Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill S-201, an act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination. Many of my comments will be similar to those members have heard today, but I thought it important to add my voice to this debate.
I want to thank the hon. member for Don Valley West for sponsoring the bill in the House and for his important work and advocacy on this issue.
The study of genetics is a complicated one. In my conversations with stakeholders and constituents, it was fascinating to learn about a field that remains a mystery for many Canadians.
A genetic test, according to the federal medical devices regulations, is a test that analyzes DNA, RNA, or chromosomes for the purpose of prediction of disease or vertical transmission risks, or monitoring diagnosis or prognosis.
In Canadian health care institutions, tens of thousands of genetic tests are conducted each year to diagnose disease, guide treatment, inform reproductive planning, and to test for influences and drug responses. As of this moment, if a Canadian has a genetic test, there is no law, federal or provincial, that provides protection against a third party demanding and attaining access to those test results.
Bill S-201, if passed, will provide much needed protection for Canadians against discrimination on the basis of genetic tests or characteristics. It will do so by, among other measures, prohibiting the collection, use, or disclosure of genetic test results without prior consent. It will also add genetic characteristics to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The bill, if not amended, would also provide employees with the right to refuse undergoing genetic testing and/or disclosing the test results to their employer. Employers would also be prevented from dismissing or retaliating against an employee for exercising those rights.
If our government is committed to protecting Canadians from the possible misuse of their genetic information, then this bill is an important step toward helping prevent genetic discrimination, while safeguarding their privacy. The fact is that as genetic testing technologies become more accessible and sophisticated, access to online genetic information has become widespread. Protecting Canadians from genetic discrimination is a pressing issue now more than ever, as genetic testing for both diagnostic and predictive purposes has become a normal part of medical practice.
Factors such as family history or one's ethnicity can increase the chances of certain genetic mutations. Genetic testing can quite literally save lives as it allows Canadians who suspect they might be of high risk to take preventative action.