-313 so that we can ensure that much needed oversight is finally brought forward. In doing so, Canada can reclaim the proper regulatory powers over the importers of these products who so callously flood the Canadian market while doing untold damage to hundreds of thousands of young Canadians' eyes, completely unbeknown to most consumers, unfortunately.
With this in mind, I call on parliamentarians in the House today to stand in support of Bill C-313.
Seeds Regulation Act
Private Members' Business
February 8th, 2011 / 6:10 p.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise in the House this evening to participate in the debate on Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm), which was brought forward by my NDP colleague, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior.
I will be the first to admit that as a member of Parliament from Hamilton, which is nationally known as Steeltown, I am more familiar with the manufacturing sector than I am with the agricultural sector. It was not that long ago that over half of my riding was in fact prime agricultural land, with successful family farms like the Youngs, the Bethunes, the Ryckmans, the Burkholders and the Marshalls, to name but a few. Sadly, as Joni Mitchell would scold us, we paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
That is simply to say that many of the people in my riding of Hamilton Mountain may be urbanites, but they feel a deep, personal connection to agriculture and bring those values to bear in thinking about Canada's future.
Similarly, we have a thriving environmental movement in Hamilton that led the “eat local” campaign in our community, and has done much to raise awareness of organic foods and, more generally, healthy eating.
Also, a great many Hamiltonians are keenly interested in food and product safety, as well as proper labelling. I do not think there is single piece of legislation outside of the Conservative government's reviled decision to impose the HST on Ontarians that generated more petitions, letters or phone calls than Bill C-51, which sought to amend the Food and Drugs Act in the last Parliament. That bill purported to modernize our food and drug provisions bringing us into the 21st century and bringing our rules and our regulations in line with modern day science. It did not take too long for Canadians to figure out that this was a ruse. It was an attempt to make Canadians believe the government would be on their side when in fact it was loosening its regulatory control.
What Canadians wanted was legislation that operated on the basis of the do no harm principle, the precautionary principle, which means that we do not allow products on the market unless there is evidence that they are safe beyond a reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, this is not the risk management model that we saw with the Liberals before and with the Conservatives today.
There is a marked difference between the do no harm principle and the risk management model. Do no harm means that we put people and safety first. The risk management model means that we can only go so far in ensuring the safety of Canadians so we will allow the products on the market, cross our fingers and then see what happens. It will be up to individual Canadians to determine whether it is worth taking the risk. It will be up to the corporations that produce the products to regulate themselves and decide if they are in line with the standards on paper.
The risk management model is not a proactive regulatory model that puts the needs and concerns of Canadians first. It is a model that puts the needs of big pharma, large corporations and global capital forces ahead of ordinary citizens. It is a model that makes guinea pigs out of Canadians.
We have had our share of offering up people as guinea pigs for large corporations. I do not need to remind people who may be watching us on TV right now about the incidents in our past, especially when women were treated as guinea pigs. Thalidomide and breast implants are just two of the examples that come to mind right away.
What does that have to do with the bill that we are debating today? It is relevant for two reasons.
First, it is because many of the people who were concerned about Bill C-51, and in particular about its impact on natural health products, are also deeply concerned about the issues related to the genetic engineering of our food supply. They have strong views on Frankenfoods and they understand the importance of ensuring that a robust framework is put in place when it comes to genetically modified organisms or GMOs.
Frankly, at the moment Canada's framework is inadequate. Canada is currently the fifth largest producer of genetically modified crops in the world, after the United States, Brazil, Argentina and India.
Canada could learn a lot from Argentina. It has legislation which ensures that the release of GMOs first requires an assessment of the safety of food and livestock feed, of the bio-security of the environment and an assessment confirming that its exports will not be negatively impacted. In Argentina, therefore, the analysis of the impact on exports in the GMO approval process is an integral part of the analysis that determines whether the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted. In Canada, that is not currently the case and Canadian farmers are suffering the consequences.
It is this deficiency that Bill C-474 seeks to redress.
However, as I said earlier, there is also a second reason why this issue is being followed so closely by many of the same people who were engaged in the debate around Bill C-51, and that is because Bill C-474 also pits a tenacious advocate who represents hundreds of thousands of Canadians against an entire industry. It is David versus Goliath. In this case, David is the member for British Columbia Southern Interior who is battling the Goliath of the Monsantos of this world. There is absolutely no doubt that the hope of the biotech industry is that over time the market is flooded with genetically-modified organisms and that at that point there will be nothing anyone could do about it except quietly surrender. In fact, that is exactly what Don Westfall, the vice-president of Promar International and a biotech consultant, was quoted as saying in the Toronto Star in January 2001.
However, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior is not about to surrender and neither are his colleagues in the NDP. We understand what a disastrous impact the absence of an analysis of potential harm would have on Canadian farmers and therefore on Canadians as a whole.
We have long been convinced that big biotech companies, such as Monsanto, have been running a scam with regard to their genetically-engineered crops. Despite 15 years of failed promises to feed the world's hungry and, more recent, to save humankind from climate change, the Canadian and U.S. governments inexplicably continue to write all the rules completely in big biotech's favour. As was recently revealed in WikiLeaks cables, U.S. ambassadors were even going so far as to advise Washington to start military-style trade wars against any European country that dare stood in opposition to GE crops.
Despite lengthy court challenges which, for a time, kept the decision at bay, the USDA has just authorized the nationwide and unrestricted commercial release of Monsanto's genetically-engineered seed. After acknowledging that GE alfalfa poses many risks to organic and conventional farmers, USDA secretary Tom Vilsack, whose ties to Monsanto are well known, has just imposed the impossible burden of keeping alfalfa seed free from GE contamination entirely on farmers. The Center for Food Safety in the U.S. has already announced that it will again challenge this decision in another round of expensive court action.
One way or another, and regardless of the imminent threat this poses to all farmers, especially to our lucrative domestic and export organic markets, it is only a matter of time before U.S. Roundup Ready Alfalfa will be found contaminating our fields in Canada.
The silence from the Canadian government has been deafening. Monsanto could decide to go ahead and register its GE varieties in Canada, as it has already been awarded the necessary health and environmental approvals by the current government.
It was in order to prevent that very scenario that my colleague, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, moved forward with Bill C-474. His bill would require that the government conduct an analysis of potential harm to our export markets prior to approving new genetically-engineered seeds.
The Conservative Party has sided completely with Monsanto and the rest of the biotech industry since the debate first began. Although the Liberals initially supported our bill, they have since succumbed to pressure from the biotech lobbyists and now say they, too, will vote against it at the final reading. I know, another flip-flop from the Liberals is hardly even worth noticing any more.
However, just as it is in the States, the one-sided mantra from both of these parties is now to preach coexistence with non-GE farmers and to keep Canada's regulations science-based and entirely free of any political or market considerations.
What did witnesses actually say when they testified about Bill C-474 in front of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food?
Let me just quote Kurt Shmon, president of Imperial Seed. He said:
Canada's science-based approach works very well for the domestic marketers of seed, the Monsantos, the Syngentas, and the Bayer CropSciences, but what does it do for the producer? This approach does not take into consideration what the producers want, nor does it address what the market wants. These are the two most important issues and they are absent from the registration process.
That powerful theme was then reiterated by several other presenters to the committee, yet both the Conservative government and the Liberals are wilfully ignoring it.
We cannot just ignore what is happening to farmers in our country. Farmers feed cities, and that is more than just a catchy slogan. It underscores an important reality that is crucial to our economic future.
Yes, we need to acknowledge advances in science. However, we must also acknowledge the economic reality of farmers.
In short, we must pass Bill C-474. Let us do it now.
Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
June 12th, 2009 / 10:30 a.m.
Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-6, an act respecting the safety of consumer products, which I support. This bill is long overdue. Last year and the year before I stood in the House and asked the minister a question about toxic toys. I mentioned how a lot of the toys available for children contained lead and other kinds of very dangerous chemicals in them. Therefore, it is a great pleasure to see a bill that begins to make consumer products safer.
I want to focus particularly on several of the chemicals. We note that the U.S. has tested some of the popular toys and have found that a third of them have medium to high levels of lead, cadmium, mercury and other dangerous chemicals. Why are these chemicals particularly hard on children? We know their brains and their bodies develop the most during that first six years. Children under the age of two tend to put whatever their hands can grab into their mouths. Imagine what would happen if the products they put in their mouths contained dangerous chemicals. The impact is hardest on kids are under six, especially children two years old or under.
Two or three years ago in the U.S., a four-year-old child swallowed a heart-shaped charm and subsequently died. That charm was made almost entirely out of lead. Therefore, last year the U.S. took action and passed a bill similar to this one, which takes effect this year.
When there are high levels of lead, it causes brain damage, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, behavioural problems, stunted growth, impaired hearing and kidney damage. Some of the symptoms could be vomiting and, if severe, as I said earlier, even death. Therefore, parents desperately want to know that the toys and the products around their children are safe.
We have seen that it is not just lead, it is also cadmium. Cadmium can have an impact on children and pregnant women. It can cause bone losses, increased blood pressure, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and, if serious, even death. It could even cause lung and prostate cancer.
Another kind of chemical, phthalates, especially DIMP, which is most often found in rubber ducks and bath toys, has an impact on the kidneys, liver and blood. There are all kinds of chemicals. In fact, 80,000 of them are used in the products that surround us. The European Union has banned phthalates since 1999 because of their impact.
The United Steelworkers, for example, has been asking parents to go around and check products, especially toys, to see whether they are safe for children and household use. For a while last year and the year before, before this act was finally in front of us for approval, I told my constituents to go leadcheck.com where they could purchase a pen that they could use to test products.
I will be splitting my time, Mr. Speaker, with the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River. I forgot to mention that earlier on.
The United Steelworkers have this campaign. If the government is not checking these things, it is encouraging ordinary Canadians to do it.
I am glad we are finally seeing some aggressive regulations. For regulations to be successful, they require three elements. They require legislation, enforcement and education. We need to carefully ensure there are enough funds in the budget for enforcement. We know that 65% of consumer products are imported into Canada. We need to ensure the products are safe and importers should be required to prove they are.
In the past everything has been voluntary. The checking, enforcement and recall were voluntary. We did not know if a product is off the shelf. The item could be recalled by Health Canada, yet some of the product could still be on the shelves. We need to have mandatory recall and the kind of enforcement to ensure the item is off the shelf if it is dangerous.
Finally, an element of the bill includes natural health products, which has caused us some concern. However, I am glad it has now clarified. Last year we had Bill C-51 and Bill C-52. Bill C-51 especially dealt with natural health products. At that time, there was a great deal of concern over that kind of legislation because natural health products were lumped into the Food and Drugs Act. I am glad the bill did not pass. People who sold natural health products were extremely concerned that if the bill had passed, they would have been thrown in jail.
Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
June 10th, 2009 / 5 p.m.
Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak at third reading on a very important bill that has seen a very thorough process throughout the House.
I would like to thank my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois for their work on the amendments. I would also like to point out that all the parties were able to work together on this very important bill. It has truly been a process of cooperation and we have made many important changes to this bill.
Bill C-6 has been identified as a key concern over a number of parliamentary sessions and a number of governments. Promises were made to change the Hazardous Products Act and other related legislation to bring them up to the 21st century, so that we would be truly in line with consumers' thinking about what is appropriate when it comes to consumer safety and health protection. This legislation has been a long time coming.
This legislation is not perfect. We wish it had much more in terms of teeth and much more emphasis on the precautionary principle. We in the NDP believe that the most significant thing government can do in this day and age is to bring in legislation that follows the do no harm principle, that ensures that all products, whether children's toys or household cleaners or consumer gadgets, are safe beyond a reasonable doubt.
That is quite different than the risk management model which says consumers should be warned that a product is not necessarily safe, and if they run into problems and that information is brought forward to government, it might deal with it.
The bill moves a bit toward the precautionary principle but only with baby steps. It could have gone a lot further. The precautionary principle stops in the whereas' of the bill.
I am not going to dismiss this legislation because we in the NDP are going to support it. We are going to support it because we think it is important, it is long overdue, and we have made some changes to make it better. Unfortunately, we did not get all of our changes.
Many of the groups that worked so hard on the bill were disappointed. I am thinking in particular of the Environmental Defence, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Canadian Cancer Society, three groups that worked tirelessly on the bill and worked with all members of health committee. These groups informed us, taught us, proposed amendments, made suggestions, and educated us. We learned a great deal from them. I am very grateful for the major role that they played throughout the legislative process.
In the end we were forced to concede to changes that were fairly small in nature, but significant at least in terms of finding some way down the road to protect Canadians, even if they do no harm principle was not firmly entrenched in every aspect of the bill.
We did that by ensuring, and this is where I want to take some credit on behalf of the New Democratic Party caucus, an amendment in the bill that requires the bill, once it is passed, to come back to both the House of Commons and the Senate for scrutiny in terms of regulations.
There will be a chance to provide some kind of oversight once the government begins to find ways to implement a legislative initiative that is so vital and so important in terms of the health and well-being of Canadians.
We are also pleased to support an amendment proposed by the Liberals which would add an advisory committee to the gambit of tools available to the government. With the assistance of the government, members of the committee, and the whole House, we saw that the amendment was included with a royal recommendation and is now part of the bill. That was another indication of co-operative work on the part of all of us.
That means there will be a body of experts who will devote themselves to furthering the broad principles of the bill and will try to apply the precautionary principle, the do no harm principle, in more ways than is apparent at present.
The bill has certainly been noted for many significant reasons. It has very substantive recall provisions with significant punishments attached. I do not want to underestimate the significance of those provisions.
Over the last number of years we on this side of the House have raised numerous concerns with the present government and the Liberal government before it about unsafe products on the market.
For years we have been dealing with lead in children's toys and phyllates in plastics that are put in the mouths of babies and children, which are toxic, dangerous and cause very serious life-threatening debilitating problems.
We are pleased that the government has provided for a way to ensure that once we have identified serious problems, action can be taken. I think we will all agree that the problem with this bill is that it is not readily apparent how action will be taken and products that are problematic in the first place are identified.
We did not get an amendment in this legislation that lists hazardous products. We did not get, as the Environmental Defence, the David Suzuki Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society wanted, a provision in this bill that would ensure that all products with hazardous substances would be listed in this legislation, and they would be labelled accordingly.
In that way there would be some certainty for all Canadians that even if the government did not take steps to ban a product, remove a product, or recall a product, at least consumers would know what substances were in that particular product. If they believed that there was enough science to be of concern for usage of that product, then they could at least take personal responsibility.
That was a very important contribution to the process throughout this bill. All of the organizations I have mentioned, time and time again, pointed out just how important it would be for us to take those lists of carcinogens and hormone-disrupting and endocrine-disrupting substances, toxins and chemicals and list them, and have them denoted and labelled, including the labelling of all products.
We did not get those amendments, and there was certainly major disappointment. Now, our job is to ensure that the government lives up to its commitment to say that if we can prove that something is a problem in terms of health and safety then the government will take action. Well, we will hold it to that, and we will try every step of the way to remind it of those obligations.
I hope that through the advisory committee and through the reporting back to this House, we will have some extra checks in place.
Suffice it to say, this bill falls short of where some of the international community is at with respect to very dangerous chemicals and substances. The European Union has in fact taken the steps of listing all such carcinogens, hormone disrupters, and dangerous chemicals and toxins, and is moving toward a phased-in process of labelling.
That is something this country cannot avoid. In the long run we will have to do the same. It is too bad because this bill should have been the ultimate, having waited for 40 or 50 or 60 years, in improving the Hazardous Products Act. This should have been the moment when we actually did a perfect job and produced legislation that was the best in the world. We fall short of that objective and we will now have to play some catch up.
I want members to know that I believe the obligation will be on this House and all members of Parliament to push that envelope, to advance that agenda. We have to make sure that in the end we have in fact delineated all such toxic substances and provided consumers with the information that they need to make responsible decisions.
We have to follow the right to know principle. There is no way around it in this complex world with so many dangerous substances and so much technological development. With such rapid change all around us, at the bare minimum we have to at least ensure that consumers are made aware of the necessary information.
It came as a shock to us to have some witnesses come before our committee and say that this would be too complicated, too much, that consumers would be overloaded, not able to choose, and would end up making the wrong decisions and would be too confused.
As we said back to those witnesses, consumers are on top of the ball. They are certainly advanced in terms of understanding and are looking to government to provide them with the information so they can make responsible decisions.
Consumers are looking for safe food, drugs, water, products, toys, pharmaceuticals and medical interventions. They expect the government to ensure that all of the products we have to take and need for our health and well-being are safe beyond a reasonable doubt.
I must say that we did accomplish something that was important in terms of the natural health community. Early on, the forces in this community, those people who produce, manufacture or use natural health products, rose up and said that they felt that there was no place in this legislation for those products. They said that we had to differentiate between consumer products and natural health products. The government listened and we certainly pressured it to do so. It agreed to amend the bill so that nothing about the bill would have any bearing on natural health products.
However, it did raise an interesting dilemma for the government. It showed that we have a third regulatory mechanism by which we deal with natural health products in this country that is failing. Small businesses that produce and sell these natural health products are coming to the government on a constant basis, demanding some action to improve the process and reduce the backlog.
The government itself has suggested that there is a deadline of 2010 by which all consumer and natural health products must be through the process, receive their DIN number, and be licensed or else sent back for further research. As things now stand, there are something like 36,000 applications before the government and no sign of that diminishing. Never mind the backlog. With the number of applications that have come in on a daily basis, a significant number have not been dealt with and have been added to the backlog.
The problem is only getting worse. Many of the groups, including the Canadian Health Food Association, have called on the government to start to get a handle on this and live up to its promise to end the backlog and to say whether or not this 2010 deadline means anything. If the government is not anywhere close to meeting its obligations to deal with all products by that time, they would prefer that the deadline be changed.
They would prefer more cooperative work to be done between the natural health food industry, retailers, consumers and the government to ensure that proper regulatory measures are taken to approve products and not simply to deal with the backlog by getting rid of and denying applications, which seems to be the pattern.
The government seems to be saying that it is going to deal with the backlog and it is doing it by denying more applications than not. It thereby reduces the backlog in a most unfortunate way, without the science, evidence of effectiveness or the true test of whether or not any of these products are falsified or not accurate in terms of their description and identification.
That is a problem that emerged from these discussions. It must be dealt with and it must be dealt with before the government even begins to think about reintroducing Bill C-51, which had amendments to the Food and Drug Act. We know the uproar that happened last year and the year before about natural health products. We know that there were hundreds and thousands of letters, emails, meetings, faxes, individuals speaking up, rallies and demonstrations about the government's inappropriate approach with respect to natural health products.
The message for the government is to get its act together on this because it is only going to come back and be haunted if it does not. We have to find a way to treat natural health products as a separate category, not as a food, drug or consumer product, but as a unique product that is important for Canadians and contributes a great deal to the health and well-being of Canadians.
I have said enough on that. Let me now go to the question of a government that introduces legislation that says it is concerned about consumer products and safety and yet, at the same time, cuts back in its latest budget a heck of a lot of money that is supposed to ensure a national office for workplace hazardous materials information systems, otherwise known as WHMIS.
This is an important office, which ensures there is a centre in government, a focal point for assessing and providing information around health and safety in terms of materials that are dealt with in the workplace and ensuring that all workers are given the benefit of information about hazardous materials they work with, that there is active international right-to-know legislation before them, that there is a global classification system that includes all the previously identified dangerous chemicals, not leaving some out because of pressure from the industry.
This cutback amounts to about $2.6 million over two years. The Canadian Labour Congress and other national labour organizations have clearly indicated that this cutback will eliminate the national office. It will totally cut back the focal point within Health Canada to ensure that WHMIS has an active national office. It is a serious cutback and it flies in the face of all the government's talk about wanting the best possible legislation for ensuring consumer safety and protection for all Canadians, no matter where they work or what kinds of jobs they are doing for our economy.
I urge the government to reconsider that cutback and to sit down with some of the trade unions and labour movements and talk about what is needed to ensure workplace health and safety and to ensure that there is active right-to-know legislation and a regulatory process in this country. Otherwise, we will have done a great disservice to workers. We will have denied their right to work in safe conditions and ensure the risks they take are minimized as much as possible.
In response to a question I asked in the House, the government announced last week that it was finally going to eliminate all lead and phthalate products beyond certain trace levels from the market. We applaud that move, but that has come about 12 years after we started raising this issue.
In almost the first year that I was elected as a member of Parliament to this place, we started raising the question of phthalates. I remember holding press conferences with samples of baby toys, teething rings, rubber ducks, plastic knapsacks and umbrellas, which kids put in their mouths, that are made of phthalates and that were then demonstrated to be dangerous in terms of the health and well-being of babies and children.
Some 12 years later, we finally have a government that is acting. Good for it for finally doing so, but what the heck took so long? Why did it take so long with lead as well? I raise these issues because if that is the pattern, it does not bode well for the application of Bill C-6, the very legislation we are dealing with at this moment. It very much depends on the will of government, the intentions of politicians and the acceptance of scientific data.
The government continues to drag its feet and ignore the science, as it is doing right now with bisphenol A. It bans bisphenol A when it comes to baby bottles but not other products. A lot more must be done to ensure that substances are identified so that products can be banned if they are dangerous beyond a reasonable doubt, so that Canadians can live with the notion that everything on the market is safe beyond a reasonable doubt.
June 2nd, 2009 / 6 p.m.
Andrew King Department Leader, Health, Safety and Environment, United Steelworkers
Thank you very much for the opportunity to present today.
I have provided a copy of my comments. I apologize to you that they are not also available in French, but I should let you know that I found out yesterday about noon that I would be here this afternoon.
I appreciate the amount of work you've been involved in with regard to this very important legislation and have taken the time to review the comments of people who have come before you.
By way of background, the United Steelworkers is an international union, with members across Canada and the United States. In Canada our union is very diverse, with members in almost every sector of the economy.
As our name implies, we have a long history in mining, steelmaking, metalworking, and manufacturing. From that history, we have a lot of experience with toxic chemicals and the diseases they cause. We were involved in bringing WHMIS, the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, into Canada in the 1980s, and to this day we are still dealing with the impacts of chemical exposures on our members and their communities. Recent occupational disease clinics in Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury attracted hundreds of people. We are supporters of the recent Ontario Toxic Chemicals Reduction Act, currently in third reading, as well as community right to know at the municipal level.
The toxicity of many of the chemicals we are concerned about in the environment and consumer products today was originally demonstrated in the lives of workers and the damage it did to their health. Many of the strategies that speak of controlling exposures, limiting risk instead of advising hazards, and personal protection responsibility were tried and failed in the occupational setting. Years ago we were told there were safe limits of exposures to most chemicals. Since then exposure limits have become lower and lower, as studies continue to show there is no safe level of exposure to toxic chemicals, especially if the exposure is repeated and over a lifetime.
We need to talk about the total burden of chemicals in our bodies from all sources, including the environment. This government's and the Ontario government's investment in green chemistry innovation at Queen's University in Kingston is recognition that we have to find a better way to produce the chemicals we need.
Our membership was deeply moved in 2007 when a wave of toxic toys hit Canada, many of which were contaminated by lead. After a decade of fighting in North America to have lead removed from paints and gasoline, after decades of controlling the exposure in smelters, mills, and other industries, something is wrong when the system allows lead to be used in consumer products.
Some of us still remember that it was the impact of our children originally being exposed to lead in communities in Canada in the 1960s that gave impetus to the regular reform that reduced those exposures and gave us the legislation we're reviewing now.
It did not seem right to us that such a well-known hazard should be allowed back into Canada by trade. Our activists became involved in a Get the Lead Out campaign across Canada and the U.S., adding our voice to others who felt that something had to be done. Product safety must not be left to voluntary systems and the luck of the draw.
I might say in parenthesis here that we were quite astounded at the response we got from our members. We have a long history and involvement in occupational health and safety and activists who are trained to deal with those issues, but it wasn't those activists who responded to the problem of toxic toys. It was the average member, the member who had children, particularly women, who were at the forefront of making this an issue for our organization and making it a key point in a campaign that led us to distributing information and becoming part of what was originally the movement toward Bill C-51 and Bill C-52, and now Bill C-6.
We are also encouraged to be here by our environmental partner, Environmental Defence. Aaron Freeman, the research director, has already addressed you. Our alliance with Environmental Defence focuses on the impacts of toxic chemicals and climate change. Environmental Defence's “Toxic Nation” campaign has shown that the challenge we face is much bigger than we think. It confirms the experiences of workers that the chemicals are in our bodies now. We are here to support their efforts and their position--and of many of the other environmental groups that I note have already spoken to you--that we need to reduce exposures through consumer products.
To quote the title of the book that Environmental Defence's chair and executive director recently co-authored, we must prevent Death by Rubber Duck,, a book that I highly recommend to each of you if you have not had a chance to review it.
To the point of our remarks regarding Bill C-6, like many others who have appeared before you, and most of the people here this evening, we support the goal and objectives of the bill. It is important that there be a mandatory reporting system for toxins and hazards in consumer products and a clear system for enforcement. While the bill has a number of these important features, it needs to be strengthened in order to achieve its goals as described in the preamble.
In particular, we support amendments suggested by Environmental Defence. Strengthening the bill now will benefit us all in the long run. The bill provides strong language regarding prohibition, but is weak in identifying the problems proactively and sets the bar for action too high.
The bill needs a proactive system of inspection and verification. In this regard, I note the previous evidence that was given by Mr. Glover on behalf of the government in regard to this bill. He in fact spoke about the bill having a proactive nature to it. I must confess to being surprised that he characterized it that way, because it seems to me the system, with all the improvements proposed, is still fundamentally reactive. Until someone discovers a problem--inadvertently, if something has happened, or if a group of doctors notice it in their patients--nothing is done. There is no system through which to go and get proactive information. And that, particularly when you're dealing with imports, which, as was previously noted, are a key part of this problem, needs to be part of the system.
What is needed is an administrative system to ensure that manufacturers and importers--and I emphasize them in particular--are testing their supply chain to make sure toxic chemicals are not getting into the products. The government needs a system of independent verification through random reviews. A testing protocol is required to protect consumers and to raise the bar for company testing. Without that protection, the legislation is at risk of encouraging "Don't ask, don't tell".
We strongly believe that there needs to be the policing function as outlined in the act. In addition, however, we believe there needs to be an administrative review program to ensure that the highest levels of performance and protection are being followed.