Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-11, which seeks to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins.
I want to begin by pointing out that there are four categories of risk, namely risk groups 1 to 4. Risk groups 3 and 4 are already covered by the legislation. I am going to provide some explanations on these groups.
Schedule 3 — Risk Group 3: human pathogens
means a category of human pathogens that pose a high risk to the health of individuals and a low risk to public health...
Schedule 4 — Risk Group 4:
means a category of human pathogens that pose a high risk to the health of individuals and a high risk to public health...
Only those major labs working with human pathogens must comply with the Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines. Labs dealing with risk groups 3 and 4, which pose a high risk to the health of individuals and either a low or a high risk to public health, are already covered by these guidelines.
What are these guidelines? They are a specialized document produced by the Office of Laboratory Security of the Public Health Agency of Canada. That document was written for those individuals who are responsible for designing or operating labs in which anthropopathogens are handled for diagnosis, research or development purposes. Labs or individuals who do not use these pathogens in Canada are not subjected to these guidelines.
We can understand the government's concerns regarding risk groups 3 and 4, and the precautions put forward. However, are labs 3 and 4 not already complying with the safety measures set in the guidelines and proposed in this legislation?
Bill C-11 would apply to risk groups 1 and 2, which pose a moderate risk to the health of individuals and a low risk to public health, and for which effective treatment is available. The idea behind this change is to better protect public health.
We can see where we are headed. The idea is to monitor risk groups 1 and 2. What do groups 1 and 2 include? Group 1 includes toxins, while group 2 deals with human pathogens. However, these groups only pose a moderate risk to the health of individuals. As I mentioned earlier, they pose a low risk to public health and they would rarely cause serious disease in a human being. Even if this were the case, such disease could easily be prevented or treated, and the risk of that disease spreading is low.
In addition, Bill C-11—and this is where the dynamic of this bill the other parties cannot understand lies—would impose the obligation to have a licence—meaning that all laboratories will have to have one—for the following “controlled activities” related to a human pathogen or toxin; possessing, handling, using, producing, storing, permitting any person access, transferring,importing or exporting, releasing or otherwise abandoning or disposing.
This bill requires any person carrying out activities involving a human pathogen or toxin to take all reasonable precautions to protect public health and safety.
The federal government justifies this bill by its jurisdiction over criminal law. Speaking of criminal law, we must understand that the Conservatives are champions as far as introducing such laws is concerned, and that from that point on there is no point in any other parties getting involved in a system which is, I will state it clearly, exaggerated. Here again we see the Conservative desire to control everything.
In short, the purpose of Bill C-11 is to make the Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines mandatory.
The second intention is to make it mandatory for licences to be obtained for the activities it covers in order to trace existing agents, determine where they are and with whom.
The third intention is to put in place a system of offences and fines. In the backgrounder to Bill C-54, introduced by the government during the last Parliament, and the ancestor of C-11, it was stated:
The risk to Canadians posed by the presence of human pathogens and toxins in labs is low.
Why was it low then, and different now? Why is the government trying to control everyone and everything everywhere in Canada? I do not get it. The text continues:
Safety guidelines exist and the laboratory community is committed to the safe handling and management of human pathogens and toxins as a part of their regular work. Nevertheless, we must be sure the appropriate legislation, protocols and practices are in place to protect Canadians from this risk.
Since the guidelines were introduced over 15 years ago, there have been no incidents in Canada, regardless of whether labs have been following those guidelines.
Nevertheless, the researchers have certain reservations, not about the safety of their research, but rather about government control over everyday research. Not only does the government want to control journalists and information, but it also wants to control laboratories and people. Has the government conducted studies to determine the impact this new legislation would have on university courses, on how our hospitals operate and on the research industry in Quebec and Canada? No.
The government is asking for carte blanche concerning regulations that will not be examined by Parliament. The bill establishes a legislative framework that imposes certain requirements on research done on pathogens and toxins, as well as criminal sanctions and fines for non-compliance.
We must ask ourselves certain questions about these regulations. How is it that a bill, now in third reading, has no regulations? No one knows what will happen with this bill. They are bringing something to a vote before the House, something that will happen at a later date, but we do not yet know what these regulations will be based on. It makes no sense.
According to the universities we consulted—unlike other parties in this House, we conducted a consultation—Bill C-11 will demand huge investments in universities that have laboratories.
These investments will not be used to update laboratories for group 3 and 4 pathogens; these will be new provisions concerning group 1 and 2. Those are the only categories that are not problematic. Also according to the universities, billions of dollars will have to be invested across the country, at the universities' expense. Did the government assess the kind of impact this will have on university teaching and research, on health care institutions and on private laboratories? Once again, the answer is no.
It is important to point out that all laboratories, including universities, hospitals and other government institutions, can be forced to pay fines. This government has a tendency to impose fines and prison sentences. It constantly focuses on those two points. Does the government really want to impose fines on universities and hospitals, when they are already desperately short of funding? It makes no sense.
The bill also establishes penalties and fines for anyone who shows wanton or reckless disregard concerning pathogens and toxins.
Clause 55 reads as follows:
Every person who contravenes section 6 and who shows wanton or reckless disregard for the health or safety of other persons and, as a result, creates a risk to the health or safety of the public is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years.
We are talking about students, not researchers who wear protective clothing. We are talking about people in a university or hospital. We are talking about viruses, which are not very big. This is the smallest category in existence that the government is going to try to control. It wants to control people, control information, control those who have these groups of pathogens. This is terrible. But there is more. And it is even worse.
Clause 56 reads as follows:
Every person who contravenes subsection 7(1) or 18(7) is guilty of an offence and liable
(a) on conviction on indictment, for a first offence, to a fine of not more than $500,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or to both, and, for a subsequent offence, to a fine of not more than $1,000,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years, or to both;
Think about the student who, as a joke, touches something and is fined half a million dollars. It makes no sense.
The Bloc Québécois wonders why it is necessary to introduce new measures and new penalties when they could be part of existing laws. These laws already exist, and the government is trying to add more. It is piling on more laws. Once again, it is hard to follow these parties here in the House. They pay no attention to the bills we discuss here, and they are ready to vote on anything. Are the measures in this bill on breach of duty, wanton or reckless breach of duty and intentional release not already included in the Criminal Code and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act? Yes, they are. Are the measures to prohibit intentional misuse of pathogens not already included in the Anti-Terrorism Act?
We already have plenty of laws. The government is trying to create more fines. It is talking about imprisoning these people. I cannot see how we can think about these things and decide what falls into groups 1 and 2. Everything the party in power is proposing is already covered by existing legislation. I cannot understand why we need to go any further than what we have now. Even worse, the government does not know where it wants to go with this bill because it has not consulted anyone.
When we asked departmental officials about the consequences, it was clear that the government had not studied the impact of Bill C-11. When we asked them about how it would affect universities and hospitals, they candidly told us that they did not know because there had been no impact study. They had no idea what might happen because there had been no study. However, it seemed that everyone was quite happy to have new laws, new fines and new prison sentences. That is the only thing we were able to find out. The only answer we got was that the government planned to take experts' and researchers' concerns into consideration while drafting regulations so as to minimize potential negative impacts. That is not saying much. They will consult experts, but will they take their comments into consideration? They might, or they might not. They might decide to accept the recommendations they like because the bill was passed anyway. We have no idea how the regulations will deal with risk groups 1 and 2. We still have no idea.
I do not understand why, in 2009, the government has introduced a bill without regulations in the House of Commons, where laws are made, nor why we should vote for a bill without knowing the regulations that are to be part of it. Moreover, the government says that even if it consults experts, it will make its own decisions about what to do anyway. Regulations will not be submitted to the House of Commons.
How can we vote on regulations if we never see them? How are we supposed to propose amendments if the regulations are not defined? It makes no sense.
I do not know where we are going with this. Nor do I know how this is in Quebeckers' and Canadians' best interest. We cannot protect them from risk group 1 and 2 pathogens because, in Bill C-54, this government said that these two categories were not a problem.
Why study risk groups 1 and 2 if they were not a problem? I still have not heard an answer to that question.
The Bloc Québécois would have preferred that the government had acted responsibly instead of blindly charging ahead with the implementation of Bill C-11. That would have meant conducting an impact study and consulting properly with stakeholders in each province, including researchers and private health laboratories. As far as the regulatory framework and cooperation with the provinces go, those are other matters.
Certainly, the Bloc Québécois endorses the idea that the government should consult with stakeholders affected by the bill before preparing regulations. We have no choice because the other political parties are in favour of adopting this bill without regulations.
However, we had proposed, during clause-by-clause study in committee, that the government consult the provinces before amending the schedules. When we questioned officials about the effects of this amendment, they indicated there would be no consultation with the provinces before preparing the amendments. Did anyone think of that? They do not even consult the provinces and they are going to make regulations without any consultation with people in each of the provinces.
Those officials also said that the experts and researchers were found in research laboratories and within the federal government, while ignoring the expertise within the public service of Quebec or the other provinces. We have expertise as well, but the Conservatives do not want to recognize it. They just want to listen to their own experts; and they will only take into account what they like.
They also pointed out that British Columbia had serious reservations about the bill, and these were the same officials who had reassured the province by promising to consult B.C. on the scope of the bill. They will do the consultation later.
The Bloc amendment called for consultation with Quebec and the provinces before any modification of the schedules; that is, before adding a pathogen or revising its classification. The purpose of this amendment was to ensure that the federal government properly evaluated the impact of any such changes.
It must be said that the Conservatives and the Liberals decided that amendment was not necessary, and in doing so dismissed the expertise of Quebec and other provinces on the subject.
The Liberals, who cried wolf in committee because of a failure to respect British Columbia’s jurisdiction and the repercussions of the bill on the people of British Columbia, put their trust entirely in the regulations under the Act, and make no provision for British Columbia to give its views on the classification of pathogens.
In a news release on April 29, 2008, announcing the introduction of Bill C-54, the minister insisted that there were no risks. Yet, today, suddenly, there are many risks.
The Bloc Québécois calls for in-depth study of Bill C-11. We want to put questions to experts to ensure that the details of Bill C-11 will not adversely affect the research community in Quebec.