Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today to debate the bill.
This is an important bill substantively, but I think it also signals an important moment in the life of this Parliament. It speaks to the opportunity that we have as individual members either to stand up for a cause that is important, and indeed to stand up for the importance of the role of members of Parliament, of the work we do in committee and elsewhere, or perhaps it will be a moment when too many members roll over to pressure from the front bench. I want to talk a bit about that context and then speak about the substantive portion of the bill.
This is a bill that was approved unanimously in this place at second reading on October 26. All members of all parties supported it at that time. Of course, it is fair for members to support in principle legislation which they then want to see amendments to and then to subsequently vote against it at third reading. However, it is worth noting that at the time, this reflected a very strong consensus of members.
The bill was studied in detail at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights under the very able chairmanship of my friend from Mount Royal. All of the clauses of the bill were approved in committee. I understand the committee heard from many different witnesses, did a detailed analysis of the bill, and reported it back recommending support. Then, much to the surprise of members here, we had the government, the member for Edmonton Centre, notably the former parliamentary secretary for Canadian heritage, not even somebody responsible ostensibly for anything related to this file, put forward amendments which gut the bill. These amendments were to delete every single clause. When he moved these amendments, he noted that they had not been considered at committee.
Of course, as other members have pointed out already, committees do not consider amendments to delete clauses. They vote on clauses in whole. That is the time when members of the committee can consider whether or not to include a particular clause in the bill. Every one of those clauses was approved by the members of the committee, which of course includes Liberal members of the committee.
This eleventh hour amendment coming from the government was not simply a matter of the parliamentary secretary showing disregard for the work of the opposition. He was showing disregard for the work of all members of the House, including government members who had worked very hard on this piece of legislation. This bill was moved by a Liberal member, the member for Don Valley West, who has worked very hard on this issue. Many other members of the government have spoken passionately, and I think very effectively, about the merits of this bill.
I say to members who are considering how they will vote when this comes up that this is really an important opportunity to send a signal about the role of members of Parliament in this place and where we stand when it comes to what our responsibilities are. We are not here as delegates of a political party, at least not principally. We are not here as members of some electoral college that simply chooses the prime minister, who then chooses the cabinet. We are here to speak on behalf of our individual constituents and to articulate our convictions which reflect their convictions. We have a responsibility to the people who sent us here and to this institution to exercise our considered judgment in the votes we take.
I know it is not always easy to vote against a recommendation that comes from one's party, but especially on matters of grave importance such as this that deal with fundamental human rights and discrimination, we have a responsibility to exercise our considered judgment here and vote on behalf of our constituents. I know there are some members of the government who are prepared to do this.
I hope that we will see this very good legislation pass. It is legislation that was recognized to be constitutional, the value of which was recognized by the committee, and was recognized here at second reading. I hope we will proceed with it again as a recognition of the importance of this legislation, but also as a recognition of the importance of members of Parliament and the value of the work that was done.
The committee study process and the debates that have happened in this place, these are not mere matters of form. These are important venues and opportunities for actual discussion and consideration. When all of those discussions point to the importance of the bill and the value of approving it, surely we have a responsibility as members to consider that, take it on board and support it, not to sanction this eleventh hour gutting attempt by the government, moved by a member not even given specific responsibility, as far as we know, for this file.
That said, recognizing the importance of where we are procedurally, I would like to speak as well about the substantive aspects of the bill. The bill addresses genetic discrimination. There are genetic tests that individuals can have. They give them information about themselves, and their predisposition, perhaps, to contract certain health problems later in life. However, it is currently legal for employers, for insurers, for others, to use that information to discriminate against individuals.
This is a form of discrimination like any other. We do not accept discrimination in this country and we should not accept it in the case of genetic discrimination. It is a basic extension of our well-established norms of human rights protection. However, there are additional points about genetic discrimination that should underline the importance of passing this legislation, because not only is this a form of discrimination at a basic simple level, but this kind of discrimination discourages research and it discourages people from getting tested.
Right now, if a person receives more information about their genetic makeup that may help them understand what they might experience in the future, that information could be used against them, which creates perhaps a disincentive for them to gather that information. It also creates a disincentive for those who might be looking to help people with a particular genetic ailment, a disincentive to do research, knowing that their research might be used to discriminate against the people they are actually trying to help.
This reality, that the current law allows this kind of discrimination, could well, as the science advances, put a disincentive in place for people who want to get tested and for people who want to do research. Yes, we recognize that this is a form of discrimination, but it is also particularly pernicious insofar as it can put a chill on that research, a chill on people getting information that would be useful to them.
There is a simple response to this. We can pass well-drafted legislation that experts at the committee recognize because it is in the constitutional jurisdiction of the federal government. We can address this discrimination and we can at the same time remove these chilling elements.
I should also underline that for those who think there is some fundamental, unforeseen problem to moving forward with this, Canada is an outlier. We are the only G7 nation that does not have laws with respect to genetic discrimination, and usually we think of Canada as a leader in combatting discrimination. In fact in this case, we are an outlier and it is Canada that needs to catch up, and unfortunately, some members of the government do not seem to want to see that happen.
We have a common-sense bill before us that addresses discrimination, that helps us to catch up with the rest of the world, and that also opens the door for expanded research and makes it easier to choose to get tested.
We will have a vote on the bill tomorrow, and I hope every member of Parliament will vote in favour, but at least I hope that every member of Parliament will actually take the time to study the legislation, to consider what was said at committee, to consult the members of their party who were on the committee and who were a part of that study. We all have that responsibility, not just to look at the recommendation we get and sail in that direction, but to really think through the impact of this.
I think what the government has tried to do is wrong, trying to, at the 11th hour, undercut the important work that was done by the committee and done by this House is not the right way to proceed. This is the right bill to move forward and this is an opportunity for members of Parliament to emphasize the importance of our role as delegates on behalf of our constituents and as people responsible to exercise our own considered judgment. I would encourage all members to vote in favour of the bill.