House of Commons Hansard #40 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.


Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

October 31st, 2011 / 11:05 a.m.


Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

moved that Bill C-313, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (non-corrective cosmetic contact lenses), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, today, I am honoured to speak in support of my private member's bill, Bill C-313, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (non-corrective cosmetic contact lenses), in order cosmetic or decorative contact lenses under the same medical device regulations as corrective contact lenses.

I thank the professionals within the eye care community who have contacted my office in recent weeks with their kind words of support for my private member's bill.

Each member in the House today has representatives of the eye care industry in their riding, and I hope members will heed their warnings about the dangers of the incorrect use of decorative contact lenses that we are hearing more about each day in news reports and medical studies.

Bill C-313 has gained the support of three eye care organizations representing various professionals from the eye care industry. The Canadian Association of Optometrists, the Opticians Association of Canada and the Canada Opthalmological Society are important stakeholders in any discussion on eye care related to their profession.

Today, I intend to share medical evidence with hon. members that will show the clear need for the provision sought after by Bill C-313.

Before we discuss Bill C-313 further, I want to take members back to a different time and place, to the autumn of 2007 in the 39th Parliament of Canada. It was during that period that the concerns of eye care professionals from across Canada were first brought to my attention. At the time, I was an active member of the Standing Committee on Health.

There were many concerns that were brought forward to the parliamentarians on that committee, and while all the concerns were important, I was particularly seized by the concerns that were brought to me by the professional eye care organizations in relation to the lack of regulatory oversight on what were called non-corrective cosmetic contact lenses.

It is very easy to break down the main concern brought forward to me all those years ago. A cosmetic contact lens is identical to a corrective lens in terms of its impact on the human eyeball, with the only difference being that it does not correct a sight imbalance.

However, despite the fact that they are identical to a corrective lens, these cosmetic lenses were and, to this day, continue to be free of regulatory oversight similar to the provisions in place for corrective lenses.

It was with this simple fact in mind that I began work in 2007 to further understand the risks of cosmetic contact lenses. We must remember that cosmetic, decorative and plano contact lenses are all referring to the same product. I will use all three terms in my discussion today.

After extensive study, liaising with health researchers and eye care professionals, meeting with our own experts from Health Canada and engaging with the opposition health critics, I developed a strategy that would ensure that Canadians' eye health would be protected. The result was private member's Motion No. 409, which proposed that cosmetic lenses should be classified as medical devices and be regulated accordingly under the Food and Drugs Act.

The actual text of Motion No. 409 read as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, the Minister of Health should regulate non-corrective, cosmetic contact lenses as medical devices under the Hazardous Product Act or the Food and Drugs Act.

The motion passed unanimously on March 7, 2008, in a fractured minority Parliament, no less, which I believe is a testament to the fact that this is not a political issue. Rather, we are discussing a human health issue that could impact many Canadians, especially our youth, which I will speak to shortly.

Due to the importance of the motion to Canadians' health, I was able to obtain the full support of all the opposition parties and their health critics, in addition to the support of the government and the Minister of Health. Today, I seek that same support from across the aisle.

I was pleased that the government acted upon the unanimously passed motion. It was in 2008 that the Government of Canada, upon advice from Health Canada, introduced my motion as an amendment to the omnibus Food and Drugs Act amendment in the former Bill C-51, which was introduced in April 2008, but which also died on the order paper upon the election in the fall of 2008.

It was unfortunate that having already had my private member's spot used in the 39th Parliament, I found myself near the bottom of the long private members' business list. This meant I would not have the ability to bring this legislative change forward for some time.

Moving ahead to late 2010, now in the 40th Parliament, it became evident that I would possibly have the ability to bring forward private members' business. Knowing that I had unfinished business, I reached out to the professional eye care organizations to begin discussions on the types of legislative remedies that could be brought forward.

My main concern was to ensure that my private member's bill would adequately and fully address the concerns held by myself, other parliamentarians and thousands of eye care professionals across Canada.

Of course, we have had another election since then and, upon being re-elected by the citizens of Sarnia—Lambton, I found myself returning to a new House of Commons in the 41st Parliament. I also found myself near the top of the list for private member's business, meaning that months of research and effort through my office were about to be realized in terms of finally bridging the regulatory gaps that exist for decorative non-corrective lenses.

The culmination of this long process now stands before the House of Commons for debate. With this brief background on my bill now before the House, I would like to discuss Bill C-313, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (non-corrective cosmetic contact lenses), with everyone today.

I can sum up the situation regarding the need for my legislation in one sentence regarding non-corrective cosmetic lenses. National distribution of these products without professional oversight, fitting and training significantly increases the risk of public harm.

The difference between 2007, when I first brought my private member's motion forward, and 2011, is that I now have the peer reviewed medical evidence to back up my claim. Today, we now know that the warnings on cosmetic lenses dating back to October 23, 2000 by Health Canada are, in fact, quite well warranted and now demand a legislative recourse to alleviate the potential harm that could be done to consumers of these products.

To some, it may seem that to deem a decorative lens as a harmful product is somewhat overreaching, yet eye care professionals and medical researchers have shown otherwise. A short list of the complications that could occur due to unsafe handling and wearing an improperly fitted lens in one's eye, along with the lack of professional oversight when these products are initially obtained by the consumer, includes the following: conjunctivitis, corneal abrasions, giant papillary conjunctivitis, microbial keratitis and other forms of bacterial, allergic and microbial infection as specified by the eye care industry.

Already we know that these complications all occur with prescribed corrective lenses, which is exactly why Health Canada regulates the use of these product through opticians and regulatory bodies. What has now been shown as fact through peer reviewed studies is that non-prescribed decorative or cosmetic lenses are much more likely to cause complications to users for a combination of factors, including lack of oversight on the product for the consumer in terms of how to use the product and in terms of the potential quality of the product.

It should be noted that some businesses import cosmetic lenses from parts of the world where production of the device to be fitted into a human eye does not necessarily take the best precautions in terms of the quality of their product, leading to the rise of bacterial infections and microbial issues. These companies make large profits off a consumer base that is woefully unaware of the potential harm they are causing to their own eye sight.

A recent search on the Internet for cosmetic contact lenses Canada brought up over one million hits. The top hits on the search were for several large marketing and distributing companies that sell cosmetic lenses made in certain regions not as well-known as Canada for having strong consumer protection measures. This is extremely concerning and we can be sure that the regulatory oversight that Bill C-313 would provide should help to shed some light on the businesses that are importing and providing these products to consumers with little to no oversight or concern for the consumer of their product.

To date, we have now seen several studies on the issue of decorative lenses and the harm they can cause to consumers. Perhaps the most well-known study in Canada is the human health risk assessment of cosmetic contact lenses conducted by Dillon Consulting Limited, also known as the Dillon report. The final assessment was submitted to Health Canada in September 2003 and it outlined the scientific evidence, which at that point was still being debated by public health officials, that the level of risk associated with the use of cosmetic contact lenses was comparable to that associated with corrective lenses and maybe potentially higher. The main issue here is that corrective lenses are subject to professional monitoring and proper regulatory oversight. Cosmetic lenses are not.

The Dillon report also called for the following risk management strategies: individual screening should take place before a cosmetic lens is sold to a customer; proper fitting should be ensured; adequate instruction on cleaning and sterilization should occur; familiarization with recognition of potential symptoms related to the condition of the eye; and, regular aftercare.

To date, not one of the suggested risk management strategies called for in this report have been adopted, while corrective lenses are strictly defined by Health Canada. With this in mind, we must all ask the question why this has been allowed to occur for so long despite the long-standing pleas of the eye care industry and medical researchers.

To recap our discussions thus far, the main concerns Bill C-313 seeks to redress is that cosmetic or decorative cosmetic lenses are being dispensed without a prescription or fitting from unlicensed vendors. Consequently, uninformed lens wearers are experiencing acute, vision threatening infections and inflammation.

This has now become an accepted fact due to a recent study that appeared in Acta Ophthalmologica, the official medical journal for optometrists and ophthalmologists in Europe. In this study, research conducted at the Department of Opthalmology at Strasbourg University Hospital in Strasbourg, France, clearly indicated that:

Patients who acquire CosCL are less likely to be instructed on appropriate lenses use and basic hygiene rules. Consequently, CosCL wearers are experiencing acute vision-threatening infections.

The study in question focused on a bacterial infection known as microbial keratitis, a common yet preventable infection that can occur in wearers of contact lenses, both corrective and non-corrective cosmetic varieties. This study has shown that wearers of cosmetic lenses were at higher risk, with 79% of the controlled group of cosmetic contact lens wearers suffering from corneal scraping. However, the study showed that only 51% of corrective contact lens wearers suffered similar affects. Meanwhile, more than half of the cosmetic lens wearers who were shown to have suffered corneal scraping were also shown to have serious microbial infection as well in the eye.

The study concludes that the increasingly documented risks of easily accessible cosmetic contact lenses were a serious concern in France where the study took place.

There is no reason to believe that the situation is any different in Canada. The Dillon report of 2003, which, in many ways, served as a groundbreaker on this issue, also came to the same conclusions as the French study in 2011.

Considering the medical evidence that clearly shows the need for the provisions contained in Bill C-313, it is important to note that Canada is at least a decade behind other jurisdictions such as the United States and Europe in achieving proper regulations for cosmetic, decorative or plano lenses.

No matter what we want to call them, it is scientific fact that there are issues with these lenses being improperly sold and used in our nation. The risk was sufficient enough that, in 2000, Health Canada issued a public health warning. In 2003, a human health risk assessment was conducted. In 2008, this House of Commons unanimously agreed with the viewpoint that cosmetic lenses were indeed a risk to Canadian consumers and that we must take action.

Although I have spoken at great length as to the risks of cosmetic contact lenses and, therefore, the need for the provisions of Bill C-313, I will share with the House a quote from Dr. Lillian Linton, president of the Canadian Association of Optometrists, who stated:

This is about people’s eyesight…and in most cases young people’s eyesight! There are daily news stories from around the world about the complications that can arise due to ill-fitting cosmetic lenses or improper use and handling. It is an important vision health issue and the optometrists, opticians and ophthalmologists of Canada are asking for unanimous support from the House, Senate and Health Canada to adopt this amendment and enact it with haste.

I could not agree more with Dr. Linton.

The time has come for us as parliamentarians to join together to support Bill C-313 so that we can ensure that much needed oversight is finally brought forward. In doing so, Canada can reclaim the proper regulatory powers over the importers of these products who so callously flood the Canadian market while doing untold damage to hundreds of thousands of young Canadians' eyes, completely unbeknown to most consumers, unfortunately.

With this in mind, I call on parliamentarians in the House today to stand in support of Bill C-313.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Sarnia—Lambton very much for her excellent and very well-written bill. I do have a concern, however, and I have a question for the Conservatives.

We have seen the Conservatives neglect all issues related to the health of Canadians. Why is this measure coming from a single member instead of the government? Does the Conservative government not think it has a role to play in protecting the health of Canadians, especially when it comes to vision? I thank the member for answering my questions.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is an issue I brought forward in 2007. It was a private member's motion that was supported unanimously by the House. It was not only supported by the House, it was also supported by the government and Health Canada. That motion was put into Bill C-51 that was before the House. If it had not been for the fact that the bill died on the order paper because of an election, this would already be in legislation.

The government does support it. It has tried to bring it forward. It is not a case of the government not supporting it, or being negligent by not doing this. There has been support all the way through on this bill and on this issue from Health Canada and the government.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party has been somewhat supportive of the bill and we appreciate the member's efforts in bringing it forward.

The member touched upon a very serious issue. Many consumer advocates and others would see the merit in the bill, but there is another issue dealing with our eyes and vision. That is the whole concept of laser surgery, which is becoming more and more commonplace.

I wonder if the member could give us her thoughts in terms of what role government might have to play in this whole area that is relatively new to our health care system? Does she believe there is any merit in looking at ways in which we can support laser eye treatment, whether it is the federal government or provincial government?

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is an issue that is definitely not addressed by the bill before the House today. Personally, I know of several people who have had laser surgery. I know of several people who have had it very successfully, but I have not done research into it. I certainly am not qualified to speak on it.

I feel that is something that is another topic. Definitely, the government is extremely interested in improving the health of all Canadians, whether it be eye health, or whatever. Therefore, if the issue was studied and it seemed to have merit, then that is a topic for another day. However, right now this bill deals with cosmetic contact lenses.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Sarnia—Lambton for this very good private member's bill.

I am the father of two young daughters, 11 and 7. One will be 12 tomorrow. Happy birthday, Sarah. I will get that on the record now.

I am particularly concerned about young people using cosmetic contact lenses for decoration, even for play. Is there anything specifically in the bill that is targeted to keep children, in particular, safe from the use of cosmetic contact lenses?

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question and wish Sarah a happy birthday as well.

Certainly, we know that there are a tremendous number of young people who make use of cosmetic contact lenses. It is a coincidence the bill is being introduced today on Halloween. We know that Halloween is a time when so many young people, as well as those who are not so young, make use of cosmetic contact lenses. They use them for a variety of reasons.

This bill would ensure that cosmetic contact lenses were regulated the same as corrective contact lenses. Therefore, it is seen very much by the eye care professionals, and by Health Canada, as being an extremely protective measure for our young people and the health of their eyesight.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, I thank the member for Sarnia—Lambton for her bill. This bill must be included in Health Canada's regulations.

I will explain the issue here. In Canada, corrective contact lenses, which are different than cosmetic contact lenses, are currently regulated by Health Canada, in the category of class II medical devices. There are risks associated with wearing contact lenses, especially if they are not used properly and if people do not know how to handle them and take care of them. I will speak about these risks later on. It is important for corrective contact lenses to be in this category.

In Canada, there is a small loophole in the system when it comes to cosmetic contact lenses. Today is Halloween and some people are wearing contacts that look like cat eyes to hide their irises. These are what we refer to as cosmetic contact lenses. Right now, these contact lenses carry the same risks as corrective contact lenses, but they are not covered by the regulations. People who have vision problems must consult an optometrist to get a prescription. They then purchase their contact lenses from a health professional, who will teach them how to use them and how to take proper care of their contact lenses, which helps prevent health problems.

Right now, cosmetic contact lenses are not regulated. People who want to buy cosmetic contact lenses for different reasons can purchase them anywhere—on the Internet, at a beauty salon, and so on. The lack of regulations is part of the problem.

Many such cosmetic contact lenses can be found on the market and are of poor quality. Contact lenses should allow oxygen to flow to the eye, but lesser-quality cosmetic contact lenses can deprive the eye of oxygen, which can lead to problems. If people are not properly informed about how to care for their contact lenses, they might use them incorrectly. When contact lenses are prescribed by an optometrist, they are custom-made—each eye is even different. Wearing unregulated cosmetic contact lenses poses a greater risk because they are not fitted to the eyes.

The risks associated with using contact lenses incorrectly include allergic reactions, bacterial infections, inflammation of the cornea, cornea ulceration or abrasions, vision problems, and even blindness or the loss of an eye. These are very serious risks. Ideally, these risks would not result in the loss of an eye. However, when the misuse of contact lenses damages the cornea, the effects can be felt within the first 24 hours.

Since it is primarily young people who wear these contact lenses for esthetic reasons, they run a greater risk of having their symptoms misdiagnosed and not taking care of their eyes properly. In addition, if the diagnosis comes too late, the problem could be difficult to treat and, in some cases, could even lead to permanent blindness. That is the worst-case scenario, which we want to avoid.

The NDP and the Conservatives are not the only ones asking for the law to be changed. For the past 10 years, the Canadian Association of Optometrists, the Canadian Ophthalmological Society and the Opticians Association of Canada having been issuing warnings specifically to urge the government to pass legislation on this.

I am very pleased that the Conservative member is reintroducing her bill. It was a shame that it died on the order paper. Today being Halloween, it is the peak time for the use of cosmetic contact lenses. It is too bad this legislation is not covering this time of year when there is an increased use of cosmetic contact lenses, but I hope this bill will be able to help young people next Halloween and provide them with good vision health.

I would also like to quote Dr. Lillian Linton, President of the Canadian Association of Optometrists. I believe it is important to seek expert advice on this, especially when this association has been calling for legislative amendments for 10 years. She said:

This is about people’s eyesight…and in most cases young people’s eyesight! There are daily news stories from around the world about the complications that can arise due to ill-fitting cosmetic lenses or improper use and handling.

Dr. Linton also said that this is an important vision health issue and that the optometrists, opticians and ophthalmologists of Canada are asking for unanimous support from the House, the Senate and Health Canada to adopt this amendment and enact it quickly. I am also pleased that Health Canada is willing to amend the legislation.

I will share some statistics to help the House understand how important it is to pass this bill. Among the users of corrective lenses—I am not talking about cosmetic lenses—the rate of serious injury is 1%, which is not insignificant. Those who have had a prescription for specialty contact lenses have received instructions from their health care professional on how to insert them, take care of them and remove them. Even among people who use those types of contact lenses, 1% of them have the serious injuries I was referring to earlier. The general rate of complication is roughly 10%. It is therefore very important that these contact lenses, whether they are cosmetic or corrective, be prescribed by a health care professional and delivered by a qualified person who can explain how to wear them properly.

Researchers in France recently conducted a very interesting study. They found that the risk of eye infection caused by wearing contact lenses was 12 times greater for people who wear cosmetic lenses than for people who wear corrective lenses. This again shows that people who have not been given instruction on their proper use have a greater risk of suffering health problems, which could further tax our Canadian health care system. No one here wants that.

Things are different in the United States. It had the same problem as Canada. Cosmetic contact lenses were not regulated. In 2005, the U.S. passed legislation, almost the same as the legislation proposed, for cosmetic contact lenses to be considered class II medical devices. I would have liked Canada to take the lead in this regard, but at least we can improve the vision health of Canadians.

The recent U.S. study indicated that contact lenses, both cosmetic and corrective, are the main cause of lesions in children over 11. This statistic indicates how important it is to pass this bill.

In closing, I would like to remind members that it is important that the House pass this bill. The House had already unanimously passed a similar bill, which unfortunately died on the order paper. I hope all members will support the bill.

I again thank the member for Sarnia—Lambton for reintroducing her bill, which will protect the vision of all Canadians who wear contact lenses, especially young children.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, this private member's bill in the name of the member for Sarnia—Lambton is excellent and the Liberals will be supporting it.

This is a long time in coming. It is almost a decade since the 2000 health warning issued by Health Canada with regard to cosmetic contact lenses and regulations have not been established. What the hon. member is doing is very important. She is attempting to move cosmetic contact lenses into class II of the medical devices regulations. This means they would be treated the same way as corrective contact lenses are treated.

These measures would do a few things. They would manage the quality of products. They would regulate the distribution of contact lenses. They would increase awareness of the damage that cosmetic contact lenses can do. The member spoke to the damages which could ensue, such as, infection, vision loss and corneal damage. Those things come about because cosmetic contact lenses that are sold at the corner store or as cosmetic products and nothing more will fit badly. Ill-fitting contact lenses can cause major problems. They may also be improperly handled or housed in an inappropriate container which could cause infection. Most young people do not think they are real. They treat them like cosmetics and tend not to handle them properly. If people want to use them on Halloween, for example, they are going to look for the cheapest products and will probably buy products that are made from substandard materials which are to be used once and thrown away.

This is an important issue. It is about preventing vision loss. As the member said, the Canadian Association of Optometrists and the Opticians Association of Canada support this bill, as does the Canadian Ophthalmological Society. They say that this has been a long time coming.

In 2003 Health Canada issued a report on the risk assessment of wearing cosmetic contact lenses. Cosmetic contact lenses are relatively new, so there is no body of data going back 20 years looking at a longitudinal study of it. We know enough now to know that contact lenses, whether they are corrective or cosmetic, can interfere with the flow of oxygen to the cornea. It could cause swelling or ulceration of the cornea, which could lead to inappropriate vision entirely.

Debris or dirt can get under contact lenses if they are not handled carefully, such as if they are thrown on a table and picked up again. Micro particles can abrade the wearer's corneas. Dirt and debris can get underneath ill-fitting contact lenses. There can be chemical or allergic reactions. There can be contamination of the lenses from micro-organisms, again due to inappropriate handling when putting them in. People can get ulcerative keratitis from repeated infection of the cornea, which ultimately could lead to blindness.

It is interesting to note that contact lenses can cause a temporary change in the shape of a person's corneas. This would necessitate the use of corrective glasses because the person's corneas have changed over a period of time.

That sounds horrendous, but it is why contact lenses should be dispensed by a licensed and trained professional, such as an optician, optometrist or ophthalmologist, to ensure proper fitting, supervision and education on how to handle contact lenses.

A study in the United States showed that 79.2% of cosmetic contact lenses were illegally sold, as opposed to about 10% of prescription contact lenses which were sold illegally. There is a black market for the sale of cosmetic contact lenses. They are seen to be used for cosmetic purposes only and used only once or twice. Contact lenses have a 33% incidence of corneal ulcers, which is a particularly high percentage, and a 20% incidence of corneal abrasions.

What is important about this bill is that it is a preventive measure. It could prevent blindness, and I am not being hysterical in saying that. The hon. member was very clear about some of the things and this is what opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists are now saying. This is an important first step.

While we have no control over provincial governments, passing this bill could encourage them to look at this issue. They are the ones with the authority to regulate cosmetic lenses. They could make the regulations the same as those that deal with prescription lenses. That would be the next step we hope would happen. That would mean there would be regulations regarding who could prescribe and dispense cosmetic contact lenses. This is the ultimate result which I think my hon. colleague is hoping to achieve.

Young people tend to use cosmetic contact lenses a lot. They may want to have green eyes when they go to a party, or cat's eyes on Hallowe'en. They do not understand the danger and the damage that could occur. Sixty per cent of the people in theatre who wear contact lenses to change their look as part of their make-up get eye infections from using cosmetic contact lenses, as opposed to 13% who have corrective contact lenses that were prescribed by a licensed individual.

I support this bill to include cosmetic contact lenses as a class II medical device. They would be included with other devices, such as contact lenses, pregnancy tests, ultrasound scanners, endoscopes, et cetera. This ensures these medical devices are properly regulated, that the quality control is there and that they are distributed by people who are properly licensed. Manufacturers require a Health Canada licence before selling or advertising class II devices. This would mean that cosmetic lenses would require a special licence before they could be sold or dispensed. Non-corrective lenses that are designed to change the shape and colour of one's eyes need to be included in this category. As I said before, it is not only the other things we talked about, but changing the shape of a person's cornea over a period of time of using an ill-fitting lens is very dangerous.

I want to thank the hon. member for bringing forward this bill.

I want to end by quoting the United States Food and Drug Administration which said, “Without a valid prescription, fitting, supervision, or regular check-ups by a qualified eye care professional, decorative contact lenses, like all contact lenses, can cause a variety of serious injuries or conditions” which “can lead rapidly to internal ocular infection if left untreated”. They can affect inside the eye, not only the surface of the eye. It also said that uncontrolled infection can cause permanent corneal scarring. The United States declared in November 2005 that all contact lenses, corrective and non-corrective, should be under the medical device classification, requiring a prescription, an appropriate fitting and appropriate consultation.

By adding non-corrective contact lenses as a medical device under the Food and Drugs Act, we could ensure greater safety in the manufacture and sale of these lenses. Liberals support evidence-based policy and recognize that this is in keeping with good health care.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-313, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (non-corrective cosmetic contact lenses). I congratulate the member for Sarnia—Lambton for introducing this private member's bill. It is not often that we get a chance to introduce private member's bills. This one is very well thought out. The member is a strong representative of her riding. I remember visiting her five or six years ago. She served for some time as warden of Lambton County and also as mayor of Wyoming in Plympton-Wyoming for 16 years. She has to be one of the longest serving mayors in Ontario. Certainly she is the first mayor to serve as the mayor of Plympton-Wyoming.

Many members from the west may be surprised to learn that the very first commercial oil well ever drilled not just in Canada but in North America was drilled in Oil Springs, Lambton County in 1858. The oil industry and energy industry really started in southwestern Ontario, which is still home to many petrochemical and refinery companies. It is a great area of the world that has produced strong baseball teams, strong farm families, and now a strong member of Parliament who has introduced a very good piece of legislation.

All members in the House would agree that eyesight is a gift and it is not something we should ever take for granted. We would also agree that products we put directly on our eyes should be of high quality and safe to use for those purposes. We would also agree that because our eyesight is so very important, consumers should have the information necessary to make an informed decision about whether or not to purchase the product, and once they have, they should also know how to use that product in a safe way.

For all those reasons, this private member's bill is important legislation. It would help us address a long-standing safety issue related to the sale and use of these products. Cosmetic lenses, also known as non-corrective contact lenses, are used to change the appearance of the eye. They are available in a wide range of colours and designs. They are used primarily to make a fashion statement. Today is Halloween and tonight many Canadian children and adults will either go trick or treating or to a Halloween party. Many people will be wearing costumes. These costumes often include cosmetic lenses.

While I have never used them myself, I have seen them and they sometimes can be disconcerting. I have seen red vampire eyes, yellow cat's eyes, even starry eyes. There is a wide range of cosmetic lenses. They often are purchased over the Internet or at a costume retailer, as opposed to corrective lenses which are purchased at drug stores. Unlike corrective contact lenses, there are no labelling requirements to make consumers aware of the potential health and safety risks, or to provide instructions as to their proper use and care.

Cosmetic lenses are identical to corrective lenses, with one exception. Cosmetic and corrective lenses are used in the same way and pose the same risks to human health. The only difference is that cosmetic contact lenses do not correct vision. Even though these two products pose a similar risk, they fall under two different sets of regulations and regulatory regimes. That is the problem this bill would fix.

On the one hand, corrective lenses are considered to be medical devices and are regulated under the Food and Drugs Act and the medical devices regulations. On the other hand, cosmetic contact lenses are considered to be consumer products and are regulated under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. The bill before us today would help to harmonize those two sets of regulations by bringing both cosmetic and corrective lenses under the Food and Drugs Act and the medical devices regulations so that there would be greater clarity for consumers and greater health and safety standards for Canadians. That would mean both cosmetic and corrective lenses would be subject to the same rules for health and safety.

In the last Parliament, our government introduced the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, which is strong legislation. It came into force earlier this year with support from both sides of the House. It strengthens the product and the protection of health and safety of Canadians by requiring suppliers of consumer products to report any safety-related incidents, including serious injuries or deaths, and to report any recalls or any other regulatory action in other jurisdictions.

As a consumer product, cosmetic lenses are regulated under the new legislation. It means that defective cosmetic lenses could be recalled by Health Canada if they posed an unreasonable danger to human health and safety.

However, while the new legislation will give Health Canada the powers of recall and while it is a much improve regulatory framework under which we will regulate consumer products in Canada, it does have one hole in it. The problem is it does not require companies selling these cosmetic lenses to meet the same labelling and consumer instruction standards. That is exactly what Bill C-313 would fix. It would fix this problem by regulating cosmetic lenses as medical devices under the Food and Drugs Act and the Medical Devices Regulations.

It would also require companies to report problems and provide additional information if Health Canada requested it. It would also ensure that all cosmetic lenses met the same regulatory standards as corrective lenses, in other words, the same standards as class II medical devices. Most important, it would ensure that proper information be contained on the packages to allow consumers to make an informed choice as to whether to buy the product and if they bought the product, what the proper use of the product would be to ensure eye safety.

Bill C-313 would require that cosmetic lenses meet specific labelling requirements, including instructions for use on the product label. It would provide consumers instructions on how to use the product safely and effectively, which would go a long way in reducing the risks associated with cosmetic contact lenses.

It is important to point out one thing. The legislation would, in no way, mandate prescriptions for cosmetic lenses. Whether to require prescriptions for lenses is a decision of the provinces and the legislation would not change that fact.

However, there are two other important aspects of the legislation that are worth pointing out.

The legislation would simplify the Canadian regulatory framework by bringing both corrective and cosmetic lenses under the same regulatory framework, as opposed to the current situation, which is where one is regulated under one act and the other is regulated under another act. This would ensure that both products would be regulated in a similar fashion.

The second thing it would do is harmonize our regulations with our largest trading partner. Since 2005, all cosmetic lenses sold in the United States have been regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Currently, many Canadian consumers who purchase these products are confused because many of these cosmetic lenses have labels on them that say “FDA approved”. They are confused as to whether they are safe for use in Canada. They are also concerned when they see products that have not been labelled in a similar fashion. The bill would ensure harmonization of cross-border regulations between Canada and our largest trading partner.

I want to once again congratulate the member for bringing forward the legislation. It would allow consumers to continue to have access to high-quality, safe cosmetic lenses. It would simplify our Canadian regulatory framework. It would harmonize the regulations with that of our largest trading partner. Most important, it would require full information be put on the package to allow consumers to make an informed decision about purchasing the product and, once purchased, ensure that consumers would have all the information required in order to use these cosmetic lenses safely.

For all these reasons, I encourage members of the House to support the legislation. I congratulate the member for bringing it forward.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Ruth Ellen Brosseau NDP Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank my colleague from Sarnia—Lambton for introducing this bill. I think it is very important.

We must protect Canadians' ocular health. This very simple measure will help reduce the number of eye injuries. Cosmetic contact lenses must be subject to the same regulations as corrective lenses because they present the same health risks. Bill C-313 will help fix a problem that health care professionals have been calling on the government to fix for years.

One of the primary responsibilities of the government should be to protect Canadians from potentially dangerous products. The bill would ensure that corrective contact lenses and cosmetic contact lenses are subject to the same government regulations, since their use presents the same health risks.

Over the past 10 years, health care professionals have warned Canadians about the risks and dangers associated with using unregulated cosmetic lenses. In 2000, Health Canada issued a warning about cosmetic contact lenses and recommended that they be used only under the supervision of an eye care professional. In 2003, Health Canada recommended that the federal government regulate the use of cosmetic contact lenses.

The risks associated with using cosmetic contact lenses without professional oversight have been extensively documented. Problems occur when the contacts are not fitted to the eye—like shoe size, eye size varies greatly from one person to another—when the contacts are of questionable quality, or when they come from a truly unknown supplier.

Problems often occur when consumers are not given the appropriate and necessary information and instructions on how to use the contacts safely, for example, how to put them in, how to take them out and how to clean them.

Cosmetic contact lenses can be quite funky and there are many different types—there are some that look like soccer balls, some that make the iris appear larger, and other sometimes very funny things. Many young people share these contacts but they definitely should not in order to avoid infection.

Cosmetic contact lenses are becoming increasingly popular and, since today is Halloween, they are being sold absolutely everywhere: in convenience stores, beauty salons, and so on.

According to a report published by Health Canada in 2003, the rate of serious injury among people using corrective contact lenses every day is approximately 1% and the overall rate of complication is about 10%. It is estimated that the rate of injury and complication—for example, infection, inflammation or ulceration—is much higher among cosmetic contact lens users.

In 2007, vision loss accounted for the Canadian health care system's highest direct cost, as compared to any other illness. Doctors also say that wearing these contacts prevents people from seeing contrasts properly. Contact lenses reduce the eyes' sensitivity. It is sometimes very difficult to see when wearing cosmetic contacts because there is something in the eye. This results in improper vision. Someone who is wearing them while driving could even cause an accident.

There are many viruses and bacteria that attack the eyes, and we never know which may attack our eyes. This can happen if we share lenses with a friend who has an infection. So we have to be very cautious when we share contact lenses with other people. The best thing is simply not to do it at all.

Wearing cosmetic contact lenses can lead to a lot of other problems.

These contact lenses are meant to be worn up to a certain date. There is an expiry date, as for milk. Often, people who wear them forget to take them out and throw them in the garbage. That leads to various complications, such as corneal ulcers. Corneal ulcers are genuinely dangerous and can cause scarring of the eyes. That is truly dangerous. If they are not treated, the ulcers can even lead to permanent loss of sight.

Even though cosmetic contact lenses seem harmless, they can cause eye injuries in a person who wears them: an allergic reaction, a bacterial infection, swelling or inflammation of the cornea, and ulceration or scratching of the cornea. These sight problems can become permanent.

Some of these injuries occur in less than 24 hours. They can be very difficult to treat and in some cases can become permanent. The potential risks associated with this type of contact lens are a known fact. As well, there are numerous studies and there is considerable evidence showing the potential dangers associated with misuse of cosmetic contact lenses without supervision by a specialist.

But passing this bill is merely the first step. What the federal government has to do is work with the provinces and territories to establish an effective regulatory scheme for cosmetic contact lenses.

We are talking a lot about Halloween. As mothers, we look for clothing to use for costumes. My little boy, who is 10 years old, has asked for contact lenses for his costume. I therefore think that regulation is very appropriate, and I congratulate my colleague opposite on her bill.

I join my colleagues in the NDP in supporting this bill.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business



Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Sarnia—Lambton, whose constituency is next door to mine, for bringing forward her bill, Bill C-313. I also acknowledge that she and I have spent time working together in terms of being a mayor. I think she holds the title of a warden of a county, elected more times and for a longer period than anyone of whom I know.

Bill C-313 would amend the Food and Drugs Act. Much has been said this morning about the significance of the bill. It is clearly one that wants to see cosmetic contact lenses classified and regulated as medical devices. It appears that the cosmetic contact lenses and, in fact, the corrective lenses go through the same process in their development. It is actually the oversight of the regulatory concerns that go with it.

The member and I both wear glasses. We come with two sets of eyes. These products are mostly used by younger people. We need to ensure that what we do we do for the best health of Canadians. I know all of us in this place come forward today to ensure that we do what we can to protect the health of Canadians.

Today I hear support for the bill. I want to congratulate my colleague for bringing forward this important issue on the health of our eyes.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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

The hon. member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex will have eight minutes remaining when this matter returns to the House.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON


That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) ban the use and export of asbestos; (b) support international efforts to add chrysotile asbestos to the list of hazardous chemical products under the Rotterdam Convention; (c) assist affected workers by developing a Just Transition Plan with measures to accommodate their re-entry into the workforce; (d) introduce measures dedicated to affected older workers, through the employment insurance program, to assure them of a decent standard of living until retirement; and (e) support communities and municipalities in asbestos producing regions through an investment fund for regional economic diversification.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to introduce this New Democratic Party motion calling for a ban on the use and export of all forms of asbestos and a just transition plan for asbestos-producing workers and communities.

I am especially honoured to share my time with my colleague from Winnipeg Centre. Like me, he was exposed early to asbestos and he became a tenacious labour leader for health and safety rights for workers. Since his election 14 years ago, in 1997, he has championed in this House the ban on asbestos.

Today we are closer to that than ever before. I am grateful for my colleague, for my New Democratic Party and for a broad coalition of national and international health care, trade union and human rights advocates that have fought this fight.

Let us not mince words: asbestos is extremely harmful. Asbestos kills. This is a substance so noxious that is has been banned from manufacturing processes in Canada, yet we export it to countries such as India, where our government has accepted the absurd claim that it is safe to use. For a government that purports to be friendly to immigrants, this is real hypocrisy.

The medical community has been clear and unanimous in refuting the industry argument that although asbestos is dangerous, chrysotile is just fine. There may be different forms of asbestos; they may have varying chemical makeups and and different lengths of shapes and fibres, but they all produce disease, some worse than others.

As Canadians and as a country with international responsibilities, we know that the right thing to do is to ban the extraction and exporting of asbestos.

The scientific debate on chrysotile asbestos is over. The overwhelming consensus in the scientific community is clear: chrysotile asbestos does cause serious harm to human health, there is no safe way to use it, and it should be banned. Credible sources estimate that over 100,000 people die every year around the world as a result of asbestos-related diseases.

Yet we also know the mineral is caught up in the story of hard-working people in the towns of Asbestos and Thetford Mines. They are hard-working miners making a livelihood for themselves and their loved ones. From my 34 years of working in a mine, I know the story too well.

It is also the right thing to ensure that older asbestos workers have a decent standard of living through retirement. We need to broaden the disability compensation to include all victims of asbestos-related diseases in Canada and we must create an investment fund to support the diversification of the economy in asbestos-producing regions. We will speak about these and other policies to help those workers throughout this debate.

I read recently one of the community leaders in Quebec thought there would be shame for his workers and his community to have asbestos added to the list of chemicals banned for import by the Rotterdam Convention. While I understand his comments, in truth there is no shame for those workers. They have gone into the mine shafts shift after shift, day after day, and with the sweat of their brow have put food on the table for their families. They believed what they were told by their bosses and by those making money from asbestos, who, like the tobacco companies from another time, spun misinformation and doubt.

The real shame today is for the Conservative government and the Prime Minister, who unconscionably stand with only three other countries in the world in refusing to act. On three occasions since 2008, the Conservative government has blocked international efforts to list asbestos on the UN's list of hazardous substances. Asbestos is banned in more than 50 countries, including most developed nations, but Canada continues to be one of the leading producers and exporters of asbestos. Canada exports nearly 200,000 tonnes per year into poor and developing nations. That is more than any other country in the world.

Listing asbestos in the convention would force exporters such as Canada to warn recipient countries of any health hazards. Those countries could also then refuse asbestos imports if they thought they could not handle the product safely. Rotterdam listings are determined by consensus, and if there are countries that oppose, like Canada, then a substance like asbestos cannot be listed.

The workers in developing nations lack basic health protection. They are often unaware about safety measures. They do not receive training to instruct them on how to handle asbestos at the least risk to their lives.

Internal Health Canada documents reveal that, as far back as 2006, department officials refuted the Conservatives’ claim that chrysotile asbestos is safe. The director general of Health Canada's safe environments program even said, “We cannot say that chrysotile is safe. Health Canada's preferred position would be to include it on the list, as this would be consistent with controlled use.”

Under the auspices of this Prime Minister, Canada has sponsored and paid for 160 trade missions in 60 countries to promote asbestos. Over the past three years, this government has also granted $150,000 to the Chrysotile Institute, a lobby group in the asbestos sector that promotes the product abroad.

“Adding asbestos to the list is the wise thing to do”. Those are not only words; they are the words of former Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl. We are all familiar with his story, his courageous battle against cancer and how this subject touches him.

As an industrialized country, we must put the global good before domestic political consideration. We came to know in this country how dangerous asbestos was. We banned it, right here in Parliament. We closed entire buildings and we are spending millions of dollars because we know how dangerous asbestos is. What is unsafe here cannot be safe once it arrives in another country.

I implore the government, the Prime Minister, and the hon. member from the region to do the right thing. If their opposition is the loss of jobs, then let us work together on a transition plan to invest in those communities and regions. In doing so, we can save lives here and around the globe.

In closing, I want to cite the commentary of a broad coalition of eminent doctors in Quebec who have written to the Prime Minister with their compelling questions.

They wrote:

Given that you, Mr. Prime Minister, and the current Canadian government believe in the safe use of chrysotile asbestos, and considering its recognized harmfulness, what is the problem with subjecting it to the prior informed consent procedure under the Rotterdam Convention? Why would Canada be opposed to allowing countries that import chrysotile to have all pertinent information when making their decision? Why is Canada afraid of not supporting the decision to include chrysotile on the list? We see no reason to oppose this and every reason to support it.

As doctors and Canadian citizens, we want to be proud of the role our country plays on the international scene.

I would like to read from an email I received yesterday. It is from Tracy:

My dad died of mesothelioma in 2008. After learning that asbestos-related diseases are the number one occupational killer in Canada and that there was no fund to support organizations working on asbestos-related initiatives, my mom and I established the Asbestos-related Research, Education and Advocacy fund. We have been truly shocked by this government's actions and position on this issue. The Harper government's excuses are embarrassing and unforgivable...

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. I remind the hon. member that he cannot refer to members of the chamber by their given names, even in a quote.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I apologize for that.

In the name of justice and protection of workers here and around the world, in the name of our obligations to others on our planet, I urge MPs in all parties to support this motion.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in support of the motion put forward by the hon. member for Nickel Belt.

I am proud of the fact that the Green Party was the first federal political party to call for an end to the asbestos industry in Canada and a just transition for its workers.

We now face world disapproval for our quite immoral position that somehow chrysotile asbestos can be used safety in other countries while we recognize that it kills people here. I would like to ask the hon. member for Nickel Belt what information he has regarding the World Health Organization's position on the Canadian support of asbestos.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, even though the Green Party has supported this position for a long time, I would like to again thank and refer to my colleague from Winnipeg, because had he not done due diligence on this file, we might not be discussing this today.

However, it is quite clear that the international community supports the ban of asbestos throughout the world. It is a substance that is dangerous. It is a substance that kills. It is a substance that we should not import or export to third world countries that are not protected against the use of asbestos.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments that my colleague has made.

I have a constituent, Julius Hava, who is struggling right now to stay alive because of this illness.

The problem here is that not only do a lot of people in Canada and across the world suffer from this illness, but the fact of the matter is that in Canada it is very difficult to get treatment for it.

Julius's wife, Martina, says this should never have happened: “Do not take me wrong. We still believe that miracles might happen and God could cure Julius”. She goes on to say that she thought this was the best country in the world, and now she is ashamed to be Canadian.

Does the hon. member think that Canadians who are struck by this disease should have access to medical assistance immediately? If there is a problem between WSIB and the provincial government, should it be dealt with in a way similar to what Jordan's principle was meant to do?

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, if people affected by asbestos in Canada are having problems getting medical attention in a country like Canada, think about the people in India, where we export this product.

The government of the day tries to lay claim that it is the protector of immigrants in Canada, but with the exportation of asbestos, we are killing some of their brothers and sisters in their home country. We are killing some of their parents. We are killing their cousins, but we still do not want to ban it for some ideological reason. The government should be ashamed of not wanting to ban this substance.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Nickel Belt for proposing the motion in the House.

Given the substantial amount of information that is out there about the dangers of not only mining asbestos but also using it, and given the fact that it is not only the miners who suffer with related cancers but also often their families because the miners come home with their clothing full of asbestos, I would like to ask the member to comment as to whether he can see any logical reason whatsoever why Canada would not support the Rotterdam Convention?

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is quite right. Not only are miners affected by this but so can their children or wives when miners come home with their clothes full of asbestos. There is absolutely no reason for not banning the substance.

I wish to quote from an email I received, “My husband died of mesothelioma and I belong to Canada's Voice of Asbestos Victims. Canada's export of asbestos to developing countries has to stop. Here are all the Canadian organizations who agree with your motion”.

It goes on to list the many organizations. I do not have enough time to list them all, but there is a full page of organizations that support the ban of asbestos.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to join in this debate, which has been a long time coming and is long overdue.

Asbestos is the greatest industrial killer that the world has ever known. More Canadians die from asbestos than from all other industrial and occupational-related causes combined, and yet Canada continues to be one of the largest producers and exporters of asbestos in the world. On a good year we dump nearly 200,000 tonnes into underdeveloped and developing nations.

Not only is asbestos not banned in Canada, as it is in as many as 50 developed nations, but we have spent millions of dollars and continue to spend millions of dollars subsidizing and promoting the asbestos industry. No other Canadian commodity enjoys the amount of support that asbestos does. This class A carcinogen enjoys an irrational affinity of the Government of Canada, which made 160 trade junkets to 60 different countries using our embassies, trade commissioners, and our foreign missions to promote something that we Canadians ourselves would not allow our children to be exposed to.

It is the height of hypocrisy that we are spending tens of millions of dollars to remove all of the asbestos from the Parliament Buildings because no MP should ever be exposed to a single fibre, and yet we promote and subsidize the export of thousands of tonnes per year to underdeveloped nations where there are virtually no health and safety protocols.

We are exporting human misery on a monumental scale and there is no justification or excuse for it. We are exporting a made in Canada epidemic. It is like unleashing a thousand Bhopal's into India in a timed release way because we know that the legacy of disease and death stemming from this is undeniable.

Who agrees with us? The World Health Organization, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Cancer Society have all recently said that asbestos should be banned in all its forms and that Canada should be out of the asbestos industry.

We do not even have to take active steps to shut down the asbestos industry. All we have to do is turn off the tap of corporate welfare, the millions of dollars in direct and indirect subsidies to the industry. I call it corporate welfare for corporate serial killers. It is indefensible. Canadians would be horrified to know the extent of our involvement in the asbestos cartel.

I agree with Keith Spicer, a veteran Canadian journalist, who said recently that Canada's position on asbestos is morally and ethically reprehensible. He wrote this in Paris, where notably, France was one of the first countries in the European Union to ban asbestos in all of its forms. Canada went to the World Trade Organization in 1999 to try to stop France from banning its asbestos. Fortunately, for the people of France, Canada lost and that led to the entire European Union banning asbestos in all of its forms.

No amount of money is going to take the stink off the asbestos industry. Imagine a lobby organization being funded by the government to lobby the government. That is how irrational our approach to asbestos is. We not only spend money subsidizing the industry directly but we subsidize it in an indirect way as well. We sent a team of Department of Justice lawyers all over the world like globe-trotting propagandists to try to block other countries from curbing its use. It is incredible.

I went to Rome at my own expense and observed the Canadian delegation sabotage the Rotterdam convention in an effort to keep asbestos off the list of hazardous materials. The Rotterdam convention does not even ban hazardous chemicals. It just says that if they are going to be sold then they must include a warning label and a caution to the end user. In other words, informed prior consent that the end user knows that it is a carcinogen.

Canada has consistently blocked asbestos being listed on the Rotterdam convention because it would interfere with our ability to market it in the third world. When commercialization trumps science and reason, logic, morality and ethics, then we are in a serious situation.

There are those who would have us believe that there is something magically benign about the asbestos that we mine here in Canada. Ninety-five per cent of all the asbestos ever mined in the world is chrysotile, the type that we mine here. I used to work in the asbestos mines. We were lied to about the health hazards of asbestos then, just as the world continues to be lied to about the health hazards of chrysotile today. All asbestos kills. Chrysotile asbestos is a class A carcinogen, according to Health Canada, the World Health Organization, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Cancer Society.

Time does not permit me to go through the history of Canada's irrational affinity for this carcinogen. The asbestos industry has been like the tobacco industry's evil twin, in that they both have relied for more than a century on junk science, the best science money can buy; on aggressive public relations campaigns, domestically and internationally; and on intense political lobbying.

That is how the asbestos industry has pulled the wool over the eyes of the world for a generation. Canada plays an integral role in the activities of the asbestos cartel because it relies on Canada's boy scout image. The asbestos industry tells the world that if a nice country like Canada thinks asbestos is okay, it must be okay. That boy scout image is being severely tarnished. Canada is being viewed as an international pariah for our involvement in the asbestos industry.

Let me suggest that the money we spend subsidizing the asbestos industry would be better spent on starting a national registry to track and monitor the incidence of asbestos-related disease across the country. It would be better spent to improve the diagnostics and treatment of asbestos-related disease because if we are going to be one of the largest exporters of exporters to the world, surely we should be a centre of excellence for the diagnostics and treatment of asbestos-related disease.

In actual fact, Canadians who are struck down with mesothelioma more often than not have to go to the United States to get decent diagnostics and treatment. The money that we spend subsidizing the asbestos industry now would be better used putting in place a testing and remediation program so that Canadian homeowners, whose biggest single investment is contaminated by this Canadian epidemic, would be given a chance to test for asbestos and remove it when found. That would be a good use of government tax dollars.

The Government of Canada participated in contaminating hundreds of thousands of Canadian homes through its CHIP, a home insulation program in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One of the products the government was subsidizing was called zonolite, which is loaded with tremolite asbestos. It contaminated the attics of hundreds of thousands of homes, subsidized and promoted its installation and then left homeowners with this liability, not only making their homes unsafe but devaluing them as well. That would be a good use of Canadian tax dollars in relation to this particular carcinogen.

In my final minute, I would like to make members aware of an open letter that was sent to the member for Simcoe—Grey, a medical doctor who recently received national recognition for her work in the protection of children. This letter is signed by hundreds of doctors around the country, urging the member for Simcoe—Grey, as a Conservative member of Parliament, to live up to her Hippocratic oath and not support the Conservative government's irrational and dangerous position on asbestos. In fact, the letter makes an urgent appeal to the member to stand with science and research, and not with the political and commercial considerations that have kept this deadly industry killing people for much longer than it ever should.

Let the asbestos industry die a natural death. Turn off the tap of corporate welfare and, believe me, it will go the way of all the other asbestos mines in the country and Canada will be out of this deadly industry.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to rise to commend the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre for his years of dedicated service in raising this issue. He has been a champion on this file. I have only one question for him.

Can we, with compassion and respect toward members on the opposite side of the House, find ways to get them to at long last join all the other parties in this House who now see the danger of asbestos? How do we break through the barrier that continues to allow Canada to argue an unscientific and indefensible position in the world community?

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I, too, recognize the long-standing support by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for this global movement to ban asbestos. Often, she and I were the only ones at events, functions and rallies to bring the public's attention to this issue.

She raises an important point. There is zero scientific evidence to support the government side. There is one study, which has never been peer tested, by a man named David Bernstein that the Chrysotile Institute paid $1 million to have written. It is so absurd that not a medical doctor in the world has ever ratified or peer tested it. One of the points. Dr. Bernstein makes on behalf of the Conservative government is that ingesting chrysotile asbestos is actually good for people in the sense that it triggers their bodies' immune system to try to expel it. He went on to explain that it was like flexing a muscle. The body's immune system is mobilized to get rid of asbestos. It is so absurd it is almost comical.

The rest of the scientific community is united in saying that all asbestos kills, that there is nothing benign about Canadian chrysotile asbestos and that Canada should get out of the asbestos industry.