Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my profound disappointment with the Liberal government's decision to gut legislation intended to protect Canadians from genetic discrimination.
Such legislation is essential to ensure that Canadians can make use of genetic testing, without fear, to improve their health care planning and treatment options. With approximately 48,000 genetic tests now available, no Canadian should have to forgo using these critical tools because they lacked effective legal protection from discrimination. That is exactly what the Liberal government has decided Canadians will have to suffer.
The original version of Bill S-201 proposed to make amendments to the Canada Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act, while introducing a series of new offences and penalties for genetic discrimination in a stand-alone act and to prevent discrimination in contracts in the provision of goods and services. However, the Liberal government's amendments to Bill S-201 have deleted all provisions forbidding mandatory genetic testing and mandatory disclosure of test results, as well as proposed employee protections under the Canada Labour Code. The only provision remaining from the original version of Bill S-201 would make genetic characteristics a discriminatory motive under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Currently, there is no law in place that protects the genetic privacy of Canadians. This puts Canada out of step with its major industrial counterparts. By eviscerating Bill S-201, the Liberal government is maintaining a serious legislative gap on genetic discrimination that does not exist in any of our G7 partners.
Canada's New Democrats agree that the federal government can, and must, do more to provide comprehensive protection from genetic discrimination for every Canadian. That is why we strongly supported Bill S-201 when it was first introduced in the House. That is why New Democratic MPs introduced similar legislation on three previous occasions.
Simply put, the Liberal government has utterly neutered Bill S-201 and, more important, the rights of all Canadians by eliminating the first ever nationwide protections and penalties against genetic discrimination.
Let us take a closer look at exactly what the Liberal government is proposing to do to the bill.
The original version of Bill S-201 would have enacted a new statute, the genetic non-discrimination act, prohibiting any requirement that would force an individual to take a genetic test or disclose the results of a genetic test. Further, it would have prohibited anyone from collecting or using the results of a person's genetic test without the person's written consent as a condition of providing goods or services to the person, entering into or continuing a contract with the person or offering or continuing particular terms or conditions in a contract with the person. Researchers and practitioners providing health services would have been exempt from this aspect of the legislation.
The original version of Bill S-201 would have made changes to the Canada Labour Code to prohibit federally regulated employers from taking disciplinary action against an employee because the employee refused the employer's request to take a genetic test or reveal the results of a previous test. The original bill would have also amended federal privacy legislation to make it clear that “personal information” would include information derived from genetic testing. Breaking the law would have been a criminal offence, punishable by fines and imprisonment.
In other words, the original bill would have provided Canadians with protection against discrimination on the basis of their genetic makeup. It would have protected Canadians from being forced to disclose genetic information to insurance companies and their employers. However, the Liberal government has stripped those protections from the bill.
In doing so, it is important to note that the Liberals are ignoring, indeed, countermanding, the overwhelming weight of testimony at both the House Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights. Before both bodies, the vast majority of witnesses supported the legislation as originally proposed. This view was echoed by the Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness, a diverse alliance of organizations that advocate on behalf of the families directly affected by genetic conditions, folks who are witnessing the disturbing prevalence of genetic discrimination first hand.
As stated, the only provision that the Liberal government has chosen to maintain is to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include genetic characteristics as a prohibited ground of discrimination.
Unfortunately, this provision is arguably the weakest of the protections contained in the original text of the bill. As Marie-Claude Landry, the chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission told the justice committee:
While changing the Canadian Human Rights Act will be a positive step for human rights, it cannot address all the concerns surrounding genetic discrimination.... There will still be a clear need to address the very real and the very serious fears of discrimination raised during the Senate debate..., fears about test results being used against us and fears for our children. We believe that in order to properly address these concerns it is going to take a concerted [comprehensive] national approach.
This is deeply disappointing to all those who believe in rights. It will create fear that Canadians will not qualify for insurance coverage. It will compel employees to provide their employers or prospective employers with personal information that may then be used to deny them employment. Worse, it will cause Canadians to decline to get tested for many conditions, to avoid creating a record that may some day be used against them. This will harm Canadians' health and set back critical treatment and research into many genetically influenced diseases.
These concerns have been eloquently captured by David Loukidelis, Q.C., B.C.'s information and privacy commissioner from 1999 to 2010 and deputy attorney general from 2010 to 2012. He recently wrote to the member for Edmonton Centre, the sponsor of the amendments to strip this bill of its protections. He wrote:
I am deeply disappointed, to say the least, by your motions to gut Bill S-201. Retention of the amendments to the CHRA is laudable as far as that goes, but it is not far enough, to address the very real threat posed...by genetic discrimination in the workplace, in insurance markets and in other areas of life. The fear of discrimination on this basis is amply justified—genetic discrimination is having real-life consequences for Canadians now. It is already harming vulnerable Canadian children now....
More needs to be done—and can be done—by Parliament. I am appalled by your complicity in the executive's thwarting of this critically-important legislation. The supposed constitutional concerns now being bandied about about are a smokescreen and no more, as Peter Hogg...has made plain. I call on you to stand up for Canadian children, for all Canadians, by withdrawing your motions and by fighting against discrimination, not supporting it.
The Liberal justice minister argues that the original version of the bill is unconstitutional, but when they studied Bill S-201 even the Liberal members of the Senate human rights committee were clear that they heard no convincing evidence supporting the justice minister's position. On the contrary, Bill S-201's constitutionality was confirmed by a number of constitutional experts who testified before Parliament, including Peter Hogg, perhaps the leading authority on Canadian constitutional law.
One critical piece of evidence reveals in stark manner the nonsense of the government's constitutional excuse. The Liberal government has removed the bill's employment protections from the Canada Labour Code, which applies solely and completely to Canadians in federally regulated jurisdiction. There can be no argument that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to provide protections to federally regulated employees, yet that is exactly what the Liberal government has done.
I submit that, rather than acting on constitutional concerns, the Liberal government has clearly caved in to pressure from the insurance industry and big business. Disgracefully, the Liberal government has clearly indicated that it will favour corporate lobbyists wanting to protect their profits over the human rights of Canadians wanting to protect their rights, privacy, and health.
However, rather than acquiescing to fearmongering, I am hoping that every member of the House, including Liberal backbenchers, will actually vote to preserve the bill. I know there are good Liberal members on that side of the House who agree with the arguments being made here today.
I will end by quoting Tommy Douglas, who told us, “Courage my friends, 'tis never too late to build a better world”.
I am hoping that the Liberal members of the House will do the right thing, stand up for Canadians' human rights, and vote against this cynical and illegitimate attempt to strip this important bill of the very real protections that Canadians need to protect them from genetic discrimination.