Thank you very much, Madam Chair. It's with great respect that I accept your invitation to appear before the health committee in order to give testimony in support of Bill C-313, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act in relation to non-corrective lenses.
I'd like to share with the members that I was a member of this committee in the past. I sat with some of you on this very committee, and I recall the important work that was accomplished. I'd like to commend each of you for the work you do and the manner in which issues are effectively dealt with at the health committee.
It was through my work on this committee several years ago that I was made aware of the growing concerns created by the unregulated use of non-prescriptive cosmetic contact lenses. For the purposes of this bill, we shall call these lenses non-corrective lenses. But to be clear, I am referring to the types of lenses that are not prescribed by eye experts. I am referring to non-prescriptive lenses like cat eyes or vampire eyes. These lenses are used by consumers with little to no understanding of the damage being done to their own eyes. Such lenses can be ordered online or bought over the counter at various stores in Canadian communities.
As I said, it was my work on this committee that led to a further understanding of the issue at hand. We had numerous calls from the eye care industry, calling for Health Canada to step in and regulate the growing industry of non-prescription, non-corrective lenses.
After consultations with leading eye care industry stakeholders, I began work on my own private member's business, stemming from the research I had conducted. I had the opportunity to present motion M-409 in the 39th Parliament, which was unanimously supported in the House of Commons. Prior to the 2008 election being called, the Government of Canada had included the measures called for in my private member's motion to be enacted via government legislation. However, the election call meant that this work was left unfinished. It remained low on the list of priorities for PMB when the 40th Parliament resumed. However, as my name began to near the top of the list, I once again turned my attention to attempting to bring non-prescriptive lenses under some form of federal regulation and I began crafting what we now see as Bill C-313.
In the 41st Parliament I was given an opportunity to be near the top of the list for private members' business, and since my re-election I've been quite busy finalizing my bill in order to present it to the House. In light of the introduction of Bill C-313 in the 41st Parliament, I have once again been impressed with the work of my colleagues from all parties—they have seen this issue as a true health concern for Canadian consumers and have again pledged their unanimous support to Bill C-313.
At both first and second readings, I was buoyed by the positive remarks from all sides of the aisle towards my legislation. With that in mind, I am quite keen to continue this discussion with you today.
I would like to present a few brief facts on non-corrective contact lenses. It is now an established scientific fact that national distribution of non-prescriptive contact lenses without professional oversight, fitting, and training significantly increases the risk of public harm. Today we know the warnings on cosmetic lenses dating back to October 23, 2000, by Health Canada were well warranted. We now require legislation to alleviate the potential harm that could be done to consumers of these products.
To some, it may seem that to deem a decorative lens as a harmful product is somewhat overreaching, yet eye care professionals and medical researchers have shown otherwise. A short list of the complications that could occur from unsafe handling and wearing an improperly fitted lens includes the following: conjunctivitis, cornea abrasions, giant papillary conjunctivitis, microbial keratitis, and other forms of bacterial, allergic, and microbial infection as specified by the eye care industry. Some of our youth are even sharing these lenses with one another, if you can believe that. Already we know that all these complications occur with prescribed lenses, which is exactly why Health Canada regulates the use of these products through opticians and regulatory bodies.
What has been shown as fact through peer review studies is that non-prescribed decorative or cosmetic lenses are much more likely to cause complications to users. This is true for a combination of reasons, including lack of consumer information on the quality of the product and how to use it. To date, we have seen several studies on decorative lenses and the harm they can cause to consumers.
Perhaps the most well known study in Canada is the human health risk assessment of cosmetic contact lenses conducted by Dillon Consulting Limited, also known as the Dillon report. The final assessment was submitted to Health Canada in September 2003, and it outlined the scientific evidence, which at this point was still being debated by public health officials:
The level of risk associated with the use of cosmetic contact lenses is comparable to that associated with corrective lenses and may be potentially higher.
In addition, research conducted at Department of Ophthalmology at Strasbourg University Hospital in Strasbourg, France, clearly indicates, and I quote from the conclusion of that study:
Patients who acquire [cosmetic contact lenses] are less likely to be instructed on appropriate lenses use and basic hygiene rules. Consequently, [cosmetic contact lenses] wearers are experiencing acute vision-threatening infections.
There is no reason to believe that the situation is any different in Canada. In fact, the Dillon report of 2003, which in many ways served as a ground-breaker on this issue, also came to the same conclusions as the French study in 2011.
Colleagues, I feel it is essential that we work together on this important issue to ensure that the eye health of Canadians is protected. I feel that under the current regulatory regime there is no oversight on these non-corrective cosmetic lenses, and in fact there could be many Canadians placing their vision at risk. We have a chance to work together on this legislation to ensure that the concerns of the eye care industry are taken seriously, and that we also take Health Canada's own warnings on non-corrective cosmetic lenses seriously as well. It is time to bring them under the same regulations as prescriptive contact lenses, and I believe this is the proper recourse for us as policy-makers to consider.
I thank those of you who spoke in support of Bill C-313 in the House, and I thank each of you for your time here now. I'm prepared to answer any questions, Madam Chair.