Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois on Bill C-12 to update the Quarantine Act. Since this act dates back to the 19th century, the proposed amendments will modernize it and make it workable and more in line with today's various epidemiological contexts.
The Bloc Québécois supports the principles behind the bill, and raised a number of questions in committee. We need to realize first the ways epidemics spread in the 18th and 19th centuries are completely different the way they spread today. People were far less mobile, and if they did travel it was mainly by train. Nowadays, the major vectors in the transmission of epidemics include means of transportation such as aircraft. Certain provisions of the act will require all carriers to report any illness or death occurring on board before they arrive in Canada.
It is important to understand that the Quarantine Act has nothing to do with control mechanisms within the country. Those are the responsibility of the various public health agencies. Its purpose is rather to focus on the transmission of epidemics at the various Canadian entry and exit points.
In its present form, the bill requires travellers who have a communicable disease, or who have been in close proximity to a person who has a communicable disease, to present themselves to a screening officer or quarantine officer, so that a number of controls can be performed.
I must say that, throughout its proceedings, the Standing Committee on Health was concerned that the travellers who will be checked by a screening officer or a quarantine officer should have various forms of recourse available to them. For example, a number of committee members proposed amendments that were adopted to ensure that the controls performed by quarantine officers are carried out within a reasonable period of time. We felt that this period should be less than 48 hours.
As we know, the Quarantine Act gives to the Minister of Health the power to establish quarantine zones. We may think that these quarantine zones will be created primarily in airport facilities, but they will not necessarily be limited to these areas. If the Bloc Québécois has one regret, this is it. Even though we worked in relative harmony in committee, and even though the Bloc Québécois supports the objectives of this legislation, we would have liked the bill to clearly state that a quarantine zone and perimeter cannot be established without the approval of the health authorities involved.
Let us take the very specific example of the Dorval Airport. If, among a group of travellers arriving from Sri Lanka—I am giving this example to illustrate my point—a source of infection is identified, in this specific case, we would have liked the quarantine zone to be established only with the approval of the Quebec health and social services department.
This is why the Bloc Québécois proposed amendments which, unfortunately, were not adopted by the committee and, consequently, by the government.
We had many debates in committee, including on SARS. Although it is particularly relevant to Toronto and Ontario, the committee members asked specific questions. It is true that this bill will enable the minister to make regulations concerning a number of very important definitions and questions.
We considered whether it would be relevant to be able to offer compensation to people held in a quarantine zone and possibly prevented from returning to their work or families for 24, 48 or 72 hours. We wondered if it might not be a good idea to compensate those people.
Of course, it is not easy to set a standard. Some colleagues mentioned the average industrial wage. I think the minister should look into the question again.
Being in quarantine does involve some restriction of personal freedom and possibly being deprived of the right to work. However, the amendment on this was not adopted by the committee. I believe the chair did not want to agree to this kind of amendment in case it would commit public funds and thus require a royal recommendation.
We also looked at the responsibility of the operators of facilities, for example, an airport where quarantine has been declared. Obviously, an emergency is involved. The parliamentary secretary reminded us in committee that the Quarantine Act has not been used in the past 100 years. It is not therefore a everyday measure.
However, to the extent that the Quarantine Act is invoked, what responsibility should this government and Parliament assign to those running such facilities? In fact, they will have to give up their space, their equipment and collaborate with the government as is to be expected in socio-health crises. Personally, I must say that I agree with the idea of granting some type of compensation.
This is the fear, among others, of airline representatives. It must be recognized that often the airlines and their staff are the ones coming into contact with the passengers arriving at their facilities. Airports could be induced to give up part of their facilities. We are comfortable with the idea that there would be some compensation for this.
There is another provision in the bill, a schedule that cabinet will be able to review. This schedule lists a number of diseases that could result in quarantine. Some of the ones identified are viral. Others were added to the list based on changes in medicine.
In committee, we made sure, if it ever became necessary to add a disease or infection to the list in Schedule I of the bill, that the conditions were in place to allow this to be done quite quickly.
We therefore believe this is an exceptional bill in that it should be used in unusual situations. The aim of this bill is to make the Quarantine Act even more effective.
The Bloc Québécois will support this bill and the main amendments included in the notice paper . I believe that all the members did a good job in committee. In fact, we clearly understand that such a bill was essential in a world where germs and diseases can assume proportions that, today, require our vigilance as citizens and as parliamentarians.