Mr. Speaker, the behaviour by the Bloc Québécois has been going on for some sitting days and it is quite disruptive to the operations of the House.
The particular provisions within the bill to do with rights of individuals will be sensitive issues to a number of members who have been active in the aspect of basic human rights and the rights and freedoms of the individual. When we consider the conflicting interests here, the rights of the individual and the responsibility of the health authorities to protect the health and well-being of Canadians, it does raise some important questions about whether there is a demonstrably justified infringement on the rights of the individual.
I recognize there are some conflicting interests here, but members know that there is a responsibility of discharging the health measures provided by the Quarantine Act to ensure the health and well-being of all Canadians. We had the example with SARS. We now have discovered and learned that the disease is a communicable one. Also, some evidence shows that it could be transmitted through the air.
Let me make a few other comments on the implications of the bill and its scope.
First, because the bill has not been modernized for many years, we have to take into account, as legislators, that over time things change. There are emerging and re-emerging health threats and SARS is certainly one example. The most important part of this is that these communicable diseases do not respect borders. It is much like pollution. For instance, we know that in the 401 corridor of Ontario, going from Windsor down to Toronto, the major source of pollution, of poor air quality and particulate matter, comes from the Ohio Valley in the United States, which is densely populated with coal-fired hydrogenerating stations.
Similarly, we have a situation where problems in Canada are not necessarily domestically sourced. Taiwan had a very similar problem with regard to people coming into Taiwan from mainland China.
Countries have to take important steps to ensure that we take all the defensive measures necessary and the best possible course to ensure that communicable diseases do not become a serious problem as they have in the past, particularly with SARS.
The advances in technology and rapid air travel is now a reality in the daily lives of Canadians. It replaces the long days that people used to travel on ships or by rail. The new age of jet travel has paved the way for increased population mobility. This is a very important issue. There are so many people coming and going. We are not just talking about people who are coming to visit Canada. We are talking also about Canadians who have travelled abroad in some affected areas and who come back. It is important that we take all those precautions as well. This does not just affect people who are visiting our country but also those who are returning from trips abroad, for whatever reason. An enormous number of people travel through the airports of our country.
Members may recall when the mad cow crisis was at its peak, travellers coming to Canada had to walk on a mat to disinfect their shoes. We were not sure whether they may have somehow picked up some materials that may have been a threat to the agriculture industry. This is yet another instance where defensive measures are extremely important.
We are told by experts that a serious communicable disease can spread to any part of the world within 24 hours. We know some of the impacts of these diseases, but we do not know anything about them. SARS was an excellent example. When it hit, we did not know what it was. We did not know how it acted. We did not know how it was transmitted. What we did know was that a large number of people with a common bond of association, whether it be from a nursing home or a hospital ward, all of had the indicators that there was the starting of an epidemic.
It required the immediate mobilization of a large number of people. It goes without saying that we are very grateful to the health care providers, the doctors and the nurses and all the other important health care providers, who literally put themselves in harm's way to help those who were afflicted by these diseases, without knowing. It is much like firefighters. Firefighters run in while others flee to save themselves. We saw that in 9/11.
Let us not forget the importance to the caregivers who tried their very best under situations of very little information on how to deal with it.
The new reality regarding the health of immigrants is becoming a growing transborder problem as well. Members of Parliament have an important responsibility in their ridings to deal with people who are being sponsored by constituents to come to Canada, either to obtain landed status and perhaps ultimately to become citizens.
We all know the health requirements to enter Canada are extremely rigorous as well. It is important that they be enforced. This is also a very important issue because of the transborder problem.
This entire situation has many health ramifications. This is one reason why we now have a public health representation in the cabinet. We also have the chief public health officer, both of whom have important roles to play in addressing any future disease outbreaks, such as SARS. We also have established a centre in Winnipeg similar to the Atlanta centres for disease control. Things are happening. Bill C-12 is part of that process.
The existing health protection system has served the interest of Canadians well. Obviously we have to update our laws to take into account the new reality of the mobility of our own population and the expanding numbers of people who are visiting Canada from other lands. It means that the policy and procedures we use in Canada must reflect and be updated to reflect this new reality.
The member for Oakville previously mentioned that Dr. David Naylor prepared the main report on this. The report contained some very important recommendations. Those recommendations have been well taken into account, not only in this legislation, but in other activities.
I also want to comment on a couple of other aspects. Bill C-12 serves to modernize the Quarantine Act, but it is only one of the tools in our health tool box. As I indicated, we now have the public health agency with the appointment of Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's first chief public health officer, and the Canadian pandemic influenza plan. All are essential elements in the government's strategy for strengthening Canada's public health system.
As I indicated, the existing federal powers under the Quarantine Act are basically outdated. That is the reason why this legislation needs to be passed by Parliament. I hope the legislation will have the support of all hon. members in this place.
That is why we are moving forward quickly with the legislation. It will give the government the means to cope with and control disease outbreaks and ensure better communication, collaboration and cooperation among public health partners. This aspect was very evident during the SARS outbreak. There were more questions and answers, as can be appreciated, and there was a lack of coordination of the public health bodies across the country. Although there were regular press conferences to assure the public, the public also had an important need to know about how they could safeguard themselves.
In those types of serious circumstances we all need to be well informed so we can be part of the preventative measures to ensure a communicable disease outbreak does not spread any further and is in fact wrestled to the ground. The collaboration and cooperation that were necessary was demonstrated even within the government departments. An issue such as SARS touched virtually every department.
I recall the bulletin that came out informing the public about SARS and suggesting that if people had some questions or wanted further information they could go to a website or two but there was no website or two. There were about 21 different website addresses and they were all to different areas of the government, all of which, in their own way, had a reference to SARS as it related to their department.
With the creation of this new cabinet post, that will not happen any more. There will be a central communications point in which important information on a comprehensive basis can be communicated to all stakeholders, all interested parties, Canadians, caregivers and others who may be affected or involved in this.
The scope of the new act is limited to ensuring that serious communicable diseases are prevented from entering Canada or being spread to other countries. It will also mitigate the risk of future threats to public health at home and beyond, to our international partners.
Because of our experience in the SARS epidemic, Canada continues to be a leader in terms of being a model for other countries in terms of addressing matters such as this. I know the World Health Organization has taken great interest as have other countries. We have also had many visitations to Canada with regard to the way in which we have set things up.
With the proposed changes to the Quarantine Act, which I am sure will be passed by this place, I think Canada will finish the loop in terms of providing the best possible protection and prevention for Canadians as it relates to communicable diseases.