Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today at report stage of Bill C-11, An Act to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins, to speak to the government amendments to clauses 66.1 and 66.2, which are now before us.
We heard at second reading that there is strong support in this House for strengthening safety and security with regard to human pathogens and toxins right here in Canada. We are committed to moving forward with this legislation to address the serious safety and security gaps that we have identified in order to safeguard Canadians from the threats posed by human pathogens and toxins.
Members of the Standing Committee on Health had an extensive opportunity to review all elements of Bill C-11. All told, the committee heard from five government witnesses, in some cases more than once, and from 13 other witnesses over a period of a month. In total there were seven separate sessions devoted almost entirely to review and discussion of Bill C-11. In these sessions, all voices were heard and all opinions were closely considered. The result of the committee's hard work is an amended bill that we think well reflects the underlying policy intent of the bill, as well as other key aspects of concern to some witnesses.
There were 12 amendments to the bill, of which eight were put forth by the government and four were put forth by the opposition. These amendments include a government amendment to clarify technical aspects of the bill, such as the fact that there will be no requirement to report to the minister of health when there is a simple spill in the laboratory, but only when there is a release of a human pathogen or toxin from the facility itself.
As well, two opposition amendments were put forward to require the establishment of scientific advisory committees to advise the minister of health regarding the schedules to the bill. These amendments, which the government supports, go a long way in ensuring there is an evidence base for decision-making on how to treat dangerous, and less dangerous, pathogens.
Two other government amendments responded to input that the committee received from the office of the Privacy Commissioner, which we believe resulted in better privacy protection in this bill.
The bill was also amended to clearly articulate that there will be no security screening of persons accessing risk group 2 human pathogens and to signal that the regulations should be drafted taking into account the varying degrees of risk between risk groups of human pathogens and between toxins. As well, the penalty clauses in Bill C-11 were amended to lower the penalties related to contraventions of the act and regulations related to risk group 2 human pathogens.
These amendments were made to respond to what we heard from numerous witnesses at committee who strongly emphasized that risk group 2 human pathogens, although clearly capable of causing serious disease and death, posed lesser risks. Therefore they warranted less stringent treatment both in the bill and in the regulations.
We heard what these witnesses had to say and the government was comfortable proposing these numerous amendments which were all agreed to at committee.
In addition to the successful amendments put forward at committee, two amendments are related to a requirement for the tabling of regulations made under Bill C-11 before both Houses of Parliament. These amendments were put forward by the opposition and became the new clauses 66.1 and 66.2. They were agreed to by the committee, including the government members, subject to one qualification.
The government responded to these proposed amendments by requesting that the words “and the Senate” be added where the words “House of Commons” appeared in the amendments, to ensure that the regulations would also be tabled there.
After some discussion, the committee agreed to the suggestion, which was considered a friendly amendment, with agreement that the changed amendments would be worded in a way similar to what is now found in the Assisted Human Reproduction Act.
Unfortunately, upon review of the bill as reported from the Standing Committee on Health, it became obvious that this last specific requirement relating to the tabling of regulations in both Houses of Parliament was not included in the amended bill, as was requested by the committee.
Many of the needed references to the Senate, and particularly the fact that the regulations must be referred to a committee of that House, were simply left out. The government has put forward amendments at report stage to address this omission.
More specifically, the government has proposed an amendment to clause 66.1 to require that the regulations be tabled before each House of Parliament and that a proposed regulation that is laid before Parliament shall be referred to the appropriate committee of each House, as determined by the rules.
The new clause 66.2 allows for some specific exemptions from the requirement to table regulations in both houses of Parliament. The proposed government amendment now before us specifies that should the Minister of Health make a regulation without first laying it before either house of Parliament, she must lay before each house a statement of reasons for doing so.
These proposed government amendments to clauses 66.1 and 66.2 are completely in line with the wordings of section 66 and 67 of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act as requested and agreed to by the Standing Committee on Health.
The bill, with these new amendments, reflects the hard work and co-operative approach that was taken at committee, reflecting the need to work together to safeguard the health and safety of Canadians. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the committee for a job well done.
I request that the House agree to these amendments, which simply reflect what the committee had previously agreed was the right way to proceed, in the same spirit of co-operation and concern for the health and safety of Canadians that was apparent in all of the discussions around Bill C-11 that occurred in committee.
As I noted, we believe that the amended Bill C-11, which was reported to the House from committee, is a stronger piece of legislation that well reflects the policy intent of the legislation and concerns expressed by some witnesses at committee. These government amendments to clauses 66.1 and 66.2 will essentially complete the good work of the committee by ensuring that the amended Bill C-11 reflects what was actually agreed to by committee in consideration of the input of many witnesses over a period a month.