House of Commons Hansard #14 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.


Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to outline our position on Bill C-12, which sets out to prevent the introduction and spread of highly communicable diseases that can have a devastating effect on the people of Canada and Quebec, such as the Ebola virus, anthrax, and SARS.

The concern about the spread of communicable diseases is nothing new. The first Quarantine Act was enacted in 1377 by the Republic of Venice.

In 1832, the Parliament of Lower Canada passed legislation making Grosse Île, Quebec, a quarantine station in order to prevent the spread of cholera.

This station was under the jurisdiction of the Government of Lower Canada from 1832 to 1841, of the Province of Canada from 1841 to 1867 and of the Government of Canada from 1867 until it was closed in 1937.

Between 1867 and 1918, until this responsibility was turned over to the Department of Heath and Welfare, in 1919, the Department of Agriculture was in charge of the quarantining of immigrants. Given the casual attitude of the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food on the issue of mad cow disease, I am glad to know that this department is no longer in charge of quarantines.

While we agree that Bill C-12, which improves the 1970 act, should be sent to committee before second reading, we must keep in mind that health is the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. However, we recognize that infectious diseases, such as SARS and the West Nile virus, do not stop at the borders. This is why we agree that Bill C-12 should be sent to committee, as long as the measures do not duplicate those that may have been taken previously by Quebec.

However, there are several of these clauses that concern us and for which we would like to suggest some changes or additions.

When the first International Sanitary Conference took place in Paris in 1851, the basic principle of protection against international propagation of infectious diseases was outlined: maximum protection with a minimum of restriction.

Here, the current Quarantine Act was designed when maritime transportation raised more concern than air transportation. However, in the last few decades, air transportation has increased much more than maritime transportation. As evidence of this, last year's events—SARS, the West Nile virus and the flu—showed that outbreaks of infectious diseases are increasing more rapidly than ever.

You will agree that to continue to abide by the principle stated at the 1851 Paris conference, we need to react more quickly, methodically and appropriately to the introduction and spread of communicable diseases. Such a reaction must be supported by fair and adequate legislation.

The existing Quarantine Act was promulgated in 1970. It was passed for the very first time, however, in 1872. It helps protect Canadians and Quebeckers from the introduction of dangerous, infectious and communicable diseases. It prevents those diseases from spreading beyond Canada.

While the existing act is somewhat flawed, we must first ensure that the new act will not ignore basic values such as human respect and dignity.

For instance, whereas under the 1970 act an officer had to have reasonable doubt regarding the health of a traveller before having the individual undergo medical screening, clause 14 of Bill C-12 provides for a completely different mechanism.

Any person authorized by the minister may, to determine whether a traveller has a communicable disease or symptoms of one, use any screening technology that does not involve the entry into the traveller's body of any instrument of other foreign body.

This clause provides for efficient screening methods for all travellers, whereas under the existing act, screening can only take place if there are reasonable doubts.

This authority appears quite broad at first glance. It should be limited through the addition of something like “any medically appropriate technology”.

As far as data management at the first screening stage is concerned, the identity of travellers should be protected. If a traveller were found to have the symptoms of a communicable disease, he would be the only one to be advised. It would only be when such symptoms are detected that personal information could be obtained.

Also, with regard to the disclosure of personal information obtained, clause 56 should contain provision requiring the minister to seek assurances that such information would be held in confidence and that it will only be used for the purposes of the act.

We also have problems with certain clauses which are liable to lead to incursions into provincial areas of jurisdiction, in particular the one allowing the Minister of Health to enter into an agreementwith a public health authority, particularly if this refers to medical personnel.

Then we have clause 30, which states: “The Minister may, on the Minister’s ownmotion, review any decision of a quarantineofficer to detain a traveller and orderthe traveller’s release”.

It would be appropriate to delineate this power in such a case, for instance that the minister's decisions could be based on reports by a committee or group of experts.

Finally, we also have some misgivings about the concept of interim orders, just as we did before when the government wanted to make them part of the Public Safety Act in connection with the infamous military zones.

We need proof that this approach is necessary, particularly since the bill appears to already cover a broad range of possibilities and sets out the powers for those it designates as screening or environmental health officers.

As you can see, we are not spoilers, contrary to what many people might think. We have made a careful and comprehensive analysis of Bill C-12, and it is both our right and our duty as members of Parliament to make sure that decisions made here are an appropriate and respectful reflection of the needs of our fellow citizens in Quebec and Canada.

In conclusion, despite the concerns I voiced earlier, we should not forget that all of this must be put in context with the purpose and the schedule of the bill. The list of diseases it contains is impressive. They are extremely contagious and could have a devastating effect on the public in Canada and in Quebec.

To deal with this kind of disease, precautionary and public health measures should be upgraded from time to time. We must remain alert. Bill C-12, which will supersede the former Quarantine Act, promotes a good principle, even if parts of the bill should be examined in committee to make sure we do the utmost in the fairest and most efficient way.

Health is an exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. But the Bloc admits that communicable diseases such as SARS and the West Nile virus do not stop at our borders. That is why the Bloc will support the referral of Bill C-12 to committee, with the caveat that the measures taken must not duplicate those in Quebec.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-12. My first foray into talking about the Quarantine Act was a few years back when the new public safety act was coming into place. The Quarantine Act is not something one would normally talk about in everyday life in Canada. Nobody thought a quarantine would ever be put in place in Canada until the SARS epidemic.

It is good to see this new bill before us. I have listened to my colleagues from all the parties who have spoken today. It is interesting to note that all of us seem to be highlighting the same concerns. We all seem to want the bill to go to committee where we will be able to ask questions regarding the areas of concern.

For those people who may be watching this debate on TV and have not heard about the bill, I will highlight some aspects which may have been highlighted by others as well. If my colleagues on the government side are wondering whether I will be making any riveting remarks on the Quarantine Act, and I can assure them I will be.

As has already been mentioned, the old Quarantine Act has not been updated since 1872. Bill C-12 would apply to people coming into Canada and leaving Canada. It would not apply to people moving between provinces because the legislation respects their jurisdiction and the right to public health in their own areas.

Conveyance and transportation organizations would be subject to the proposed legislation. We can understand why, considering the traffic going back and forth between Canada and our southern neighbour. Literally thousands of vehicles and different modes of transportation such as air traffic move across our borders. It is important that transportation be included in the Quarantine Act.

My colleague from the Conservatives indicated the cost to travellers with regard to a quarantine and possible medical examinations. I have to admit he did not appear to be overly sensitive to the fact that travellers would have to pay money for that and there may not be anything wrong with them. He was much more concerned about getting the dollars from them. On the contrary, I am concerned because refugees and immigrants coming into Canada have already paid a fair amount of money to get to our wonderful country and they may not have a lot of resources available to them. They will face additional costs.

I hate to say this but I have become a bit skeptical about the government wanting to be a money making operation. A good example of this is when a person applies for a passport. A person applies for a passport and pays the required fee. Should something be wrong with the application, the person applies again, pays the fee again, and it goes on and on. It becomes a cash cow. I have seen that happen with visas, passport applications and numerous other areas in the government. My party does not want that to happen. I hope it is taken into consideration because we do not want to increase financial hardship on travellers coming to our country.

I want to highlight what my colleague from the Bloc mentioned about the minister's over-reaching authority. I am a little concerned in that a quarantine officer could put a quarantine order in place but it could be overruled by the minister. I would hope that it would be a medical quarantine officer who would make the decision rather than the not necessarily medical minister making the decision. I would hope that would be brought into question at committee. Possibly the head of the new public health agency, or the head of the public health agency in individual provinces in order to recognize jurisdiction, would be the only individual able to overrule a valid quarantine order.

There were a number of areas I wanted to mention, but those were the most important.

My colleague from the Conservative Party did mention the cost to business. Certainly, if a business were to be affected, there should be some understanding as to the costs that would be incurred and every effort should be made to keep those costs down.

We can all imagine if a transport truck came across the border and for some reason it was found that the driver could not get rid of whatever toxin and it was quarantined. If the toxin could not be done away with, then this vehicle would have to be disposed of, which seems to be the farthest stretch of the imagination. We must take into consideration inflicting orders as well as the business people and their costs.

I look forward, as my other colleagues in the House have mentioned, to the bill going to committee. I know that our health critic has done a thorough job of ensuring that our caucus was informed about the Quarantine Act. I know he will also do a thorough job of bringing our concerns forward in committee.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia


Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, let me assure the previous speaker that all members of the House were riveted by her comments. She mentioned that she wished to deliver a riveting speech.

We all share her concerns and we look forward to having a discussion at the committee level on some of the areas that have been raised, not only by the previous speaker, but by all the other speakers. I think that is the role of the committee.

We have an agreement on the bill which is the main thing. As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, I have a particular interest in the renewal of health protection legislation that the government has undertaken. The modernization of the Quarantine Act is the first step in this renewal, one that will establish a comprehensive framework for public health in our country.

In light of the lessons learned from the SARS crisis and the recommendations made by Dr. David Naylor, a earlier version of the bill was tabled in the House on May 12, 2004. Unfortunately, this bill, Bill C-36, died on the Order Paper when the federal election was called.

Since then, the public health system has undergone major changes. Among other things, the Public Health Agency of Canada has been created and the first Chief Public Health Officer has been appointed.

In the wake of these important events, the government has introduced a newly proposed quarantine act. Bill C-12 will replace the current Quarantine Act, one of Canada's oldest pieces of legislation, which has remained largely unchanged since the adoption of the first Quarantine Act in 1872.

The Quarantine Act is a crucial piece of legislation. In a world where disease knows no borders, the act is the only federal statute concerned with preventing and controlling the introduction and spread of infectious diseases.

This legislation offers safeguards at the Canadian border and points of entry to Canada by screening for the import and export of infectious diseases. It complements provincial and territorial public health laws, given that each province and territory has adopted its own such laws to contain infectious diseases within its own borders.

However, one can see that the current law poses certain problems. For example, it includes numerous outdated and redundant sections. It requires that an order be issued to add an infectious disease to the list, thereby reducing our capacity to react quickly to a public health emergency. It raises some concerns with regard to the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. It is not consistent with the suggested amendments to the International Health Regulations. It does not deal with interprovincial travel.

I believe that the proposed legislation would help address these problems. Once enacted, the new Quarantine Act would ensure that the federal government has the proper legislative tools to deal effectively with the next public health crisis.

Bill C-12 would provide many advantages over the current act. It would streamline the emergency response process by eliminating the distinction between listed and other diseases. It would clarify the respective roles of officers, operators and the courts. It would ensure that human rights are adequately protected, giving people the right to legal counsel, interpreters and medical examinations. It would facilitate linkages with other authorities, such as provincial health authorities or the RCMP in the case of suspected terrorism. It would clarify the authority to collect and share personal information. It would give authority to the minister to issue emergency orders consistent with the Public Safety Act. It would modernize enforcement powers, such as the authority to divert carriers and secure quarantine space.

Naturally, we will need to hold further consultations with provincial and territorial governments regarding the federal role. We need to clarify the matter of federal assistance for controlling and managing the outbreak of infectious diseases in Canada.

For example, as the Naylor commission pointed out, we must give thought to the need to give the federal government the necessary powers to limit or prohibit the interprovincial movement of people, vehicles and goods during a public health emergency, and we must also give thought to the need for the power to declare a national public health emergency.

We will also need to clarify if the federal government has the authority to provide certain legal and economic protections for travellers who are detained for public health purposes, such as preventing someone from losing their job, as well as other things that have been mentioned by previous speakers.

We want to be ready should the unthinkable happen. The Minister of Health, the Minister of State for Public Health and I are extremely proud of this legislation. It is a critical important first step forward in a series of improvements the Government of Canada is making to strengthen our public health system.

In passing this legislation, we will be sending a clear message to Canadians that their health and their safety are a priority for this government.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Susan Kadis Liberal Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to see here today the Minister of State for Public Health and the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Health debating the motion to refer this bill to committee.

When the recent SARS crisis hit this country in 2003, a powerful realization hit home to everyone. The days of having ample time to prepare for the arrival of infectious diseases are gone. A great deal has changed in 132 years since the Quarantine Act was first established. We have cars, we have planes, et cetera.

The bill is one part of the federal government's comprehensive approach of improving the health care of all Canadians. Bill C-12 recognizes that our health care system is a shared responsibility in the country. The importance of all jurisdictions and various organizations involved working together is critical, particularly when public health threats emerge as they do today.

Experts talk about control, the good kind, infection control and caring properly for persons who are hit with infection in such a way that no one else can become infected. Our public health agencies create guidelines for how to control infectious diseases so that a public health nurse in any community, big or small, will know what to do.

What this act does is simply add another important tool to our toolbox. It will allow us to detect threats to public health at the point when they are actually entering our country. Bill C-12 takes into consideration very importantly the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which obviously did not exist when the act was first established. Disease, as we have heard, knows no boundaries. There were no planes or cars when this act was first established many years ago. This is one of our oldest bills.

There are constituents in my riding who were hit hard by SARS. They were hit tragically. They need to know, as do all Canadians, that we have taken all the steps that we can possibly take to ensure that they are protected. This bill is another example of how our government believes strongly in breaking down barriers when it comes to the best interests in the welfare and the well-being of all Canadians.

Bill C-12 appropriately balances the public good and the individual's right to privacy. It respects the jurisdictions of our provincial and territorial colleagues and in fact builds on all the very excellent work being done by all local public health officials. Bill C-12 will better prepare us to better protect Canadians. It is of course our collective responsibility to move this bill forward swiftly for our entire public health worldwide.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Raynald Blais Bloc Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on the bill before us. Not to be redundant, I think it is very important to indicate that we are in favour of the bill being referred to committee before second reading, for further consideration.

I will address certain points the hon. member for Laval clearly outlined in her remarks, as did other members, points that help us understand the current situation better. I think it is important to point out again that the current situation is very different from what it used to be; in that sense, a refresher is necessary. Still, a refresher is all fine and well but it is not enough. The legislation has to be strengthened, while respecting areas of jurisdiction of course.

Tools and resources should be made available to those responsible for enforcing the legislation in question. I can assure the House that, in committee, the members of the Bloc Québécois, and our colleagues from the other parties as well, will act responsibly to ensure that we can take this further this time around.

For the benefit of those watching and listening, I will come back to the summary of the bill. Going over this summary will allow us to emphasize a number of points on which I intend to elaborate for the next little while:

This enactment repeals and replaces the Quarantine Act. Its purpose is to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases in Canada. It is applicable to persons and conveyances arriving in or in the process of departing from Canada.

It provides measures for the screening, health assessment and medical examination of travellers to determine if they have a communicable disease.

I would like to address the points raised by the hon. member for Laval about the need to proceed with caution. Indeed, as we all know, one person's freedom endswhere that of another begins. Hence the need to act responsibly. Coming back to the summary:

It also provides measures for preventing the spread of communicable diseases, includingreferral to public health authorities, detention, treatment and disinfestation.Provisions for the administrative oversight of the detention of travellers are alsoincluded.

It provides for additional measures such as the inspection and cleansing ofconveyances and cargo to ensure that they are not the source of communicablediseases.

It imposes controls on the import and export of cadavers, body parts andother human remains.

It contains provisions for the collection and disclosure of personalinformation if it is necessary to prevent the spread of a communicable diseaseor, under certain circumstances, for law enforcement purposes.

It also provides the Minister of Health with interim order powers in the caseof public health emergencies and enforcement mechanisms to ensurecompliance with the Act.

Concerning this last point, it is important to make a few things clear, as the hon. member for Laval did. When a minister has to make decisions that the minister has authority to make, this authority should be set in a framework and not simply be discretionary. This is quite important. Ministers want to act responsibly, which means they should be able to use other sources of information. One of them could be a committee of experts. I think this is a point that could be further examined in committee. You can be sure Bloc Québécois members will raise it.

Because of other things I have heard up to now about this bill, I feel the need to clarify a few things about the speech of the public security minister. She was talking among other things about cooperation, new technologies and what happened recently with SARS, for example.

I would like to stress that the current situation, or the earlier one, brings us back to what defines our action, that is acting in a responsible manner. And to act in a responsible manner, we need measures, resources and reinforcement of the work to be done. In this regard, we need a principle that ensures collaboration and cooperation. However, this cannot suffice to deal with the situation.

From what has happened in the past few years, we know full well that infectious and spreadable diseases know no border. With the new means of transportation, we realize that spread is much faster than it used to be. Thus, we need to strengthen our protection measures.

Again, we should not get carried away. In this regard, I would like to draw your attention to clause 30 of the Bill, which states, and I quote:

The Minister may, on the Minister's own motion, review any decision of a quarantine officer to detain a traveller and, if the Minister is of the opinion that the traveller does not pose a risk of significant harm to public health, order the traveller's release.

This clause looks all right, but I have some reservations about it. As mentioned by the members for Laval and other MPs, this authority must be set within a framework. We cannot afford to simply drop our responsibilities, leaving it to one person only, at a given point, to decide on everything to do with the application of the law. In this regard, I point out that is very important to be able to draw on alternate sources in carrying out our responsibilities.

This brings me to the work done in parliamentary committees, which are made up of members of all parties. I do think that all members want to avoid a repetition, in the same circumstances, of what happened before. MPs from the Bloc Quebecois and other parties will surely want to cooperate, but in a responsible manner.

I feel that because we in the opposition are now the majority in committee—because the government is in a minority—we will be more vigilant. We will ensure we assume our responsibilities in connection with the new threats and new transportation realities. We will also ensure that we have the resources to act in a responsible and effective manner.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me begin my remarks by congratulating the front line workers in health care, who during the SARS crisis not that long ago put their health and regrettably even in some cases their lives at risk for the benefit of other citizens.

We lived through an episode at that time in our country that was very difficult. Not only were there the victims I have just described, but as well there were the patients themselves who suffered from the disease. Regrettably, it even in a way victimized a segment of the population along ethnic lines. A number of people assumed, largely erroneously, that this segment was made up of carriers of the very serious disease that we had in Canada at the time.

The Quarantine Act that we are revising today is one of the oldest in the country. That was mentioned a while ago. It has been largely the same since 1872. I am sure other members will speak glowingly about the modernizations of 1972; nevertheless, it is largely the same as it was in 1872

I noted that in her speech the member for Laval reminded us that laws on quarantine have existed since 1377. As far as Canada is concerned, the member indicated that such legislation existed in Lower Canada as of 1832. Most probably there was similar legislation in Nova Scotia at about the same time, given the fact that two major quarantine stations existed, one on an island close to Halifax and the other one on Grosse-Île, near Quebec City.

I would like to spend a few minutes on this issue because I have a special feeling for that place. Actually, as my wife is of Irish descent, we have had the opportunity to visit Grosse-Île, where her ancestors arrived in 1846. They were among the first refugees fleeing the potato famine, which worsened significantly in 1847 and 1848.

It is easy to imagine that there must have been people on the shore watching the arrival of these refugees, most of whom were extremely thin because of what they had been through and often, in deplorable health, all with very short red hair, which distinguished them from the others. The bystanders probably asked themselves just what the government was admitting to Canada. Yet, these newcomers built our country and, of course, in my own case, they were the ancestors of my children and grandchildren, because I am a grandfather. That was no doubt the welcome they got when they arrived, at least the ones who made it to Canada.

At the time, Ireland had lost some two million inhabitants, of which one million had perished before being able to leave or during the voyage. The others went, mostly, to North America and Australia, new lands for the refugees from the famine that caused terrible sickness.

In my opinion, most Canadians, particularly those who have some Irish blood, thought, until recently, that this was something that had occurred a long time ago and that could likely never happen again. After all, living in modern times, such as we do now, it was thought—even though we now know better—that with all the medication and the means available, such diseases could never strike again. We had probably forgotten that, in the twenties, the Spanish flu killed a large number of Canadians, particularly in eastern Ontario and in Quebec. We also forgot other incidents less dramatic than the one to which I referred initially, but they nevertheless involved serious incidents of infectious diseases in our country.

I remember that when I was a child, there was a period during which they ran these tests on us at school to see if we had tuberculosis or anything associated with that disease. If, by accident, a child rubbed the area on his skin where the test had been done, this would cause a minor irritation, but the child would quickly be sent home to protect other children's health, even though it was often just a minor skin irritation.

All this to say that this is not a new issue in our country, but an old one.

I said at the beginning that the bill has not been modernized since 1872. Maybe I should start by reassuring the House that I was not involved in the debate in 1872. I was not even a member at the time. I want to assure the House of that as well, even though it is quite well known that I have been around this place for quite some time, but not that long yet, Mr. Speaker. I am working on it.

I would like to add my recognition of the important work of Dr. Naylor, Chair of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health. I was speaking of SARS in the past, but I wanted to take a moment to pay tribute to Dr. Naylor's work. On behalf of all my colleagues on this side of the House, and I am sure, all members, I would like to congratulate Dr. Naylor. He looked into the events that happened during the SARS crisis and he made recommendations for changes. One of these recommendations concerns the need to amend public health legislation.

Bill C-12 before us today is the result of the work the government has done in response to Dr. Naylor's very enlightened recommendations and proposals.

Before I finish, I would like to return to something mentioned earlier by two of the hon. members. They said that the minister's powers should not be too broad. I do not share this opinion. I would ask my colleagues to be prudent with the language they use in parliamentary committees.

I would be the first to say that a minister should perhaps not be given too much power to make amendments to legislation. In individual cases, I think the approach should often be the opposite.

I would like to remind all our colleagues of the famous, not to say infamous, Immigration Act and how it is administered. We are the first to call on the ministers to make changes. In fact, only last evening, I was invited to a demonstration in Ottawa. I was unable to go but the New Democratic Party member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre did attend this demonstration in favour of relaxing the law in a particular case.

We therefore have to exercise caution when it comes to calling for limits on powers. We must not restrict the minister's ability to administer the legislation. We need to exercise caution. If limits are required, let us keep them very broad. This is very important.

Say a plane is stuck somewhere and a binding decision is required from the executive branch to allow the passengers to disembark for various reasons. Sometimes, if legislation is too inflexible, our hands will be tied unless the minister can intervene.

This is what I wanted to say. I thank my colleagues who, without a doubt, will support this bill enthusiastically.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

October 22nd, 2004 / 2:05 p.m.


Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to address my honourable colleagues concerning the Quarantine Act, Bill C-12.

As members of Parliament, we all have a particular interest in the renewal of our health protection legislation that the government has just undertaken. As was mentioned, Bill C-12 would replace the current Quarantine Act, one of Canada's oldest pieces of legislation. It has remained largely unchanged since the Quarantine Act came into effect in 1872.

I am very proud, and I commend the Minister of State for Public Health for moving quickly with the recommendations of Dr. David Naylor from the University of Toronto. I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank all front line workers from the cities and also the provincial and federal government front line workers. They all worked together during a very difficult time of SARS.

I also want to share my experience, not just as a member of Parliament but as a Toronto city councillor, at that time, representing the same area of Davenport. Toronto went through a very difficult time with SARS. Our hospitality industry was greatly affected by SARS. Many individuals throughout the world assumed that the city of Toronto was under quarantine. We were getting calls from people all over the place asking if they could leave their houses, or take the train or go to shopping centres. There was a certain hysteria created through the images that were not connected to the reality of what was happening in our city.

There was no question that we were living in difficult times and there was a certain sense of fear. Luckily, the people of Toronto had the good sense to go out and continue on with their lives. We would also like to offer our congratulations to those individuals as well. It was a very difficult time, and our front line staff did extremely well. Our medical officer of health, Sheela Basrur, is now the Ontario medical officer of health.

We at the federal level have done the same thing with the initiative of wanting to protect the public. We also have appointed a chief public health officer for Canada. I want to congratulate the government for moving quickly with that recommendation. It is very important legislation. All of us can be proud of the work we do here as parliamentarians.

I want to mention a quote from the minister for public health. She states, “Infectious diseases move like wildfire across the planet today”. That is very true. As we know, we are a mobile society. People pick up and leave. They travel to other countries. We have to be aware that there is a new reality in place that was not there when the act came into being in 1872. This is the new reality for Canada and throughout the world.

The new act will help ensure Canadians are better protected against the import of dangerous communicable diseases by: requiring carriers to report all instances of illnesses and death on board before arrival in Canada; requiring travellers to report on arrival to screening officers or quarantine officers if they have a communicable disease or have been in contact with such a person, the method used is screening technologies at Canadian ports of entry; and requiring those travellers arriving in Canada who are suspected of having a dangerous communicable disease to undergo an initial health assessment and a medical examination if necessary.

I want to let the Canadian public know that these changes to the legislation conform with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As with other Canadian laws, the charter always applies. However, special protections are provided in the bill, such as the right to an interpreter, the right to have a medical examination conducted by a medical practitioner of a traveller's choice, the right to be informed of all decisions, the right to regular medical examinations during detention and the right to have detentions reviewed.

That is the way we in Canada protect ourselves, but also we protect our fundamental rights and principles. We do not want to live in a society of fear. We understand the importance of public health and we want to protect Canadians. At the same time, we want to give them the assurance that we will not suspend the charter. We are protected with the charter and we are protected with this legislation.

An updated Quarantine Act will address the urgent issues with respect to the spread of communicable disease. It is also the first step in a series of legislative initiatives that will establish a comprehensive framework for public health, including the creation of a public health agency and new Canada protection legislation.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

2:10 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, these are my first remarks in the new Parliament. I want to thank the electors of Scarborough—Rouge River for showing their confidence in me by sending me back here to work with all hon. members.

I have a few thoughts, and they are not random. I have thought about them carefully, but I would like to place them on the record, both for this place and for the committee that will be studying the bill on the Quarantine Act.

There seems to be a clear measure of support around the House for the bill. The devil, if any, will be in the detail, although most of the bill involves updating concepts and laws that reach back quite a number of years.

On the face of it, Canadians at present and Canadians in the past have not objected to the concept of quarantine for the purpose of protecting the collective health of Canadians. Whenever there is a quarantine, or something like a quarantine, or an intervention by government, it is an imposition of the collective will over the individual will and the individual rights of the person. For that particular reason, we have to be careful that we do not stand up and say yes, let us collectively impose a burden on people at any one particular point in time, take away their liberties, impair their privacy and make other impairments of their rights, which are now happily guaranteed in our charter and in the laws of the various provinces.

The predecessor of this statute goes back to the 1800s. Since then we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which allows the citizen more aggressively to police or contain the imposition of authority and power by the state. Nonetheless, it is our job to proceed carefully and to develop legislation that is sensitive, not just to the need for collective good health but to individual liberties.

What are some of the issues that we should look at? Quite understandably, we have found it necessary to insert into the statute new concepts of personal mobility. That of course involves aircraft, which was not around 100 years ago. However, it certainly is now and the bulk of people move internationally by aircraft, not by sailing ships and steamships.

I noticed there was a reference in the statute to the use of DDT as a disinfectant. We have come a long way since then and the language of the act has to be broadened to incorporate new science, new biology and new pharmacology.

Another concept has to be added to the new statute. Prior to this, with some exceptions, it was always viewed that a quarantine scenario developed by something incoming. It was a person or group of persons who came to Canada and brought the disease here. That was the old concept and it was not always the case. We perhaps generated our own diseases here. However, the need of the state to intervene often involved the quarantining of incoming passengers.

Canada has signed on to international treaties and conventions where we now have an obligation to contain outgoing disease, if in fact there is some. We have an obligation to ensure that our outgoing traffic of persons does not send viruses and diseases out of Canada.

A quarantining or containing in relation to a disease now has to be seen as something we may have to do here to keep people from leaving Canada, not just keeping them out. We will have to require air carriers as well as ship owners to report where they are going, who they have on board and maybe things a little more intrusive than that, but it is necessary in these times. We have to look at isolation of these travellers.

Everyone will recognize the speed with which people move around the world now. It is not like the old days when we might have spent a few days or a week on a ship. The aircraft is actually here within a couple of hours. Therefore there is a real need for authorities in Canada and outside Canada, in cooperation with the carrier, to take steps to contain a disease or a virus if it is noted or found in transit.

For those reasons, they say it is necessary to take possession of an aircraft or a ship to make sure it does the right thing. A collective group of people will agree that we have to stop a certain ship or aircraft and take possession of it. That is all fine and good unless one happens to be on the aircraft. If we are on that aircraft when an action is taken to quarantine, we may have a different view of this. As we press the elements of this legislation, we should make sure that we take into account the circumstances of travellers on the aircraft or conveyance as that is about to happen.

Since this act developed and evolved a century ago, we also have a much better concept of privacy. We have laws that restrict how we deal with private personal information. In circumstances where there is medical information about individuals, we will now have to overcome that restriction on privacy and allow health authorities to exchange personal information in relation to health matters where these incidents arise.

We will have to look at that carefully. It means an exchange of personal information involving health matters between the federal government, an air carrier, a provincial government, a municipal government or a hospital authority. It is worth noting here that normally the provinces and the municipalities do most of the work in terms of health care response so we will have to look at that carefully to ensure we have a model that respects privacy and the appropriate jurisdictional level of participation.

The last thing I want to make reference to is the concept of the government making interim, regulatory orders in response to a health or infectious disease or a contagious disease scenario.

Again, it would be the collective view that the government should be in a position to make an order. In the Public Safety Act adopted by Parliament a year or two ago, we accepted the role of what are called interim orders. A public official is able to make an interim order of short duration which requires members of the public either to do something or not do something and that has the force of law. A public official does not have to come here to make the law. The public official is able to make the law under delegated authority. However those orders are only interim, time limited, and they must come back to the governor in council and they must be reviewed by Parliament before they become permanent.

I can assure members that the standing joint committee of this House and the Senate will continue its excellent work reviewing the constitutionality and the appropriateness of those types of orders.

It is worth noting, and I say this for the record, that the first material disallowance by that committee and this House of a regulation previously made by the government occurred in relation to the Indian Health Act, the Indian health regulations, about 10 or 11 years ago. The committee was of the view that the quarantine provisions of the Indian Health Act were unconstitutional and the orders were disallowed and taken off the books.

It was a happy event to see the House disallow government regulations. It was actually the second time that it occurred in our happy history here. I point that out for the record in relation to orders that may be made under this new statute.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

2:20 p.m.


Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is probably, on the ebb of the SARS epidemic, one of the most serious pieces of legislation on public health that the House will deal with. I attempt to introduce some degree of seriousness here, because from my perspective as the member for York South--Weston there is a very moving context that this legislation fits into.

York South--Weston has West Park Hospital, which back in the turn of last century, in the 1900s, was the national sanatorium, the Toronto hospital for those who had tuberculosis. That was the plague of its time. Because no hospital could be located in populated areas due to the nature of the concern, the Toronto hospital was located in what was then a very rural and remote area.

I mention that to underscore how important this legislation is against the temper of these times, because the temper of those times was that no one wanted to risk being associated with people who had tuberculosis. After the SARS epidemic, it was ironic that this same hospital, now called West Park Hospital, was where those who had been infected, the medical health practitioners, doctors and nurses and all of those in a medical interface who had come into contact with people with SARS, actually were placed in quarantine. It is funny how the same conditions of the 1900s with respect to tuberculosis applied most recently with respect to SARS.

I say that because we have to look at the nature of our response in the context of the times. Are the institutional support mechanisms within the health care framework equal to the task of dealing with the nature of a disease in present times? I think the provisions of health care were tested to the extreme.

Regarding this legislation with respect to quarantine and updating the Quarantine Act, it has been very well documented what the present screening and provisions are, but I think it is important to state what the new powers are.

The new powers are to update the act to provide the flexibility of response, which would include the ability to divert aircraft to an alternate landing site if necessary, to isolate passengers, to establish quarantine facilities at any location in Canada, and to order that carriers from other countries or regions of the world not enter Canada if there are serious concerns that such on arrival may threaten the public health. That is an additional power.

It is important, I think, to also understand that within the context of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and existing legislation, the RCMP, if and when appropriate, can be called in to back up the decisions that are made by medical health officers and by officials if need be.

There also is a new power under the proposed act which would provide that conveyance owners must report an illness or the death of a passenger before arrival. That would then allow the Minister of Health to take whatever proactive action is required before the aircraft actually lands.

It would give new powers to the minister to appoint screening, quarantine and environmental assessment officers, to establish quarantine facilities, to take necessary possession of premises if and when required to use as detention facilities and, as I have said, to divert conveyances.

I think it is important also when we ask under this act if officials can detain departing passengers, because we live in the global community and of course all these recommendations are being made within the context of the World Health Organization framework, which, along with Canadian officials, is not only concerned with those coming from other countries. Are we as equally concerned with respect to those departing Canada who might infect other countries as result of early appearance of the kinds of diseases we are attempting to deal with? Equally important, there are provisions in the bill that place the onus on our framework to also protect the citizens of other countries.

I think this is extremely relevant for the House against the concerns that have--

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

2:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. The hon. member for York South—Weston will have three and a half minutes in resuming his speech when next we deal with the bill.

It being 2:30 p.m., pursuant to order made on Friday, October 8, this House stands adjourned until Tuesday, October 26 at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:30 p.m.)