Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this third reading debate on Bill S-240, a piece of legislation that has been described as the culmination of over 10 years of parliamentary work on the important issue of organ trafficking.
It is worth recalling that four bills dealing with this issue were introduced in Parliament prior to Bill S-240, some of which were sponsored by the member for Etobicoke Centre and by the former minister of justice, Irwin Cotler.
This goes to show that combatting the scourge of organ trafficking and protecting vulnerable people from whom organs are being forcibly removed are serious concerns that we all share. That applies to my constituents in Parkdale—High Park and Canadians around the country who are rightfully concerned about protecting those who are vulnerable to predatory organ harvesting activities in Asia and around the world.
There is no question that there exists a serious organ shortage, both in Canada and abroad. The organ shortage affects family members and neighbours, and it understandably leaves many feeling vulnerable about their health. However, Bill S-240 provides an important reminder to Canadians that capitalizing on the vulnerability of organ donors abroad is not an acceptable response to this issue. That is why our government is proud to support this important bill, with targeted amendments that make it better achieve its objectives.
Bill S-240 proposes to strengthen Canada’s response to organ trafficking by creating four new Criminal Code offences related to this conduct, extending extraterritorial jurisdiction over these new offences and amending the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to add a new ground of inadmissibility to Canada for having engaged in conduct that would be an offence under the bill.
More specifically, Bill S-240 proposes to criminalize all persons involved in the removal of an organ for transplant knowing that, or being reckless as to whether, the organ was removed without the informed consent of the donor or a substitute decision-maker.
Organ trafficking involves a range of conduct committed by various players. Accordingly, the proposed offences seeking to address this conduct would capture brokers who connect prospective organ recipients with prospective organ donors, medical professionals who extract organs illegally for transplantation, and persons who purchase organs for their own use, as well as those who assist them.
The bill also proposes to criminalize the commodification of human organs more specifically by enacting a new financial transaction offence. This offence would prohibit participating in, or facilitating the obtaining of, an organ for transplant knowing that, or being reckless as to whether, it was obtained for consideration, whether the donor consented or not to the organ removal.
With respect to the meaning and scope of the term “for consideration”, according to the study of the bill by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, this term targets the purchasing of human organs.
The bill would also extend extraterritorial application to these offences, which means that Canadian citizens or permanent residents who go abroad to purchase an organ for transplant, also known as “transplant tourism”, or commit any of the new offences abroad, could then be prosecuted in Canada.
As illegal organ trafficking is an international issue that mostly targets impoverished individuals in foreign countries, the extraterritorial application of these offences will help protect vulnerable people abroad, including those who may be induced to sell their own organs out of financial desperation.
Consistent with the objectives of the bill, these new provisions would help deter Canadians and permanent residents from contributing to organ trafficking by fuelling the demand through transplant tourism.
As mentioned during second reading debate, the extraterritorial application of the new organ trafficking offences is necessary given the fact that much of the conduct targeted by the bill occurs abroad.
Bill S-240 also proposes to add a new ground of inadmissibility to section 35 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, for having engaged in conduct that would constitute an offence under the bill. As a result, a permanent resident or foreign national could be found inadmissible to Canada for having engaged in one of the new organ trafficking offences. This amendment sends a clear signal that purchasing any organs, including from vulnerable people abroad, is serious criminal conduct here in Canada.
I would like to address some of the amendments that were made to the bill during the committee stage.
On February 27 of this year, the House committee adopted an amendment to clarify that a substitute decision-maker can provide consent on behalf of an organ donor to provide greater precision around some of the criminal law language used in the bill.
The committee also removed two amendments that had been passed in the Senate on October 23, 2018. It removed the proposed definition of “informed consent”, as well as the duty for physicians to report all organ transplants to an authority designated by order of the Governor in Council.
As previously highlighted during second reading debate, the proposed definition of “informed consent” presented challenges. The term “informed consent” has clear meaning in provincial and territorial health law. This is one of the reasons why it was not defined in the Criminal Code as part of the medical assistance in dying reforms in 2016. Therefore, in order to avoid statutory interpretation issues and ensure clarity and consistency in the Criminal Code, the definition was removed.
The proposed duty to report for physicians also raised concerns. As recalled before the House committee, doctor-patient confidentiality is sacrosanct. It is a fundamental principle that allows people to feel safe about disclosing any health issues they may be facing to their doctor. It encourages people to safeguard their own health and seek treatment, where necessary, in order to get better. It is important to protect this relationship between patients and their physicians.
Furthermore, the duty to report for physicians applied to all transplants. For these reasons, among others, the duty to report for physicians was also removed.
I pause to note that since the committee's important study of this bill, the Government of Nova Scotia has passed legislation that presumes consent for organ donation while retaining the ability for individuals to opt out of the organ donation regime. I want to clarify that I respect the choices individual provinces and territories make to try to protect the health and safety of Canadians, and that nothing in Bill S-240 is intended to interfere with provincial efforts in this important regard. We look forward to seeing the results of this legislation for the people of the province of Nova Scotia.
As members know, this piece of legislation is the result of successive efforts made by parliamentarians in both Houses to address what is truly a horrendous crime that continues to exploit vulnerable individuals right around the planet. The provisions contained in Bill S-240 will allow Canada to demonstrate leadership in the fight against organ trafficking and in the protection of international human rights.
I would urge all members of this House to support Bill S-240 in order to ensure that its proposed legislative measures become law.