House of Commons Hansard #71 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was decriminalization.


The House resumed from April 15 consideration of the motion that Bill C-223, An Act to establish the Canadian Organ Donor Registry and to coordinate and promote organ donation throughout Canada, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

June 13th, 2016 / 11:05 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to talk about the legislation. I must start off by commending the member in terms of the initiative that he has taken upon himself. I believe that the bill raises the very important issue of organ and tissue donation, something which is top of mind for a number of Canadians in all regions of our country. One only needs to visit a hospital to get a very good sense as to how serious an issue this really is.

Whether it is provincial, national, or here in Ottawa, governments are generally concerned about the issue of organ and tissue donation and what role we might be able to play in that. I would ultimately argue that all governments of all political stripes encourage Canadians, as a population, to do what they can by listing on donor cards their willingness to have their organs used if their life is terminated in some fashion or another, especially if it happens prematurely through a vehicle accident or something of that nature.

I say this because if we read through Bill C-223 it sets out some fairly decent objectives. In reading it, one would easily ask why we would not vote in favour of the legislation. I have had the opportunity to have a number of discussions over the years with respect to what the bill is attempting to do. At first blush, one would think that this is something that we as legislators should be acting upon.

As much as I appreciate the bill that we have before us, I believe it is not necessary. My understanding is that the government will not be voting or recommending that we vote in favour of the bill for good reason. No member of the House should interpret this in any fashion to mean that the Government of Canada is not sincere or genuine in wanting to play a strong leadership role on this very important issue. As I said, as much as possible we encourage Canadians to get engaged in this issue in one form or another, ideally, as I made reference to, in terms of considering the donation of their organs and tissue if their end comes in a premature fashion.

If I may, I would like to expand as to why it is that we are taking this position. It is important that we recognize that the federal, provincial, and territorial governments are committed to investing in improving organ and tissue donation and transplantation. Since 2008, all provincial and territorial governments, with the exception of the Province of Quebec, in collaboration with the federal government, have given Canadian Blood Services the mandate, and over $64 million in funding, for a nationally coordinated system.

It is important we recognize the jurisdictional responsibilities of what the bill is looking for. If we put the statement I just gave into proper context, one gets a better understanding as to why the bill is not necessary at this stage, as important as the issue is.

When we look at what Canadian Blood Services does with respect to the system I just referred to, it can be best explained in four points. First, it is responsible for developing and implementing a national strategic plan, including the mandate, and the roles and responsibilities in the nationally coordinated system. Second, it establishes leading practices, professional education, knowledge translation, and public education and awareness campaigns. Third, it enhances system performance reporting, including public reporting. Fourth, it develops and maintains the Canadian transplant registry and a national donor registry with three interprovincial organ-sharing programs.

Like many others no doubt, I can tell stories of constituents I have represented where the need was high. I think of a gentleman, Hank Horner, who has been a long-time advocate for organ donation. I have had numerous discussions with him. I am sure if he saw the legislation before us, he too would be tempted to support it.

However, I like to think that if we look at the bigger picture and at working with the provinces and territories, where there is jurisdictional responsibility, we here in Ottawa would do best, in terms of serving individuals like Hank, by working in collaboration with these different levels of government to make sure Canada establishes a world-class system that Canadians can truly believe in.

What Hank often argued for was that, as much as it was important to have a registry, the most important issue for him personally, and the individuals he had advocated on behalf of, was education. We need to be able to make Canadians aware of the importance of organ donation, and how not only does it save lives but it improves quality of life for recipients who have had the good fortune of receiving a transplant.

I have witnessed first-hand, as I am sure others have, recipients who have been gifted an organ. They had the operation necessary and the medications that followed. They will espouse how profoundly it has changed their lives. This gift has taken them off of machines. They no longer have to go into health care institutions, often on more than a weekly basis. It gives them that sense of independence. Therefore, I believe it is critically important for us to do what we can as legislators, as parliamentarians, to try to deliver those quality health care services.

What Hank would ultimately argue when he looked at a Manitoba driver's licence, for example, is that we have a driver's licence in which it is an optional issue. If one wanted to donate one's organs, one would tick off a particular box. I know that he, and others, were looking at the possibility of having a negative option where it is assumed that people would be prepared to donate organs, as opposed to having to tick off the box to voluntarily donate. I can appreciate the arguments for that.

I had encouraged Hank and others to work with the provincial government to look at creative ways in which they could improve the number of people who are prepared to donate organs, and the driver's licence is but one example. Another thing we often talked about was the issue of education and going into high schools. I know that Hank and others have done just that. They try to educate through our high school system, radio interviews and programs, community clubs, and outreach programs, which can really make a difference.

In essence, I commend the member for bringing the legislation forward. However, I would advise the member that there are already things in place to ensure that we are accomplishing what the member is hoping to accomplish with the legislation. Therefore, I will not be able to vote in favour of his private member's bill.

Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise with pleasure to address an important bill before the House, Bill C-223, an act which would establish the Canadian organ donor registry and coordinate and promote organ donation throughout Canada.

The bill proposes to establish a Canadian organ donor registry to centrally compile information on organ donors and potential transplantation recipients across the provinces and territories. The purpose of the registry would be to increase efficiencies associated with patient assessment and organ allocation to improve patient wait-times, hopefully to reduce them, for transplantation and reduce the number of lost transplant opportunities.

For years New Democrats have supported better national collaboration in organ and tissue donation and transplantation. Specifically, New Democrats have supported the creation of a national registry to achieve this objective, so we are glad to support this initiative put forward by my hon. colleague.

Let me give the House some key figures. Every year, 1,600 Canadians will be added to organ donor waiting lists. Over 80% of Canadians say they would donate their organs; however, fewer than 20% have made arrangements to donate. At any give time, approximately 5,000 Canadians are waiting for an organ or tissue transplant.

Canada's deceased donation rate is relatively low compared to other comparable countries. According to 2009 data from the International Registry of Organ Donation and Transplantation, Canada placed below countries such as Spain, Uruguay, U.S.A., Cuba, and the U.K. in donation rates. Canada's donation rate is less than half that of leading countries. One-third of Canadians who need a transplant will never receive one, according to Canadian Blood Services. We can and must do better.

New Democrats have been working hard in recent years to establish a national organ donor registry to save and improve the lives of Canadians in desperate need of transplants. Canada can do a better job managing the organ transplant system and the establishment of a national registry is a critical first step.

This is the latest in a series of similar private member's bills on a national organ donor registry that have been introduced over the past 15 years. The last two variations were introduced by New Democrat member of Parliament Malcolm Allen in the 40th and 41st Parliaments. A bill proposing a national organ donor registry has never been voted on at second reading.

The sponsor of the legislation, the member of Parliament for Edmonton Manning, has a son who was born with a rare liver disease and has required three life-saving transplantations over the course of his lifetime. The legislation is a combination of personal experience fused with public policy and I would like to congratulate the member for bringing it forward.

In 2011, Canada's organ and tissue donation transplant communities in collaboration with Canadian Blood Services produced a document entitled “Call to Action”, which formally recommended the establishment of an integrated, interprovincial organ donation and transplantation system. The “Call to Action” document recommended the establishment of this interprovincial system by 2017. The authors of the document believe that a nationwide coordination would allow Canada to better reach our potential in organ and tissue transplant donation. They called for the creation of a system that would be consistent across the country, easily accessible, available online, and used to legally authorize donations based on the wishes of the donor.

A national registry would not only improve the availability of organs to patients in need but could also reduce provincial health care costs on those on waiting lists as they are treated more quickly. It would also address the disparities in wait-times across regions and provinces by increasing the efficiency and the supply of donor organs and tissues.

New Democrats support sending the bill to committee to permit an in-depth study of its provisions and perhaps to see if any improvements could be made.

Due to the important life-saving potential of the bill, it is vitally important that Parliament get the details right. For example, we believe that the special status of Quebec must be addressed within the legislation.

Bill C-223 lacks some of the implementation details included in Mr. Allen's former national registry bill, including the right of Quebec to operate a parallel registry as they do today with blood and tissue collection.

In addition, the bill gives substantial power and responsibility to the health minister rather than delegating responsibility for the administration of the registry to the registrar, as did the former bill. This should be studied, as well, to determine the best approach.

Finally, in Bill C-223, both reporting mechanisms to Parliament and the process for provincial affiliation to the national registry are not detailed when compared to the former bill. These details require closer study.

Parliament should also study the experience of other jurisdictions that have implemented presumptive organ and tissue donation, that is, a system where people are deemed to agree to be a donor unless they explicitly opt out, as a means of dramatically increasing potential donations to save lives. This is not in the bill currently, but it is an idea that is well worth exploring to ensure that every single Canadian man, woman, and child, has access to necessary organs and tissues if they need them to save their lives.

In 2014, the NDP also supported removing the ban on certain organ and tissue donations made by men who have sex with men. Efforts to create a national registry should go hand in hand with efforts to remove this unscientific discrimination and replace it with a science-based behavioural screening process.

It is particularly appropriate to reflect today on this item, and to express my shock and revulsion at the hate crime committed this weekend in Orlando, Florida, where approximately 50 people were targeted and murdered for their sexual orientation. I think I speak for everyone in the House in expressing our solidarity, our prayers, our comfort, and our expression to stand with the LGBTQ community, not only in Orlando but in North America and across the world. This kind of hate crime has to be denounced firmly by everyone.

The bill is timely in a number of ways, but particularly in terms of urging the government to take immediate measures to end the current discriminatory policy governing blood and organ donations in the gay men community. That would be a good first step to start building the kind of science-based policy, the understanding and smart policy, that makes everyone feel included in our country.

New Democrats will continue to work positively and across party lines with our Conservative and Liberal colleagues to build a better health care system for everyone in our country.

I believe that the Liberal government will not be supporting the bill. I would urge Liberals to reconsider that position. Second reading is an opportunity for every member in the House to express our agreement or not with the spirit of the bill. Notwithstanding that we may have some concerns about particular details, we should be able to discuss those details at committee. Therefore, I urge all members of the House to stand together and support this important bill, to support it in spirit and in principle. Any concept or policy that helps organ and tissue donation become more available to Canadian men, women, and children in our country is something we should be giving every opportunity to debate and to put into law.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that there have been some missed opportunities in this regard. The former government had a full four-year term to take action on establishing a national registry, particularly after the release of the April 2011 “Call to Action” report, and the subsequent election of the previous Conservative government, just a month later, in May 2011.

It is unfortunate that four years have been allowed to pass. However, as my father used to say, “Wisdom comes so seldom that it ought not to be rejected simply because it comes late.” I am happy to see that a member of the Conservative caucus, the member for Edmonton Manning, has put forward the bill.

I urge all members of the House to give the bill the study it requires, to support it at second reading. Let us see if we cannot make the improvements we need to make at committee to get everyone's vote in favour of the bill and implement it as soon as we can, for the health of all Canadians.

Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise to speak in support of Bill C-223, an act to establish a Canadian organ donor registry and to coordinate and promote organ donation in Canada.

First I would like to thank my colleague from Edmonton Manning for bringing forward this private member's bill and recognizing the importance of organ donation. I listened intently to the member's speech at second reading back in April, and it was a very passionate and moving speech.

What you did for your son Tyler was incredible. You as a living donor, I consider a hero.

Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I would remind the member that he is to address his comments to the Chair and not to individual members in the House.

Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased that Tyler is doing well today.

To the member for Kitchener—Conestoga, thank you for sharing your emotional experience—

Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Once again, I would ask the member to please address his comments to the Chair.

Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Madam Speaker, through you, I thank and praise the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga for sharing his emotional experience resulting from a tragedy which occurred on May 2, 2011 in which he lost his wife Betty, and for supporting Betty's wishes to allow her organs to be donated after her neurological death because she wanted to give them in order to save the lives of others. It was a selfless and incredible gift.

Three years ago, I had the privilege to also bring forward a private member's bill on organ donation, as a member of the Alberta legislature.

The intention of the bill was to create a provincial organ and tissue donation agency. The bill progressed, was adopted into a government bill, and eventually passed unanimously by all members of the House.

The bill incorporated four key pillars, four components, to its content.

The first pillar was to implement an awareness campaign strategy to have advertising, billboards, literature, and bus benches. It was to encourage people to talk to their families to discuss their wishes in the event of a tragedy where their families may have to choose whether or not to donate their organs.

The second pillar was to implement an electronic donor registry.

The third pillar was to implement the training of health care staff throughout the province of Alberta, so that every hospital would have trained staff, ready on a moment's notice, to take advantage of an opportunity that may exist to procure organs in order to save lives.

The fourth and final pillar was to implement the intent to donate on a driver's licence. At the time, in order for people to indicate their wishes to donate organs, they had to sign on the back of their health care card. I found that unacceptable in today's world. The key to making a registry successful is to make the decision easy to make and easy to execute.

I strongly support the idea of getting one's consent to donate organs when someone obtains or renews a driver's licence or a health care card. However, we could even go further and ask it as part of a passport process or other formal registration process. Imagine if we could get the option to declare that a person is a willing organ donor on their income tax return form?

Today Alberta has over 250,000 people registered in its newly implemented organ donation electronic registry, and the numbers continue to grow.

Recently a team of experts at the University of Alberta's Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute made history by completing a record 31 organ transplants in just 10 days, indicating the progress that we have made in Alberta. However, there is a lot more work that needs to be done.

I have visited the University of Alberta Hospital transplant ward, and I have seen the results. I have met numerous people who have received the gift of life. What a moving experience it was. The emotions, the tears, the gratitude that these people had upon awakening, knowing that they had received a gift. It is something that I will never forget.

I have seen the need for a coordinated organ donation strategy first-hand, but I have also seen the results of a unified government that puts aside political stripes to support a positive cause.

This is not about partisan politics; it is about saving lives. I can only imagine the positive outcome of what a coordinated national effort could accomplish.

I, along with other members in this House, currently sit on the Standing Committee on Health. Our team is currently studying the issue of national pharmacare. This initiative is not about overstepping the boundaries of our provincial and territorial counterparts. It is about leveraging our strengths as a country to improve the system of pharmacare for all Canadians. Why can we not do the same thing with our organ and tissue donation procurement system in Canada?

Our Standing Committee on Health has already agreed to look into the issue of organ and tissue donation in Canada. It is only appropriate that we send the bill we are currently debating here in this House, Bill C-223, to that committee, to form part of the study and discussion.

It is not just our constituents and some politicians asking for this, but it is also experts in the field of transplantation right here in Canada, experts such as Dr. Lori West, director of the Canadian National Transplant Research Program. This is a national research network funded by the Government of Canada, dedicated entirely to increasing access of Canadians to transplantation and improving transplant outcomes. She is also the director of the Alberta Transplant Institute and chair of Canada research in cardiac transplantation.

Dr. West wrote all of us in this House just last week and said:

We believe that we have the opportunity to use this bill as the beginning of a national conversation toward improving organ donation in Canada. We strongly encourage your government to send this bill to the Standing Committee on Health (HESA) where we can work together with patients, researchers, health charities and government agencies to create a framework that will improve the national system to increase and support donation and transplantation.

In April of this year, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health said, right here in this House:

...our government recognizes the need for improvement in the organ and tissue donation and transplantation system in Canada. Collaboration, consultation and engagement with the provinces and territories as well as key stakeholders are necessary to address the complexity of the changes that are required in the system.

She says it is necessary to collaborate, consult, and engage with the provinces and territories, and key stakeholders. Why do we not send this bill to the health committee?

The hon. member and the hon. parliamentary secretary should talk to their caucus, talk to their colleagues, talk to the Minister of Health, and encourage support for this bill to go to committee so it can form a critical part of that deliberation.

In closing, rather than continuing to work in silos, our provinces and territories must work together under a national umbrella in order to improve organ donation in this country. We know registries work for organ and tissue donation. We also know that the larger the pool of donors, the better. It only makes sense that we combine our efforts and truly develop a national database that will help achieve our goal to save lives. Even if we are able to save only one life from our efforts, it will have been worth it.

I implore my colleagues here in this House to vote to send this Bill C-223 to the Standing Committee on Health, where the committee has already agreed to study this issue.

Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Madam Speaker, thanks to the member for Calgary Confederation's contributions at the provincial legislature in Alberta, the province has an electronic organ and tissue donor registry of which I am a donor. I subscribed myself thanks to that new system that he introduced. He is also one of the very few members of the legislative assembly when he served there who actually passed two private members' bills. I hope that fortune and that ability passes on to the member for Edmonton Manning who is pushing for a very wise bill on organ and tissue donor registry.

I have a Yiddish proverb to share with the House, “He who looks for light work goes very tired to bed.” I view the government's response to this private member's bill as a search for that light work. Personal stories on organ donor registries and about specific issues of public policy seem to have a higher impact on the backbench members of the government who might be allowed a free vote on this.

Let me share my personal story. I have three kids. My two oldest kids, Maximilian and Jolie, will both need some day the donation of a kidney to continue living. It is inevitable. There is no cure for the condition that they have called Alport syndrome and they were born with it. For a parent who has to experience that, it is profound and changes one's outlook on life. That is why I became a donor. That is why I became involved in the Kidney Foundation of Canada as a board member for the southern Alberta chapter as well.

Through that involvement I met lots of people on the Kidney March, a three-day 100 kilometre walk through beautiful Kananaskis country. I shared tents with organ donors and experienced people doing dialysis in the camp at night. They would do a 25-kilometre walk and then do dialysis in the camp, and then start completely fresh the next day because the dialysis cleaned out all the by-products in the body that come from exercise. They literally could walk another 30 kilometres the next day and they were not as tired.

I met incredible people with incredible stories of perseverance and strength. They want something like this bill. They need something like this. I met a gentleman who lost both of his kidneys on a trip to Morocco with his friends. He had an emergency flight back to Canada and they were able to save his life, but he is on a second kidney donation now. He does marathons across North America. He is literally the first one to finish the 100-kilometre walk. I tried to keep up with him and I am able-bodied and younger, but I had a tough time keeping up with him. On the second day it is a 38-kilometre walk and he finished first. It is incredible what people can achieve.

I am thinking of my kids and what they went through from the moment of diagnosis and the doctors explaining what would happen to them. An organ and tissue donor registry is the first step. We are not talking about creating an entirely new registry, we are talking about coordinating the actions being done in the different provinces. I know we already have three of these and they coordinate different facets of this. That is why I think this private member's bill goes beyond that and talks about an actual strategy on organ donation and lays out nine further points for a national strategy.

Most strategists talk about simply ideas, a principle, a thought that, although important, does not have what the member for Edmonton Manning has included here, which is nine specific areas that we could look at. I have met with specialists in this field across Canada. They are surgeons responsible for explaining to family members that their loved one is deceased or they are the ones doing the organ donation procedures. All of them say that these nine areas are an improvement that we can lend to the system, so why not legislate on it because that is what we are here to do, to pass good laws and make sure bad ones do not pass.

When I read the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health's argument, I found three excuses I want to highlight and explain why they are not good excuses.

The duplicating of existing initiatives was one excuse. This does not duplicate. We can simply repurpose current work to meet the demands of this legislation. To say they would duplicate would indicate that work is already being done, but national organ and tissue donation rates are nothing to be proud of. They have barely improved over time. Real improvements would be to go after the structural issues and bottlenecks in the system.

Furthermore, this is probably the absolute weakest argument that can be made, because if we are already doing the work, then why not seek the path of least resistance, agree with the legislation, and simply pass it so it can be studied at committee. To say that there are existing initiatives basically says this legislation simply encapsulates what already exists, which is fine, but let us move on to the next point.

The other one the parliamentary secretary mentioned was the shift in responsibilities. She mentioned consent, confidentiality, health policies, and procedures that they are, indeed, mostly within provincial jurisdictions. My issue with that is this. Is there not a better way to coordinate it, perhaps by doing it formally, maybe in a voluntary system, which the member for Edmonton Manning included in his private member's bill? Section 5 of the law creates a voluntary opt-in, so it is optional for the provinces to participate in this. Success will breed a willingness to participate as well, so that as these different parts begin to do their work, as donation rates improve and there is success, more provinces will want to participate. Although it is within their jurisdiction, there is a voluntary component.

Provinces can voluntarily coordinate with the federal government and other provinces in order to improve the system. I will give the example of pensions. Pensions are a provincial jurisdiction, not federal. The Canada pension plan is coordinated across all provinces in Canada. Why can we not do the same thing? The same principle applies. It is not a shifting of responsibility to the federal government, saying we want a national pension plan that is transferrable from province to province; it is simply the coordination of work.

When I worked at the provincial legislature and orders in council were passed, it was basically with the consent of the different provinces and consultation with the federal government about the coordination of the pension plan, to make sure that the provincial laws and regulations that were passed were consistent across the board so that Canadians who moved across the country would have the same pension plan system, wherever they went. Why can we not have that for organ and tissue donation systems? It makes sense and I do not understand where the problem is. I do not understand why this would have been brought up as an issue.

The third point that the parliamentary secretary made was about the privacy of persons due to the collection of related personal health information. I have run into this a few times now. This was probably the most bizarre reasoning at committee. In clause by clause on Bill C-14, I wanted to introduce an amendment on written consent before the procedure, and I was told that this would impede the privacy of the person involved.

Privacy should never be used as a bottleneck or a pit trap for public policy improvements, especially when people can voluntarily surrender their privacy for the sake of a public policy goal that they agree with. We are not going after people who do not want to donate, we are trying to make it easier for people who do want to donate, to be connected with individuals who need organ or tissue donations because their lives are in danger or they have medical conditions that require organ donations.

Of course, this is voluntary and privacy should not be used in this way as an excuse not to do something, especially when the individuals involved want to help. I meet countless living donors who are so happy to have contributed to and extended someone else's life. The connection between donors and the people they have donated to is very deep. I have seen this countless times. I saw this at the Kidney March as well.

Those in need of organ or tissue donations will not stand for this type of bureaucratic logjamming. I find it is straight out of Yes, Minister. It is like we have seen this all before. It is worthy of Sir Humphrey Appleby saying that policy administration is different from the administration of the policy, and we cannot encapsulate this in the legislation. If it is being done already, let us put in the legislation. If we can coordinate better, let us do it through legislation.

Again, I do not see a reason why we cannot do this. None of the parliamentary secretary's objections, to me, stand up to scrutiny. I would urge the backbench government MPs, where I sometimes find kindred spirits, to support this bill. Let us take it to committee. If there are amendments to be made, we can do it there.

Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to address this very important bill proposed by my colleague from Edmonton Manning. I want to commend him at the outset. This is a great initiative, the kind of substantive initiative we would hope to see coming forward in private member's bills. The member is drawing from his own experience and knowledge of a particular area but is also bringing forward a proposal that is meaningful and that would have a positive impact for many Canadians.

This bill would create a national organ donation registry. When we look at the solution, it is important to start with what the problem is we are trying to solve. Some of the speeches that have been made on this bill have suggested that everything is fine. We have a current system in place, so let us just leave the current system in place. However, that is not good enough, because in 2014, almost 300 Canadians—278, to be precise—died waiting for organ transplants. Almost 300 families were affected by someone dying in their families simply because they were waiting for organ transplants. Perhaps not enough people had signed their donor cards, or perhaps there was not an effective system in place to ensure that they got the organs they needed. In 2013, the year before that, 246 people died.

Canada ranks relatively poorly when it comes to this area. In 2012, Canada ranked 20th in deceased organ donor rates. Many countries that are, generally speaking, similar to us, including Spain, the U.S., France, and the U.K., do better than Canada does in this respect. This is not because Canadians are less generous or less concerned about the health and well-being of themselves, their families, or their neighbours.

We need to recognize that we have a problem here. We are under-performing when it comes to supporting those who need to receive organ donations. Let us recognize that problem. I hope this bill will move forward as part of that solution and will also stimulate further discussion about how we can move forward and make this decision better. Maybe, as well, this debate will stimulate awareness among Canadians about the importance of being an organ donor.

The solution my colleague from Edmonton Manning has proposed is to have a national organ donation registry. As much as health care is predominantly a provincial jurisdiction, the bill proposes that there could be more effective national coordination. We could work together as a country to make sure that we are implementing best practices and getting the best use of organs and the best donations we could. This is a great initiative. This is the kind of area on which we should be working together as a country.

As a Conservative, I believe deeply in the principle of subsidiarity, that we should allow provinces and municipalities to operate in their own areas of jurisdiction without undue influence. However, this bill would create a mechanism for collaboration between different jurisdictions. It is an area where collaboration makes sense, where the sharing of information and working together, such that different regions help meet needs in other regions, is just transparently better for everyone. It is the kind of initiative that other levels of government would respond to very well.

It is a simple solution, one that would not tread on anyone's toes, so to speak. It would confront this very real problem, which is that people in Canada are dying because they are not getting access to the organs they need. Perhaps those people could get them under a better developed, better worked out, and better constructed system, as my colleague is proposing.

I hope that members will take their responsibilities seriously as they study this bill and consider how they vote. We have heard from the parliamentary secretary an indication that the members of the government will not be supporting this bill. However, I encourage all members, whatever party they are part of, to reflect on the potential of this initiative to save the lives of many Canadians and the potential to make an actual, substantial difference. That is our job here, after all. It is not to line up along party lines but to think about how an initiative like this could have a positive impact and really matter for people who are suffering and need the help.

My colleague from Calgary, who spoke before me, did an excellent job outlining this.

The objections we have heard are just not substantive. Yes, this is something new. There is a sense that there are existing initiatives and that we should just leave them in place.

Sometimes there is a tendency in government to want to just leave things the way they are. The old way may not be perfect, but we should just leave it the way it is. However, when there is a real need to move forward, because there is a definable negative impact from the current system and there are improvements needed that could and should be made, I think it behooves us to look for those solutions and not just say that we have an old system that is working and that we should just stick with it. I think we should be prepared to do more than we are doing.

There was some discussion about the issue of jurisdiction. This is one of those areas where, while respecting provincial jurisdiction, we should be open to the idea of national leadership and national coordination and co-operation. When there are clear economies of scale, because everyone has the same organs, whether they are in B.C., Quebec, or the Maritimes, there is no reason not to work together to achieve the kind of positive outcomes we can.

I would add that there is an opportunity to see the bill not as the end of a discussion but as the start of an important discussion. I think there are many other options we should explore, building on the leadership of the member for Edmonton Manning, to say how we could do more to encourage organ donations.

We could build on this through enhanced public education, working with provinces on education in schools so that young people growing up are aware of the impact of organ donation and what it can do to help the quality of life of those in their communities. We could be looking at other kinds of programs that have been tried. One option might be a reverse-onus type of program where instead of people opting in as organ donors, people who do not want to be organ donors have to opt out. There would be a presumption of being opted in until an individual opts out.

These are models that have been explored and tried in other places. They are not part of the bill, but recognizing the challenge we face, which the member has brought forward, I think there is an opportunity for us to explore that conversation.

I would emphasize again, for the government and for all members as they think about how they vote on the legislation before us, that the current system is not good enough. When we have a large number of Canadians dying because of a lack of access to organs, and we have Canada under-performing compared to other countries, there is a problem and there is a need to respond in some way.

We are one country, and we can and should work together. We should not hide behind jurisdictional arguments to say that there should not be some kind of national coordination. Yes, of course we have to be respectful of provincial jurisdiction in this area, but that does not mean there cannot be collaboration across the board.

Yes, this is something new. This is a new idea that is different from the system we are using right now. However, that is not sufficient reason not to move forward.

If members have doubts about the bill, this is a vote at second reading that would allow it to go to committee. It would create an opportunity for further study, for Canadians who have been affected by this issue to come forward and tell their stories and for experts, legal and others, to propose modifications and improvements to the bill.

Let us not end it now. Let us move the bill forward to second reading. If members have doubts about it, I encourage them to vote for it at this stage, at least, because it will make a difference. It will make a difference to Canadians who are affected by this issue. It will make a difference as we start a conversation about how we can build on this to save more lives and have a positive impact on the health and well-being of Canadians.

I will be voting for the bill. I am pleased to do so, and I encourage all other members to do so as well.

Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Ziad Aboultaif Conservative Edmonton Manning, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to deeply thank my colleagues, the hon. members for Vancouver Kingsway, Calgary Confederation, Calgary Shepard, and Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, for their eloquent speeches, their efforts, and their support.

Before I begin my speech, I would like to comment on the parliamentary secretary's speech this morning in which he stated that this bill is unnecessary. Almost 300 Canadians are dying needlessly every year. This bill tries to do something about it by trying to put forward an act that would help reduce that number or perhaps wipe it out completely. It is unfortunate that the parliamentary secretary is taking such a political position on something that would be touching Canadian lives and Canadians' health and future every day.

We in this House have an opportunity to do good or ill for Canada. I am asking all honourable Members to make a choice to do good and support Bill C-223.

Health professionals and transplant advocacy organizations are calling for an improved organ donation system in Canada. Working together, we have the power to benefit all Canadians. We need a national organ donor registry.

We have also heard from some today who have concerns about the proposed registry. I appreciate their opinions. However, I urge all members to not allow the naysayers to influence their vote. I am asking members to carefully consider this issue and this bill and to do the right thing. If members feel that this bill has flaws, then they should make suggestions as to what needs to be done to improve it. It should be sent it to committee, as all of the members on this side and the NDP said earlier today. There, witnesses from across the country can talk about organ donation, transplantation, and the need for improvements in the system we now use.

This is not some abstract theory we are debating. For many Canadians, this literally is a matter of life and death. I have mentioned before that I am an organ donor and that my son is a three-time transplant recipient. Without those operations, he would have died.

In 2014, there were 2,356 organ transplant surgeries performed in Canada. At the end of the year, more than 4,500 Canadians were still waiting for the call that an organ was available for them. I deeply understand how they feel. In 2014, 278 Canadians died waiting for organ transplants, and 246 died the year before. In 2012, Canada ranked 20th out of 75 countries for deceased organ donor rates. Spain, the United States, and the United Kingdom are among the countries that are doing much better than we are.

This is not a partisan issue. This is not an area in which we should be playing politics. This is not something that should be subject to bureaucrats protecting their turf and saying that this bill should be rejected because it does not conform to their vision of the way things should work. The system needs to be improved, and this bill would do that.

When we first spoke about Bill C-223, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health told us “the bill would duplicate existing initiatives between the federal government, provinces, territories, and the Canadian Blood Services.” That is not the case. The bill gives the Minister of Health the legislative authority to determine how the registry is set up. It does not duplicate existing initiatives. However, it does provide a national vision.

Those in transplant advocacy groups are asking for this legislation. They say that what is in place is a good start but is not good enough.

Medical professionals and patient organizations have been telling me that Canada does not have a true organ donation registry and that we must have one.

The parliamentary secretary also said that another reason the bill will not be supported—

Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I am sorry, but the hon. member's time is up.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members



Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members


Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members


Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Canadian Organ Donor Registry ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 15, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Opposition Motion—Decriminalization of Marijuana PossessionBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders



Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC


That the House: (a) recognize the contradiction of continuing to give Canadian criminal records for simple possession of marijuana after the government has stated that it should not be a crime; (b) recognize that this situation is unacceptable to Canadians, municipalities and law enforcement agencies; (c) recognize that a growing number of voices, including that of a former Liberal prime minister, are calling for decriminalization to address this gap; and (d) call upon the government to immediately decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana for personal use.

Madam Speaker, I am proud to rise today on this important opposition day motion, dealing with the interim measure, the preparatory step to the legalization promised by the current government in its election campaign, namely, addressing the decriminalization of the possession of small quantities of marijuana.

I will be sharing my time with the member for Salaberry—Suroît. Madam Speaker.

We are faced with an injustice. We are faced with a situation that is difficult to explain to the parents of young adults when I am called by a mother in tears who says her child has just been convicted of the possession of small quantities of marijuana. That young adult will not be able to get a job because he or she adult will have a record and will be at the bottom of the pile when it comes to job applicants. He or she will no doubt be unable to travel to the United States and will face heavy consequences, including perhaps finding a place to rent when it is disclosed on his or her application.

Meanwhile, the government is saying that within a short period of time it will bring in measures, amendments presumably to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, that would put together a regime to regulate and permit adults to consume marijuana.

We already have medical marijuana available, thanks to the courts of the land, and legislation and regulations in response to that. However, we are talking about young people in particular, and all Canadians, who wish to consume a substance that will be legal.

Therefore, what is the problem? The problem is it may take two years for the government to implement the regime it promised in the October election. When the Minister of Health spoke in New York at the United Nations she said, “... it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem.” Of course she is right.

However, the Liberals will continue to arrest their way out of the problem, likely until 2018. If she promised there would be legislation introduced in the spring of 2017, given the requirements of debate and committee work in both the House and the other place, it would not be implemented with the signature of the Governor General until perhaps 2018. In that circumstance, should it take two years, something perhaps approaching 100,000 Canadians would find themselves with a record for possession of small quantities of marijuana.

Statistics Canada reports that something approaching 60,000 Canadians a year will be convicted for that offence, because it currently is an offence. The government would say that the law is the law . Of course, it is right on that. However, what it does not tell us is that it has the ability under the law to address this injustice. That ability can be found in any number of ways.

I am not here to suggest the best way, but I will speak to one way.

If the government wishes to address this as a preparatory step on the road to regulation and permitting the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, it has the ability, under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act, for the Attorney General, the Minister of Justice, to issue a directive to the director of public prosecutions to the effect that it is no longer in the public interest for small quantities of marijuana to be the subject of prosecutions.

We are fortunate because that is quite readily done. Marijuana is not regulated under the Criminal Code, which would engage all the attorneys general and crown counsels across the land, at every provincial level. It is dealt with under the Department of Justice, through the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. Therefore, it would federal employees, crown counsel, who would be given that directive. In that way we could ensure that what I fear is a patchwork across the country would be dealt with as well.

When I say a patchwork, the situation at present is chaotic at best. I live in Victoria. The police have better things to do than prosecute people for simple possession of marijuana in most circumstances.

However, in the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, prosecution occurs much more readily. In the city of Kelowna, it occurs much more readily. We have a completely different regime in Canada, depending on where one is, to address the possession of marijuana. As a Canadian, I find that offensive. We live in one country. Why is the law is so radically different in the real world depending on where one happens to be? That seems wrong.

That injustice can be dealt with quite readily should the government wish to do so. I have suggested one technique by which it could be achieved, but there no doubt are other techniques open to the government. The government can no longer simply hide behind the veil of it being against the law, the law is the law until it is changed. It has an interim way in which to change that law. Preparatory steps along the way would deal with the injustices.

In addition, hundreds of thousands of Canadians have criminal records for the possession of marijuana, often going back 20 years. That is wrong. The government could, as a consequential amendment, deal with that, and I hope it does. In the meantime, the lives of people are being affected by an injustice that could be addressed by the government should it wish to do so.

It is important to recognize that we are not advocating that marijuana be made available to young people any more than the government is. We want and respect the government's efforts to achieve a robust regulatory regime that keeps marijuana out of the hands of young people, children, and so forth. However, we also want a regime where the injustices that are occurring now are addressed before we have to wait perhaps a year and a half or two years to address it. That is the reason for my motion today.

I think Canadians expect clarity from their government. The New Democrats believe it is irresponsible to allow valuable resources of police and courts to be wasted while a new criminal record is created for something that will be perfectly legal.

I asked the Minister of Justice to talk about this issue when she appeared before the justice committee.

It was reported by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada that the government planned to spend $3 million to $4 million each year prosecuting simple possession of marijuana. That money could be spent doing things that Canadians want to have addressed in an urgent way. Two or three per cent of its whole budget, which includes terrorism, prosecution of drugs, and the Criminal Code, is being used for this purpose according to the director of public prosecutions. That is his evidence.

Let me read to the House something that Justice Selkirk of the Ontario Court of Justice said in the case Regina v. Racine. He refused to accept a guilty plea for possession of marijuana. I would like to read what the hon. justice said in court that day:

I recall distinctly the Prime Minister in the House of Commons saying it's going to be legalized. I'm not going to be the last judge in this country to convict somebody of simple possession of marijuana....You can't have the Prime Minister announcing it's going to be legalized and then stand up and prosecute it. It just can't happen. It's a ludicrous situation, ludicrous.

I asked the minister, given those costs, would the government consider doing anything different, and the answer was vague to nonexistent.

From a financial point of view, from the heavy hardship we are imposing particularly on our younger population, and the member for Salaberry—Suroît will speak to that in greater detail, there is every reason to address this gap. The excuses given by the government for not doing so simply do not hold water. Changes could be made in the interim.

I want to end by saying something I said at the outset. The New Democratic Party agrees, like former Prime Minister Chrétien, that the time has come for decriminalization. There is every ability to fix this problem. It is a question of political will and sound public policy. To hide behind the status quo and do nothing, which is the government's particular option, until it finally has a law enacted is not right and it creates a continuing injustice in our country, which is felt in different parts of the country in different ways. It is time to fix that problem now.

Opposition Motion—Decriminalization of Marijuana PossessionBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened very carefully to our justice critic's speech. I would like to lean on his expertise and ask a question to broaden the scope of our discussion.

Before embarking on a political career, which can end who knows when, I spent 25 years as a high school teacher. As we all know, teenagers experience so many different things, some of them only once. It is awful to be saddled with a criminal record at 14 or 15 for succumbing to peer pressure and trying an illegal substance. That can haunt a person for a long time.

In my colleague's view, is it true that it is getting harder and harder to obtain a pardon in Canada, never mind the costs associated with obtaining one?

Opposition Motion—Decriminalization of Marijuana PossessionBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Trois-Rivières for his experience and expertise that he brings to bear on this important debate.

It is heartbreaking to receive letters from parents saying their child was dragged into a group setting, experimented with this substance, which, oh by the way will be a legal in a couple of years' time, and his or her life is destroyed, at least in the short term, until a pardon may or may not be granted. As the hon. member pointed out, getting a pardon is increasingly difficult. Reforms made by the former government have made that even more expensive and difficult than in the past.

Why, in that circumstance, will the government not understand that it is simply hiding behind the words “the law is the law until we change it”, when it has techniques that it could bring to bear to fix it now? It is truly beyond my understanding.

Opposition Motion—Decriminalization of Marijuana PossessionBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Scarborough Southwest Ontario


Bill Blair LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, the member for Victoria made reference to a particular court case, and I believe it was heard by Justice Selkirk. He quoted some remarks by Justice Selkirk.

There were other relevant remarks, and I want to ask him about that. Justice Selkirk, in response to his remarks, was advised by the crown attorney that the federal crown's position was that the possession of marijuana was still illegal to possess and therefore still the law, to which the court said okay and it reset a trial date. Subsequently, in sentencing the accused in that matter, the judge issued an order that the accused was not to possess or consume any unlawful drugs or substances except with a valid prescription.

I am curious if the member opposite was aware of all of the facts of that particular case or only the small portion that he quoted.

Opposition Motion—Decriminalization of Marijuana PossessionBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Madam Speaker, the remark I read was indeed a quote from the court transcript, brought to our attention by the director of public prosecutions.

What happened subsequently in that case was indeed other charges and sentencing for other matters. Nevertheless, the remarks that were made are very much reflective of what I hear from judges across this land. As justice critic for the opposition, I frequently hear from judges, mostly at the provincial court level, who are are dealing with these issues in my province, and they are as frustrated as other Canadians with the status quo.

Opposition Motion—Decriminalization of Marijuana PossessionBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Madam Speaker, my question relates to presumptions.

The hon. member has already spoken about the fact that there is a lot of confusion in the land for the pending legalization of marijuana that the Liberal government has talked about, although we are all aware that it is not legal at this point.

With regard to the presumption of allowing it to be decriminalized, would this not create just as much confusion in the absence of legislation for police and law enforcement going forward?