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Genetic Non-Discrimination Act

An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination

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

Status

Considering amendments (Senate), as of March 28, 2017

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill S-201.

Summary

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.

Elsewhere

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.

Votes

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.

National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

March 20th, 2017 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

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.
See context

Conservative

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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Liberal

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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Liberal

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.
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NDP

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 posed...by 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

Conservative

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.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

March 7th, 2017 / 5:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Jennifer O'Connell Liberal Pickering—Uxbridge, ON

Madam Speaker, genetic testing can quite literally save lives. It allows Canadians who suspect that they might be at a higher risk for certain genetic diseases to take early preventive action. Unfortunately, under our current regime, Canadians often refuse to undergo a genetic test, even based on a recommendation from a doctor, because of the fear of genetic discrimination. This fear is not unfounded, as a recent Canadian study found that 40% of individuals with Huntington's disease experience some form of discrimination based on their genetic test results. That discrimination can come in the form of unfair insurance practices, being passed over for a promotion, and even being fired. Unfortunately, there are a number of documented cases of genetic discrimination in Canada, and that number will only continue to grow until we, as parliamentarians, fill that legislative void.

This is not only an issue of discrimination but is a legitimate public health issue. If Canadians continue to fear genetic tests because of the lack of legal protection from discrimination, they will be unable to access the best possible health care options available.

It is also important to note that a number of developed countries around the world have a regulatory system in place to protect their citizens from genetic discrimination. Many of our counterparts around the world, such as France, Germany, and Spain, all have legislative frameworks to protect the genetic privacy of their citizens and to guard against genetic discrimination. The U.K. and the U.S. also have some systems in place, whether it is a moratorium placed on the use of genetic information by insurance companies or a prohibition against genetic discrimination in health insurance and employment.

Unfortunately, Canada lags behind these countries on this important issue, and our laws have not kept pace with science when it comes to genetic testing. With the passing of this legislation without amendment, we would be able to provide support and protections for our citizens, as some of our international counterparts do.

I would be remiss in my remarks if I did not mention the insurance industry claims that premiums will rise if this important piece of legislation passes. That concern has been addressed, because this bill does not even contain the word "insurance". Although it is true that previous versions of the bill did contain insurance-specific provisions, they have been removed to address concerns about adverse selection and the constitutional issues that would arise because of it.

It is also important to note that in countries where similar legislation has been passed, the insurance industry has not been adversely affected or as severely damaged as feared. Research would also suggest that this would apply here in Canada as well. In fact, that assertion was confirmed by the Privacy Commissioner in July 2014, when he stated at a Senate committee that “the impact of a ban on the use of genetic test results by the life and health insurance industry would not have a significant impact on insurers or the efficient operation of insurance markets”.

Peter Hogg, a pre-eminent constitutional law expert, spoke in front of the justice committee on Bill S-201 and has also written on this topic in his book Constitutional Law of Canada. In it he states that “The authority to enact legislation of this kind is distributed between the federal Parliament and the provincial legislatures according to which has jurisdiction over the employment, accommodation, restaurants and other businesses or activities, in which discrimination is forbidden. Most of the field is accordingly provincial under property and civil rights in the province. However, there is little doubt that the federal Parliament could if it chose exercise its criminal law power...to outlaw discriminatory practices generally.”

Any debate on this issue must, of course, recognize the important role the provinces play. In Mr. Hogg's testimony to the Standing Committee on Justice, he pointed out that the double aspect doctrine was relevant, because there are other precedents where the criminal law power has been exercised. Mr. Hogg used the example of the Highway Traffic Act, where the federal government enacted criminal law while the provinces enact prohibitions related to property and civil rights.

He further clarified that this legislation would “simply be making it an offence to discriminate on the basis of genetic characteristics”. This is something I agree with wholeheartedly, and I feel Canadians want a national standard not to be discriminated against because of their genetic makeup. This is something I agree with and I hope that the House will, as I said earlier, fill that void.

It is also important to note that this legislation has the support of organizations like the ALS Society of Canada, the Alzheimer Society of Canada, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Parkinson Canada, and the Huntington Society of Canada, along with many of my own constituents.

As I mentioned earlier, patients with Huntington's disease are among the most likely to experience degenerative discrimination. It is crucial that we as parliamentarians do all we can to protect Canadians from genetic discrimination and modernize our existing laws to ensure we keep pace with developed countries around the world. I am honoured to have the opportunity to speak on Bill S-201 here tonight and proud to lend it my full support.

The House resumed from February 14, 2017, 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.

Preclearance Act, 2016Government Orders

March 6th, 2017 / 3:55 p.m.
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NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will make a quick response to the comment that was just made about the work of committees. A lot of experts came before committee with respect to Bill S-201 and Bill C-22 and made recommendations that were unanimously adopted by that committee, only to have the government completely ignore and refute those recommendations.

In asking us to put faith in the committee process and in the government respecting that process, I am sorry to say that my patience with that line of argument is wearing very thin at the moment.

My question to the member is about the part of the bill that gives authorization to U.S. customs officials to carry firearms on Canadian soil. I have yet to hear a convincing argument from the Liberal benches as to why this is necessary. Why, when we have a perfectly capable police force in Canada, would we cede this kind of sovereignty to U.S. agents on Canadian soil?

February 21st, 2017 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I would like to welcome our witnesses to the committee.

It's good to see you again, Mr. Marceau, after we exchanged ideas on Bill S-201 last year.

Mr. Mostyn, I want to go to your testimony. I didn't catch the amendments that you suggested in place of the terminology “primarily used”. Could you just go over those again, please?

JusticeOral Questions

February 17th, 2017 / 11:35 a.m.
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NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, after the justice committee reported Bill S-201 back to the House, the Liberal government made an astonishing move. The government is trying to gut this important bill by deleting the majority of the clauses at report stage. This would send a green light to companies to discriminate based on genetic conditions.

At the eleventh hour, the Liberals caved to pressure from the insurance industry. Why is the government more interested in protecting the profits of insurance companies than in protecting Canadians?

JusticeOral Questions

February 17th, 2017 / 11:35 a.m.
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NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, as the vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I would like to thank the member for Hamilton Centre for his continuous work in bringing transparency and accountability to the House.

He is correct. Bill S-201 is an important bill, intended to protect Canadians against unfair treatment by insurance companies based on their genetic information.

To answer his question, the justice committee held five meetings and heard from 28 witnesses. The overwhelming testimony was in support of the current draft of the legislation, and the committee itself reported the bill back without amendment.

JusticeOral Questions

February 17th, 2017 / 11:30 a.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, Bill S-201 is legislation designed to protect the rights of Canadians to the privacy of their own genetic information. Currently, Canadians who receive genetic testing on a variety of medical issues are at risk of being denied insurance coverage if they fail to turn this information over.

Could the chair or the vice-chair of the justice committee update the House on how many expert witnesses testified and how many meetings were devoted to the study of Bill S-201 before the bill was reported back to the House?

Motions in amendmentGenetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

February 14th, 2017 / 7:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Jennifer O'Connell Liberal Pickering—Uxbridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill S-201, an act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination. Many of my comments will be similar to those members have heard today, but I thought it important to add my voice to this debate.

I want to thank the hon. member for Don Valley West for sponsoring the bill in the House and for his important work and advocacy on this issue.

The study of genetics is a complicated one. In my conversations with stakeholders and constituents, it was fascinating to learn about a field that remains a mystery for many Canadians.

A genetic test, according to the federal medical devices regulations, is a test that analyzes DNA, RNA, or chromosomes for the purpose of prediction of disease or vertical transmission risks, or monitoring diagnosis or prognosis.

In Canadian health care institutions, tens of thousands of genetic tests are conducted each year to diagnose disease, guide treatment, inform reproductive planning, and to test for influences and drug responses. As of this moment, if a Canadian has a genetic test, there is no law, federal or provincial, that provides protection against a third party demanding and attaining access to those test results.

Bill S-201, if passed, will provide much needed protection for Canadians against discrimination on the basis of genetic tests or characteristics. It will do so by, among other measures, prohibiting the collection, use, or disclosure of genetic test results without prior consent. It will also add genetic characteristics to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The bill, if not amended, would also provide employees with the right to refuse undergoing genetic testing and/or disclosing the test results to their employer. Employers would also be prevented from dismissing or retaliating against an employee for exercising those rights.

If our government is committed to protecting Canadians from the possible misuse of their genetic information, then this bill is an important step toward helping prevent genetic discrimination, while safeguarding their privacy. The fact is that as genetic testing technologies become more accessible and sophisticated, access to online genetic information has become widespread. Protecting Canadians from genetic discrimination is a pressing issue now more than ever, as genetic testing for both diagnostic and predictive purposes has become a normal part of medical practice.

Factors such as family history or one's ethnicity can increase the chances of certain genetic mutations. Genetic testing can quite literally save lives as it allows Canadians who suspect they might be of high risk to take preventative action.