House of Commons Hansard #45 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.


Bill C-317—Income Tax Act—Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order

11:05 a.m.


The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I would like to return to the ruling I gave on Friday, November 4, 2011, in relation to ways and means proceedings and former Bill C-317, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (labour organizations), which stood on the order paper in the name of the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale.

As members know, I directed that the order for second reading of the bill be discharged and that the bill be withdrawn from the order paper.

In light of the unique nature of this particular situation, I directed that the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale be permitted to substitute another item onto the order of precedence. In doing so, I inadvertently linked the time allotted to the member to do so at 20 sitting days in the spirit of the guidelines found in Standing Order 92.1. This was an error as Standing Order 92.1 provides for 20 calendar days. Instead, the link was intended to be to a 2006 example when another member, faced with similar circumstances, was granted 20 sitting days to select another item.

Therefore, the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale will have until Friday, December 9, 2011, to do so.

I regret any inconvenience that this may have caused hon. members.

Committees of the House
Points of Order

11:05 a.m.


Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am rising on a point of order that involves one of the more serious matters that I have had to deal with in my 11 years here in the House because of the potential risk that it poses to the relationship the legislative, administrative and judicial branches play in our Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, I am hoping that by the time I have concluded my argument you will agree with me that the assessment of our rules have been breached and that you will take appropriate action to ensure that the Standing Orders and the procedural sources higher than those that are in place are respected, not only by this chamber but also by the committees of this place.

I should start by saying that there are two potential orders that I will be seeking. The first one is the more appropriate one but clearly the more extensive one, which would be to direct the committee to cease the study it has initiated. I will speak to that more specifically in a moment. The alternative, which I would ask you to think about, would be, at the very least, that the committee be directed to suspend its study until such time as the courts, including the Appeal Court, and potentially even the Supreme Court of Canada in this case, have ruled on this issue.

It has been said in the House on more than one occasion that committees are their own masters. They are in control of their process. However, a deeper examination of our Standing Orders and the House of Commons Procedure and Practice second edition, commonly called O'Brien and Bosc, reveals that the committee's freedom to do as it chooses is limited by firm boundaries. Indeed, O'Brien and Bosc, at page 1047, states:

...freedom committees normally have to organize their work as they see fit and the option they have of defining, on their own, certain rules of procedure that facilitate their proceedings.

However, on page 1048 the text reads:

These freedoms are not, however, total or absolute.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to take particular note of this point because I will return to it on a number of occasions throughout my remarks today. O'Brien and Bosc at page 1048 states:

At all times, directives from procedural sources higher than parliamentary committees (Constitution;--

I would suggest that includes constitutional convention, which is part of what the argument is here today. It goes on to state:

--statutes; orders of reference, instructions and Standing Orders of the House; and rulings by the Speaker)--

Both the Constitution and, in this case, a ruling by you, Mr. Speaker, would certainly have the authority of overriding the determination that has been made by the committee. It goes on to state:

--take precedence over any rules a committee may adopt.

The end result of that determination by O'Brien and Bosc is that you, as the Speaker of this House, have, at any given time, the authority to overrule the committee.

It is quite recognizable by everyone in the chamber and anyone who has been in Parliament for any length of time that the Speaker would only do that on rare occasions. I would submit that this is one of those rare occasions. The Speaker may be reluctant to deal with this given the long-standing practice of intervening only on very rare occasions.

The other point that often comes up at this stage is whether the Speaker should intervene when there has not been a report from committee. I recognize that there has been no report from committee. Given the circumstances of what is going on in that committee, there will never be a report from the committee on this point.

However, as has often been the case, the Speakers will reserve judgment on committee members until the report has been sent to the House. There are exceptions to that general rule.

As Speaker Fraser said on March 26, 1990, at page 9756 of the Debates, the practice of waiting for a report from committee before taking up a matter in this House is: “

...not an absolute one and that in very serious and special circumstances the Speaker may have to pronounce on a committee matter without the committee having reported to the House.

In that context, it is important that I rise on this point of order. It is as a result of actions taken by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which I will refer to henceforth as “the ethics committee”. I feel that the rules governing the procedures and practices of this place are being tested, challenged and, in fact, are being infringed upon if we look at some of the opinions we now have on this matter. It is certainly putting the committee and this House in a dangerous and unprecedented position. It is testing long-standing conventions and, I would argue, that we are breaching those long-standing conventions.

Through the actions of the ethics committee and despite the protests of two of the three opposition parties represented on the committee, it has attempted to throw out decades of parliamentary sub judice convention, which requires this place to respect the independence of the court. It goes beyond saying that we do have the three branches. While they are independent of each other, they sometimes overlap but the fairly clear guidelines among those three branches is a long-standing convention. We respect, adhere to and do whatever we can, regarding all three branches, to not cross that line between the three branches and usurp authority that lies in one of the other branches.

I believe the committee is also trying to distort the constitutional principle of the separation of powers in terms of that responsibility, in particular here, not between the administration branch and the other two, but between the legislative and judicial branches. I would submit that both of these rules supersede the rights of committees. We had a huge battle in the last Parliament over the rights of parliamentarians to access information with regard to the Afghan detainee documents and material. There are clear rulings on that but it is not an absolute and those other conventions that I just mentioned supersede.

I believe the breaching of those other rules requires action on your part, Mr. Speaker. The only authority to overrule the committee lies in your hands. In terms of the specifics of the case, I will not be able to give you as much detail as I think would be useful to you in making your decision because a good deal of what has transpired here has been in camera. The information I will be giving you will only be that information that has been in public and not behind closed doors.

On November 1, the government used its majority on the committee to quickly move in camera on a motion by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. The motion was to compel the production of documents that are clearly the subject of ongoing litigation before the federal Court of Appeal. The purpose of producing the documents, according to the adopted motion, was to have the ethics committee, and this is extremely important, determine and assess exclusions. That is exactly what is before the federal court at the present time. Those are documents under section 68 of the Access to Information Act.

As a result of this meeting and the events that transpired in camera, the New Democratic and Liberal members of the committee felt that they could not continue their participation in the committee's work until they had the benefit of a legal opinion from the House of Commons Law Clerk, Mr. Robert Walsh. He has been in that post since 1999 and is recognized as the leading expert in the country on these specific types of issues, vis-à-vis the ability of Parliament to do certain things and the right and independence of the judiciary to conduct their roles free of legislative interference.

The decision to ask for the legal opinion was to ensure that the rights of the members of the committee were not being undermined or violated by attempts to push through a motion that may have been not only improper but not legal. As the opposition members were waiting for the opinion, government members held a subsequent in camera meeting, which they eventually reported out on, where they passed a motion demanding the production of the documents in question from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Soon after the motion was adopted, Mr. Walsh in fact provided his legal opinion in the form of a letter in reply to the member for Timmins—James Bay.

Mr. Speaker, I would just note that I have given you a copy of that opinion now.

Its contents support what would be my own opinion, and I hope yours, as well, on these three points: that the ethics committee is, first, far beyond the scope of its overall mandate; second, in breach of parliamentary convention; and third, in contravention of its constitutional boundary; all as a result of adopting that motion that kicked off the study in question.

Specifically about the opinion from Mr. Walsh, I put that in your possession again, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to pay close attention to that opinion. Read it closely. I think it clearly sets out, in response to a series of questions from the member for Timmins—James Bay, where the breaches have occurred and the risk of further breaches occurring, in fact, the study continues and those documents are attempted to be forced from the CBC pending the outcome of the court case which is before the Federal Court of Appeal at the present time.

I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to look at that and ask you to pay particular attention to these points that have been made, first, on the sub judice issue. Mr. Walsh addresses that convention, which is essentially that Parliament respects the work done by the judicial branch of government by not interfering or appearing to interfere with that work. He notes that Speaker Milliken described the sub judice convention by saying, “the House will await the determination of the court before discussing the matter--”.

In effect, what we are doing there is recognizing that the judicial branch has a particular expertise in this area. It has a constitutional mandate, as well, to provide that role. It is our role as legislators to consider the decisions that it makes, take them into account, make a decision at that point whether amendments are required to legislation, changes to legislation, or new legislation is required. That is where that line is. The judiciary is on one side, we relying as legislators on the other side of that line, on its expertise, both mandated and developed over a period of time in this country.

He then goes on, with regard to noting the same convention:

--the House and, by extension, its Committees will not undertake studies,--

I want to emphasize that:

--will not undertake studies, reviews or enquiries on matters that have been assigned by an Act of Parliament to an administrative tribunal or other public office, including Officers of Parliament--

In this case the Broadcasting Act assigns the specific responsibility to the Information Commissioner who has in fact been involved and is involved in that litigation that is before the Federal Court. There are three parties to that litigation: CBC, Information Canada, and a private broadcaster.

We have clearly ongoing litigation involving one of the officers of this House of Parliament, a crown corporation, and now a committee trying to insert itself into the process where it is clearly mandated that that role is to be played by the judiciary in this country.

He goes on, with regard to the division of powers, and this is perhaps maybe the most disturbing aspect of what is going on in front of the ethics committee at the current time, about the danger that the committee's actions are in violation of the Constitution Act, going back all the way to 1867, and of course the current Constitution Act.

On page 4 of his letter, Mr. Walsh outlines how the ethics committee study is overstepping the divisions of power set out by the act by attempting to make legal determinations which are the responsibilities of the courts. That role by the committee is clearly beyond its scope.

The intent is clear in this regard as the motion of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, which is now the basis for the committee study, says that the committee will, and I am quoting from the motion, “determine and assess exclusions”, which is exactly the role that is assigned to our judiciary, our courts, and in fact is the very specific subject of that litigation that is before the Federal Court of Appeal. It is seized with it. The arguments actually, I believe, have been made and we are waiting for a decision. Given the significance of the litigation that is going on, there is every possibility that this case, if an appeal is granted, will end up in front of the Supreme Court for a full argument.

I want to go back to the parliamentary secretary. He was not bashful about what he was doing. He went public with this in an article in the Toronto Star on November 3 of this year, saying it was his intention with the study to get ahead of the courts on this matter. That is not our role as legislators. It is absolutely the opposite of what we should be doing. We let the courts play their role and we then respond. However, he said it was to get ahead of the courts on this matter in order to save the court the time and expense of pursuing the matter. That is not at all within the determination of a parliamentary committee or Parliament as a whole. It has been assigned by the Constitution Act to be the responsibility of the courts. They determine that issue, not us as legislators.

If we were going to follow what the parliamentary secretary wants the committee to do, we would be really talking about a constitutional amendment. We would have to take away the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts and assign it either partially to committees or the House or totally to us, and take it away from the courts completely. There is no suggestion that we should be doing that. There is certainly no support that I have ever heard about us reducing the role of our judiciary in this regard. The courts are there to play the role of interpreting legislation and enforcing it in appropriate circumstances.

There is some emphasis I would like to provide to gain proper perspective of what the committee is doing, and I go back to the motion. The very first line of it is “to determine and assess” whether or not acts were followed by compelling the production of documents by a party to a matter before the courts. I am sure you will have no hesitation agreeing, Mr. Speaker, that it is the exclusive jurisdiction, not a shared jurisdiction, of the judicial branch of government. It is its exclusive jurisdiction.

Mr. Walsh is quite clear on this and stated that the ethics committee was nonetheless addressing a legal question that ought to be left to the courts to decide. He went on to say:

In my view, such initiatives are not within the constitutional functions of the House or, by extension, its committees and the use of the House’s powers to demand the production of documents for such purposes could be found to be invalid and unenforceable at law.

Finally, he stated:

Such an encroachment would offend the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative functions and possibly call into question the validity of ETHI's proceedings.

It is opening the door, quite clearly, to not just the possibility but probability that Parliament and the judicial branch will end up in litigation. It is the last thing we need at any time. Trying to keep the demarcation lines between the two authorities in the country is very important.

I want to make one final point with regard to a matter that Mr. Walsh raised. He said that within the context, if the documents that are sought are going to be dealt with in camera throughout, that is certainly some saving grace because it would be less of an interference in the judicial authority in this country.

However, he then went on to caution the member for Timmins—James Bay, the committee as a whole and perhaps the House, about the possibility, even the probability, but the reasonable likelihood of leaks coming out committees. We know it happens. As much as we are all dutiful about ensuring it does not happen, leaks may be the result of a staff person and it may be inadvertent. He said even if that were the case, just the risk that there could be a leak would make it appear as if we were willing to justify what the committee was doing by taking that risk and saying it was more important for us to do this than the risk of interfering with the judicial process.

I want to go beyond what he said because there is a point that I wish he would have covered. It begs the question, if documents are in fact at some point compelled, turned over and looked at, for what purpose?

If it is staying in camera, I assume at some point the study will end up in a report, then one of two things has to happen. The committee members may refer the documents and use them for the basis of their report, which ultimately would come to this committee, and therefore clearly breach our responsibility not to challenge the independence of the judiciary and the division of powers in the constitution. It is either that scenario or they do not use the documents. Then we would ask, why are we having this process if we are not going to use the documents? If we are not going to use them in the report, why are we bothering pursuing these documents to the degree that we are? If they use them, it is improper. If they do not use them, the whole question would be, what are we doing and why are we doing it.

The obvious conclusion I would draw from that is that government members on the committee intend to use the documents for the basis of the study and the ultimate report they prepare. If that happens, then clearly they have breached the constitutional conventions and the whole issue of division of powers.

I should make one more point in terms of additional material that I have given you, Mr. Speaker.

This morning we received copies of two letters, one to the chair of the ethics committee that set out that they were enclosing with the letter two sets of documents, as I understood it, one that the committee members could use because they are not part of the litigation; there is no issue of them being produced and they are not subject to the protection of the legislation in the CBC's opinion. And two, a sealed envelope of documents asking the chair not to release those documents until the outcome of all the litigation before the courts. The chair of that committee is presently seized with that request from the CBC.

Mr. Speaker, I have also given you a letter of opinion from the CBC's lawyers that was given to Mr. Lacroix, president of the corporation, setting out their legal opinion. The importance of that is that we would say it is clearly biased in favour of their own client. Having been a lawyer for a long time, I would not accept that.

More important, in all relevant aspects, it entirely agrees with Mr. Walsh's opinion that this process that has been undertaken by the committee is improper, has clearly crossed the bounds of both constitutional convention, and the constitutional division of powers between the judiciary and legislative branches.

I will conclude with this quote from Mr. Walsh's letter. He sums up his argument with the following:

In my view, respect for the constitutional framework of our parliamentary system of government is part of the rule of law which is the over-riding legal principle that makes a democratic system of government such as ours workable and credible.

That is from Mr. Walsh, not from me.

Mr. Speaker, I believe you have one of two choices of orders that you would make if you agree with the arguments that I have given you today. First, make an overall determination that the study from the very beginning, because of the direct and assessed part of that wording, clearly breaches the division of powers and the constitutional convention, and second, make a determination that the study, in its overall ambit, is beyond the scope and mandate of the ethics committee.

If you are not prepared to go that far in the alternative, I would ask that you, Mr. Speaker, direct that the committee suspend this study until such time as all of the litigation is completed. That would then give the committee the opportunity to have the expertise from our judiciary to make a final determination as to what would be in the report, whether new legislation is required or amendments are required to the existing legislation

Committees of the House
Points of Order

11:25 a.m.

Carleton—Mississippi Mills


Gordon O'Connor Minister of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, I note the member's intervention on this matter. As this issue is before a committee, I think it would be better to be argued before a committee. Regardless, we will take this matter under consideration and respond in due course.

Committees of the House
Points of Order

11:25 a.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, I would be inclined to disagree with the government representative.

As has been cited by my colleague from the New Democratic Party, the House does have a role to play when a committee is behaving in the manner in which it is currently behaving. He articulated quite well why it is that we have a role to play. We need to recognize the whole issue that was brought up by the member for Peterborough. One could look at it in terms of the motivations. However, for now let us strictly speak in terms of what has actually taken place because of this motion.

We all recognize the importance of judicial independence and respect for our courts. We recognize the role played by the law clerk and parliamentary counsel. We also recognize the role that we play in the House and the role that our committees are supposed to play. At times, I suspect we see actions that are lacking in respect of one of those jurisdictions. I believe, as the NDP House leader has pointed out, that we have witnessed that taking place over the last little while.

It is true that our standing committees have a great deal of freedom and discretion to do a wide variety of things. We do not question that; rather, we encourage it. However, when a committee crosses the line it is our responsibility to look into the matter and ensure that corrective action is taken. That is why we within the Liberal Party support the point that has been brought forward by the New Democratic House leader.

I would suggest the House does have the authority to look over what has taken place in the committee and to take action in order to make sure that there is respect for judicial independence. We know that the issue before us is before the Federal Court. There is ongoing litigation. A lot of details will be put before the court. To be open and fair, to have the committee perform in the way in which it has been shows a lack of respect for that judicial independence.

I will quote specifically from Mr. Walsh, the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, who stated:

A Committee should not, in my view, take on the role of a court--or even appear to take on the role of a court--by addressing whether the position taken by a party to a pending legal dispute is correct. To do so is to encroach upon--or appear to encroach upon--the constitutional function of the courts which would offend the sub judice convention, the principle of the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative functions and possibly call into question the validity of the Committee's proceedings.

Mr. Walsh is not a partisan individual. He is indeed the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel. We should all make note of what he is saying and acknowledge that the committee has gone too far.

I make reference to the motion itself. One could call into question its motivation. To say the least, we all know that the government has not been friendly in terms of the CBC. Many within the government's ranks would like to see the demise of the CBC. I believe there might be a hidden agenda behind that motion. That is why I believe that, at the end of the day, we have to ensure that the right thing is done here.

Mr. Speaker, the government has stepped over the line. We suggest that the government do the honourable thing because I suspect that it has put you and others in a fairly awkward position.

I believe that if the government read the letter that our law clerk has provided, it would come to the same conclusions as the Liberals and the New Democrats already have, and that is that the motion is not appropriate.

In coming up with that conclusion, I would suggest that the government House leader and the government of the day would be doing a service to the House if they would just agree to withdraw or suspend, do whatever is necessary in order to resolve this matter so that we are more in keeping with the spirit of the importance of judicial independence and respect of our courts.

We stand in support of the point of order that has been raised by the House leader of the official opposition.

Committees of the House
Points of Order

11:30 a.m.


Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, just a small point, I still want time to consider the arguments made by the House leader of the official opposition.

We do not have any secret agenda for the CBC. I watch it quite often. I watch the hockey games. Other people watch the hockey games, too. We have no hidden agenda as suggested by a member of the third party.

Committees of the House
Points of Order

11:30 a.m.


Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I also want to rise and speak to the point of order that has been put to you by the hon. House leader of the official opposition.

The legal opinion we have before us, regardless of the content, without getting into whether we are for or against the CBC, or whether there is a hidden agenda, is a grave and serious matter. It cuts to the heart of the rule of law, on the Constitution of this country, and the proper respect for boundaries, roles and responsibilities of this place, respect for our courts, and adequately understanding the role of Parliament.

Other sections of Mr. Walsh's fine legal opinion have been read out this morning, but I was particularly taken by the words of Mr. Justice Binnie, Supreme Court of Canada, in the 2005 case, the House of Commons and the hon. Gilbert Parent v. Satnam Vaid. It is a case in which we are generally familiar with the facts.

It is a very strong statement from the Supreme Court of Canada. I will quote:

It is a wise principle that the courts and Parliament strive to respect each other’s role in the conduct of public affairs. Parliament, for its part, refrains from commenting on matters before the courts under the sub judice rule. The courts, for their part, are careful not to interfere with the workings of Parliament.

It goes on to note that Mr. Walsh, as the law clerk, our legal adviser, warns that in some circumstances the interference of a parliamentary committee in matters that are before the courts could be “seen as a contempt of court.”

In other words, this cannot be a matter left with the committee. The committee, for whatever intentions it has, and I am not commenting on those, is placing the House of Commons at risk of further court proceedings in which this place, the Parliament of Canada, could be found by the courts to have entered into a relationship which constitutes contempt of court.

We must respect our roles and responsibilities. This will be a difficult ruling for you, Mr. Speaker. I think this may be your watershed moment as our Speaker. I trust in your wisdom and judgment on this, but Mr. Walsh's legal opinion is not easily dismissed.

I urge you, Mr. Speaker, to find in favour of the point of order from the official opposition.

Committees of the House
Points of Order

11:35 a.m.


The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I certainly thank all hon. members for their interventions, and will, of course, examine very closely the materials provided to me by the House leader of the official opposition.

I know members are aware of the long-standing practice that until a report is before the House, it is not for the Speaker to decide these types of things. I will come back to the House in due course.

It being 11:37 a.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Purple Day Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

moved that Bill C-278, An Act respecting a day to increase public awareness about epilepsy, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the applause from colleagues of various parties on this bill. In fact, I appreciate my hon. colleague from Charlottetown agreeing to second this. This morning, my colleague and friend, we were at law school together a few years ago, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, also wanted to second the bill. The indications are that there seems to be widespread support from all parties for this bill, which is Bill C-278, the Purple Day bill.

This bill was not developed overnight. In fact, for several years several of us in the House have been celebrating Purple Day. I hope more will next year. Purple Day was established by a young lady named Cassidy Megan in 2008. At the time, she was nine years old. She had had her first attack of epilepsy when she was seven and was concerned, embarrassed and worried about it and the reactions of others. She recognized that people did not have much knowledge about epilepsy and that they ought to. Therefore, when she was nine she had the idea that perhaps her school could have a day to recognize epilepsy and to create more awareness and understanding of it. That was really where it all started. From that has spread an international grassroots movement. I am very proud to say that it started in my riding of Halifax West, although it is really Cassidy Megan who deserves the credit for this, obviously.

I also want to thank the Epilepsy Association of Nova Scotia, the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance, the Epilepsy Support Centre and many other organizations for their support of Purple Day. I understood Purple Day was celebrated in more than 47 countries, but I saw today an article in iPolitics by Jon Waddell, who says it is now celebrated in 60 countries. I am delighted to hear that. It is great that it is increasing.

The long title of the bill is, “an act respecting a day to increase public awareness about epilepsy”. Bill C-278 would formally establish March 26 as Purple Day in Canada and it would encourage people to wear the colour purple on that day. Purple Day would not be a legal holiday.

Epilepsy affects 300,000 Canadians and over 50 million people worldwide. In fact, I understand that is more than multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson's disease all combined. Of course, these are all significant diseases which obviously also require our attention.

Let me talk for a moment about a few of the famous people who have had epilepsy. It is quite a list. It includes: Fyodor Dostoevsky; Neil Young; Lindsey Buckingham; Prince, or the Artist Formerly Known as Prince; Florence Griffith Joyner, who won gold medals in the Olympics; Margaux Hemingway; Danny Glover; and Pope Pius IX.

There are also many cases where doctors and experts have looked back and given retrospective diagnoses on people who may have had it a long time ago. This is not for certain, but some of the names include: Alexander the Great, Socrates, Julius Caesar, St. Paul, Molière, Tennyson, Byron, Napoleon Bonaparte, Harriet Tubman, Beethoven, Handel, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Vincent Van Gogh, Lewis Carroll and George Gershwin. In fact, it is not surprising when we hear all these names that there has been some sort of consideration and discussion over the years about a link between epilepsy and greatness, because there are some really incredible names among this group.

Cassidy chose the colour purple after the international colour for epilepsy, which is lavender. The lavender flower is often associated with solitude. It is representative of feelings of isolation that are often felt, understandably, by many of those affected by epilepsy and other seizure disorders. They often feel misunderstood, embarrassed and afraid. It is important to overcome those feelings, which is why this is such a great idea, I think.

A deeper understanding of epilepsy will help educate people about what needs to be done during a seizure and will help provide more security and support for people with epilepsy.

Imagine someone who has just turned 16 and is looking forward to getting his or her driver's license. The person passes the test the first time. A week later he or she has a seizure for the first time and ends up in hospital. The doctor tells the individual that he or she cannot drive for one year, after the excitement of just getting his or her licence. Not only that, but the individual can no longer compete with the cheerleading team. This is just one example of all of the stories I have heard from people who have epilepsy.

Imagine what it must be like for a person to have a seizure at work or school and people's reaction because of their lack of knowledge and understanding about this disorder. When the person comes out of the seizure he or she feels scared and confused. Imagine the security and support people affected with this disorder would feel if people became more aware about epilepsy and the different kinds of seizures and what to do if someone has a seizure.

The Canadian Epilepsy Alliance has an excellent website,, which offers advice on what to do if someone has a seizure. I am sure there are other places where people can find information but this website has great information. It has a page, for example, on first aid for convulsive seizures. There are also non-convulsive seizures and people can read about them on the website.

This is what to do if someone has a convulsive seizure: First, do not panic. Stay calm. Second, time the seizure. If it is longer than five minutes, call an ambulance. Third, explain what is going on to those around the individual. Ask people to stand back and give space. The last thing a person needs when he or she comes out of a seizure is to have a big crowd looking on which could make the person feel even more anxious. Fourth, cushion the person's head and neck with something soft, such as a pillow or a coat, to avoid the person being injured. Fifth, roll the person on his or her side to prevent choking. Clear the area of dangers, such as a hot cup of coffee or a knife or other sharp objects. Get those things out of the way. Do not put anything in the individual's mouth. Do not restrain or hold the individual or try to stop him or her from moving. Speak gently. Be kind to the person during and after the seizure so that when the seizure is over he or she will be calm and those around will also be calm. Another suggestion is to loosen the person's tie or shirt collar.

I hope the bill will get Canadians talking about epilepsy and learning about seizure disorders. That was Cassidy's objective when she founded Purple Day.

In a recent letter, Cassidy explained why she undertook this project. She said that she started Purple Day when she was nine because when she was seven and first found out that she had epilepsy, she was afraid and embarrassed of what other people would think. She was afraid that they would treat her differently and not be her friends. She also thought that she was the only kid in the world with epilepsy. She wanted to have one day where everyone in the world would show support for people with epilepsy and teach people about epilepsy and that people with epilepsy would know they were not alone. She said that people need to know there are different types of seizures and that people do not have to be afraid of epilepsy or of people who have it. She said it would also help people know for sure when Purple Day is. She said that education about epilepsy is important for those living with epilepsy so they know they are not alone.

That is quite a remarkable statement from a girl who is now 12 years old.

I want to congratulate Cassidy on her hard work and imagination in establishing Purple Day. Bill C-278 would bring Cassidy's dream to fruition in Canada. I hope the bill will pass so that it will be officially enshrined in law for Purple Day on March 26, 2012.

This is a case where all MPs can come together to do something positive, and I think we are going to see that today and in the days to come.

I am honoured to be the sponsor of this legislation. This is certainly not my bill; it is Cassidy's bill. I would not have learned as much as I have about Purple Day if it were not for her initiating this idea. I undoubtedly would not have been the person to bring this forward if it were not for Cassidy Megan and her efforts and her bold idea.

Let us recognize Cassidy's bold idea. Let us recognize Cassidy's imagination. Let us recognize Cassidy's courage. Let us move the bill forward.

Purple Day Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge my colleague for bringing forward Bill C-278. The member's comments were very helpful and accurate from my personal experience in living with a family member with seizure disorder.

I was particularly struck by the member's comments regarding the link between epilepsy and greatness. In some countries in Africa there is a connection made between those with seizure disorder and those who are especially potent, creative people, spiritual healers and leaders in their communities. Raising awareness of this disorder is an important task and I congratulate the member on this initiative and I congratulate Cassidy for having stimulated it.

Are there specific activities the member would see for Purple Day?

Purple Day Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her comments and kind words.

I think Cassidy and others involved with Purple Day to promote epilepsy awareness would want people not only to wear purple but also to learn about epilepsy on Purple Day, March 26. I would encourage everyone to visit the website,, which is the website of the Canadian Epilepsy Association. The website has some very simple and clear information.

I would hope that we would have activities not only here but elsewhere in other countries. This movement has spread to 60 countries already. People would become more aware of what epilepsy is and how it happens. For example, epilepsy has to do with electrical currents in the brain. When there is a bit of an electrical storm, one might say, the nerve signals from the brain to the body do not work the way they should. The reason a person may be staring is that the signals from his or her eyes are not getting to his or her brain in order to understand what is happening.

It is interesting to read and learn about epilepsy. I hope that Purple Day would be an occasion for people to take the time to do that.

Purple Day Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Halifax West for presenting Bill C-278. The member mentioned what one should do when someone is having a seizure. People call 911, but in rural areas often it is the firefighters who arrive before the ambulance. They are well trained in CPR, but are they trained to know the signs of a seizure and what to do if someone is having a seizure?

Purple Day Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Lambton—Kent—Middlesex for his kind words, his support of the bill and for his question, which is an excellent one.

While I would anticipate that people who are first responders would have training in how to deal with epilepsy, I do not know for sure. Firefighters visit us on the Hill. They were here a few weeks ago. We might ask them, or folks in our own ridings, whether that is the case. At the very least we can be sure that by promoting Purple Day and events that create awareness of this disorder people would become aware of what to do. That would include first responders. I suspect most of them would be well trained, as is usually the case, but it is something to check into to make sure.

Purple Day Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to this very important issue that affects so many Canadians and their families. Bill C-278 seeks to raise awareness about epilepsy by establishing March 26 as Purple Day in Canada. I would like to thank the hon. member for Halifax West for introducing this important bill. I would further like to congratulate him for his advocacy on this matter and especially for his work with Cassidy Megan, a constituent from his riding.

Cassidy is a young Canadian with epilepsy. In 2008, Cassidy created the idea of a Purple Day campaign to dispel myths about epilepsy and inform those with seizures that they are not alone. Cassidy's initiative quickly caught on. In 2009, Purple Day was launched internationally. Since then it has been observed by many people in countries around the world. Cassidy's work to raise awareness about epilepsy represents the best of what young Canadians can do and I congratulate her for her efforts.

Epilepsy is a serious disease that affects over 300,000 Canadians and 50 million people worldwide. It is a physical condition characterized by sudden brief changes in the way the brain works. It is a symptom of a neurological disorder that affects the brain and shows itself in the form of seizures. It is usually diagnosed after a person has had at least two seizures that were not caused by a known medical condition, like extremely low blood sugar.

Each year approximately 15,000 Canadians, the majority of them children and seniors, learn that they have epilepsy. The nature, frequency and intensity of epileptic seizures vary from person to person. Some seizures are hardly noticed while others are totally disabling. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no evidence to suggest that they cause brain injury, nor to indicate that they result in developmental delay. There is no cure for epilepsy. The major form of treatment for Canadians with epilepsy is long-term drug therapy. The side effects of this medication and the costs associated with it are burdens that Canadians bear every day.

Despite this, we now know that epilepsy is perfectly compatible with a normal, happy and full life. Most people with epilepsy go to school, make friends, date, have jobs and raise families. It is not always easy. Sometimes coping with the reactions of other people can be the most difficult part of living with this disorder. Oftentimes, the very unpredictability of seizures can lead to low self-esteem and self-confidence, as well as depression. However, by raising awareness of what it is like to live with epilepsy, we can help affected Canadians to reach their full potential.

Although many Canadians living with this condition lead full and successful lives, others will need ongoing support from their families, friends and caregivers, as well as the health system. Good medical care is based on a partnership and commitment between health providers, patients and caregivers.

We know that caring for patients with chronic medical and neurological disorders is often associated with significant stress and additional responsibility for family and friends. We are just starting to learn about the burden experienced by caregivers of patients with epilepsy and how to support them.

The burden of care carries emotional, psychological, physical and economic impacts, as well as related distressing feelings such as loneliness, shame, anger and feelings of guilt. Validation and the right support system have been shown to have a positive impact on patients and their caregivers, and we have to continue efforts in this area. Support systems for people with epilepsy, their families and their caregivers exist in the form of national organizations that provide information and support for Canadians living with epilepsy and their families and friends.

For example, Epilepsy Canada, founded in 1966, is a non-profit organization whose mission is to enhance the quality of life for persons affected by epilepsy. Through promotion and support of research, education and awareness initiatives, this organization is building understanding and acceptance of epilepsy.

The Canadian Epilepsy Alliance is a Canada-wide network of grassroots organizations dedicated to the promotion of independence and quality of life for people with epilepsy and their families. By providing support services, information, advocacy and public awareness, it too is working to make a difference for those living with epilepsy.

Likewise, the Government of Canada is pleased to work with its partners and stakeholders to promote epilepsy awareness by investing in activities that support a stronger evidence base and strengthen our knowledge of epilepsy.

The Government of Canada recognizes the challenges facing people with epilepsy, their families and their caregivers. The strength and resolve that they demonstrate each and every day is an inspiration to us all.

The government applauds efforts like those of Cassidy to erase the social stigma associated with epilepsy and to help establish stronger communities for people affected by it. Our support of Bill C-278 is a small but significant way in which we can promote understanding and continue to show support for those with epilepsy.

The government is also committed to ensuring that Canadians with epilepsy have stable access to safe, effective and affordable treatment. For many people living with epilepsy, long-term drug therapies are an essential element of their treatment regime. As such, I would like to outline some of the ways the government does this.

The federal government regulates all drugs in Canada, including anti-epileptic drugs. This work ensures that high quality drugs are safe and effective when they reach the Canadian marketplace. Through the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, the government further ensures that the prices for new drugs reaching the market, including those that are breakthrough drugs, are not excessive.

The role of the government does not end when drugs are approved for sale in the Canadian market. Decisions must be made about which drugs to use. This is especially true with epilepsy. Epilepsy takes many forms and there are many drugs available to treat it. Access to evidence-based information is therefore crucial for making informed decisions that harness the benefits of drug therapies while getting the best value from every health care dollar.

The Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health provides decision makers with the evidence, analysis, advice and recommendations they require to make informed decisions on the treatment of conditions such as epilepsy. The agency administers the Common Drug Review, a pan-Canadian process for generating objective, rigorous reviews of the clinical, cost-effectiveness and patient evidence for drugs. The Common Drug Review also provides formulary listing recommendations to the publicly funded drug plans in Canada and makes its recommendations public so Canadians can have access to information that affects the health care they receive.

This work proved valuable for people with epilepsy, most recent in a rapid-response report issued by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health in April 2011. The report listed guidelines for when a single drug should be used for epilepsy treatment and for when more than one drug should be used. It indicated which drugs to use when more than one drug was needed and it provided these guidelines for adults, pregnant women and children. This report will be useful for patients, physicians and pharmacists alike. It will facilitate the decisions surrounding which drug to take and under what circumstances. A single, clear and Canada-wide standard was not available prior to this.

Another rapid response report was issued in April 2011 on the safety and comparative effectiveness profile of a new drug for epilepsy. The new drug was assessed against standard epilepsy drug therapies for clinical effectiveness, safety and cost effectiveness. The report provides evidence to help set the new drug in the context of other drug therapies available. This makes it easier for people with epilepsy and their health care team to decide whether to use the new drug and why.

Through the work of the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health, the government helps epilepsy patients and physicians decide on a course of treatment according to the best available evidence. Additionally, the government recognizes that when it comes to people with neurological conditions, there is a lot that we simply do not know. Epilepsy is no exception to this. That is why the government has been supporting research to raise awareness and improve our understanding of epilepsy.

One such research initiative is a four year national population health study of neurological conditions announced in 2009. This initiative is a suite of studies aiming to fill gaps in knowledge about individuals with neurological conditions, their families and their caregivers. The studies are administered by the Public Health Agency of Canada. They will provide key information to improve current knowledge about the incidence and prevalence of neurological conditions. Some will study the risk factors for the development and progression of neurological conditions. Others will investigate the use of health services by patients, identify gaps in the services and recommend improvements. Finally, studies will assess the impact of neurological conditions on individuals, families, caregivers and communities.

Canadians living with epilepsy face unique physical and social challenges in managing their condition. We have made great strides in helping people with epilepsy to lead full and happy lives, but there is still much work to be done. Bill C-278 is a step in the right direction. By declaring March 26 to be purple day in Canada, we will be working with a community of people with epilepsy, their families and their caregivers to demystify the social stigma surrounding epilepsy.

Purple Day Act
Private Members' Business



Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, today we are debating Bill C-278. Before I start my speech, I want to give a little background for those who may be watching at home. In 2008, a young girl from Halifax named Cassidy Megan, then 9 years old, wanted to get other children in her circle talking about epilepsy and to let other children living with epilepsy know that they are not alone. I would be very happy if this day were recognized finally by Parliament in 2011.

Thanks to the Epilepsy Association of Nova Scotia, Purple Day is now celebrated in over 35 countries. Epilepsy affects over 50 million people in the world—more than multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson's disease combined. We invest a lot of money in the diseases I just mentioned and there is a lot of work done to promote awareness. However, epilepsy is often forgotten. It would be a very good thing for Parliament to pass this bill.

I would like to explain what epilepsy is, as most people have only a passing knowledge of it. We have seen the shocking images of a child convulsing on the floor, sometimes foaming at the mouth. We do not know what to do when that happens. I am going to talk a little bit about what happens when someone has epilepsy.

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes seizures. Abnormal functioning of the brain's cells produces a sudden, acute, fleeting electrical discharge in certain parts of the brain. After an abnormal electrical discharge, people having an epileptic seizure experience a change in their usual personality for a moment. They lose control of their body. They lose consciousness. That is really what happens.

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders. Some 50 million people around the world have epilepsy and an estimated one in 100 Canadians has it. That is a rather significant number. The average person easily knows 100 people. It is quite possible that one of them has epilepsy. It could be a young child, an adult or a senior. This disorder can cause other problems related to the person's age. I will get into that a little later.

One in 100 Canadians adds up to 300,000 people in Canada, which is not insignificant. This is a global problem, a national problem. It is important that both the NDP and the rest of House of Commons take concrete measures to help those suffering from epilepsy and the loved ones taking care of them. We must also raise awareness among all Canadians about what people with epilepsy are going through.

Epilepsy affects more people than multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson's disease combined. It is a major problem in Canada. How does epilepsy affect everyday life? According to the International League Against Epilepsy, epilepsy can have serious physical, psychological and social repercussions due mainly to the unpredictability of the seizures. During these seizures, people lose control of their bodies. They do not choose at what time of day or night an abnormal electrical discharge is going to trigger a seizure.

Imagine what could happen on the roads if a person is driving and suffers an epileptic seizure. Imagine what could happen if someone was going down the stairs and had a seizure. Losing control of your body is a serious problem. The physical dangers are particularly worrying because the seizures are unpredictable. Surely the two examples I just provided demonstrate why I feel that epilepsy is a problem that Parliament should be addressing.

I want to provide another example. This one focuses more on the psychological and social aspects of epilepsy. A new father does not dare hold his newborn for fear of having a seizure and dropping the baby. Epilepsy can have numerous repercussions on an individual's life, no matter what his or her age. It is important for children to be accepted at school and in their social circle. Children who have an epileptic seizure at school could feel stigmatized because their classmates do not understand what is happening.

There could be social implications for these children who have epileptic episodes.

If we look outside Canada at developing countries, one statistic claims that 60% to 90% of people living with epilepsy do not receive any form of treatment because of a lack of resources and health care services as well as social stigma. Many people are left untreated and must live with this condition without any hope for improvement to or, at the very least, control over their situation. And epilepsy can be controlled.

In terms of treatment, at least 70% of people with epilepsy react well to treatment, but 30% do not respond to currently available treatments and still have uncontrolled seizures. In Canada, where people receive treatment, three-quarters of them take medication and their epilepsy is under control. However, there are still gaps in the medical and pharmaceutical science: the medication does not work for one person out of every four.

It is therefore important that Canada invest in research in order to find new anti-epileptic drugs that will help these people in their lives.

It is also important to improve access to global epilepsy assessment and treatment programs. Epilepsy affects Canadians and people outside Canada. It is also important to make everyone aware of this condition. It is not an illness; it is a condition.

It is also important to increase funding for research in this area. As I mentioned earlier, the medication available is insufficient and is not yet effective in all cases. It is therefore important to invest in research.

The pharmaceutical aspect aside, there is also another possible treatment. As I already said, one in four Canadians does not respond to the medication, or the medication is not effective in treating them. Surgery could therefore be a worthwhile option. It is the only solution for at least half of the people who do not respond to the medication. It is therefore important to make these young people aware that there is another form of treatment available and to advance the research to make this treatment safer.

I would now like to present the NDP's position. We are in favour of this bill. This day has been celebrated across the world for a number of years now. It is important that it be celebrated as early as possible in Canada and that it be enshrined in law.

However, I am a bit disappointed that this bill is not larger in scope. In the end, the bill merely serves to designate March 26 as Epilepsy Awareness Day and to encourage people to wear purple on that day.

In our opinion, it would be better to take this bill one step further in order to find concrete measures to help those who suffer from epilepsy and their loved ones. However, this bill is a step in the right direction.

I have an interesting statistic for you. Right now, we know that there is a drug shortage in Canada. We know that the Conservative government is dragging its feet on developing a strategy to solve this problem.

However, according to a briefing note about anti-epileptic drug shortages by the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance, drug manufacturers are not in any rush to address the current shortages, which largely affect lower-cost generic drugs with small profit margins.

The shortage of drugs used to treat epilepsy can have serious consequences that can reduce the quality of life of those with the condition and even put their lives at risk.

Earlier I mentioned that 70% of people—an encouraging statistic—react well to the medication. However, people need to be able to access that medication.

I would also like to talk briefly about some figures. As I said, the unpredictable nature of seizures can put people's lives at risk. Given that epilepsy can lower self-esteem and cause depression or even suicidal thoughts, it is very important that we address this.

Once this bill passes, I hope the Conservatives will go above and beyond the provisions of this bill and implement concrete measures to help people with epilepsy and their loved ones, and to tackle drug shortages. People need their medication. It would be appreciated if the government could show some leadership on this.

A tax credit for family caregivers could also be very worthwhile. As we know, very few measures exist. It would be a small step, and we encourage the government to do more.

Purple Day Act
Private Members' Business

12:10 p.m.


Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by commending the member for Halifax West for introducing this important bill, Bill C-278, the purple day act.

The member, as we know, has served his constituents very well over the years, having been an MP for much of the last two decades, and has also had the distinction of serving as a senior member in the federal cabinet of the previous Liberal government.

His efforts here today reflect his passion to make the lives of others better, and his initiative to mark March 26 as a day to create awareness for epilepsy in Canada is welcomed.

It is also heartening to see that the bill appears to have support on both sides of the House and that it will proceed through the normal parliamentary process and receive royal assent in due time. I say this because it is important that this issue not be viewed as a political one, but rather as an opportunity for the House to express an opinion on a matter that affects so many Canadians.

As we have heard from the member for Halifax West, it is motivated by one of his constituents, Cassidy Megan, who chose the colour purple after the international colour for epilepsy, lavender.

The lavender flower, as we may know and as has been mentioned, is a flower that is often associated with solitude, with being alone. It is that feeling of isolation that many people affected by epilepsy and seizure disorders often feel. They often feel that no one understands.

However, we do want to understand. This bill would help.

Epilepsy affects over 300,000 Canadians and over 50 million people worldwide. Many of us here today can only imagine what it must be like to be afflicted with epilepsy. We can only imagine what it must be like to be at work, on a school playground, in a classroom, perhaps on a date, or in any other number of situations when a seizure occurs. We can only imagine what it would be like to be young like Cassidy and looking to obtain a driver's licence, or perhaps wanting to embark on a career in the trades, to operate heavy equipment, to be a medical doctor or a dentist, but being unable to because of the possibility of a seizure and its attendant consequences. A young person's life choices are limited because of this unfortunate condition.

Far too often, people who suffer from epilepsy feel embarrassed and worry what others might think. That is why this bill is important. The bill from the member for Halifax West is designed to create awareness about epilepsy for Canadians like me, who may not fully understand what happens when a person has a seizure and what we can do to perhaps assist when one occurs.

Today is a first step in our efforts to create awareness. We hope that with passage of the bill, each March 26 this House and all Canadians will focus on this important issue.

There is much to be learned. For those watching--and I realize that the member for Halifax West has recounted some of these measures--I wish to point out a few things that one could do to assist someone who is having a seizure. I would like to read them into the record today, because it is important that Canadians have as much information as possible.

If we witness a seizure, we cannot stop it, so please do not try.

People should not shake or hold the person who is having a seizure.

Nothing should be put in the person's mouth. People do not swallow their tongues during seizures. Even trying to give medicine could cause choking.

Something soft, such as a pillow or a rolled-up coat, should be placed under the person's head. This action would help to protect the head from injury.

The person may be rolled onto his or her side to keep the airways clear. Ties or shirt collars should be loosened. Any nearby hazards, such as hot beverages, should be removed.

When the person regains consciousness, he or she may be dazed or tired.

It is important to stay calm, provide reassurance and stay beside the person until he or she feels better again. If the seizure lasts less than five minutes, inquiry should be made about a hospital evaluation.

It is important to call authorities, such as 911, if the following conditions exist: if the person having the seizure is pregnant, injured or a diabetic; if the seizure happens in water; if it lasts longer than five minutes; if a second seizure begins before the person regains consciousness; if the person does not begin breathing normally or does not return to consciousness after the seizure stops; or if this is a first seizure.

I want to thank all organizations and volunteers who work to improve the lives of people who suffer from epilepsy. It is important that we create awareness, and I believe this bill does just that. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to second it and speak to it.