House of Commons photo

Track Rob

Your Say

Elsewhere

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is health.

Liberal MP for Don Valley West (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 54% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Rosh Hashanah October 3rd, 2016

Mr. Speaker, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, began yesterday at sundown. It is a time of celebration and renewal, a time for Jewish families to come together with friends to rejoice in a new year under God's grace.

Rosh Hashanah is also the beginning of the 10 Days of Awe, culminating in Yom Kippur. Next week, I will be joining friends and neighbours at Temple Emanu-El in my riding for their Yom Kippur service.

I am very grateful to the congregation, its President Pekka Sinervo, and Rabbi Debra Lansberg for including me again this year, as they have in past years.

I want to take this opportunity to commend Temple Emanu-El for their great acts of tikkun olam, as they exemplify the best of humanity by raising issues of social justice, child poverty, homelessness, and in their readiness to welcome Syrian refugees.

I wish all members a sweet parliamentary session, and to all my friends and colleagues celebrating Rosh Hashana, L'Shanah Tovah.

Petitions September 22nd, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present e-petition 220, which received 1,166 signatures.

The petitioners call on the Government of Canada to create a national dementia strategy and to commit to a concerted effort to address the burden dementia places on our economy, on individuals with the disease, on their families, and on our health care system.

Interparliamentary Delegations September 22nd, 2016

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the report of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association respecting its participation at the Bilateral Mission to the Republic of Namibia and the Republic of South Africa, held in Windhoek, Namibia and Cape Town, South Africa, February 28 to March 5, 2016.

Genetic Non-Discrimination Act September 20th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the question because I think it raises an important point. I was a member of a human rights commission and then, at one point, chair of the commission. We recognized that it was an important conversation about human rights, and that was the nature of that human rights discussion, where we would use alternative dispute resolution. We would have a caseworker and we would work on those things.

We agree that is possible as part of the bill but, more important, we think we need to have a robust, strong piece of legislation that would have criminal penalties that would be commensurate with the actual life-and-death nature of this discrimination. People have to have knowledge. Knowledge is power. That power can help them actually save their lives and the lives of their children. This disproportionately affects some communities in Canada. That is what I have begun to learn, that there are pockets in Canada that have particular genetic makeups that actually mean they are more at risk for having certain diseases. It could be the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean area, Cape Breton, the Mennonite community, or the Ashkenazi Jewish community. There are different communities that have particular problems, in a genetic way. The bill would wake people up, cause them to take control of their own health care, and actually move us, as a society, to a more sustainable health care system. It is targeted medicine, so that people would get the right tests, at the right time, the right treatments, and the right options.

Genetic Non-Discrimination Act September 20th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, as the bill stands now, there are three legs that would hold up equally. The reality is that if we take one out, though, the stool would not hold up.

The Canada Labour Code amendments are there principally because we have the responsibility, in the federal legislature, to ensure that federally regulated employees, whether they work in a bank or anywhere, have a means to make sure they are not prevented from having a genetic test for discrimination.

The Canadian Human Rights Act is an important thing; necessary, but not sufficient. To make this a robust piece of legislation, I honestly believe we need a genetic non-discrimination act, which would work in conversation with others but would largely serve as a deterrent.

My hope is that there be no convictions under the bill; that the bill would be robust, would stand, would ensure that Canadians have access, and would ensure Canadians are never discriminated against, because employers and others know the costs of discriminating.

Genetic Non-Discrimination Act September 20th, 2016

moved that Bill S-201, An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to be here today as we consider in the House the first bill that is coming to us from the Senate, and I am proud to be its sponsor.

This legislation was first introduced by Senator James Cowan and has already received unanimous support in the other place. Today I hope to convince members of this chamber to give it the same enthusiastic support in the House and thus change the lives of millions of Canadians.

Genes are the building blocks of our lives. They tell us who we are and where we come from, our inherited strengths, and our susceptibilities. Our genetic makeup is more fundamental than our ethnicity, our gender, our race, or even our sexual orientation. It is the foundation of who we are as human beings.

Since the discovery of the human genome, we know that our genetic codes contain information that can prevent illness, thwart disease, improve or even save lives. The late U.S. senator Ted Kennedy observed the discovery of the human genome would affect the 21st century as profoundly as the splitting of the atom or the invention of the computer in the 20th century.

When Senator Cowan first introduced the bill in 2013, there were only 2,000 genetic tests available. Now today, after three and a half years, there are more than 48,000 genetic tests for diseases like Huntington's disease and early onset Alzheimer's. There are tests for genes associated with ALS, kidney disease, breast and ovarian cancer, and certain forms of colon cancer, and the list is growing at a truly exponential rate.

Canadian scientists last year discovered the gene that was associated with cystic fibrosis. Just this summer researchers have found the gene associated with metastatic, fast-moving prostate cancer, explaining why with some men prostate cancer moves slowly and in others it advances very quickly, perhaps informing treatment or helping people determine their options. This probably explains why my father lived for over 20 years with prostate cancer and yet some of his friends died after only 18 months.

Canadian health care institutions conduct tens of thousands of these tests each year. The information gleaned from them allows Canadian researchers and physicians to diagnose diseases, guide treatment, inform reproductive planning, and warn of adverse drug reactions. They are also used for clinical trials by innovative pharmaceutical and biotech companies to find new treatments for old diseases.

In most cases having a genetic makeup does not mean that a person will automatically or even necessarily develop a disease or condition, only that one might. However, knowledge is power and this opens up the possibility of taking concrete steps to reduce the possibility or the chance that a disease or a condition will develop in the first place.

Perhaps the most famous example of this is actor Angelina Jolie. People will probably know that her mother died of cancer. When she looked at that, she decided to undergo the test and determined that indeed she was a carrier for the BRCA1 gene. Women with this genetic mutation have as high as 87% chance of developing breast cancer and as high as 60% chance of developing ovarian cancer. Ms. Jolie opted to have preventative surgery and reduced her chance of getting breast cancer from 87% down to 5% and reduced her chance of getting ovarian cancer by some 98%. She wrote in The New York Times, “I can tell my children that they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer”.

The benefits of genetic knowledge should be not limited though to celebrities. Every one of us in the House may want to undertake a genetic test at some point. Famous or not, none of us should be denied access to a genetic test and none of us should be afraid of having a genetic test for fear of discrimination.

In the course of working on this legislation with Senator Cowan, I came to know the story of a young man who was only 24 years old who had family members who had tested positive for Huntington's disease. Given that kind of family history, he had to weigh out his options about whether he should actually have the test to see if he carried the same genetic makeup. He took the difficult decision to have that test and he shared that decision with his employer.

On a Friday, he found out he had tested positive and, indeed, had the gene. His employer asked him what the result was, and he was honest and told him. The Monday following, he went to work and was fired. He was a video editor. His employer was afraid, for some reason, for his equipment.

Of course, this young man did not have the disease, does not have the disease, and will likely not develop any symptoms for this disease for maybe as many as 20 years. Huntington's is an area of huge research right now. There are clinical trials going on right now for drugs which would perhaps delay the onset even further. However, he is being discriminated against now for a disease he might never have if medical science works the way it should.

This bill is inspired by the belief that all Canadians should profit from the advances in genetic science. To achieve this goal, the genetic non-discrimination act seeks to ensure that the knowledge that we have through genetic research is protected from potential abuse and that there are as few impediments as possible to getting tested.

In Canada, unlike most western countries, if one has a genetic test, there is no protection from a third party using that information, those test results, perhaps to one's detriment. This is the problem of genetic discrimination and that is what Bill S-201 seeks to address.

Genetic discrimination can take many forms. As in the first story, it can take the form of employment determination, denial of a promotion, denial of child custody, and there are cases of this, an increase in insurance premiums, or even cancellation of an insurance policy. Each one of these is a heartbreaking story.

Dr. Ronald Cohn is a clinical geneticist, now pediatrician-in-chief, at SickKids hospital in Toronto. He testified in the Senate about parents feeling they had to refuse genetic testing, even though it could point to the best way for treatment or care, for fear that their child, who may be sick, could face future discrimination. He spoke of parents who had spent years searching for diagnoses, who broke down in tears as they had to decline genetic testing because of concerns over genetic discrimination.

He described one young patient whose symptoms were consistent with two different diseases, and the only way to promote the diagnosis and get the right treatment was to actually have a genetic test. However, the parents felt unable to consent for fear of discrimination. Dr. Cohn told senators that without the test, he could not properly care for the young girl. Without legislative protection, her parents could not agree to have the test done. This is not a choice or decision a parent should ever have to make.

Canada is one of the few industrialized countries in the world without some sort of legislative protection for its citizens' genetic information. Our laws lag behind Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Spain. The United States has had this sort of anti-discrimination law in place over 13 years, with the federal genetic information on discrimination act. Twenty-four American states have passed additional legislation limiting the use of genetic information by life, disability, and long-term care insurers.

Renowned award-winning genetic researchers with international experience are expanding their reach of precision, personalized or targeted medicine. The future of medical care is rapidly changing. There has been no significant advancement in anything medical since the discovery of the human genome. Without protection, Canadians will not benefit from these huge advances in medical science. This affects the health of every Canadian that we are here to serve. It affects the future of medical science in our country. Personalized or targeted medicine is the future of medicine and Canadians deserve protection to ensure they get the best care, and that we do not waste health dollars and ensure we have the best public and personal health.

I call Bill S-201 a three-legged stool. Each piece of the legislation is crucial to fighting discrimination. They are, in order of importance: the proposed new genetic non-discrimination act, or what I am now calling the GNA to fight discrimination against RNA or DNA; then the amendments to the Canada Labour Code; and, finally, amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act. Each part is essential. This bill cannot be arbitrarily disassembled any more that a stool can lose a leg or two and still support us.

Principally, the very first thing is that the bill would create a new genetic non-discrimination act, a GNA, with three new criminal offences. It would prohibit requiring anyone to undergo a genetic test, or to disclose the results of a genetic test, as a condition of providing goods or services. It would also prohibit the collection, use or disclosure of the results of genetic testing without that person's consent. Of course, the bill contains exemptions for healthcare practitioners and for research.

To my mind, this is not controversial. None of these prohibitions are controversial and they are urgently needed. The new genetic non-discrimination act is the single most important part of this bill. The GNA is necessary to fight DNA or RNA discrimination.

It states clearly and unequivocally that society condemns genetic discrimination. It is unacceptable behaviour, and it will not be tolerated. The criminal sanctions are set high to serve as an effective deterrent. The bill does not target sectors or industry; it targets bad behaviour. It names the bad behaviour and ensures that there are laws to protect people against those behaviours.

Our job as federal legislators is to put into place laws that will protect Canadians. We have the criminal law power to do that work. That criminal law will state what is unacceptable conduct, and then prohibit that conduct. That is what Canadians expect us to do on their behalf.

Second, Bill S-201 would amend the Canada Labour Code with a set of amendments, providing a complaint procedure for employees in federally regulated workplaces who encounter genetic discrimination. I know this number is not large, but nonetheless they are important and this could serve as a model for other jurisdictions.

Last, there is a set of amendments that adds “genetic characteristics” as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

This is a three-legged stool with an act, with criminal penalties, changes to the Labour Code, and changes to the Human Rights Act, holding us up as a robust piece of legislation that will protect our rights as Canadians and ensure the best health of Canadians.

It is interesting. I have heard that there is some sense that we should not have a stand-alone act, but it is fine to simply put this into the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Peter Engelmann, a labour lawyer and human rights advocate, former counsel to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, told senators why, in his opinion, the specific protections as were proposed in the genetic non-discrimination act were critical, and why just amending the Human Rights Act alone was not sufficient.

The reality is the way human rights legislation works is it is reactive instead of proactive. It puts the burden or the onus on complainants. They bear the costs. They bear the burden and the stress of taking a complaint forward, which is after the fact not before the fact. There are not significant deterrents in it. Sometimes people are very vulnerable in difficult positions in which they should not have to be.

The act would ensure we have, together, one act that would make it a crime against Her Majesty, against the state, and thus would ensure that we would have adequate protections to do that.

Senator Cowan presented an earlier incarnation of this bill and tested its constitutionality. The Senate has deemed, indeed, that we do have the federal power to enact this sort of legislation to ensure that Canadians are protected.

Law professors, experts, will disagree. Essentially, I hope the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will examine that thoroughly. I am convinced it will find that we do have the federal authority, the federal power, as we do in other areas of legislation, to enact this sort of bill.

The federal government has that power in securities, in tobacco marketing and other things under so-called provincial jurisdiction, however, we believe this is the right thing for the federal government to do.

Canada is behind. Canada needs to step up to the plate. Canada needs to do this now. We are behind and we need to act. This is our chance, as legislators, to bring better health to Canadians and ensure that Canadians have access to genetic tests. We, this day, will be able to save lives.

Air Transportation September 19th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, a number of my constituents in the riding of Don Valley West, particularly in the neighbourhood of Leaside, have raised strong concerns about the number and timing of airplanes flying over their homes and the noise they generate.

Could the Minister of Transport please update the House on what he is doing about these concerns?

Shootings in Orlando June 13th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, just two weeks ago, we raised the pride flag on Parliament Hill. I saw this as the joyful end of a long human rights journey.

Yesterday, this dream was shattered when 49 gay people were killed in a shooting at a gay club in Orlando.

My first thoughts turned to the victims. A night of community, solidarity, and simple pleasures in a place that was meant to be safe ended in a horrible bloodbath. There are no words to describe my feelings of sadness, grief, and anger.

My second thoughts were to the Muslim community, again at risk. I am proud to represent tens of thousands of faithful, peaceful, and law-abiding Muslims, who were equally saddened and horrified by this act of terror and homophobia.

Today, we must stand together against violence and terror and trust each other as we combat evil and build peace.

Public Safety June 10th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, Toronto has recently seen a troubling increase in violent crime, and residents, including my constituents, are concerned about the impact of gang violence on their communities.

Mayor John Tory has asked the federal and provincial governments for help to end this violence. I am aware he has recently spoken to the Minister of Public Safety to discuss how all levels of government can work together to address this.

Would the minister please tell the House what he is doing to address the mayor's concerns?

Aphasia Awareness Week June 9th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, the first week of June is aphasia awareness week. A third of all Canadians who suffer a stroke will develop aphasia, a condition that makes it extremely difficult, and at times impossible, to speak to others. People who have aphasia still retain their intelligence and competence. They just need to find new ways to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Aphasia affects every relationship and almost every daily activity. Those affected cannot carry on a conversation as before, read a book, or send emails. They are likely to lose their jobs.

Aphasia awareness week focuses attention on this often misunderstood condition, and salutes health care professionals, researchers, and thousands of family members and volunteers across the country who provide treatment, training, and hope for people with aphasia. I especially salute the Aphasia Institute in North York, a place of courage and compassion, competent professionals, and amazing volunteers.

I ask members to please join me in commemorating aphasia awareness week.