House of Commons Hansard #16 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was arctic.


Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Oshawa Ontario


Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I am looking forward to working with the member in committee on this very important bill. I also want to assure her that we do get it, which is why we are putting the bill forward. We think the bill is long overdue.

If the member believes it is important for the Canadian government to ensure Canadians are safe, will she support the bill as we move it forward? We do need to move the bill forward as quickly as we can to ensure it is debated in committee and then implemented for the safety of Canadians?

I would like to have the member put on the record whether she will be supporting the bill.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is a hard question to answer. I have said that the bill looks progressive and positive at face value and that I want to see it studied at committee. However, I also said that it is pretty hard to judge a government action on a very important issue by legislation alone. If the resources, staff and policies are not in place to protect Canadians, we have a serious problem and we need to continue to address it through the course of this legislative process.

I will give a couple of examples of why I have such doubts. One of the Conservative government's first acts on taking power in 2006 was to eliminate the Public Health Agency minister and public health seat at the cabinet table. It took away the whole role at the cabinet table. It also left the Chief Medical Officer of Health responsible to the Minister of Health. According to the CMA journal, this left our country without a national independent voice to speak out on public health issues, including providing viable leadership during a crisis.

We also need to watch for cutbacks and wonder if the government is taking some shortcuts in this area. I mentioned earlier that the government decided to convert to a system of increased food industry self-inspection, which has been widely speculated to have caused some of the problems we have seen with respect to salmonella, outbreaks of E. coli and listeriosis. We also should not forget that the Conservatives cut back the avian influenza preparedness program.

I also want to mention that this area requires in-depth research and a constant injection of funds into research if we are ever going to understand the relationship between these pathogens and toxins in terms of human health. What did the government do in its last budget? It cut back on investments in health and research in the scientific communities, which is an ominous, worrisome response on the part of the government at a time when we need more investment, scientific understanding and coordination between the research communities and laboratories that work in these areas.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's concerns about Bill C-11.

During her speech, she mentioned what happened in Walkerton a number of years ago, which was a terrible tragedy. Walkerton, while not in my riding, used to be part of it. It is just on the edge of Bruce county.

The one thing I and the people of Walkerton do not need to hear is the implication by members of the opposition or anybody else that it was a breakdown in the system. The clear truth of what happened in Walkerton was that two employees did not do their jobs.

The government is bringing forth Bill C-11 to improve the health and safety of Canadians. It was the same thing on the listeriosis outbreak not too long ago, although the government over the last two years hired 200 more inspectors for CFIA. Those are the kinds of things the government has done.

Does the hon. member support improving the health and the risks for health problems in Bill C-11?

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I must disagree as vehemently as possible with the hon. member. We have all studied the Walkerton issue. My colleague from Sault Ste. Marie was in the Ontario legislature at the time and knows very well that this was a systemic issue, an issue of systems breaking down, government cutbacks, privatization, outsourcing, off-loading and lack of coordination. It was not just the result of two individuals not doing their job. It was the result of a government that did not invest in the infrastructure and programs that were needed within the public sector to maintain people's safety during a time of crisis.

I will translate that into what is happening here. If that attitude continues, we are in deep trouble. The government can be darn sure that we will not support the legislation if it continues to find bogeymen instead of looking in its own backyard to find the problems that exist. Why in the world is the government cutting back $42.7 million in this fiscal year, $52.9 million next year and $72.2 million more in 2011-12 from the Public Health Agency and Health Canada?

How can we be confident when the government is talking out of both sides of its mouth at once? On the one hand, it is pretending tough legislation but on the other hand it is prepared to privatize our Crown corporations, cut back in terms of the Public Health Agency and provide no coordination when it comes to emergency medical services.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are debating Bill C-11 today, which is an act to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins.

The schedules to the bill list these pathogens and toxins. It is really quite a who's who of all the biological bad guys out there and it is pretty scary for a layman to read. I had two esteemed colleagues from my Liberal Party up, who are both doctors and probably pretty comfortable with the words, but there is aflatoxin, anthrax, cholera, diphtheria and dozens of ugly sounding toxins and pathogens.

Any layperson who looks at that would say that we need this legislation, and it is a consensus in the House that we need this legislation. There was a bill in the prior Parliament that did not make it through as it was a short Parliament. My party supports the bill in principle and, if adopted by the House, hopefully it will go to committee.

However, I must point out some issues that I do have with the bill. One issue that I raised previously is an issue that I will raise again, and if nobody moves amendments to this bill, I probably will. The issue concerns the granting by this House of powers to the administration, not just to the government but to persons in the government. In this particular case, they are referred to in the bill as inspectors. It has to do with this whole concept of the House giving power in a statute to the government to make regulations and enforce provisions of the act that are regulatory, in addition to the statutory provisions.

In modern government, we all accept that we need to do that. The real trick is in how we do it, how Parliament does it and whether or not Parliament will scrutinize, review and oversee the regulatory work and the enforcement that happens after the powers are delegated.

It is okay for Parliament to pass a law that says a citizen shall not do X. That is not a delegation. That is a creation of an offence and authorities enforce those offences. However, when Parliament passes a law that gives the authority to a minister or the governor in council to make a regulation, to create some kind of a regulatory offence, that is a delegation. When we do that in Parliament we should take steps to ensure that the enforcement and execution of those powers happen within the law. Parliament has created a method for doing that.

I will address this bill through a lens of our civil liberties, our freedoms. I have always tried to do that as a member of Parliament and I will do it here. I am not doing it just to be critical of the bill. I am doing it to better assure the rights and freedoms of Canadians under this particular legislation.

Sections in the bill would give substantial regulatory powers to the minister and to inspectors. When we are dealing with these human pathogens and toxins, one could expect that we would do that. There is no way we would send the minister or a member of Parliament over to some illegal laboratory to pick up some anthrax. This is done through hard-working, honest and dedicated public servants who need the authority to do that hard work.

I now want to look at the legislation to see how we are asking them to do this. I would refer the House to subclause 41(1), which reads:

Subject to section 42, an inspector may, for the purpose of verifying compliance or preventing non-compliance with this Act...enter at any reasonable time any place or conveyance [such as a motor vehicle or a bus] in which the inspector believes on reasonable grounds that an activity to which this Act or the regulations apply is conducted...

Not just for the purpose of preventing a breech of the act but for the purpose of ensuring compliance, the inspector may enter any place, any reasonable time. We pretty much just give to an inspector the right to do something that not even a policeman could do without a warrant or specific statutory authorization. There had better be a real good reason for this, to give all this power to a particular individual.

We are dealing with some difficult chemicals here, some pathogens and toxins, but here are some of the things that inspectors could do. They can examine the place. They can require the person in the place to do things. They can seize and detain, open and examine, direct the owner or the person having possession, care or control, to do certain things, to move certain things. They can examine and make copies, require any person in the place to do the same, and the list goes on.

These are significant powers. We should keep in mind the basis on which the inspector enters the premises. It is for the purpose, low threshold only, of verifying compliance. That would mean on a bad day, “I think I will go check these guys because I feel like it”. It could be that. I am not saying that it would be, but what if that is the case? “I will go into this place to check it because I want to verify compliance. I do not like the way they park their cars in the parking lot”, or maybe, “I do not like the owner”. This is the power that the act now gives, not by regulation, but by statute, right up front, to an inspector.

Subclause 41(6) says, “No person shall knowingly obstruct or inspector who is carrying out their functions”. No person shall obstruct or hinder. That sounds reasonable, but let me tell the House that there are occasions where, from time to time, this restriction on hindering is abused. I am not making it up because I represent constituents whom I think have been criminally assaulted by government officials in the Canada Border Service Agency.

My constituents, a family, father, wife, two teenage boys, 14 and 16, came back to Canada at Windsor. They had made some purchases in the U.S.A. and low-balled the amount of money, they underestimated the amount they spent, so they were invited to go to secondary for inspection. It was all pretty reasonable stuff. I have been sent to secondary for inspection. People there are a little bit officious, but they are just doing their job: “Stand up. Move over there. Do this. Do that. Do not talk”. Okay, they checked my car. I did not tell them I was an MP.

Anyway, this family came across. The inspectors in that case were border services officers, that is, immigration officials, food inspectors, customs officials, tax collectors. They ended up breaking the arm of my constituent. They broke his arm. They put both the teenage boys in handcuffs and dragged them into the office along with the wife. When all was settled, they charged my constituents with obstruction. These guys behaved like bikers. They beat up this family and then they charged them with obstruction. Here we have a section which authorizes that Canadians be charged with obstructing or hindering an inspector.

I happen to be a lawyer. I went to Windsor with these people to defend them in court against this charge of obstruction. It was wrong and the charges were dismissed.

Four people were summoned by Her Majesty to come to court that day, to tell the truth, and say what happened. One CBSA official showed up and did not rise in court when the case was called. Those individuals did not even appear to a summons. That was lawlessness. There is no appeal mechanism for that agency. There is an informal one in the minister's office, but there is no oversight.

These are tax collectors, food inspectors, immigration officers, who are running around arresting people, beating them up, but do not show up in court to prosecute a case, so the case was dismissed. It was kind of a happy ending after the man's arm was broken and he missed work. I did inform the minister about this and the minister said not much could be done. Maybe there should be a lawsuit. These are just regular people who do not have a lot of money to start lawsuits to get justice.

The obstruction charge is contained in Bill C-11 and I am very nervous about that.

Clause 42 also has provisions about entering a dwelling house. We crossed this bridge before in the House. Someone cannot go into a dwelling house without a warrant and the bill makes provision for that, happily.

I see a problem with subclause 42(3) which deals with the warrant and going into a dwelling house. It says that the inspector may not use force unless it is specifically authorized. The problem is that the use of force issue is too vague in the statute. It is not clear what extent of force is being referred to. If I have a warrant to enter a dwelling house, do I have the ability to turn the doorknob if that requires the use of force? Do I have the ability to break a window? Do I have the ability to lift the latch?

A warrant to enter a dwelling house, as I understand it now, allows the reasonable use of force. I have a question with respect to this. If an inspector shows up with a warrant and breaks down the door but the owner of the house does not know what is going on and tells the inspector he cannot come in, is that obstruction? Based on the case I described with the CBSA, I can bet my boots that is obstruction.

On the other hand, it might be a good day if the inspector is in a good mood and apologizes for breaking the window but explains that he has to check for pathogens and toxins. Maybe everything would work out.

I am looking at this from the perspective of a citizen. The wording about use of force in that section is, in my view, too vague. It has to be fixed in some way, otherwise there would be a legal issue and by the time the case was litigated and sorted out by the Supreme Court half a million dollars would be spent. I am suggesting that the committee to which the bill would be referred sort that out.

Clause 40 says that when the minister delegates these authorities he or she may restrict the powers of the inspector. That is the wrong way to put it. I think the inspector should only have those powers that the minister delegates to him or her. The minister should not have the whole raft of powers under the statute which he or she could then pull back under authorization because I do not think the minister would ever do it.

There are no criteria for the minister. There is no framework for the minister to act. There is no framework under which the minister could say, “I think I am only going to give you powers 1 to 5 and you do not get powers 6 to 10”. There would be an automatic predisposition on the part of the minister and the public service simply to give all of the powers to the inspector without restriction.

Why would anyone take the time to restrict the powers given to the inspector? Why handicap the inspector? The statute already gives the inspector powers. This is a mistake. The minister should decide which specific powers should be in the hands of the inspector. Then we know clearly what the inspector can and cannot do. The minister knows, government knows and Parliament knows. This way it is an open book.

Clause 40 is a problem and I hope the committee will deal with that. If the committee does not, I am going to do it here in the House. I am giving notice right now.

Last is regulatory activity. Canada has a fairly good regulatory process. It allows the delegation of authorities from Parliament to the government or ministers and sometimes to agencies. I will not read clauses 67 and 68 of the bill, but they provide for the delegation of regulatory powers.

In Canada's system now, normally a statutory instrument or regulation is pre-published before it is enacted, there is consultation, then it is adopted by the cabinet or the minister, it is published in the Canada Gazette, and then it is reviewed by the Standing Joint Committee for Scrutiny of Regulations in the House. It is reviewed for compliance with the law, the originating statute, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the criteria adopted by the House. This way we make sure that regulations passed are legal and fair. That has worked fairly well for the last 30 or 40 years.

However, clause 68 of this bill exempts some of the statutory instruments and regulations from the Statutory Instruments Act. It takes it right out. It says these regulations are not statutory instruments. For the layman that may be kind of a foggy term and some may ask what it means.

In some cases in this bill it only means that the regulation is not pre-published and consulted, that it simply is made, and there may be good public policy reasons for doing that. In an emergency, three months cannot be taken to consult. Dealing with risks to human health, sometimes action has to be taken quickly. We do that and authorize regulations to be made without the need to pre-publish and study, et cetera. However, there are a couple of components that are worrying to me and should be to the House.

First, the bill specifically authorizes incorporation by reference. That means an adoption of a rule that somebody else made. Maybe it is a rule made by the European Union or Brazil or Japan or wherever. That is incorporation by reference. Not only that but it allows what is called ambulatory incorporation by reference, which means whenever Brazil changes its rule, our rule changes. We have to get a handle on that because that is a pure delegation of regulation-making by us to them.

Second is the exemption from the Statutory Instruments Act. We cannot do that. We must allow Parliament to continue reviewing it. We must specifically authorize Parliament to review these instruments under sections 19 and 19.1 of the Statutory Instruments Act. Those amendments should all be made to this bill.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the input of the member for Scarborough—Rouge River on this legislation. He has raised a very important point.

It has always been a challenge for members of the House, whenever we are dealing with legislation that tries to address the possibility of terrorist threats, in this case bioterrorism, to find the right balance between protecting the public and ensuring due process according to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I understand what the member is saying. Obviously, I am concerned that we do not allow a focus on individual rights and freedoms to give any licence to the government to move away from a well-resourced inspection capability that is given all the money and resources it needs to proactively investigate and search for any toxins or pathogens that could cause serious harm to any Canadian anywhere.

However, before we head off to committee, I would like the member to give us some advice with respect to which witnesses he thinks it would make sense to invite to our committee. How does he envisage that fine balance we are always trying to find in terms of human rights and protecting the public?

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the standards that we should be according to the citizens with respect to powers like this are fairly well known to the Department of Justice. The problem is that as every new government moves in, it says to the Department of Justice to make those powers just a bit more robust. The line keeps being pushed. They keep pushing up and they refer to Supreme Court cases and Court of Appeal cases.

I think someone from the Department of Justice not associated with the creation of this bill should be a witness to outline the current standards of civil liberties vis-à-vis government powers. That would be a good standard.

Another example, in clause 71 of the bill, the word “knowingly” has been deleted. A citizen who is in possession of a toxin or pathogen, when the bill comes into force, has a problem unless he or she notifies the minister. It is an offence. That section should contain the word “knowingly”. Clause 6 of the bill contains the word “knowingly”. The citizen should have to know that he or she has the item before he or she is found criminally or quasi-criminally responsible for an offence.

I think the Department of Justice could give some very good answers.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is not difficult to imagine how pleased I am to speak to Bill C-11. I thank my party whip's office for providing me with this wonderful opportunity.

This bill may seem technical on the surface. But when we examine it a little more closely, we see that it is a technical bill through and through.

Nevertheless, in spite of its technical nature, this bill is important because it deals with pathogens, those micro-organisms that can carry infection and disease, that can cause devastation and that can transmit viruses and sources of infection. This bill is about pathogens, toxins, laboratories and research. It is also about our desire to ensure that research facilities are safe and secure without adversely affecting research activities carried out throughout Canada.

When it comes to health—my colleagues know this—we can always question if this is a federal jurisdiction. I would like to remind members that when the 33 Fathers of Confederation met, in what was called a constituent assembly, they divided the powers.

Naturally when we examine the facts, we know very well that when we ask which authority has the constitutional power—known as a head of jurisdiction in constitutional law—to intervene in a particular area, we must read sections 91 and 92. We note that health may well be an area of greater concern to the provinces because it deals with providing care to the population and it concerns the operation of health establishments.

In all modern societies, many resources are allocated to the operating budget of the various departments because health is a concern of all citizens. I am pleased to remind members that, from 1995 to 1997, the government refused to make investments in health. There were campaigns throughout Canada and a federal-provincial conference including all health ministers of all political stripes. The Bloc Québécois took out ads in the papers calling on the federal government to assume its responsibilities and to make significant investments through its health transfers. The Bloc was obviously speaking on behalf of the National Assembly of Quebec.

I am not trying to suggest that the federal government has no responsibility for health. For example, we know that the federal government has fiduciary responsibility for aboriginal people. In addition, if I am not mistaken, more than half the federal health department's programming has to do with aboriginal people. The federal government obviously has a role to play in patents, and that responsibility is shared by the Department of Health and the Department of Industry.

I have wondered about the whole issue of patents. Are they in consumers' interests? How do we strike a balance? There needs to be a public policy of investment to promote research. Ten years can easily go by from the time a molecule is isolated to the time a drug is available to consumers. That is an investment cycle involving several million dollars. There needs to be a balance between consumers' interests and policies that promote research, because there are major investments involved.

The federal government has a role to play with regard to aboriginal people, patents and epidemics. Perhaps we need to look at this bill in that light.

This bill says that guidelines exist for pathogens that may be viruses or major sources of infection. The idea is to create a stricter system of regulations for pathogens and toxins.

I read in the bill we received and the research notes prepared by my party that there are thousands of labs in Canada that may not fully comply with policies that are not as strict as what is proposed in the bill.

From now on, we will need a licence or permit to conduct what are being called controlled activities. People in labs will need a licence to possess, handle, use, produce, store, authorize access to, transfer, import, export, release, abandon or dispose of human pathogens or toxins.

We could ask if such a system is necessary. I believe that my colleague, the member for Verchères—Les Patriotes, mentioned that the Bloc Québécois is not opposed to the bill, but we would like to know a bit more about the repercussions. For example, what will this mean for the research institutions? What will this mean for the laboratories?

One of the great advances for humanity in recent years is that we do not simply talk about old age anymore, we now talk about very old age. As a human society, if we are prudent, if we do not drink too much, if we do not smoke, if we do a bit of physical activity, if we go to the gym regularly and if we pay attention to what we call health determinants, chances are good that we will live to be 100 or more. That is what we mean by very old age. We have met centenarians in our ridings. I could ask my colleagues how many of them have, in their activities as a member, met people older than 95 or 100. There are more and more of them. In Canada, it is said that there are more than 100,000 centenarians. I have no doubt, Mr. Speaker, when I look at you and see how healthy you are, that you will be a centenarian yourself, and I wish that for you.

We live in a society in which there are more and more centenarians, in which people are living much longer and in better health, and this is thanks to research. It means we are able to control certain diseases that used to be crippling, and not all that long ago. Remember, just a few years or a few decades ago, mononucleosis was a fatal disease. Today, there are some differences, depending on the strain in question, but people do not die from mononucleosis. It has been called the kissing disease. Of course, I do not wish to get too autobiographical about it.

That said, I think my point is clear. More and more of our fellow citizens are living longer and longer thanks to research, and this research may require the use of pathogens that must obviously be isolated in conditions where this is no contamination, understandably. As an aside—and I am sure you know this, Mr. Speaker—I have 16 years of service in this House and I have had various responsibilities within the Bloc Québécois caucus. My first role was as our research and development critic.

I recall Lucien Bouchard, a great leader whom I respect and regard very highly, inviting me to a meeting in his office. I had been elected in October 1993. At the time, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien had recalled the House for January. We did not sit in November and December because Prime Minister Chrétien had to attend various international meetings with NATO.

When Mr. Bouchard appointed his shadow cabinet, he gave me a very important responsibility: research and development. I told Mr. Bouchard that I was flattered. During the 1993 campaign, we were very concerned, as a political party, about the fact that there had been a lot of public investment in the national capital region, where several public laboratories were—and still are—located, and very little investment on the Outaouais side. There was a lot of investment in the national capital region, but even though research was being done, compared to the numbers for the Outaouais, there was a huge disparity.

The Bloc Québécois wants to make sure that this bill's worthy objectives result in all laboratories complying with human pathogen handling standards. We have been told that several thousand labs in Canada do not follow Health Canada's biosafety guidelines. The government wants to make the guidelines more coercive by introducing a licensing system. It wants to ensure that organizations conducting research will not be penalized. The bill's schedule differentiates between pathogens that can be very harmful to public safety and those that are less dangerous. We see that different classes of licences will be issued.

The Bloc Québécois would like to know what this means for research. I was a member of the Standing Committee on Health when we studied the bill to create the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. In the 1990s, John Manley was the minister responsible for that file: as minister of industry, he was responsible for research and development. The OECD had released a report that lambasted Canada for investing so little in research and development. The bill was introduced.

The Bloc Québécois had a number of concerns. We wanted to ensure that various funding organizations, such as the Medical Research Council of Canada, would continue to support us. In good years, Quebec received nearly 30% of the funding. We wanted to be sure that, under the new Canadian Institutes of Health Research, we would hold on to our share of research contracts.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is a network of virtual institutes across Canada. Some of these institutes are concerned with population health, while others focus on cancer, aboriginal people, mental health and so on. The institutes are connected to each other in a structure that can produce interesting outcomes. Certainly, within these publicly funded research labs, research involving pathogens is being conducted. If the bill is passed, what will that mean? That is one question the Bloc Québécois has.

We also have questions about fines. As I said, we are told that biosafety guidelines already exist. In Canada—and I feel it is my duty to share these figures in the interest of full disclosure—there are 7,500 labs, nearly 4,000 of which allegedly do not comply with the guidelines. In addition, 5,500 labs, including 1,100 in Quebec, reportedly import pathogens. This comes as no surprise, considering how vibrant the research sector is in Quebec. There are apparently 24 labs in Quebec and 150 in Canada that are working with group 3 and 4 pathogens and are subject to these guidelines.

This bill tries to impose a system of offences that opens the door to criminal proceedings. We must always be extremely careful when it comes to imposing fines.

I used to sit on the Standing Committee on Health. That was a great time in my life. I was the health critic for at least five years. I focused on research and development. I was a bit surprised when Mr. Bouchard told me he was giving me the research and development file, because I was someone who had trouble plugging in a VCR. But I learned about it, I took an interest in it, and I understood its importance. I then became the immigration critic. Immigration is an extremely important issue, and as I am a member from Montreal, it was an issue in my own community. After that, I was the health critic for five years. Today, I am the justice critic. I have led an interesting life, when you sum it all up.

I would remind the House that when I was the health critic we examined the issue of new reproductive technologies. I was very disappointed to learn something about the regulations for new reproductive technologies. We know that one in five couples in Canada is infertile. Therefore, it is important that the issues of surrogate mothers, gamete conservation and donations be covered by regulations. I am very surprised to see that the regulations we have been expecting for at least two years have not yet been submitted to the Standing Committee on Health. I hope that the Minister of Health will remedy this situation because we worked very hard in committee.

The Government of Quebec went to court to challenge certain legislative provisions with respect to new reproductive technologies, known as assisted reproduction, because some of the legislation's provisions meddled in provincial jurisdiction. Quebec already has its own support system for infertile couples.

Why am I mentioning this? To make a link with the offences established by the bill. Failure to obtain a permit would result in a hefty fine of $250,000 for a first offence and increasing fines for subsequent offences.

It is not clear to me—nor does the bill provide clarification—how this system of fines will be administered. Will there be an inspection system? How will licences be issued? How will laboratories be monitored? And how will inspectors carry out annual inspections of the 5,000 or so laboratories that are deemed not to be compliant with the guidelines? And what will that mean?

It is a complex bill that may have a noble goal, taking precautions against possible transmission, but certain aspects of it are troubling. I know that the members of the Standing Committee on Health would like to ensure that this bill, before obtaining royal assent, has been the subject of proper consultation. Have universities and hospitals been consulted? Have large research and development associations been consulted? And the pharmaceutical industry, in terms of both generic and brand name drugs, has it been consulted? If we looked a little more closely, we would find that the consultations have been rather superficial.

I am being told that my time is running out, which is too bad because I have many more things to say about a bill as gripping as this one, but I will finish with three things. First, the Bloc Québécois will work very hard in the Standing Committee on Health to make sure that we have a thorough understanding of this bill.

Second, we hope that the principal stakeholders will appear before the Standing Committee on Health. Finally, we will judge the bill according to its merit.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like first to express my deep appreciation to my colleague from Hochelaga on his eloquent address.

As he explained so well, the hon. member for Hochelaga has a wealth of parliamentary experience. I was listening so hard during his speech that I could not check the schedules to find out what the security level is for the pathogens that cause mononucleosis. If he so desires—because this topic seems especially close to his heart—I could delve into this a bit more deeply.

My question is for him because the hon. member for Hochelaga is the justice critic for the Bloc Québécois.

Bill C-11, as written, institutes penalties for persons or institutions that are negligent, fail to take precautions or intentionally release pathogens into the environment. I would like to know if he, as our justice critic, knows whether the Criminal Code already deals with intentional attacks on public safety, such as terrorism, or unintentional acts, such as criminal negligence?

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Verchères—Les Patriotes for anything more he can possibly do to lift the veil on the kissing disease, also known as mononucleosis. I get the feeling he is very interested in this. I would be eternally grateful to him for anything he can do to refine my knowledge of the consequences.

My colleague is quite right. When it comes to the legal realm, two factors must be borne in mind. In order for charges to be laid, there must first be mens rea—a legal term denoting the intent to commit a criminal act—and then there must also be an actus reus, or the deed itself.

Take the example of a professor at McGill University who is putting his third-year medical students through their paces. Say they are handling pathogens because they want to study smallpox, a very serious disease. There is nothing small about smallpox. If we were to determine, through an inspection system yet to be established, that McGill University did not have its licence, could the students who engaged in these studies be found guilty? That is what the Bloc Québécois wants to know. Everyone knows, of course, that there are already provisions in the Criminal Code covering criminal negligence and certainly terrorism.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to turn the member's attention to the whole notion of how government regulates on the one hand and on the other hand provides the coordination of regulation, which arguably it is trying to do with this legislation. When it comes to imposing, embedding and sensible follow-up, it makes me think of the whole crisis with the BSE. The government's own veterinary scientists said that there was a problem. They said that when cows were fed rendered materials, they would get BSE. Instead of listening to them, the government fired them. I think of Shiv Chopra who is now in front of a disciplinary committee. We are spending millions of taxpayer dollars on a guy who has blown the whistle for human health.

Even though we have legislation like this, what needs to be done to protect Canadians against human pathogens and toxins? If we do not have the right people in government, if we do not have the right people hired in the health protection agencies in government, how can this help in the long run?

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

February 23rd, 2009 / 1:20 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question.

I have also been alerted several times, especially when I sat on the Standing Committee on Health, to the fact that scientists who challenge some of Health Canada’s regulatory policies can be fired. The hon. member is quite right, therefore, to remind the House that when a regulatory system is being established, it should be left up to scientists to determine how appropriate it is and what the best way to implement it is.

The advice I would give my colleague—and I am sure that my colleagues on the Standing Committee on Health will adopt this as well—is that a bill like this is going to involve a lot of regulations. It would be best if, three years after taking effect, they could be reviewed by the Standing Committee on Health, as will be done for assisted reproduction and the tobacco regulations.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for giving me the opportunity to speak to Bill C-11, An Act to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins. Although technical in nature, this bill is very necessary and important federal legislation. It is a public safety issue as much as it is a public health bill. Bill C-11 proposes a mandatory licensing system for the federal government to track the human pathogens that exist, such as anthrax, salmonella and influenza.

While many Canadians do not consider the flu to be a national threat, we need only remind ourselves of the 1918 flu pandemic, commonly referred to as the Spanish flu, that spread to nearly every part of the world, including the Arctic and remote Pacific islands. The Spanish flu did not claim simply those normally at risk, such as the elderly, infants and the infirm; in fact, it claimed the lives of normal, healthy adults, mostly because it tricked strong immune systems into a catastrophic overreaction. It is estimated that anywhere from 20 million to 100 million people were killed worldwide, roughly double the number of people killed during World War I. Indeed, many of those who survived the horror of trench warfare ironically succumbed to this deadly strain of influenza A, a form of bird flu.

Modern science has made it possible to recreate influenza A and other pathogens. That is why it is necessary to implement government controls to track who is in possession of them in Canada.

Many residents of Toronto remember the social and economic impact of the SARS outbreak in 2003. Severe acute respiratory syndrome is believed to have originated in China, but within weeks it had been reported in 37 countries around the world, including Canada. It resulted in 800 deaths, 44 of which were in Toronto. This virus tested international containment efforts and changed the way Canada deals with pandemic threats.

Many of the staff on Parliament Hill recall the extraordinary measures that were taken in 2001 following the anthrax attacks, when letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several media outlets and the offices of two U.S. senators. This attack killed five people and infected 17 others. Anthrax is one of the oldest recorded diseases of grazing animals and is even believed to be the sixth plague mentioned in the book of Exodus. One can see I read religious books. It occurs in nature, but it also has been harnessed as a weapon of war. Sheep and cattle are especially vulnerable to anthrax spores because they are soil-borne and are inhaled or ingested while the animals graze. For the people who did not know about it, I am giving a lesson in agriculture.

Anthrax spores were harnessed as bioweapons in both world wars. Thousands died in Manchuria in the 1930s when anthrax was tested on prisoners of war. It was stored as a weapon of mass destruction in the arsenals of the former Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States until 1971. However, the 2001 anthrax attacks were classified as weaponized or weapons-grade strains of the spores. While that should have made it easier to identify the attacker, it was not until August 2008, seven years later, that the FBI identified the culprit as a scientist who worked at a government biodefence lab.

That is why it is absolutely necessary that Canada and the federal government modernize the capability of tracking human pathogens and toxins. This legislation, Bill C-11, will give inspectors enhanced powers to ensure that the laboratory biosafety guidelines, called LBG, are followed properly. That is why the official opposition supports sending this bill to committee for an in-depth study.

Bill C-11 will require laboratories handling deadly toxins to register with the Public Health Agency of Canada's Office of Laboratory Security. Bill C-11 will require an import permit to bring a human pathogen or toxin into Canada. It will require a permit to transfer a pathogen or toxin between laboratories in Canada. Bill C-11 will require laboratories to notify the Public Health Agency when registered pathogens or toxins are disposed of. All in all, the bill will bring Canada in line with the more stringent regulations in the United States and the United Kingdom.

As has been eloquently stated by my colleague from Etobicoke North, it is in the best interest of all countries, including Canada, to support initiatives to control infectious diseases. The world is now an island. There is free flow of traffic, human beings, goods, services and food. As such, all countries should be alert and develop strategies to minimize the risks from infectious diseases. As I mentioned before, we have seen examples of the avian flu, SARS, et cetera.

Microbiological agents and toxins can and do impact global health. As I mentioned before, in 2003 SARS killed 800 people. Biosafety is essential if we are to mitigate the deadly effects of infectious diseases. The World Health Organization urges countries to: one, promote biosafety practices for the safe handling, containment and transport of microbiological agents and toxins; two, to review the safety of laboratories and their existing protocols; three, to develop programs that enhance compliance of laboratories; and four, to encourage the development of biological safety training.

Thousands of infectious samples are shipped daily around the world for clinical trials, disease investigations, surveillance, et cetera. Animal and human specimens need to be transported efficiently, legally, safely, and on a timely basis. Shippers must be aware of regulatory requirements, personnel must undertake appropriate training, and specimens must be packed to protect transporters from risk of infection.

Best practices regarding the transport of microbiological agents and toxins must be used to protect the environment and human health. Perhaps more support is needed to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases from other countries and among other provinces.

It is therefore imperative that laboratories have strict facility safeguards, microbiological practices and safety equipment that protect laboratory workers, the environment and the public from exposure to infectious microorganisms and toxins that are stored in the laboratory.

Responsible laboratory practices will help prevent intentional release, loss, misuse, theft, or unauthorized access of biological material and will contribute to preserving important scientific work for future generations.

To conclude, this is not a partisan matter. This is about the health and safety of Canadians. That is why my Liberal colleagues and I are proud to support the bill. Bill C-11 is a great improvement over Bill C-54. Infectious diseases know no boundaries. Pathogens are not restricted to one's own airspace. As such, we should do everything to increase biosafety.

Since the bill requires licensing and the provinces and territories are responsible for licensing, it is important to have a further study and review of this legislation. As well, we must ensure that there is transparency, effectiveness and accountability at the ministerial level as well as at the level of inspectors. We need to build trust so that Canadians and the world can be assured that they will be safe and secure when it comes to activities involving pathogens and toxins.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the discussion on this important bill.

The bill requires disclosures, but the track record of the government of disclosing information, even under the Federal Accountability Act, is abysmal. In fact, there is a recent report with regard to the listeriosis outbreak in which 20 Canadians lost their lives. The government has systemically withheld the release of access to information requests for a number of months, thousands and thousands of pages.

With regard to the bill, is it fulsome enough to ensure that not only is it the law in Canada, but that there are repercussions when a government fails to respond to the letter of the law?

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, from looking at the bill, I understand that accountability and transparency are issues. It is important that the bill goes to committee to ensure the minister and inspectors do not have unlimited powers and whatever powers they have are transparent and accountable.

I agree with the hon. member that the government so far has not been very accountable in that respect. Therefore, it is important the bill goes to committee for further study.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-11, an act to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins.

There is a number of pieces of legislation of a same or similar nature in which I have had some involvement. The discussion that has just taken place in House is with respect to the need for openness and transparency as key issues.

Let me briefly look at some of the basics of the bill.

First, Bill C-11 proposes a mandatory licensing system for the federal government to track what human pathogens exist, those being anthrax, salmonella and influenza, for example, where they are and who possesses them in Canada. It also proposes to provide enhanced inspection powers to inspectors to help ensure compliance with laboratory biosafety guidelines and to ensure that the legislation is applied properly and consistently across Canada.

That is a very succinct but important statement on behalf of the Government of Canada. This is a very important bill for us to have.

As the previous speaker had indicated, in a response to the question that I posed to her, there have been questions of openness and transparency with regard to the reporting of important information to the public.

In terms of the key messages, I think all members in the House are committed to improving the safety and health of Canadians. I have often said that the measure of success of a country is not so much an economic measure as it is a measure of the health and well-being of its people.

When there are circumstances where the health and well-being of people is being impacted by matters beyond their control, such as the importation or storage of such things as anthrax or salmonella or influenza, it is relevant.

We support the measures that have been proposed to improve the safety and security of Canadian laboratories for all Canadians. We want to review the legislation at committee to ensure that it is accountable, transparent and as effective as possible.

The purpose of the act, as I indicated, is to establish the safety and security regime to protect the health and safety of the public against the risks posed by human pathogens and toxins. The bill does establish that legislative framework that extends beyond the present importation and storage regime for pathogens and toxins.

The current regime requires that all labs that import human pathogens or toxins adhere to the requirements, but that these existing guidelines are not mandatory for laboratories that acquire human pathogens and toxins from domestic sources. This is a problem.

Even though they are applied widely on a voluntary basis as an industry standard, voluntary guidelines are not good enough when it comes to the health and safety of Canadians.

The bill also requires that all Canadian labs that possess human pathogens or toxins, regardless of where they were acquired, adhere to these guidelines. Bill C-11 specifically includes a number of provisions which will help to achieve these objectives.

It requires laboratories carrying out activities with risk groups two, three or four human pathogens or select toxins have to register with the Public Health Agency of Canada Office of Laboratory Security. It also subject licensees with risk group three and four pathogens and possibly select toxins to stricter operating regulations.

It requires an importation permit to import the human pathogen or toxin. It requires a transfer permit to send and receive any human pathogen or toxin between laboratories within Canada that are not part of the same facility. It also requires the authorization from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada to export agents on the export control list. It also requires licensees, as a part of their annual or biannual update of inventories, to notify the PHAC of the nature of the disposal of human pathogens and toxins.

These changes are meant to bring Canada in to line with more stringent regulations, which are in place in the United States and in the U.K., for example. It also gives substantial regulatory powers to the minister and inspectors. It will be necessary to further study these powers to ensure the transparency, effectiveness and accountability. This leads me to my specific contribution to the debate, which is with regard to the accountability aspect as well as the regulatory powers.

I have had the opportunity to be a member of the scrutiny of regulations committee, the standing joint committee of the House of Commons and Senate, for a number of years, and was its chair for a couple of years. What struck me was the regulatory guidelines and requirements, as laid out in certain pieces of legislation, tended to push the envelope with regard to a concern about what is called backdoor legislation. Backdoor legislation refers to providing undertakings or responsibilities in the regulations where that authority is not enabled by the legislation itself. It means putting something into the legislation that is not even part of the bill itself, simply covered under, “The minister may make regulations from time to time”.

When the regulations are required by a bill, the bill in the end will not show that it comes into force on receiving royal assent, but will be at a date specified by order-in-council, which is by cabinet. The reason for that is so the regulations necessary and called for under the legislation can be properly drafted, reviewed and gazetted et cetera prior to their enforcement.

There is some concern when we get to matters like this. We have seen far too many examples of where regulations have not been prepared on a timely basis. It represents a reluctance by the government to have legislation come into force. It may just simply be, here is a bill that will do all these wonderful things and it will be the law in Canada when the regulations are done.

Time and time again there have been delays in the implementation of legislation simply because regulations have not been done, and I can give an example.

One was the reproductive technologies act that I was involved with through the health committee. This dealt with the whole question of embryonic stem cell research and the establishment of a committee that would review the application of researchers to do research involving embryonic stem cells.

At that time, the officials told us in committee that the regulations required to make this happen would take something like two years, yet the government said that we needed it, that it was pursuant to a royal commission report on the reproductive technologies. It was urgent and had some very significant recommendations, but much of the legislation from years gone by is still not in place. One of the reasons for that was we put into the legislation that the minister was required to submit the proposed regulations to the committee for its comments. The minister of the day refused to give the committee the authority to amend or to reject regulations. They were simply there for review and comment.

With regard to that legislation, and it is years now after the royal commission report, which was about 15 years ago, we now have a situation where regulations pursuant to that legislation, which was passed at all stages in this place and in the other place, still are not the law in Canada. In fact, the committee to establish it has not been established and all the regulations related to the research permissions or authorizations are not in place.

Notwithstanding that Parliament as a whole, along with the Senate, passed urgent legislation, the law has not been totally put into force because regulations have not been promulgated, which totally frustrates the responsibilities of Parliament to do its job. I hope to have an opportunity to follow up with the new health minister on what the minister is doing in this regard.

However, that is a good example of a situation where legislation has gone through all stages, with two or three months of comprehensive committee hearings, and it is still not fully in force primarily due to regulations and the fact that the government has not even come forward with them.

It is not a matter of whether the regulations were a problem. As the members well know, when we deal with legislation in this place we do not get to see the regulations. We do not get to see those fine-tuning items that give us an idea of the scope or the intent of the legislation. There is a fine line at which a regulation will go beyond what was enabled in the legislation.

The Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations is there to review these things as they occur but after the fact to determine whether the regulations have been properly enabled within the legislation.

I raise that because it leads to the whole question of whether we have backdoor legislation where regulations are trying to do things that were not enabled in the legislation and whether the proviso that there be regulations made, which the government chooses not to make, could delay or even stop legislation that goes through the entire parliamentary process from ever becoming law in Canada.

How can Canadians keep ahead of the curve when they do not know whether legislation that is passed in Parliament will become law. We have far too many examples. It goes to the true question of accountability and transparency.

One of the first things the current government did was bring in the Federal Accountability Act. It puffed its chest and said that it would be accountable. When I first looked at it I thought that people should understand what the expectation was from accountability. I was looking at some of this material on the weekend and I came up with a definition that I challenge the government to follow. The definition of accountability is to explain and justify one's actions or decisions in a clear, concise and truthful manner. To synthesize this down, it means to be honest and give the straight story. I want to understand and I want to understand why the government took that decision.

If a government promises to do something and it does not do it, accountability demands that it explains and justifies that decision. Sometimes we make decisions to do things but circumstances change and it is important to back off and rethink the decisions. There is no point in going forward with something that changes because there is new information. However, when I think of some of the examples, such as promising not to tax income trusts but imposing a 31.5% tax one year later, really did not do much for the government, which boasted that it was helping seniors by introducing things like pension income splitting when it knew that over 85% of seniors would not benefit from it simply because they were in the lowest tax bracket, did not have eligible pensions or were seniors who had no one to split with.

When we take it to that extent, when the government claims that it represents 100% of a group and then does something for a group that only 14% or 15% actually can benefit from, that is not being accountable.

I have many examples of that and I hope to get a chance to talk about them at some other opportunity.

On February 22, CP had an article dealing with access to information requests. It is relevant because the concerns that have been raised by the opposition with respect to this bill have to do with transparency, accountability and openness. According to the Canwest news service, since January 2008 the Department of Foreign Affairs has prevented the release of more than 160,000 pages of government records on everything from the mission in Afghanistan, to new free trade deals with NATO, to material being left at the home of the girlfriend of the former minister of foreign affairs. It goes even further.

The Access to Information Commissioner has said that the government has demonstrated a systemic problem of inhibiting the intent of the Access to Information Act by having most of the releases vetted by the Prime Minister's Office or the Privy Council Office. This is contrary to the spirit and the intent of the law.

With respect to one of the releases, the government asked for a four month extension but once the four month extension expired the government said that even though it had the documents they were not really relevant to what was asked for so it had nothing to give. The Privy Council Office, on the other hand, turned around and said that it could not give the information because it was secret and could not be given out.

When Mr. Marleau, the Access to Information Commissioner, says that there are systemic problems in the government and that the worst offenders of the spirit and intent of the Access to Information Act are the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council Office, one can understand why the opposition is concerned about accountability, transparency and openness. An officer of Parliament, appointed by this Parliament, has said that it is the Prime Minister's own office that is the biggest problem in ensuring that Canadians do not get the information to which they are entitled.

Access to information, openness and transparency are foundations of our democracy. The Prime Minister, by denying the workability of the Access to Information Act, is taking away the opportunity for Canadians to experience what they can get under a truly democratic system. Canadians have the right to know.

If the government is not going to support the Access to Information Act and its intent and its principles, then now is the time for it to say so. If it wants to back away from the Federal Accountability Act now is the time to say so.

In these challenging times for Canadians, now is the time for the government to put the interests of the people ahead of its own partisan interests. The government has spent all of its time campaigning, not governing, and the country needs the government to govern. The government must be accountable. This litany of unaccountability must stop now in the best interests of the people of Canada.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it surprises me when a Liberal stands and talks about accountability or access to information.

I would love some information on which Quebec riding associations received money in the sponsorship program but I do not see that member offering that kind of access to information.

I am prepared to set aside most of the bluster of the member as he really did not speak to the bill at all. I am not really sure he knows what bill we are actually debating.

I would love to ask him about a recent announcement in his riding that was positively received. The Prime Minister and the Premier of Ontario recently announced significant upgrades to GO Transit in the province of Ontario. I would love him to talk about how that will benefit the people of Mississauga because it was a great announcement.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like the member to know that we are debating Bill C-11, important legislation that would provide information to Canadians. It would enable us to track human pathogens, such as anthrax, salmonella and influenza. However, the speeches that have been given today by the opposition members have to do with concerns about accountability, transparency and openness.

During my speech, I gave some examples of where we have not had the transparency and openness that Canadians deserve. It is a part of the foundation of democracy. If the member does not agree with what I had to say, I accept that because he has the right to do that, but if his only reaction to a speech that demonstrates clearly that the government has not been accountable to the people of Canada and if his only concern is what somebody did in the province of Ontario when we are talking about an important bill on human pathogens, it tells me more about the member than it does about me.

It is important for us to understand that transparency, openness and accountability are fundamental to the foundations of democracy. The opposition has raised certain considerations. We are prepared to support the objectives of the bill but we do have concerns about the mechanisms in which the transparency, openness and accountability will be delivered given the abysmal track record of the current government.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order. When debate resumes on this matter, there will be seven minutes remaining for the hon. member for Mississauga South for questions and comments consequent on his speech.

It being two o'clock, we will now proceed to statements by members.

IsraelStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, Ontario's largest public sector union, CUPE, is targeting academics simply because of their nationality and religion. This behaviour is unacceptable to Canadians and it is unacceptable to this government.

Last week our immigration minister represented the Government of Canada in London at the conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Commission for Combating Anti-Semitism, where he explained our government's concern. This new anti-Semitism seeks to deny the right of the Jewish people to secure existence in their homeland, the state of Israel.

Surely this should be an issue that all sides of the House can agree on, but unfortunately that is not the case. Even here there are those who want taxpayers to fund organizations that call Israel a racist state and members of the Bloc who circulate videos from banned terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Parliamentarians must stand up and condemn those who deny the Jewish people their right to a homeland.

Heart MonthStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, February is Heart Month and I stand to honour the hard work of all the researchers, health care providers and volunteers who work every day to improve the lives of Canadians with heart disease.

Though we have pushed the yardsticks forward, we still have a long way to go. Every seven minutes a Canadian dies from heart disease or stroke. Every seven minutes another family is thrown into crisis.

These are current statistics, but we can change them. By working together, we can save lives both today and for future generations.

I encourage all Canadians to get involved by educating their friends and colleagues about heart disease, organizing a fundraiser, learning CPR or canvassing their neighbourhoods. United, we can secure a better and healthier future for all Canadians.

Quebec International Peewee Hockey TournamentStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Pascal-Pierre Paillé Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday marked the end of the 50th Quebec International Peewee Hockey Tournament, which was held from February 11 to 22. It is the biggest minor hockey tournament in the world.

Over the past 50 years, the Carnaval peewees have become a winter-season fixture in the capital. This year, more than 2,300 players aged 11 and 12, from 16 countries, fought for the honour of becoming the world peewee hockey champions. These young players had some unforgettable encounters and, i am sure, left with unforgettable memories.

All of my Bloc Québécois colleagues join me in saluting the work of the organizers, coaches, officials, chaperones and volunteers who spared no effort to make this tournament a spectacular success. I would also like to congratulate the Donnacona—Pont-Rouge Diablos, who were crowned the champions of the C international finals. They gave their all for their coach, Michel Bédard, who is currently fighting cancer.

We are very proud to have hosted the 50th tournament in Quebec City.

Social AssistanceStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, my office has been flooded with calls from people who are falling through the cracks. We have seniors living in poverty whose pensions are not adequate and whose homes need repair, yet folks cannot tap into government programs because money is required up front and only part of their expense is reimbursed.

A lot of people who have lost their jobs cannot reach the employment insurance office by phone. They are forced to wait four to six weeks because of the delay.

People are running out of benefits, and the new five-week extension is not applicable to everyone currently receiving assistance.

Immigration backlogs continue to result in family separation, with the very frequent denial of visitor visas. Eligibility for the child tax benefit is often hard to prove to the satisfaction of Revenue Canada. Day care is very hard to secure for young working parents, and students are being punished with the unfairness of student loan programs. Many of our civil servants are overworked and cannot keep up with the increasing demand for help.

It is high time our government found enough resources to ensure that the most vulnerable get the help they need.

Parliamentary Outdoors CaucusStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary outdoors caucus represents the Canadian heritage activities of hunting, fishing, sport shooting and trapping. As the largest federal all-party caucus during the last Parliament, its goal is to preserve and promote these activities, protect them by law and encourage the public to accept them as traditional and environmentally responsible pillars in Canadian culture.

Rural and urban Canadians of all political affiliations, backgrounds, ages and abilities contribute over $10 billion annually to the national economy through these outdoor activities.

I cordially invite all MPs and senators to join us tomorrow, February 24, in the parliamentary restaurant at 7:30 a.m. for our annual breakfast meeting. MPs and senators are sure to enjoy our keynote speaker, Shane Mahoney of Newfoundland, a treasured environmentalist and conservationist.

We are indebted to Phil Morlock, chair of the government affairs committee at the Canadian Sportfishing Industry Association, for his advice and hard work in bringing the outdoors community indoors to Parliament Hill. Of course, Mr. Speaker, you are invited too.

Women's Executive Network Top 100 AwardStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Bonnie Crombie Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to an extraordinary entrepreneur in my riding, Neena Kanwar, who is recognized by the Women's Executive Network as one of the top 100 women in Canada for 2008.

Mississauga's Neena Kanwar was chosen as a winner in the entrepreneur category. Neena Kanwar is an amazing trailblazer. Neena and her husband, Vijay Jeet Kanwar, co-founded KMH Cardiology and Diagnostic Centres, headquartered in Mississauga. She is CEO of the company, which employs 150 people and provides nuclear medicine, cardiology and MRI diagnostic services in treating heart-related illnesses.

Each year more than 75,000 patients are referred to KMH for medical tests. Not only is Neena a brilliant innovator in her field, but she is a generous contributor to her community, having donated $5 million to the Credit Valley Hospital to name the ambulatory care centre. As well, she launched the KMH Family Assistance Services foundation, helping people break the cycle of poverty.

I am proud of Neena's accomplishments and delighted that the Women's Executive Network recognized her for her entrepreneurial spirit.