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House of Commons Hansard #171 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was water.

Topics

Bankruptcy and Insolvency ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I will read the motion:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of this House, Bill C-62, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, the Wage Earner Protection Program Act and chapter 47 of the Statutes of Canada, 2005, shall be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole, deemed considered in Committee of the Whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at the report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Bankruptcy and Insolvency ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time, considered in committee of the whole, reported, concurred in, read the third time and passed)

Bankruptcy and Insolvency ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Zed Liberal Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Discussions have taken place among members and parties with respect to Bill C-440, An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act, which, as members know, is for mail free of postage to and from members of the Canadian armed forces, that was introduced in the House of Commons on May 8.

Mr. Speaker, I believe that if you were to seek it you would find consent for the following motion to support our troops and their families: That notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, Bill C-440 be deemed to have been read a second time, referred to a committee of the whole, reported without amendment, concurred in at report stage and read a third time and passed.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member for Saint John have the unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Bankruptcy and Insolvency ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Government Operations and EstimatesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Diane Marleau Liberal Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates met earlier today to consider the certificate of nomination of Christiane Ouimet to the position of Public Sector Integrity Commissioner and the committee agreed that said nomination be concurred in.

Therefore, we seek unanimous consent that the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates dealing with the certificate of nomination of Christiane Ouimet to the position of Public Sector Integrity Commissioner be deemed tabled and concurred in.

Government Operations and EstimatesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is it agreed?

Government Operations and EstimatesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Government Operations and EstimatesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act, be read the third time and passed.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I was only a couple of minutes into my speech before members' statements and oral questions, and I was just getting to the good part of it too. As I was saying, under the leadership of the Minister of Health, the government decided to put forward two amendments to Bill C-42. One requires advance notification by land conveyance operators. The other addresses potential confusion with respect to the availability of a due diligence defence for all operators. These amendments reflect the commitment of the minister and this government to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

The first amendment would revert to the original definition of conveyance operator as found in the Quarantine Act. This means that all conveyance operators in the business of transporting cargo and passengers, including buses, trucks and trains, would need to alert a quarantine officer in advance of their arrival in Canada should they suspect a person or thing on board could cause the spread of a listed communicable disease, or if a person has died.

Land conveyance operators, like air and marine, would only be required to inform a quarantine officer of a public health problem on board as specified in section 34. They would not have to perform health assessments.

This advance notice is critically important as it permits an appropriate response to health emergencies on board conveyances and permits the minister to divert conveyances before arrival, if required, to protect the health of Canadians. This would be over and above what the international health regulations require for advance notification, as member states need only to impose this obligation on air and marine conveyances.

As a signatory to the international health regulations, Canada fully intends to meet its international obligations under the instrument. In addition, Canada is prepared to go a step further. The obligations for land conveyance operators will be the exact same as those for air and marine conveyance operators engaged in the business of carrying passengers or cargo.

For conveyances travelling to Canada, conveyance operators will be required to notify a quarantine officer in accordance with the requirements in section 34, even before they arrive in Canada. The obligation to provide this advance notification continues until the conveyance “lands”, so to speak, at its first destination in Canada. For air and marine conveyances, this will be the first airport or port at which the conveyance touches down or docks.

We will also work to make it relatively easy for industry to meet its obligations under section 34.

To implement this requirement in a simple fashion, the quarantine program will develop an information bulletin that will explain what to look for in terms of symptoms, and provide a 1-800 number to call to reach a quarantine officer 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As well, an awareness campaign will be undertaken to inform land conveyance operators of the requirements in Bill C-42. Taken together, the use of a 1-800 number and the awareness campaign will make notification as simple as possible for conveyance operators.

Further, by having early warning of communicable disease threats approaching our borders, we may be able to ease the flow of cross-border traffic. Traffic flow could be eased, as early warning would allow authorities to direct travellers who are suspected of having a listed communicable disease to areas where they could be looked at quickly, while other border traffic continues unimpeded.

This amendment therefore strikes a balance between protecting Canadians from the threat of dangerous communicable diseases, and facilitating the movement of persons and goods across our international borders.

We are also proposing a second amendment to Bill C-42 to clarify that the common law defence of due diligence applies to all conveyance operators. This common law defence was always intended to be preserved in the Quarantine Act.

When we examined the language of subsection 34(4) in Bill C-42, we realized that our intention to preserve the due diligence defence was not entirely clear. Under the charter an accused person has the right to invoke such a defence if facing the possible penalty of imprisonment.

For an offence under section 34, conveyance operators could face up to six months in jail as a potential penalty. Clarifying that all conveyance operators have access to the common law due diligence defence will ensure that the charter rights of those who have made all reasonable efforts to comply with the law are protected.

It is important that we make sure that conveyance operators who make all reasonable efforts to comply with the advance notification requirements know that the defence normally associated with such efforts remains available to them.

Consequently, the second amendment will ensure it is clear that a reasonable effort defence remains available to all conveyance operators that make all reasonable efforts to comply with the requirements in section 34.

We are constantly striving to give Canada the best public health system in order to protect the health and safety of all Canadians.

Through these amendments, Canada will have the most complete advance notification requirements in the world for quarantine purposes.

I feel very strongly that a comprehensive set of legislative tools needs to be available with the intent to protect the health of Canadians so as to avoid the human tragedy and economic and social disruption that would inevitably accompany another event such as SARS.

Consequently, I am seeking hon. members' support to provide Canadians with a greater standard of protection from the threat of dangerous communicable diseases spread via land conveyances. I am therefore asking today for members' support for Bill C-42, as reported from the Standing Committee on Health.

I want to congratulate the Standing Committee on Health for its hard work with respect to Bill C-42. The committee's work on Bill C-42 is a fine example of what parliamentarians can accomplish through the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect for one another's opinions and points of view.

I call upon my hon. colleagues in this House to support the amendments and ask for their cooperation in securing speedy passage of the bill.

Again, it was a great pleasure working with the Standing Committee on Health on this important bill. It was a pleasure to have worked hand in hand with members from across the country from coast to coast to coast, and from each party to ensure that these amendments were brought forward and ensure successful passage of the bill.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, certainly it is a very important bill. The reporting requirement under the bill is restricted to aircraft and commercial watercraft only. That means truck traffic and rail traffic, cargo that crosses our border every day is exempt from the reporting requirements.

I think Canadians and parliamentarians would be interested to know what the relative magnitude and historic risk indicators have been to convince the government that these exemptions would be appropriate.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, I encourage the member to read the amendments. In fact he is completely wrong.

Section 34 now reads to include land conveyances. That is what the committee came up with. The government and all committee members had a very thoughtful discussion on this issue. We were able to come up with wording that addresses the member's concern, and more important, meets the health and safety of all Canadians.

The Minister of Health's leadership in this area was tremendous. I would also like to thank the opposition health critic, the member for Oakville, for her help in this matter and the Bloc health critic and the NDP health critic as well.

This is an excellent example of how the parliamentary process can work in a minority Parliament. I am very pleased and honoured to have had the opportunity to work with the committee.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Liberal Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to split my time with my colleague, the member for Thornhill.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is there unanimous consent?

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. member

Agreed.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Liberal Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of Bill C-42.

Through the cooperation of all members on the health committee, we have together managed to amend and reach consensus on the bill and have done so in a timely fashion. I commend the committee chair, the parliamentary secretary and all the members of the committee for their efforts in this regard.

As has been mentioned, we amended the bill in committee and our amendments will bring section 34 of the Quarantine Act into force. Section 34 deals with reporting requirements of those persons entering Canada who have knowledge or suspicion that they or their passengers or cargo are carrying communicable diseases that could pose a health risk to Canadians. It imposes similar reporting requirements on those leaving Canada as well.

When the first Quarantine Act was passed in 2005, section 34 was not brought into force pending the development of appropriate regulations to deal effectively and efficiently with the act's reporting requirements.

Bill C-42 addresses these regulatory needs. It does so primarily by requiring those subject to the reporting requirements of section 34 to make their reports as soon as possible before arriving in Canada and that their reports be given directly or indirectly to a quarantine officer.

It is interesting to note that Bill C-42 as originally introduced by the government presented an odd dichotomy. On the one hand certain provisions of the bill constituted a slight strengthening of the reporting requirements, yet at the same time, the original bill sought to exclude those who enter Canada by land from any reporting requirements whatsoever.

Given that the majority of passengers and cargo entering Canada come across land via the United States, the net effect of Bill C-42 as originally tabled was to reduce the safety of Canadians. We would have been at heightened risk of exposure to communicable diseases when the entire purpose of the Quarantine Act is to protect Canadians from such risks.

Why would the government propose a regulatory change that threatened the safety of Canadians? It turns out that it is the same reason that the government has decided to harmonize the allowable limits on residual pesticide levels on our foods with the limits of the United States and Mexico.

Big business considers regulatory differences between Canada and the less restrictive American regime to be a trade irritant. In other words, our health might be jeopardized because our current health standards are impinging upon the seamless operations of transnational corporations.

In the case of pesticide residue on our food, we have been assured by the Minister of Health that Canada's new harmonized limits will be based on science and therefore ensure the safety of Canadians. However, one is left wondering what our current limits are based on if not on science.

The minister also assures us that Canada has and will maintain the highest standard of safety for pesticides and other toxins. However, Canada's current standards only seem appropriate when compared to the United States where 40% of regulated pesticide limits are higher than ours.

America's standards are set by the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency that was reorganized by the Bush administration and which has since been condemned by scientists within the United States for its “inappropriately cozy relationship with industry”.

A quick glance at Europe reveals a different view of Canada's standards. For example, our current limit on permethrin is 400 times higher than in Europe, and the Canadian cap on methoxyclor is 1,400 times higher. Canada's current pesticide limits are “middle of the pack” at best and now are about to be compromised further.

As Bill C-42 also demonstrates, if left unchecked, those interested in business deregulation can expose Canadians to health risks in their zeal for business fluidity.

What is the impetus behind these kinds of regulatory changes? It is an industry initiative called smart regulation, in which Mexican and Canadian regulatory regimes are being harmonized with those of the United States. What is rarely mentioned is that this effort is being organized through the security and prosperity partnership.

This international agreement was initiated in 2005 by the Governments of Canada, the United States and Mexico. It was the brainchild of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and its American counterpart, which want deep integration of the Canadian and American economies, military and culture.

This would include uniform regulatory regimes for a wide array of products and services, including food, drugs and environmental protection. It would include increased interoperability between the Canadian and American military. It would include a continental energy pact, whereby Canada would guarantee America's access to our energy resources and force Canadians to compete with Americans for our own electricity as we do now for our oil and gas.

It would include a North American security perimeter that could erode the civil liberties of our citizens. It would include common immigration and environmental policies and a host of other policies that together would dramatically undermine the sovereignty and autonomy of Canada and its citizens.

The participants in the security and prosperity partnership are well aware that this agenda would lack broad public support and have therefore committed themselves to what they call “integration by stealth”. The SPP is not a signed treaty and has never been brought before the legislatures of the three nations for discussion or for committee oversight. Its implementation is being coordinated not by parliaments, not by a broad spectrum of social groups, but by the North American Competitiveness Council, a working group of 30 corporate CEOs, 10 from Mexico, 10 from Canada, and 10 from the U.S.

This group meets regularly behind closed doors with senior government officials and ministers. One of its key objectives is business deregulation and harmonization, yet no other stakeholders have been given a seat at the table and the meeting minutes are not made public. Even more disturbing is that two out of the 10 representatives of Canada are actually American citizens.

The entire security and prosperity partnership is so profoundly undemocratic that 14 U.S. states to date have passed resolutions demanding that the U.S. Congress act to cease America's involvement. The impending changes to Canada's pesticide residue levels are just one small element in an ongoing effort to harmonize Canadian and American regulations in the interests of powerful businesses.

The Canadian government needs to replace corporate control over this partnership with a democratic process that involves parliamentary oversight and public input. It needs to ensure that efforts to reshape our nation are fully transparent and in the interests of all Canadians, not just an economically powerful few.

Fortunately for us, in the case of Bill C-42 the regulatory changes being sought required an amendment to legislation. This brought the changes to the attention of parliamentarians, and in committee we were able to reinstate the reporting requirements for those entering Canada by land.

However, one has to wonder, given the broad scope of the security and prosperity partnership, and given the speed at which its various working groups are proceeding, how many potentially harmful regulatory changes have already been made that might have escaped parliamentary oversight and input from Canadian stakeholders?

As noted at the outset, I am pleased that all members of the health committee worked quickly and cooperatively to reverse the potentially harmful nature of this bill as originally tabled. The resulting legislation will ensure that the health of Canadians is given priority over commercial interests and, as such, I am happy to support it.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier I asked a question about Bill C-42. The copy of the bill that is being distributed by the pages is actually the first reading bill that was passed at second reading and moved to committee.

Maybe the member can confirm that the bill was not reprinted as a consequence of amendments made at committee and that the amendment made at committee was, I believe, amending line 8 on page 1 with “a conveyance that is used”. Is it the member's recollection from committee that the amendment made to include trucks and rail was to just refer to “a conveyance” rather than to “air and watercraft”?

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Liberal Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not remember if we ordered the bill reprinted. I have to assume that if he has the first reading bill, it is simply an oversight.

However, I remember clearly from committee that the original bill said “air and sea conveyances” and that is what triggered our reaction to it, because we knew that the original Bill C-12 said “all conveyances” or “a conveyance”, implying anything that carried people or goods. My understanding and memory of the committee work is that we restored the idea of “a conveyance” and that is taken to cover any conveyance: land, sea or air.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Susan Kadis Liberal Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act, as it has recently been the focus for the health committee, of which I am the vice-chair. I believe that this bill, as amended in committee, warrants our support and passage in the House today. This important legislation is invaluable to the health and safety of Canadians, our top priority.

Only four short years ago this country was devastated by a SARS epidemic that led to 45 deaths in Canada, not to mention the enormous impact on our health care system and economy. One of the most serious consequences of the violent spread of a life-threatening disease is the fear and panic that it causes for Canadians.

The fear that plagued Canadians during the SARS outbreak was enormous. A deadly virus was spreading in our largest city and it seemed as though it could not be stopped or contained. The fortunate critical lesson we learned, and it was unfortunate as well, with the devastating tragedy and the loss of innocent lives, is that Canada is not immune to communicable diseases.

As a result of this catastrophic situation, Canada received a serious wake-up call and moved quickly to establish the needed tools in the management of disease, virus prevention and containment. The Quarantine Act, along with the passage of Bill C-42 as amended, is vital in protecting the health, wellness and lives of Canadians.

Prior to the new Quarantine Act, which had been given royal assent on May 13, 2005, legislation had not been modernized since 1872, five years after Confederation. In a globalized 21st century world that has come to know about the very detrimental rapid effects of the spread of influenza, the West Nile virus, et cetera, the original legislation in 1872 was greatly outdated and ill-equipped to deal with a SARS pandemic. In our increasingly smaller modern world where we move across borders within the global community, we must be ever vigilant and aggressive in taking preventive and protective measures to safeguard the health of Canadians.

The Quarantine Act was born in the wake of the SARS disaster and was introduced by our previous Liberal government in October 2004. As I mentioned, the Quarantine Act received royal assent in May 2005, though without this proposed section 34. Section 34 of the Quarantine Act requires advanced reporting from conveyance operators. Bill C-42 has ironed out the areas of concern that have been raised which originally held back this portion of the legislation and brings the Quarantine Act to completion.

I fully support Bill C-42 as amended. Bill C-42 was presented to the health committee with the government proposing to omit land conveyances from the act. After careful review and examination, my colleagues and I were in favour of ensuring that land conveyances are included in the mandatory reporting by conveyance operators in proposed section 34. This is paramount, as the legislation as amended and combined adds enhanced protection to Canada's public health system, and I truly believe that including land conveyances in the list of air and water transportation is an essential element of the act and will further enhance the safety of all Canadians.

Bill C-42 also streamlines the process of reporting by conveyance operators as the legislation requires that these individuals report directly to quarantine officers “as soon as possible” before a conveyance arrives at a destination if there is any suspicion whatsoever that any person, cargo or other thing on board the conveyance could cause the spread of communicable disease listed in the schedule, or a person on board the conveyance has died, or any prescribed circumstances exist.

The process of reporting these outlined instances to a centralized system of special quarantine officers “as soon as possible” closes up any holes by emphasizing the parties who must be in communication with one another and by eliminating any potential discrepancy of timing, as the legislation currently states that conveyance operators must report any suspicious incidents immediately, which was not good enough.

Finally, the bill, as amended, also adds the words “as soon as possible before” in proposed section 34; where a conveyance departs from Canada through a departure point, the operator must disclose any circumstances of concern. Once again, this emphasizes the urgency of reporting before the conveyance departs from the country of origin and crosses the border.

I would like to acknowledge that there is no time more appropriate than the present to pass Bill C-42 in the House. Only a few weeks ago, an Atlanta man with a rare strain of highly contagious tuberculosis boarded an aircraft from Europe to Montreal. He rented a car in Canada and drove back to his home in the United States. In the final step of his journey to the U.S., this individual used ground transportation to cross the Canada-U.S. border.

This case highlights several reasons why Bill C-42, as amended, must be supported and why this act is so critical to the health of Canadians and others, those in the United States as well. Although we hope people will self-report communicable diseases, it is clear that we cannot rely on this. We must have measures firmly in place.

While studying this bill in committee and upon debating whether or not land conveyances should be listed in section 34--as it was proposed by the government to delete them--one witness remarked that the exemption of land conveyances was justified as the risk of disease spreading from Canada's only land crossing to the U.S. was minimal. With the new information resulting from this recent TB case, we are now aware of the reality. There is enough of a risk between Canada and the U.S. to have firm, clear measures in place. We cannot take the chance with Canadians' health.

This recent incident of travel from Canada to the United States by land is a clear example reflecting how important this act is. If one individual can go from Canada to the U.S. with a communicable disease, then in fact there is a threat of disease spreading by land both ways. Again, it only takes one such person or incident to put people in both nations at risk.

As we have seen with the case of TB, sometimes that one person will not be willing or cooperative enough to self-report. Therefore, we must have mechanisms in place to prevent the spread of disease, and we need the strongest legislation possible.

Even more telling of the urgency to make sure that the Quarantine Act errs on the side of caution and covers all modes of transportation is that in Canada alone 266,000 travellers a day are coming in through 119 border crossing stations and international airports. The sheer quantity of travel activity is impossible to contain completely, and we all know that when we are dealing with such high volumes on a daily basis nothing can be guaranteed.

That being said, we must do everything possible to avert this type of catastrophe. This was one of the reasons why I, along with others, strongly advocated for land conveyances to be listed and included, as we had it originally, in addition to air and water travel. Given the daily activity of entry into Canada, we should have as many mechanisms in place within our control as possible, not fewer but more. When it comes to the public health of Canadians, it simply would be irresponsible on our part to settle for anything less.

The TB case also disproves another testimony that was presented by a witness at the health committee on the issue of self-reporting. The witness placed particular emphasis on individuals' ability to self-report, saying that we could rely on that, negating any need for land conveyances to be listed in the proposed section. As we have seen, we cannot merely count on individuals to self-disclose, rely entirely on the goodwill of people and put all Canadians' health in their hands alone. As we have seen, we cannot afford to take this route. It is far too risky. We must never leave the health and safety of Canadians to chance. Prevention is paramount.

Bill C-42, as amended, provides more protection for Canadians and allows us to better manage public health threats. Canadians look to their government for protection. They expect us to be ready to deal with health risks and they look to us to look out for their interests.

When Bill C-42 was first introduced in the House, I was surprised that it proposed that land conveyances be removed from section 34. I was very concerned that we had forgotten the steep price that we had to pay as a result of the SARS epidemic only a few years ago, in both human lives and economic fallout. I had constituents whose lives were tragically affected by the SARS crisis. The impacts were devastating.

Where possible, I stressed at the committee my views about strengthening the act, not diluting it. Accurate and timely information is a key element to the successful management of health issues and risks. We learned our lesson from SARS. We do not want to have to learn it again. We established the Public Health Agency of Canada. We appointed Canada's first Chief Public Health Officer to coordinate efforts in managing public health concerns.

We can never afford to be complacent when it comes to the safety of Canadians. It cannot be emphasized enough that Canada is not immune to outbreaks of disease and infection. Germs and communicable diseases do not respect borders.

I spoke vigorously, along with other members of committee, at those hearings to put land conveyances back in the legislation because the extra layer of protection that it adds for Canadians is essential to providing comprehensive coverage. It is illogical to list two modes of cross-border transportation while leaving out the third. I believe that when it comes to the safety of Canadians they would agree that this is in their best interests. The more mechanisms we have in place to deal with health risks in this day and age, the better chance we have to protect them.

This additional protection also serves to provide Canadians more assurances that the federal government is covering all the bases. The SARS outbreak caused a sense of panic in Canadians that I hope we will never know again. I want Canadians to have faith that their federal government is doing everything in its power to strengthen public health care safety, because panic and fear can spread even faster than a virus. We must be responsible leaders in doing our utmost to protect Canadians. I support Bill C-42 in realizing that central objective.

Of course, it is impossible to guarantee complete prevention. We do not live in isolation. The world has become smaller and travel has skyrocketed. Globalization and multinational and transnational corporations have made intercontinental travel seamless and a commonplace form of everyday business.

While little in this world, with the multitude of countries, can be 100% foolproof, it is our absolute responsibility to make sure that all parts of our quarantine provisions are tight and coordinated. Canadians need to know that, no matter what, as a federal government we have maximized our ability to protect our citizens. First and foremost, the federal government is accountable to Canadians.

We want to assure Canadians that we are doing our very best to minimize their risk and safeguard their health and well-being. I support Bill C-42 as amended. I believe that it seeks to accomplish this goal.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

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.

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4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Québec for her excellent presentation.

The member and the Bloc Québécois faced a considerable challenge when working on the bill before us because it deals with health, which is an area of jurisdiction that belongs to Quebec. Having said that, we recognize that infectious diseases have no borders. Infections can often spread to several countries. Sometimes they spread only through part of a country. SARS is a good example of this. All of Canada was placed on the list of countries affected by SARS. However, it mainly affected Toronto, which is more than six hours by car from Montreal. In my riding of Montreal, the tourism industry was affected because all of Canada, and not just one province or Quebec, was placed on the list.

This clearly shows the need for the cooperation of all countries through the World Health Organization in dealing with infectious diseases. There must also be cooperation among provinces.

I would like to know if the committee had the time to look at this issue. How will federal services, the quarantine officers, cooperate and work with provincial public health organizations to ensure that illnesses are contained to the greatest extent possible, in the interest of all, whether we are from Canada, Quebec or elsewhere in the world?

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4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has raised an important question. Health is a provincial jurisdiction. As it happens, Quebec has had its own health and safety agency since 1998. Canada also has one, the Public Health Agency of Canada.

After SARS and after the creation of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs recommended that a federal agency be created. In April 2004, there was a demand for this public health agency in Canada, and it came into being in 2006.

It is absolutely necessary to work with the public health agencies. Quarantine inspection officers must also have everything they need to be able to act quickly, in the interest of the population. Earlier I raised the case of the American, Mr. Speaker. We do not know everything about this story. I think that there has been some vagueness in the disclosure of information. Yet, people’s safety is involved.

Let us hope that this collaboration will be much more practical. SARS served as an example for crisis management. Later it was realized that the SARS issue had been blown out of proportion and that the impact on the economy had been felt as far as Quebec. Still, we have to have technical data and to know all about the type of infectious disease an individual may be carrying. A series of tests must be done. In this context, the bill provides more precisely for the mechanisms that should be in place. Since 2004, SARS has served as an example.

In committee, I drew attention to Mr. Speaker’s situation and the context in which he was able to travel, even though he had been warned not to. Lessons can be drawn from this case around the world.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the case of Mr. Andrew Speaker, who has the serious communicable form of tuberculosis, raises an imperative about the legislation or need for it.

I know also that representatives of the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Health Canada as well as persons responsible for the security and prosperity partnership issue were at the committee meeting.

Because there was implicitly an exemption for buses, trucks, trains and cars in the original bill, it strikes me that it was possible there was a trade-off between the border considerations and the economic considerations of those priorities with the health of people.

Is the member aware or did she receive any indication from the witnesses at committee that the reason the exemptions were there in the first instance was in fact not inadvertent but deliberate, taking into account objectives other than health and safety?