Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to address my honourable colleagues concerning the Quarantine Act, Bill C-12.
As members of Parliament, we all have a particular interest in the renewal of our health protection legislation that the government has just undertaken. As was mentioned, Bill C-12 would replace the current Quarantine Act, one of Canada's oldest pieces of legislation. It has remained largely unchanged since the Quarantine Act came into effect in 1872.
I am very proud, and I commend the Minister of State for Public Health for moving quickly with the recommendations of Dr. David Naylor from the University of Toronto. I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank all front line workers from the cities and also the provincial and federal government front line workers. They all worked together during a very difficult time of SARS.
I also want to share my experience, not just as a member of Parliament but as a Toronto city councillor, at that time, representing the same area of Davenport. Toronto went through a very difficult time with SARS. Our hospitality industry was greatly affected by SARS. Many individuals throughout the world assumed that the city of Toronto was under quarantine. We were getting calls from people all over the place asking if they could leave their houses, or take the train or go to shopping centres. There was a certain hysteria created through the images that were not connected to the reality of what was happening in our city.
There was no question that we were living in difficult times and there was a certain sense of fear. Luckily, the people of Toronto had the good sense to go out and continue on with their lives. We would also like to offer our congratulations to those individuals as well. It was a very difficult time, and our front line staff did extremely well. Our medical officer of health, Sheela Basrur, is now the Ontario medical officer of health.
We at the federal level have done the same thing with the initiative of wanting to protect the public. We also have appointed a chief public health officer for Canada. I want to congratulate the government for moving quickly with that recommendation. It is very important legislation. All of us can be proud of the work we do here as parliamentarians.
I want to mention a quote from the minister for public health. She states, “Infectious diseases move like wildfire across the planet today”. That is very true. As we know, we are a mobile society. People pick up and leave. They travel to other countries. We have to be aware that there is a new reality in place that was not there when the act came into being in 1872. This is the new reality for Canada and throughout the world.
The new act will help ensure Canadians are better protected against the import of dangerous communicable diseases by: requiring carriers to report all instances of illnesses and death on board before arrival in Canada; requiring travellers to report on arrival to screening officers or quarantine officers if they have a communicable disease or have been in contact with such a person, the method used is screening technologies at Canadian ports of entry; and requiring those travellers arriving in Canada who are suspected of having a dangerous communicable disease to undergo an initial health assessment and a medical examination if necessary.
I want to let the Canadian public know that these changes to the legislation conform with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
As with other Canadian laws, the charter always applies. However, special protections are provided in the bill, such as the right to an interpreter, the right to have a medical examination conducted by a medical practitioner of a traveller's choice, the right to be informed of all decisions, the right to regular medical examinations during detention and the right to have detentions reviewed.
That is the way we in Canada protect ourselves, but also we protect our fundamental rights and principles. We do not want to live in a society of fear. We understand the importance of public health and we want to protect Canadians. At the same time, we want to give them the assurance that we will not suspend the charter. We are protected with the charter and we are protected with this legislation.
An updated Quarantine Act will address the urgent issues with respect to the spread of communicable disease. It is also the first step in a series of legislative initiatives that will establish a comprehensive framework for public health, including the creation of a public health agency and new Canada protection legislation.