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House of Commons Hansard #149 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Tax FairnessBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Opposition Motion—Tax FairnessBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Opposition Motion—Tax FairnessBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, we request that the division be deferred until tomorrow, Wednesday, March 8, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

Opposition Motion—Tax FairnessBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Accordingly, the division stands deferred until tomorrow, Wednesday, March 8, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

Opposition Motion—Tax FairnessBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I suspect that if you were to canvass the House, you would find consent to see the clock at 5:39 p.m.

Opposition Motion—Tax FairnessBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Is that agreed?

Opposition Motion—Tax FairnessBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Tax FairnessBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

It being 5:39 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from February 14, 2017, consideration of Bill S-201, an act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The hon. member for Pickering—Uxbridge has seven minutes left.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Pickering—Uxbridge

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

March 7th, 2017 / 5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Jennifer O'Connell Liberal Pickering—Uxbridge, ON

Madam Speaker, genetic testing can quite literally save lives. It allows Canadians who suspect that they might be at a higher risk for certain genetic diseases to take early preventive action. Unfortunately, under our current regime, Canadians often refuse to undergo a genetic test, even based on a recommendation from a doctor, because of the fear of genetic discrimination. This fear is not unfounded, as a recent Canadian study found that 40% of individuals with Huntington's disease experience some form of discrimination based on their genetic test results. That discrimination can come in the form of unfair insurance practices, being passed over for a promotion, and even being fired. Unfortunately, there are a number of documented cases of genetic discrimination in Canada, and that number will only continue to grow until we, as parliamentarians, fill that legislative void.

This is not only an issue of discrimination but is a legitimate public health issue. If Canadians continue to fear genetic tests because of the lack of legal protection from discrimination, they will be unable to access the best possible health care options available.

It is also important to note that a number of developed countries around the world have a regulatory system in place to protect their citizens from genetic discrimination. Many of our counterparts around the world, such as France, Germany, and Spain, all have legislative frameworks to protect the genetic privacy of their citizens and to guard against genetic discrimination. The U.K. and the U.S. also have some systems in place, whether it is a moratorium placed on the use of genetic information by insurance companies or a prohibition against genetic discrimination in health insurance and employment.

Unfortunately, Canada lags behind these countries on this important issue, and our laws have not kept pace with science when it comes to genetic testing. With the passing of this legislation without amendment, we would be able to provide support and protections for our citizens, as some of our international counterparts do.

I would be remiss in my remarks if I did not mention the insurance industry claims that premiums will rise if this important piece of legislation passes. That concern has been addressed, because this bill does not even contain the word "insurance". Although it is true that previous versions of the bill did contain insurance-specific provisions, they have been removed to address concerns about adverse selection and the constitutional issues that would arise because of it.

It is also important to note that in countries where similar legislation has been passed, the insurance industry has not been adversely affected or as severely damaged as feared. Research would also suggest that this would apply here in Canada as well. In fact, that assertion was confirmed by the Privacy Commissioner in July 2014, when he stated at a Senate committee that “the impact of a ban on the use of genetic test results by the life and health insurance industry would not have a significant impact on insurers or the efficient operation of insurance markets”.

Peter Hogg, a pre-eminent constitutional law expert, spoke in front of the justice committee on Bill S-201 and has also written on this topic in his book Constitutional Law of Canada. In it he states that “The authority to enact legislation of this kind is distributed between the federal Parliament and the provincial legislatures according to which has jurisdiction over the employment, accommodation, restaurants and other businesses or activities, in which discrimination is forbidden. Most of the field is accordingly provincial under property and civil rights in the province. However, there is little doubt that the federal Parliament could if it chose exercise its criminal law power...to outlaw discriminatory practices generally.”

Any debate on this issue must, of course, recognize the important role the provinces play. In Mr. Hogg's testimony to the Standing Committee on Justice, he pointed out that the double aspect doctrine was relevant, because there are other precedents where the criminal law power has been exercised. Mr. Hogg used the example of the Highway Traffic Act, where the federal government enacted criminal law while the provinces enact prohibitions related to property and civil rights.

He further clarified that this legislation would “simply be making it an offence to discriminate on the basis of genetic characteristics”. This is something I agree with wholeheartedly, and I feel Canadians want a national standard not to be discriminated against because of their genetic makeup. This is something I agree with and I hope that the House will, as I said earlier, fill that void.

It is also important to note that this legislation has the support of organizations like the ALS Society of Canada, the Alzheimer Society of Canada, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Parkinson Canada, and the Huntington Society of Canada, along with many of my own constituents.

As I mentioned earlier, patients with Huntington's disease are among the most likely to experience degenerative discrimination. It is crucial that we as parliamentarians do all we can to protect Canadians from genetic discrimination and modernize our existing laws to ensure we keep pace with developed countries around the world. I am honoured to have the opportunity to speak on Bill S-201 here tonight and proud to lend it my full support.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill S-201, An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination.

First, I wish to sincerely thank the author of the legislation introduced in the Senate almost a year ago, in April. The former senator from Nova Scotia Mr. Cowan and his colleagues worked very hard on this bill. I would also like to thank my colleague across the way, the member for Don Valley West, for sponsoring the bill. I also thank all my colleagues who have risen in support of the bill currently before us. Lastly, I wish to thank my colleagues on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, who have also worked very hard. They even proposed an amendment to Bill S-201.

What we are discussing today is protecting Canadians and their families from discrimination based on genetics. Amending the Canada Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act allows us as parliamentarians to do something and to achieve this objective.

In the previous Parliament, the Conservative government committed in its throne speech to adopt measures to prohibit discrimination on the basis of genetic testing, including in matters of employment and insurance. Various countries, including the members of the G7, have already adopted measures to prohibit any such discrimination. Unfortunately, Canada has not yet adopted this type of measure. Bill S-201 in its entirety, without the amendments proposed by the government party, seeks to bridge that gap.

We have some catching up to do, and Bill S-201 can help us do that. Some of my colleagues shared their concerns by providing concrete examples of discrimination and quoting various representatives, particularly representatives of groups that advocate for cancer patients and those suffering from other illnesses.

What is genetic discrimination? Why is it so important that we address this issue today? I would like to quote the Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness, which said:

Genetic discrimination occurs when people are treated unfairly because of actual or perceived differences in their genetic information that may cause or increase the risk to develop a disorder or disease.

We are not talking about someone with a disease, or someone who is suffering, or someone undergoing treatment. We are talking about someone who may have a gene that could eventually result in that person developing a disease.

The Coalition goes on to provide examples.

For example, a health insurer might refuse to give coverage to a woman who has a genetic difference that raises her odds of getting ovarian cancer. Employers also could use genetic information to decide whether to hire, promote or terminate workers.

This is all based on the results of a genetic test. The Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness also said:

The fear of discrimination can discourage individuals from making decisions and choices, which may be in their best interest. For example, a person may decide not to have a genetic test for fear of consequences to their career or the loss of insurance for their family, despite knowing that early detection and treatment could improve their health and longevity.

That is what the Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness has said and how it describes the situation.

The concrete examples I just gave are, in my opinion, valid reasons for us as parliamentarians, in whom the voters have placed their trust, to pass legislation that protects them from all forms of discrimination. The voters expect us to act.

We do not want to stop progress. We want to see a continuation of the progress made possible by scientific research. We want to be able to treat more and more individuals thanks to the work of researchers. We want to discover the treatment for diseases faster. We want to know earlier and earlier who is predisposed to one day developing this or that disease. If we can help them prevent these diseases, all the better.

Indeed, genetic testing identifies those who are predisposed to developing some of these diseases.

That said, as a society, we cannot allow these discoveries to pave the way for discrimination. As I said a few moments ago, we heard from many who expressed their fears and serious concerns, and I must admit that I share their fears.

Some of my colleagues in the House spoke about the cases of individuals who were turned down for jobs or promotions based on the results of tests to determine whether or not they carried certain genes or whether they were predisposed to develop certain diseases. Testimony to that effect was heard in the Senate. Some of my colleagues here could tell horror stories like those. We cannot allow these discriminatory practices to occur.

If passed, Bill S-201 will give Canadians peace of mind, since it will give them the assurance that their genetic history will not be able to be used to determine the future well-being and security of their families.

If insurance companies use that history to refuse life insurance to an individual or his or her family members, we, as legislators, will have failed in our duty to ensure that none of our fellow citizens are discriminated against on this basis.

I am concerned about the Liberal government's plan to make major changes to the legislation that our Senate colleagues introduced and studied. The Liberal government seems to have changed its mind in recent weeks. I am very concerned. That is what I heard in the speech the member just gave. Given what is being reported in the media and the government's proposed amendments, it looks like the government is planning to gut Bill S-201, leaving just a shell. It will take away everything that could have given Canadians extra protection vis-à-vis genetic tests they have taken in the past or will take in the future.

In a piece published on March 2 in Le Devoir, we learned that the Minister of Justice spoke about having to go through the provinces to avoid any confrontation. There was mention of the Constitution and jurisdiction. When it is time to act to defend Canadians, I think it is a real shame that this measure, which was introduced by a government member in the House, is literally being gutted.

The government wants to lift the ban on insurance companies requiring the disclosure of past results of genetic testing. The Liberal government will have decided to let Canadians and their families down if the members from the government majority decide to support the proposed amendments. I hope that the government will recognize that Canadians’ right to privacy is more important than the interests of insurance companies.

When we go to the doctor, it is to get care. When we undergo testing, it is because we want to get better and we want to cure a disease. When we undergo a complete physical and are asked if we want a genetic test to know if we are predisposed to developing cancer one day, we want to be able to say yes without fear that it will affect our financial well-being, without fear that it will affect our family in the future.

Bill S-201 deserves the support of parliamentarians. On this side of the House, we will support Bill S-201. We believe that parliamentarians must absolutely support this measure. I invite my colleagues opposite, all my colleagues who are not in Cabinet, to vote for Bill S-201 for the good of all Canadians.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

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.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak today in support of Bill S-201, the genetic non-discrimination act. I applaud Senator Cowan for his efforts for many years on this issue and my colleague, the member for Don Valley West, who has been a tireless advocate to end genetic discrimination.

With this bill, we have the historic opportunity to join all other G7 countries that already have legislation that protects its citizens from discrimination based on their genetics.

As we have heard, the bill has three components, each of which is critical to the new genetic non-discrimination bill, which would make it a criminal offence for a service provider to require genetic testing or that a person disclose results of past testing. The second part would amend the Canada Labour Code to set up a complaint procedure for those working in federally regulated industries. Finally, it would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to add the words “genetic discrimination”.

The proposed amendments would remove two of these three components of the bill and could leave more 90% of Canadians with a false sense of security that they are indeed protected. As we know, only 5% to 7% of Canadians are covered by the Canadian Human Rights Act, so most would still remain without protections with the government's proposed amendments.

My colleague from Don Valley West shared a timeline that highlights the rapid changes taking place in genetic testing. In 2003, scientists first mapped the human genome. Then there were 100 genetic tests for diseases or conditions. When Senator Cowan first spoke about this issue in the Senate 10 years later, the number of tests had jumped to 2,000. Today that number has skyrocketed to almost 35,000, with tests available for more than 10,000 conditions.

The Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness is a group of 18 organizations dedicated to establishing protections from genetic discrimination for all Canadians. Members include the ALS Society of Canada, the Alzheimer Society of Canada, Muscular Dystrophy Canada, the MS Society of Canada, Osteoporosis Canada, and 13 more. They have stated that cases of genetic discrimination have been documented in Canada and are continuing to grow. As they remind us, all Canadians are impacted by genetic discrimination. Each of us has dozens of genetic mutations that could increase or decrease our risk of getting diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Parkinson's, or Alzheimer's disease.

While I was aware that genetic testing was available, like most Canadians I had not given it a lot of thought. While I knew that my father's colon cancer made it more likely for me to develop the same cancer, there was not a genetic test available for that particular cancer. I knew about the BRCA gene and its connection to breast and ovarian cancer, but it was not until last year, when I had a meeting with Ovarian Cancer Canada, that I was shocked to learn of the discrimination that is taking place in our country based on genetics.

Ovarian cancer is an insidious disease that is notoriously hard to detect. There is no reliable early detection test. It is the third most common reproductive cancer in women and one of the most deadly. I was told the story of two sisters who had a history of ovarian cancer in their family. Their doctors recommended genetic testing, as their prognosis would greatly improve with the knowledge gained from these tests. One sister had the testing, was positive for the gene, and had surgery to remove her ovaries. The other sister was told her insurance would be cancelled if she tested positive, so despite the fact that the test could potentially save her life, she was afraid to risk losing her insurance and did not get genetic testing.

Just last night, I received a letter from a constituent who wished to stay anonymous out of fear of discrimination. She disclosed that she and her daughter had a genetic test that found that they both had a gene that could leave them blind. She questioned the fairness of allowing a simple genetic test to undermine her future access to employment and insurance, and she worried about her daughter and the effect it could have on her career and future. She reminded me that we live in Canada, a country where we celebrate our differences. We protect one another from race, colour, sex, and disability discrimination.

In an article posted yesterday, representatives from Ovarian Cancer Canada and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs wrote:

For a young woman taking her first steps in building a professional career, the “wrong” genetic test results can impose a new glass ceiling....

Tomorrow is International Women's Day, and members of this House will have an opportunity to enhance women's health by allowing them to use genetic testing for early detection, monitoring, and intervention without the fear of being discriminated against.

Last year I had the opportunity to speak with Rabbi Stephen Wise from the Shaarei-Beth El congregation in Oakville. He shared with me the prevalence of certain genetic diseases within the Jewish community. He said that Bill S-201 would save lives. In fact, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a member of the Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness, which appeared as a witness before the justice committee, stated, “It is time for the law to catch up with science and bring an end to genetic discrimination”. On its website, it highlights that governments continue to invest billions in promising genome research, but the benefits of this research will be diminished or degraded due to genetic discrimination.

A Globe and Mail story from last year told the story of a 24 year old who was fired from his first job of his career when he told his employer he had tested positive for the gene for Huntington's disease. Our human rights laws do not cover this type of discrimination yet. Bill S-201 would change that. This is one of the many reasons why the bill should pass as is, without amendment. As it is currently written, the bill would make this type of dismissal criminal and allow individuals to make their case through the less cumbersome judicial process.

Constitutional law experts have stated that the bill would be constitutionally valid because it did not single out a particular industry that fell under provincial jurisdiction.

This issue has been debated in the House of Commons and the Senate. The issue of genetic screening has been mentioned in both the Liberal and Conservative Party platforms, and the NDP recently had a private member's bill to ban “genetic characteristics” as grounds for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

I suspect most Canadians would be shocked that their genetic test results could be used to discriminate in employment, insurance, and even divorce cases. Often it is not until people are advised to get genetic testing that they find out about this discrimination. The fear of the disclosure is actually preventing people from getting tested. This is just wrong.

Genetic testing is transforming medicine by moving medical research toward personalized medicine. Modern medicine is recognizing that mapping the human gene for diseases and conditions can truly change the way we treat individuals.

When Dr. Cindy Forbes, past president of the Canadian Medical Association, appeared before the justice committee, she stated the CMA's strong support for Bill S-201 in its entirety. She spoke to the rapid growth of genetic testing and the great promise it held in the diagnosis and therapeutic treatment of many known and new diseases. She said this would ultimately enhance the quality of life of many patients and allow for early diagnoses that would benefit patient care. She testified that genomic medicine was a transformative development.

She also stated:

Of great concern to Canada's doctors and their patients is the fact that public policies and legislation have not kept pace with this transformation. Genetic discrimination is both a significant and an internationally recognized phenomenon...As Canada's doctors, it is the CMA's position that Canadians deserve to have access to the best possible health care without fear of genetic discrimination.

She testified to the correlation between disease and genetics, stating:

Six out of every 10 Canadians will be affected during their lifetime by a health problem that is genetic in whole or in part. It's important to recognize that genetic testing will no longer be limited to rare, esoteric genetic diseases occurring in patients seen by a handful of specialists across the country. Rather, it's becoming an integral part of broad medical care and, as such, is expected to become mainstream medicine.

As legislators, it is imperative that we deal with this issue now and give those who undergo genetic testing the protection they deserve. Bill S-201, if passed as originally written without amendments, will bring our laws in line with other G7 countries. This law is long overdue. It will protect our citizens. It is the right thing to do.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

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.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Is the House ready for the question?

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The question is on Motion No. 1. A vote on this motion also applies to Motions Nos. 2 to 8. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

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Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

All those opposed will please say nay.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

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Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 98, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 8, immediately before the time provided for private members' business. The recorded division will also apply to Motions Nos. 2 to 8.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.