Genetic Non-Discrimination Act

An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination

This bill was previously introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session.


This bill has received Royal Assent and is, or will soon become, law.


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment prohibits any person from requiring an individual to undergo a genetic test or disclose the results of a genetic test as a condition of providing goods or services to, entering into or continuing a contract or agreement with, or offering specific conditions in a contract or agreement with, the individual. Exceptions are provided for health care practitioners and researchers. The enactment provides individuals with other protections related to genetic testing and test results.

The enactment amends the Canada Labour Code to protect employees from being required to undergo or to disclose the results of a genetic test, and provides employees with other protections related to genetic testing and test results. It also amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the ground of genetic characteristics.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


March 8, 2017 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
March 8, 2017 Passed That Bill S-201, An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination, as amended, be concurred in at report stage .
Oct. 26, 2016 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

June 13th, 2017 / 7:10 p.m.
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Colin Fraser Liberal West Nova, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to address this issue tonight, but it is not lost on me the passion many feel about this issue. It is a very important issue our House has considered and sent to committee. I want to say first that when I first learned of Bill S-217 and took my time to understand it, in a good faith effort, I knew there were some elements of the bill I did not agree with, but I thought the overall intention of the bill was noble and that the sponsor in the House was bringing it forward for the right reasons. I thank him for doing that.

In the same light of a good faith effort, it was passed at second reading to send to committee so we could study it further, hear from experts, and hear from those who every day deal with the bail system in Canada so we could understand better what impacts and consequences the bill may have that were not apparent, perhaps, at first reading of the bill. I hope that same courtesy will now be extended to those who listened to the testimony at committee and arrived at a different conclusion.

I voted in support of this at second reading, despite concerning elements in the bill, because I wanted to have the opportunity to study it in full. On the same night this was passed at second reading, we also voted on another bill, Bill S-201, the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act. That matter came before committee, and it was concluded by members of all parties to proceed with that bill, because it was good public policy.

The purpose of committee work is to go through a bill in a thoughtful, deliberative manner, listen to experts, have thoughtful discussions, ask good questions, and then come back to the House and make recommendations. That is what we are doing with the bill tonight.

I want to highlight that the essential element of the bill, as I saw it, was, in section 518 of the Criminal Code, changing the permissive “may” to the requirement “shall” lead evidence. That was the essential element. There were other provisions in the bill, however, that I totally disagreed with, because they were not the intention of the bill as I understood it. I appreciated the conversations we had across party lines to realize that the essential element of the bill was changing “may” to “shall”.

How did I approach this bill at committee? I looked at it as an opportunity to shine a light on our bail system in Canada, to understand the essential elements of the bill, and to then, based on the expert testimony, decide whether it was good public policy. One of the thoughts that came to mind throughout the testimony we were hearing was what applies to doctors: do no harm. I thought that was an important way to look at the bill. If we were changing our bail system and how it operates, we should do no harm.

I went in with an open mind and listened to witnesses with different perspectives on the justice system. The experts in the field dealing with bail hearings were the most important to listen to in deciding how we would go forward with this. I went in with an open mind, but I went in with the idea that we must do no harm.

The witnesses offered compelling testimony. I want to highlight, first and foremost, Shelly Wynn. Her testimony was heart wrenching, compelling, believable, and trustworthy, and I extend nothing but thanks to her for her courage in coming to our committee and for all the work she has done in highlighting the issue of bail in Canada.

We also heard from a number of experts. We heard from the Canadian Bar Association, the Ontario Provincial Police, Newfoundland police, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, defence lawyers groups, and individuals who have expert opinion to give on our system of bail in Canada.

All of those individuals came to the same conclusion and gave evidence based on the same rationale that this bill would do harm, would actually make our streets less safe, not more safe. The intention of the bill is to, as I understand it, close a loophole in the law to ensure that we are not allowing people out on bail who should be behind bars. The unintended consequences of this bill, however, would have exactly the opposite effect. It would make our streets less safe. It would put people out on the street who should otherwise be behind bars. Do not take my word for it. This was the expert testimony that we heard from police groups, the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, defence lawyers, and individuals who deal with this stuff every day and do not always agree on issues every day.

I want to go now through some of the issues that were raised. The first one is the possibility that this bill, in changing “may” to “shall”, leaving aside all of the other problematic elements in the bill, could have the possibility of raising the burden on the crown. At committee, Rick Woodburn, the president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, stated:

...if you make us prove it, our onus goes up; it doesn't go down. Keeping the individuals you want to keep off the street is harder, not easier.

This is the person who represents Canadian crown prosecutors, who deals with these issues every day.

Superintendent David Truax, the detective superintendent of the Ontario Provincial Police, stated:

Some of the language in the bill obviously proves the fact that...could obviously require the prosecutor to call each and every individual officer to prove each and every individual fact. That obviously would cause strain on policing resources, requiring more...witnesses, more documentation, certified documentation, affidavits, and the like.

Nancy Irving, who was chairing the Alberta committee reviewing the bail system in that province, indicated that the crown burden of proof will be uncertain under years of litigation.

With regard to the issue of delay, I think this was most compelling for me and the most convincing as to why this would be problematic because, in the end, after hearing all of this expert testimony, it was pretty well incontrovertible that there would become mini-trials at bail hearings. This is not a matter of a couple of minutes to get a criminal record. That is not the issue. There are several steps that have to be gone through in a bail hearing, one being the circumstances of the offence being presented to the court. This would cause uncertainty in our bail system. This would cause added resources, added court time, and not a matter of minutes, but delays in bail. People would have to set over bail hearings, perhaps. What would happen in the meantime to those who are supposed to have timely access to bail hearings?

I want to now talk on the issue of delay. Rick Woodburn said the following:

Bail hearings don't take five minutes. They take somewhere between half an hour and two hours, on average. That's for a bail hearing where you just pass information up, hear from a surety, and hear some evidence—about two hours.

If this bill passes, bail hearings will double and triple in time, and it is not necessary.

My colleague across the way just referenced Dr. Cheryl Webster a moment ago in support of his conclusion. He should take her word then when she said the following:

...[it] stuck me...[that it is going to add to court delay with] the higher evidentiary burden.... Any additional time taken during the bail process puts cases even closer to being thrown out for violation of the constitutional right that an accused be tried within a reasonable amount of time.

Professor Anthony Doob stated:

The bill that you have before you will expand the bail process for everyone at a time when...everyone agrees that court delay is a problem.

The Canadian Bar Association echoed the same comments.

I think it is important for us, in a good faith effort in reflecting on this bill, to understand that bail review does need to happen. Our government is committed to doing that. We are committed to working with all sides of the House to make that happen. This bill would not achieve its intended aims.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

May 19th, 2017 / 12:50 p.m.
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Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, the justice committee has been one of the finest committees that I have had the pleasure of sitting on. We have a very good working relationship.

Yes, sometimes the Liberal members on committee will use their way to get their votes, but I have seen other instances, notably with Bill S-201, where Liberal members on the justice committee listened to the evidence and went against cabinet's recommendation. That was one of the finest moments I have ever seen in my short parliamentary career, because the evidence outweighed what the cabinet wanted, and eventually this House got that bill passed and it received royal assent.

I do not want to prejudge what the committee will hear. I intend to do my part on that committee and to work with my colleagues, both the Conservatives and the Liberals, to ensure that any bill that is reported back to the House is one that we can all have faith in.

Ovarian CancerStatements By Members

May 8th, 2017 / 2 p.m.
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Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, ovarian cancer is the most deadly women's cancer in Canada. Outcomes for ovarian cancer have not changed in 50 years. Treatments have not advanced significantly since the 1990s. Dollars being invested in ovarian cancer research are not enough, causing slow scientific progress compared with other diseases. Immediate investment in ovarian research to help save lives is required, as well as support for ongoing research to screen for ovarian cancer, and implementation of Bill S-201, an act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination, to empower Canadian women to use genetic testing.

It is about time we did more for the women living with this disease. Women living with all forms of cancers in my riding have to travel hundreds of kilometres and be separated from their families to get treatment in Saskatoon. We must help Ovarian Cancer Canada and the women it helps by increasing awareness for this cause today, May 8, World Ovarian Cancer Day.

Royal AssentOral Questions

May 4th, 2017 / 3:15 p.m.
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The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Mr. Speaker:

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bills listed in the schedule to this letter on the 4th day of May, 2017, at 11:30 a.m.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Wallace

The schedule indicates that the bills assented to were Bill S-201, an act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination, and Bill C-224, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (assistance — drug overdose).

Now I believe the hon. opposition House leader has the usual Thursday question.

Access to the House of CommonsPrivilege

April 13th, 2017 / 1:55 p.m.
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Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know where my colleague gets the idea that our votes are not free, for I can assure him that they are. I do not understand why he would question the fact that we are mature enough to have robust discussions and then arrive at a certain consensus.

This makes two questions in a row, from two parliamentary secretaries, two representatives of the executive, that have attempted to bring up the Bloc Québécois or the operation of the NDP, even though we are talking about the operation of Parliament.

The example given by the Liberals is interesting. They speak of free votes and say that the Liberal backbenchers have won votes in spite of the government’s position, but when Bill S-201 received the support of Liberal backbenchers, the justice minister referred it to the Supreme Court. Furthermore, the amendments to Bill C-22 that were supported by certain Liberal members on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security are going to be reversed in the House.

It is all well and good, then, to say they have free votes and to congratulate themselves on that, but if the government can do an about-face on issues of fundamental importance such as medical assistance in dying and the committee of parliamentarians that will be overseeing national security agencies, then it is only smoke and mirrors. In any case, with the proposed changes, we may not even have to get up to vote any more. We will have remote voting or something.

I want to bring my Liberal colleagues back to the essential issue. To guarantee us that members’ privilege to represent their fellow citizens is properly defended, we ask for one simple thing: consensus.

Why are they unable to offer us that?

March 23rd, 2017 / 7:50 p.m.
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Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

It's an autumn 1997 Canadian Parliamentary Review. The title is “Obstruction in Ontario and the House of Commons”, by Chris Charlton. It reviews the Ontario legislature and it reviews Parliament, five or six Parliaments, and the work they did on behalf of constituents. I think it is important to use that type of data. One data point is one data point; as I used to tell my staff at both the HR Institute and the chamber of commerce, it is interesting but it doesn't really tell any story. A trend tells you a story, because it can tell you if the rules or procedures or ideas you have are up or down, and whether they are declining or rising. Having multiple data points is how we will get to whether or not we need to change anything.

I haven't seen anything, because there are really no numbers in the government's proposal. There are only areas of study that they proposed—that Mr. Simms moved through his motion—which is why we have moved this amendment.

I want to reference another member of Parliament, Reg Stackhouse, who was a member of Parliament for Scarborough West. This is from a revised submission to the task force on reform of the House of Commons of March 1985. I don't know whether all of his ideas were included in the final report. This is in the Canadian Parliamentary Review, summer 1985, and I have only one point to make from this article:

Debate is the esse of Parliament, and debating is therefore essential to a member's fulfilling his role. The legislator is not intended to be primarily one who gets things done, but one who uses debate to assess, criticize, amend, resist as well as to promote, advocate, motivate and advance ideas.

This is a member of Parliament saying this, so at the end of the day, the result is what you make of it. I know that for the government, the result it is looking for is for its legislative agenda to pass, but we're not here to pass its agenda. We're here to pass Parliament's agenda, and we decide which bills should be taken up. The government can direct us that this bill should be debated today, but it should not be able to tell the committees that it will have six days, nine days, or 10 days, or that Parliament must pass this in 15 days.

That is what we saw with the national energy program when it used time allocation and got it passed within 15 days. What a disaster that was politically for members on the Liberal caucus side. It also had a profound impact on the political culture of Alberta. Up until this very recent election, there were no members of Parliament elected from the Liberal Party of Canada. There are some now, but the impact on the culture and the beliefs and the ethos and the myths surrounding the national energy program are still there. It has had a very profound impact on constituents back home, and on all parliamentarians back home.

I think this is worth reviewing by all members here. It's called “Reforming The House” by Reg Stackhouse, member of Parliament, in the Canadian Parliamentary Review from the summer of 1985.

Now I want to reference an Ontario MPP. I found the most material, surprisingly, from Ontario. It was the easiest to find, I think, because many members have written. A lot of members have also moved on to serve in the Parliament of Canada, so they offer the opportunity to compare the two. This is from Sam L. Cureatz, MPP, who was a member of the Ontario Legislative Assembly for Durham East. He had been deputy speaker since 1981, at the time of this writing in the Canadian Parliamentary Review in the summer of 1983, so he had at least two years as deputy speaker in the Ontario Legislative Assembly, which brings valuable experience. The Speakers are there to enforce the Standing Orders of the House, so obviously they have a better feel for what the Standing Orders mean.

The title of the article is “Some Thoughts on Parliamentary Debate in Ontario”.

In Ontario, when the Minister of Revenue attempted to introduce legislation in connection with the May 1982 provincial budget, a vote on first reading was requested.

I've never seen a vote at first reading in this Parliament. I don't think it would add anything.

The official opposition left the Chamber, and the bells range for two and a half days until their return.

They were calling the members to vote, and the members chose to show their displeasure and unhappiness. They did return eventually, because the opposition also has a certain amount of responsibility. If we just stop coming here and all return to our constituencies, or we sit outside on the lawn of Parliament, I think a great number of Canadians would find that type of activity reprehensible. They would say, “Go back to work. Cobble together a solution”, which is why we're still here at this table trying to find that common ground. That's the point I've been trying to make.

Filibusters or delay is a long-standing democratic practice. Lots of different assemblies use it. It's a common practice, but it has to be used judiciously and wisely. I don't believe we have overreacted and I don't believe we have gone out of our way to obstruct. We are simply trying to make our points.

We come back. Every time, Mr. Chair, that you suspend the meeting and return us, we return. We return to continue the debate. We return to continue making points, and substantive ones as well. I hope I have been substantive in my commentary and that I have made a contribution because I feel that this amendment that we have proposed to the motion is reasonable. It would ensure that all of the opposition members who are here, including my friends in the New Democratic Party, will have an opportunity to be heard.

On these changes to the special orders, the temporary standing orders that could be introduced, our concern is that a report could be produced by June 2 that will be voted on by the majority. We will lose our opportunity to be heard and then, simply, the process will continue and there will be no opportunity for us to get involved.

My last example is actually a Nova Scotia House of Assembly procedural change brought in by the government of John Buchanan, which proposed substantive procedural changes. In 1978 it was a Conservative government. The Liberal official opposition of the day and the New Democratic Party protested, and the government proposed and subsequently set up an all-party working committee to reach consensus. They admitted that they needed to reach consensus.

The government then presented its proposal for these new rules. While these proposals contained only minor modifications of the proposals made by the select committee, they immediately encountered strenuous objection from the Liberal opposition and from the New Democrats. A two-thirds majority was required to enact the new rules, and government supporters in the House were not that numerous. The government therefore decided not to proceed with its resolution. Instead, it proposed to set up an all-party committee to narrow the areas of disagreement.

That's what we're trying to do.

Nova Scotia has an example that we could use. If you pass this amendment, we could narrow down the areas of disagreement. There are things we simply will not agree to. We will not accept to have our voices silenced at committee. We will not accept to have our privileges of debate further restricted. It's not something that we can accept.

The reason they set up this all-party committee, a working committee, and they admit this, was to try to narrow the areas of disagreement. I am sure that during those in camera deliberations or public sessions that they held they found things they simply could not agree on and they removed them. They took them off the table. Perhaps they went through a document like this that was produced upon the advice of the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia and they said, “On these three items perhaps we can find agreement, but this one most definitely we cannot” and they simply moved on and found a way around it.

They found a way 35 years ago to reach a solution to the impasse, so why can't we do it here? This is why I'm still speaking to this amendment to the motion because I think we can find agreement and then find a way to work together. I don't think it's unreasonable. This is just an amendment that would protect the opposition from the majority. As many members have said before, this is a protective measure for us to ensure that we are heard, that we do have a role to play here.

On the actual proposals, just so I can make some final points on this, in this document in the introduction.... I've already mentioned my problems about adversarial and my problems about modernization. There is a section that says, “Societal changes have also brought about the need to ensure greater predictability in the House for at least two important reasons”.

There are two important reasons in here to seek more “predictability” in the House. I would substitute “predictability” with the word “efficiency”. I think that's what they mean. One reason is “to ensure Members have a better balance”. It doesn't say “work-life balance”, it just says “better balance”. Another reason is “to encourage under-represented segments of society to seek elected office”. You've heard me talk about this. Nobody reads the Standing Orders before coming here. I think it's a great shock to them how many rules there are.

It says in here as well, “Technological changes should also be considered as we look to ways to make the House more efficient.” Absolutely, and we have had technological changes. We have the ability to look up the Notice Paper, Order Paper, and pieces of legislation online. I read them mostly on an iPad, although I still like the feel of paper, which is why I'm holding this paper. I'm reading from it because I can go back and forth on it, something I can't do very easily on an iPad.

I think those are two bad reasons to go ahead and change the Standing Orders. Those are two very bad reasons to proceed. There would have to be something more substantive than simply saying we need a “better balance”. A better balance of what—between the opposition and the government? You already hold all the cards. You set the agenda. You can use time allocation. You have more members, so you can outvote us. All we ask is for the opportunity to be heard. Don't propose to somehow change the rules without explaining to us where you want to go. As parliamentarians, not as the executive or the cabinet, where do you want to go with these changes?

I would feel far more comfortable if I saw more experienced veteran members, potentially returning members as well—members who were not there in 2011 but who were there before and then returned—providing us their insight and their feedback on the changes being put forward by the government, not by parliamentarians.

Under “Theme 1: Management of the House”, again, you can disagree with me, but I feel that Canadians work five days a week, and some work more than five days a week, so we should too. I know that members say that we work in constituency offices as well, that we travel to our constituencies on weekends and we do substantive work, but constituents expect us to be here and to work on their behalf here. I honestly don't mind if Friday becomes a full day, the way Mr. Simms has proposed, but I also don't believe that 45 days is sufficient time to consider that type of change. I don't want to use the word “radical”. That may be going too far. I need a synonym for it.

This would impact members like you, Mr. Chair, who has to travel to the Yukon. I think you'd be able to spend maybe a few hours at the airport before you had to turn back. It would not achieve the goal it was meant to do.

There may be changes to the House calendar that could be done to offer members more opportunities to have back-to-back weeks in their constituencies. Perhaps we could avoid doing what we've done now, which is that we have one week here, one week off, one week here, one week off. It breaks up the legislative process too much. I still believe it's worthy to have five days, and we should keep it the way it is. Again, that is my personal preference.

In terms of alternating days, sitting days on Fridays, and having more private members' time on Fridays, again, reapportioning hours would not be family friendly in any way. A previous report unanimously agreed not to do away with this. I believe PROC was the one that said not to proceed with changes to Fridays. I could be corrected on that. There are members who sit on the committee on a full-time basis who may have different viewpoints on this.

I mentioned electronic voting before, and my thoughts on this. As I think I mentioned very early this morning, Bill S-201 is a perfect example of when “on division” should have been accepted by the government side, and the cabinet rose to force a recorded vote.

We have a lot of recorded votes. They do serve a purpose. Mr. Simms raised the point that they do serve the purpose of accountability on individual members. I agree with him on that, but I don't think every single measure needs a recorded vote. We have to police ourselves. Is the right number of members five? I don't know. I would say that 25 is not the right number. Let's not get excessive here, but maybe there's a way to change that to something more reasonable. Again, that would have to be considered in a substantive debate, but we can't agree to that debate if you don't approve this amendment. You could change it to 99 or 100, in which case we would not be able to get a recorded vote on our side. I would hope you would not do something so drastic, so radical. I'll use the word “drastic” from now on, not “radical”.

It's mentioned here, under “House Calendar”, that “The number of sittings could be based on the demands to sit.” Who will set and determine who demands to sit? Parliament should determine when it sits. The government should have to bend to the will of Parliament, not the other way around.

I know there is prorogation, which is a method used for.... It's mentioned in here too: “where Governments have prorogued early in the session to avoid politically difficult situations.” It makes a reference to “governments” that have prorogued, but my understanding is that the Governor General prorogues upon the advice of the Prime Minister. Maybe that's just nitpicking but the more we confuse these fine lines between the different functions in the different places, the more we lump it all together so that the executive, the cabinet, the parliamentary secretaries, the government caucus....

People start saying, “You're in the government”. I have constituents who tell me that I'm in the government, “You work for the government”. I reply, “I don't work for the government. I work for you. You pay me indirectly through your taxes, but I am an opposition member.” When I bring greetings to an event I don't say it is on behalf of the Government of Canada. I say it's on behalf of the Parliament of Canada because I am not a member of the government. In schools I go to, I make a point to explain to them that I am not there on behalf of the government; I am there on behalf of Parliament.

It is perhaps not as glorious or as edifying to say that, but it's drawing a line of distinction that we should all be responsible for as parliamentarians who should love this Parliament the way Mr. Diefenbaker did.

Just a little more on prorogation, there are some ideas in here that are worth studying. Some of the reasons for prorogation should perhaps be set out in the Standing Orders, which should perhaps constrain the ability of the executive to seek prorogation, or perhaps there should be debate on it before it happens. I'm sure that could be studied. It could be considered. That could be an entire study on its own, prorogation in Australia and in the Westminster Parliament as well.

Private members' business is where I find the most interest, honestly, because I think there are more opportunities there, as parliamentarians, to do the work we were sent here to do and to actually legislate and to act on behalf of our constituents. If we have more opportunities to propose private member's bills, I think it would be better. I have two private member's motions that I have tabled. I know members who have already passed their private member's bills, but I also know members—Mr. Chan was mentioning it—who may never get the opportunity to table a bill or a motion that could be debated in the House.

It is one of those things members actually look forward to, and it is a question I have heard at the debates I have been to in communities. Many members have told me the same thing. They get asked the question, “What is the first private member's bill you intend to table?” It has become a question the public now asks us: “What is the idea you are running on? What is the one thing you want to do here?” If we could find more opportunities to do that, it would be an interesting idea to pursue.

Our worry is that if you pass this motion the way it is written now, you—the government caucus, the executive, whoever is going to make the final decision—could choose to take away our private members' business time. We have that time on Fridays right now, but we also have extra time on Mondays for it, or you could move it around during the day. We don't know. Maybe there could be Q and A during private members' business for every single speech, which would require more time.

Regarding “Theme 2: Management of Debate”, as I mentioned before in a reference to the House of Representatives, programming was talked about on an experimental basis. It was introduced in 1998 in the United Kingdom. It was made permanent in 2004. It took six years before they made it permanent. They considered for six years whether to keep it or not.

I think we are moving too fast with this. I am sure they did not reach that point without consent, broad-based consent, among the different parties. If we guard our privileges jealously, parliamentarians in the United Kingdom guard them even more jealously. They have brought down prime ministers because they have disagreed with the way a prime minister, an executive, was leading the country. Voters brought down David Cameron's government on a referendum, but it was also a referendum imposed upon him by his backbenchers, who demanded it on behalf of their constituents. Right or wrong, they got what they wanted, and Mr. Cameron eventually resigned after losing what is now called the Brexit referendum.

Those are important points. Members there guard their freedoms jealously, and we should guard ours too against an executive that has gotten larger, more powerful, and more able to offer us incentives and opportunities that we may not have otherwise. I came here to be a parliamentarian, not to be a cabinet minister. Obviously I ran as a Conservative too, so that probably simplifies things as well. I am not working hard to join the cabinet. I am working hard on behalf of my constituents.

If I should find myself on the government caucus side, I would hope I would not be punished with an executive position in cabinet. That would be a punishment for my wife and my family. I think they do extraordinary work, with those extra hours. I don't agree with very many of them and the policy objectives they have, but I respect them. I would hope they would extend the same respect to us, on the opposition side, because we're not here to obstruct without a purpose. We have a purpose, and it's to be part of the proceedings of Parliament. We're trying to maintain that, which is why we've proposed this very reasonable motion.

Don't exclude us. Don't cut us out.

I've said this before, but we just don't have that trust right now. We don't trust you to follow through with that—“you” being the executive and some of the government caucus members who may be active on behalf of or in conjunction with. I don't want to cast aspersions unnecessarily.

Continuing on lower down here, it does mention that “New Zealand and the U.S. House of Representatives also have measures to plan the business of the House that are similar in principle to programming.” I have just shown you, using a congressional procedures book, that the Senate is far more similar to who we are, as parliamentarians here, than who the House of Representatives is when this programming subject is....

I think just this one section here could be its own individual study. It could be its own separate study, but this motion says that you may do this by June 2. That is a quick pace to introduce such a measure as took six years for the United Kingdom Parliament, the mother Parliament, to say it was going to take this on and it was going to accept it.

We don't even know what your goals are at the end. You may produce a report with recommendations that will go to the House, and then you will claim, as Mr. Christopherson said when he was here before, that you have a majority decision from this committee, PROC, saying that we should proceed with the following changes and we, on the opposition side, will obviously disagree and we'll have a debate in the House of Commons that I fear will be just as divisive as the 1991 debates, just as divisive as the 1969 debates, and will not build long-term trust. That is my great fear.

I think the government, when it pushed forward on electoral reform, bent in certain ways and made an agreement with some other opposition parties to have a multi-party committee to consider the issue. In the end, the executive chose not to proceed with electoral reform. I think that was the right call, personally. I know my constituents think that way. I know that, because I surveyed all of them and I got almost 2,000 responses.

I see Madam Mendès also shaking her head. A great number of Canadians got engaged in something that would be considered “inside baseball”. With regard to the Standing Orders, if there is inside baseball, I think we're in the dugout with this stuff. The vast majority of Canadians—

March 23rd, 2017 / 12:55 p.m.
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Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Because we have Mr. Housefather here and he knows of my great love for Yiddish proverbs, I have this: “Before you utter a word you are the master. After words you are a fool.”

I hope I haven't been a fool so far and that I have made a substantive contribution to the debate with the research I have used to demonstrate that we do have an opportunity to find common ground and to have the amendment to the motion pass. It's based on a substantive reasoning that we should do it where we unanimously agree on changes to the Standing Orders as they may come.

Now what I want to do is refer to an article that deals with time allocation in the House of Commons, “Silencing Parliamentary Democracy or Effective Time Management? Time Allocation in the House of Commons”, which I think is to the point of efficiency that's in the government's “Reforming the Standing Orders of the House of Commons” document. Efficiency keeps being brought up in this document as the reason for the motion Mr. Simms tabled and the amendment that was thereafter moved.

This article is written by Yves Yvon J. Pelletier, who was a parliamentary intern from 1999 to 2000. It's based on his research essay, which was awarded the Alf Hales prize as the best paper submitted by the 1999-2000 interns. I have gone through this article, and I made a few notes to myself, because it deals substantively with what we are dealing with here today, which is the role of members of Parliament and the Standing Orders of the House and how they enable us to have the rights and privileges we enjoy to do the work of parliamentarians.

Our privileges as members don't come from the Standing Orders. The Standing Orders don't grant us those privileges. We have those from our traditions and our customs. Some of them are written into statute, and some of them simply are practice. As I mentioned before, we come to learn about them mostly from the more experienced members of Parliament, who tell us about decorum in the House, whether or not we can wear ties in the House, and when we can be recognized to speak by the Speaker or the person in the Speaker's chair.

In this article, he mentions that the changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons have limited the opportunities of private members to influence the final wording of government bills. This has happened over time. Successive parliamentary procedural changes have made it a priority of the government and of the majority of the members. They have limited the ability of private members to influence the final wording of government bills. That has given the government some certainty about what the final product will look like once it goes to the Senate.

There has always been a need to balance the right to speak for an appropriate length of time and Parliament's right to reach decisions. It's Parliament's right to reach a decision, not the government's right to reach a decision. Government should have no expectation that there is an end date to the debate. Only once each member has spoken in the House, if he or she chooses to speak on a particular amendment or subamendment or piece of legislation, could we then say that Parliament has reached a point of making a decision. We know this. The Speaker rises, goes through the yeas and nays, and then we have the request: is it on division?

Maybe I'll segue just for a moment. “On division”, the two most beautiful words in parliamentary procedure, which we should use much more often than we do right now, are when we stand by for a recorded vote. On division at committee is the reason we're able to process amendments so much faster than we would if we had recorded votes for everything. On division is the reason we are able to go through a witness list at committee so much faster than if we went through a recorded vote. You could request a recorded vote on all those things and grind a committee to a halt. Sometimes the opposition may do that, if none of their witnesses have been accepted, in which case there is a valid reason to obstruct a committee solely to prove a point that you should compromise, co-operate, and at least show good faith toward the other political caucus at the table to reach a compromise and move forward.

You can build trust over time, or you might find situations where persons at the table are willing to forgo a particular witness or an amendment or whatever reason they have found for obstructing. “On division” are the two most beautiful words in parliamentary language.

I'll mention, too, as part of this segue, Bill S-201, the anti-discrimination bill. I was mentioning this to Mr. Graham. When the votes happen, we all get to count the votes and see who voted how, and it's part of the pageantry of the House. After having lost two votes, the executive members—the executive council, the cabinet ministers—rose to request a recorded vote after it was plainly evident that they had lost the voice vote. I was scratching my head the first time they did it, because I didn't quite understand the political reasoning for doing it. When they did it a second time, I thought to myself that I must have dozed off and missed something, because it was very confusing. They consumed another 10 minutes of time in the House, when there was no need for it.

This is about policing ourselves. The efficiency of the House was not hurt by parliamentarians. It was actually hurt by the executive. We could have been more efficient in managing our time if the executive team, the parliamentarians who also serve on the executive council or are members of the cabinet, had simply not risen and had accepted it “on division”, those two beautiful words.

We could pass, perhaps, this amendment to the main motion on division, and it would be beautiful, as long as it was accepted and passed on the yea side, not on the negative side.

I wanted to mention that the right to reach a decision is a right of Parliament, not the right of the government. They should never expect that Parliament will pass their legislation in the shape or form that they present it and table it before the House.

Now, the legislative role of MPs has declined as a result of time allocation. We know this. We've all experienced it. We've complained about it. A certain political party and caucus on the other side made a lot of hay out of it politically, and it was very successful for them.

When I reach the end of these notes, you'll realize I'll mention the government of Prime Minister Chrétien and will compare it to Mr. Mulroney's when time allocation was used, and it won't be as positive comparison for the members of the government caucus.

Prime ministers take advantage of the loyalty and inexperience of their members. I make this as an opinion statement, but it's also repeated in this article, which goes on to say that prime ministers use “...persuasion skills to limit, if not silence, their opposition to government measures on the public stage.”

Although I can see in the government caucus there are a lot of independent thinkers, which I appreciate very much, I hope they see on our side a lot of independent thinkers as well.

I voted with you, Mr. Chair, on your private member's bill, which I thought was an excellent idea. I know we had a side conversation about it. I was in the minority in my party. I was happy to do that because the idea, the policy goal, was the right one. That's what I thought at the time, and I expressed to my caucus colleagues and to my supporters that I would be doing that.

The Prime Minister and the executive team have a lot of tools they can use in order to limit the ability of the government caucus to express itself.

Maybe this is a good time to mention the free votes concept. We've all heard about free votes, that we should have more free votes. I have a lot of constituents come to me and tell me we should have more free votes.

We have free votes. Every vote is free, even the ones at committee, but all votes have consequences.

March 21st, 2017 / 6 p.m.
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Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'll continue from where I left off.

I'll start by reviewing certain comments made by members during the debates held in the House on October 6, 2016.

I also want to mention that, at the end, I'll talk about another article published in the Canadian Parliamentary Review. The article describes the events that occurred at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in the 1990s, in other words, the obstruction from the opposition. It's a perfect example of the situation at that time.

I'm first going to continue with the debate that happened on October 6, because, again, there is a reference to it in the motion. I think we would greatly assist the committee if we were to pass the very reasonable amendment that we've proposed in order to be able to follow through with and study some of the ideas that have been discussed by other members of Parliament before us—for instance, electronic voting.

Mr. Chair, you mentioned “electronic voting” during the debate. I'm looking at page 5557 of Hansard for that day. There's a brief discussion there about how we could have buttons on our desks that would speed up the vote, especially when we have successive votes to do, but those often happen because we're having a recorded vote.

At the very beginning, maybe a few hours ago, you heard me mention Bill S-201, the genetic discrimination bill, when members of the cabinet rose to have a recorded vote after they lost the prior vote that I believe indicated the will of the House to pass the bill. We could have done it “on division”—those two most beautiful words in parliamentary history. They are historic words. Saying “on division” speeds up the process. If we police ourselves, we don't need electronic voting, whether we're voting on a BlackBerry or an iPad, or with switches or dials or with ballots cast. If we police ourselves and ask for a recorded vote only when we absolutely must, I believe we could gain from it.

It's happened at committees too. Committees I have been on have done things on division, and not just for committee reports, but when there's a disagreement that's profound and the two sides can't agree, and they choose not to go with a recorded vote. I think I have asked for one recorded vote at a committee, only once in all my time serving on them. Every single other time, we just agreed to disagree. We can agree to disagree without being disagreeable. I think many committees succeed in doing that.

On electronic voting, I would hope that whatever the committee may or may not study in the future will balance the speed of voting with the understanding what we're voting on. I know that it's sometimes a challenge in the House to hear what the Speaker is saying or to fully understand exactly the motion that we've been called to the House to vote on.

For some of the motions or bills, we know ahead of time, because we get our notices and it's easy to plan around them; they're on pieces of legislation at different stages that we're moving on to committee or there's a vote at report stage. It's a fairly simple exercise to understand what we're voting on. At times, especially on estimates or business of supply votes, it can be difficult to hear. The difference between Bill C-40 and Bill C-41 is minute, and the speakers do have to read through them quite quickly. You could miss it.

If consideration is given to electronic voting—I know the government's proposal and the discussion paper's very brief mentions of it don't have very many details—I would hope that we don't just look at speeding up voting in the name of efficiency while taking away the ability of members of Parliament to fully understand how they're voting.

I think the changes that have been introduced in the past in order to vote from the backbench to the front are good. They are positive changes. I think very many of us, then, can look at our colleagues around us regarding how they vote. I know that I talk to my colleagues before deciding on how I will vote, and when I choose not to vote with my party and my caucus, I let them know. They know how I'm going to vote, because I inform them ahead of time.

I'm sure that in the government caucus the members opposite me right now do the same thing.

You have discussions, you talk amongst yourselves, and you inform those who you need to inform. “No surprises” is almost a slogan here in Parliament, but I think it applies to all of us. We don't want to surprise our colleagues. We want them to know how we're going to vote. It shouldn't be much of a secret. When people ask me how I'm going to vote on a particular motion or bill, typically I tell them exactly what I'm thinking, how I am going to vote—yes or no—and I have no problems in conveying that, but I have to know what I'm voting on. Sometimes there are last-minute amendments proposed or report stage amendments that I would like to be able to read more carefully.

I'm not opposed to electronic voting, but what does electronic voting mean in this context? I do have potential issues with it.

Another comment that arose, and this is from Mr. Dubé, the member for Beloeil—Chambly, was this:

This is certainly something that we should include now officially in the Standing Orders, barring certain exceptions that can come up. It is something that we can easily formalize and seems to be something that already, despite being relatively informal and based on the motions that we have to adopt every single time through unanimous consent, has that consent. Why not make it formal and avoid having to do it every time?

He was talking in this context about the personal situations, the gruelling schedules we all have to go through. The votes being moved to after question period I think is a good change. It's done by agreement. It's not in the Standing Orders. It's simply that we have agreed, as a group of people doing work on behalf of our constituents, to have the votes scheduled at a more convenient time. We're still going to vote, but just at a more convenient time.

I also think that one of the things that Parliament could look at and this committee could really look at is studying all the unanimous consent motions that have come through in recent history. You can get staff to do that. I don't mean for all of us to start going through the pages of Hansard. We would be looking at what was the most common unanimous consent motion and potentially—


National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

March 20th, 2017 / 5:55 p.m.
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Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise today to take part in this very important debate on Bill C-22.

I feel honoured to give voice to the serious concerns that many of my constituents have in the great riding of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford. I also want to note that this debate is taking place under the yoke of time allocation. In other words, the ability of parliamentarians to provide oversight on a bill dealing with oversight has now been curtailed by the government.

Bill C-22 cannot be debated without being properly placed in the context of Bill C-51 from the 41st Parliament. Bill C-51 was one of the most draconian pieces of security legislation to emanate from the previous Conservative government. Indeed, more than 100 of Canada's brightest legal experts from institutions across the country sent an open letter to all members of Parliament at the time, expressing their deep concern about Bill C-51. They called that bill a dangerous piece of legislation, in terms of the potential impacts on the rule of law, on constitutionally and internationally protected rights, and on the health of Canada's democracy.

We had former prime ministers, former justices of the Supreme Court of Canada, and all sorts of experts who gave close scrutiny to Bill C-51 and were convinced it was unconstitutional. Many of my constituents were very vocally opposed to Bill C-51, and indeed many of them took part in the protests that erupted across Canada during that time.

It was a sad day in Parliament when the Liberals joined with the Conservatives to pass that bill. I think, and many of my colleagues will agree with me, that on Bill C-51, the Liberals were indecisive, unreliable, and plain wrong to support it at the time. I do not think they realized how much of a serious misjudgement they had made with the Canadian public on the mood of Canadians.

Then, when we edged closer to the 2015 election, we suddenly saw a commitment in the Liberal campaign platform to introduce new legislation that would balance collective security with our rights and freedoms. Part of that promise was to establish an all-party national oversight committee, which we see today in Bill C-22.

In our system today, we have a history of having opposition chairs in oversight committees. Committees on ethics, public accounts, status of women, and government operations all have elected opposition chairs to ensure proper accountability and oversight. It is most unfortunate that the government, through clause 6 of the bill, has provided for the Governor in Council to designate the chair of the committee. In fact, the government has not even bothered to wait for the passage of this bill, because, as we all know, it has been widely reported that the member for Ottawa South is to be the chair. The government has also rejected attempts at the committee stage to allow for the committee to elect its chair, something which I think is unfortunate.

If I could deliver one message today, it is that Canadians expect to have a watchdog and oversight committee that has real teeth. I think this committee must have full access to classified information, have adequate resources, and, most importantly, it must have independence subject only to justifiable limits and the power to share its findings with Canadians in an informative and transparent manner.

Without adequate access to information, the committee will not be able to do its job effectively. I think this work is far too important to do half-heartedly or ineffectively. I will not support creating a committee that cannot properly provide oversight in accordance with what Canadians expect.

One of the government's proposals is to allow cabinet ministers to withhold information from the oversight committee. This is evident in Motion No. 5, which the government has presented, which seeks to reinstate clause 16. It is worded in a way that allows a minister to withhold information if he or she feels that it is special operational information or that the provision of the information would be injurious to national security.

If injurious to national security is not a blanket statement to cover any kind of reason, I do not know what is. I have heard Liberal MPs say that there is a proper accountability in oversight because the minister simply has to inform the committee of his or her decision and the reasons for it, as if that somehow makes everything okay.

I cannot support such a reinstatement of that clause. The public safety committee and the experts who were heard made it very clear that the the executive branch having this kind of power over an oversight committee simply will not fly. It would make the committee completely ineffective anytime that a minister wanted to withhold information. With regard to the way that the government wants to write the bill, the minister could claim that a confidential inquiry somehow jeopardizes the country's national security. I think that giving the government the ability to shut down any kind of investigation into its actions is too dangerous for a functioning and accountable democracy.

The other thing is that we need to build Canadians' trust in our security and intelligence community, and the way to do that is to create meaningful parliamentary oversight. We need to have a fully briefed parliamentary oversight committee that can issue authoritative reports to Canadians. Without full access and full trust from the agencies, the oversight committee cannot help those agencies earn the trust of Canadians. It is very disappointing and frustrating that the Liberals are not living up to the commitments they made trying to fix Bill C-51. To rebuild this trust, the committee must be strong, independent, and effective. The Liberals must fulfill their promise to “repeal the problematic elements of Bill C-51”.

I find it very troubling that the government cannot seem to place its trust in a select group of parliamentarians who will be security cleared, sworn to secrecy, and who will have waived all immunity based on parliamentary privilege. To underline how ridiculous this premise is, I would like to point out that there are members of the Conservative Party in opposition who were once members of cabinet in the previous Parliament. At that time, they had access to all kinds of sensitive information and are still bound by secrecy. Why the government will not now trust this committee to have full access and provide proper oversight remains an elusive mystery.

All parties worked hard during the committee process to improve Bill C-22. The final product, as was reported back to this House, was praised by four of Canada's leading authorities on intelligence and oversight issues. They wrote a joint op-ed in The Globe and Mail, calling on the government to accept the improvements and pass the bill. The last-minute changes that the government is now trying to make are unsupported by evidence heard at the committee, and they would undermine the effectiveness of the committee and the trust of Canadians. The Information Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Kent Roach and Craig Forcese, the first chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, and a representative of the Canadian Bar Association, all testified that the oversight committee should not be restricted in its access to necessary information. I do not understand why the government is attempting to reject that expert evidence.

There are three core agencies responsible for security and intelligence work in Canada: CSIS, CSE, and the RCMP. They have a combined budget of approaching $4 billion, and they employ close to 34,000 people. Clearly such a vast network needs to have the accountability and oversight of Parliament in order to regain Canadians' trust. The role of Parliament is to scrutinize the government, represent the Canadian people, and bring forth good laws to govern our people.

I call on the Liberal MPs sitting in the back rows to go back to that special day on March 8 during the vote on Bill S-201, when they had the courage to stand up and assert their power as legislators in the face of the opposition from cabinet. As they did then, those Liberal MPs should reject the government's 11th-hour amendments to this bill, and instead listen to the evidence that was so clearly presented to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. I ask all MPs in this House to remember that the government is accountable to Parliament, not the other way around.

National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

March 20th, 2017 / 3:35 p.m.
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Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague very much for his presentation.

I also thank my colleague, the hon. member for Parry Sound—Muskoka, the official opposition critic for public safety, for his outstanding work on this very important issue.

I was prepared to speak to Bill C-22 in a perfectly normal debate in keeping with the standard procedures of the House. Unfortunately, today, we have all once again witnessed, as we have on a number of occasions, the government's willingness to shorten debate so that all those who have things to say on Bill C-22 cannot do so.

This is surprising in the case of a bill sponsored by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. The minister has previously had a very different view of the contribution of parliamentarians here in the House, if we go by a short article from 2013 on the website of the minister, who was then a member of Parliament. I will quote two short excerpts in English; it will be easier.

The piece is entitled Ideas For Making Our Democracy Stronger, and the paragraph that caught my attention reads as follows:

Ministers wanting to advance policy initiatives should be required to convince not only cabinet colleagues, but also backbenchers. They should not simply rely on the Whip to enforce support–they should earn it by merit.

However, what we are seeing today is quite the opposite. Not only is the whip being used, but so is the Leader of the Government in the House to move Bill C-22 quickly through all stages in the House.

In the same piece, when the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness was a member of Parliament, he says:

Restrictions are needed on the use of ancient but recently-abused Parliamentary tools such as Omnibus Bills, Closure Motions to terminate debates, and Prorogation. They have their place, but should be confined to their original purpose and intent.

Once again, what we are seeing today is completely the opposite. Those are the very words of the minister who is sponsoring Bill C-22.

Bill C-22 was introduced in the House of Commons last June 16, in order to establish the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. Let us recall that the establishment of a parliamentary oversight committee was a promise made by the Liberals. Clearly, it is important to make sure that our national security bodies are properly examined. We must absolutely ensure that this committee has the tools it needs to do its work.

However, we know that the Prime Minister has already appointed a member of his caucus, the member for Ottawa South, as chair of that committee, even though the legislation has not yet passed. A gag was used today. A committee chair was appointed. There is no legislation in place, but we already know the name of the chair of a committee that does not exist.

The government is breaking a well-established tradition of our parliamentary system by imposing a chair the way it did. Committee chairs have always been elected by the committees themselves, not imposed by the Prime Minister's Office. The Liberals promised Canadians during the election campaign that they would form a committee of parliamentarians on national security. They said, promised and repeated that this committee would be non-partisan. Bill C-22 does not create a committee of parliamentarians. It is not neutral nor is it non-partisan. It is controlled by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

We have to realize that the Liberal government is much better at making speeches and symbolic gestures than it is at taking real action. However, in finest federal Liberal tradition, they promise one thing in a campaign and do the opposite once ensconced on the government benches. This is called being partisan. It reeks of partisanship.

Bill C-22 imposes many barriers on the committee's ability to access information or call witnesses. This, also, is unlike similar committees that operate effectively in allied countries, such as the United Kingdom. The official opposition presented motions to amend Bill C-22 to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in December.

On the issue of a non-partisan committee, we would expect some of the opposition's recommendations to be accepted, but all of the official opposition's proposed amendments were rejected. We only wanted to ensure that the composition of the committee is not partisan and that its chair and its members are not appointed by the Prime Minister.

Clearly, as we now know, that recommendation was not accepted. The committee should be established by Parliament and be accountable to Parliament, not just to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety. However, the Liberal government is not listening.

We also wanted to remove the many blocking mechanisms in Bill C-22 that limit the committee's access to information and power to call witnesses. Once again, the Liberal government has said no. We wanted to ensure the committee's annual reporting process to Parliament will be more transparent. The Liberal government has decided otherwise. This is what sunny ways look like. This government is becoming a master in the art breaking promises.

The Liberals promised a modest deficit. If we were to give them a report card today, they would get a failing grade. The same goes for electoral reform. The Minister of Public Safety even talks about this in the fascinating piece I just read from. I quoted a few passages, but I will refrain from quoting it any further. I will have other opportunities to do so. The issue of electoral reform was a monumental failure, even though the Liberals spent hundreds of thousands of dollars consulting Canadians. They ignored the results of those consultations. They simply went ahead and did what they wanted anyway.

There is no denying that the Prime Minister's sunny ways have also failed when it comes to transparency and accountability. If I were a teacher, I would be forced to write “fail” in big red letters on this government's report card.

On September 30, 2016, which was not so long ago, the Liberal member for Willowdale stated the following in this House:

In keeping with our government's commitment to evidence-based decision-making, Bill C-22 notably aligns Canada's security regime with accepted international best practices. As colleagues before me have highlighted, Canada is currently the only member of the Five Eyes alliance lacking a security oversight committee that grants sitting legislators access to confidential national security information.

Many of my colleagues have demonstrated in the House that the government has failed to do this. It has not kept its promise to align this committee with the best practices of our allies, including Great Britain. Will the member for Willowdale vote against the wishes of the Prime Minister's Office and honour the promise he solemnly made to his own constituents?

On September 28, 2016, the member for Montarville, who is now on the back benches but was then parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, said the following in the House:

The bill before us would establish a committee with nine members. Seven of the committee members would be drawn from the House of Commons, and of these seven, only four can be government members. Two members would be drawn from the other place. This committee will be different from other committees and offices established to review security and intelligence matters.

A little further on in his speech, which was probably prepared by officials from the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and edited by the Prime Minister's Office, he added:

Robust powers are given to this committee, its members, and its secretariat. The committee will be able to access any information it needs to conduct its reviews, subject to some specific and reasonable limits.

The powers conferred upon the executive, meaning the ministers of the Liberal government, are huge. For instance, subclause 8(2) of the bill states:

If the appropriate Minister determines that a review would be injurious to national security, he or she must inform the Committee of his or her determination and the reasons for it.

In language that everyone can understand, that means that a minister can decide what the committee will study. I am not sure that that is what voters voted for on October 19, 2015.

In conclusion, I invite my Liberal colleagues and all members to assert their independence with respect to the Prime Minister's cabinet and his staff. They already did so in the not too distant past when voting on Bill S-201. I believe that the members opposite are capable of doing it again if they can muster the courage.

I invite them to vote against Bill C-22 and not to renege on the promise they made to their respective constituents in the last election campaign.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

March 8th, 2017 / 6:25 p.m.
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The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at report stage of Bill S-201 under private members' business.

The question is on Motion No. 1. A vote on this motion also applies to Motions Nos. 2 to 8.

The House resumed from March 7 consideration of Bill S-201, An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

March 7th, 2017 / 5:50 p.m.
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Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak today in support of Bill S-201, the genetic non-discrimination act. I applaud Senator Cowan for his efforts for many years on this issue and my colleague, the member for Don Valley West, who has been a tireless advocate to end genetic discrimination.

With this bill, we have the historic opportunity to join all other G7 countries that already have legislation that protects its citizens from discrimination based on their genetics.

As we have heard, the bill has three components, each of which is critical to the new genetic non-discrimination bill, which would make it a criminal offence for a service provider to require genetic testing or that a person disclose results of past testing. The second part would amend the Canada Labour Code to set up a complaint procedure for those working in federally regulated industries. Finally, it would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to add the words “genetic discrimination”.

The proposed amendments would remove two of these three components of the bill and could leave more 90% of Canadians with a false sense of security that they are indeed protected. As we know, only 5% to 7% of Canadians are covered by the Canadian Human Rights Act, so most would still remain without protections with the government's proposed amendments.

My colleague from Don Valley West shared a timeline that highlights the rapid changes taking place in genetic testing. In 2003, scientists first mapped the human genome. Then there were 100 genetic tests for diseases or conditions. When Senator Cowan first spoke about this issue in the Senate 10 years later, the number of tests had jumped to 2,000. Today that number has skyrocketed to almost 35,000, with tests available for more than 10,000 conditions.

The Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness is a group of 18 organizations dedicated to establishing protections from genetic discrimination for all Canadians. Members include the ALS Society of Canada, the Alzheimer Society of Canada, Muscular Dystrophy Canada, the MS Society of Canada, Osteoporosis Canada, and 13 more. They have stated that cases of genetic discrimination have been documented in Canada and are continuing to grow. As they remind us, all Canadians are impacted by genetic discrimination. Each of us has dozens of genetic mutations that could increase or decrease our risk of getting diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Parkinson's, or Alzheimer's disease.

While I was aware that genetic testing was available, like most Canadians I had not given it a lot of thought. While I knew that my father's colon cancer made it more likely for me to develop the same cancer, there was not a genetic test available for that particular cancer. I knew about the BRCA gene and its connection to breast and ovarian cancer, but it was not until last year, when I had a meeting with Ovarian Cancer Canada, that I was shocked to learn of the discrimination that is taking place in our country based on genetics.

Ovarian cancer is an insidious disease that is notoriously hard to detect. There is no reliable early detection test. It is the third most common reproductive cancer in women and one of the most deadly. I was told the story of two sisters who had a history of ovarian cancer in their family. Their doctors recommended genetic testing, as their prognosis would greatly improve with the knowledge gained from these tests. One sister had the testing, was positive for the gene, and had surgery to remove her ovaries. The other sister was told her insurance would be cancelled if she tested positive, so despite the fact that the test could potentially save her life, she was afraid to risk losing her insurance and did not get genetic testing.

Just last night, I received a letter from a constituent who wished to stay anonymous out of fear of discrimination. She disclosed that she and her daughter had a genetic test that found that they both had a gene that could leave them blind. She questioned the fairness of allowing a simple genetic test to undermine her future access to employment and insurance, and she worried about her daughter and the effect it could have on her career and future. She reminded me that we live in Canada, a country where we celebrate our differences. We protect one another from race, colour, sex, and disability discrimination.

In an article posted yesterday, representatives from Ovarian Cancer Canada and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs wrote:

For a young woman taking her first steps in building a professional career, the “wrong” genetic test results can impose a new glass ceiling....

Tomorrow is International Women's Day, and members of this House will have an opportunity to enhance women's health by allowing them to use genetic testing for early detection, monitoring, and intervention without the fear of being discriminated against.

Last year I had the opportunity to speak with Rabbi Stephen Wise from the Shaarei-Beth El congregation in Oakville. He shared with me the prevalence of certain genetic diseases within the Jewish community. He said that Bill S-201 would save lives. In fact, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a member of the Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness, which appeared as a witness before the justice committee, stated, “It is time for the law to catch up with science and bring an end to genetic discrimination”. On its website, it highlights that governments continue to invest billions in promising genome research, but the benefits of this research will be diminished or degraded due to genetic discrimination.

A Globe and Mail story from last year told the story of a 24 year old who was fired from his first job of his career when he told his employer he had tested positive for the gene for Huntington's disease. Our human rights laws do not cover this type of discrimination yet. Bill S-201 would change that. This is one of the many reasons why the bill should pass as is, without amendment. As it is currently written, the bill would make this type of dismissal criminal and allow individuals to make their case through the less cumbersome judicial process.

Constitutional law experts have stated that the bill would be constitutionally valid because it did not single out a particular industry that fell under provincial jurisdiction.

This issue has been debated in the House of Commons and the Senate. The issue of genetic screening has been mentioned in both the Liberal and Conservative Party platforms, and the NDP recently had a private member's bill to ban “genetic characteristics” as grounds for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

I suspect most Canadians would be shocked that their genetic test results could be used to discriminate in employment, insurance, and even divorce cases. Often it is not until people are advised to get genetic testing that they find out about this discrimination. The fear of the disclosure is actually preventing people from getting tested. This is just wrong.

Genetic testing is transforming medicine by moving medical research toward personalized medicine. Modern medicine is recognizing that mapping the human gene for diseases and conditions can truly change the way we treat individuals.

When Dr. Cindy Forbes, past president of the Canadian Medical Association, appeared before the justice committee, she stated the CMA's strong support for Bill S-201 in its entirety. She spoke to the rapid growth of genetic testing and the great promise it held in the diagnosis and therapeutic treatment of many known and new diseases. She said this would ultimately enhance the quality of life of many patients and allow for early diagnoses that would benefit patient care. She testified that genomic medicine was a transformative development.

She also stated:

Of great concern to Canada's doctors and their patients is the fact that public policies and legislation have not kept pace with this transformation. Genetic discrimination is both a significant and an internationally recognized phenomenon...As Canada's doctors, it is the CMA's position that Canadians deserve to have access to the best possible health care without fear of genetic discrimination.

She testified to the correlation between disease and genetics, stating:

Six out of every 10 Canadians will be affected during their lifetime by a health problem that is genetic in whole or in part. It's important to recognize that genetic testing will no longer be limited to rare, esoteric genetic diseases occurring in patients seen by a handful of specialists across the country. Rather, it's becoming an integral part of broad medical care and, as such, is expected to become mainstream medicine.

As legislators, it is imperative that we deal with this issue now and give those who undergo genetic testing the protection they deserve. Bill S-201, if passed as originally written without amendments, will bring our laws in line with other G7 countries. This law is long overdue. It will protect our citizens. It is the right thing to do.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

March 7th, 2017 / 5:40 p.m.
See context


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my profound disappointment with the Liberal government's decision to gut legislation intended to protect Canadians from genetic discrimination.

Such legislation is essential to ensure that Canadians can make use of genetic testing, without fear, to improve their health care planning and treatment options. With approximately 48,000 genetic tests now available, no Canadian should have to forgo using these critical tools because they lacked effective legal protection from discrimination. That is exactly what the Liberal government has decided Canadians will have to suffer.

The original version of Bill S-201 proposed to make amendments to the Canada Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act, while introducing a series of new offences and penalties for genetic discrimination in a stand-alone act and to prevent discrimination in contracts in the provision of goods and services. However, the Liberal government's amendments to Bill S-201 have deleted all provisions forbidding mandatory genetic testing and mandatory disclosure of test results, as well as proposed employee protections under the Canada Labour Code. The only provision remaining from the original version of Bill S-201 would make genetic characteristics a discriminatory motive under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Currently, there is no law in place that protects the genetic privacy of Canadians. This puts Canada out of step with its major industrial counterparts. By eviscerating Bill S-201, the Liberal government is maintaining a serious legislative gap on genetic discrimination that does not exist in any of our G7 partners.

Canada's New Democrats agree that the federal government can, and must, do more to provide comprehensive protection from genetic discrimination for every Canadian. That is why we strongly supported Bill S-201 when it was first introduced in the House. That is why New Democratic MPs introduced similar legislation on three previous occasions.

Simply put, the Liberal government has utterly neutered Bill S-201 and, more important, the rights of all Canadians by eliminating the first ever nationwide protections and penalties against genetic discrimination.

Let us take a closer look at exactly what the Liberal government is proposing to do to the bill.

The original version of Bill S-201 would have enacted a new statute, the genetic non-discrimination act, prohibiting any requirement that would force an individual to take a genetic test or disclose the results of a genetic test. Further, it would have prohibited anyone from collecting or using the results of a person's genetic test without the person's written consent as a condition of providing goods or services to the person, entering into or continuing a contract with the person or offering or continuing particular terms or conditions in a contract with the person. Researchers and practitioners providing health services would have been exempt from this aspect of the legislation.

The original version of Bill S-201 would have made changes to the Canada Labour Code to prohibit federally regulated employers from taking disciplinary action against an employee because the employee refused the employer's request to take a genetic test or reveal the results of a previous test. The original bill would have also amended federal privacy legislation to make it clear that “personal information” would include information derived from genetic testing. Breaking the law would have been a criminal offence, punishable by fines and imprisonment.

In other words, the original bill would have provided Canadians with protection against discrimination on the basis of their genetic makeup. It would have protected Canadians from being forced to disclose genetic information to insurance companies and their employers. However, the Liberal government has stripped those protections from the bill.

In doing so, it is important to note that the Liberals are ignoring, indeed, countermanding, the overwhelming weight of testimony at both the House Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights. Before both bodies, the vast majority of witnesses supported the legislation as originally proposed. This view was echoed by the Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness, a diverse alliance of organizations that advocate on behalf of the families directly affected by genetic conditions, folks who are witnessing the disturbing prevalence of genetic discrimination first hand.

As stated, the only provision that the Liberal government has chosen to maintain is to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include genetic characteristics as a prohibited ground of discrimination.

Unfortunately, this provision is arguably the weakest of the protections contained in the original text of the bill. As Marie-Claude Landry, the chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission told the justice committee:

While changing the Canadian Human Rights Act will be a positive step for human rights, it cannot address all the concerns surrounding genetic discrimination.... There will still be a clear need to address the very real and the very serious fears of discrimination raised during the Senate debate..., fears about test results being used against us and fears for our children. We believe that in order to properly address these concerns it is going to take a concerted [comprehensive] national approach.

This is deeply disappointing to all those who believe in rights. It will create fear that Canadians will not qualify for insurance coverage. It will compel employees to provide their employers or prospective employers with personal information that may then be used to deny them employment. Worse, it will cause Canadians to decline to get tested for many conditions, to avoid creating a record that may some day be used against them. This will harm Canadians' health and set back critical treatment and research into many genetically influenced diseases.

These concerns have been eloquently captured by David Loukidelis, Q.C., B.C.'s information and privacy commissioner from 1999 to 2010 and deputy attorney general from 2010 to 2012. He recently wrote to the member for Edmonton Centre, the sponsor of the amendments to strip this bill of its protections. He wrote:

I am deeply disappointed, to say the least, by your motions to gut Bill S-201. Retention of the amendments to the CHRA is laudable as far as that goes, but it is not far enough, to address the very real threat genetic discrimination in the workplace, in insurance markets and in other areas of life. The fear of discrimination on this basis is amply justified—genetic discrimination is having real-life consequences for Canadians now. It is already harming vulnerable Canadian children now....

More needs to be done—and can be done—by Parliament. I am appalled by your complicity in the executive's thwarting of this critically-important legislation. The supposed constitutional concerns now being bandied about about are a smokescreen and no more, as Peter Hogg...has made plain. I call on you to stand up for Canadian children, for all Canadians, by withdrawing your motions and by fighting against discrimination, not supporting it.

The Liberal justice minister argues that the original version of the bill is unconstitutional, but when they studied Bill S-201 even the Liberal members of the Senate human rights committee were clear that they heard no convincing evidence supporting the justice minister's position. On the contrary, Bill S-201's constitutionality was confirmed by a number of constitutional experts who testified before Parliament, including Peter Hogg, perhaps the leading authority on Canadian constitutional law.

One critical piece of evidence reveals in stark manner the nonsense of the government's constitutional excuse. The Liberal government has removed the bill's employment protections from the Canada Labour Code, which applies solely and completely to Canadians in federally regulated jurisdiction. There can be no argument that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to provide protections to federally regulated employees, yet that is exactly what the Liberal government has done.

I submit that, rather than acting on constitutional concerns, the Liberal government has clearly caved in to pressure from the insurance industry and big business. Disgracefully, the Liberal government has clearly indicated that it will favour corporate lobbyists wanting to protect their profits over the human rights of Canadians wanting to protect their rights, privacy, and health.

However, rather than acquiescing to fearmongering, I am hoping that every member of the House, including Liberal backbenchers, will actually vote to preserve the bill. I know there are good Liberal members on that side of the House who agree with the arguments being made here today.

I will end by quoting Tommy Douglas, who told us, “Courage my friends, 'tis never too late to build a better world”.

I am hoping that the Liberal members of the House will do the right thing, stand up for Canadians' human rights, and vote against this cynical and illegitimate attempt to strip this important bill of the very real protections that Canadians need to protect them from genetic discrimination.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

March 7th, 2017 / 5:30 p.m.
See context


Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill S-201, An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination.

First, I wish to sincerely thank the author of the legislation introduced in the Senate almost a year ago, in April. The former senator from Nova Scotia Mr. Cowan and his colleagues worked very hard on this bill. I would also like to thank my colleague across the way, the member for Don Valley West, for sponsoring the bill. I also thank all my colleagues who have risen in support of the bill currently before us. Lastly, I wish to thank my colleagues on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, who have also worked very hard. They even proposed an amendment to Bill S-201.

What we are discussing today is protecting Canadians and their families from discrimination based on genetics. Amending the Canada Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act allows us as parliamentarians to do something and to achieve this objective.

In the previous Parliament, the Conservative government committed in its throne speech to adopt measures to prohibit discrimination on the basis of genetic testing, including in matters of employment and insurance. Various countries, including the members of the G7, have already adopted measures to prohibit any such discrimination. Unfortunately, Canada has not yet adopted this type of measure. Bill S-201 in its entirety, without the amendments proposed by the government party, seeks to bridge that gap.

We have some catching up to do, and Bill S-201 can help us do that. Some of my colleagues shared their concerns by providing concrete examples of discrimination and quoting various representatives, particularly representatives of groups that advocate for cancer patients and those suffering from other illnesses.

What is genetic discrimination? Why is it so important that we address this issue today? I would like to quote the Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness, which said:

Genetic discrimination occurs when people are treated unfairly because of actual or perceived differences in their genetic information that may cause or increase the risk to develop a disorder or disease.

We are not talking about someone with a disease, or someone who is suffering, or someone undergoing treatment. We are talking about someone who may have a gene that could eventually result in that person developing a disease.

The Coalition goes on to provide examples.

For example, a health insurer might refuse to give coverage to a woman who has a genetic difference that raises her odds of getting ovarian cancer. Employers also could use genetic information to decide whether to hire, promote or terminate workers.

This is all based on the results of a genetic test. The Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness also said:

The fear of discrimination can discourage individuals from making decisions and choices, which may be in their best interest. For example, a person may decide not to have a genetic test for fear of consequences to their career or the loss of insurance for their family, despite knowing that early detection and treatment could improve their health and longevity.

That is what the Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness has said and how it describes the situation.

The concrete examples I just gave are, in my opinion, valid reasons for us as parliamentarians, in whom the voters have placed their trust, to pass legislation that protects them from all forms of discrimination. The voters expect us to act.

We do not want to stop progress. We want to see a continuation of the progress made possible by scientific research. We want to be able to treat more and more individuals thanks to the work of researchers. We want to discover the treatment for diseases faster. We want to know earlier and earlier who is predisposed to one day developing this or that disease. If we can help them prevent these diseases, all the better.

Indeed, genetic testing identifies those who are predisposed to developing some of these diseases.

That said, as a society, we cannot allow these discoveries to pave the way for discrimination. As I said a few moments ago, we heard from many who expressed their fears and serious concerns, and I must admit that I share their fears.

Some of my colleagues in the House spoke about the cases of individuals who were turned down for jobs or promotions based on the results of tests to determine whether or not they carried certain genes or whether they were predisposed to develop certain diseases. Testimony to that effect was heard in the Senate. Some of my colleagues here could tell horror stories like those. We cannot allow these discriminatory practices to occur.

If passed, Bill S-201 will give Canadians peace of mind, since it will give them the assurance that their genetic history will not be able to be used to determine the future well-being and security of their families.

If insurance companies use that history to refuse life insurance to an individual or his or her family members, we, as legislators, will have failed in our duty to ensure that none of our fellow citizens are discriminated against on this basis.

I am concerned about the Liberal government's plan to make major changes to the legislation that our Senate colleagues introduced and studied. The Liberal government seems to have changed its mind in recent weeks. I am very concerned. That is what I heard in the speech the member just gave. Given what is being reported in the media and the government's proposed amendments, it looks like the government is planning to gut Bill S-201, leaving just a shell. It will take away everything that could have given Canadians extra protection vis-à-vis genetic tests they have taken in the past or will take in the future.

In a piece published on March 2 in Le Devoir, we learned that the Minister of Justice spoke about having to go through the provinces to avoid any confrontation. There was mention of the Constitution and jurisdiction. When it is time to act to defend Canadians, I think it is a real shame that this measure, which was introduced by a government member in the House, is literally being gutted.

The government wants to lift the ban on insurance companies requiring the disclosure of past results of genetic testing. The Liberal government will have decided to let Canadians and their families down if the members from the government majority decide to support the proposed amendments. I hope that the government will recognize that Canadians’ right to privacy is more important than the interests of insurance companies.

When we go to the doctor, it is to get care. When we undergo testing, it is because we want to get better and we want to cure a disease. When we undergo a complete physical and are asked if we want a genetic test to know if we are predisposed to developing cancer one day, we want to be able to say yes without fear that it will affect our financial well-being, without fear that it will affect our family in the future.

Bill S-201 deserves the support of parliamentarians. On this side of the House, we will support Bill S-201. We believe that parliamentarians must absolutely support this measure. I invite my colleagues opposite, all my colleagues who are not in Cabinet, to vote for Bill S-201 for the good of all Canadians.