Mr. Speaker, I move that the second report of the Standing Committee on Health, presented on Monday, September 18, 2006, be concurred in.
Today I have moved a concurrence motion in the second report of the Standing Committee on Health as it relates to a matter which has seized my career as a parliamentarian since 1993.
When I was first elected, the issue of the day was health care. Canadians continue to support our health care system, but they want assurances that the Government of Canada will continue to support our health care system, particularly for those in most need in our society.
At the time, there was a proposal to have a national forum on health. One of the things that I wanted to do, having spent nine years on the board of my hospital in Mississauga, was to be on the health committee so I could participate in the important area of debate in the House of Commons and of its committee work.
The first thing I did was to look at the work that the Standing Committee on Health had done in the prior Parliament. To my amazement, I found a report of a subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare, Social Affairs, Seniors and Status of Women called “Foetal Alcohol Syndrome: A Preventable Tragedy”, which was dated June 1992. I read the report with interest.
I consider myself to be an educated person. I have three children. I spent nine years on the board of my hospital. I believe I was attuned to what was going on in my community. After reading that report, it was clear to me that if I had never heard of fetal alcohol syndrome, chances were many Canadians were in the same situation.
I have had private members' bills and motions before the House. I have received 80% to 95% support of the House for private members' initiatives on the issue relating to fetal alcohol syndrome. It has been frustrating, unfortunately, in each and every opportunity and in each and every Parliament.
We are faced with the same situation again. This is a fragile government. I have a bill on the order paper and I expect it to be dealt with by the House within the next month or two. We are faced with the uncertainty of our electoral future. I do not know why because there are so many priorities that Canadians need to have addressed, yet all I hear is a government that is just itching to go to the electorate because those members want it their way.
I cannot afford to let down the people, the families, the children, the NGOs and all those who care about children who suffer from alcohol related birth defects. They want to hear that Parliament is engaged on this issue. They want to hear that we really want to do something.
The Standing Committee on Health, after receiving deputations from Health Canada on the status of affairs dealing with fetal alcohol syndrome, found that there was an uncertainty about whether Health Canada was really committed and convinced that this was a priority. I wonder how many Canadians really understand what is going on with fetal alcohol syndrome. I wonder how many people really understand what it is.
Alcohol related birth defects occur in one out of every thousand births. It costs millions of dollars every year for these children. In fact, the leading known cause of mental retardation in Canada is maternal consumption of alcohol. About half of the people in the jails of Canada suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome or alcohol related birth defects now under the umbrella called fetal alcohol spectrum and disorders.
It is a travesty that Parliament would be jeopardized to suspend itself yet again without dealing with issues of importance to the health of Canadians, especially children.
The facial features of a human being are established between days 15 and 22 of pregnancy. Fetal alcohol syndrome has associated with it characteristic facial features. That is the evidence, that is the proof that the damage is done to the unborn child before a women even knows she is pregnant. It indicates that there is only one way to reduce and to prevent fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and that is to have an educated public.
We need to not shy away from the facts that one in a thousand births result in a mentally challenged human being.
I have given many speeches in the House. One of them was about my disappointment in Health Canada's response to this. We have had many opportunities to hear from Health Canada. On the second to last occasion, its representatives appeared before the Standing Committee on Health to report on what had been done and what the plans were to address fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. It was a litany of all the things that had happened in history, but there was not one iota of a plan on how to address this tragic situation, the preventable tragedy of fetal alcohol syndrome.
I spent some time developing a program called “Drink Smart”. One of the flyers I have produced has in it a very short but very important message for Canadians, both men and women. Half of the pregnancies in Canada are unplanned and therefore we cannot wait. As Health Canada has said time and time again, if a woman is pregnant, she should cut back or abstain from alcohol. If it is between days 15 to 22 and women do not know they are pregnant, the damage can be done. The message has to get out to women not to wait until they know they are pregnant. If they are sexually active, if they are not using protection and if they are in their birthing years, the only way to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome, or FASD, is to abstain from the consumption of alcohol.
That is what it is all about, but it will take work and support by Health Canada, and that is not forthcoming. This is the problem. This is why I have moved the concurrence motion. We have much work to do, but the most important work is to take care of the most vulnerable in our society, the unborn children.
We know what medical science can do today. We can operate on unborn children. We can detect birth defects. We can correct them in the womb. We are dealing with the virtual certainty that there is going to be a life. We are dealing with a situation where prenatal consumption of alcohol is the leading known cause of mental retardation in Canada.
If we care about the criminal justice system, we have to care about how these people came to commit crimes. Everybody in this place who knows about fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder knows that there is a high incidence of criminal activity among those who suffer from this illness, this mental disability.
Half of the people in our jails suffer from alcohol related birth defects. People want to talk about getting tough on crime, but we cannot be tough on crime when people have no idea what they are doing because they have mental problems. We have to deal with it. There have to be preventative measures. There have to be remediation measures.
Our penal system is based on a rehabilitation model. I hate to tell members this but rehabilitation from mental illness is not there. It is not applicable. What we need to do is deal with issues of coping, helping the families and educating the public. We need to reduce the incidents. We need to make it an issue and a priority, and it takes all parliamentarians in this place to be speaking about it.
I raised this issue and asked for concurrence in the second report of the Standing Committee on Health called “Even One is Too Many: A Call for a Comprehensive Action Plan On Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder”, which was a good report.
The report basically said that Health Canada needs to develop a comprehensive plan to address alcohol related birth defects. The committee asked for that. I heard committee members question the witnesses from Health Canada on this. We need to share the data. We need to get everybody together on this issue. It is important that all the NGOs have the same facts, the same supports and the same language. We do not want them mixing up the information and perhaps trying to exaggerate a bit in certain areas. We do not have to exaggerate. This is a serious problem.
The government came back in January with its response. I must say that I was very disappointed because I have seen this report before. I have seen the list of all the things we have done. I have heard the arguments about not being sure about the administrative structure, about whether a certain person should be in charge or whether we should have that, this or the other thing. I have never seen such a combination of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo.
Back in June 1992, the subcommittee on health called for the exact same thing. We need a comprehensive plan to deal with this because we know it is a preventable tragedy. Parliament has not responded to that need.
Parliament can only respond to that need if the departments, which advise parliamentarians and governments, are onside. I am sorry but Health Canada is not onside on this issue. This is a bureaucratic nightmare and an administrative boondoggle. Health Canada is only interested in continuing to have some sort of a toy to play with. Alcohol related birth defects are not to be played with. The evidence is clear.
Even medical professionals have been reluctant to mention that prenatal consumption of alcohol is the leading cause of mental retardation. They do not want to risk being put in the position where they might be sued for not telling people. Health Canada, the medical profession, the nursing profession, families, churches, doctors, everybody needs to be involved.
In 1989 the United States put a label on every alcohol beverage container produced for consumption in the United States which basically cautions expectant mothers and others about the risks associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
We have been fighting to have that in Canada ever since I came here. It was one of the first bills that I had, Bill C-222. I remember the member from up north, from the Sudbury area, was the minister of health at the time. She is here and is supporting us today because she does not care what Health Canada said, she wants to do it. I see her parliamentary secretary is here as well. She spoke to that bill and said that she would support the initiative because alcohol related birth defects was a big item and an expensive item that not only hurts the child but hurts that family that has the lifelong responsibility for caring for the child.
If members were to see some of the statistics they would be absolutely amazed. Do members know that beverage alcohol is directly and indirectly responsible for 19,000 or more deaths a year, 45% of all motor vehicle collisions, 30% of fires, 30% of suicides, 60% of homicides, 50% of family violence, 65% of snowmobile collisions, one in six family breakdowns, 30% of drownings, 65% of child abuse, 40% of falls causing injury, 50% of hospital emergencies and over $15 billion of costs to our health care system?
When we see a list like that, it touches pretty well everything we ever talk about in this place. It is about people. The strength and success of a country is not an economic measure. It is a measure of the health and well-being of its people.
Our children are some of the most vulnerable in our society. These unborn children who happen to be victims of prenatal consumption of alcohol never had a chance. When we look at the numbers we see how this problem has permeated society for such a long period of time. What is Parliament doing? It looks like the government wants to throw us back into an other election. I would rather stay here and pass legislation dealing with a comprehensive strategy to deal with FASD, alcohol related birth defects.
We can do this. This is the Parliament of Canada. NGOs all across the country are looking for a glimmer of hope but they are not seeing it from Health Canada nor from the agenda today. However, nothing is more important to me today than to share with the House my passion and my interest and to ask that we move this agenda forward.
We have had enough of the administrative and the bureaucratic playing around with an issue that is so important to Canadians. We have an opportunity here and I do not want to lose it. It appears that this is the only way I can ever get this matter on the table. Private member's items have such little opportunity in this place that we need to rely on concurrence motions in order to get certain items on the floor to be discussed.
I want to quote from a June 1992 report called “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: The Preventable Tragedy”. It states:
--there is no question that maternal alcohol consumption can have devastating impacts on the foetus. The basic fact is that when the pregnant woman drinks, her unborn child “drinks” also; that is, the alcohol in the mother's bloodstream circulates through the placenta into the bloodstream of the foetus. It is possible that the blood-alcohol level in the foetus will remain at an elevated level for a longer period than that of the mother because the immature foetal liver metabolizes the alcohol more slowly.
We knew what was going on back in June 1992 from our health committee. Our health committee has this history of knowledge but it also has a history of having the back turned on it, its ideas and its thinking, by Health Canada.
I do not think we should ever be squeamish about saying something when a department does not do the job that it should for us or when it looks for excuses to tell us why we cannot rather than how we can. I want to find out how we can. I want to see a comprehensive strategy. The report and the response by Health Canada was a disaster. It is almost unreadable with its bureaucratic mumbo jumbo.
A strategy is clear, concise and it is correct. We know the data. We know the incidence rates. We know how to detect it. Since I brought in my first bill, doctors have been able to analyze samples of the first stool of a newborn child to determine whether its mother has been drinking during pregnancy. Another way to detect fetal alcohol syndrome is through a detailed examination of the newborn's eye movement. There are many ways to detect this but we have not responded.
I rose today to move the concurrence motion and to ask all hon. members to help in any way they can to help us prevent fetal alcohol syndrome, the preventable tragedy.