Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by acknowledging my colleague from Mississauga South for his commitment to this effort, which he continues to show in this important issue both in the last Parliament and in this Parliament. I applaud his efforts to raise awareness about the negative consequences of alcohol use in Canada.
I agree that as a society we need to be vigilant in protecting the most vulnerable from damage due to alcohol misuse, and there are no more vulnerable than our unborn children, and those born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, also known as FASD.
Throughout their lives, they will often be faced with and cope with the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, and these children can be condemned to lives of missed opportunities and, in essence, outright despair.
Among the common symptoms of the disability are a range of social and behavioural problems, which put affected individuals at an increased risk of dropping out of school and make them far more likely to be unemployed, victimized, homeless or to end up in prison.
As profound as the impact may be for the affected individuals and their families, the cost of FASD is also steep for society. Canadian taxpayers will spend approximately $1.5 million over the lifetime of each of these individuals in extra health, education, welfare, policing and criminal justice system costs.
Consider that given the incidence of 9.1 cases of FASD per 1,000 births, there are estimated 280,000 people in Canada currently living with this preventable disability.
As worthy as the goals are, studies have shown to date that alcohol warning labels do not reach or positively impact those most at risk.
There is very compelling evidence to suggest that alcohol warning labels would not result in a reduction of hazardous alcohol consumption or reach specific populations regarding risk-taking behaviours such as drinking during pregnancy or drinking and driving.
There have been other private members' bills on alcohol warning labels since 1987. For example, prior to Bill C-251 there was Bill C-206.
Bill C-206, like previous bills, was not supported by the House as the evidence presented to it was unequivocal. Warning labels on alcohol beverage containers are not effective in changing the drinking behaviours of at risk or vulnerable populations.
This was the resounding all-party consensus reached at committee hearings on Bill C-206, the predecessor to Bill C-251. While laudable, the objectives behind Bill C-251 are not likely to be achieved through warning labels.
I firmly believe that supporting alcohol warning labels would divert taxpayer dollars away from effective interventions such as prevention, awareness and education, to an approach that lacks real evidence of success.
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight how the Government of Canada is currently working to reduce the negative consequences of alcohol use through proven prevention, education and awareness interventions.
Led by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the federal fetal alcohol spectrum disorder initiative seeks to prevent future births of those affected by alcohol and improve outcomes for individuals and families already affected.
This work is accomplished in a number of ways.
First, by raising awareness and educating Canadians and health care and allied professionals about the harms related to FASD and alcohol use during pregnancy.
Second, by developing a strong evidence base to inform decisions by relevant jurisdictions.
Third, by translating knowledge and producing tools to help build capacity within communities across Canada.
This initiative receives funding in the amount of $5 million annually. Of this amount $3.3 million goes to the Public Health Agency while the remaining $1.7 million is given to Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.
We know that addressing FASD is a shared responsibility. I am pleased to report that the Public Health Agency of Canada has assumed a leadership role and is working with its health portfolio partners, other federal departments and agencies, the provinces and territories, first nations, as well as a host of community based partners.
I think real progress has been achieved to date and I would like to take a few minutes to highlight a few of the examples.
In 2005 national guidelines for diagnosing FASD were published following extensive consultation. These guidelines represent a crucial step for developing both capacity to diagnose FASD and standard procedures for FASD diagnosis.
In the long term it is anticipated that these guidelines will enhance the collection and reporting of incidence and prevalence data across Canada, so that we will have a much better sense of progress to reduce FASD rates in Canada.
Although we have meaningful estimates on the costs of FASD in Canada, work has begun on the development of a Canadian model for the calculation of the economic impact of FASD. In addition, a call for proposals for the FASD National Strategic Projects Fund was announced in January 2007.
These projects, being funded from this call, will build toward enhanced prevention and diagnosis and, eventually, the availability of incidence data.
Unfortunately, some segments of the Canadian population are more at risk of alcohol-related harm. For example, some first nations people and Inuit are at greater risk of experiencing some form of alcohol-related harm in their daily lives.
For this reason, Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch receives $15 million in annual funding from the Government of Canada's early childhood development strategy to support FASD programs. This amount is in addition to the $1.7 million in funding under the federal FASD initiative.
The sum of this funding, nearly $17 million, is used to reduce the number of FASD births and improve the quality of life for those affected in first nations and Inuit communities.
With this funding, communities are supported to undertake various activities that build awareness, develop targeted interventions to support high-risk women to stop or reduce alcohol use while pregnant, enter collaborative work with communities to address the broader determinants of health, provide education and training for front line workers and health professionals, and facilitate access to earlier diagnosis. Progress has been made in all of these areas.
A recent opinion survey showed that 94% of first nations and 86% of Inuit were aware of FASD, and awareness is a start.
Community asset mapping has helped many communities identify their strengths and develop a plan of action. There are now mentoring programs for at-risk women in 32 first nations communities.
All regions have provided training sessions for front line workers and health professionals. For example, in Quebec, 90% of first nations communities participate in education and training activities related to the prevention of FASD in 2005/2006.
Community coordinator positions are being established, so that first nations and Inuit communities can increase family access to diagnostic health teams.
And our efforts do not stop there. Since 2000, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research has invested approximately $3.7 million into research around prevention, treatment and diagnosis of FASD.
This action has expanded the knowledge base about the biological mechanisms underlying alcohol's adverse effects on the developing fetus and its long-term health effects.
Clearly, momentum is building across this country to address many of the challenges Bill C-251 proposes to resolve.
Taken together, these activities represent a comprehensive approach to reduce the risks and tragic consequences of alcohol abuse. As witness after witness told the Standing Committee on Health during examination of Bill C-206, that is exactly what is needed if we are to produce meaningful results.
The evidence presented before the committee at that time demonstrated that fully integrated and concerted prevention, awareness, and education interventions are the most effective ways to address challenges, and that was clearly indicated in the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Health.
In closing, I would like to express again my sincere appreciation for my hon. colleague's commitment to this issue. However, I believe the evidence is clear. Alcohol warning labels will not bring about the results we all wish to achieve. For this reason, I am unable to support this bill.