Mr. Speaker, survey results show that the vast majority of Canadians believe that a product is safe simply because it is available on the market. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case as children are particularly vulnerable to product-related injuries. In fact, there are more than 18,000 annual emergency room visits for children as a result of product-related injuries.
As well, recalls on child products have significantly increased in recent years from 28 voluntary recalls in 2006 to 118 in 2008. That is a 235% increase over just three years. Just this last week, one company recalled more than 10 million tricycles, high chairs and toys over safety concerns. The trikes have a protruding key that has caused 10 reported injuries. The high chairs have seven reports of children hurt on pegs on the chairs' rear legs. The infant toys have faulty parts that pose a choking hazard.
I am pleased to rise in the House today to support Bill C-36, formerly Bill C-6, the Canada consumer product safety act, on which our health committee worked collegially for extended hours. We heard testimony from consumer product organizations, environmental defence organizations, and toy manufacturers. We struggled through challenging issues for both consumer health and well-being and for industry.
Reducing risk to human health has been a preoccupation of people, physicians and politicians for the last 5,000 years. Virtually every major advance in public health has involved the reduction or elimination of risk, with the result being that the world is a safer place today. It is safer from accidents and deadly or incurable diseases and safer from hazardous consumer goods.
Therefore, it is government's duty to do all it reasonably can to accurately assess and reduce risks, such as making sure that food, medicines and other products are safe. Although government can rarely hope to reduce risks to zero, it can aim to lower them to a more acceptable level and it should openly and transparently communicate risk and risk reduction strategies to the public.
Bill C-36 is needed as the laws on consumer safety have not been thoroughly reviewed in over 40 years, and chemicals, technology, and trade have all changed significantly.
Canadians could question why the government was slow on this bill, a bill to improve Canada's out-of-date product safety laws, given that consumer safety was to be a top priority and the bill was first introduced a few years ago. Every time there is a high-profile recall and questions arise over Health Canada's reactivity, we hear the message: if only we had our consumer product safety bill in place.
However, parents need to be confident that the products they buy will be safe for them and their children.
It is important to note that the government has been in power for four years, has tabled the bill three times, and enjoys unanimous support from opposition parties, as well as strong support of major Canadian children's organizations, consumer advocacy groups, and other key stakeholders who share the conviction that Canadians need better protection from unsafe consumer products.
The bill overhauls existing legislation that proved inadequate to deal with high-profile safety scandals in 2007 and 2008 involving lead paint in children's toys and melamine in infant formula. The new proposed Canada consumer product safety act would improve consumer product safety with actions that would include the following.
It would prohibit the manufacturing, importing, marketing, or selling of any consumer product deemed or proven unsafe to human health or safety.
It would require industries to quickly inform the government when they discover one of their products is linked to a serious incident, death, or product safety issue.
It would require manufacturers and importers to provide test or study results on products when asked.
It would empower Health Canada to recall unreasonably dangerous consumer products.
As well, it would make it an offence to package or label consumer products that make false or deceptive health or safety claims.
The proposed Canada consumer products safety act builds on Bill C-6, which the government previously introduced,and takes into account concerns raised by stakeholders and parliamentarians through specific amendments.
The amendments include the following. The term “storing” has been defined in order to clarify that Health Canada inspectors' authorities would not extend to products that individuals store for their personal use.
The original bill stated that product safety inspectors could pass through or over private property while carrying out their functions without being liable for doing so. The amendment to the trespass provision addresses concerns by removing the phrase and they are not liable for doing so.
An amendment has been made so that the Minister of Health and not a product safety inspector would be accountable for ordering product recalls and other related measures.
An amendment has also been made to further define the timeframe for the review of orders. Under the previous bill, a review officer was required to complete the review within a reasonable time. This has now been further defined to say “no later than 30 days after the day on which the request is provided to the minister”.
I think it is important to mention a concern raised by one of Canada's leading law firms this week, namely, that the proposed legislation would place a major burden on Canadian businesses and is likely to lead to a surge in class action lawsuits.
One law partner warns that, “while the proposals have the support of consumer groups and political parties, they are likely to have a dramatic impact on many players in the chain, including suppliers, importers and retailers”.
“Bill C-36 will introduce a revolutionary upheaval in product regulation in Canada”, the partner reports. “For the first 140 years of Canadian history, these things have not existed from a regulatory perspective”.
It would give Health Canada the power to order a recall or carry out a recall itself, as well as dole out penalties. These include a fine of up to $5 million, two years in prison or both for indictable offences. This is up from $1 million. It would no longer be the cost of doing business. The partner warns that this could result in more litigation, including class action lawsuits that tend to follow recalls.
Suppliers and manufacturers may need to start thinking about organizing their businesses to ensure that people responsible for dealing with safety monitoring reporting to Health Canada and offering legal advice.
The legislation is important and has backing across Canada. We are, however, once again at the early stages of the parliamentary approval process and we must hope that this does not fall by the wayside as was the case when Parliament was prorogued.
Finally, Bill C-36 would significantly improve the product safety regime in Canada which would translate into improved health and safety for Canadians. Product safety is in everyone's best interest and everyone has a role to play: Canadians, government and industry.