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House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was colombia.

Topics

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, he just said it. He proved my point. He said that the issues of the environment and human rights were in a side agreement.

My question for my hon. colleague from the South Shore of Nova Scotia, which by the way is a beautiful area of the country, is this. Why are the side agreements not in the main text of the agreement? Why do they have to be in a side deal? If they are so important, why are they not in the main text?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, over the last five years, the Canadian government, through CIDA, has provided $64 million of aid to the people of Colombia, institution building, security and helping to rebuild the lives of the people of Colombia, socially and in terms of governance, after 40 years of civil war. Since 1972, the Canadian government has provided around $355 million of aid to the people of Colombia.

We are already engaged as a country in Colombia. Canada is already a partner in Colombia. If the NDP's aversion to this trade agreement is based on what is going on in Colombia, then the logical corollarary of that is those members ought to be opposed to Canadian aid to Colombia.

Is that the case? Are they opposed to sending aid to the people of Colombia? Or is it an ideological aversion to all free trade agreements that is crafting the NDP members' position on this? Is it their position that it is all right to give the Colombian people fish, but we should not give them fishing poles? It is alright to give them direct funding and aid, but for goodness sakes do not buy their products? Is that the NDP approach to foreign development?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, if a union member in Colombia had a fishing pole, he would not be fishing for very long. He would probably be murdered by somebody.

We have no aversion to CIDA helping Colombia or any other country that requires our help.

A letter was written by someone from Common Frontiers, who was very angry over the member's viewpoint of what was going on in Colombia. If my hon. colleague, from the beautiful province of Nova Scotia, honestly believes this is the proper way to go, then why are environmental, human rights and labour rights not enshrined in the main text of the body? Why must these things always be in the side deals? Those members refuse to answer that question.

It is quite telling as to why they refuse to answer that one very critical question to help those people on the bottom rung of the ladder in Colombia and around the world.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Sherbrooke has time for a very brief question.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, it will be hard for me to be brief.

Can my NDP colleague confirm the increasingly obvious complicity between the Conservatives and the Liberals?

For all intents and purposes, the member for Kings—Hants, who sits on the committee, dreams only of being the Minister of International Trade or the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Trade. Can the NDP member tell me whether he senses this complicity?

For less than 1% of our exports, they are willing to renounce human rights and environmental rights and pave the way for the paramilitaries, the corrupt Uribe government and drug traffickers to keep on doing business at the Colombian people's expense.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, in short, he is absolutely correct.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I know that I do not have much time left to take part in this debate, but I am obviously happy to add my comments to everything that has been said here in this House.

I congratulate the Bloc Québécois and NDP members who are taking a stand so that globalization has a human face. Here in this Parliament, I learned quickly that we had to weigh the pros and cons of each bill. I do not understand how anyone can be in favour of this bill. That said, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of free trade and has advocated for free trade since it arrived in the House. Moreover, the people of Quebec are in favour of free trade.

But I do not understand how anyone can be in favour of a free trade agreement with a country that has absolutely no respect for human rights, environmental rights or workers' rights. There have been many, many speeches in this House that have demonstrated just how corrupt the Colombian government is.

Canada absolutely has to shoulder its international responsibilities by setting an example and helping the people of these countries. Saying that there is no problem trading with a country that denies all the rights I have just mentioned is not a good way to set an example.

I would now like to address an aspect that has not been discussed as much in this place and that is investment protection. When I first came here to Parliament Hill, I was a parliamentary assistant to the hon. member for Joliette, who was the international trade critic. A great deal of time was spent discussing investment protection and chapter 11 of NAFTA, which has been perpetuated by the Conservative government in every free trade agreement.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

moved that Bill S-210, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to move this bill. This bill originated in the Senate and I am pleased to continue the work in the House. I want to publicly thank Senator Jim Munson for guiding this bill through the Senate. I also want to take this opportunity to thank my colleague, the member for Newton—North Delta, for seconding the bill.

The purpose of the bill is rather simple. It is to raise awareness about autism, a neurological condition that affects an increasing number of families in Canada and around the world. According to some reports, autism affects more children worldwide than cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined. Published reports put the rate of children living with autism at one in 165. Recent reports that originated in the United States put that number quite a bit higher.

It affects all races, all regions and all walks of life. To a certain extent, autism isolates those who have it from the world around them. Many different therapies are available, but the waiting lists are extremely long. Many of the accepted methodologies are partially covered by our health care system in some instances while in other instances they are covered by another envelope of government altogether outside of the health care system.

While there is much to learn about autism, we do know, and this is an uncontested premise, that the earlier the treatment can begin, the more successful that treatment tends to be. When people with autism do not receive timely treatment, it means that they are denied the tools they need to succeed and participate in and contribute to society.

Both waiting lists and costs are barriers. Treatment for autism can cost up to $65,000 per annum. Each province has a different approach to funding treatment and far too many families have to refinance existing loans, find second jobs, or make other sacrifices to ensure that their children receive the necessary medical treatment they need. There is no consistency across Canada and I submit that there is no equity or fairness either.

Untreated autism can lead to a lifetime of exclusion and often results in individuals being placed in institutions at a cost far greater than the treatment would be. A year or two ago, the Senate wrote and published an excellent committee report entitled “Pay Now or Pay Later: Autism Families in Crisis”. I urge every member in the House and those watching on TV to read that excellent report.

Financial strain, fatigue and constant worry for their child erode the mental and physical health of parents. Parents need our help. This is an issue that cries out for a response from the federal government, our 10 provincial governments, and the three territorial governments.

I could go on about the lack of a federal strategy, the lack of necessary research, et cetera. However, I will stick to the bill.

This bill talks about raising awareness. Let us make it absolutely clear that today will not immediately change the reality of one person affected by autism. They will still have to fight to get treatments and make sacrifices to pay for these treatments, but if Canada were to acknowledge their reality, even for one day, those families might no longer feel so alone.

On April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, people with autism and their families will feel the respect and admiration they deserve from their fellow citizens. To a limited extent, such a day will show support, but it will also send a message about autism to those who do not know about this condition.

It will be an opportunity for people to learn about autism and recognize that there are many families in their communities living with autism, including neighbours, friends and colleagues who deserve to have their reality acknowledged and supported by governments at both levels.

In the United States, I submit, much more is being done to address autism. The combating autism act of 2006 authorizes nearly $1 billion in expenditures over five years to help families with autism.

This landmark single-disease legislation recognizes autism for the national health crisis it is. This funding will double expenditures on existing programs, including a significant increase in spending for research.

President Barack Obama has promised to support increased funding for autism research, treatment, screening, public awareness and support services. Until Canada gets to the same level of support, let us at least recognize that autism is serious and affects a growing number of families. Let us as a House declare April 2 of each year World Autism Awareness Day.

All children have the right to succeed, and as parliamentarians we have the responsibility to ensure that all Canadian children have the necessary tools to do so. It is clear that this issue goes well beyond party lines and connects Canadians from coast to coast, from all regions and all walks of life.

Many colleagues in the House have been very helpful on this particular issue and have supported this and other bills that have come forward. I would like to again thank Senator Munson, and the hon. members for Sackville—Eastern Shore, Sudbury, Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont and Verchères—Les Patriotes for their admirable work.

In closing, I want to remind hon. members that Canada has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. These international conventions commit us to take action to see that children with disabilities enjoy a full life in conditions that ensure dignity, self-respect, self-reliance and full participation.

Let all hon. members take one more step forward and join the 192 other countries of the world that have made April 2 World Autism Awareness Day. Autism can no longer be ignored in this country. More needs to be done for those whose lives are affected by this disorder.

I hope, as a member of Parliament, everyone will support the bill, and I hope also that as members of Parliament, Senators and Canadians, we can work collectively to ensure that Canada will soon have a national autism strategy.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, are we resuming debate?

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I want to clarify that we are resuming debate.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill S-210, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day.

This initiative follows that of the UN, which, in 2008, proclaimed April 2 as World Autism Day in order to encourage families affected by this disease to call for the services to which they are entitled. In Quebec, we already have Autism Month—the month of April—while in Canada it is the month of October. We are right in the middle of Autism Month. It works out well that we in this House can discuss Bill S-210, introduced by a Liberal senator.

From the outset, certain aspects of the preamble of Bill S-210 are inconsistent with the constitutional rights of Quebec and the provinces. Even though this is 2009, even though the Bloc Québécois has been here since 1993 and even though before the Bloc Québécois arrived a good number of MPs from Quebec from various parties defended the interests of Quebec in the House, we have always talked about federal interference in provincial jurisdictions. It seems to go in one ear and out the other and again today we must explain, and explain again, how important it is for the government to respect provincial jurisdictions.

We are therefore of the opinion that any reference to a national health system, which is an area under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces, should be removed from the bill, and we wish to propose amendments to Bill S-210 to that effect.

However, we do support the basic premise of the bill. Autism spectrum disorders are affecting more and more children around the world, so it is important for families to have access to a growing range of appropriate services. If the federal government wants to invest money in health care, we will not stand in its way. But the trouble starts when it tries to impose conditions. We all know that this matter falls under Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction and that Quebec is in charge in this area. The government should therefore transfer the necessary funds, and Quebec will develop its own policies, just as it has always done so well.

A World Autism Awareness Day is a good idea, not only because it will raise public awareness of this complex syndrome, but also because it will encourage people to help improve thousands of families' quality of life.

I would like to take a few minutes to talk about some examples from my riding. One of the prime examples is an organization dedicated to the well-being of families with autistic children or children with learning disabilities. That organization is the Centre de stimulation L'Envol, a community organization that opened its doors in Victoriaville in 1996 and offers stimulation and recreation activities for children aged 0 to 12 with communication disorders.

L'Envol's mission is to promote the availability of a complete range of special services to support families and help children with developmental disorders reach their full potential.

In 1994-95, Marguerite Bourgeois, a mother of two children with serious communication disorders, had no access to special services. She got an idea, and she decided that it was up to her to take charge and open a centre in Victoriaville to help families like hers. She got parents together, developed a plan for an early stimulation centre, and presented the plan to various community partners and the regional health and social services authority.

Thanks to the financial support of various social organizations and private donations, the Centre de stimulation L'Envol opened its doors in Victoriaville in September 1996, as I said.

I will give two short definitions to illustrate the specific nature of L'Envol's client base. I think that pretty much every member of this House can think of a number of people around them, perhaps even in their families, who have children with this sort of communication disorder. One cannot be unaware of it.

Pervasive developmental disorders include several qualitative impairments ranging from mild to severe in three developmental areas: social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and stereotyped patterns of behaviour and interests. Autism is the most well known.

Dysphasia is a pervasive impairment affecting verbal communication which is characterized by a slow and atypical development of the power of comprehension and use of language. How severely individual aspects of speech are affected will vary from one child to the next and even in the same child. To varying degrees, dysphasia disrupts verbal communication, socialization, learning in school and the performance of certain tasks. This gives an idea of the areas in which the Centre de stimulation L'Envol in Victoriaville does its work.

Each region of Quebec has several organizations sharing the same goals and working to help families and parents. On l'Envol's website, which I visited this morning, we can find several interesting testimonies from families living with this hardship, although these testimonies do show that there is hope. That is why it is important not only to raise public awareness, but also for the public to make financial contributions to help these people.

I will take for example the testimony of two individuals whom I know well: Geneviève Poudrier and Guy Désilets, of Victoriaville. They have one child and they share their experience on L'Envol's website. Let me quote them briefly.

We were very worried when we learned that Benjamin [their child] was not developing like all the other children. At 32 months, he did not say a word and played alone, lining up his cars, his sausages or his pieces of toast. We put a lot of energy into giving him what he needed: stimulation. Now, he says simple sentences, knows his letters and loves finding words and reading short books. Benjamin plays with his friends at day care and gives us a warm welcome when we go to pick him up.

We can see from this testimony from the parents that things were very difficult for them initially. It must be very hard for parents to see that their child is not developing in the same way as his friends. But a little later, with stimulation, thanks in part to L'Envol, the child made remarkable progress. Obviously, every child will progress at his own pace, but without stimulation, the parents would not have gotten the results they did.

Guy Désilets, Benjamin's father, is an officer with the Sûreté du Québec in the Arthabaska RCM, in my region, and he decided to get involved. He organized a golf tournament for police in the region to raise funds for the Centre de stimulation L'Envol. Year after year, his golf tournament has raised more than $15,000 for the Centre de stimulation L'Envol. It is truly a phenomenal success. L'Envol has used the money to replenish its stock of games for the children and to keep the cost of its services as low as possible. I would like to pay tribute to police officer Guy Désilets for his excellent initiative.

Since 2003, and I will conclude in a moment, Quebec has had an action plan for those affected by autism. We have to continue moving in that direction. We have to further encourage governments to adopt policies like the one adopted by the Government of Quebec.

Bill S-210 opens the door to a national strategy, which poses a problem, as I was saying earlier. However, with the necessary amendments, the Bloc Québécois would have no problem supporting such a measure. The need to continue building awareness stems from the fact that autism spectrum disorders and pervasive developmental disorders currently affect about 60 children per 10,000, while in 1980, it affected 10 per 10,000. It affects all children equally, regardless of social conditions, race and ethnicity. It affects people from every social class. That is why I am asking the members of this House to carefully consider Bill S-210.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, again it is a pleasure to rise on behalf of the New Democrats to lend our support to this important measure introduced by the Senate, Bill S-210, to enact world autism day from a Canadian perspective.

I want to go very briefly into my own personal history on this particular subject at hand. As few years ago, I was walking from my office into the Centre Block and I noticed a man by the Peace Tower flame and he had a sandwich board sign on him saying “Autism in medicare now”.

I will be honest that I was very ignorant about what he was trying to say so I asked him what his concern was. That then developed into a very nice friendship. That person's name is Mr. Andrew Cavachuk. Mr. Cavachuk has done yeoman's work in trying to raise the level of awareness, not just for his own son but for all children across the country who have autism spectrum disorder.

Autism comes in various forms and different ranges, from Asperger syndrome, to flight risks. to non-verbal and so on.

In my travels throughout my own riding, I found a fair number of people who have children who are autistic. One personal friend of mine in Vancouver has two children who are autistic. Anyone who has met children with autism find they are some of the most beautiful, kind, wonderful and the most loving children one could ever possibly meet. What their families require is support. They need support from the federal government.

This is why we moved our own national autism day. We presented a bill before the House of Commons which has not come up for debate in terms of enshrining that autism is in the medicare system. We do not want the federal government to tell the provinces what to do.We know that the delivery of health care is a provincial responsibility. However, what we have said over and over again is that there is no reason why the provinces need to reinvent the wheel.

That is why we have asked repeatedly for a national autism strategy in Canada. We know there is a patchwork quilt of efforts across the country. In Nova Scotia, a handful of children get assistance, whereas in Alberta I believe the family can receive assistance from the government for children up to 18 years of age.

No matter where someone lives in the country, children who have autism should be able to receive the care, treatment and support they need right across the country.

I am sure some members remember a few years ago the very emotional press conference in Toronto where a couple of people had to make the decision to leave Ontario, their birthplace and the place where they raised their children, because their child had autism and Alberta could provide better care than the province of Ontario.

As a society, no one should have to live through that. We are a much better society than that.

What we have asked the federal government to do is to coordinate a strategy--I know the Bloc does not like hearing this word--a national strategy. What we would like to do is bring the health ministers and the experts together, along with the federal government and devise a strategy so that every province, territory and first nations reserves can have the expertise and the information at their hands to develop the support systems to assist these families and their children.

Autism was first described to me by a young boy named Josh Bortolotti who is from Ottawa. For those of us who have known Josh for a long time, people should watch out for this young man because one day he could be the prime minister of this country. His sister has autism and he made it his personal life's crusade, when he was 12 years old, to fight and to stand up for his sister because she could not do it herself. Josh Bortolotti is a tremendously fine young man. Every year he asks us for pledges for his cause to raise funds for autism.

If young children like this can show us in the House of Commons the leadership that is required, then my hat is off to Josh Bortolotti, his family and especially his sister because I know one day she will get the help that she needs.

It is not just for the children. It is also for the parents. Many parents do not understand the concerns of autism. They do not understand what their children are going through until sometimes it is too late.

It was described to me that autism is like a puzzle. This is why applied behaviour analysis and IBI treatment are so very important, to get these children the minute that they are diagnosed and to work with them through repetition over and over again to develop their brains so that they can lead productive lives.

When we had press conferences a few years ago, we heard from specialists from Quebec that if a child is diagnosed at age two with autism, and that child and the family are worked with intensively for four years then that child can go to a regular school without any teaching assistance at all. That is the kind of investment in these children that we need. The unfortunate part is we do not believe that the provinces will ever have enough money to do this on their own. This is why we think it is imperative that the national government work with the provinces, territories and first nations reserves to ensure that we do not reinvent the wheel, to ensure that no matter where people live in this country, children and families with autism can get the help they deserve and most importantly, get the support they have.

At last count, I understand, there are close to 400,000 people in this country who have some form of autism and that number is rising rapidly. I will never forget the time Hillary Clinton, now a senator in the United States, offered a $200 million aid package for various research centres, for various states and various schools in this regard, because the national government of the United States understands that this is a very serious issue. It put a lot of federal money into this issue in order to assist families and to assist researchers in developing, hopefully one day, a complete understanding of what causes autism and to see how we can mitigate it in the future.

While we are working toward that, the people with autism in Canada need to know. I spoke to the hon. Minister of State for Democratic Reform who used to be the parliamentary secretary to the minister of health. We all worked together collaboratively a couple of years ago to bring a motion forward in the House which was adopted by all of us on that type of strategy. Unfortunately, over two years later we are still talking about it. We do not have a national strategy.

We are asking once again, with great respect to the government, because we know that government members have people in their constituencies who have this concern, and we know members of the government and the Conservative Party care about this issue as much as anyone on this side does. I ask if we can work in collaboration, if the House can really work together as it has done for other items over the years, such as the veterans' charter, to form and develop a national strategy for the development and treatment of autism, to help those children and their families. Then world autism day will be more than just a symbolic gesture or a date on the calendar. It will actually give these people hope, and hope is what they strive for. This is what keeps them going every day.

I have had the pleasure of meeting many children with autism. I have worked with organizations like FEAT of B.C. which is Families for Early Autism Treatment. I have worked with Mr. Cavachuk, Laurel Gibbons and people in my province of Nova Scotia who ask that autism be part of the national medicare package. But while we are working toward that goal, we need to make it loud and clear to these people that they have the full support of not only the Senate but also the House of Commons so that when world autism day becomes a reality, not only can we bring awareness of this issue to our country and the rest of the world, but maybe we could assist those researchers, those practitioners, and those families, and most importantly, give those people a hand up so they can lead productive lives.

If we do that, it will be a great day in the House of Commons and a great day for all Canadians. I say God bless to all the children with autism and to their families, and may the bill pass fairly quickly.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to this legislation and to second it. I appreciate the work done by the hon. member for Charlottetown to bring the bill to the House. I would also like to thank the Senate for the great work it has done on this legislation.

A day to mark autism awareness has never been more important here in Canada.

If we go back just six years ago, autism was not recognized as the problem it is today. A 2003 study estimated that approximately 1 in 450 Canadians suffered from one of the various forms of autism. That would be about 67,000 Canadians across Canada.

The worst thing about this mysterious condition, however, is that this number is higher among children and it is increasing every year. In fact, the Autism Society of Canada reported there has been a steep rise in the number of cases in the three provinces that monitor these numbers closely: Saskatchewan, Quebec and my own province of British Columbia. A children's hospital study in Montreal put the number at around 1 in every 147 children. According to a study in the U.S., it used to be around 1 in every 150 kids but now the number may be closer to 1 in 100.

Such a big change; such a huge increase in only six years.

As a Senate study makes clear, the reasons for this increase are difficult to pinpoint. In many respects, it could be because the very definition of autism has now become much wider. It is true there is now more exposure in the media for such mysterious forms as Asperger syndrome.

The truth is that we would not have to knock on many doors in almost every neighbourhood in Canada before we would find a family that is now trying to cope with autism. That family may be struggling with the mysteries of autism and the huge toll it can take on their day to day lives.

In fact, within my own community, Louise Witt and Amber Himmelright have quite a lot to say about what the Government of Canada is doing about autism, or should I say not doing.

When the Conservatives first came into office they talked a good game about a national autism strategy. They knew what Canadian families were saying about the kind of sacrifice autism required.

I have three children of my own and I can tell members that I feel fortunate that I am one of the few Canadians who might not be faced with a threat of personal bankruptcy if just either my boy, Arjan, or one of my daughters, Keerat or Joat, was diagnosed. It is not uncommon for families to pay more than $60,000 a year, and that is just for the basic treatment.

The worst thing is that the cost for effective treatment also varies widely from province to province. Imagine how heartbreaking it would be for someone to realize that if he or she lived in another part of the country or if they only had more money their child would get the needed care.

The government has known these facts for some time but, as I said, the government did what it normally does. It leads with communications and then real action limps along later, sometimes much later.

Two years ago, the government announced a website to give families information and $1 million over five years to set up a research chair. There is still no research chair and that website is not much to speak about either.

We could say that the government had to cut back on plans with the state of the deficit being what it is, the deficit it could not see and then denied for as long as it could. Perhaps the government realized it could not fulfill the promise it made to thousands of families across this country who are looking for real leadership and who are waiting for a real plan.

It is a difficult conversation the government must be having with those families now. Louise Witt will say that there are many who must bring professional therapists up from the U.S. because they cannot find these special services in Canada. In my own riding, in all of Surrey and Delta, there are only a handful of trained therapists, and they are overbooked for months in advance as it is.

The worst thing is, whether it is in Surrey or Delta or whether the therapist comes from the states, there is so little health care coverage that the bill breaks the bank anyway.

It is also difficult for the government to talk about other promises on autism, like the stakeholder symposium. Again, as Ms. Witt said, the symposium was held in secret. It was only for hand-picked invitees, those who would probably go easy on the government and downplay the kind of support families need.

All of that does not matter though, because no one can tell us what came out of this symposium anyway. We would be waiting a long time to hear from the government. Maybe it did not like what it heard and is afraid to act upon it.

All of that said, this bill is in some small measure a way to put autism back on the national agenda. If awareness can get people talking, it might get the government to listen.

For the families who are facing bankruptcy, who are forced to put their children in foster homes because they cannot afford the day-to-day support, and for the parents who are trying every possible medical breakthrough they can in the hopes of seeing their children able to cope with this affliction, awareness is only a first step but it is an important one.

That is why I ask all members of Parliament to support this bill.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity today to speak to the issue of autism, in light of hon. Senator Munson's Bill S-210, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day.

This government recognizes that autism is a serious health and social issue, affecting many Canadian families and individuals from all walks of life, and that more knowledge and awareness of this condition is necessary. That is why the government has committed important resources and funds to autism research and knowledge dissemination. It is also the reason why the federal government has declared April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day in Canada.

Over recent years, attention to this condition has been on the rise and, fortunately, so is our knowledge about autism.

In November 2007, the Government of Canada hosted a symposium devoted to the very subject of autism knowledge. This event provided a wonderful opportunity to bring together leading Canadian researchers, policy-makers and people affected by autism to discuss the latest in autism research.

Since the topic being discussed here today is autism awareness, I would like to share some of the key findings and points of view that were offered at the symposium.

Those directly affected by autism contributed many valuable perspectives. Some stressed the importance that autistic individuals be heard and be in charge of their own lives. Many stress the importance of understanding people's capabilities as well as their challenges. A key message, however, is that individuals affected by the condition can and do succeed with the right supports.

Research is recognized as a key enabler of change across a spectrum of different issues and this is also true in relation to autism. The symposium was a venue for a wide variety of Canadian researchers to share their latest findings on this issue. These findings include a growing understanding that genetics play a role in autism and for the first time researchers have been able to show how changes in some genes contribute to autism. Findings also indicate that autism genes may act differently in boys than in girls.

In terms of diagnosis, progress is being made in identifying the early signs of autism. Some of these can be detected by 12 to 18 months of age, allowing for earlier intervention. Symptoms of autism can include impaired communication, difficulty in engaging in interactive play, a lack of eye contact and social smiling and decreased social interest. While this is not an exhaustive list, it provides some insight.

Canadian and international studies show that autism spectrum disorders are more prevalent than previously believed. However, this should be considered in the context of improved diagnostic techniques, better reporting and a broader definition of autism.

With respect to adults with autism, it also recognized that there was a need to offer supports across the lifespan. Moreover, adults with autism could suffer from co-morbid conditions, which furthers the need for supports.

I hope that by sharing some of these thoughts and findings today, I have contributed in a small way toward increasing awareness of autism. It is clear that much is known about this condition, but equally clear that much remains unknown.

I am confident that as time goes on, the challenges posed by gaps in knowledge and lack of awareness will be overcome. In addition, I hope that in declaring April 2 World Autism Awareness Day, the government has greatly encouraged the exchange of knowledge in order to increase awareness and comprehension of this serious condition.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

North Vancouver B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Madam Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity today to speak to the issue of autism in light of Bill S-210, respecting world autism awareness day, being sponsored in the House by the hon. member for Charlottetown.

Autism is a health issue that presents lifelong challenges to those affected, as well as to their family members and society as a whole. Having easy access to information and knowing we can trust that information can make a huge difference in the lives of these families. This government wants to ensure that all Canadians have access to the same high quality, evidence-based information on autism.

Because we still do not know what causes autism and need greater understanding of the most effective treatments and interventions, the federal government is pleased to work with partners and stakeholders to promote autism awareness by investing in activities which support a stronger evidence base. This is why the government, in November 2006, announced several new initiatives to strengthen research to enhance our understanding of autism.

First, the federal government has been working toward developing options for autism surveillance. Recognizing that autism surveillance is new globally and may be technically challenging, the Public Health Agency of Canada has been working with researchers to see what could be done in Canada.

Between November 2007 and May 2008, the Public Health Agency of Canada undertook a consultation process to examine options for development of an ASD surveillance program for Canada. As well, in December 2008, the Government of Canada approved funding for Queen's University to expand its existing ASD surveillance system. This activity now includes children in Manitoba, southwestern Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. This is another step toward creating a national surveillance system for ASD.

Second, Health Canada continues to enhance its website on autism. It holds useful information, including links to respected external sources.

Third, this government committed to establishing a chair in autism research and intervention, and our government is hopeful for a successful outcome.

The minister is looking at alternatives that are in keeping with the original intent of this funding. Further, last year the federal government provided funding to the Canadian Autism Intervention Research Network, CAIRN for short, to translate its acclaimed autism information website into French. Canadians can now log on to the popular and respected site and access French or English summaries of autism research, presented in terminology that is useful to families that need it.

In 2008 this government committed $75,000 over two years to the Offord Centre for Child Studies to support autism research priorities and to host a conference to be held this fall. In addition, the CAIRN website will be further updated in order to offer Canadians access to the most recent autism research available.

Between 2000 and 2008, through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CIHR, the Government of Canada spent or committed approximately $35.3 million in autism-related research projects. These projects are led by researchers at universities and affiliated teaching hospitals across Canada.

As one of CIHR's 13 institutes, the Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction is supporting autism-related research and is working with partners in the autism community to set research priorities, reduce duplication and accelerate the translation of knowledge into improved health. For example, CIHR is funding a team, led by Dr. Eric Fombonne from McGill University. The aim of this program is to train the next generation of researchers and uncover the mysteries of autism.

CIHR is also funding the autism research of Dr. Jeanette Holden at Queen's University and her multidisciplinary team of over 60 researchers, clinicians and parents from across Canada and the United States. Dr. Holden's team is examining the causes, origins and effects of autism spectrum disorders and the effects of treatment on persons with autism.

As well, along with Genome Canada, CIHR provides support to the autism genome project. This initiative will help to increase our understanding of the genetics of autism, which could, in the long term, lead to early diagnoses.

Finally, in November 2007, this government hosted a national autism research symposium, which brought together researchers, service providers, policy-makers and those affected by autism to share knowledge and informed research priorities.

This government is confident that enhanced knowledge will lead to real results. Although we have made great strides in increasing the knowledge and awareness, there is still much to be done.

Through our activities, the federal government is contributing to increased awareness of the challenges faced by individuals with autism and their families.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Madam Speaker, it is certainly an honour to rise to speak on this important issue today.

Hon. Senator Munson's bill, Bill S-210, respecting World Autism Awareness Day, is an important issue that for far too many years has been overlooked by Canadians and misunderstood by them. In the last decade, especially in the least two years certainly, our government has brought autism to the forefront and recognized the importance of increased research and dollars to help families with autism.

Our government recognizes that autism is a serious health and social issue, affecting many Canadian families and individuals from all walks of life and that more increased awareness of this condition is necessary. That is why this government has committed important resources and funds to autism research and knowledge decimation.

Our government also declared April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day in Canada.

We are striving to ensure that all Canadians have access to high-quality, evidence-based information about autism. We are dedicated to working with partners and stakeholders in order to better comprehend what causes autism and how we can better coordinate the most effective treatments and interventions. We also work with our partners to promote autism awareness by investing in activities that support a stronger evidence base.

We know about autism. There is a growing understanding that genetics play a role in autism. For the first time, researchers have been able to show how changes in some genes contribute to autism. Other proof indicates that autism genes may act differently in boys than in girls.

Progress is also being made in identifying the early signs of autism. Some signs can be detected by 12 to 18 months of age. As one of my hon. colleagues mentioned earlier, this allows for earlier intervention.

Let me tell members about some of the signs, as mentioned earlier. They can include impaired communication, difficulty in engaging in interactive play, a lack of eye contact and social smiling and decreased social interest. These are but a few of the examples of early diagnosis.

Evidencing Canadian and international studies show that autism spectrum disorders, or ASD, are more common than previously believed. We should remember this in the context of improved diagnostic techniques, better reporting and a broader definition of autism. It is also recognized that adults with autism also have a need for support throughout their life. They may also suffer from secondary illnesses that may also require medical follow up.

One question that comes to mind is government action.

We were pleased to announce, in November 2006, several new initiatives to improve ongoing research to enhance our understanding of autism.

First, we have been working toward developing options for autism surveillance. Between November 2007 and May 2008, a consultation process was put in place to examine options for the development of an autism spectrum disorder surveillance program for Canada.

Following that, in December 2008, the Government of Canada approved funding for Queen's University to expand its existing ASD surveillance system. We are happy to say that the program now includes children in Manitoba, southwestern Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Our government continues to update the Health Canada website on autism. On it, people can find useful information, including links to respected expert website.

Last year, our government provided funding to the Canadian Autism Intervention Research Network, or CAIRN, in order that it could translate its acclaimed autism information website into French. Canadians can now log on to this respected site and access French or English summaries of autism research that are easy to use and family friendly.

Last year our government committed $75,000 over two years to support autism research priorities and to host a conference that was held last week. In addition, the CAIRN website will be further updated in order to offer Canadians access to the most recent autism research available.

Since the early two thousands, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research have spent approximately $35.3 million in autism-related research projects. These projects are led by researchers at university and affiliated teaching hospitals across Canada. That $35.3 million spent in the last decade has probably advanced autism research further in the last 10 years than we have in the previous 50 years. It is extremely important. I certainly commend our government for continuing this research, and I commend the previous government for starting it. This is very important for early intervention and understanding of autism.

As an example, the Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction, a part of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, is supporting autism-related research. It is working with partners and stakeholders in the autism community in order to set research priorities, avoid duplication, and speed up the translation from knowledge to health.

They are also funding autism research at Queen's University. Experts there are part of a multidisciplinary team of over 60 researchers, clinicians and parents from across Canada and the United States. The Queen's University team is examining the causes, origins and effects of autism spectrum disorders, and the effects of treatment on persons with autism.

Early in its first mandate, the government hosted a national autism research symposium, which brought together researchers, service providers, policy-makers, and those affected by autism to share knowledge and inform research priorities.

I hope that my words today have provided hon. members with the opportunity to see the efforts made by our government toward increasing awareness of autism. We must continue our efforts to improve knowledge and find solutions to those dealing with this condition.

I hope that in declaring April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day will help to highlight the challenges and that it will trigger everyone's level of awareness and comprehension for this serious condition.

The government has reacted to an issue that affects many Canadians. Quite frankly, the importance of having this informed debate in the House of Commons only leads to a further intelligent discussion on this subject. Unfortunately, like many health issues, we have for far too long ignored this important issue. Families have strived to cope with autism on their own. Priority research was not available. There was no safety net available. They did not have a network of individuals they could turn to and they struggled mightily through the years with this very issue.

We are headed in the right direction. We know there is more that needs to be done. I certainly appreciate the work this government and other governments have done so far, and at the end of the day will lead to working right across the country with autistic members of families, and help them to live more full and fruitful lives.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to speak very briefly about one of the most terrible conditions that can strike a child and family. I first learned about autism at an intellectual level. From reading about Temple Grandin, who is a professor at a university in Colorado and suffers from mild autism, I learned what it might be like to experience.

She has written a book describing what it is like and how she has conducted her life. She gives a bit of a picture about the kinds of shutters, walls, doors and barriers to communication that the condition of autism places around people. It is a fascinating book. She has gone on to tremendous success and has provided the world with a view of autism that helps to expose a little bit of the mystery of why children who are so bright, lively and intelligent seem to withdraw from the rest of the world, and what it is like being inside that little cell they get trapped in, where they are unable to communicate or express feelings that nevertheless exist.

It is a fascinating way of exploring what the world of autism is like. In terms of actually experiencing what it is like for those who are family members, I had that experience working here on Parliament Hill. Leaving the Hill every day a few years ago, I used to notice that there was always a man there at lunch time. He would come up wearing a sandwich board with a motto about the importance of autism.

Those of us who work and spend a lot of time up here sometimes wind up getting to know the protestors who are here frequently. This man was a public servant who, during his lunch hours, would come and protest on Parliament Hill because his son was autistic. The experience of having a son facing autism, and the lack of funding and support for the early onset treatment that he and his wife felt was necessary were destroying them financially.

They recognized that it was destroying others financially. They wanted to draw attention to the plight of parents in their position. I had the chance to chat with this man, whose name was Andrew Kavchak, and learn about some of the terrible emotional and financial costs that can be imposed on a family that has a child suffering from this terrible disease.

I mention both of these examples because they are both examples of individuals trying to draw to our attention the importance of dealing with autism. This is what Bill S-210 attempts to do. It attempts to draw further attention to the condition of autism on the understanding that it is only when we as a society realize how severe and devastating this illness can be that we as a society will be able to focus the attention upon the condition necessary to allow us to overcome it.

We must mitigate the circumstances for those who suffer from autism, those who live in families that have been affected by autism, and those in the future who should have a reasonable expectation that we will find a way of ensuring that other children and families do not fall into the trap of autism.

Madam Speaker, I see that you are indicating to me that my time is up. In conclusion, I do think that this is a worthwhile initiative and I am glad to support it.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

2:30 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member will have approximately six minutes when this bill comes up again for debate.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 2:30 p.m., the House stands adjourned until 11 a.m. on Monday, October 19, pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:30 p.m.)