House of Commons Hansard #189 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was life.


Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that the regulatory agency is the single greatest weakness in the bill.

Science is evolving at such an incredibly rapid pace that we cannot give up our responsibility and pass it off to an unaccountable and unelected body. It is up to us to follow the progress of science, stay not too far behind it because I do not know if we can stay in front of it, and regulate it. That is the biggest concern with the bill. We do not have regulations now. We need to deal with the matter. We need to have an open and frank debate. I hope the government will agree to amend the legislation so we do not pass off our responsibilities. That would be wrong.

With respect to stem cells, I do not see this as a pro-life issue. However there are concerns we must look at. We cannot deny the advancements of science if we can find cures for such horrible diseases as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. However at the same time we need to get all the information. A lot of members have made eloquent arguments that the cures could come from stem cells taken from umbilical cords and other sources. However would that deny potential cures for cancer and other diseases? These are questions we need to take a serious and hard look at. We need to get all the facts on the table.

People have raised the concern that if we take the first step, what will the next one be? Do we allow cloning? Do we allow the commercial growing of human parts or organs? There are serious ethical questions we must absolutely look at.

I hope the government will allow a free vote on the issue so members can follow what they believe are the wishes of their constituents. The government should listen to the debate carefully in the House. More importantly, it should be open to amendments so we can bring about the needed legislation which is lacking. This should not become a party debate. The government should listen to members from all parties and put forward amendments so we can arrive at a consensus that is good for all Canadians.

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4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Canadian Alliance Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to have the opportunity today to speak to this issue. This debate goes right to the heart of an extremely important matter. It is extremely important I believe in my riding, in my province, in our country and indeed around the world because we are debating the issue regarding the most fundamental principle of all and that is the principle of human life.

I want to address some of the questions with which we are forced to grapple. I will not try to answer those questions but I do want to mention them because sometimes even the mention of a question brings something to light that we have not thought of before.

The first question is what exactly is human life? When does it begin? When does it end? Do we have the right to decide to end it for our own personal gain? Can we create human life to destroy it for a so-called greater good? Is the intentional destruction of human life ever justified? Can we decide which human embryos live and which ones die? Is it ethical to destroy a human embryo at one stage but not at another? Is a human embryo outside the womb worth more than one inside the womb? Who has the right to decide when an embryo is actual human life? Are the rights of women over their embryos greater than the rights of scientists over embryonic specimens? Can one be paid to create a human life and at the same time be paid for ending it?

Those are some of the questions. I will not attempt to answer them but I will acknowledge that many refrain from thinking about, let alone answering, these fundamental questions because of the fear of the logical outcome of their thought process; principally that the union of a sperm and an egg is the genesis of all human life.

If a fertilized human egg is not a human life then what is it? Would we call it a potential for life? Scientists will tell us that a cell's ability to duplicate itself indicates that it is living. A human cell capacity to reproduce itself demonstrates that it is alive. If it is alive and reproducing, then what is it reproducing? Is it not human life? Of course it is. It could not be any other kind of life. Life produced by a human must indeed be human life.

When we think back to those very rudimentary things, we understand what we are talking about; the sacrifice of human life. What then is the status of an embryo created by the union of human sperm and a human egg? It must be human life even in a Petri dish. At the risk of being politically incorrect, which I suppose I have already blown, I must say that it is a human life.

A man and a woman who furnish the necessary ingredients for reproduction can only create that which is human. It is impossible for them to create anything else from their own bodies. Can a scientist then create anything but a human life through the union of a man's sperm and a woman's ovum in a Petri dish? I think not.

There was a recent headline in the Post which read “Does a fetus have rights, or doesn't it?” I might ask the question: if it does have rights, then when? If it does not have rights, then when and why?

It is interesting to note that our neighbour to the south, the United States, has recently been challenged by George Bush, the president, the ensure that the unborn child receives protection by granting it the right to health care in the prenatal stages.

Secretary Thompson said:

Prenatal services can be a vital, life-long determinant of health, and we should do everything we can to make this care available for all pregnant women.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Bush administration on that bold measure in the advancement of prenatal health care. I would like to ask our health minister whether she would consider such a thing for Canada.

The government has previously identified fetal alcohol syndrome, among other things, as being a real problem in our country and for that I want to commend it. However, how can the government justify taking steps to help prevent FAS in the country without acknowledging that it is doing so because the unborn child in a mother's womb is a human life worth preserving and keeping healthy? Or is it doing it simply as a possible cost saving measure for health care in later years? I would hope it is doing it for the value of the human life involved.

This leads to another fundamental question that faces us today. Is intentionally ending a human life justified by saving another? No one can deny that some of the most heroic acts of bravery and human courage have come from someone's willingness to die in order to save another's life. Arguably the most famous person in the history of the world once said “There is no greater love than to give one's life for his friend.” However the giving of one's life to save another is only heroic and an act of love when it is done voluntarily. How can the taking of human life be justified when it is done without the express consent of the one whose life is being taken, especially when there are alternatives?

As many witnesses testified during the hearings of the health committee, the prospect of adult stem cell research is equally promising without the ethical and moral implications of embryonic stem cell research.

Professor Gordon Giesbrecht of the University of Manitoba stated:

Destructive embryonic research is not necessary on practical grounds. Adult stem cells can now be extracted from post-natal tissue, such as the placenta and blood from the umbilical cord, as well as from living humans and even cadavers. In contrast to earlier beliefs, these post-natal cells have a biomedical potential as great as, or even greater than, embryonic stem cells. Advances in this area are proceeding at a rapid pace.

Claims for embryonic stem cell advantages over adult stem cells are unsubstantiated. There are no current clinical treatments based on embryonic stem cells, and there are in fact very few published successes using animal models of disease.

I encourage the government to adopt some of the recommendations that we brought forth as a party. First, that the recognition of the human embryo as “human life” be in the final legislation. Second, that resolution of conflicts between “ethical acceptability” and “scientific possibility” be settled in favour of the ethical course. Third, that there should be a three year prohibition of embryonic stem cell research to be revisited in three years, therefore giving a strong endorsation of adult stem cell research. Fourth, that there be the paramountcy of the rights of children to know their heritage.

In wrapping up I will mention again perhaps in simpler words why I do not support this bill at this point.

The first reason is the bill encourages embryonic stem cell research while at the same time thereby discouraging adult stem cell research. The very fact that this is given so much prominence will in fact promote its implementation.

The second reason is that in doing that, the bill would also encourage the proliferation of the production of excess embryos created through assisted human reproduction technologies and shuffled off for research purposes. If we left that gate closed for a little while and emphasized the research on adult stem cells, we would be much further ahead.

The third reason is it does not grant the right to children to know who their parents are. It takes some good half steps but I cannot support it fully in its present form.

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4:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Reed Elley Canadian Alliance Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for sharing his feelings on this very important landmark bill before the House on reproductive technology.

Does my colleague have any kind of light to shed upon a certain part of this whole debate? My understanding is that the members of the health committee met and heard from many expert witnesses who gave testimony on whole area. They heard from a number of scientists who indeed said that the development of adult stem cell research was moving along at a fairly fast pace and that the results coming from this superceded that which was coming from maybe 20 years of embryonic stem cell research. They said that when people used their own adult stem cells as opposed to embryonic stem cells, particularly in terms of organs, the rejection factor was practically nil. They also said there was a cost for anti-rejection drugs when embryonic stem cells were used.

The committee then came back with an almost unanimous report that indicated that there should be some kind of moratorium on embryonic stem cell research at this point so that we could really see the good results of the adult stem cell research.

If that was the case, why then was there this huge shift, between the time when the report was written and the legislation was tabled on the part of the government, to move away from that recommendation of the committee? I do not know if the hon. member has any elucidation on that subject?

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4:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Canadian Alliance Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure why that would be, but I can understand why the government would be in such a hurry to implement embryonic research. I believe seriously that there is a fear that adult stem cell research will progress so rapidly that the need for embryonic research will be nil. I think the potential in all that I have read is that the adult stem cell research would be much more valuable.

I think people have been led to believe that adult cells were too limited in availability. I think we have been hoodwinked into believing that we have to go with the embryonic stem cell research to have stem cells available, but science is proving this is not true. According to what I have read, embryonic stem cells are more elastic than adult stem cells. In other words, they are not as predictable as to what we can do with them. They even have a tendency to go out of control and do things that they were not intended to do. That has not been found to be true of adult stem cells.

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4:35 p.m.


Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand that the member for Regina--Lumsden--Lake Centre has a disagreement with one particular portion of the bill. To what conclusion does that lead him? At the moment there is no legislated control on stem cell research, embryonic or otherwise, no legislated control on the commercialization of women's wombs, no legislated control on human cloning and no legislated control on the sale of eggs or sperm.

Would he allow one portion of the bill to lead him to where he would vote against any legislation to put controls on all those very serious ethical and scientific matters rather than have a bill with one flaw that he does not like? If that were the end result, we would have no legislation on anything to do with human reproduction.

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4:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Canadian Alliance Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, in that case, then, the government member should consider very seriously what they do at committee to implement a few good amendments in order to alleviate some of these different problems. As I have said, there are some good half steps, but the half that is left out is a bad one.

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4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before resuming debate, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Davenport, Trade; the hon. member for Palliser, Automobile Industry; the hon. member for Dewdney—Alouette, Fisheries and Oceans.

I now caution members that we will proceed to debate, so there will be 10 minute speeches without questions and comments.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure, if those are appropriate words to use, that I rise today to add some comments to the debate on Bill C-56. As a member of the health committee, I sat through for some time a variety of deputations that came before us and talked about the importance of finally getting some legislation.

I would remind the House how many years it has been since we have been trying to deal with getting some sort of legislation in place in the area of human reproduction. It is an enormously sensitive issue. This is a piece of legislation in which I think we are trying to find the balance that respects the needs of many people in Canada, both those seeking to find cures for diseases as well as people dealing with the issues of needing to build their families and so on.

The legislation on assisted reproduction that we have before us would play a very important role in protecting and promoting the health and safety of all Canadians while ensuring that the promising related research is conducted in an ethical and appropriate manner. Currently we do not have legislation and we have little control over what is really going on.

The legislation has three primary objectives: to help Canadians using AHR procedures to build a family without compromising their health and safety; to prohibit practices, such as cloning, that Canadians clearly find very unacceptable; and to ensure that AHR related research which could help find treatments for infertility and serious diseases takes place within a regulated environment.

Bill C-56 is a comprehensive and integrated approach to some difficult challenges facing Canadians and society as a whole. It would also put Canada in line with other major industrialized nations that have also moved to ban or restrict certain practices they find morally intolerable. Is Bill C-56 perfect? Clearly not. It will go back to committee. We will have opportunities to review the bill again, to refine the legislation and to make it even better than what we currently have.

Canada has sought for some time to find the right way to deal with these issues and the related science and technology. The royal commission on new reproductive technologies, for instance, spent four years holding Canada-wide hearings and reflecting on the complex issues involved.

The commission tabled a detailed, two volume report in 1993. Many of its recommendations are now being brought to life in the legislation before the House. For example, the concept of statutory prohibitions on certain unacceptable practices, in conjunction with a regulatory framework to govern acceptable practices, stems from the royal commission's work.

Since that time there have been many other developments, including a voluntary moratorium on human cloning and similarly unacceptable activities, but consultations with Canadians have made it very clear that this was not enough. Not only was there was a desire for prohibiting activities, there was also a desire for a comprehensive approach that could deal with a broad range of other issues.

Last year the former Minister of Health took on that challenge of drafting legislation that would respect the range of strongly held views about AHR and related issues, especially in the area of research using embryos, an area that is extremely sensitive for all of us. He took the unprecedented step of first submitting a draft of the legislation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health in order to give Canadians, through their elected representatives, a chance to see it, think about it and comment on it. The eight or nine months that many of us sat on that committee and listened to those deputations gave us an real eye opener and an education on the complexities of the issues, and we all struggled to find the right balance to protect Canadians.

The committee heard from dozens of witnesses and came up with a thoughtful and well researched report. As a result of the committee's input, the draft legislation was further refined and improved. I was pleased with the legislation that came back because it respected the feelings of our committee. There are areas that are still under discussion which will be further refined when the bill goes back to the health committee. Hopefully those of us who have been on the committee until now will still be on it and we will have a chance to do some further work on it.

Bill C-56 in its present form does capture the spirit and the intent of many of the recommendations made to the Government of Canada by the health committee on ways to deal with the issues raised by assisted human reproduction. In particular, certain activities and practices would not be allowed in Canada. They include any type of human cloning to produce a genetically identical replica of another person or the creation of a human embryo for purposes other than that of reproduction. It would be prohibited to engage in practices that would increase or ensure the likelihood of having a child of a particular gender unless it is for medical reasons.

It would be prohibited to pay a woman for more than the costs of reasonable expenses to carry a child to term for someone else. It would be prohibited to buy or trade in reproductive materials like eggs, sperm or human embryos. It would be prohibited to change the DNA of an embryo in a way such that the change could be passed on to future generations. It would also be prohibited to mix the genetic material of animals and humans for reproductive purposes.

Most Canadians agree that such practices are clearly unethical and unacceptable. They have no redeeming social merit and should be banned. The feelings of all of us who sat on the committee were conclusive in regard to these issues and we are pleased that the government ensured that these prohibitions are in the legislation.

There are other practices that are not specifically prohibited and would be permitted, but not under any terms. They would require a licence from the agency. They would be subject to strict regulations aimed at ensuring the health and safety of Canadians as well as the ethical conduct of AHR treatments and related research. This recommendation clearly tries to recognize the benefits of science and the changes that are happening in new technology while still trying to protect the public from some of the issues that we feel are threatening.

For example, all facilities engaged in AHR related activities, such as in vitro fertilization clinics, would have to be licensed under Bill C-56. The regulations would govern issues such as limiting the number of children who could be conceived using one donor's sperm. It would also be required that patients give their informed consent for all treatments and decisions, such as what to do with embryos that are surplus to their needs.

Under the regulations, scientists who wish to conduct research involving human embryos would have to obtain a licence as well as permission for their proposed projects from a recognized ethics board. In order to obtain the authorization for this work, they would have to demonstrate clearly to the agency that the use of an embryo is necessary for the purpose of the proposed research. They could only use embryos that were created for, and surplus to, fertility treatments. They also would have to secure the informed consent of the donors.

The scientific exploration that holds great promise of benefiting society would be permitted under strict regulations. For example, research could help to give us a better understanding of the problems of human infertility. Research could also help in investigating cures for serious degenerative ailments such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease as well as cancer and spinal cord injuries.

Two weeks ago, many of us had a visit from people suffering from ALS. Clearly when one talks to these people one learns that they have great hopes that through some of this research a cure will finally be found for some of these terrible diseases that devastate families and take life away from many. This type of research requires stem cells, though, and they may be found in embryonic tissues as well as other sources.

The legislation supersedes guidelines on stem cell research recently announced by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Government of Canada's principal funding source. The new legislation would go further because it would also cover scientists who receive no federal funds.

Bill C-56 is finally getting into the House, hopefully before we adjourn for final reading, to bring in legislation clearly meant to protect Canadians as well as ensure that the research community has specific guidelines to ensure the protection of Canadians and to help us in our research to find the cure for many diseases.

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May 22nd, 2002 / 4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I approach the debate on Bill C-56 with great concern on several levels. First, the bill concerns me deeply as a parliamentarian in that once again the government is seeking to take crucial matters, truly matters of life and death, out of the purview of the House by handing them over to secretive cabinet regulation and an unelected, unaccountable, government-appointed committee of reputed experts. This has serious implications for our democracy. The bill should be opposed on these grounds alone.

However, I have deeper concerns about the bill, not simply as a member of parliament but as a human being. The bill goes to the heart of what it means to be a human in a technological age and I am afraid that in several areas it makes grave, perhaps irreparable, mistakes.

First let me address the continued subversion of the role of parliament implicit in the bill. It leaves some of the most sensitive questions regarding surrogacy and the use of embryonic stem cells in the hands of the new assisted human reproduction agency of Canada. The agency would not report to parliament but only to the minister. The minister's power of delegation to the agency would be considerable. Clause 32 allows the minister to delegate any agency decision to individual members of the agency. One person, therefore, could be called upon to make a grave moral choice on behalf of all Canadians. Clause 25 allows the minister to give the agency policy directives at any time, which it must implement and which would be kept secret. This committee is being charged with dealing with some of the most important ethical challenges imaginable.

I do not believe that matters of great moral import like this should simply be left to self-interested experts to decide. Yes, experts may have great technical expertise, but their intense involvement with issues in many cases makes them blind to the common moral sense of society. For instance, a great many scientists and researchers are demanding already that the bill should be broadened to allow for therapeutic cloning, but clearly the vast majority of Canadians oppose this practice. The bill reflects their sentiment and the advice of the Standing Committee on Health by prohibiting therapeutic cloning. However, I am concerned that the minister has said in remarks that this ban may be “temporary” and that she is essentially waiting for public opinion to “catch up” with the research community.

I do not believe that Canadians' moral sense about this issue is simply due to ignorance. It is based on well founded and legitimate fears that therapeutic cloning may well lead a company or a research lab to abuse this technology in an unethical way and proceed with reproductive cloning. There are already reports of an Italian scientist who is attempting reproductive cloning. A new age cult with a large following in Quebec claims to be pursuing the same thing. This research would also further undermine respect for human life by turning human beings into something that simply could be copied and reproduced. Any sense of the sanctity or inherent dignity of human life is likely to be lost if a single embryo can be copied thousands of times.

Ordinary common sense Canadians can see the dark moral forest that we would enter if we take the path of therapeutic cloning, but too often experts whose professional interests and livelihoods depend on pursuing the latest technology cannot see the forest for the individual trees of their own research field. Can we really afford to hive off questions as sensitive as this to self-interested experts or should they be guided by the will of Canadians as expressed in parliament?

Let me come to a specific example, perhaps the most dangerous step taken in this bill: the authorization of embryonic stem cell research.

Many people say they have been wrestling with their consciences over this issue during the debate. It is my observation that when one is wrestling with one's conscience, one's conscience usually loses. Conscience is a moral guide that instinctively tells us right from wrong. If our conscience tells us that destroying nascent human life is unethical and we start to wrestle with that moral intuition, then what that really means is that we are surrounding the clear witness of conscience with a smokescreen of rationalizations and relativizations. If our consciences are telling us that this manipulation and destruction of life is wrong, then I submit that as legislators we ought not to be wrestling with conscience but listening to it and acting in accordance with it.

A human embryo is a living human being. This is not an assertion of opinion but an uncontrovertible, prima facie, scientific fact. Human life is a continuum and that continuum begins at the moment when the ovum is fertilized by the spermatozoa. At that point, a unique, unrepeatable human existence begins. All our capacities and abilities, our hair colour, our height, perhaps even our intellectual aptitudes and our personalities, are to a large extent determined by that unique genetic code that has just been created. If left in its natural state, that single-celled entity will become a baby.

The question we must ask ourselves is, what dignity and what worth does that unrepeatable human life have? I suggest that it has an intrinsic dignity and worth that we cannot deny.

Many religions teach that from the moment of conception the physical embryo coexists with the spiritual soul. Personally, I believe that to be true. Even if we were not to believe in the intrinsic sanctity of human life surely we could all respect the dignity of human life. All human life shares a common ancestry and potential. That is an insight available to people with or without religious faith.

If we were to undermine the dignity of the human embryo in the lab, we would surely undermine the dignity of all human life, the severely handicapped, the sick, the elderly, and those who some cultures and political ideologies have taught to be racially inferior. If these living human beings do not have intrinsic dignity and worth, at least in the eyes of some, then what is to prevent them from being used simply as objects for research?

We all know the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele and the hideous experiments he performed on Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz. This is perhaps an extreme but it is an extreme that can be reached when we move down the path of treating human beings as objects and not as persons.

I do not believe that there can be any justification for using living human beings for experimentation, no matter how worthy the purported objective.

I, and my colleagues in the Canadian Alliance, believe there is a great potential in adult stem cell research. Stem cells can be derived from the skin, umbilical cord or elsewhere in the body of grown humans. There are no ethical dilemmas in this research any more than there is an ethical dilemma in cutting our hair or trimming our nails.

Increasingly, scientists believe they can produce adult stem cells with the same flexibility and potentiality that they previously believed only embryonic stem cells could provide with an added therapeutic bonus. If we receive stem cells derived from our own tissue it would have the same DNA and thus no risk of tissue rejection while there is a high risk of rejection for stem cell therapies using stem cells derived from another genetically different human being such as an embryo.

Our party has called for a three year moratorium on embryonic stem cell research to allow adult stem cell research to prove its enormous potential. I stand by this call as a good first step. I believe in principle that even if adult stem cell research did not have the promise of embryonic stem cells, it would still be unethical to manipulate and destroy human embryos for utilitarian purposes.

The Liberal majority on the health committee did not call for an absolute ban or even a moratorium but did propose that a high threshold be met. The majority report said that the use of human embryos should not be allowed in research

--unless the applicant clearly demonstrates that no other category of biological material could be used...

Subclause 40(2) of the bill significantly lowers the bar and says that embryonic stem cell research can proceed

--if the Agency is satisfied that the use is necessary for the purpose of the proposed research.

The applicant no longer has to prove that no other category of biological material could be used but simply that human embryos are necessary for this particular project. As I have said, any use of human embryos, which are unique, living human beings, is ethically wrong prima facie whether or not embryos are truly necessary for particular research or therapeutic purposes.

The strongest pragmatic objective of this approach is that surely we should allow embryos to be used for something, otherwise, in the eloquent words of the minister “they will be thrown in the garbage”. Let me give three arguments against this.

First, if there are a significant number of embryos left over in in vitro fertilization clinics, then the real question is not what to do with the extra embryos but why so many unnecessary embryos are being created in the first place. At a minimum, IVF clinics under this legislation should be restricted to producing the least possible number of embryos necessary to result in successful conception. Research to allow IVF clinics to reduce the number of embryos that have to be created for successful implantation should be vigorously promoted and clinics that seem to be producing too many embryos should be sanctioned by the agency.

Second, the minister's position is that the only embryos being used are leftover embryos that would otherwise be destroyed. It is a red herring. On the one hand, improving technology will eventually reduce and we hope eliminate the supply of so-called extra IVF embryos. On the other hand, the government is creating a demand in the research community and the biotech industry for embryonic stem cells in the bill. If the supply of IVF embryos were choked off, these industries would be back in a few years demanding that the government allow new embryos to be created or cloned solely for research.

I submit to the attention of the House the growing field of embryonic adoption. At the U.S. senate hearings on this issue last year, a senator said that the embryos were not human beings, they were simply the size of a dot. There were people at that committee hearing with babies, fully created babies whom they had adopted at the embryonic stage and who had grown into children. They were adopted embryos now living as human beings. This is a human way of meeting one of the purported objectives of the bill, to assist infertile couples.

We need to make a fundamental choice. The bill would open the door to the use of human life as simply raw material to making objects and commodities out of life itself. In the book of Deuteronomy Moses presented to the people of Israel the Torah, or law, that God had given him. He said:

--I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.

Today 3,000 years later after Sinai we still face the same fundamental moral choice. I hope that we will choose life, that both ourselves and our descendants may live.

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4:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stockwell Day Canadian Alliance Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to address these issues and am pleased that we are addressing them here in the House of Parliament where indeed matters such as these should be addressed in a way that is open and public so our constituents can be aware of how we are approaching these issues.

Most fundamental for parliamentarians in this discussion is to contemplate the responsibility of law making itself and to understand that for centuries there has been a recognition that there is in the universe a natural law that pre-exists government, in fact that pre-exists human legislation. People down through the centuries have written of this regardless of their religious persuasion and whether they had a particular religious persuasion or not. In Greek society Sophocles wrote:

Nor did I deem that thou, a mortal man, Could'st by a breath annul and override The immutable unwritten laws of Heaven.

He is suggesting something we believe to be true, that there are certain natural laws that exist in the universe that even pre-exist legislators and government. In Roman society Cicero said that even if the ruler is the people they still may do only what is just according to natural law. That is law that pre-exists human legislation. A Spanish scholar of the 16th century, said that every being has a right to his own life and to physical and mental integrity. John Locke said that certain rights are there prior to the existence of government and people form a government to protect those rights.

As we enter this debate we need to ask ourselves if we as a government on this particular bill are talking about what our mandate should be, which is protecting certain natural rights that pre-exist legislation. John Locke also said that a government is not free to do as it pleases. The law of nature stands as an eternal rule to all, legislators as well as others, and it is the role of government to protect the lives and the liberties of the people.

All of this thinking and discussion for centuries predates but then becomes instrumental and integral in the developing of constitutions around the world. The declaration of independence talks about the law of nature and nature's God. It talks about certain truths being self evident and to secure and protect these rights governments are instituted. Therefore, as a government we should be talking and always considering the protection of rights, the most basic of which is the right to life itself.

Our own constitution in its preamble, without imposing any particular religious or denominational label on any group or individual, also recognizes this age old precept and talks about recognizing the supremacy of God. This is in the preamble, so that is to overshadow all legislation and give meaning to it. These thoughts are rightly embedded in the very development of legislation in our own nation. Whether we accept it or not, the very principles of natural law existed before government and they are based on the law of nature and nature's God.

Our present government and democratic system is based on these realities. The people of Canada have not given us a mandate to overrule these most basic of principles. I have travelled the country from coast to coast to coast and I have not heard a rising voice of the people telling us to overrule the laws of nature and nature's God and the most basic principles of government and why we are here in the first place. That is not to say we cannot freely debate these things. Indeed we should, we are and that is healthy and it is the way it should be.

Not only should we debate these things freely, but I would hope when it comes time to vote on these things that government members will vote freely and not have their vote imposed upon them by a government dictate or a government whip. These most basic of principles are too important for people to be dictated to in terms of how they vote on them.

The reason I cannot support the bill is that we are talking about introducing something which in terms of development of society and democracy itself is fairly new and radical. We are talking about using the democratic process to contravene a respect for natural law, the laws of nature itself. My constituents have not given me the mandate to do so. This is a fairly new concept in terms of how we as legislators could possibly deliberate the appropriateness of intervening to end life and make a decision to do that.

We can debate the extent or the quality of life but there is something that is not debatable in terms of science or medicine. It is that human biological life begins its development stage in the embryonic stage of life itself. That is where life begins. We can argue and debate on the quality of life or how cognitive that being is or how appropriate it is that that being continue to live, but it is not a debatable fact. It is a settled fact medically and biologically that life does begin at conception. We are talking about removing the most basic of natural rights, the right to life itself especially in terms of development, from a being who is unprotected. It is our right to protect that being.

The unfortunate part of the discussion circulates around the fact that it is unnecessary to pursue the whole approach of embryonic stem cell research when adult stem cell research already offers so much hope. It has already proven to be successful in the treatment of many conditions and diseases. Embryonic stem cell research has been proven to be faulty at best and lacking in the same potential that adult stem cell research offers.

Some of my colleagues have cited experiments with human embryos and some of the early embryonic research in terms of stem cell research. We have looked at what adult stem cells have been able to do. Adult stem cells are defined as those that exist after a child has been born; one does not necessarily have to be an adult to have adult stem cells. Adult stem cells are being used to treat Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis and spinal injuries. They have been used in ways that have not yet been successful in terms of embryonic stem cell research. There is much literature on this.

Why are we forcing on people the terrible dilemma of choosing a treatment that has possibly been given to them based on a being's life being taken? Why are we forcing people into that corner when we do not have to?

Researchers have found that in many cases great developments have taken place through adult stem cell research. That is why I join many of my colleagues in asking that this particular approach in terms of embryonic research be suspended.

I have quoted from what I believe to be luminaries down through time in terms of the discussion of natural law and life itself. I will now quote the ethicist Maureen McTeer whose words I agree with when she said “In terms of research on embryos, you want to talk slippery slope, that was the argument used in Nazi Germany; these are only Jews. Now we are saying these are only embryos”. That was her argument and I understand that.

Why on the basis of everything we know is there this appearance of--and I am not saying this in a pejorative sense--an unnatural haste to develop an unnatural law which in physical and sociological terms would lead to an unnatural result? We should continue to choose life and those processes that we know can bring life and enhance life.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-56, an act respecting assisted human reproduction. This is a very important topic within all our constituencies as it affects directly the daily lives of the people we serve.

The opposition has been calling for legislation since 1993 when the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies reported. The minister of health at the time introduced a voluntary moratorium on some technologies in July 1995. The government introduced a bill on June 14, 1996 prohibiting 13 uses of assisted reproductive and genetic technologies but the bill died on the order paper because of the 1997 election.

Draft legislation was submitted to the Standing Committee on Health on May 3, 2001 for consideration. The committee presented its report “Building Families” in December of that year.

In March 2002 the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, followed by Genome Canada, pre-empted parliament by publishing rules to approve funding for experiments on human embryos and aborted fetuses. Funding was put off for one year following opposition protest.

Here we are in 2002 debating a bill that would bring into effect the very strong recommendations of a commission that reported in 1993. Why did the Liberal government put these recommendations off for such an extended period of time?

In those nine long years science, research and technology have been rapidly progressing. As well, commercial investment in these procedures has moved on but the government has remained stagnant. The weak, incompetent and arrogant Liberal government should be embarrassed that it has not dealt with this important issue much more quickly and expeditiously.

I have gone through the bill and would like to share some of my observations.

The bill would allow for experiments on human embryos under four conditions. All embryos must be byproducts of the AHR, assisted human reproduction process, and not created solely for research. Written permission must be given by the donor, although donor is singular. Research on a human embryo is only if the use is necessary, but the word necessary is undefined. All human embryos must be destroyed after 14 days, if not frozen of course.

The purpose of research on human embryos is not specified in the bill. The purpose must be restricted to creating medical therapies that would assist in healing the human body.

The future of humanity is at stake in this debate. The Canadian Alliance members and I firmly believe that all human beings possess the fundamental human rights to life, to freedom and to own and to enjoy property. Human embryos are early human lives which deserve respect and protection. The Canadian Alliance will strive to protect the dignity and value of human life.

The bill is about access by prospective parents to the best assisted reproductive technologies that science can ethically offer. The Canadian Alliance will work to preserve it. I strongly support and encourage health sciences research and development.

I strongly support research on adult stem cells. Stem cells derived from embryos and implanted in a recipient are foreign tissues and thus are subject to immune rejection, possibly requiring the use of costly anti-rejection drug therapies. Adult stem cells are easily accessible and are not subject to tissue rejection and pose minimal ethical concerns.

Adult stem cells are now being used to treat Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis and spinal injuries while research using human embryos has not yet led to healing therapies. We should focus our energies and scarce resources on research that is making a difference now.

We are calling for a three year moratorium on experiments on human embryos until the potential for adult stem cells can be fully developed and explored. This debate is not the same as the pro-life, pro-choice abortion debate because embryos can exist outside a woman's body. This bill addresses the use of embryos in a Petri dish outside the woman's body. Her choice of how to use her body does not directly apply in this case.

The opposition wants to close dangerous loopholes in the bill. One of them creates human-animal hybrids where a human egg and an animal sperm, or vice versa, are combined. We support a ban on commercial surrogacy.

There are so many issues which I would like to touch on. Since time is limited I will touch on only some, beginning with subclause 25(3) of the bill. None of the minister's policy directions fall under the Statutory Instruments Act. They escape the scrutiny of regulations as well as being published in the Canada Gazette . All can be done in secret. This subclause should be struck from the bill.

Subclause 66(2) states that regulations laid before parliament may be sent to a standing committee. The words “may be” should be changed to “must”, not that they may be but that they must be sent to the standing committee. Which standing committee? It should name the Standing Committee on Health and make health committee scrutiny a requirement of the law. The standing committee report recommended this but the government ignored that recommendation.

Subclause 66(3) states that a regulation should not be made until the standing committee has reported on it. This would eliminate the 60 calendar day cap placed on scrutiny of regulations. I am mentioning the scrutiny of regulations because I sit on that committee as co-chair representing the House. I know that the government sometimes presents vague, incomplete legislation in the House which is followed by a big stack of regulations which are not debated in the House. The government is not governing but ruling through the back door by throwing in a bunch of regulations which sometimes do not receive the scrutiny of experts and parliamentarians.

Accountability is very important. The performance of the agency according to subclause 30(d) will be evaluated by the agency itself. It should not be. It should be evaluated by the auditor general.

Subclause 40(2) states that embryos can be harvested if the agency satisfies itself that it is necessary for the purpose of the proposed research. The discretionary power of the agency to decide what is necessary must be reduced by defining in the clause what constitutes that necessity. A modification of the phrase from the majority standing committee report “unless the applicant clearly demonstrates that no other category of biological material could be used for healing therapies” would be appropriate.

In conclusion I want to clarify that I support provisions against human or therapeutic cloning, animal-human hybrids, sex selection, germ line alteration, buying or selling embryos, and paid surrogacy.

The bill is about improving human health. The Canadian Alliance strongly supports the research to this end when it is compatible with the dignity and value of human life. The Canadian Alliance will strive to protect the dignity and value of human life.

The bill is about the best interests of children born of assisted reproductive technologies. The Canadian Alliance will work to protect them.

Finally, the bill is about access by prospective parents to the best assisted reproductive technology that science can ethically offer. The Canadian Alliance will work to preserve it. We cannot support the bill until it is amended.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be able to speak to Bill C-56 because it is important and yet sensitive legislation.

The new legislation on assisted human reproduction would bring enormous benefits to Canadian society. The most important thing to remember is that currently we have a void: we have no legislation, no guidelines and no rules.

I remember arriving here as a new MP in 1993 and receiving the voluminous report done by the royal commission on new reproductive technologies. Nearly a decade has gone by and it is time, not to avoid the issue but to tackle it head on and be sensitive to the voices around the discussion.

I believe the legislation would give infertile couples safe access to build their families, and they are entitled to families. We know that approximately one in eight couples suffer from infertility and have no guided safe method. The legislation is important because it could improve this situation.

Bill C-56 holds out great hope for people suffering from devastating illnesses and injuries because it would permit the conduct of promising medical research under very strictly regulated conditions. The strict regulation is very important.

Those conditions speak to the ethics of research. They will ensure that scientific exploration is pursued in a way that furthers the best interests of society but not at a cost we as Canadians consider too dear.

This is the hallmark of an advanced culture; to offer people legitimate hope for better lives for themselves and their families without compromising the ethical rules by which our society has chosen to live.

Bill C-56 is the result of extensive consultations with Canadians. While it is clear that there are disagreements about many aspects of the AHR and the complex issues it raises, there are surprisingly vast areas in the country where we have consensus. Much of that consensus is captured in the statutory declaration which signals the intent of the legislation, which we find at the beginning of the act itself.

Because the issues involved in, and raised by, assisted human reproduction pose so many ethical problems, the declaration sets out some guiding principles.

In particular, it states that AHR and related research must be governed by principles and practices that respect human individuality, dignity, diversity and integrity. These are important principles because we recognize that this is not ordinary legislation like the tax legislation or trade legislation. Instead, it is an attempt by our society to deal with issues that go to the very heart of who we are and what we believe in as human beings.

With the bill we are hammering a stake in the ground and saying that this is where Canadians will draw the line. On one side are those things that we will not tolerate and on the other side are the things we will accept under clearly defined circumstances.

Let us start with what we will not tolerate. We will not tolerate the creation of life for reasons other than building a family. Equally repugnant is the notion of cloning a human being only to create a carbon copy of another individual or modifying an embryo so that it meets our personal image of perfection.

Similarly, our society sees no redeeming value in putting a price tag on life. We do not believe that the sperm, the eggs, the embryos or the process of pregnancy should be up for purchase. That is why these and other activities would be outlawed under Bill C-56.

The legislation contains a number of clear cut prohibitions in areas where Canadians say we have no right to tread.

On the other hand, society does have a legitimate interest in other areas. For instance, we have a profound stake in ensuring that couples who need to turn to AHR technologies to build a family have access to safe and ethical services. This is important because it affords them a chance to escape the disappointment of unwanted childlessness.

It is also important to all Canadians. With reports showing that maybe one in eight couples face infertility, this could grow into a very serious problem. That those services need to be safe and delivered in an appropriate and ethical manner is equally critical.

Some 6,000 cycles of in vitro fertilization treatments are offered each year and that is just one AHR activity among many. Canadians have an interest in ensuring that women are not subjected to practices that would endanger their health or even their lives.

For all those reasons, Bill C-56 would regulate the safe and ethical conduct of AHR technologies.

Another area where society has a profound interest is in AHR related research that holds the promise of bettering the human condition. However we believe this work cannot proceed in the absence of rules that establish the kinds of projects that we would find appropriate and how they should be conducted.

For instance, a substantial amount of vital work is being done in the area of infertility. Just as we support the access of infertile couples to safe AHR procedures, we must also support research that could uncover the causes of this unfortunate condition and improve existing treatments.

Similarly, there is great potential in scientific investigation involving stem cells. Stem cells from embryos have great potential. We probably do not know the full potential because there is not sufficient knowledge at this early stage to be conclusive. However we believe there is great potential because stem cells have not yet developed into the specialized heart, brain, muscle or other type of cell that they will eventually become.

Researchers are trying to harness this unique property to encourage stem cells to grow into the cells needed to repair specific types of tissue damaged by disease. Human, fetal or embryonic tissue is considered the best source of these precious cells.

In London, where I live, researchers with the stem cell transplantation and regenerative therapeutics project are studying whether stem cells can serve as sources for cellular or organ replacement in tissue damaged by trauma or genetic influences and for disease intervention. Basic research is now approaching clinical possibility and practicality. More knowledge is needed regarding fundamental signalling pathways and gene expression patterns responsible for stem cell control and transplantation.

I wonder how many of the MPs in this Chamber who have spoken to the bill have taken the time to talk to these very specialized scientists.

Last fall, when I knew the bill was coming forward, I spent about four hours in one of the research and teaching hospitals in my riding meeting with some of the very specialized, credible, serious scientists in this area. We met with some of the hospital administrators and all the involved people, not just from one hospital but from all the teaching hospitals in my city. We did a three hour briefing. I learned a lot. I learned that not just anybody could get a line of stem cells and keep it living. It costs an enormous amount of money just to keep a stem cell line under very specialized conditions. If I remember correctly it costs about $10,000 a week just to do this, so it is not something that will take place anywhere under open conditions.

I am proud of the researchers and of the ethics they bring to their work. They believe in their work and they are sensitive to the concerns of Canadians. This work will focus on possible treatments for people suffering from muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, tissue damage resulting from chemotherapy and spinal cord injury. Hopefully we will be hearing from some of these people over the discussion.

We all recognize that this type of research must be conducted with the highest standards of ethical care. Therefore, Bill C-56 sets out a comprehensive set of regulations to govern the proper conduct of research involving embryos. Only embryos, for instance, created for fertility treatments but not needed for that purpose can be used for this type of work. Scientists could not create embryos merely for the sake of science. They would have to be donated with informed consent. Related regulations would deal with the appropriate use, handling, storage and disposal of embryos and other reproductive tissues.

The assisted reproductive agency of Canada, a regulatory body to oversee the implementation of the legislation and the regulations, would be an important body. Consensus goes back to as far as 1993 to have this independent body. It is a consistent recommendation and I am glad to see it in the body of the legislation.

I would like to go into this in more depth but I see my time is up. I appreciate the time I have had today in the House to make my points.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Philip Mayfield Canadian Alliance Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this subject this afternoon.

The bill is the Liberal government's attempt at legislation to prohibit, through the criminal code, certain assisted human reproduction practices and to authorize the regulation of other practices under licence. It also creates an agency to operate a licensing regime to monitor activity and keep records.

The official opposition will not be supporting the bill unless the government allows a number of amendments.

We have been calling for legislation in this field since 1993 when the royal commission on new reproductive technologies reported. In July 1995, Ottawa introduced a voluntary moratorium on some technologies. The government introduced a bill on June 14, 1996, prohibiting 13 uses of assisted reproductive and genetic technologies but the bill died on the order paper at the 1997 election.

Draft legislation was thereafter submitted to the Standing Committee on Health on May 3, 2001, for consideration. The committee presented its report, called “Assisted Human Reproduction: Building Families”, in December of last year.

In March 2002, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, followed by Genome Canada, pre-empted parliament by publishing rules to approve funding for experiments on human embryos and aborted fetuses. This was put off for one year following protests from the official opposition.

The general social policy theme of the Canadian Alliance Party stresses that all human beings possess the fundamental human rights of life, freedom and the right to own and enjoy property.

My colleagues and I will work to underline for the Liberals that human embryos are early human lives that deserve and must be treated with respect and protection.

The bill's preamble does not provide an acknowledgment of human dignity or respect for human life, even though it is stated later in the bill as the principle objective of the agency it creates.

The minority report submitted by the Canadian Alliance to the December 2001 report from the committee recommended:

That the final legislation clearly recognize the human embryo as human life and that the Statutory Declaration include the phrase "respect for human life.

We strongly support and encourage health sciences research and development. We strongly support research on adult stem cells.

We are mindful to respect the constitutional role of the provinces in health care delivery and would ensure that the federal government works with them in a co-operative and constructive manner.

The bill appears to respect provincial jurisdiction by allowing provinces to opt out if they provide an equivalent enforcement regime and by allowing them a representative observer on the board. However we want to be sure the Liberal government across the way respects the provinces.

The bill would provide a more tightly regulated assisted human reproduction regime. This would make it safer and more effective for prospective parents. Health information about donors would be kept for future children.

However there are a number of problems with the bill as well. For example, under the bill, children born of assisted human reproduction technology would not have the right to know the identities of their parents. The government needs to pay attention to the fact that embryos, if not destroyed, naturally become normal children and adults. Another problem is that the government needs to go further than the bill does to ensure that expenses paid to surrogate mothers do not result in effective commercial surrogacy.

In terms of addressing the more contentious issues of the bill, we believe, as many Canadians do, that it is important to define what a necessary use is for this research. We support the creation of an agency, such as the one proposed under the bill, to regulate the sector but we are concerned about the agency's decisions concerning what necessary research is.

We support stem cell research. We are calling for more funding for adult stem cell research.

I would like to take some issue with the comments of the member for London West who quoted a number of scientists and researchers from one particular point of view. I draw to the attention of the House that doctors, scientists and researchers can be quoted to represent almost any point of view on this subject, including those who advocate strictly research on adult stem cells.

I want to take this opportunity to give the Liberals fair warning that they should tread very carefully in legislating this technology. Adult stem cells hold a great deal of promise. It may not be desirable nor necessary to engage in embryonic stem cell research to the great extent advocated by some.

Canada is a leader in the world when it comes to biopharmaceuticals. In Montreal bioscientists report that adult neural stem cells taken from a patient's own central nervous system have been successfully used to treat Parkinson's disease.

In the United States patients undergoing liposuction may want to bank the fat removed from their tummy, backsides and thighs because the excess fat contains stem cells. These fat cells can be stored for years. These stem cells can be isolated from liposuction specimens. They can be grown to bone, cartilage, tendons and other connective tissue. Patients can use them in the future, transforming them into a number of specialized cells, depending upon the patient's needs. If a patient were injured in a car accident, stored stem cells could be used to make bone tissue to repair the damage.

Using adult stem cells collected from a patient's body and stored eliminates the risk of rejection when later reintroduced into that same patient's body. Significantly, it also avoids the ethical issues in using stem cells derived from embryos.

For example, there are more studies to be done. This research is far from complete. It needs to be proved that the transformation of a cell to another type of cell is irreversible. We do not want some chain reaction going from a cell to something that is not even anticipated.

The Liberal government should be taking these and other unknown items into consideration before opening the floodgates on embryonic stem cell research.

This is one reason why the Canadian Alliance is calling for a three year moratorium on experiments on human embryos, until the potential of adult stem cells can be more fully developed. This coincides with the three year review mandated in the bill.

We want free votes in the House at all stages. We want each and every MP to search his or her own conscience, to search the conscience of his constituents and where prudent to pause until we know more about stem cell research. It may be the more reasonable course of action, instead of premature embryonic stem cell research to do it this way.

Developments in adult stem cell research and technology is progressing at an astounding rate with new discoveries frequently being announced. The government and the agency it is creating to deal with these questions should err on the side of caution, instead of charging ahead with decisions that will be very difficult to backtrack on later. As I have said, many members will be detailing aspects of the bill that need to be changed.

I want to close with one thought. At the time of conception when the zygote is formed by the coming together of an egg and a sperm cell, all the DNA that will ever govern that individual's growth is already there and will mark that person throughout the whole lifetime. Using scientific terms from that first moment, we are talking about a person.

It is never a good idea to confuse scientific, legal and religious principles. I do not intend to do that. Science has shown when humanity begins. The law has defined how precious is human life and I see the religious principles which govern my life as confirming these previous two.

My Lord and saviour Jesus Christ at one point while referring to the children said that it would be better for anyone to never have been born than to harm even one of these little children. That was at a time when human life was very precious and when children could be slaughtered at a king's whim.

Let us never go back to harming our children.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, the government must ensure that the risks in the bill and the benefits of any treatment for women are fully disclosed and that the moneys needed to achieve these objectives are made available. This for us is the litmus test of the legislation.

The most effective way to ensure that women's health comes first is to ensure that the precautionary principle is entrenched in any bill dealing with assisted reproductive technology.

We recommended that the precautionary principle be explicitly set out in the legislation and in its final report the health committee agreed with that recommendation. However the precautionary principle is nowhere to be found among the governing provisions of the bill. The precautionary principle, which puts safety first, can impede the rush for profits that all too often accompany new scientific developments.

Therefore the choice not to include this principle reflects the government's affection we believe for an industry that has benefited tremendously from being able to establish itself in assisted reproductive technology unencumbered by regulation during these many years without an act.

The government's fondness for and impartiality to big business has also opened the door far too widely for an unacceptable level of commercialization in the area of assisted reproductive technologies. We see this in the issue of patenting life forms.

There was a consensus on the health committee that we should stop commercialization in this area, that the government should prohibit the patenting of human genetic material, but there was not a word about this from the health minister. I am delighted to see her in the House for this important legislation. When she introduced Bill C-56 there was no mention of any move on patent protection. The health committee called on the government to prohibit this but the government chose to ignore this important advice putting its emphasis instead on corporate property rights.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member will have eight minutes remaining in his speech when the bill is next debated.

It being 5.41 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Canadian Alliance Calgary East, AB

moved that Bill C-386, an act to amend the Criminal Code (breaking and entering), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, normally when I stand I say that it is with pleasure I speak on behalf of the constituents of Calgary East. However I am speaking on this bill for the second time. In the last parliament I introduced the same bill in response to concerns raised by my constituents and Canadians from across the nation. I will indicate later which Canadians have sent their support for the bill.

As I said, this bill was introduced in the last parliament and, as is now becoming a practice of the House, it seems to be headed for oblivion. With the introduction of private members' bills, we are supposed to debate and talk about the concerns and desires of Canadians. This process has become a mockery.

The last time the bill was in front of a committee, it was not made votable despite the fact that there was a strong desire by Canadians to have the merits and demerits of it discussed. The committee was chaired by a government member and also half the membership was from that same side.

The members of parliament should stand, debate and vote on these bills. Five people sitting behind the scenes, behind closed doors, should not be making that decision, a decision that is based absolutely on partisan likes and has nothing to do with the desires of Canadians.

No wonder time after time people talk about the erosion of democracy and of the power of members of parliament. The government is causing that. Yet amazingly when that government was on this side, it spoke the same language that I speak today. As soon as it came into power, what did it do? Nothing. As a matter of fact members of parliament keep losing their powers. Their ability to discuss issues raised by Canadians has been restricted day by day.

Canadians want this bill. I have had town hall meetings in my riding. I have support from members of the police force. I have a letter from the Saskatoon police chief who endorses the bill. I have a letter from the Toronto police chief who endorses the bill. I have a letter from the Sudbury police chief who supports the bill. I have a letter from an ordinary citizen who supports the bill.

People in law enforcement agencies, the people in the forefront fighting crime and making the streets safe, see the merits of this bill. Yet five people sitting behind closed doors, behind the scenes, do not find any merit in allowing 301 democratically elected members of parliament to discuss the bill and make the decision.

I am standing here today debating the bill but it is actually a waste of my time. What am I going to say? It will not go anywhere. As soon as the hour is over this whole thing will become a piece of garbage. The amount of time and effort that members of parliament have put into this will have gone down the tube.

The Liberals should realize that because they have sat on this side and have had that experience. Yet when it came time for them to be over there, that was it. They are preventing democracy.

I know people want this bill to be debated so I brought it back in this session. Lo and behold, what happened? The same thing. Five people sat behind the scenes and made the decision that it not be votable. That is why a member of the government has raised the issue of reforming private members' business.

The government's own members, its own backbenchers know that private members' bills deserve more respect and debate in this House than the government is willing to give them. They know the system is flawed. Otherwise we would not have had a report presented to us about a week ago by a member of the government which said that private members' bills should be debated in the House.

We should vote in the House. We should be allowed to exercise the democratic will of Canadians who have elected us to the House, not the will of 30 people in government who would manipulate the whole system and not allow a debate to take place.

Since I have been given time to address Bill C-386 I will tell the House what it is all about. It is about a minimum sentence of two years for repeat break and enter offenders who go through the cycle of committing the crime again and again because they find it profitable. We need to break the cycle. We can only do so if we institute a two year minimum sentence so offenders can get rehabilitation, get off the street and not find it profitable to break into people's homes.

About a week ago the new Minister of Justice publicly stated that he personally opposed minimum sentences. He said he did not like the American system of minimum sentences. As soon as I heard him say that I knew the government would do anything to make sure Bill C-386 would not pass, because that is his personal view. It was not debated in the House.

What do we do? We sit here and listen. Canadians are being forced to take the view of one individual, the Minister of Justice, who said publicly that he did not agree. It was not discussed in the House of Commons. It was not discussed by members of parliament who were elected by Canadians. Bill C-386 will go nowhere because it is the personal view of the Minister of Justice that he does not like minimum sentences.

We should talk to Canadians, victims, and people whose homes have been broken into. All of them will recognize the importance of the bill. There is nothing harsh in it. All it is demanding is a simple two year minimum sentence for repeat break and enter offenders to break the cycle of profitability for criminals who break into people's homes.

Some 50% of all break and enters are committed with weapons. This could lead to crimes such as home invasion which are more dangerous than break and enter. The onus is on us to discuss the merits and demerits of the bill and ensure our streets are safe. If our streets were safe, why would police from Toronto, Sudbury, Calgary and across the country be supporting the bill? It is because they need the tools to fight this crime, tools they have not received from the Liberal government.

The soft approach the government has taken is making a mockery of our streets. I therefore felt it was necessary to bring in Bill C-386 to be debated. However we will hear the usual thing from the parliamentary secretary. He will try to justify the current system and say it is adequate. It is not. If it was we would not have the support of the police chief.

Mr. Speaker, I am glad you are enjoying my speech because I am passionate about the issue. However it bothers me to see the way the government is killing the debate.

Constable Guy Baker of District 4 in Calgary said the best sentence he had ever seen for a repeat offender was three years. However the effects on the victim last forever. Females feel personally violated. Their houses no longer have a sense of being home. Men feel they have failed in their role of family protector. Children have a hard time sleeping because of bad dreams. This is the impact of break and enter and home invasion.

While the psychological impacts of break and enter are devastating in their own right, it can also be a violent crime. Every break and enter is a potential home invasion. Some 58% of break and enter incidents involve a weapon. I will quote an Edmonton man who was viciously beaten in a break and enter that turned into a home invasion. He said:

Physically I am okay. Mentally I am not. It's almost like I have to force myself to do things--even to go to work. I don't know what could be enough jail time. There is no justification for what they did.

On a personal note, I had a break and enter in my home in Calgary about a year and a half ago. I was here attending to the business of parliament and my daughter was living in Calgary and going to university. She was away by only half an hour. If she had been in the house all by herself I do not know what the consequences would have been. Would it have turned into a home invasion? It scared my daughter so much. She was only 21 years old.

We tend to take break and enter lightly. It is not a light crime. Its psychological impacts and potential dangers are strong. As parliamentarians we need to do something. Police chiefs and law enforcement agencies are asking us to do something. What have we seen from the government? It says our current laws are adequate. They are not. The parliamentary secretary may stand today and read statistics from StatsCan to say there has been a lowering of crime. However that is nonsense.

As I said, this crime has an impact. Some 80% of break and enters are not first time crimes. They are repeat crimes because it has become profitable. If it has become profitable to go into this business why should the offenders work? If they get caught and go to court it is no big deal. They are out on the street within three months. This is the cycle. Why should they worry about serving three months for such a profitable business? Why would they want to go out and work? This is why Canadians are demanding a minimum sentence. It is why I introduced Bill C-386.

I have made my speech. It was a passionate speech. However my bill will go into the garbage because the government has made it non-votable. A non-votable private member's bill is a waste of time. I stood and spoke. I do not know if my speech had an impact. However I am feeling pretty discouraged as a member of parliament tonight.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Northumberland Ontario


Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-386 introduced by the hon. member for Calgary East, an act to amend the criminal code dealing with breaking and entering. Last May an identical bill, Bill C-290, was debated at second reading and dropped from the order paper.

As was stated when the former bill was debated, the safety and security of Canadians in their own homes continues to be a key priority for the Government of Canada. The government has responded to concerns about home invasions through amendments to Bill C-15A, the criminal law amendment act, 2001 which is currently awaiting royal assent. The amendments to the criminal code indicate that where an offender's conduct is in the nature of a home invasion the court must consider it an aggravating factor when determining the sentence to be imposed.

Bill C-386 would amend paragraph 348(1)( d ) of the criminal code of Canada by providing for maximum penalties:

(i) in the case of a first offence, to imprisonment for life, or

(ii) in the case of a second or subsequent offence, to imprisonment for life or to a minimum term of imprisonment of not less than two years--

Section 348 of the criminal code currently makes it an offence to enter a place with intent to commit an indictable offence, to actually commit an indictable offence, or to have broken out of a place after having committed or intending to commit an indictable offence. The current maximum penalty for committing any of these acts in a dwelling place is life imprisonment. The offence of robbery also carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

I suspect most Canadians would be surprised that these offences attract such a severe maximum penalty. Surveys conducted by the Canadian Sentencing Commission in the mid-1980s showed that the public had little knowledge of either the maximum or minimum penalties and many people were surprised by the severity of the existing maxima.

The current maximum penalties for breaking and entering and robbery demonstrate that the government recognizes the conduct is of a serious nature which may have significant impacts on its victims. I might add that I know how it feels to have been a victim of a break and enter since I experienced it in my own home.

The sanctity of an individual's home as a place of safety free from intrusion has been recognized in common law for hundreds of years. It is in part for this reason that the criminal code offences of robbery and break and enter of a dwelling house are both subject to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Section 718 of the criminal code provides that:

The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society--

The objectives of sentencing set out in the criminal code include denouncing unlawful conduct, deterring the offender and others from committing offences, and promoting a sense of responsibility in offenders and an acknowledgment of the harm done to victims and the community.

The government shares the concerns of Canadians with regard to the relatively new phenomenon of home invasion robberies; that is, robberies that occur when the home is occupied. Courts across Canada have been imposing stiff sentences for this type of crime that address the sentencing objectives of denunciation and deterrence and highlight the importance of individuals being able to feel safe and secure in their own homes. The government's amendments to Bill C-15A signal that home invasions constitute serious conduct that should be met with significant penalties.

In addition to providing a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, which the criminal code already does for breaking and entering in a dwelling house for robbery, Bill C-386 would provide that a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of two years be imposed in the case of a second or subsequent offence.

Canada has historically utilized mandatory minimum penalties with restraint and has allowed courts the discretion to fashion a sentence that is proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the conduct of the offender. It is also interesting to see that other countries are questioning the use of mandatory minimum penalties. The legislature in Australia's Northern Territory recently repealed its mandatory minimum sentences. Courts of appeal in the United States have recently struck down some of California's mandatory minimum penalties as being cruel and unusual punishment.

Judges who have the benefit of being able to consider all the facts and evidence regarding the circumstances of the offence and the offender are well placed to determine the appropriate sentence in an individual case. Those circumstances must be weighed in light of the principles of sentencing. There is no clearly demonstrated need to create a minimum penalty for a second or subsequent conviction for breaking and entering a dwelling house given the high maximum penalty already in the code and the sentencing patterns for this offence.

It is also important to note that courts take into account as an aggravating factor in sentencing the fact that the offender has a previous conviction for the same or a related offence. In fact, the existence of a criminal record is the greatest predictor of a longer sentence length.

With respect to home invasion, the creation of an aggravating sentencing provision in Bill C-15A would encourage judges to use those tough penalties already available which, as noted, many courts have been doing throughout Canada in recognition of the seriousness of the offence and its devastating impact upon its victims.

While I recognize the concerns of the hon. member for Calgary East with respect to the offence of breaking and entering, I do believe that the existing penalty of life imprisonment for this offence and the amendments found in Bill C-15A clearly demonstrate our commitment to providing safe homes for all Canadians.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Robert Lanctôt Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to rise in the House and speak to Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (breaking and entering).

The bill is concise, but it will have a significant and disproportionate impact. How can one ask that the criminal code be amended to include a life sentence for a first offence? This is contrary to existing sentencing standards.

What are the criteria for determining an appropriate sentence? First, the purpose of the sentence should be to protect society. Second, the sentence should also help the accused to reform. Finally, the sentence must be fair to the victim as well as to the accused.

The sentence should be analysed to determine how it will help maintain justice and the peace and be commensurate with the offence. To achieve that, an offender must be able to associate the severity of the sentence with the objectives of denunciation and deterrence, while seeing in it an opportunity for rehabilitation. The victim must see in it an assurance of redress and the knowledge that the accused will admit the harm he has caused.

The Bloc Quebecois is opposed to Bill C-386 because it departs dramatically from the criteria mentioned earlier. By its wording, Bill C-386 sets out to impose a life sentence for a first offence. This is completely at odds with current sentencing standards.

These standards, it must be remembered, remain subject to the principle of proportion. This is the most important principle. There must be a direct and equitable correlation between the seriousness of the offence and the extent of responsibility of the accused.

In other words, a jail sentence must be avoided if there are other less stringent means of redress. Let us remember that the judge must examine all the facts and circumstances. These may be interpreted as aggravating or mitigating.

Based on these standards and on the guiding principle, judges can thus establish a sentence in accordance with clear sentencing guidelines. This bill ignores the experience and knowledge of judges, who are able to evaluate the facts of a particular case and the appropriate measures to take to meet the objectives of denunciation, deterrence and redress.

There are other methods of retribution available to judges, including fines, restitution, and suspended sentences. These are alternative methods to imprisonment that must be considered before imposing a sentence that is not proportional to the offence committed.

The purpose of penalties is to hold the accused accountable and promote their reintegration into the community, while at the same time taking into account the degree of severity of the offence. I fail to see how these objectives are furthered by the wording found in Bill C-386.

According to judges and stakeholders, penalties that are proportional to the severity of the crime help with accountability, because offenders can grasp the impact of their actions and the harm they have caused. This is why we must be careful when sentencing for a first offence.

I mentioned that the judge must take into consideration several factors in sentencing.

Sentencing guidelines protect the community on the one hand and punish wrongful conduct so as to deter potential offenders, with the goal of reintegrating the offender.

On the other hand, the judge must take into consideration the type of offence and its severity. The criminal code normally sets out a maximum sentence for every offence. For some offences, the criminal code sets out minimum sentences, as is the case for impaired driving.

In addition, the judge takes into account all the circumstances of the offence, the manner in which it was committed, whether there was premeditation, whether force or a weapon was used, and whether other people were involved.

The judge also considers the accused's criminal record and repeat offences. Not to be forgotten are the accused's attitude to what he has done, whether he shows remorse.

Once these guidelines have been considered, the judge may then decide on an appropriate sentence. He may consider rehabilitation. The accused will then have an opportunity to become aware of the impact of his actions and will be required to participate in a community rehabilitation program. A fine could be imposed. Finally, the judge could consider jail as a deterrent.

On many occasions, the Supreme Court of Canada has reiterated the objectives underlying sentencing. It did so in R. v. Proulx [2000] 1 S.C.R. 61.

Chief Justice Antonio Lamer went over the criminal code principles in order to make the point that a sentence must be proportional to an offence.

The chief justice stated that the punishment must fit the crime, taking into account the aggravating or attenuating circumstances surrounding the offence. He also stated that, under section 718.2 of the criminal code, the presiding judge must also seek to harmonize sentencing for similar offences or offences committed under similar circumstances.

In addition, subsection 718.2 d ) stipulates that the judge is obliged to examine the possibility of less restrictive sanctions when circumstances justify this, rather than depriving an offender of liberty. Yet in Bill C-386, the complete opposite is being called for.

In the Supreme Court of Canada judgment in R. v. Smith [1987] 1 S.C.R. 1045, what was involved was assessing the proportionality of a sentence and whether the minimum sentence can constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The supreme court established evaluation criteria.

So, the main thing is to determine whether the sentence exceeds what is necessary to attain a penal objective, whether there are appropriate alternatives, and whether it is aimed at social reintegration and rehabilitation.

Judge Dickson felt it was appropriate to examine the object and effects of a law in controlling its content. This stems from R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd [1985] 1 S.C.R. 295.

The supreme court has therefore, on several occasions, brought down decisions invalidating provisions which were in violation of section 12 of the charter and did not meet the criteria of justification in section 1 of the charter because of the disproportional impact of the sentence.

This is what is reflected in the wording of Bill C-386, which imposes a sentence of life imprisonment for a first offence. This is in clear contradiction of the objectives set out in the criminal code and the guidelines developed by the courts over the years.

In Big M Drug Mart, the chief justice clearly summed up the criteria for assessing proportionality, stating that first, the measures must be carefully designed to attain the objective in question.

The second criterion addresses the rational link between the means chosen and the least possible effect on rights or freedoms.

The third is a matter of “proportionality between the effects of measures restraining a right or freedom and the objective recognized as being of sufficient importance”.

For all of these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois is not in favour of this bill, particularly where the flagrant lack of proportionality is concerned between the severity of the act and the sentence.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by thanking the hon. member for Calgary East for bringing forward this important amendment. I want to congratulate all members who have put their remarks on the record.

This amendment, let us be clear, is about amending the criminal code with respect to putting in place a mandatory minimum sentence for the offence of break and enter or what is more commonly known today as home invasion. There is a common sense element to this, that is, we know that in Canada today, in all parts of the country, both rural and urban, there is an increasing number of these types of offences. We also have to take into consideration the grave impact that it has on citizens.

In particular, I point out the impact that it has on senior citizens and the lasting psychological impact that it has on people when their home, their castle, has been invaded. The sense of security that should exist, that home sweet home sentiment, is irreparably harmed when people have had their homes broken into and their personal belongings rifled through or stolen. This is the type of implication that has to be stressed when considering a change such as this one.

We know that these issues, which are within the discretion of the judge, can result in severe sentences. The hon. member from the Bloc referenced the fact that the sentence is up to and including life imprisonment. The problem, or what I suggest is very much the motive behind the hon. member for Calgary East bringing forward this motion, is that the benchmark is too low. As parliamentarians and makers of law, we should not shy away from on occasion taking forward amendments like this to send a direction to the judiciary on issues such as this as a statement, as a reflection on what we feel to be the public sentiment at the time.

The mandatory minimum that comes into play is in respect of residential homes. The code section deals with dwelling homes or residential homes specifically because of this element of security and property and a sense that people should be safe in their homes of all places. There is an obligation currently in the criminal code, when there is a weapon present, for mandatory minimum sentences to be in effect. There are also provisions in the criminal code that allow for mandatory minimum sentences for impaired driving. Repeat offences can result in mandatory minimums. It is that old premise of “three strikes and you're out”. In this case it would be two strikes and you are out, because of the seriousness of this offence.

Some anomalies could occur. I think particularly of an instance where a young person is convicted of a break and enter offence and, 15 years later, convicted of a second offence. Not to suggest that there is any excuse for that, but it is suggested that a mandatory two year sentence should be imposed when there is this lag time in between the offences as opposed to when there might be some close proximity. All of that is discretionary now. A judge has the ability to consider all these things in the normal routine that occurs: the sentencing principles that come into effect, the general and specific deterrents, the circumstances of the victim and the criminal record. Very clearly what this amendment is meant to do is to denounce and to put in place a very clear deterrent for repeat offences for this type of offence because of its prevalence, because of its serious impact and because of the need, I would suggest, due to the current benchmark being so low.

All of that is to say that I support what the hon. member is trying to do. I would suggest that because of some of the nuances that need to be explored, this anomaly that could occur where there is a large gap in time between the commission of the first and second offences, we might consider lowering it to one year or we might in fact consider putting in place discretionary considerations for the judge to impose that mandatory minimum.

The offence itself is prevalent in rural ridings in particular. It is often drug related. It is often done by gangs. Organized crime is often involved because of the desire to steal antiques or certain objects of great value. There is also another element to this in terms of the need for deterrence. That is what we have seen. I would suggest that it is tied in somewhat with the gun registry and sometimes with the need that people have to feel safe in their own homes. This might be the reason for which they would keep a weapon. The current law is not consistent with the abhorrence people have for their homes being broken into and their property being destroyed or stolen.

There is also, I would suggest, a great potential for further danger and violence when a person knows that individuals are home and goes into that dwelling house, and this is why changes were made recently to the criminal code. The potential for violence is so real. We have made changes in the criminal code with respect to the presence of a weapon in the commission of an offence, resulting in mandatory time. Why would we not in that same vein, following that thought pattern, make it a mandatory minimum for repeat offences when a person breaks into a home knowing that an individual is in that home, knowing that the potential for confrontation and therefore violence is so real?

I would suggest that it is a recipe for disaster if we simply ignore this issue. I think the sentiment behind the bill is the correct one. Members can surely relate. I am sure they have spoken to individuals in their constituencies, perhaps even family members or friends, who have experienced this trauma of having their home and property violated. The sense of security, particularly for seniors, is so gravely disturbed and interrupted. Not only for individuals who are fragile psychologically but for anyone who has experienced this type of trauma, having their home broken into has a lifelong and potentially life altering effect.

This is the context in which this issue has been brought forward by the hon. member. The mental anguish can be incalculable and I think that has to be underscored when we are examining the potential changes. The Conservative Party supports the principle of the bill. It recognizes the public safety concerns, which have to be primary when judges routinely are faced with this type of scenario in the courts with increasing frequency. Home invasion has been on the rise. The statistics seem to show this consistently. It is increasing, particularly and perhaps most disturbingly among young people and, on occasion, young women.

We are compelled and, I would suggest, obligated as members of parliament to do something to address this issue. That is what the hon. member for Calgary East is trying to do. Bill C-386 would send this message of deterrence. It would give a direction to the judge that a minimum should be considered mandatory when there is this nexus, this repeat behaviour of such a criminal offence. As I have suggested, the benchmarks would dictate this. The current sentencing schemes are not sufficient, just as we have the imposition of conditional sentences being applied for certain types of offences. It is not appropriate, I would suggest. Under the current range of sentencing, a conditional sentence is an option.

We should not shy away from giving judicial direction on occasion. That is our obligation. That is very much a part of what we should be embracing. If as a matter of public policy the law is being interpreted in too liberal or too lenient a fashion, we should be quick and we should be proud to try to make those changes when necessary. I believe that the case is there. There are certainly occasions when the offence is so serious and the implications so grave, as I have said before, that there should be legislative directive, particularly when it undermines public confidence in our justice system, which is a bigger problem. It erodes public confidence in the law and in our systems of justice.

We support this initiative in principle. We suggest that it would serve the public better to have the bill adopted. We could take it to the justice committee where there could be further study and possible amendments. Having it sent to that committee would allow us to look at its parameters and at the impact it might have, not to water it down but to ensure that the broad range is still permissible when the circumstances are appropriate. The aggravating and mitigating circumstances will remain in effect as part of the sentencing process.

This is a good bill. It is one that I would encourage members of parliament to support, particularly to get it to the justice committee where it could be embraced, put into place and brought back to parliament for passage and insertion into the criminal code.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Art Hanger Canadian Alliance Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today to address this private member's bill tabled in the House by my colleague from the adjoining riding of Calgary East. I too share many of the member's sentiments when it comes to sentencing for a crime which really has proliferated in many of our communities. I can say that over the last 30 or 35 years its impact on so many of our areas and communities and on the lives of the people has increased exponentially.

I can recall my early years as a police officer in the city of Calgary, where a crime such as break and enter in a dwelling was a serious crime and the investigators had to be called out, if members can feature that, to come and investigate that crime. Today the numbers of break and enters that fill the police ledger are so numerous that the constable on the street has become a paper-shuffler. He will answer the call. He will take the information from the victim. Most of that is for the purposes of insurance so that there is a report on file. That constable then goes on his way without really having had the opportunity or the time to go and investigate the crime. That is how much things have changed over the last 35 years. Then it was a serious crime and an investigator was assigned to it but now it is just like taking a report on a theft. That is how prevalent the crime is today.

I can appreciate any piece of legislation that would offer some sort of a deterrent. I think it is high time we started looking at deterrent legislation. Unfortunately things are going the opposite way. There is not the deterrent legislation that there used to be.

I do not know if anyone in the House has had a break-in at their own place. I wonder if everyone has experienced that. I have too, as a police officer. Culprits that were in the neighbourhood decided to break into my place. They stole a number of items. They ransacked the entire house. They got into every drawer, turned clothes upside down and took clothes out. They took some of my police equipment. An investigation was conducted that involved several police officers over a long period of time. There was a known group of people in the community that was breaking into the houses in the region, which is no different from what is happening today, yet those people were never charged.

The impact that it had and has left on my family was quite significant. My wife was very upset because someone had touched every piece of clothing in the house. That was a violation right there. That is a lasting anxiety. It takes a long time to disappear. It happened when we were out of the house and I would hate to say what the feelings of the victims would be if they were in the house when a culprit entered uninvited.

It is a crime and although it is considered a property crime it does have this very personal nature to it. It is an abuse and a violation of privacy. Courts used to take those matters into consideration years ago. When I joined the police department years ago, the sentence was seven years for a house break-in. That was what it was when I left the police department in 1993 and now the sentence can be as low as six months.

The other unsettling feature to the court side of it is that the courts look at the offences of one offender which could number as high as 150 housebreakings as one offence. The courts sentence that culprit in a global fashion. It is called a global sentencing. Culprits could go out and break into 100 houses, and I have arrested people that have committed 100 break-ins, 150 break-ins and they would still be sentenced globally and it would be considered one offence in the eyes of a court.

There is something wrong with that kind of viewpoint. There is something wrong when offenders, whether they are young offenders or adults, get six months, a year or two years for committing 150 break-ins. I have talked to the victims. Unfortunately the courts have never had that opportunity to personally talk to them. I have seen heirlooms stolen from a housebreaking where the culprit is caught. The maximum sentence I have ever seen as a police officer testifying in court was four years and that was for 150 housebreakings. There was even suspected violence in one, but it was never proven.

I believe there is a need to visit not only the minimum sentences offered in court, but a complete review of the court sentencing practice of global sentencing.

If I were to look at this potential legislation and consider who is a repeat offender, I would ask the government side of the House that if a second offence was committed by the same culprit, and I do not care if it was prior to sentencing, the individual would be a repeat offender. The individual has now committed more than one crime. Unfortunately the courts do not look at it that way. A culprit can commit 150 such crimes, but the court sentences the individual to one sentence.

I have never, and I do not think anyone here can testify to the contrary, seen a culprit obtain a life sentence for housebreaking. I looked at the statistics. There are nearly 300,000 housebreakings in this country each year. That is a lot of insurance claims. That is a lot of victimization. The statistics undoubtedly reflect not only dwellings, but it would appear that they also reflect shopbreakings. Even if half of those numbers were on housebreakings those are major violations.

A housebreaker, and I am going to say he because as far as I know there have been few females charged with this offence, although there are more now, but they generally go from the very minor theft of jewellery items all the way up to the total destruction of a residence. Even with the total destruction of a residence, I have never seen a sentence go beyond four years. When I say total destruction I mean ransacking the entire premises and doing significant damage inside.

I will reflect on Bill C-386 which my colleague from Calgary East has presented to the House. I encourage Liberal members to pay attention to the bill. I believe there is a safety factor issue for our communities. I encourage Liberal members to support the bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Criminal CodeAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, under the terms of the NAFTA agreement attempts by government to impose restrictions on corporations to protect the environment, to preserve natural resources, to defend public health, to ensure labour rights or protect culture can now be challenged as a trade barrier. When governments attempt to impose restrictions they can find themselves subject to expensive legal challenges from corporations.

Take the case of Guadalcazar, a town located in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi. A NAFTA tribunal found that Mexico violated NAFTA's chapter 11 investor provisions by not allowing California based Metalclad to open a hazardous waste treatment and disposal site. The tribunal ordered the Mexican government to pay $16.7 million to Metalclad.

The decision was appealed by the government of Mexico but in upholding the NAFTA tribunal's decision the judge pointed out that the language in NAFTA was so broad that the government's action amounted to a violation of the company's rights. Even when the government acts in the public interest, as it did in Mexico, and follows legitimate procedures but interferes with corporate profit making, it can be forced under NAFTA to pay millions of dollars in damages to corporations. Therefore the government of Mexico had to pay Metalclad $16.7 million.

In 1998 the Government of Canada caved in to corporate pressure under NAFTA. Ethyl Corporation, the producer of a fuel additive, MMT, filed a $350 million NAFTA lawsuit against Canada. Our government banned this product by an act of parliament in 1996 because MMT was deemed a hazard to human health. However, anxious about losing in court, Ottawa settled out of court and paid Ethyl $19 million. It also issued a statement denying that MMT was a health hazard.

In the United States of America we now have the yet unresolved issue of California's ban on the additive MTBE, produced by a Canadian company called Methanex. It is basing its NAFTA lawsuit on the notion that it has not been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that MTBE causes cancer in humans, only in rats and mice.

These three cases permit us to note that: first, corporations have more success at NAFTA tribunals than in domestic courts when opposing environmental and health regulations; second, NAFTA tribunals reject the precautionary approach and promote investment and trade above all; third, acting under NAFTA corporations can pressure foreign governments in the expectation they will back off; and finally, NAFTA tribunals can and effectively do overturn laws passed by democratically elected legislatures.

NAFTA tribunals are not open to the public and conduct their proceedings in secret. One of the many problems with NAFTA is that it grants investors a powerful new set of rights in their business dealings abroad, but assigns no new responsibilities. As a result, NAFTA increases the powers of corporations and diminishes the power of governments.

It is therefore most alarming and distressing to see democratically elected governments become less relevant and lose power to corporations. Signing international trade agreements should not lead to a reduction of the state role in protecting the public good.

In essence, what NAFTA does is it allows corporations to make profits which corporations would not be able to make under national laws. In addition, NAFTA allows a perverse reversal of democratically adopted rules by a non-democratically chosen tribunal acting in secrecy.

For these reasons I am asking the parliamentary secretary the following questions. Is the Government of Canada proposing an interpretive statement of the scope of article 1110 on expropriation for adoption at this year's meeting of the free trade commission? Is corrective language being proposed to deal with the thorny issue of investor rights in chapter 11? Will the commission on environmental co-operation in Montreal be assigned the task of resolving this deeply disturbing issue?

Criminal CodeAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

London—Fanshawe Ontario


Pat O'Brien LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for raising this important matter at this time.

The position of the Government of Canada is that chapter 11 of NAFTA is working reasonably well, but as he correctly noted, there is room for improvement. Chapter 11 needs further clarity and transparency. Canada is committed to this important clarification process.

As an open and dynamic economy with significant international trade and investment flows, Canada has consistently supported a strong rules based system, multilaterally, regionally and bilaterally. We move on those three trade fronts simultaneously. We believe that investment rules can play an important part in providing a stable, transparent and predictable environment for international investment.

The importance of these rules to Canada's prosperity is clear. The value of Canadian direct investment abroad has increased by 400% between 1985 and 2000. This is an increase from $57 billion to $301 billion. In 2000 we benefited from over $291 billion in foreign direct investment in Canada. In turn, this investment generated Canadian jobs and fostered the growth of Canada's gross domestic product.

The growth in foreign investment by Canadian business has increased the demand for improved access and greater protection for Canadian investments abroad. Rules which facilitate a stable, transparent and open environment are an essential component of their success.

In light of such considerations Canada has long advocated a rules based international system and impartial dispute settlement in its trade and investment agreements such as NAFTA.

The NAFTA text was built on a longstanding experience and institutional knowledge of international trade and investment law. NAFTA parties want to ensure that it is understood and used in its proper context. My hon. colleague has cited some examples that could be stated as a misuse of chapter 11. To this end, the agreement provides for the issuance, by the NAFTA free trade commission, of notes of interpretation on provisions of chapter 11.

On July 31, 2001, the commission, which is comprised of NAFTA trade ministers, issued a binding interpretation on article 1105, the minimum standard of treatment provision. The notes of interpretation reaffirm that the standard of treatment set out in article 1105 reflects customary international law concerning the treatment of foreigners or aliens. It confirmed that a purported breach of another NAFTA article, or indeed a provision from another treaty, cannot constitute a breach of article 1105.

This binding interpretation also confirmed that fair and equitable treatment and full protection and security do not create additional obligations beyond those required by customary international law. The issuance of this binding interpretation has thus contributed to a proper understanding of article 1105.

I want to emphasize the importance the government places on the chapter 11 clarification process. The government understands that it is important to have such provisions, but it also understands, as my colleague mentioned, that there have been misinterpretations and that there needs to be greater clarification and transparency. The minister is highly committed to that. It is one of his top priorities.

Criminal CodeAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to the parliamentary secretary for his reply.

I draw to his attention the fact that what is happening in the three particular cases which I outlined tonight is not due to misinterpretation. It is part of an overall pattern of the use of chapter 11 which we are told was not originally intended, but nevertheless has become a practice. Therefore it is well beyond the realm of misinterpretation.

I am glad to hear from the parliamentary secretary that the minister is fully committed not only to transparency, but also to an initiative that would ensure, if I understood him correctly, that an interpretive statement on the scope of article 1110 on expropriation might be adopted this year at the meeting of the free trade commissioners.

Criminal CodeAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Pat O'Brien Liberal London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, briefly I would again reassure my colleague and thank him for raising this matter. What I meant to say was that it is the view of Canada that in chapter 11 the application of that clause has been stretched. That is what I meant by misinterpreted. Clearly it is being interpreted beyond the scope that was originally intended by the three signatories, hence the need for clarification.

The minister also supports very much the need for greater transparency.