It is always a great pleasure for me to take part in the work of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. As you know, I spent several years sitting where you sit, as a member of this committee, as justice critic for the party I belonged to at the time.
That party as you know, is very protective of provincial prerogatives. Although I am no longer a member of any political party and have not been for several years, I remain sensitive to and respectful of provincial jurisdictions.
That is in fact what I would like to highlight today. It has been said that Bill S-201 is unconstitutional because it attacks civil law on contractual matters, principally as concerns insurance and the right to employment.
When we became aware of this, at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, we contacted representatives of 10 of the 13 Canadian provinces and territories. In fact, who is in a better position than the provinces and territories themselves to speak to the constitutionality issue? In the replies we received, none of the provinces or territories said that Bill S-201 posed some type of jurisdictional issue. Moreover, none of them said that the issue of genetic discrimination was not a matter of federal jurisdiction.
This consensus was strengthened by legal opinions, which you have surely read, from professor Bruce Ryder, of Osgoode Hall, who unless I am mistaken will be testifying here next week, as well as from professor Pierre Thibault of the University of Ottawa. The research I have done led me to adopt a position that is very similar to that of Bruce Ryder.
In my opinion, when one studies Bill S-201, the main question is this: what is the dominant characteristic of the bill? Is it that it puts in place interdictions, accompanied by sanctions, to grapple with a social ill, genetic discrimination, or is it rather that it regulates an industry, such as the insurance industry? In the first case, this is a matter of federal jurisdiction. If it is the second, then it is a matter of provincial jurisdiction.
Let's consider what Bill S-201 does and what it does not do.
Bill S-201 does not contain a licensing scheme or industry regulations. It contains prohibitions and penalties in line with criminal law. It does not target any particular industry or type of actor. The clear purpose of this bill is to address a significant social problem across Canada. By prohibiting and penalizing genetic discrimination, the Parliament of Canada is within its power.
Bill S-201 will encourage Canadians to get tested, unlocking tremendous, potentially life-saving health benefits. This is the objective of the legislation before you, and I submit to you that it is within the federal domain.
Of course, it may be true that employers and insurers are affected by Bill S-201. However, the fact that a bill may have repercussions on provincial matters of jurisdiction does not make it unconstitutional as such. We may legislate on genetic discrimination at both the federal and provincial levels.
As Professor Ryder noted, it's not uncommon to have overlapping laws in areas of shared jurisdiction, and it's often the role of the federal Parliament to show leadership and to set out some basic national standards. In fact, Bill S-201 has already started to do this. As was mentioned previously, there is now a bill in front of the Ontario legislature to ban genetic discrimination, which passed second reading with unanimous support.
In closing, Mr. Chair, I invite the members of the committee to support Bill S-201 and to vote in favour of it without amendment, and to report it to the House of Commons. In doing so, members of the committee and other members, you would be sending a strong message that there is no room for genetic discrimination in Canada in 2016.