Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening in strong support of Bill S-201, an act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination, and in strong opposition to the amendments brought forward by the hon. member for Edmonton Centre and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, which would have the effect of gutting this important piece of legislation.
At the outset, echoing the comments from the hon. member for Don Valley West, I want to acknowledge the tremendous work of Senator James Cowan, who recently retired after serving in the other place for 12 years with distinction. I also want to acknowledge the hon. member for Don Valley West for his tireless advocacy on this important issue.
The hon. members for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, Niagara Falls, and Don Valley West very ably set forward the arguments that were heard before the justice committee in great detail about the constitutionality of Bill S-201. Simply put, it is not in question. The constitutionality of Bill S-201 is clear, and I do not intend to elaborate any further on that point. However, I want to talk about why Bill S-201 is a good bill, and why it is so important that we see this legislation passed, and why we stand up against the government's effort to gut the bill.
In recent years we have seen a tremendous transformation in medicine as a result of genetic testing. As recently as three years ago, there were some 2,000 genetic tests. Today, there are more than 48,000 genetic tests. That number continues to rise each and every day.
Advances in genetic knowledge and technologies and their resulting applications present tremendous opportunities in medicine. Information from genetic testing can help patients seek early treatment and modify lifestyle choices, to minimize the impact of a genetic mutation. Genetic testing guides the selection of pharmacological therapies. Genetic testing can help prevent disease and illness. With early detection and treatment, genetic testing can save lives.
While there have been tremendous advancements in genetic testing and in genetic medicine, absent robust safeguards, genetic information can be misused and abused. As a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I along with the members of the committee heard very clear evidence that genetic discrimination occurs in Canada. We heard evidence of genetic discrimination in the provision of insurance, evidence of genetic discrimination in the area of employment, and evidence of genetic discrimination in housing, among other areas.
We heard evidence of a young mother who had her life insurance policy rescinded because she told her insurer that her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer and that her mother had a BRCA mutation. We heard evidence of a young man who lost his position of employment because he told his employer that he had a genetic mutation. We heard evidence of a landlord who required that tenants provide medical information, including genetic information, failing which they would lose housing privileges.
We heard evidence from Dr. Cohn, the chief pediatrician at Toronto's Sick Kids Hospital, who gave compelling evidence of parents, literally with tears in their eyes, refusing to have their children undergo genetic testing, even though that testing was the best way forward in terms of identifying the right treatments for those children, all because they feared genetic discrimination.
Despite the fact that genetic testing is real, when it happens in Canada, there are literally no safeguards. There are no laws on the books to protect Canadians from genetic discrimination. Consequently, Canadians are faced with two choices. They can either undergo genetic testing and face the risk that they will experience some form of genetic discrimination, or they can forego genetic testing, foregoing an opportunity for early detection, early treatment, and the potential to save their lives. That is a choice that no Canadian should have to face.
Bill S-201 closes the legislative vacuum by doing three key things. The hon. member for Don Valley West has referred to the bill as a three-legged stool. What the government is doing is removing two critical legs of that stool.
As a result of the amendments being brought forward, the government would be gutting a section of Bill S-201 that would amend the Canada Labour Code to establish a complaints process for federally regulated employees to bring forward complaints about genetic discrimination by their employers.
The government is leaving intact the amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act, which would establish and expressly incorporate into the Canadian Human Rights Act that genetic characteristics constitute a prohibited ground of discrimination. That part of Bill S-201 is an important component of the bill in terms of updating Canada's human rights laws and making it absolutely clear that genetic discrimination is unacceptable and clearly constitutes a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act. However, make no mistake, the burden falls on the complainant to advance a Canadian Human Rights Act complaint.
That is why the most important section, which is being gutted by the government, would prohibit someone who is providing a service or entering into a contract with another person from requiring someone to take a genetic test or to provide genetic test information. Further, it would prevent someone from sharing the genetic information of an individual without their consent. It is that part of the legislation that is so critical. That part of the legislation would give Bill S-201 teeth. It is that part of the bill, the essence of the bill, that is, shamefully, being gutted by the government.
Bill S-201 is comprehensive. It is robust. If it is passed, and the government's amendments are rejected, Canada would go from having no laws, being the only country in the G7 without laws to protect Canadians from genetic discrimination, to having some of the strongest and most robust anti-genetic discrimination laws in the world. Let us pass Bill S-201, and let us reject the amendment brought forward by the government.