House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was research.


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4:50 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Hamilton West, my neighbour, for his remarks. Let me say that the lack of knowledge about the consequences of genetic research is precisely what I was talking about.

The reason we are worried about it is that we do not know the impact it will have on future generations of human beings. We do not know what those human beings will look like and what problems they will have.

The point I was making in my speech is that, nevertheless, despite this fear, despite the fact it will never be safe to alter genes, to tinker with the genes, the desire to help the people who have genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy will overwhelm those fears.

It will be precisely as the speaker says, this law will be amended in the future. It will be changed and we will experiment in that area. We cannot stop the progress of science. We can delay it no matter what the fears but science will go on.

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4:50 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak to Bill C-47. Before I get into my primary intervention, I would like to make a few comments about what my hon. friend from the Liberal Party said.

He mentioned that this bill is based on fear. Yes, it is based on fear. It is a triumph of fear over fact and a triumph of ignorance over knowledge. That is a shame.

The hon. member quite correctly and eloquently mentioned the tremendous benefits that could be derived. He eloquently demonstrated that in the examples of cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy, two genetic diseases that exact a terrible toll on the youth of the world. These are diseases which snuff out life in its prime, before it can ever achieve its true potential.

Having personally seen these diseases up close and having watched many of these people die, I can only say it is beyond belief that this House would even comprehend a bill that would deprive people from the opportunity and hope of having a cure.

The member quite correctly mentioned that genetic surgery can take place all through the genes. That would help people in the future not have these terrible diseases. We can eliminate these scourges within our midst if we have the tools. However, Bill C-47 states that the bureaucrats will now have the power to stop the research and medical communities from developing and accessing the tools that can be of such enormous benefit to people.

The member quite correctly mentioned the fact that many previous discoveries have come from research that people tried to ban in times past. Thankfully for all of us here, that research was

not banned. If it had been I can guarantee that some of the people in this room would not be here today. It is because of research that we have been able to eliminate these scourges and save millions and millions of lives.

There are 13 proposals in this bill for banning certain things. Some ought to be banned because they pose a threat to our species and to other species. However, we need to determine what those are. We ought not take a sledgehammer and deprive the research community from developing those tools that are going to benefit humanity.

Canadian researchers have made significant and enormous contributions to the international medical community, to research in many areas. Unfortunately, the government is gutting research and depriving the research community so it cannot provide these important discoveries that are going to benefit everybody.

This bill stems from a study that cost the Canadian taxpayers over $30 million. This is money that could have been well spent in some other areas, particularly in view of the fact that Canadians are not receiving essential services that they need and in fact are getting sicker and sometimes dying on waiting lists. Essential health care services are being rationed because there is not enough money to meet the demands on the health care system.

In that backdrop, the government chose to spend $30 million putting this study together, a study, I might add, which did not consult some of the primary players in reproductive technologies and infertility. They were grouped into a few areas and I would like to illustrate a few of those.

I cannot believe that the government would ask that bureaucrats deprive the 15 per cent of Canadian couples who cannot have children and who desperately want to have children. How arrogant can it be to deprive people from having the choice? The government has lumped into this bill things that need to be treated in a very serious fashion, but some of things need to be regulated or in fact banned. However, we need to determine what should be banned, what should be regulated and what should be allowed.

The government has taken a cudgel and has said to the Canadian people: "Bang. This is not going to be allowed. The benefits of the research in these areas are simply not going to be allowed".

There are other areas that are extremely important. The government talks about germ cell line alteration. The Liberal member who previously spoke brought up some fanciful descriptions from The Island of Dr. Moreau and from Frankenstein .

However, I think we need to look at this in a very factual way. As we speak some genetic alterations are taking place in animals, for example pigs, to provide people with organs which will be able to survive in people who need organ transplants.

I ask that members look very deeply into their souls. I would like members to ask themselves if they would deprive a 20-year old person who was previously healthy but through no fault of their own has a viral infection of the heart and needs a new one. Without a new heart that person would die.

Sadly, there simply are not enough organs to provide all the people who need them. Bless the hearts of those souls who die tragically but who have arranged that their organs be donated to other people. That gift of life brings honour to them and their families.

This bill would deprive science of providing people with organs that would work a lot better in their bodies. Researchers are working on the organs of pigs which will have a much greater chance of surviving in humans with fewer side effects.

The hon. member from the Liberal Party mentioned cystic fibrosis, Duchenne muscular dystrophy and a host of other genetic problems. These research capabilities that the government chooses to ban will deprive Canadians and the rest of the world of being able to share the benefits of any discoveries.

There are many other genetic possibilities. Science is on the threshold of discovering areas where we can make very significant improvements in the health and welfare of Canadians. However the government wants to deprive Canadians of this benefit.

The government wants to create a new registry. The purpose of the registry indicates that the bureaucracy thinks it knows more than research. The registry is going to cost money that we do not have because it has to come out of the existing health care budget. This budget is strained beyond the demands that are placed on it right now.

We need not look any further than the Ottawa heart institute where people sadly have died while waiting for important and urgent cardiovascular surgery.

The bill also proposes to spend money. The bill also proposes as its hidden agenda to have things such as in vitro fertilization covered under the medical services plan. In committee I asked Dr. Patricia Baird how this would be done, given the fact that the demands of society on our medical services far exceed what can be provided. How can we afford to cover procedures such as IVF which costs $5,000 under the medical plan? This would make it a right for every single person in Canada. We do not have the money to do this. It is high time we prioritized our spending. The government has chosen to prevent infertile couples from having access to this.

In its wisdom the government's rationale is, why should things such as in vitro fertilization be brought down to the lowest common

denominator of commerce? Nobody is going to get rich donating their sperm or ova. It is not a business people want to get into. The moneys given to the people who choose to donate their sperm or ova is compensation for the time, effort and the extensive studies and trial tests necessary in making a donation. It is not much money and compensation is necessary to get willing donors.

In other countries where the compensation factor has been withdrawn the number of donors has dropped precipitously. When that drops precipitously, the access couples have to in vitro fertilization drops too. What will they do? They will go to the United States and get it done there at a greater cost and with greater suffering to them. They do not need that when they are already suffering under the yoke of not being able to have children.

Philosophically I do not see how the government can take it upon itself to put research under the realm of a group of bureaucrats who may not know anything at all about the complex issues at hand. Would it not make more sense first to determine what needs to be regulated because research is being pursued in an area where there is a danger to society, to our species and others?

First determine whether these research initiatives pose a threat. If that is so, then let us work with the research community to produce regulations or if necessary to ban them. The government has chosen not to do that. Instead it has chosen to take its sledgehammer and squash these initiatives lock, stock and barrel.

Some constructive solutions could be employed. Some of these solutions involve the identification of the procedures to be covered, the procedures that should not be banned and the procedures that should be allowed to take place.

I do not know where the government has come from on this issue except that it wants to create a new registry and regulate an area in which it has no place. I ask rhetorically whether the government is going to regulate other areas of medical research, or physics research, or chemistry research, or research in other basic sciences. The government has not done that. It is singling out this area because a very small number of people who have ingratiated themselves into Health Canada have brought it upon themselves in their moral way and decided they are the ones best suited to decide which way research should go. That is heavy handed and completely arrogant.

The government should not have bothered itself with an area in which it has no place. It should have concerned itself with the far more pressing problems which exist concerning the health and welfare of Canadians.

Today I attended an international conference on smoking which the Minister of Health was at. He said this morning in a heartfelt way to the hundreds of people who were there: "I am going to bring good, constructive health legislation to the House forthwith". He also said: "Judge me by what I do, not by what I say". The minister was talking out of both sides of his mouth because in the House today the minister said that he would bring forth legislation when he was good and ready.

In March the minister promised that he would bring in tough legislation to regulate tobacco forthwith. He promised it twice in June. He promised it earlier this month. He promised it today. To date no one in this country has seen any regulation or any tough constructive ideas and legislation to prevent that which is the single most preventable cause of death within Canada.

I need not remind the House and most of the members who have children that smoking is the single most important, detrimental problem that exists for Canada's youth today. And it is preventable. It is most tragic that with the tobacco tax rollback brought forth by the government in 1994, there has been a 30 to 40 per cent increase in the consumption of tobacco by children and teenagers. Every month 20,000 teenagers pick up tobacco. Every year 40,000 Canadians die of tobacco related diseases. It is an issue which the government should be deeply concerned with.

Instead of concerning itself with the single most preventable cause of death in this country, one that exceeds the deaths from suicides, car accidents, gun shot wounds and AIDS by a factor of three, the government concerns itself with legislation on human reproductive technologies. It is depriving the Canadian public of research which would benefit many people around the world and technologies and medical benefits that would enable the 15 per cent of Canadians who are infertile to have an opportunity to have children.

I cannot fathom how the government in all conscience can do this. I do not understand why the Minister of Health does not bring forth proper legislation to enable Canadians to have access to essential services. Government members continually claim that they are the ones who are going to uphold the Canada Health Act. They are the ones who say they will ensure access to essential health care services to every Canadian in a timely fashion.

Accessibility is one of the most important aspects of the Canada Health Act. Access to health care is worse today than it was when the government came into power. Waiting lists are getting longer. The waiting lists for special services are much longer than they should be. That is not access. That is not upholding the Canada Health Act. That is not enabling Canadians to access health care in a timely fashion. It is deplorable that the government is playing politics with this issue, an issue which is so important to Canadians from coast to coast.

With respect to the smoking issue, I remind the House it is particularly important in the province of Quebec where consumption is the highest in the country. It is a profound and tragic addiction which affects Quebecers. It puts an enormous strain on Quebec's health care budget. But it is an epidemic which is occurring from coast to coast.

I hope the government will try to work with members across all party lines. Believe it or not, we all have the same goal. We all want to improve the health of Canadians. We all want to ensure that Canadians have access to health care in a timely fashion. That is the goal of the Reform Party. I am sure it is also the goal of the Liberal Party, the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic Party. We have to work together on this issue and put aside the rhetoric. We have to build a stronger, made in Canada health act with made in Canada solutions to provide better health care to all Canadians.

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5:10 p.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question to my colleague from the Reform Party. But before doing so, I would like to remind government members that, indeed, it is true that the official opposition has urged the government to make some reproductive technologies a criminal offence. However, we have always said that health is under provincial jurisdiction. As for the Criminal Code, it is in the purview of the federal government. So it is the federal government that must take action in this area.

I would like to ask the Reform member, who is a doctor, if he has noted in the bill before us that several clauses, definitions and terms are used and that these terms, clauses and definitions are vague, and if he noticed that, because they are very vague, they might be open to interpretation. Has he noted that the definition of these terms does not correspond to the medical definition?

We know our Reform colleague is a doctor, so I think that, through his professional activities, he has surely identified in the clauses some terms that are not really defined by medicine.

Has he noted, like I did, that the vagueness of some of these terms might give rise to legal debates when this legislation deals with these first offences?

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5:15 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend from the Bloc Quebecois for her question.

The hon. member raised a very good question. She is absolutely correct. The government has used a ham-fisted approach to try to craft a bill based on fear and not one based on any knowledge of the issue.

The terms and definitions used are vague and broad. In a court of law they would be very difficult to support unless the government were to be more explicit on the issue. The fact of the matter is that the government has a lot of work if it is to do this.

That will be one of the stumbling blocks. It is one of the major reservations I personally have about the bill. The government has used a scythe to cut through huge areas of research. It has taken the good out with the bad. I am sure that is part of what my friend from the Bloc Quebecois was referring to and is one of the major problems with this ill crafted bill rooted in ignorance.

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5:15 p.m.

Hamilton West Ontario


Stan Keyes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I will start with my comment first and then go to the question.

Human Reproductive And Genetic Technologies ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

An hon. member


Human Reproductive And Genetic Technologies ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Stan Keyes Liberal Hamilton West, ON

The hon. member across the way wonders why. He said a little earlier that he deplored playing politics with this issue. I could point to a couple of the inconsistencies coming across the floor from the member of the third party.

In September 1993 the Reform Party supported user fees, deductibles, and would eliminate universality. I remind the House of what magazine that was in: Canadian Living , September 1993. Just before the election of October 1993 the Reform party said that it was opposed to private health care and user fees. Where is the consistency there?

The member for Macleod said in the House on October 17, 1995 that medicare was bad for everyone. Can we imagine a Reform member saying medicare was bad for everyone. I am quoting from Hansard . Then on November 23, 1995 the member for Macleod said that medicare was important to all Canadians.

Where is the consistency there? If they want to start playing politics there is plenty of it, but we are not interested in playing politics on this issue. Quite frankly I have a great deal of respect for the hon. member. He is an emergency medical surgeon. He knows what he is talking about when it comes to medical stuff. He has lived it. He has breathed it. He has partaken in it. At the same time he must understand that the objectives of the bill are to protect the health and safety of Canadians, to ensure the appropriate use of human reproductive materials outside the body, and to protect the dignity and security of all persons, especially women and children.

Appropriate is the operative word we are using. We have to team up not just as researchers in the great country we call Canada but as geneticists outside Canada in other countries around the world who have done some research in this area. What may appear to the hon. member to be some kind of a broad stroke in the area of specifics in the bill are there intentionally to ensure that we are paying attention to the world when it comes to actions of speciality medicines, the actions of new research, the actions or the findings that come with research in the field of medicine. As I said earlier, we have to protect women and children. We have to protect reproductive

materials outside the body and protect the dignity and security of all people.

The hon. member spoke of in vitro fertilization. He attempted to build his case on a falsehood. He made the contention that the bill would ban in vitro fertilization. On what basis does the hon. member say this? Can he point to anywhere in the bill that says it would ban in vitro fertilization?

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5:20 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. friend from the Liberal Party. His concerns are the same as our concerns. Our interest is in protecting the health and welfare of all Canadians, all people in this country. Our goal is exactly the same as that of the hon. member. The word appropriate is extremely important and I will get back to it.

In answer to his question, Bill C-47 indicates that the buying and selling of eggs, sperm and embryos including their exchange for goods, services or other benefits but excluding the recovery of expenses incurred in the collection, storage and distribution of sperm, ova and embryos for persons other than a donor will be prohibited. The government will ban in vitro fertilization.

I will address some of the hon. member's other concerns. He spoke about partisanship in the House. If the hon. member would look at my blues he would know that at the end of my speech I said I am sure members from all parties would be happy to work with the government to ensure we have effective legislation in this area and, more important, to ensure that Canadians get their essential health care services. The hon. member alluded to that.

Canadians are not getting their essential health care services when they need them. Accessibility is being denied to Canadians. Provincial governments ration essential services because there is not enough money to do all we ask for right now. The government ripped out $3 billion in transfer payments to the provinces.

If the government thinks that providing Canadians access to essential services is ripping out $3 billion in transfer payments to the provinces for health, it has another thing coming. That is not what we want to do.

The Reform Party, for the 100th time, is committed to ensuring that every Canadian regardless of how much money they have in their pockets will have access to essential health care services when they medically need them, not when their pocketbook allows it and not when the bottom line in provincial coffers allow it. We are vehemently opposed to an American style health care system. We are the party that wants to ensure that Canadians have access to the essential services they need.

If we are to move to an era where Canadians have access to essential health care services we must change our mindset. We must move toward an era where we will amend the Canada Health Act to give people choice. It is not a magic bullet. It is not a panacea for all that ills the health and welfare of Canadians, but it is a start.

In conjunction with other initiatives including better management, identifying effective preventive measures and effective legislation on smoking and tobacco regulation, these measures can be used to build a stronger health act and to build a system that is distinct and superior to the those of the Americans, the British, the Germans and the French. Canada will build it. We can do it by making these amendments to the Canada Health Act.

We cannot be entrenched in an act put forth decades ago that hamstrings the ability of our country and Canadians to move forward. If we adhere to the act in its entirety as it stands now, it prevents that from happening. The government is living a sham. The government is hamstringing the provinces from being able to provide health care to Canadians.

Members of my party and I would be happy to present to the government any place, any time, anywhere, effective solutions to ensure that Canadians obtain their health care in a timely fashion.

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5:25 p.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to participate in the debate at second reading of Bill C-47, an act respecting human reproductive technologies and commercial transactions relating to human reproduction.

We have been waiting for several years for a bill regulating the new rapidly changing reproductive technologies.

What could be considered science-fiction only a few years ago is now an ever present reality that raises basic ethical issues. This is a complex problem that requires government intervention, of course, to ensure that science continues to serve mankind and not the other way around.

This bill, which was tabled last June, results from a long process that started with the hearings of the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies, the famous Baird Commission named after its chair.

First demanded by several feminist organizations in 1977, this commission was finally established 12 years later in 1989. After four years of work marked by internal management problems, the resignation of four of its commissioners and, above all, an astronomical $28 million cost, the commission had heard, believe it or not, more than 40,000 witnesses. It is important to mention that no provincial government official was among these 40,000 witnesses.

The commission also looked at the work of more than 300 researchers before finally tabling in the fall of 1993 a 1,435-page report containing over 300 recommendations. So there was something to act on. But what did this government do after this report was tabled? It did not do anything except stall for a long time and act with a carelessness that is reflected in the bill before us today.

So between 1993 and July 1995, this government did absolutely nothing except say that something needed to be done. Despite the official opposition's repeated demands for more than two years, the government persisted in doing nothing. For instance, when questioned, the Minister of Health of the day used to respond with vague examples and empty promises.

Essentially, the debates went something like this. In January 1994, in response to question by a government member, the then Minister of Health stated that Health Canada was actively addressing the recommendations contained in the Baird report which could be acted on quickly. That was in January 1994.

Then, in February 1994, one month later, the Minister of Justice stated that studies were under way and that he would report back to the House in due course with the speed the urgency of the situation dictated.

In October 1994, the Minister of Health indicated that she was developing rules in this respect and that there were some jurisdictional problems. "But we are doing our job", she concluded. We know how the federal government deals with problems that arise concerning jurisdiction: it ignores provincial jurisdictions. I will come back on this later.

Still in 1994, it was a long year, in November this time, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Health makes a statement to the effect that the issue was a serious, difficult and complex one, that raised controversy. In December 1994, the Minister of Health, in turn, stated that what was a complex problem back in November had become extremely complex. If nothing else, they were certainly single-minded.

In March 1995, the minister announced her intention to put forward a policy on a new reproductive technology and that clearly the government was going to act.

Act it did, in July 1995. While the House was not sitting and we were all trying to take some off, the minister imposed a voluntary moratorium on certain procedures involving new reproductive technologies, a moratorium that did not even cut it with those concerned and was mocked left and right.

In January 1996, the second last stage, the Minister of Health announced that a committee had been established to do a follow up on the infamous moratorium, which was no longer described as voluntary but interim.

This brings us to the tabling, in June, of Bill C-47, a bill that is as thin as it is vague, as my opposition colleagues have pointed out. But this bill clearly bears the stamp of the federal Liberals in terms of interference in provincial areas of jurisdiction, and the area of health in particular.

Since the Baird report was tabled, the opposition has been relentlessly asking that governments provide a framework for reproduction technologies. The Government of Quebec has already included in Quebec's basic legislation, the Code civil, a provision that will make any surrogacy arrangement absolutely null and void. This is one way of using existing tools to make new laws.

The area of health being a provincial area of responsibility, it is up to the provinces to set the standards and restrictions with respect to certain human reproduction procedures. It would have been easy for the federal government to act within its field of jurisdiction: it simply had to amend the Criminal Code so as to prohibit certain practices. This is what we wanted it to do. In this way, it would have added to the efforts of the provinces, while staying within its own field of jurisdiction.

Once again, the government had a golden opportunity to act efficiently, while respecting the autonomy of the provinces regarding this issue.

However, as we have often seen in this House, the government would rather interfere in fields of provincial jurisdiction. While it could simply have amended the Criminal Code to prohibit certain practices, such as the trade of embryos and ova, the government creates another useless national agency, which will impose standards from coast to coast, instead of letting the provinces define these standards themselves.

I also want to draw your attention to clauses 4, 5, 6 and 7, which list prohibited activities. This is very enlightening: the cloning of human embryos, it took three years to introduce a bill on this; the creation of animal-human hybrids and the fusing of human and animal zygotes or embryos, again three years to arrive at this; the implant of a human embryo in an animal or an animal embryo in a woman; the alteration of the genetic structure of germ cells; the retrieving of sperm or ova from a foetus or cadaver for fertilization or research purposes requiring it to mature outside the human body; the choosing of the sex based on non-medical criteria; ectogenesis, that is the maintaining of an embryo in an artificial uterus.

There is more. I will continue. This is very instructive. The research on human embryos after the 14th day following conception; the creation of embryos solely for research purposes; and, finally, giving or offering consideration for prohibited services.

It is also prohibited to buy or sell ova, sperm or embryos, or to barter or exchange them for goods, services or other benefits, except the recovery of costs incurred in the collection, storage and distribution of sperm, ova and embryos for other persons; and, finally, the use, without the consent of the donor, of human sperm, ova or embryos for assisted human reproductive technologies, or for medical research.

Thus, the prohibitions included in the voluntary moratorium are maintained, along with new ones.

Yet, after all these years since the report Baird was tabled, we could have expected much more rigour in this piece of legislation.

For example, when we prohibit the use of diagnostic procedures solely to ascertain the sex of the foetus, except for medical reasons, for health reasons, what health reasons are we talking about? Does that include the mental health of the mother, or are we referring to the health of the foetus or of the parents? The bill says very little on that.

Clause 7 prohibiting the use of sperm, ova or embryos for the purpose of research, donation, maturation or fertilization, specifies that the donor's consent must be obtained. One then can logically deduce that these uses would be allowed with the donor's consent. It is a prohibition without really being one. Moreover, this situation is inconsistent with some of the provisions of clause 4, which prohibits certain uses. This illustrates the lack of clarity of this bill.

However, one question arises: is it possible that lack of clarity is provided to give full scope to the national agency that will be set up shortly to control and monitor new reproductive technologies? I am afraid so. The bill is of a very general nature, and the new agency, whose members will be appointed by the federal Minister of Health, will be given free rein to develop and implement policies concerning, probably, other areas besides the new reproductive technologies and to set new national medical and health standards.

When the time comes to legislate on such an important issue, that raised basic concerns concerning the role of science in the human reproduction process, I think it is disgraceful for the federal government to see this as just another opportunity to infringe upon the areas of jurisdiction of Quebec and all the other provinces. Instead of setting up national agencies in each and every area and therefore creating useless and costly duplication, the government should consult with Quebec and all its other provincial counterparts, let them make decisions within their own areas of jurisdiction and act in its own areas of jurisdiction.

All that would be needed are a few amendments to the Criminal Code to prohibit the use of some technologies throughout Canada. Instead, the government introduces a bill for which both the justice minister and the health minister are responsible, and we know what this will entail, and creates a national monitoring agency.

One could hope that the government's only motive is to protect the health of all Canadians and Quebecers. However, it has another major motive, and I might go as far as saying a permanent motive, which is to ignore provincial areas of jurisdiction.

As a former member of Parliament once said, the government is good for us, it wants what is best for us and will do anything to get it.

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5:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I must inform the House that there are two minutes left in this debate.

I recognize the hon. member for Lévis for a question or a comment.

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5:35 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, even though I studied that topic in detail, every time I listen to the hon. member for Laval Centre, I learn something new. She gave us an extraordinary historical background to this issue, not only by telling us what she witnessed in this House, the vague and virtuous answers provided by the former Minister of Health, but also by highlighting the report of the Baird commission. She reminded us that the commission heard some 40,000 witnesses.

I know that the hon. member for Laval Centre has read the report, so I do not want to bore her with that, but what she is saying is that this very bulky report has resulted in a very slim bill of only a few pages. The report dealt with a significant issue, but only led to a bill so slim as to look trivial for such an important and a serious issue. I would like the hon. member to comment on this.

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5:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member has run out of time. It being 5.41 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business.

The House resumed from October 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-236, an act to prevent the importation of radioactive waste into Canada, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Radioactive Waste Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Saskatoon—Dundurn Saskatchewan


Morris Bodnar LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to inform the House of the negative consequences of passing the legislation proposed in Bill C-236.

There are many negative consequences of the proposed act. My intervention will concentrate on the negative consequences to the health of Canadians and other residents of developing as well as developed countries. It will also concentrate on the negative consequences on sustainable development activities that may require international co-operation.

Canada has no plans to import nuclear fuel waste. Nevertheless Canadian officials are participating in the development of international recommendations on the practice of importing and exporting radioactive waste, particularly low level radioactive waste.

The International Atomic Energy Agency or IAEA indicates that a state exporting radioactive material should take the appropriate steps necessary to permit readmission into its territory of any resulting radioactive waste which the importing state cannot dispose of properly unless another arrangement can be made.

Thus the bill would affect the availability of medical, industrial and research equipment containing radioactive sources for developed and developing countries.

With regard to developing countries, very few of these have disposal facilities and therefore may not be able to avail themselves of this type of equipment. In many cases, Canada is the leading exporter of such equipment and in some cases the only supplier to the world. Since many developing countries are in no position to adequately dispose of any radioactive waste resulting from the use of such equipment and materials, these countries may have but two alternatives.

The first alternative is to turn to a non-Canadian supplier, if available, that would accept the return of radioactive waste but that may or may not properly dispose of this waste. The other alternative is simply to give up the health and environmental activities. This would necessarily increase risks to both health and the environment and make it more difficult to move toward sustainable development activities.

If we believe that giving up good medical practice is not desirable, then to which states will the resulting radioactive waste be exported? Canada has the technological capability to properly manage this waste. Would passing the bill put forward by the member for Fraser Valley East indicate to the world that we are shirking our responsibilities to the developing world?

We were very pleased to hear the member opposite state in the previous debate that "Canada has a responsibility as an advanced industrial society to look for ways of helping other societies that are perhaps having a little trouble right now to find ways of treating the nuclear waste produced".

How do we help these countries? By pressuring them to spend considerable sums of money to deal with their own radioactive waste resulting from various uses, including medical procedures? Many developing countries cannot afford to do so and must export their waste if they are to benefit from the peaceful and beneficial uses of nuclear energy. Should developed countries close their borders to them? If so, then not only would they not be helping in the development of these countries, but they would also be wilfully inhibiting the progress of developing countries toward sustainable development activities. This would be contrary to Canada's international relations, particularly in view of our past and present activities in assisting countries that are endeavouring to develop in a sustainable manner.

The legislation proposed in Bill C-236 could also impact on international co-operative activities on overall waste management services not only with developing countries but also with developed countries, particularly with the United States. Good co-operation with our neighbours on waste management issues is essential in view of future special circumstances which may arise requiring mutual assistance for the safe and effective management of waste.

For instance, there have already been cases in other countries where hospitals have had to stop using certain medical procedures on patients because they were unable to ship the resulting radioactive waste to national disposal facilities due to temporary unavailability. In such instances it would be more than justifiable on a health basis to permit shipping the waste to a neighbouring country either for storage or disposal purposes until the temporary problem was resolved.

A ban on the importation of radioactive waste might seem questionable to our neighbours. Therefore this bill would hamper Canada's assistance and co-operation with nations around the world, resulting in a decrease in the quality of health protection systems for Canadians and for residents in developing as well as developed countries.

I urge the members of the House not to vote for this bill.

Radioactive Waste Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Charlie Penson Reform Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of Bill C-236, an act to prevent the importation of radioactive waste. This bill was introduced by my colleague from Fraser Valley East who I know has carefully studied the issue of nuclear waste and its potential for seriously harming the environment and endangering public health and safety. I know he is very concerned and has put a great deal of effort into this bill.

One of the questions I want to address is one with which I think Canadians are concerned: Will Canada become the garbage bin of the world for nuclear waste? We certainly hope not. I am concerned to learn that there are over 400 commercial nuclear reactors in the world and many more small nuclear reactors in universities, on ships and in submarines. All of these reactors need a place to

dispose of their radioactive waste, waste which remains highly toxic for thousands of years.

What better country than Canada to ship all this waste to? Canada has lots of land. It has a relatively small population. There are groups who might be willing to take a time bomb off the hands of other countries, especially those countries which have the ability to pay and pay handsomely. This thought is deeply disturbing to me. It has been a challenge for us to find suitable locations for our own nuclear waste. We certainly do not need to take on the radioactive waste of other countries, and there is certainly lots of it out there.

The United States will be looking to dispose of 50 tonnes of plutonium over the next 25 years. Russia has another 50 tonnes. My colleague from Fraser Valley East tells me that at the Hanford site in the United States there is enough high level waste to fill 86 football fields one metre deep. It will cost $57 billion just to dispose of the waste from that site.

Some might suggest that allowing nuclear waste to be disposed of in Canada would have an economic benefit. However, our economic problems are not going to be solved by allowing Canada to become the nuclear garbage bin of the world. We have to solve those problems here. The provinces have shown us that we are on the way to a solution. If the federal government would get on board to a greater degree, we would be able to resolve our economic problems. This is not a method which we should use to solve those problems.

We hear that there are certain aboriginal groups in Canada that are considering offering their lands for disposal purposes. Their lands lie over the Canadian Shield. They figure that they can make a fair amount of cash by allowing nuclear waste to be buried there. They call it economic development.

With the pollution coming into Canada from some of the European countries and the United States, the Canadian Shield does not even have the ability to filter out the pollution problem we have. Some of the Canadian soil on the prairies has the buffering actions that are necessary but it certainly does not exist in the Canadian Shield which is basically rock.

It seems to me that in the Nisga'a agreement, which will be used as a pattern by many other aboriginal self-governments, allows an aboriginal government to run its own environmental assessments. In effect, that local government can decide how harmful burying nuclear waste is on its land and whether it is worth the risk.

I have no problem with aboriginal communities taking on Canadian nuclear waste if they feel it is profitable enough for them to do so, but I do not like the idea of taking on international waste. We need to solve our own problems but we do not have to solve the international problems. That has to be done in their own countries. It is bad enough to have to worry about our own highly toxic garbage. Let us not take on the dangerous toxic nuclear waste of other countries.

I want to examine the question of whether this agreement contravenes NAFTA. There is some question about whether passing this act would contravene our trade agreement with the United States and Mexico. There is a NAFTA dispute settlement panel. If the panel was asked to look into this matter, several factors would have to be considered.

Chapter nine in the NAFTA would certainly be scrutinized. This chapter sets out the permissible barriers to trade that are related to standards that a country might want to set for itself. Article 904 allows a country to adopt any standards related measures that are important to its safety. The protection of human, animal and plant life is included here, as well as the environment. The article allows a country to prohibit the importation of a good or the provision of a service by another country that does not comply with this standards related measure.

There would probably be some debate as to whether nuclear waste burial is the trade of a good or the provision of a service. There would also need to be some evidence of the danger to the environment for humans, plants and animals. There might also be some debate on whether prohibiting the importation might not pose an even greater danger to Canada. Burying the waste near our border might be more dangerous for our safety than burying it far away from populated areas.

It is always difficult to predict the outcome of the legal wrangling that would take place. Much depends on the skill of the lawyers and the make-up of the panel. I would certainly be willing to place a bet that Canada could defend its standards related measure and maintain its right to prohibit the importation of nuclear waste. This is a very serious matter.

I would like to add my weight to those who are calling for the ban on the importation of nuclear waste into Canada. Because it is a commodity that has a very dangerous level to our safety and has a life that goes on thousands of years, this has to be considered very carefully. We need some kind of provisions that limit the ability of certain groups to bring this into Canada.

In conclusion, I call on all members of the House to support this bill and to vote in favour of it. Canada is a beautiful, wide open country with lots of forests, lakes and streams. Let us keep it as clean as we can and as waste free as possible. Let us not allow Canada to become the nuclear garbage bin of the world.

Radioactive Waste Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great interest that I take part today in this debate at second reading of Bill C-236 introduced by my colleague from Fraser Valley East, an act to prevent the importation of radioactive waste into Canada.

I want to remind you at the outset that, in May 1995, the report of the Auditor General of Canada contained a chapter on this issue, entitled: Federal Radioactive Waste Management. Page 3-5 of this report provides, and I quote: "Canada has no disposal facilities for any of its high-level or low-level radioactive waste." And further on: "Decisions still have to be taken in Canada on whether and how to proceed to a disposal solution. Despite the significant investment, in Canada, of about $538 million in research and development, there has been no consideration of alternative approaches for moving Canada's high-level radioactive waste program forward after March 1997, when current federal funding ends."

Clearly, Canada is not yet equipped to receive foreign countries' radioactive waste. Since Canada does not know yet what to do with its own waste, how could it deal with, dispose of or store other countries'?

In this sense, the bill by my Reform colleague may seem premature and untimely, since Canada is not soon going to become the nuclear waste dumpsite of the world. But as untimely as it may be, Bill C-236 is to me a good message to send to the authorities so that they seriously question the appropriateness of bringing foreign countries' nuclear waste to our shores.

Currently, Canadian nuclear authorities are considering two projects for our nuclear waste. The first one deals with the permanent storage of spent fuel, or highly radioactive waste, and the other one deals with the development of a low radioactive waste disposal site in Ontario, in Deep River to be more precise.

As far as the permanent storage of spent fuel is concerned, the authorities are considering the possibility of storing this highly radioactive waste in a huge cave dug into the Canadian shield. According to present plans, this cave should be ready by the year 2025 and more than 4 million spent fuel clusters could be stored there. For your information, a cluster is about the size of a fireplace log and the anticipated 4 million clusters represent a volume equivalent to that of seven Olympic swimming pools. This spent fuel, 85 per cent of which is produced by Hydro Ontario reactors, remains highly radioactive for at least 500 years, and its handling requires appropriate steps to ensure the protection of human beings and the environment during this period.

In fact, certain elements of this fuel remain harmful for tens of thousands of years if they escape containment and are ingested or inhaled.

In view of this portrait of the Canadian situation, not to say Ontarian, we must ask if we really want more of such hazardous waste, especially coming from abroad. An article published in the Globe and Mail on October 27, 1994 entitled:

"Canada eyed as world site for nuclear waste, proposal to use Canadian Shield called dangerous".

-shows the fears and apprehensions of environmentalists with regard to this issue of permanent disposal. The article says at the beginning, and I quote:

"It may take 20 to 50 years to happen, but Canada has moved one step closer to becoming the world's nuclear waste dump site, environmental critics charged yesterday".

Environmental groups argue that Canada cannot legally ban the import of radioactive waste from the United States and that Canadian nuclear authorities might find it beneficial to open their future site to foreign waste. One can also read, and I quote:

"You build a dump here and you can bet the U.S. will be beating the bushes to get rid of their stuff".

These are very real concerns of environmentalists that we must consider very seriously.

More recently, the Prime Minister of Canada gave his support to a feasibility study to import into Canada plutonium from Russian and American nuclear warheads to burning it as fuel in our CANDU reactors. This plutonium considered waste by these countries is considered fuel by Canada.

That is about one hundred tonnes of plutonium that we would burn in the interest of a peace effort, according to the Prime Minister. But once this plutonium is burned, it produces highly radioactive waste. How many bundles will be added to ours, to the 4 million bundles expected by the end of 2033? This roundabout way for foreigners to dispose of their plutonium waste raises some serious questions.

Would it not be better to sell them Candu reactors so as to make them autonomous and responsible for their own waste? And why should those countries not find their own solutions to this problem?

This overview of the status of highly radioactive waste clearly shows we must be careful and the apparent danger of linking the issue of financial profits to that of the environment in this matter.

Spent fuel is and must be considered extremely toxic, with all the adverse effects that may occur in case of management problems.

As for low level radioactive waste, Canadian authorities are also considering a type of permanent storage. Deep River was chosen as the site, as I said earlier. One of the technologies being developed involves the use of an underground structure protected against intrusion, consisting of a series of concrete vaults where waste would be stored for 500 years, after which it would be harmless. This project is not going down smoothly in this Ontarian locality and serious concerns are being expressed throughout the region. Can you imagine the reaction the communities concerned would have if, in addition, they were to receive waste made in the USA?

I look favourably on the bill put forward by the hon. member for Fraser Valley East. While Canada may be renowned around the world for being accommodating, it should not have to become the nuclear waste-basket of the world just to live up to its reputation.

Finally, I would suggest that the Prime Minister and his ministers and members of Parliament take a good hard look at what impact importing plutonium will have in Canada.

Members from Ontario, and particularly those in whose riding CANDU reactors have already been designated to burn plutonium, thereby adding to the radioactive waste problem, should consult their voters on this issue.

Radioactive Waste Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Stan Dromisky Liberal Thunder Bay—Atikokan, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-236, proposed by the hon. member for Fraser Valley East. The bill would prevent the importation of radioactive waste into Canada.

Although at first this bill appears somewhat harmless, in reality it is fraught with a number of negative consequences. Those consequences are international and domestic in scope. They pertain to health and have serious environmental impacts. Presently Canada does not import any nuclear fuel waste whatsoever. The Government of Canada has no plan to do so.

The hon. member from the Reform Party mentioned plutonium. There are international agreements and conventions in operation at the present time to prevent the transportation of plutonium across borders.

Plutonium is one of the deadliest materials available at the present time. As a result, every nation in the world must be on guard and vigilant in the prevention of the transportation of any plutonium through the black market which comes from the dismantling of nuclear bombs and nuclear warheads in countries such as Russia.

However, we import radioactive waste produced by medical equipment that is used in other countries. To discontinue this practice would have serious negative consequences. For example, the potential exists for significant impacts on the health of people from developing countries that often cannot effectively manage radioactive waste disposal like we can.

Specifically, developing countries with inadequate waste disposal systems may not be able to utilize radiological treatment of cancer and early detection analysis of various diseases. This would be a very real possibility if we refused these countries access to our disposal systems. At present clients from all over the world obtain products from Canadian firms that manufacture radio isotopes and equipment containing radioactive materials which are used to make medical diagnosis and treat disease, particularly for cancer and heart patients, sterilize surgical instruments and blood for transfusions, prevent diseases such as malaria and increase the efficiency of agricultural methods.

When discussing the benefits of nuclear energy, we often concentrate on the production of an economic, environmentally sound way of producing electricity. We often forget to highlight the other benefits such as those just mentioned in the health area which lead to the avoidance of diseases, the elimination of infections and the provision of good nutrition and food.

There are many examples where the uses of nuclear energy considerably improve the health and economic development of people worldwide. Let me highlight one. Chile has developed a multibillion dollar food export industry. It is also the only country in South America that is internationally recognized as being free of the Mediterranean fruit fly. Until recently, however, Chilean fresh foods were still excluded from certain markets because of the fear of outbreaks originating from Med flies in northern Chile.

After many unsuccessful attempts with insecticides, finally in 1990 Chile turned to a biological method using flies sterilized with radiation. As a result of this, no wild Med flies have been detected since mid-1995. And in December 1995, Chile was formally declared a fly free zone by international experts.

According to the Chilean minister of agriculture, this will mean an annual increase of $500 million in fruit exports over the next five years. This is a very good example of the use of the type of material and equipment produced and exported by Canadian firms.

The countries that utilize medical equipment and material exported by Canada expect us to assist them with their waste disposal. If they are refused assistance in waste disposal, in turn they could readily refuse to buy equipment containing radioactive sources and radio isotopes from Canada. Canadian exporters of medical and industrial equipment and materials would lose a sizeable portion of their clients. A reduction of this nature would lead to job losses here at home. Certainly the Reform Party does not want job losses.

With know-how and good marketing practices, Canadian firms have managed to be leaders in the industry that provides radio isotopes and irradiation equipment around the world. They have proven themselves to be a reliable supplier of these products. They contribute significantly to Canada's exports and in the process provide quality jobs for Canadians in this rapidly growing high technology field. Bill C-236 would put the brakes on the growth of this industry.

I would like to highlight one of the Canadian firms in this field. Nordion International Incorporated is a leader worldwide in the production of radio isotopes. Nordion contributes worldwide to the prevention of diseases and healing patients. Nordion's total revenues in fiscal 1995 were $191 million. The company exports to over 70 countries and 98 per cent of its sales are from export markets. It has over 700 employees and more than 50 per cent hold post-secondary degrees or diplomas. Nordion's Canadian facilities are located in Montreal, Vancouver and in Kanata, Ontario.

This company expects that future growth will see a considerable expansion of their products, including the development of new radio pharmaceuticals, new sterilization processes, food irradiation, sewage sludge treatment and commercialization of therapeutic based opportunities. All relevant export sales by Nordion involve the return to Canada of the spent radioactive sources from the irradiation equipment.

Bill C-236 would prevent Canadian companies such as Nordion from providing essential products to companies that unfortunately cannot properly dispose of radioactive waste resulting from the use of these products.

The reality is that this bill is of no value. Canada has the expertise and regulatory system to ensure that radioactive waste is treated in a manner such that it would not pose a risk to human health or the environment. We are the leaders in the processes. We are the leaders in knowledge. We are the leaders in this field. Passing this bill would negatively affect the health of people in some developing nations. It would harm the environment of these countries and lead to job losses in Canada. It is for these reasons I cannot support Bill C-236.

Radioactive Waste Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I stand today in full support of Bill C-236 put forward by my colleague from Fraser Valley East. I have listened to the assertions made by members from the government. I honestly cannot believe in good conscience that they have actually mentioned their claims. Obviously they have not read the bill.

The purpose of the bill is to protect Canadians now and in the future. Currently we do not have any legislation to protect Canadians from waste from other countries being brought to our shores for disposal. There are no regulatory measures. That means radioactive waste can be imported. That is the purpose of Bill C-236. The member has proven to be proactive on this issue. This should not be taken lightly and has been put forward with justification.

The justification has been seen here in the House today and I will give some examples. Members from the government strongly suggested that we as a caring, considerate society in the face of sustainable development ought to be bringing nuclear waste from other countries to be deposited on our shores because these countries do not have the capabilities of waste disposal. This will be done under the guise of sustainable development.

Sustainable development is not bringing somebody else's waste to Canada's shores. It means dealing with your own waste in your own country in your own fashion. It is true that these countries probably do not have the technology to deal with waste disposal. That is where Canada can make an effective contribution because we are leaders in the nuclear industry. This is an opportunity for Canada to provide technical assistance to these countries to deal with their nuclear waste.

We should not be bringing their nuclear waste to Canada. It is not our responsibility to do that. We would be abrogating our responsibility to the health and welfare of Canadians if we brought these highly toxic, carcinogenic and teratogenic, mutagenic substances to our soil. Later I will give examples of how serious this problem is in the Arctic.

Contrary to what government members have been saying, we export plutonium from Saskatchewan, which is our second largest producer of plutonium, to Japanese power plants. That is a serious problem because this plutonium, which can live for tens of thousands of years, has to travel across Canada and then across the oceans. We rely on other regulatory bodies in order to ensure the safety of Canadians but that should not be the case.

My colleague from Fraser Valley East brought forth this very strong and important bill to protect Canadians by ensuring that waste is not brought to this country, transported across Canadian soil through Canadian towns and cities, creating a potential for the public to be exposed to lethal material.

We are clearly in favour of sustainable development. We fully support Canadians using our technology to help those who are less fortunate in other parts of the world, but let us not bring their problems to our shores.

It is also important to dispel the myths put forth by some Liberal members saying that we are against the importation of nuclear materials for technology and medicine. I ask the hon. member to read the bill. The bill deals with waste, waste, waste. It deals with nuclear waste, not nuclear material effectively used in industry and in the world of medicine.

It is important for us to put the bill in perspective and to look at the international complexity of it and why the member brought it forward. There are over 413 nuclear reactors in the world. Each of them produces nuclear waste, much of which is a real problem to get rid of. We have our own problems in our own country in disposing of our own waste. We do not need to bring in literally thousands of tonnes of spent nuclear rods and nuclear materials out there looking for a home. That home is not in Canada.

We should also look at another issue. I was at a meeting with a number of scientists from Russia who said they had to decommission over 100 nuclear submarines within the next few years. They were referring to the nuclear material within the submarines. The response of the Russians has been widespread dumping on the Kola Peninsula, widespread dumping in northern Russia.

This is not a problem happening half a world away that will not affect us. This problem very much affects us. One need not look any further than at the aboriginal people in the Northwest Territories, the Arctic and Yukon. They have much higher rates of genetic abnormalities and birth defects as a direct result of the outpouring of nuclear material that is being negligently, irresponsibly and criminally disposed of over areas of the Kola Peninsula in Russia.

That is the problem. It is affecting Canadians today. We have to be very clear about that. The government ought to pay very close attention to the problem. Nobody is speaking for those aboriginal people in the north who are suffering from the effects of this nuclear material.

It is not something that Canada should take on its shoulders alone. Clearly it is something in which we can take a leadership position in the international community to bring forth all the good ideas out there to provide help to the Russian people on how to deal with the problem.

It is not the only problem. We have seen much about Chernobyl. We have heard much of the problems associated with this disaster. However the Chernobyl reactor is just one of many other reactors that exist in Russia today. There are literally dozens and dozens of leaky nuclear reactors in Russia that will produce other Chernobyls in the near future.

The international community will not have the ability and the funds to deal with the problem when it actually becomes a horrendous situation along the lines of Chernobyl. It is extremely important for us as a country to work with other countries to address the problem in a proactive fashion now, before the reactors leak in a widespread fashion, the outcome of which will affect Canadians. It is that simple.

The leakage of nuclear materials half a world away indeed affects us. Members from the government said that we do not need to worry about nuclear material being brought into Canada because nothing has happened of the sort. The fact remains that international organizations have found that Canada is an ideal place to dump nuclear waste. In Ontario alone 1,300 spots have been identified in the Canadian Shield.

The theory is that we dig a hole half a kilometre into the Canadian Shield and dump the nuclear waste into it. Earthquakes and seepage into the groundwater have not been taken into consideration. There is also the consequences of the nuclear material, some of which has a life in the tens of thousands of years. It kills. It is carcinogenic. It is mutagenic and teratogenic. It causes terrible defects in children. This is not pie in the sky; this is happening now.

People are closely looking at Canada, particularly the Canadian Shield, as an ideal place for the disposal of waste from other countries.

In closing, I fully support Bill C-236 in the name of the hon. member for Fraser Valley East. I encourage all members of the House to support it for the sake of the health and welfare of all Canadians.

Radioactive Waste Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on Bill C-236 which has a significant international component. Canada has an important role to play in strengthening international co-operation in radioactive waste safety. This assistance would diminish if the bill passes.

Radioactive waste from peaceful uses of nuclear energy has many uses from medical treatments to the production of electric power. It must be properly managed at national and international levels by all countries.

It seems the whole issue is an example of how we have become a global village. Environmental issues like pollution and radioactive fallout as we saw in the case of Chernobyl have no boundaries. The issues of air pollution do not know boundaries. We cannot put up walls and prevent that kind of pollution from crossing over into our country.

Therefore we have to take an interest in it and look at it not simply on a domestic basis. We must look beyond our borders and realize that we are responsible citizens of that global village who have to consider this issue in that light.

Canada happens to be the world's leading supplier of radio isotopes for cancer treatment. Radio isotopes also have other uses such as industrial ones. They are used in checking for leaks in sewage and other kinds of pipes. They are also used for sterilising food. Perhaps members have heard of irradiated food.

We must assume our responsibility for the proper disposal of the isotopes we are exporting from this country. How can we do that if we do not allow them back into our country?

The last member suggested that we were taking the wrong approach. However, I recall the member for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca saying less than an hour ago that we should not be leaving decisions regarding technology to bureaucrats in the health department. The bill would leave discretion about what waste means and what kinds of waste would be allowed into the country and what could not to the Atomic Energy Control Board of Canada. It is strange on the one hand the member does not want to leave things to the bureaucrats and on the other hand he really does. This seems to be a contradiction.

Canada has taken a leading role in disposal technology for this kind of waste. From the long term perspective it is better to know where waste from products created in Canada and exported goes. We have an interest in it. Wherever it ends up in the world it can come back to haunt us later.

The management of radioactive waste is now regulated in most countries. Canada's approach to safety generally exceeds international recommendations. By the way, it is important to note that Canada has no plans to import or export nuclear fuel waste. From our point of view we are not talking about that. If the bill had been clearer about what it intends we might not have that problem, but it is not. It simply talks about radioactive waste and does not clarify whether we are talking about nuclear fuel waste, radio isotopes or other kinds of such products.

Nevertheless, some less developed countries are worried that industrialized countries will be tempted to dump or get rid of their unwanted waste within the developing world. I can understand why they would be concerned about that possibility. They have banned the import of radioactive waste. However, most developed countries do not have such a ban. On the contrary, they see this practice as one in which they have considerable expertise, thereby helping to eliminate undue risks to health and the environment by properly disposing of these products. They also consider this practice to be compatible with sustainable development activities.

The mid-1970s saw an increase in worldwide concern about the transboundary movement of waste in general. At that time the major concern was that nuclear waste and radioactive waste could be exported from industrialized countries where there was an absence of legal, administrative, regulatory, financial or technical capabilities. In fact, the waste could have been sent to less developed countries, causing great problems.

OECD member countries have also been concerned with the control of transboundary movements of hazardous waste since the beginning of the 1980s. This eventually led to the preparation of the convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal. This important international convention was adopted in Basel, Switzerland on March 22, 1989, under the auspices of the United Nations environment program and entered into force on May 5, 1992. Canada is a party to that convention.

Under the general obligation of the convention each party will prevent the import of hazardous waste if it has reason to believe that the waste in question will not be managed in an environmentally sound manner. The convention also indicates that the exportation of waste is allowed if the state of export does not have suitable facilities to deal properly with the waste in question and also if the waste is required as raw material for recycling or recovering industries in the state of import.

Developing countries have also established their own conventions, having recognized that they are particularly vulnerable in not having adequate radioactive waste management facilities. For instance, the Bamako convention on the ban of the import of hazardous wastes into Africa and the import or transboundary movement of hazardous wastes within Africa was adopted in Bamako, Mali, on January 30, 1991. Although the convention bans the import of wastes by African states, it permits the export of such wastes when a state does not have adequate disposal facilities.

Generally, it is recognized by states that the practice of importing or exporting waste is not in itself detrimental, but that conditions must be attached to this practice.

The first condition involves the proper notification of all countries involved, followed by their acceptance. Governments must respect the right of other governments to decide whether they wish to provide disposal sites for radioactive waste originating from other countries.

Second, there must be proper management of the waste by all countries involved. Any country considering exporting its waste would have to assure itself that the levels of protection for workers, the public and the environment in the importing country are, at the least, equivalent to those observed within its own borders.

Over the years general principles have evolved internationally with regard to importing and exporting hazardous or radioactive wastes. These principles include, if feasible, that waste should be managed within the generating country. There can be sound environmental or socioeconomic reasons for exporting or importing waste for a variety of objectives, such as treatment, temporary storage, recycling or final disposal. Controlling the import or export of wastes, in the form of providing notification, granting licences and compliance with regulations is necessary.

Any state may exercise its sovereign right to permit or ban any imports or exports of waste within its borders. Every state wanting to participate in the international transboundary movement of waste should have a regulatory authority and should adopt appropriate procedures, as necessary, for the regulation of such movement. No state should permit the receipt of waste unless it has the administrative and technical capacity and regulatory structure to manage and dispose of such waste in a manner consistent with international safety standards.

Last, the ultimate aim remains to minimize the production of any waste, as it should be, taking into account social, environmental, technological and economic concerns and considerations.

With specific reference to the safety of radioactive waste management, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, is recognized as the premier international body to provide expert advice. Canada continues to actively support the IAEA efforts in this area. The following IAEA activities are particularly relevant to the import of waste.

In 1990 the IAEA established a code of practice for transboundary movement of radioactive waste. The IAEA has developed regulations for the safe transport of radioactive materials which are binding on member states. Experience has shown that these regulations are effective in ensuring safe transport of such materials. Member states are currently developing an international convention on the safety of radioactive waste management. The IAEA has produced a technical document on the nature and magnitude of problematic spent radiation sources.

In September the IAEA adopted a resolution which indicated that under certain circumstances safe management of radioactive waste might be fostered through voluntary agreements among member states to use the disposal facilities for low level radioactive waste available in one state for the benefit of the other states.

For over 20 years, nations around the world have been working diligently to find a sustainable way to deal with the transboundary movement of chemical and radioactive waste. While we must continue to be vigilant, the progress that has been made and that continues to be made at the international level provides increased confidence that the practice of importing and exporting radioactive waste can be conducted within the context of sustainable development not only on a regional scale but truly within the global village.

We have shown that some countries do need to export the radioactive waste that results from activities essential for sustainable development. We must ensure that such countries export their waste to countries that have the expertise needed to effectively handle the radioactive waste. Canada can be such a country and should not turn its back on countries in need.

I urge members of this House not to support this bill.

Radioactive Waste Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

October 31st, 1996 / 6:30 p.m.


Bob Ringma Reform Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of Bill C-236 put forward by the member for Fraser Valley East. The purpose of this bill is to prevent the importation of radioactive waste.

Worldwide there are 413 commercial nuclear reactors, an untold number of small research reactors at universities and other reactors on ships or submarines. Together they have generated and will continue to generate enormous amounts of highly toxic nuclear waste, waste that will be deadly for 10,000 years.

Canadians in general do not want radioactive waste in their backyard. It took eight years and $20 million for the siting task force struck by the Minister of National Resources to find a place for our low level radioactive waste. Note this does not cover high level radioactive waste. The town of Deep River finally said yes in September a year ago, but only two communities in Ontario even volunteered to consider the question.

It should be self-evident to most that the import of radioactive waste should be banned. As I will explain, there are some compelling reasons why a law should be passed to firmly establish this principle.

In doing so it should be clear that this bill would not ban the importation-I hope members are listening across the way-of plutonium from U.S. and Russian warheads to be burned as fuel in CANDU reactors. This idea is only one of nine separate proposals the Americans are considering as an option.

In essence the plan calls for the CANDU fuel bundles to be fabricated in the U.S. and brought into Canada as fuel, not as waste. It would be a great contribution to global disarmament but Canadians would be expected to subsidize the conversion process. In that regard I am opposed to the idea that the Government of Canada should do any subsidization of a process such as this.

If the process were to be done, I understand it would be on a commercial basis most likely with help from Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. As a crown corporation close to the federal government, AECL's role might consist of paying and in effect subsidizing the retool of facilities such as the old Bruce reactor which might then burn the plutonium.

Clearly any support should be contingent on the Government of Canada controlling the regulatory side but staying out of the financial side. Pointedly, we Canadians should not be paying to beat American and Russian swords into ploughshares. If we want to use our tools to act as the blacksmith for the military powers of the world, we should not have to pay for the raw materials.

This proposal is not without an environmental cost to Canada. The Department of Natural Resources tells us that the United States is looking to get rid of 50 tonnes of plutonium over a 25-year period. We are also looking at the same amount from Russia, 50 tonnes over 25 years. In total, 100 tonnes is how much plutonium will be generated from the dismantling of a total of 40,000 nuclear warheads.

By way of comparison, at the moment we already have 22,000 tonnes of high level waste in Canada stored on sites of over 22 nuclear reactors. This includes 78 tonnes of plutonium. By the year 2025, we will have 58,000 tonnes which will include 200-odd tonnes of plutonium.

The price Canada would have to pay is increasing radioactive waste in our country by a third. The government's decision will have to strike a balance between the environmental security of Canadian citizens and the probability of plutonium in nuclear warheads being used for more harmful purposes. Once Canadians learn about this plutonium deal, they may want to think twice about it. However Bill C-236 does not specifically address that issue.

To get back to the purpose of my colleague's bill, why do we need a law regarding the importation of fissionable waste materials? Because of the profit in the business of burying high level radioactive waste. That is the reason.

There are profit oriented groups which might want to import waste for money. The United States alone has an enormous high level waste problem. Because of that, there is an enormous profit potential in it.

The U.S. Hanford site located 300 kilometres south of the B.C. border has enough waste to fill 86 football fields one metre deep. It will cost $57 billion to dispose of that. It is estimated that the clean-up cost in the United States alone will total a staggering $230 billion.

The problem continues to grow. The U.S. has a total of 77,000 tonnes of waste to bury. Someone is going to look to this for a profit. Let us take an example. The Meadow Lake Tribal Council, which represents nine Indian communities in northern Saskatchewan, reported on February 25, 1995 that it was considering the offer of land for a price. That underlines the problem.

I will try to draw this to a close although I do have much more to say about it. Even the Nisga'a law which is under consideration in British Columbia can have an effect on this.

In conclusion, Bill C-236 provides a golden opportunity for Canada to send a discouraging message to the United States and to profit seeking groups within Canada who might view the absence of legislation as a way to capitalize on the import of nuclear waste. It is an opportunity for the government to respect the wishes of a majority of Canadians who are opposed to the importation of hazardous radioactive waste.

Radioactive Waste Importation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. The order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

It being 6.40 p.m., this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24.

(The House adjourned at 6.40 p.m.)