Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you, honourable members.
It's a great privilege to have the opportunity to appear before you today to speak about the constitutionality of Bill S-201, which is a very important initiative. In my view, the doubts that have been expressed in some quarters about the constitutional validity of the bill are a mistake.
I believe it's a valid exercise of Parliament's power. In particular, the more controversial parts of the bill from a constitutional point of view—not from my perspective but from the perspective of some—sections 3 through 7, the part that's going to be a new free-standing genetic nondiscrimination act is a valid exercise of Parliament's power to enact laws in relation to criminal law because it consists of, in its dominant characteristic, putting in place prohibitions in sections 3 through 6, and a penalty provision in section 7 for the purpose of protecting the health of Canadians.
I'm going to say a few words about the scope of section 91(27), and a few words about the bill itself. I'd like to emphasize the importance of a constitutional doctrine in this context, which we refer to as the double aspect doctrine.
What we mean by that is that there are some subject matters, like genetic discrimination, that can be addressed by both levels of governments within their respective spheres of jurisdiction. This subject matter can be addressed by Parliament in part through it's criminal law power, and of course, it also falls within the jurisdiction of the provinces. I hope I can offer some clarity on that point as well.
First of all is the criminal law power, and you're going to hear from the other members of the panel about its scope. This is a very broad federal power that has been defined by the courts as allowing Parliament to enact laws that have, as their dominant characteristic, putting in place prohibitions coupled with penalties for a typically criminal public purpose, such as the protection of public peace, order, security, health, and morality.
I'm quoting the leading decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on the scope of the criminal law power, a decision known as the “margarine reference”, which was decided by the Supreme Court in 1949 and has been the leading case that has been followed by the courts ever since.
The court has repeatedly emphasized that the criminal law power is a very broad power. It has served over the years to uphold, of course, many provisions of the Criminal Code, but many provisions of other statutes as well.
In my testimony to the Senate committee earlier this year, and in the brief that I've prepared for this committee as well, I've listed some examples of federal statutes that have been upheld pursuant to the criminal law power. They include provisions of the Food and Drugs Act, the Tobacco Act, the Firearms Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, provisions of the Criminal Code that relate to the securities trade, the prohibited activities provisions of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, and part V of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which deals with toxic substances. Those are just some examples from the case law.
It's also true that the provinces have jurisdiction in relation to property and civil rights pursuant to section 92(13) of the Constitution Act 1867. This too has been a provision that the courts have interpreted broadly, and it includes regulation over most aspects of the regulation of the insurance industry. It includes regulation of the labour relations of most employers because most employers fall within provincial jurisdiction.
It's also true that the provisions of the genetic non-discrimination act, in sections 2 through 7 of this bill, have a significant impact on activities that fall within provincial jurisdiction, such as the insurance industry and activities of provincially regulated employers. That, however, is true of most provisions of the Criminal Code, or at least many provisions of the Criminal Code; that is, they deal with matters like theft, which is also in relation to property which is a provincial area of jurisdiction.
There are significant portions of the Criminal Code that deal with the solemnization of marriage, the conjugal offences, and the unlawful solemnization of marriage. Again, this is a provincial subject matter, pursuant to section 92(12).
In other words, we can say that much of the Criminal Code deals with matters that are double aspect matters, meaning they can be regulated by the federal Parliament pursuant to its criminal law power with regard to particularly harmful activities, and can be regulated from a provincial point of view pursuant to jurisdiction over property and civil rights. Therefore, I don't think we need to dispute whether or not this is a law that will have important impacts on provincial areas of jurisdiction. It will, but that's not determinative of its constitutional validity.
To determine its constitutional validity we have to ask if its dominant characteristic is to put in place prohibitions coupled with penalties in order to combat harmful conduct or to combat a social evil, or should we be worried that this is a kind of surreptitious attempt for Parliament to regulate the insurance industry, or to regulate provincial employers? I don't believe there is any reason to conclude that is the case. If that were the case, we would say this is colourable legislation, that its form is disguising its true purpose, which is to regulate provincial matters as opposed to suppressing harmful conduct or to suppress a social evil that we think is damaging to Canadians' health.
That's the key question, not whether this is a law that has an impact on provincial areas of jurisdiction. Of course it does, but that's true of most of the Criminal Code, for example.
The question we have to focus on is the pith and substance or dominant characteristic of the provisions of the bill. Is the dominant characteristic putting in place prohibitions coupled with penalties to protect the health of Canadians, or is it the regulation of a subject matter that falls within provincial jurisdiction? To determine pith and substance, the courts will examine the purpose of legislation as well as its effects, the title of the legislation as set out in clause 1 of the bill, the “Genetic Non-Discrimination Act” is important.
Clauses 3, 4, and 5 put in place prohibitions on requiring individuals to undergo genetic testing, on requiring them to disclose the results of a genetic test, and on the use of genetic test results without written consent. The aim of these provisions is to promote health and personal security and to protect privacy by protecting individuals' control over the decision of whether to undergo testing and over the uses of genetic test results. These prohibitions apply to any person. They do not mention any particular industry or type of actor.
Clause 6 provides exemptions from the prohibitions for health care practitioners and researchers, and clause 7 puts in place serious penalties for the violation of the prohibitions in clauses 3 through 5. In my view, it is evident that the dominant characteristic of these provisions is to put in place prohibitions coupled with penalties aimed at protecting individuals from threats to health and personal security posed by the use of genetic information without their consent.
The pith and substance of these provisions fall squarely within the definition of criminal law followed by Canadian courts ever since the margarine reference. They do not resemble the detailed and extensive regulation of assisted reproduction services, for example, of the type that were declared invalid by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Assisted Human Reproduction Act reference, or the detailed regulation of the insurance industry that was declared invalid in a series of cases decided in the first half of the 20th century, where the federal Parliament was seeking to assert jurisdiction over the insurance industry more generally.
Rather, clauses 3 through 7 of Bill S-201 are very similar in their nature and objectives to the prohibited activities provisions, including the prohibitions on the use of reproductive material without consent that were upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Assisted Human Reproduction Act reference.
I'll be happy to go into further detail about the case law, or other aspects of jurisdiction of Parliament over human rights laws generally, or over discrimination generally, and how federal jurisdiction interacts with provincial jurisdiction in discussion with members of the committee.
Thank you very much.