Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak on Bill C-42. There was consensus on this bill in our committee. We worked in the best interests of the safety, and especially the health, of people who might be endangered by the transmission of contagious diseases. We need only think of the case that happened recently. A person in the United States had contracted tuberculosis and was at a stage when the disease could have been transmissible and been very contagious.
And so Bill C-42, which amends the Quarantine Act, is a bill that was intended to modernize a piece of legislation that in fact dated from 1872, although some amendments had been made to it in 2005. So the act was amended in 2005. It was modernized in the context of SARS after it hit Toronto, in Ontario. We know that in 2003 we were somewhat concerned about the transmission of SARS.
SARS led to a study, the Naylor report. That report recommended that certain parts of the act be revised to bring it in sync with a society that had changed, particularly in terms of transportation and the movement of goods and people. The act was not suited to meeting these new needs.
We know that the SARS period in Toronto was quite a hard time. Often when there are contagious diseases or an epidemic it can affect the economy of a country or a province. SARS affected the entire community of Toronto and Ontario because of the possibility the disease would spread. People were worried, but the worry was perhaps not grounded in fact. Was the problem exaggerated?
The Naylor report does a thorough review of that situation. The lesson we can take from it, looking in from the outside, is that we were perhaps not prepared to deal with this kind of challenge, to provide good information, and, especially, to make people feel safe. As to the possibility of contagion, SARS may have been a type of virus that it is more difficult to transmit casually, simply by contact with another person. All the same, we have to move forward, and that is why it was thought wise to revise the Quarantine Act in 2005.
Today, once again, we have to do some more work on it. Some of the previous speakers talked about section 34 which sets out the circumstances in which certain actions should be taken. We might think of people who travel frequently by airplane or boat and how we might be more aware of the fact that an individual or goods could be carrying viruses or diseases that could be contracted by people.
Now Bill C-42 seems to be a small bill, judging by the number of pages. It has very few pages, but at the same time the impact of this bill, if it is applied properly, if there are good regulations, could make all the difference, so that situations like SARS or the case of a disease as terrible as tuberculosis, for example, can be handled better. I am shortly going to talk about the case of Andrew Speaker, an American who was infected with a particular strain of tuberculosis. We do not know how far this may go, but we know that he was able to travel.
Here again, we have a bill, but when it comes to the mechanisms we put in place, there are people and authorities who very certainly have responsibilities.
It is necessary to act quickly and not take it lightly. Section 34 as proposed in Bill C-42 sets out the manner in which information is to be transmitted. The operator of an aircraft or land vehicle must first be informed that a carrier of a contagious disease is aboard the aircraft or land vehicle. Section 34 indicates very clearly the obligation to inform the operator of the fact that he could be responsible for the spreading of a disease. It also states how that operator must inform specific authorities that there is a person aboard the aircraft or vehicle who is a danger to the health of others.
The bill is also very specific concerning the operators of certain types of vehicles. The current act calls for the imposition of that obligation to all means of transportation. It goes much further than boats, aircraft and trains because the bill extends to all conveyances used to carry passengers or cargo. That was one of the amendments proposed by the parliamentary secretary and supported by all the members of the committee.
In section 34 of the act, the obligation of an operator to notify the designated authority in a reasonable manner before entering or leaving Canada, is replaced in the bill by an obligation to notify “if it is not possible for the operator to report.” We know very well that if someone is aware and is obliged to report, that party must still have the necessary means of notifying a quarantine officer. Accordingly, the bill provides that an operator must notify a quarantine officer rather than the designated authority, and it obliges the operator to inform the officer as soon as he becomes aware of the situation, but in a context where that is reasonably possible.
The case of Andrew Speaker led us to consider the different obligations of the responsible authorities who must transmit information. We should be concerned about the number of days that elapsed between May 10 and May 25. How was it that Andrew Speaker, who knew very well that he was a carrier of tuberculosis, was still able to leave the United States on May 12, even though he had been told on May 10 that it would preferable for him not to go abroad? Two days later, he left the country and went first to Paris and then to Greece.
However, on May 14, Mr. Speaker informed his doctor by email that he was in Greece. His attending physician knew full well that he had left the United States. On May 18, American health agencies were made aware of the fact that Andrew Speaker was in Greece with his wife. Between May 14—when he informed his doctor—and May 18, there was a danger and nobody, not even the American health agencies, had been notified. In addition, Mr. Speaker was the subject of an international search, and tests showed that he was carrying a form of tuberculosis that was extremely resistant to antibiotics.
Mr. Speaker was contacted in Italy by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. They recommended that he present himself to Italian health authorities and told him not to take a commercial flight. However, Mr. Speaker did not report to the Italian health authorities, thereby breaking the law.
There may well be some legal proceedings. People cannot simply be left to themselves like this. We cannot say to them that they made a mistake but it is not so bad. There are consequences to this. Some people, and some Quebeckers in particular, are currently being subjected to tests by health agencies to determine whether they have contracted this form of tuberculosis. During the two weeks between when Mr. Speaker knew what he had and when he could have acted and turned himself over to the Italian health authorities, he contravened certain restrictions placed on him before leaving.
The American health agencies were told on May 18 that Mr. Speaker was in Greece with his wife. On May 24, the European health authorities and the World Health Organization were given the same information. Between May 18 and May 24, therefore, there was a vacuum between the American health agency and the European authorities and the World Health Organization. Action must be taken when it is known that someone may be dangerous because he is carrying a contagious disease, a communicable disease, like tuberculosis.
The American authorities gave a simple answer: they did not know where Andrew Speaker was. There is a system in place, but it was not rigorously followed. We need to be concerned when we know that there are systems in place but people are lax about following various directives. Did Mr. Speaker infect anybody? We do not know. However, some people have to undergo tests to determine whether they have contracted this disease.
The situation surrounding this case must be clarified. The United States bears some responsibility. If it does not provide information on time, how can the other stakeholders know what is going on? How can the European or Canadian health authorities get involved if they have not been notified? Canada also bears some responsibility. When we passed the bill, we asked the director of the Public Health Agency of Canada whether there could be some provisions in it that would protect us against this kind of situation. Could Canada take legal action against another country that failed to take certain steps? Here too, things were allowed to drift. There is an investigation.
Some American senators are trying to find out what really happened. When I asked Dr. Butler-Jones, the Chief Public Health Officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada, he told me that he was waiting to find out whether there would be an inquiry or an investigation and that there were lessons to be learned from this incident. However, we have to go a bit farther than just learning lessons. We may have to put in place mechanisms to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.
Does the bill need to be improved? We have said it does not. We do not need to improve it, at least, not by creating legislation that could improve this scenario. We will see what happens. I hope that in the coming months, we will learn that a better reporting mechanism has been put in place. A physician can notify his or her patient, but when a physician tells a patient that he or she does not know what sort of virus or infection the patient is suffering from and the physician does not seem worried, how is the patient supposed to react?
Should the patient not be given even just a written notice to prove that the physician really told the patient not to leave the country?
We can see that even if we have a bill with all sorts of guidelines to protect the health and safety of the travelling public and people who come into contact with someone who has a communicable disease, this responsibility must also rest with any individual who could pose a threat to other people's health and safety.
It was time to improve Bill C-42 by amending section 34 so that it applies to people travelling by air, water or land. This bill must provide conveyance operators with guidelines as to their reporting obligations, given the serious consequences of spreading a communicable disease here in Canada.