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.