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.