Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the motion tabled in the House on September 23 by the hon. member for Calgary Northeast. This motion, which clearly targets prospective immigrants who are HIV positive, is, by the same token, discriminatory.
To argue that their admission would put an excessive burden on our health care system is very one-sided, since that is certainly not the case. The motion discriminates particularly against people claiming refugee status, since it would make them inadmissible even before their case is heard by the Immigration and Refugee Board.
This motion should therefore be interpreted as barring immigrants, certain classes of visitors and persons claiming refugee status from entry into Canada.
Detection of the virus in these people would make them inadmissible and, as a result, prohibit them from proceeding with their visit to Canada, from immigrating to Canada, and from claiming refugee status.
Today, the Canadian government intends to take advantage of its statutory review of immigration policy. In an article published in La Presse on April 26, 1994, the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship was already setting the parameters for this review. He said the government was looking at the list of diseases for which testing is compulsory, to decide whether the list should also include HIV.
Under the current Immigration Act, individuals who wish to immigrate to Canada are subject to admission criteria that do not discriminate in any way that is incompatible with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Tests are currently carried out on a routine basis and are compulsory for a number of diseases, including tuberculosis and syphilis.
The minister went on to say that screening for HIV was not on the list. However, Canada could deny entry to individuals who were HIV positive and who had AIDS.
If a physician suspects that an immigrant is HIV positive or has AIDS, a screening test is done. At the present time, if the applicant is HIV positive, the application is automatically rejected.
In a study by the Library of Parliament, Law and Government Division, we read that in a study on admissibility finished in 1992, it was recommended that the whole issue of routine testing for communicable and other diseases that are a burden on the health care system be reviewed.
But, for the time being, there is no indication, as my colleague from Drummond said, that universal HIV screening would save more money than targeting other diseases. Furthermore, according to a study conducted by the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, the economical impact of HIV infection among immigrants is similar to the impact of coronary diseases. Finally, researchers at the McGill Centre believe that mandatory AIDS testing for immigrants would be purely arbitrary.
That is why I endorse the position of our party which asks the government to create a committee that would review phase II of the Canadian strategy on the fight against AIDS. This position differs considerably from an outright fight against the admissibility of immigrants. Let me remind the House of some of the criteria we use to determine medical admissibility; these criteria are given in section 22 of the regulations related to the present legislation.
"For the purpose of determining whether any person is...a danger to public health or to public safety...or might cause excessive demands on health or social services, the following factors shall be considered by a medical officer in relation to the nature, severity or probable duration of any disease, disorder, disability or other health impairment from which the person is suffering, namely: any reports made by a medical practitioner with respect to the person; the degree to which the disease, disorder, disability or other impairment may be communicated to other persons; whether sudden incapacity or unpredictable or unusual behaviour may create a danger to public safety; whether the supply of health...services that the person may require in Canada is limited to such an extent that: the use of such services by the person might reasonably be expected to prevent or delay provision of those services to Canadian citizens or permanent residents, or the use of such services may not be available or accessible to the person; whether medical care or hospitalization is required; whether potential employability or productivity is affected; and whether prompt and effective medical treatment can be provided".
In 1993, 54 persons were refused for that reason. Therefore, as written, the present legislation contains all the provisions required to admit or refuse any applicant for visitor, immigrant or refugee status. I believe that this motion is, for the moment, premature to say the least. Moreover, it opens the door to discrimination towards would-be immigrants by reinforcing insidiously prejudices against them.
This motion would also be in violation of the Canadian Human Rights Act, a legislation which is the basis for several federal and provincial commissions on human rights. Several decisions and judgments confirming discrimination have been passed by these commissions under Canadian legislation on human rights.
That study summarizes the position of the commissions: "Discrimination against HIV or AIDS infected individuals is a proscribed ground of discrimination because it is based on a deficiency or handicap as defined by human rights legislation". However, for refugee claimants who must submit to a medical examination within 60 days of their arrival in Canada, the minister recognizes that the question is sensitive. "On the one hand there are medical considerations and on the other the real fear of persecution".
As my colleague from Calgary Northeast was saying in this House, on September 23: "The risk of admitting immigrants with HIV who likely do not even know that they are infected is one we cannot tolerate". These are alarmist words, although I recognize the seriousness of the situation and the pandemic character of the disease. However, are we going to systematically screen for AIDS all Canadians coming home from a trip abroad on the off chance that they might not know that they have been infected by the virus? Why then specifically target visitors, immigrants and convention refugee status claimants?
Since this terrible disease is a global health problem, how else can we stop anyone, be it healthy Canadians or healthy immigrants, from contracting a HIV-related disease, if not through an efficient national awareness and prevention policy? The solution does not lie in screening only, but mostly in a vigorous awareness and prevention campaign. This disease is not circumscribed to immigrants.
The way this disease is spreading, healthy landed immigrants and permanent residents may get infected by the HIV virus even in Canada.
Compulsory screening for visitors, immigrants and refugee status claimants is neither a cure nor a way to slow down the spread of the disease.
In fact, routine screening is a dubious argument which raises several questions regarding the Reform Party's position on the Immigration Act.
On October 25, the Reform member for Calgary Northeast said in this House, and I quote: "-today the Financial Post reported on a memo from the government's finance department which concluded that this government's immigration policies are worsening the unemployment crisis.
Is the Minister of Immigration going to act on the finance minister's conclusions or on those of the Reform member and drastically reduce immigration levels?"
The real aim of this motion is a drastic reduction in immigration levels.
As my Liberal colleague from Thunder Bay-Atikokan did before me, I want to say again that the danger of HIV infection does not come from foreigners but rather from specific practices such as sharing drug needles, unprotected sex, transfusions involving tainted blood, and not mere physical contact.
This is why the Canadian Haemophilia Society, the Red Cross, the European Parliament, and the British Medical Association all believe that visitors are not a public health threat.
Therefore, I will vote against this motion.