House of Commons photo

Elsewhere

Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was families.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as Liberal MP for Mississauga—Brampton South (Ontario)

Won her last election, in 2011, with 45% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Respect for Communities Act December 1st, 2014

I have.

Respect for Communities Act December 1st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I listened very attentively to the hon. member. I would like to ask him whether or not he believes that his residents ought to have a say in whether or not a drug injection site should be put into their communities. Does he believe that his community representatives and leaders, whether the local school principal, teachers, moms and dads, or senior citizens, are the ones who ought to have a say in whether or not a drug injection site is put into their neighbourhood or at the end of their street?

For the families and many Canadians who have invested in their primary residences, that residence is perhaps the single largest investment they will ever make in their lifetime. If a drug injection site were to be put into their neighbourhood, at the end of their street or just behind their street, perhaps they ought be consulted before such a site goes in.

Does the member believe they should be consulted?

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question by my hon. colleague. It is true that nothing can undo the tragic events of the 1960s and that we need to assist those victims. Today, through Vanessa's law, Canada now has one of the safest drug safety systems in the world.

As I have indicated, the Minister of Health now has the authority to compel drug companies to remove drugs from the shelves. Previously, she was in the untenable situation where she would sometimes have to negotiate with drug companies as to whether or not drugs could be removed from the shelves, all the while Canadians might be purchasing those very drugs. It was a very unfortunate situation.

Now there are mandatory recall powers. There is mandatory reporting of adverse conditions. Usually when there is a significant adverse reaction, a person will show up at a hospital. Hospitals will now need to report any adverse reactions so that the Minister of Health will be aware and immediate action can be undertaken, if necessary. There is also transparency now for drug approvals and clinical trials, and on this front Canada is now a world leader in providing this level of transparency.

We want to do right by these victims. We want to ensure that these victims are assisted, but we also want to make sure that, moving forward, these types of tragedies never take place again.

I was a child in the 1980s and whenever I had a health class, one of the first things my teachers would tell me was to be especially cautious about anything prescribed to me when I become pregnant one day. They would all cite the thalidomide example, or Love Canal down in Buffalo. I am sure many Ontarians recall that. These are outrageous tragedies that transpired at a time when people thought it was all very reasonable.

I want to assure the House that Canada now has one of the strongest drug safety systems in the world. We are incredibly conscientious with this issue.

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, in fact, as I indicated in my speech, in the 1990s the War Amps of Canada worked with the survivors and victims of thalidomide to advocate for compensation. I believe it was a Conservative government that provided funding at the time based on all available knowledge and the needs of the victims at the time.

The War Amps of Canada is an outstanding advocate and does wonderful service across this country. I can say that when my father's leg was amputated, it provided the artificial limb. I would like to pay tribute to the work that it undertook back in the 1980s and 1990s.

The government is moving with all due haste to ensure that these victims are assisted.

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, we are here today to discuss the victims of thalidomide. It is not a time for partisan sniping.

If I might just address the member's question, we have always looked at evidence during our committee hearings and every recommendation that we have ever brought forward was evidence-based. Under Vanessa's law, a new era of transparency has come in with our drug safety approvals. We are now posting clinical trial information online, and the Minister of Health will now have the ability to compel drug companies to remove unsafe drugs from shelves, instead of simply negotiating.

I would like to ensure that the debate today reverts to the victims of thalidomide, instead of this type of partisanship.

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Health reached out a couple of weeks ago to speak with the association. We are eagerly looking to review its proposal, and it will be done with all due haste.

Nothing will ever undo the pain and suffering that was caused some 50 years ago, but the onus is upon us as Parliament to move forward and help these victims.

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say that the government will be supporting the motion today. It is certainly a very emotional issue.

No incident has had a greater impact on the drug safety system in this country than the authorization of thalidomide in the 1960s. The terrible consequences for the pregnant women who used the drug and the children who were born to them sparked major changes in the way Canada approaches drug approvals and surveillance. The modern system that protects Canadians so well today is one of the enduring legacies of this dark chapter in drug regulation.

What we can never forget, and what we have heard loudly and clearly, is that the past is not over for the victims. Thalidomide survivors are still coping with daily struggles that most of us will never fully understand or have to go through. As their physical struggles grow greater and the mental strain of an uncertain future weighs even heavier upon them, the dedication and perseverance these individuals demonstrate every single day of their lives is incredibly moving. The number of challenges they have to face day in, day out from the moment they wake up to the time they go to bed is unimaginable. The physical, mental, and spiritual toll is immense and tiring.

Individually they have shown so much strength, and the fact that they have come together to form an association that does so much good work and helps so many people is admirable.

The government recognizes that the hardships they face are now growing. The physical toll that aging takes on all of us is greatly magnified for them. For instance, simple things like standing up for extended periods or walking for a few minutes have become a real challenge for the majority of thalidomide victims. These activities cause them extreme pain. Many are also now at an age when their parents, often their primary caregivers, have either passed on or can no longer look after them.

The struggles victims face every day have become greater than they have ever been before. According to the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, everyday chores and simple tasks that we take for granted, such as eating, getting dressed, cleaning homes, or brushing teeth, have all become daily challenges.

The majority of victims require modifications to their vehicles and to their homes and clothing to allow them to have a decent quality of life. This costs money, and every one of us can understand how quickly these expenses can add up. Let us think about how costly it is to renovate a standard kitchen. Now let us think about how much more expensive it would be if the kitchen would have to be customized in proportion so that the cupboards and counters could be reached to perform daily tasks.

In order to help victims overcome the many limitations they face every day, the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada has developed an accommodation program tailored to each member's needs. This leadership deserves to be recognized. According to the association, the objective of this program is to ensure that every Canadian thalidomide victim is able to maintain and develop their autonomy in performing various daily activities and to enable them to participate in community activities.

Thalidomide victims have continuously shown determination, strength, and perseverance by having jobs and raising families of their own, but they are worried about their future. They want to talk about their needs, and we are here to listen.

My colleague, the Minister of Health, told the House on Tuesday that she is committed to having that discussion with the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada in person and to reviewing the association's proposal. This will be an opportunity to listen, to share, and to explore what has been done in other jurisdictions also facing these types of challenges.

For members' reference, the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada was founded by Randolph Warren in the late 1980s. It was formed to help coordinate the advocacy of thalidomide victims in securing compensation for the tragedy in the 1960s. The association worked closely with the War Amputees of Canada to lobby for a compensation package for victims, a package that was provided in 1991. Over the last few years, we have seen more and more countries compensate thalidomide victims. For many countries, this is the first step they have offered to survivors.

In 1991, Canada provided what was presented at the time as a one-time compensation package to victims. This government recognizes that the needs of thalidomide survivors then were markedly different from what they are today. We as a government are ready to discuss what more can be done to meet the very specialized ongoing needs of these victims.

Members of the House will know that thalidomide was originally sold in the early 1960s in Canada to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. What emerged were thousands of tragic stories in Canada and worldwide that sparked a sea change in the way we approach the approval of new drugs in Canada.

It is impossible to tell how many pregnancies ended in miscarriage because of the complications caused by the drug. Many other children died soon after birth, causing emotional devastation to parents and families. Those children who survived faced, and are still facing, difficult lives because of the birth abnormalities associated with the drug. Indeed, nothing can ever undo the pain and suffering that has been inflicted.

Canada was not the only country affected by this tragedy. Around the world, 12,000 children in 46 countries were born with birth defects caused by thalidomide. It is estimated that only 8,000 survived past their first birthday, which is truly a tragic outcome, and the number of survivors in Canada today is less than 100.

Our country is not alone in needing to find ways to address the needs of thalidomide survivors. We can learn from what other countries have done to address the ongoing needs of their citizens facing similar growing health concerns. As the Minister of Health indicated this week, our government will have that conversation with the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada.

While it is difficult to fully understand the daily challenges of thalidomide victims, it is all too easy to comprehend how this group of people has more reasons to be distrustful of the drug safety system than anyone else. They and their families have paid a terrible price for a system that failed to do the job it was supposed to do, and yet thalidomide survivors have done something truly incredible: they have worked to make current drug approval systems even better, and they have persevered.

The Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada played an extraordinary and unprecedented role many years ago in the review and approval of the thalidomide product in the United States as a treatment for multiple forms of cancer. At various times over the years, the group has shared its experience in participating in that process with Canadian regulators. The group was also consulted before Health Canada's decision in 2010 to approve thalidomide for multiple myeloma.

Their involvement in the approval of thalidomide in the face of the tragedy in their lives and in the lives of their families must have been incredibly difficult, but as they have done throughout their lives, they persevered. Their participation in the process has helped ensure that all possible precautions are taken and that drugs are used safety.

That includes physicians being trained to prescribe the drug appropriately and patients being properly informed of the risk. It is an incredible part of the legacy being left by the victims of thalidomide that patients with multiple myeloma now have access to this very important treatment. From great tragedy can come positive change. Thalidomide victims know this and have been active participants in improving the drug safety system so that Canadians are better protected.

Our colleague, the hon. member for Oakville, also understands this. His daughter Vanessa tragically died of heart attack while taking a prescription drug that was later deemed not safe and removed from the market. Bill C-17, which was recently passed with all-party support in the House and Senate, was named Vanessa's law in her honour. The act gives the Minister of Health new tools with which to identify potential safety risks related to medications and stronger powers to make sure the problems that are identified are dealt with quickly and effectively.

Before their products are authorized for sale in Canada, drug manufacturers are required to do extensive research and provide substantial evidence to Health Canada in their application, demonstrating that the drug is safe and effective. In spite of this, once medications are being used by a wide range of actual patients, we know that new safety risks can emerge.

Although clinical trial groups are structured to represent as broad a range of patients as possible, they can never truly capture every variable imaginable and every vulnerable group. Even with our best efforts and the best research available, there will always be some factors that will only emerge once the drugs are being used by actual patients, perhaps those coping with other conditions at the same time.

That is where the life-cycle approach to drug safety comes into effect. The life-cycle approach means that Health Canada's role as a regulator is ongoing.

Vanessa's law gives the Minister of Health new powers and tools that will make that ongoing regulatory role more effective. Since most serious adverse reactions to drugs result in hospitalization, a new adverse reaction reporting requirement for health care institutions will give the minister new insight into these events. Regulations are being developed to support this requirement, which will allow the regulator to reach into the health care system and extract data to provide a better window on what is happening in the real world with patients.

Other powers under Vanessa's law that have come into force immediately have given the minister the ability to take action promptly if and when new risks to health are identified. Vanessa's law gives the Minister of Health greater power over the removal of therapeutic products from the marketplace when they present imminent or serious risks to the health and safety of Canadians. Until now, Health Canada has worked within the restrictions of the older Food and Drugs Act to persuade companies to remove drugs from the market if they are found to be unsafe. Most of the time this approach has been successful, although it sometimes takes longer than any of us would like. On a few rare occasions it has not worked and the minister did not have the power to force or withdraw these products. With the passage of this new law, if the force of law is needed, the minister now has the power to act without having to undertake any negotiations with pharmaceutical companies while potentially dangerous drugs remain on the market.

Vanessa's law also gives the government new tools to ensure that risks associated with drugs are well-communicated. Many risk situations are better addressed through improved labelling rather than complete market withdrawal. Previously, Health Canada only had the ability to negotiate label changes with manufacturers. With the new law, manufacturers will be required to comply, and to do so within prescribed timelines. If Health Canada does not have all of the information it needs to assess the safety of a drug on the market, the minister now has the power to compel anyone holding that information to share it with her in order to protect the health of Canadians. In the event that the information simply does not yet exist, Health Canada can also require new studies to be conducted. All of these things together will vastly improve Health Canada's ability to assess and take targeted action where it is needed the most.

Vanessa's law will also help to improve the ability of Canadians to make decisions about their health by ensuring that information about authorized drug clinical trials is made public to all Canadians in a consistent and timely manner. This will also be achieved through new regulations that are currently being developed.

I also want to highlight that this government's commitment to an open government is longstanding. It is part of the overall efforts to foster greater accountability, to provide Canadians with more opportunities to learn and participate in government, and to drive innovation and economic opportunities. I am pleased to say that our Minister of Health has made transparency and openness a key priority during her mandate.

The decisions taken by this government impact the day-to-day lives of Canadians and we acknowledge they have the right to understand how and why we make those decisions. All Canadian families want that level of discussion. Canadians want to feel meaningfully involved and consulted within the decision-making process. We have listened to Canadians and have provided what we believe are the right tools to ensure fairness, openness and transparency.

Health Canada plays an important role in being open and transparent, and continues to prioritize the protection of health and safety among Canadians. Greater transparency and openness with Canadians strengthens the trust in our regulatory decisions. Canadians can see for themselves that Health Canada continues to make regulatory decisions based on valid evidence. The credible, timely information Health Canada provides is absolutely vital in helping Canadians to make informed choices for themselves and their families.

Since the thalidomide tragedy, Canada and other countries have also invested in research. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Public Health Agency of Canada both actively support research related to improving health of mothers and babies, as members will hear later today.

Today, we are focusing our discussion on a tragic event that took place over 50 years ago but has never been forgotten. It is a tragic event that has terribly affected the lives of thalidomide victims and their families.

I would like to reiterate that our Conservative government recognizes the challenges that thalidomide victims face each and every day. We are already reviewing their proposal and we look forward to meeting with them very soon. The health and safety of all Canadians is a priority for our government. That commitment, of course, includes the victims of thalidomide, who have already suffered far too much.

We are ready to listen and to ensure that everyone is heard and included.

Public Safety November 26th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the primary responsibility of any government is the safety and security of its citizens. Recognizing this critical role and the importance of having the appropriate resources and training to support municipalities, provinces, and territories during emergencies such as the mall collapse, the government has supported enhancing the capacity of the urban search and rescue teams across the country. Over a 10-year period, the Government of Canada invested over $30 million to enhance these capabilities. During this period, most of the goals established by the program had been met.

The Bélanger report into the Elliot Lake mall collapse articulates a number of concerns regarding the use or activities, which are being assessed by the government. However, much of the report focuses on the preventable nature of this incident and whether fundamental measures had been taken to address engineering concerns. Preventing accidents through sound mitigation programming is critical if tragedies such as the one at Elliot Lake are to be prevented.

To this end, the government, through economic action plan 2014, announced the establishment of $200 million in funding for the creation of the national disaster mitigation program. Working with our provincial and territorial partners, this program focuses on identifying and mitigating priority risks that may impact Canadian families and the communities in which they live.

Public Safety November 26th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address the concerns raised by the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing regarding the federal government's commitment to heavy urban search and rescue in light of the recent report into the tragic collapse of the Algoma Central mall in Elliot Lake on June 23, 2012. I was born in Sudbury, Ontario, and so this tragedy certainly weighs heavily on many of my former neighbours and us.

Our government is committed to keeping Canadians safe. The untimely deaths of Ms. Doloris Perizzolo and Lucie Aylwin resulting from the rooftop parking deck collapsing into the mall should be a constant reminder regarding this important role, including the role the government must always play at all levels toward ensuring that events such as at Elliot Lake are never repeated.

The majority of emergencies in Canada are local in nature, and managed by local or provincial governments. As a former councillor and a former acting mayor, I was well trained in emergency preparedness, including for whether disaster would hit at our airport, Canada's largest airport, or we were preparing for a large public health outbreak. That being said, our Conservative government will continue to invest in programs that keep Canadians safe and is always available to assist the provinces and territories if necessary.

The joint emergency preparedness program was closely examined. The original objectives of this program, namely to enhance local emergency preparedness and response capacity, have been met. As this is a provincial responsibility, we encourage communities to invest in emergency preparedness. Our government has also invested $200 million in disaster mitigation. We will always take appropriate action to keep Canadians safe while ensuring fiscal responsibility.

Health November 26th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his comments. Clearly, he is concerned about this issue, and I know Canadians, obviously, share a deep concern for health care.

I would be pleased to make officials from Health Canada available to the hon. member to provide to him a fuller explanation than can be offered through a late show debate, just to offer a full reassurance to him.

In a nutshell, having the appropriate regulatory oversight of medical device reprocessing is important to this government. For this reason, Health Canada will apply the existing federal Food and Drugs Act and medical device regulations to incoming licence applications from commercial reprocessors of single-use devices. In doing so, it will hold reprocessed devices to comparable standards of safety and effectiveness as new devices, and will subject commercial reprocessors to the same regulatory requirements as manufacturers of new devices.

The recent passage of Vanessa's Law has also strengthened Canada's already strong drug and medical device safety system.