Mr. Speaker, I want to begin my remarks today echoing the previous speaker, who was thankful for the tremendous work of the recently retired Senator James Cowan, who put his heart and his soul, his head, and his hard work into getting this bill to us today.
I also thank the members of the Senate human rights committee who spent hours getting the bill right so that it could pass there unanimously and get to this, the other place, in their words.
I thank the patients and the doctors, the parents and researchers, the advocates, legal scholars, the many health groups, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs that persisted in making sure that this bill passed at second reading and got to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, so ably chaired by the member for Mount Royal.
I thank all the members of that committee, and also the former justice minister and the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, both for their remarks and for their work on the committee; and the whole committee for sending it back to this House unchanged so that we could consider it, pass it, and start making a difference in the lives of Canadians this very day. It is a rare opportunity that we in this House can actually pass a bill that will change the lives of millions of Canadians and change it for the better for sure.
Unfortunately the amendments presented by the member for Edmonton Centre would essentially gut this bill. If they are passed, they would rob it of its ability to help all Canadians and limit its effect to very few. For me, the bill as it stands right now is the only way to ensure that all Canadians, regardless of where they live, where they work, where they receive health care; and where they may face discrimination in family law, labour law, or with respect to the provision of any good or service, will not be discriminated against because of their genetic characteristics. This is a bold law. It is a 21st century law designed to combat a 21st century problem new to us since the discovery of the human genome. The proposed amendments would, as I said, make the protection envisioned in this bill so narrow and so small as to make it impotent in the face of a problem that any Canadian could be challenged with. Unfortunately, the member for Edmonton Centre is new to the justice committee. He did not have the advantage of being part of it when, after very careful consideration, the committee chose to return the bill to this House with full and complete support for every one of its clauses.
The committee considered the medical necessity of the bill, the horrendous choices faced by adults and particularly parents of young children who have to decide whether to undergo a genetic test in the face of possible discrimination. The committee members saw the social evil of failing to protect every Canadian, ensuring that we all get the best health care possible. They also considered the jurisdictional questions, and came to an all-party conclusion. I am so happy to have brought together the NDP and the Conservatives. It does not happen often enough, but it is Valentine's Day and I am sensing some love there. This is an all-party conclusion that it is indeed within the right and the responsibility of the federal government to enact this bill.
Legal scholars appearing before the committee did not all agree, but the majority said without hesitation that they believe it is within our powers, the powers of everyone here, to pass this bill. The committee considered the concerns of the insurance industry and its fears that rates for life insurance would go up if the bill passes. The committee, however, also learned from the Privacy Commissioner, who undertook two studies and determined that “the impact of a ban on the use of genetic information by the life and health insurance industry would not have a significant impact on insurers and the efficient operation of insurance markets.”
The justice committee could have chosen to vote down each of the eight clauses that are proposed to be deleted, but it did not. The members of the committee chose to protect the integrity of all three aspects of this bill, what I have referred to as a three-legged stool, and they did that after very careful consideration of all the evidence.
Now the government is proposing to delete almost every section of the bill, including the title. How could it have reached such a different conclusion than those of our colleagues on the justice committee? The arguments that they heard at committee were different. We have heard that the argument the government has is jurisdictional, but according to Professors Bruce Ryder of Osgoode Hall; Pierre Thibault of the University of Ottawa; and the most distinguished constitutional scholar in our country, Peter Hogg, who has been cited over 1,000 times in Canadian courts including the Supreme Court of Canada, Bill S-201 is a valid constitutional exercise of federal criminal law power.
The Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly emphasized that the criminal law power is very broad and can apply to areas that would normally be under provincial jurisdiction, especially to counter social evil.
There are many examples of the Supreme Court, which has upheld this doctrine for food and drugs, tobacco, firearms, security training, assisted human reproduction, and more.
Is genetic discrimination a social evil?
Just ask the parents who go to Toronto's SickKids hospital. Just ask them what it is like when, as Dr. Ronald Cohn has said, parents of very sick children have been paralyzed by the fear of genetic discrimination. If a fear of discrimination is so great that it prevents a parent from having their child receive a genetic test that could save their life, is that not a social evil? This is not anecdotal. The CMA told committee that it ,“strongly supports the enactment of Bill S-201 in its entirety.... Canadians deserve to have access to the best possible health care without fear of genetic discrimination”.
Peter Hogg said, “The only conceivable purpose of [the bill] is to prohibit and prevent what Parliament would regard as the evil of genetic discrimination”.
To sum up, the Canadian Human Rights Act changes are simply not sufficient to do the job at hand. That is the only part the government would save. The act only applies to sectors and industries within federal jurisdiction.
Amending the Human Rights Act would be of little, or even of no, assistance to most Canadians who encounter or fear genetic discrimination. In fact, it could be dangerous. People could have the false assumption they are being protected, but could lose their job, could lose in a family law case, could lose benefits, could be denied insurance, or anything else that we assume should be protected under Canadian law.
Canadians want strong laws to protect their rights. They want to ensure that the federal government is taking action to protect them. The government claims that federal action alone cannot ensure the protections that stakeholders are calling for.
I support the call for additional provincial legislation, but almost every witness that the committee heard from told them that strong federal action is absolutely necessary. The federal Parliament can take action and can do so while respecting our Constitution. That is our job.
I ask members of this House to defeat these amendments, pass the bill as it stands, make a difference in the lives of Canadians, and ensure that all Canadians have the health care they deserve.