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House of Commons Hansard #171 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

Privilege

10 a.m.

Wascana Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I gave notice yesterday of my intention to proceed with a certain question of privilege. However, in view of the international circumstances that have arisen overnight, I think it would be more appropriate to deal with that matter on another day in the very near future, and I would first ask for your permission to do so.

Second, I understand that there would be consent in the House to proceed at this time directly with statements by ministers and then to return to the normal daily routine of business when those proceedings have been completed.

Privilege

10 a.m.

The Speaker

Yes, the Chair regards the request of the government House leader with respect to the question of privilege as quite reasonable and the matter can be deferred without prejudice to any arguments with respect to timeliness.

Is there unanimous consent to proceed with statements by ministers at this time?

Privilege

10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

National DefenceRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Saint-Maurice Québec

Liberal

Jean Chrétien LiberalPrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the House marked the celebration of 20 years of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Last night our nation was reminded of the precious cost that comes with standing up for the rights and freedoms that we hold so dear.

Last night, we learned that Canadian troops had been involved in a horrible accident during a live fire training exercise near Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Four of our soldiers, all members of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, were killed and eight more wounded.

We do not yet have all the facts, but it seems clear that our soldiers were hit by fire from a fighter jet belong to our U.S. allies.

President Bush called me when he learned of this to express his great sorrow and to extend his sincerest condolences to the families of our soldiers.

At times like these we grasp for words of comfort and consolation, but they are just words. They can never do justice to the pain and loss that is being felt this morning in Edmonton by mothers and fathers, wives and children who have received the worst news we could imagine. All we have in our power today is to tell them, as a nation, that they are in our thoughts and prayers.

The campaign against terrorism is the first great global struggle for justice of the 21st century. As in all such conflicts of the past, Canada has been on the front lines. The Canadian armed forces has set itself apart with their valour, daring and skill. If words cannot console this loss, they also cannot fully express the pride that all Canadians have felt about the exemplary way in which they have carried out their duties.

We have so many questions this morning. Extensive training for combat is meant to save lives. How is it that in this awful case it took so many lives? I want to assure the families and the people of Canada that these questions will be answered. Indeed, President Bush has pledged the full co-operation of the Americans with us in the investigation that is already underway.

For this moment, we must give over our hearts and prayers to the loved and the lost and to the families to whom our nation holds a debt of gratitude that is beyond mortal calculation.

National DefenceRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast B.C.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian AllianceLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, Her Majesty's loyal opposition joins the Prime Minister in expressing sorrow over the loss of these brave souls who made the supreme sacrifice in defence of all we hold near and dear as a nation. We join their families and their comrades in mourning.

This great national tragedy serves to remind us, as generations before were reminded, that our soldiers, our brave soldiers, are among those noble few who volunteer to put themselves in peril in defence of our nation, our freedoms and our democracy. It should always be a great source of national pride that we have among us young people who volunteer, who join our armed forces willingly, knowing that any day, any hour, any minute they may be thrust into perilous situations. We should guard carefully the use of the word noble so that in times like this it can be used generously and accurately to describe and define our fine young people in uniform.

We know and take assurance in knowing that these tragic losses will not deter our military men and women, will not make them falter, will not make them hesitate now or in the future as they continue their fine and noble tradition of defending their nation and its admiring and proud citizens.

Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry has a long, proud and honourable history. The brave men and women in Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry know their history. Today's comrades in arms will be joined in their sorrow by former comrades in arms. They will, as members of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry have done in the past, draw strength from each other and give strength to the families and the loved ones left behind.

I want to address the families and the loved ones. Mere words will never suffice at a time like this, but please know that we are very proud of those loved ones who they have lost.

A poem was written nearly 100 years ago. I would like to read the second and third versus. It states:

We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.

Take up your quarrel with the foe: To you the failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.

We pray for the wounded and their families and for their quick recovery. We will not forget them.

National DefenceRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, a tragic and unfortunate incident has occurred in Afghanistan. Four Canadian soldiers have lost their lives while another eight have been wounded.

On behalf of the members of the Bloc Quebecois, I join with the Prime Minister and all members of the House to express our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who died, and our wishes for a speedy recovery to those who were injured.

As for the families of all of the troops in Afghanistan, who woke up this morning to this terrible news, I would like them to know our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.

The Bloc Quebecois wishes to thank Canadian military personnel in Afghanistan and elsewhere, as well as their families.

What happened is all the more tragic because it occurred during an exercise. Any military operation brings with it a risk of loss of life. This is, of course, the tragedy of war, even in these days of so-called smart weapons, which are supposed to keep such mistakes from happening.

I must make it clear that the United States were quick to offer their co-operation in casting light on this tragic incident. An investigation of these events is imperative.

We can only hope that such a thing will never happen again.

National DefenceRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I join with all members of the House in expressing the deep sadness felt by all Canadians at the events that have happened in Afghanistan in the last 24 hours.

We are shocked and saddened to learn of the loss of four of our soldiers and the injury of eight others. The events affect most directly the loving families and dear friends of those who have been killed and injured, and we express our deepest sympathies and prayers to them at this time.

As a community we know the tragedy of this loss is felt by all Canadians. This morning across the country in schools, workplaces, community facilities, places of worship and the quiet of their homes, Canadians are coming to terms with an experience those of us who grew up in the latter half of the last century had believed and hoped would never be visited again upon the lives of our citizens.

In the community of Halifax that I am privileged to represent, military families join their loved ones on a regular basis to bid them farewell as they go off to serve their country in operations and exercises that can be very dangerous. When Canadian men and women were sent to Afghanistan and the region all Canadians struggled with the cruel reality that some might not return. It is a truth that is unsettling to those of us who have only known peace and rarely been touched by war.

Courage can come from knowing our military men and women accept the risks inherent in their work and are steadied by their training and the knowledge that their public service is essential to building the kind of global peace we value and would like to see for future generations.

We must give all the care, comfort and resources that military families require. We know their families are proud of them and always concerned for their safe return. Our thoughts and the thoughts of all Canadians are with the families of the injured soldiers as well.

Once more on behalf of my colleagues I express my deepest sympathies to the families who have lost their loved ones and extend our prayers to the eight injured soldiers for their full recovery and healing.

National DefenceRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, the whole House joins today in expressing our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the four Canadian soldiers whose lives were lost in Kandahar and the families of those who were injured.

No words can truly express the profound sorrow we as Canadians feel today. We can nonetheless express our admiration, pride and gratitude to the four Canadian soldiers who gave their lives to protect the values of freedom, democracy and respect that are so challenged by the threat of terrorism.

Terrorism is a universal scourge. Canada is not immune to it. That is why Canada's role in the war against terrorism is so important.

All Canadians recognize the matchless contribution of these four Canadian soldiers in this great struggle against terrorism. We admire their extraordinary courage. We salute their ultimate sacrifice. Their memory will be forever with us.

Even in these tragic circumstances hard questions must be asked and answered. War is always unpredictable but Canadians want to know the exact circumstances that led to Canadian soldiers being killed by friendly fire. Did the arrangement whereby American commanders direct Canadian troops have any impact on the casualties? Was there any incompatibility between the communications systems of our troops on the ground and the aircraft involved in the incident? Were the Canadian troops adequately equipped? Are the families of the dead and injured fully covered by the special duty pension order?

War involves loss. This war is worth waging. The safety of Canadians in combat requires the expression of the deepest sympathy and gratitude, and it requires of us the greatest determination to ensure our troops enter combat in the safest possible circumstances.

Our sympathy and thoughts are with the families of the dead and the injured. In that the whole House and whole country join.

National DefenceRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Speaker

I would ask the House to rise for a moment of silence in memory of the soldiers who so tragically died.

PrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member from Mercier on March 19, 2002 relating to actions of the Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade during the committee’s examination of Mr. Alfonso Gagliano as order-in-council appointee to the position of ambassador to Denmark.

I thank the hon. member for Mercier for raising this question as well as the hon. members for Burnaby--Douglas, Portage--Lisgar, Cumberland--Colchester, Winnipeg--Transcona, the former member for Gander--Grand Falls, the hon. government House leader, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, and the hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough who all spoke to the matter.

The hon. member for Mercier, in raising the matter, argued that her parliamentary privileges were violated when the Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade disallowed certain of her questions, thus, in the member’s view, hindering her right to question fully the witness’s qualifications and competence as ambassador-designate.

The hon. member explained that she and other members of the committee had attempted to question the appointee as provided in Standing Order 111(2) that is, they wanted to “examine the qualifications and competence of the …nominee to perform the duties of the post to which he …has been appointed”.

In support of the legitimacy of her line of questioning the hon. member also cited House of Commons Procedure and Practice , page 876 which states:

Any question may be permitted if it can be shown that it relates directly to the appointee's or nominee's ability to do the job.

The hon. member argued that the committee Chair had exceeded her authority. By excluding questions about the ambassador-designate’s previous work experience, the Chair prevented members from asking appropriate questions regarding the candidate’s ability to fulfill his duties.

Furthermore, all hon. members who spoke to the matter raised the issue of freedom of speech as being fundamental to the work of parliamentarians.

In reviewing the facts of the matter, I found that the arguments presented by hon. members set out the difficulty clearly and concisely. However, as members know from many previous rulings rendered in this place, it has been the consistent position of past Speakers—and I have shared that position—that committees are masters of their own destinies. It is with the committee itself that lies the responsibility for resolving its own procedural disputes. These are matters in which Speakers have, almost invariably, chosen—wisely in my opinion—not to interfere.

I wish to draw to the attention of hon. members a previous ruling made in the House some years ago by Speaker Fraser, with regard to actions taken by the then Chair of the Standing Committee on Finance. In his ruling of March 26, 1990, Speaker Fraser made the following comments:

A committee chairman is elected by the committee. Like the Speaker, he is the servant of the body that elected him or her. The chairman is accountable to the committee, and that committee should be the usual venue where his or her conduct is pronounced upon, unless and until the committee chooses to report to the House, which the Committee has not yet opted to do.

Unlike those of the Speaker, the decisions of committee chairs are subject to appeal. This represents an important indication of the independence of committees.

It is my understanding that, in the situation before us, the ruling of the committee Chair with regard to the disallowance of certain lines of questioning was appealed but that the Chair’s decision was upheld. While I understand the frustrations of the hon. members, I cannot substitute my judgment for a decision taken either by a committee Chair or by a committee itself; the Chair cannot become an additional recourse for appealing decisions in committee. Committees must remain masters of their own procedure.

I am confident that committee Chairs continue to be mindful of their responsibilities to make fair and balanced rulings based on the democratic traditions of this place. Members of committees must also strive to resolve procedural issues in a manner which ensures that the rules are followed and that committee deliberations are balanced and productive for those committees.

Again, I thank all hon. members for their interventions in this matter.

I wish to inform the House that because of the ministerial statement government orders will be extended by 14 minutes.

Air Travel Complaints CommissionerRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the report of the Air Travel Complaints Commissioner from July 2000 to December 2001.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to four petitions.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Yolande Thibeault Liberal Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the eighth report of the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages.

This report is a summary of the consultations that we had with officials from organizations representing minority official language communities. It is our hope that this document will help the President of the Treasury Board and minister responsible for co-ordinating issues relating to official languages in the drafting of his comprehensive action plan.

The committee wishes to underline the outstanding collaboration and support of the people who appeared before the committee and the people who served the committee.

We wish to thank researcher Françoise Coulombe, from the Parliamentary Research Branch of the Library of Parliament, as well as co-clerks Tonu Onu and Jean-François Pagé and their support staff for their invaluable contributions, which have enabled us to table this eighth report.

Employment Insurance ActRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-442, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce this bill. I hope that it will be selected to become a votable item. This bill proposes some 15 changes to employment insurance.

As we know, some changes have been made to employment insurance since 1996. Even though there is now a $42 billion surplus in the fund, some people do not even qualify for employment insurance benefits.

In short, the major changes proposed in this bill are to reduce the number of hours from 910 to 350; to increase the number of weeks for people who may qualify; to include self-employed entrepreneurs under the EI program; to increase the level of benefits to 66%, where it should really be.

This is a very important bill. We must also ensure that an independent commission monitors the employment insurance program.

As I have said, it is a pleasure for me to present this bill in the House of Commons. I hope it will be made votable shortly, especially since we have a $42 billion surplus in employment insurance.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Organ Donation ActRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-443, an act to establish a national organ donor registry and to co-ordinate and promote organ donation throughout Canada.

Mr. Speaker, as we approach National Organ Donor Week it gives me great pleasure to introduce an act to establish a national organ donor registry and to co-ordinate and promote organ donation throughout Canada.

The bill is intended to save lives by ensuring that Canadians in need of live saving organs can benefit from the most efficient and co-ordinated system of identifying and matching donors to meet the need.

We are painfully aware of the urgent need to improve our organ donation system. That has been driven home today by the news that the rate of organ donation in the country has fallen.

It is my belief and the belief of many others that we can benefit from this kind of legislation and we can make a difference in the lives of Canadians who are desperately in need of organs today.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I move that the second report of the Standing Committee on Health, presented on Wednesday, December 12, 2001, be concurred in. It is a privilege for me to speak to the motion.

Almost a year ago the former health minister introduced draft legislation on assisted reproductive technology and related research. Before I get into that piece of legislation that was brought down as draft legislation I would like to give a history as to what brought us to that point because that was not the first attempt at such legislation.

The events leading up to it began in 1991. A royal commission report was tabled in 1993 just to sit on a shelf and accumulate dust. Nothing came of it. However, in 1997 Bill C-47 was put on the order paper only to die on it at the call of an election.

This is the third attempt at such legislation that would allow us to deal with an issue that is becoming more and more important. In fact, our newspapers are filled with reports of cloning and how stem cell research is being developed at the present time.

The former health minister presented a fairly extensive bill last May. Some of the subject matter of the bill dealt with cloning, surrogacy and stem cell research. There were two sides to that piece of legislation. There was a scientific side and a family building side, which is the reproductive side dealing with in vitro fertilization, surrogacy and all of that. It was a thorough two-stage piece of legislation.

There were a number of things that were prohibited in that piece of legislation: reproductive and research cloning, which some people term as therapeutic cloning; and commercial surrogacy. We said there should be no modification in the whole area of gamete donation and surrogacy. The maintaining of an embryo outside of a womb was prohibited and there were many others.

One of the activities that would be allowed under licensing was embryonic stem cell research. However, the most important piece in the legislation was the regulatory body that would oversee the prohibitions and the licensing of the overall department of assisted reproductive technologies and related research. Notably when the minister introduced the bill he said:

There must be a higher notion than science alone…that can guide scientific research and endeavour. Simply because we can do something, does not mean that we should do it.

That bill was sent directly to committee. It was the first piece of legislation that came into this parliament and went directly to committee. It was a novel approach, one that I believe should have been taken up in many pieces of legislation introduced here because it gives us a non-partisan opportunity to deal with an issue before entrenchment, party lines and party division take over a subject.

The committee met over an extensive period of time, nine months, and dealt with several issues and heard from dozens of witnesses. We heard from the scientists who were eager and excited about getting into this subject matter. We heard from the ethicists and faith communities. We heard from parents struggling with infertility and surrogates. We heard from the offspring of assisted reproductive research. We heard from the disabled, legal counsels, legal experts, et cetera. All of these groups were very important.

I mention these groups because when we deal with a subject matter that is on the cutting edge of scientific research we sometimes think it should be driven by science and scientific interests alone. However, when we look at the subject matter it has many different facets to it.

It has much to do with parents and children. It has much to do with legality, with interest groups from the disabled and others. This is why we looked at all of those. There were differing perspectives and sometimes compelling testimonies on the complex subject that had many considerations. We heard compelling and moving evidence.

Meanwhile, development in this area kept rolling around, it did not stand still. Over this last year we have seen some phenomenal things happen. Members will recall some of the reports that came forward this past summer that groups were intent on human cloning. Something significant happened in the United States in August when President Bush announced that funding guidelines for embryonic stem cell research, and notably public funds, would not go into pre-existing embryonic stem cell lines. There would be no more killing of embryos with public money was basically what he was saying.

There is a memorable phrase that is well worth noting. He said that we did not create life in order to destroy it. However, things kept rolling along and we saw another challenge to this whole idea of human cloning in November when headlines proclaimed the first human had been cloned. This came out of an advance cell technology when an American privately funded company announced that it had used the clone technology to grow a cell that could eventually serve as a source of a human cell line. This embryo died in the Petri dish at six days of age.

We can see how this is developing and how things are moving along very quickly. During this same period the Canadian Alliance argued in committee that legislation should be tabled and the bill broken up in order to deal with the issues that we all agreed should not go forward and that we should stop therapeutic and reproductive cloning which are internationally recognized as deplorable acts. We suggested this and brought it to committee only to be turned away.

We continued with hearings throughout the fall and wrapped up in November. In December the committee met in camera to draw its final recommendations to the minister on the new legislation. One thing that was significantly different was in the intent of the legislation when it was introduced in May compared to what we had discovered over the nine month period. We wanted to change the original name to focus on building families because reproduction is all about reproducing cells and growing healthy families as a society. That is what is important as a nation. That is what is important as society goes forward.

We introduced the majority report and minority reports. The majority report included many provisions that the Canadian Alliance supported, such as a greater primacy for the principle of respect for human dignity, individuality and integrity of the embryo. We agreed with the banning of human cloning, whether it be reproductive or therapeutic, of commercial surrogacy or of animal-human hybrids, the combining of animal and human DNA.

We also agreed with having an accountable, regulatory body to deal with this legislation as this science develops into the 21st century. We need a body that will deal with the things we could not have recognized, that we could not have come to terms with or foreseen, but we must have a body that is truly accountable to Canadians and truly accountable to the House if we are to be able to move forward.

Unfortunately the Liberals would not agree with a moratorium on embryonic stem cell research. Their recommendation number 14, on page 16, stated:

Research using embryos be a controlled activity requiring a licence--

As we thought through exactly where we should go on this very important piece of legislation,we came up with a minority report. There were eight things that we wanted to highlight. One was the urgency of the legislation. We cannot afford to wait any longer. We cannot afford to fail with this piece of legislation because of the way science is moving forward, so we said that it should happen by the end of March.

We said that there should be respect for human life. We said that in the conflict between ethics and science, where ethical accountability conflicts with scientific possibility, the ethical should prevail. With regard to regulations on the embryonic stem cell research, we said that we should back off for three years and allow science to work on the adult stem cell side, which is not fraught with ethical dynamics and dilemmas in any of the research being done or anything coming out of the research. We said we should take a breather as science catches up and we should put our energies where they can be most valuably used, where our precious Canadian dollars for research can accomplish the most. We are seeing many things happen even in the last few months with regard to the excitement that adult stem cells are creating and what actually can be accomplished. We are seeing such things as Parkinson's and muscular dystrophy actually being cured through the adult stem cell.

We said that we should respect provincial jurisdictions. With respect to privacy and accessibility to information, we said that when the rights of the donor conflict with the rights of the child, the rights of the child should prevail. We are saying that we must have statutory standing in front of that regulatory body for all interests, not just the scientific interest. As well, we should have a free vote in the House when the legislation comes forward.

Since we tabled our report there have been several developments. I would like to underscore some of them and the need for this legislation in Canada. In January we learned that for years Industry Canada has been issuing patents on human genes. The health committee was under the impression that patents would not be issued for human genes. We recommended against gene patenting. The concept here is no different from that of developing a telescope, looking out into the universe and discovering a star. It is fine to patent the telescope. It is not appropriate to patent the star. Patenting a human gene is no different.

In February, a Kentucky fertility specialist, Dr. Zavos, pledged to begin efforts to clone a human being, in an undisclosed country outside the United States. Everyone has to understand that in the cloning process only .5 of the clones are really ever born healthy enough to grow into a full human being. In the United States, for example, if only .5 of clones, only one out of every 200, are born whole, then we would want to have those born in a society or in a country that socially picks up all of the disasters that come out of that. I would suggest that they are very possibly targeting Canada and we could potentially be seeing this kind of experiment happening on our soil.

Also in February it was announced that a woman with faulty genes would get an embryo without those faulty genes. We are hearing story after story with regard to designer babies. We are talking about deaf parents who wanted to ensure that they had a deaf son so they had another embryo from a surrogate to make sure it would happen. We are seeing designer babies happening before our eyes, particularly in the last six months.

Recently a committee in the United Kingdom's House of Lords recommended that research on the embryonic stem cell would be permitted to continue, that therapeutic cloning would be allowed and that the first embryo bank of stem cell research would also be established. It is interesting to look at the United Kingdom and its experience over the last 10 years. It had a regulatory body that would allow only the destruction of embryos that were left over from in vitro fertilization. Just a month or so ago it changed the rules and now it is allowing embryos to be designed solely for the purpose of research and also allowing them to be developed to take stem cells from them, which would be the same as therapeutic or research cloning.

We can see the slippery slope we would be on as a nation if we were to open the door and go beyond the line, killing life to be able to do research on that life.

In March the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and this is a Canadian institute, announced guidelines allowing federal research funding to be directed to embryonic stem cell research. It was a complete end run on parliament. There is no regulatory body in place to deal with this, but the CIHR decided it would take it upon itself. It was interesting yesterday when we heard from the president of the CIHR, Dr. Bernstein. We asked him about some of these important issues and why he would bring forward his guidelines at the eleventh hour, after waiting a decade, and pre-empt the work of parliament. His answers were less than convincing.

It is interesting as well to see how his guidelines differ from the standing committee's report, a report that recommends a declaration of human dignity, individuality and integrity. As well, it is important to note that this all party report stated that research on an embryo should take place only if there is no other category of biological material that can be used. We can see that after 20 years of research of embryos being used in animals, we have cured nothing.

The new CIHR rules ignored these recommendations.

Early last week it was reported that the first cloned baby was on its way through the efforts of an Italian fertility specialist, Dr. Antinori. He claims to be in an Arab country and to have cloned a child that is eight weeks along in its mother's womb at the present time. We do not know how many others are happening around the world, but we know this is coming. We know the urgency is there.

Also last week, President Bush denounced all forms of human cloning and announced his support for legislation currently in progress on the banning of human cloning. He said “Life is a creation, not a commodity”. Finally, last week scientists linked to a group in Quebec claimed that they have already implanted cloned embryos in women. If they are experimenting on our soil, there no law to stop them. Science fiction is quickly becoming science fact.

On Friday we asked the government to assure us that the cloning experiments were not taking place in Canada. We received no such assurance. It is imperative that legislation on cloning and research on human embryos be debated in the House as soon as possible. We know that there are groups intent on cloning humans. The CIHR has pre-empted parliament by saying that research on embryos should go ahead.

The minister has pledged to have that legislation by May 10. We have now waited eight years for legislation on these issues. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Health has carefully considered draft legislation and made its report to the House. Parliament is eagerly waiting to receive and debate the legislation on assisted reproduction, promised by the minister within the next month.

The CIHR's announcement has pre-empted that debate and has usurped the authority that rightly belongs to parliament in regard to making fundamental decisions on human life. The minister's acquiescence in this regard is an affront to a long process involving parliamentarians that precedes this announcement. Decisions on issues of such importance and controversy as embryonic stem cell research and human cloning must be made by parliament, not by unelected, unrepresentative, arm's length organizations funded by federal governments. Genome Canada stepped over the line last week, as it has now $11 million, $5.5 million from federal funds, toward embryonic stem cell research.

Canadians deserve to have their voices heard in parliament before a decision is made on these issues. The time for action is now.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Mississauga South Ontario

Liberal

Paul Szabo LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments on what is certainly a very important report. This report showed how committee members in fact can work together in a non-partisan way. It deals with some very sensitive issues and I would like to make a statement. I hope that the member will be able to comment on some of the thinking of the committee as I know he is a member of that committee.

Dr. Françoise Baylis was on the dais with the president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to announce the guidelines on stem cell research. I would like to quote from a statement she made to the health committee. She stated:

The first thing to recognize in the legislation and in all your conversations is that embryos are human beings. That is an uncontested biological fact. They are a member of the human species.

This really focuses the issue to the fact that we are talking about the disposition of a human being, the human embryo. In fact most discussions start off with people saying that we have in vitro fertilization, there are these unwanted fertilized eggs, the embryos, and therefore rather than simply discard them, let us use them.

I wonder if the member would comment on the logistics here. It appears to me that the in vitro process generates more eggs for fertilization than are normally necessary. In fact they drug women to super-ovulate and they harvest perhaps 25 eggs. Then they might implant two or three eggs. If more than one takes, they do a fetal reduction. It seems to me that the solution to this problem or this ethical dilemma is to perfect the process of freezing women's eggs and simply thaw them when they are needed for the in vitro process. In that case there would be no surplus embryos and that would deal with the ethical problem.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. I would be pleased to comment on it because it is a very important issue. Science has really gotten us into this mess in the sense that we have not had the opportunity to freeze an embryo prior to the scientific advancements over the last few years. When it comes to solving the problems that science has gotten us into, I believe that science has the potential to and probably will get us out of this mess.

The member is right in the sense that when science gets to the place where it can freeze the egg and not the embryo, it gets around the ethical dilemma. That is actually happening in Australia. There is some evidence of that right now. They think that perhaps a year or two down the line that will be very much a reality.

However, we are very concerned. The committee looked at in vitro fertilization clinics. In fact we have put in some flags, which will be fleshed out in the regulatory body when legislation comes forward, with regard to the ethics of the number of eggs that are actually fertilized. We think there should be some limits there because of the ethical or unethical treatment of infertility practices.

Science has gotten us into it. Science can get us out of it. It is a very important issue.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I compliment my colleague on his well prepared and well delivered remarks today. This is a huge issue.

I would like him to address what I feel is once again a slight of parliament by the health committee spending many hours looking at the issue and preparing a report. I know the official opposition, with the former member, Preston Manning, had a lot of input into the issue and came up with a minority report with some good recommendations.

We have all received many letters and have heard many comments from constituents in our ridings who do want to have input into this issue. Through the actions of the CIHR this has been circumvented to some degree. I think that is wrong. Parliament should have supremacy.

I would like the member to comment a little further on the whole idea of using embryonic stem cell research from what is left over from the in vitro fertilization process. Does he feel that this is not the right way to go? What would happen if we did go down that road?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. member for the question and the discernment he has with regard to the pre-empting of parliament by the CIHR.

If there was ever a situation of putting the cart before the horse this is it. It is unbelievable that the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which is 100% federally funded, would take the very valuable taxpayer dollars and use them for embryonic stem cell research, and use guidelines that deal with one of the most difficult issues that we have on ethics and the ethical dilemma that parliamentarians have to deal with in this piece of legislation. It is unbelievable that we could be pre-empted by this group.

Not only that, then we have the other group, Genome Canada, which just last week took $5.5 million from the industry minister and put that into embryonic stem cell research without any regulations in place, although it says that it will adopt the Canadian Institute for Health Research's guidelines, which really go beyond anything that the majority report has suggested.

It is absolutely appalling to see parliament and parliamentarians pre-empted. We need to consider the people we represent and their will on this issue. They have not had an opportunity to speak on this. We absolutely must bring this forward as soon as possible so they can have their voices heard.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by thanking the health critic for the Alliance in his efforts to bring this serious matter before the House. I concur with him when he says that action in this area is long overdue and to reiterate our concern to have the matter resolved in parliament and to begin to ensure we have a proper regulatory process in place to govern this very complex and controversial area.

In addition to the critical matter of stem cell research that he raises, I would like to ask him a few short questions on some issues that I think are important and critical to the developments in this area.

The first question has to do with a concern I think we all share, which is commercialization in the area of reproductive technology. Does the member support that concern and, if he does, is he prepared to work with us to get the federal government to bring reproductive technology into the non-profit public sector?

Second, does he support efforts to stop the number of applications before the Canadian patent office trying to get patents on genetically engineered human stem cells? As well, does he support the idea of the government reviewing on a precautionary basis rather than a risk assessment basis the safety of fertility drugs? Does he agree that we need to advance the whole area in conjunction with the Women's Health Bureau of Canada and with the women's centres of health excellence across Canada.

Finally, does he agree with our need to develop a national strategy on genetics based on respect for human dignity and diversity and that we must do so in conjunction with persons with disabilities and their organizations that are so involved in this area?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think I addressed some of those questions in my earlier remarks. When it comes to the issue of children, it is really all encompassing around the draft legislation that we looked at, which is why we renamed it “Building Families”. When we are faced with the ethical dilemmas that are in the legislation, we are saying that where the scientifically possible conflicts with the ethically acceptable, that the ethically acceptable has to prevail. When we have the rights of a donor compared to the rights of a child, the rights of the child have to prevail. Those are fundamental and I think they garner a significant amount of agreement, at least at committee level. We would like to get that into the House so that we can debate it here.

I would agree with the member. When it comes to the child and where we need to go with the legislation, she is right. When it comes to a national strategy, believe me, we need legislation first then we will talk about national strategy and a regulatory body that is accountable to the House.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That the House proceed to orders of the day.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.