Mr. Speaker, like many MPs and members from the public, I listened to the various speeches on Bill .
I found that some of the interventions being made by my colleagues addressed not only the substance of the bill itself, but one very important and perhaps insufficiently appreciated issue. That is the matter of the Privacy Act and the issue of the Privacy Commissioner offering her views for the benefit of the committee that studied the bill.
I had the good fortune to be associated with one of my colleagues who had a lot of the information immediately at hand. It seems to me that in a situation such as this one, where we are dealing with an extremely important bill and one that is to be viewed in the context of a potential pandemic that is afflicting the world, and I refer to the swine flu, we would take all measures necessary to ensure that we would be adequately prepared, but also that we would follow the appropriate procedures so that individuals will be protected from incursions on their privacy as we go forward.
I listened as my colleague from waxed very aggressive, I might even dare say eloquent, on the importance of having this particular bill dealt with expeditiously in the House. Like every member in this place, she is of course entitled to an opinion, valid or less, according to the view. But it struck me as I was listening to her that she was making an argument for ensuring that the bill would be receiving immediate and quick attention and approval in the House, even though there were members from that committee, and I guess I can say it because they have been standing up all day on this, the members from the Bloc Québécois, who disagreed with some of the substance, but equally important, on the procedures followed, in order to ensure that the bill would reflect all the needs of Canadians everywhere.
I think she kind of regretted that the Bloc Québécois members were employing a tactic that had in fact been used by her own party on other bills, specifically on safety management systems, a bill that suggested that we would impose a particular ethic, a culture of checks, balances and due diligence on the people who are providing a service.
In this instance, perhaps we would say that this is even more serious. As the safety management systems involve the aviation industry and those who provide carriers and other vehicles for air transportation, whether it be passenger or cargo, of course it involves the potential for putting human life at risk. This is no less so, and perhaps some would argue, much more so.
I found it really interesting that the arguments to rush forward on the bill ignored a letter sent by a member of the government side, who is in fact the chair of the committee dealing with the bill, the Standing Committee on Health, to the Privacy Commissioner asking for her input on the bill.
Note that I said the Privacy Commissioner sent a letter inviting reaction. She did not say that she was invited to appear before the committee to offer her opinion to address issues that might be raised by members of the various parties, including the government party, to address those issues that related not only to the substance that was being discussed but to the procedures that lead to the consideration of the substance and the consequences of that process.
The chair wrote a letter, and in a letter dated March 11, 2009, received a response. The response said:
We would be pleased to appear before you to discuss the comments we make in this letter....
The Privacy Commissioner did not get a response to appear.
The Privacy Commissioner is responsible for two federal privacy laws: the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, otherwise known as PIPEDA; and of course the Privacy Act itself. The issue here is that it applies to government institutions, agencies and crown corporations, as well as the lab in Winnipeg.
This is not designed to in any way diminish or take away from any of the great work that is being done in that lab or in fact in other places that are concerned with people's health.
That letter is available to everybody in that committee, because it was distributed to everybody in the committee. I do not think there is any need for me to table it. It is already a public document, and certainly everybody who wishes can get it from the committee and from the Hansard.
Let me just quote this one little item. The Privacy Commissioner says, “Our suggestions for improvements”, which according to some of the interveners were not even considered, because they were not accepted as amendments even though they were proposed by other members, “are aimed at ensuring the appropriate balance of privacy rights and regulatory powers as well as transparency, notice and accountability to those officials subject to the legislation and to the public”. It is as simple as that.
I do not serve on that committee. It is not for every member of this place to serve on every committee, but when we come into this House and get the benefit of the deliberations of the various members who do serve on these committees, we need to take that into consideration. If there is a vacuum, if there is a lapse, if there is something missing in the consideration or something left out, that is why we have report stage and third reading considerations.
So in this third reading consideration, I, like some of the other members, would like the House to reflect on what was left out of the deliberations or at least put over to one side.
The Privacy Commissioner, remember, is responding to a written request by the chair of that committee and said, “We had hoped to see a privacy impact assessment (PIA) to understand how any privacy risks in this Bill had been mitigated”, and as of March 11, she adds, “we have not yet received one”.
If one is going to consider legislation that deals with toxins, human pathogens and their impact on the public health of all Canadian citizens no matter where they are, certainly one needs to consider as well how that information is gathered, the impact on the individuals from whom that information is derived, and what are some of the other considerations that flow from it.
The Privacy Commissioner, an officer of this House, established to help members of Parliament in their deliberations in the public interest, then goes on to say, “Our Office should be seeking PIAs”, or privacy impact assessments, “well before the decisions have been implemented so we can provide feedback early in the process”.
It seems reasonable. Yet she says, “Without having met with the officials,” and I might add from a personal perspective, without apparently being provided the opportunity to meet with officials, “who developed this Bill and without having received a PIA, it is challenging for us to understand the full privacy implications of Bill C-11, such as the scope of the application of this proposed legislation to patient information”.
If the Privacy Commissioner, with all the resources at the disposal of that office in order to provide members of Parliament with that advice, is unable and unwilling, perhaps, to provide speculative observations, why should a member of Parliament rush to make a decision in the absence of such information? In fact, the Privacy Commissioner goes further and says, “We would appreciate participating in a consultation process”, but that has not happened.
She addresses clause 38, which gives the minister certain powers in order to derive the information required, obviously through his or her officials, and she observes that subclause 38(1) could be improved. Again, without having had the benefit of the consultation and without having had access to public health officials, she says this is a concern, so please address it.
Some of the members from the Bloc party today gave us an indication that it had not been addressed, or when it was, it was put over to one side, regrettably, because the Privacy Commissioner says, “We would suggest that reasonableness should inform the Minister's opinion and that the personal information should be 'directly relevant'”, and not refer specifically to personal information. In fact, she says that information should be made anonymous in order to accomplish a stated goal.
The Privacy Commissioner went even further than that. She took the trouble to provide additional input and observations on clause 41, which offers to an inspector the kinds of powers that we think reside only with the minister. However, even if it is in the effort to amass information that may be used for the public good, we do not know because we do not have the cause and effect consequential action of some of those decisions.
For example, she says:
the inspector's powers to collect documents, materials and information, may well extend to the examination and collection of personal information and personal health information of individuals and patients.
That might serve a purpose, but she says:
We are concerned about the protection of patient information and transparency around this process to the public.
We have left out an individual who has the expertise and the resources to define for members of Parliament the shortfalls of the legislation, the potential pitfalls, and at the same time, of course, to suggest whether they are going in the right direction.
She goes further to say that clause 67 of the bill presents a problem with respect to interim orders for the minister. She says, “this mechanism is of concern as it could diminish controls over personal information”. In other words, once that information is out, it is out in the public domain and individuals from whom it has been derived no longer have the safety and security afforded to them under the Privacy Act and under PIPEDA.
She says the externally produced documents that flow from this “could result in a reduced level of control over extremely personal information”.
She did all of this on March 11, underscoring, underlining and emphasizing that she and her office would be prepared to be engaged in the public consultation process, in the consultation process being conducted by the Standing Committee on Health, and offered those services.
She said in that letter, thank you for calling us; here are our first thoughts, but let us sit down and discuss this, because we have not had a chance to speak with public health officials or with officials mandated to address this issue.
The chair wrote again and received a response on March 30. That is exactly one month ago today. In that letter, the assistant privacy commissioner said she wanted to follow up on the chair's letter concerning Bill C-11, the Human Pathogens and Toxins Act. In order to avoid confusion, she further said, “Regarding the confusion as to prior consultation”, because obviously she herself was very clear, “there seems to have been a preliminary exchange of emails between the Public Health Agency of Canada, PHAC, officials and some of my officials in May 2008”.
There was an exchange of emails. She went on to say, “Even though I have offered you my expertise and my resources now”. Subsequent to May 2008, guess what:
Overall, however, we did not have many details and did not receive materials, other than what was then Bill C-54, at that time.
In other words, “You have not availed yourselves of the opportunity to engage us deliberately in consultations as a committee or as a department”. The letter says, “get us engaged”. Did the committee get them engaged? We know the committee deliberated on the bill, entertained some amendments, rejected some, unhappily according to the Bloc members, happily according to the government members, expediently happily for the NDP members and we ask why.
The assistant privacy commissioner took the trouble to say, “We also learned that the main objective would be to collect information about people who work in laboratories to ensure that they meet security requirements,” which is all good, “and that the security screening will be consistent with the processes that are already in place”.
These are assurances that they are given verbally or that they read are to be provided. She went on to say something that I think should cause every member in this place some concern:
We recognize that the intent of the legislation is to deal with the personal information of laboratory workers; however, we still have concerns that there is nothing in the Bill to restrict the collection of ancillary personal information, such as patient information.
Another ancillary collection would be the personal information about laboratory workers' family members, should they come into contact with a regulated pathogen or toxin. A member of a patient's family has no privacy protection under this act. She went on to say, “As well, we are aware of the potential for function creep,” a term that was made popular in the House by what was then an opposition party that talked about taxation creep, “and would therefore prefer to limit”. I want to repeat that part. She said:
We would therefore prefer to limit the collection of personal information. We look forward to these issues being addressed in the privacy risk assessment work to come.
I am sure those who are following the debate today, as I was following it from the lobby and from my seat in this place, are asking themselves, has that privacy risk assessment been done? She repeated for emphasis, “We believe that clause 67...may diminish controls over personal information,” and that a reasonable grounds test would be helpful in this situation. Did it take place?
She went on to say that the agency, in her view, “currently has sufficient information to engage in a high-level privacy risk assessment in anticipation of the more formal privacy impact assessment process”. So what has been holding everything up? Her closing words, in a little bit of frustration, were that she looked forward to meeting with public health officials in order to address these issues.
I can only add that addressing those issues would enhance the views of members of Parliament about how to deal with this legislation at this stage of its progress through Parliament, and I hope we get it.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill , which seeks to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins.
I want to begin by pointing out that there are four categories of risk, namely risk groups 1 to 4. Risk groups 3 and 4 are already covered by the legislation. I am going to provide some explanations on these groups.
Schedule 3 — Risk Group 3: human pathogens
means a category of human pathogens that pose a high risk to the health of individuals and a low risk to public health...
Schedule 4 — Risk Group 4:
means a category of human pathogens that pose a high risk to the health of individuals and a high risk to public health...
Only those major labs working with human pathogens must comply with the Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines. Labs dealing with risk groups 3 and 4, which pose a high risk to the health of individuals and either a low or a high risk to public health, are already covered by these guidelines.
What are these guidelines? They are a specialized document produced by the Office of Laboratory Security of the Public Health Agency of Canada. That document was written for those individuals who are responsible for designing or operating labs in which anthropopathogens are handled for diagnosis, research or development purposes. Labs or individuals who do not use these pathogens in Canada are not subjected to these guidelines.
We can understand the government's concerns regarding risk groups 3 and 4, and the precautions put forward. However, are labs 3 and 4 not already complying with the safety measures set in the guidelines and proposed in this legislation?
Bill would apply to risk groups 1 and 2, which pose a moderate risk to the health of individuals and a low risk to public health, and for which effective treatment is available. The idea behind this change is to better protect public health.
We can see where we are headed. The idea is to monitor risk groups 1 and 2. What do groups 1 and 2 include? Group 1 includes toxins, while group 2 deals with human pathogens. However, these groups only pose a moderate risk to the health of individuals. As I mentioned earlier, they pose a low risk to public health and they would rarely cause serious disease in a human being. Even if this were the case, such disease could easily be prevented or treated, and the risk of that disease spreading is low.
In addition, Bill —and this is where the dynamic of this bill the other parties cannot understand lies—would impose the obligation to have a licence—meaning that all laboratories will have to have one—for the following “controlled activities” related to a human pathogen or toxin; possessing, handling, using, producing, storing, permitting any person access, transferring,importing or exporting, releasing or otherwise abandoning or disposing.
This bill requires any person carrying out activities involving a human pathogen or toxin to take all reasonable precautions to protect public health and safety.
The federal government justifies this bill by its jurisdiction over criminal law. Speaking of criminal law, we must understand that the Conservatives are champions as far as introducing such laws is concerned, and that from that point on there is no point in any other parties getting involved in a system which is, I will state it clearly, exaggerated. Here again we see the Conservative desire to control everything.
In short, the purpose of Bill is to make the Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines mandatory.
The second intention is to make it mandatory for licences to be obtained for the activities it covers in order to trace existing agents, determine where they are and with whom.
The third intention is to put in place a system of offences and fines. In the backgrounder to Bill , introduced by the government during the last Parliament, and the ancestor of C-11, it was stated:
The risk to Canadians posed by the presence of human pathogens and toxins in labs is low.
Why was it low then, and different now? Why is the government trying to control everyone and everything everywhere in Canada? I do not get it. The text continues:
Safety guidelines exist and the laboratory community is committed to the safe handling and management of human pathogens and toxins as a part of their regular work. Nevertheless, we must be sure the appropriate legislation, protocols and practices are in place to protect Canadians from this risk.
Since the guidelines were introduced over 15 years ago, there have been no incidents in Canada, regardless of whether labs have been following those guidelines.
Nevertheless, the researchers have certain reservations, not about the safety of their research, but rather about government control over everyday research. Not only does the government want to control journalists and information, but it also wants to control laboratories and people. Has the government conducted studies to determine the impact this new legislation would have on university courses, on how our hospitals operate and on the research industry in Quebec and Canada? No.
The government is asking for carte blanche concerning regulations that will not be examined by Parliament. The bill establishes a legislative framework that imposes certain requirements on research done on pathogens and toxins, as well as criminal sanctions and fines for non-compliance.
We must ask ourselves certain questions about these regulations. How is it that a bill, now in third reading, has no regulations? No one knows what will happen with this bill. They are bringing something to a vote before the House, something that will happen at a later date, but we do not yet know what these regulations will be based on. It makes no sense.
According to the universities we consulted—unlike other parties in this House, we conducted a consultation—Bill will demand huge investments in universities that have laboratories.
These investments will not be used to update laboratories for group 3 and 4 pathogens; these will be new provisions concerning group 1 and 2. Those are the only categories that are not problematic. Also according to the universities, billions of dollars will have to be invested across the country, at the universities' expense. Did the government assess the kind of impact this will have on university teaching and research, on health care institutions and on private laboratories? Once again, the answer is no.
It is important to point out that all laboratories, including universities, hospitals and other government institutions, can be forced to pay fines. This government has a tendency to impose fines and prison sentences. It constantly focuses on those two points. Does the government really want to impose fines on universities and hospitals, when they are already desperately short of funding? It makes no sense.
The bill also establishes penalties and fines for anyone who shows wanton or reckless disregard concerning pathogens and toxins.
Clause 55 reads as follows:
Every person who contravenes section 6 and who shows wanton or reckless disregard for the health or safety of other persons and, as a result, creates a risk to the health or safety of the public is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years.
We are talking about students, not researchers who wear protective clothing. We are talking about people in a university or hospital. We are talking about viruses, which are not very big. This is the smallest category in existence that the government is going to try to control. It wants to control people, control information, control those who have these groups of pathogens. This is terrible. But there is more. And it is even worse.
Clause 56 reads as follows:
Every person who contravenes subsection 7(1) or 18(7) is guilty of an offence and liable
(a) on conviction on indictment, for a first offence, to a fine of not more than $500,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or to both, and, for a subsequent offence, to a fine of not more than $1,000,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years, or to both;
Think about the student who, as a joke, touches something and is fined half a million dollars. It makes no sense.
The Bloc Québécois wonders why it is necessary to introduce new measures and new penalties when they could be part of existing laws. These laws already exist, and the government is trying to add more. It is piling on more laws. Once again, it is hard to follow these parties here in the House. They pay no attention to the bills we discuss here, and they are ready to vote on anything. Are the measures in this bill on breach of duty, wanton or reckless breach of duty and intentional release not already included in the Criminal Code and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act? Yes, they are. Are the measures to prohibit intentional misuse of pathogens not already included in the Anti-Terrorism Act?
We already have plenty of laws. The government is trying to create more fines. It is talking about imprisoning these people. I cannot see how we can think about these things and decide what falls into groups 1 and 2. Everything the party in power is proposing is already covered by existing legislation. I cannot understand why we need to go any further than what we have now. Even worse, the government does not know where it wants to go with this bill because it has not consulted anyone.
When we asked departmental officials about the consequences, it was clear that the government had not studied the impact of Bill . When we asked them about how it would affect universities and hospitals, they candidly told us that they did not know because there had been no impact study. They had no idea what might happen because there had been no study. However, it seemed that everyone was quite happy to have new laws, new fines and new prison sentences. That is the only thing we were able to find out. The only answer we got was that the government planned to take experts' and researchers' concerns into consideration while drafting regulations so as to minimize potential negative impacts. That is not saying much. They will consult experts, but will they take their comments into consideration? They might, or they might not. They might decide to accept the recommendations they like because the bill was passed anyway. We have no idea how the regulations will deal with risk groups 1 and 2. We still have no idea.
I do not understand why, in 2009, the government has introduced a bill without regulations in the House of Commons, where laws are made, nor why we should vote for a bill without knowing the regulations that are to be part of it. Moreover, the government says that even if it consults experts, it will make its own decisions about what to do anyway. Regulations will not be submitted to the House of Commons.
How can we vote on regulations if we never see them? How are we supposed to propose amendments if the regulations are not defined? It makes no sense.
I do not know where we are going with this. Nor do I know how this is in Quebeckers' and Canadians' best interest. We cannot protect them from risk group 1 and 2 pathogens because, in Bill , this government said that these two categories were not a problem.
Why study risk groups 1 and 2 if they were not a problem? I still have not heard an answer to that question.
The Bloc Québécois would have preferred that the government had acted responsibly instead of blindly charging ahead with the implementation of Bill . That would have meant conducting an impact study and consulting properly with stakeholders in each province, including researchers and private health laboratories. As far as the regulatory framework and cooperation with the provinces go, those are other matters.
Certainly, the Bloc Québécois endorses the idea that the government should consult with stakeholders affected by the bill before preparing regulations. We have no choice because the other political parties are in favour of adopting this bill without regulations.
However, we had proposed, during clause-by-clause study in committee, that the government consult the provinces before amending the schedules. When we questioned officials about the effects of this amendment, they indicated there would be no consultation with the provinces before preparing the amendments. Did anyone think of that? They do not even consult the provinces and they are going to make regulations without any consultation with people in each of the provinces.
Those officials also said that the experts and researchers were found in research laboratories and within the federal government, while ignoring the expertise within the public service of Quebec or the other provinces. We have expertise as well, but the Conservatives do not want to recognize it. They just want to listen to their own experts; and they will only take into account what they like.
They also pointed out that British Columbia had serious reservations about the bill, and these were the same officials who had reassured the province by promising to consult B.C. on the scope of the bill. They will do the consultation later.
The Bloc amendment called for consultation with Quebec and the provinces before any modification of the schedules; that is, before adding a pathogen or revising its classification. The purpose of this amendment was to ensure that the federal government properly evaluated the impact of any such changes.
It must be said that the Conservatives and the Liberals decided that amendment was not necessary, and in doing so dismissed the expertise of Quebec and other provinces on the subject.
The Liberals, who cried wolf in committee because of a failure to respect British Columbia’s jurisdiction and the repercussions of the bill on the people of British Columbia, put their trust entirely in the regulations under the Act, and make no provision for British Columbia to give its views on the classification of pathogens.
In a news release on April 29, 2008, announcing the introduction of Bill , the minister insisted that there were no risks. Yet, today, suddenly, there are many risks.
The Bloc Québécois calls for in-depth study of Bill . We want to put questions to experts to ensure that the details of Bill C-11 will not adversely affect the research community in Quebec.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me today to rise and present my position and that of the Bloc on Bill . As a member of the Standing Committee on Health and the Bloc’s youth critic, I can say that this bill is of great concern to me. I am concerned because it has to do not only with public health and safety but also with the research done in our universities.
The predecessor of this bill was Bill , which died on the order paper when the election was called last October. The purpose of the bill is to create measures to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins.
In case any of my colleagues do not know, pathogens are micro-organisms that can cause illness in human beings. Some toxins, produced by micro-organisms, can also cause illness. Pathogens are divided into five categories. The least dangerous are in risk group 1 and the most dangerous in risk group 5.
When I said that Bill concerned both public health and our scientific community, it was because these micro-organisms are used in both scientific research laboratories and in health care facilities in Quebec and Canada.
At the present time, the regulations on importing pathogens make it necessary to obtain a licence in order to bring them in from foreign countries. Only laboratories that import pathogens have to observe a set of guidelines on laboratory biosafety. Those that use pathogens already present in Canada do not.
The purpose of Bill is, in short, to make the laboratory biosafety guidelines obligatory for everyone and to require everyone to obtain a licence for controlled activities so that the existing pathogens can be followed. The purpose is to determine where these pathogens are and who is in possession of them and also to institute a system of offences and punishments for people who violate the guidelines.
Bill would therefore require everyone in the scientific community to obtain a licence in order to conduct research on pathogens and toxins. Whether in order to manipulate, possess, or import them, everyone would need a licence.
As I pointed out earlier, there are guidelines for the possession and handling of pathogens and toxins.
In short, Bill would require that low-risk laboratories, those using agents from groups 1 and 2, which entail, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, “moderate risk to the health of individuals and a low risk to public health” obtain a licence. That is interesting. According to the agency once again, “They are able to cause serious disease in a human but are unlikely to do so. Effective treatment and preventive measures are available and the risk of spread of disease caused by those pathogens is low.”
Naturally, we understand the government's concern with respect to groups 3 and 4 and the precautions proposed as they could affect the health and safety of the general population. However, there is a problem in that laboratories that handle agents in groups 3 and 4 already observe the provisions in the guidelines.
The guidelines were established more than 15 years ago and, since then, there has not been an incident in Canada in laboratories that use groups 3 and 4 or those that use groups 1 and 2. Mr. Marc Ouellette, a professor at Laval University, appeared before the committee twice and was very clear on that point.
Bill C-54 and then Bill C-11 sent shock waves through the research community. No one was prepared for them. When we examined the bill—and I even read the document explaining it—we thought it was ridiculous, because people had been following the guidelines for 15 years.
In fact, the only major incident involving improper use took place in the United States in the early 2000s and it was in a laboratory run by the American government. Scientists already comply with the framework put forward by the federal government for the use and importing of pathogens.
As I mentioned earlier, Bill would impose a new framework for university and hospital laboratories as well as private laboratories. At the Standing Committee on Health, we spoke to a number of scientists who work in these laboratories and who have serious doubts about the impact of Bill C-11, and I can understand them.
Nevertheless, when it comes to the new obligations on the circulation of pathogens within a facility such as a university, researchers wonder, not about the safety aspect of their research, but about the way the government is taking control over their everyday research activities.
Once again, the Conservative government is trying to use a variety of tactics to interfere in scientific research, exactly as it did by granting new funding to the Humanities Research Council, but limiting them to economic research. I will return to that point later. That decision, once again, was reached without consultation and without taking the opinion of those most concerned into consideration.
Did the government do any impact studies on the effects such legislation would have on university curricula, on the operation of our hospitals, on the research industry in Quebec and Canada?
Not in the least.
In addition to cutting $162 million in funding to granting agencies, the Conservative government is imposing a legislative framework on researchers, which will require major additional investments for the thousands of facilities wishing to use pathogens with a low level of risk to the public.
The Conservative government is again after carte blanche as far as the regulations are concerned; they will not be reviewed by Parliament. I have serious misgivings about the potential repercussions of this bill on the development of pathogen research in Quebec and on the positive contributions this would make to public health.
We need only think of the swine flu that is rampant at this time. Will scientists be able to work as effectively in future to find solutions to such a virus? I think this issue is worth examining.
Once again, it seems that the Conservative government is introducing a bill without evaluating its direct repercussions on the community. We are beginning to get used to it.
Did the government reflect on the impact that Bill will have on university teaching? Did it reflect on the investments required to set up a teaching laboratory using groups 1 and 2?
For example, E. coli is currently listed in schedule 2 of the bill. According to the academics, this pathogen is widely used by students in laboratory experiments. The fact that it is in schedule 2 would force universities to step up security in classrooms, although not all types of E. coli are potentially hazardous.
It is true that the government introduced some distinctions in Bill compared to former Bill and it could change the classification of pathogens in the schedules. However, that example illustrates the general upgrading problem that will be necessary in some teaching laboratories.
Moreover, the bill restricts the access to licensed facilities. Clause 31 of Bill says that:
A licence holder shall establish and maintain a list of all persons authorized by the licence holder to access the facility to which the licence applies, including persons holding a security clearance for that facility and visitors. The licence holder shall provide the Minister with that list if requested to do so.
Where teaching is done in laboratories, will the university have to give the list of all students who can access the laboratories or of all students of the university? I do believe that there are still too many questions and not enough answers in that bill.
According to the academics we consulted, Bill would require major investments in universities where there are laboratories. These investments will not be used to make the necessary upgrades to allow the laboratories to work with groups 3 and 4 pathogens, but to make them conform to the new provisions concerning groups 1 and 2. They told us that universities in Quebec and Canada will have to spend billions of dollars—and I repeat, billions of dollars, in the middle of an economic crisis—to do the necessary upgrading.
Many witnesses also asked the government to eliminate schedule 2 from the bill to reduce the impact on everyday research work. According to scientists, that would considerably change the content of Bill . Indeed, 90% of pathogens used in university laboratories are from group 2.
A scientist at McGill University's Department of Microbiology and Immunology even issued a serious warning about the direct impact of implementing the act if schedule 2 is not repealed:
Removing level 2 would not put Canadians at any greater risk than they face now. Canadians are well protected with what is already present. Keeping level 2 in this bill will certainly slow research in this country and slow our ability to compete internationally and our ability to attract biotechnology and major industries...
In a time of economic crisis, it seems that the worst thing we could do would be to put even more constraints on our universities, which are already faced with serious funding problems. Especially since, as I said, there have been no incidents since the guidelines were introduced 15 years ago. The government is once again trying to impose its right-wing ideology and to control research as much as it can without spending anything. That is completely unacceptable.
As I have mentioned, the handling of pathogens is carried out for diagnostic purposes and for research and development. The Bloc Québécois is concerned with the effects of this bill on the future of research and development in this country related to pathogens. At the risk of repeating myself, I want to say that the Conservative government, in addition to cutting research budgets, is trying to exert maximum control over the scientific community.
It is also important to be concerned about the effects of Bill on health institutions, such as hospitals, that use laboratories to carry out diagnostic tests. That could have a direct impact on the health services of Quebec and the provinces. The bill also seeks to impose penalties on anyone who contravenes the law. It is important to mention that laboratories, including universities, hospitals and other government establishments, could be forced to pay a fine. Does the government really want to inflict fines on universities and hospitals that already have a crying shortage of funds?
The bill also provides fines and penalties for anyone guilty of careless acts or lack of precaution in the handling of pathogens and toxins. Such action would be liable to a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000 for the first offence. A second offence would attract a maximum fine of $1 million or up to two years in prison, or both of those penalties. Are the measures in Bill to prohibit intentional misuse of pathogens not already contained within the Anti-terrorism Act?
While we had questioned officials about the possible repercussions, it is now clear that the government did not conduct any study of the impact of Bill . The only response we received was that when it was drawing up the regulations the government would consider the concerns of experts and researchers, to reduce any possible negative impacts. Even though the government still has not conducted an impact study or else is refusing to make it public, the government appears so anxious to have Bill C-11 adopted that it is forgetting that enforcement of the law will not begin for another 4 or 5 years.
I sincerely believe that the government should have acted responsibly before blindly jumping into the implementation of Bill . It should have conducted impact assessments and properly consulted the stakeholders, specifically, researchers, the provinces, medical laboratories and the entire scientific community. Of course the Bloc Québécois supports the notion that the government must consult the stakeholders affected by the bill before drafting any regulations. However, in the clause by clause study conducted by the health committee, of which I am a member, the Bloc proposed that the government consult the provinces before amending the schedules, which obviously was not done.
When asked about the consequences of this amendment, the officials said there would be no consultation with the provinces before the amendments were drafted, thereby forgoing the expertise of public servants from Quebec and the provinces. I would also remind the House that British Columbia has expressed serious reservations about the bill, and that it was these same officials who reassured them, promising that they would be consulted about the scope of the legislation.
This sentiment was echoed by the Government of Quebec. The Quebec health minister, Yves Bolduc, wrote a letter to the Canadian to express his concerns.
The Liberal members who were tearing their hair out in committee because of the failure to respect British Columbia's jurisdictions and the repercussions the bill would have on the people of that province decided to put their trust entirely in the regulations, thereby denying British Columbia the opportunity to give an opinion on the classification of pathogens. The Liberals have a habit of trampling on the provinces, and this is just one more example.
In her speech earlier, the hon. member for seemed to be saying that the NDP were the only ones to try to change Bill in committee by proposing amendments.
Perhaps this amnesia is due to the energy she spent on justifying her position.
I would also like to remind the NDP members and all members of the House that the Bloc Québécois also proposed amendments at the report stage calling for the removal of level 2 pathogens and calling on the government to table the regulations before the House before they are adopted. We therefore supported the other parties' amendments that were along the same lines. However, that was not enough.
It would be interesting to know why the hon. member for and the Liberal and Conservative members of the Standing Committee on Health did not support the amendment put forward by the Bloc Québécois calling for the activities carried out in any facility regulated, operated or funded by a province to be excluded, when Quebec's health minister as well as Ontario and BC officials expressed serious concerns about the impact of Bill on activities in Quebec and the provinces.
Given that the risk to Canadians posed by the presence of human pathogens and toxins in labs is low, according to the Conservative government; that the bill is designed to make the laboratory biosafety guidelines mandatory through licensing, without the government first consulting the primary stakeholders and assessing the impact on such things as university teaching and labs in health facilities; that the government's goal is to address a potential terrorist risk by regulating pathogens and toxins and that the Anti-terrorism Act and other acts can already cover some of the provisions of Bill ; and that this bill can potentially invade the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, for all of these reasons, the Bloc Québécois is calling for an in-depth review of Bill C-11.
We will question experts to make sure that the details of Bill do not adversely affect Quebec's research community. We will ensure that the proposed provisions are respectful of Quebec's areas of jurisdiction in that they take into account potential implications with respect to university teaching and research as well as health services provided to the people of Quebec.
Mr. Speaker, today I listened very carefully to my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois who demonstrated clearly that this bill is irrelevant and should go back to the drawing board to be re-examined and reworked to meet the real needs of the community in terms of risk management.
Everyone knows that I am curious. When I see a bill that is irrelevant, that leads nowhere, that will solve nothing and that will only interfere with the work of specialists and researchers, I am curious and I look for anything that could enlighten me as to where exactly the danger lies. Why is the government looking now to pass a bill that would suddenly make risk group 1 and 2 pathogens more dangerous and require a licence for these pathogens? I asked myself that question.
I looked to see what was being done in the United States because we know of course that, since 9/11, our American friends are very fond of all these laws and measures that are nothing but cumbersome. I understand their anxiety and their need to put forward legislation aimed at preventing terrorist acts on their territory.
I came across something quite interesting, and I believe that our Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat colleagues should hear it. Words could be a useful pathogen if, by reproduction and transmittal, they could contaminate our colleagues from these parties and disseminate more wisdom among them.
I will read some excerpts from a report by Mr. Nicolas Moquin, of the Laboratoire d'étude sur les politiques publiques et la mondialisation. The title is “Analyse des impacts de la mondialisation sur la sécurité au Québec, Rapport 4 — L'arme biologique et ses vecteurs”. The author is not the member for or just anyone talking through their hat about things they do not really know. The study was done by a very knowledgeable group of people. Here is how the report begins:
The erosion of frontiers, the increasing ease of travel, the free circulation of goods and people as well as migratory movements are characteristics of globalization. The new information and telecommunication technologies, such as satellites, cable broadcasting and the Internet, also promote rapid information sharing and allow for the coordination of various activities taking place at great distances. Western democracies are therefore more vulnerable to transnational threats. Transnational terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, can acquire tools which allow them to better target their attacks.
As I read this, I cannot help thinking about the day, not so long ago, when our distinguished colleague across the floor went to the airport in Toronto. With some of his colleagues in charge of public safety, he was able to gain access to areas where, normally, he should not have been able to go. This represents a much greater threat of bringing biological weapons here than the threat of reproducing those weapons in a laboratory where we have pathogens from the risk groups 1 and 2. In spite of this, nothing has been done yet to make airports safer.
Western states are very concerned about terrorism. On October 5, 2001, shortly after the September 11 tragedy, the United States lost yet more lives when five people died of anthrax.
Anthrax is considered a risk group 4 pathogen. It is not a risk group 1 or 2 pathogen. It is very dangerous and should not be in just anyone's hands. However, even though the United States has very strict and specific rules, the pathogen was found in envelopes addressed to elected members of the U.S. Congress and Senate. Unfortunately, police in the U.S. had been unable to intercept the envelopes.
This incident illustrates the degree to which the proliferation of nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical (NRBC) weapons constitutes a threat to national and international security.
These are weapons of mass destruction, much like the weapons that were not found in Iraq, weapons that justified the American government's military action in that country.
Weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and NRBCs can have a destructive impact on all levels of society and the environment.
The introduction explains these problems. Further on, it addresses biological weapons, bioterrorism and agroterrorism. I would like to talk about bioterrorism, because pathogens are what interest us today.
Security experts agree. Actions against civilians or even property by individuals or groups belonging to large organized networks are characteristic of terrorism. These organizations claim adherence to a political or religious cause, orchestrate attacks, or employ intimidation tactics to create a climate of fear. There are many forms of terrorism; we will focus on biological weapons.
Biological weapons have not yet been used on a large scale, but some states have pursued the development of biological weapons and their antidotes. These weapons use living organisms or products derived therefrom.
These states are not terrorist groups; they are governments that have developed biological weapons.
These organisms may multiply within another living organism, which then becomes a vector for contamination [...] There are four categories of biological agents: viruses (smallpox, Ebola), bacteria (anthrax), fungi, and toxins produced by living organisms (ricin, botulism bacillus).
Each of those appears in risk group 4.
Vaporizing or mixing biological agents with drinking water or food increases their capacity for mass destruction. These agents can also be incorporated in goods or postal packages.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 50 viruses, bacteria and toxins could be used to manufacture biological weapons... Manufacturing a biological weapon requires little specialized knowledge. Advances in biological research and even the access to Internet have made it increasingly possible to procure the equipment necessary to manufacture such a weapon. It is even highly likely that the number of instances where strains of smallpox are stolen will increase. As it turns out, there is a real threat, and the use of such weapons of mass destruction is cause for great concern. Currently active terrorist groups could resort to biological weapons in attacks.
When we say that it is easy to make a biological weapon with the help of Internet, it is important to realize that we are not talking about scientists or researchers working in laboratories to serve mankind by developing universal remedies for the various diseases known to man. We are talking about terrorists who, in the comfort of their own bedroom or living room, find recipes for putting together these so-called biological threats.
Bioterrorism means the spreading of germs susceptible of causing deadly diseases. Recent advances in genetics and molecular biology make it possible to turn innocuous bacteria into pathogens through the insertion of toxic genes. These bacteria can be made even more virulent so that they can bypass the immune system or become antibiotic resistant.
I do not think that the kind of bacteria and terrorist activities we are talking about here will be the fields of interest of our young researchers and scientists, who are so dedicated and so anxious to improve the lives of their fellow citizens by looking for new methods of treatment.
Included in this report is the notion that, being aware of these problems, risks and potential difficulties, the United Nations as well as the United States, Canada and Quebec have developed alternate approaches that now allow us to make sure that we will not be the victims of bioterrorism or agroterrorism.
For example, in 2003 in the United States, the FDA or Food and Drug Administration, which is the agency that oversees drugs, arms and foodstuffs, established an obligatory registration system for foreign and local producers who handle, process, deal with or transport foodstuffs. Foreign companies in the agri-food sector that export perishable foods to the United States must provide the Food and Drug Administration with a minimum of two hours advance notice.
American importers of agri-food products must also notify the FDA before crossing the border of another American state. If imported food products might constitute a health risk, the FDA reserves the right to quarantine them for a period of 20 to 30 days.
Members will recall that we had a serious problem two years ago with spinach imported from the United States. Even though there are very strict rules in the United States governing the transportation of food, its quality, and its relative risk, here in Canada we ended up, despite all that, with very dangerous spinach contaminated with a coliform bacillus that was a threat to human health. It is not enough to have very strict rules. We have to be certain that those rules work.
The bioterrorism legislation in the United States also attempts to secure institutions that stock toxins and biological viruses. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has established a list of viruses that could be used to produce biological weapons. States, universities and private laboratories must therefore abide by certain conditions if they want to hold and handle these type 4 viruses, as was previously mentioned.
Canada has also become involved at the United Nations in a group of countries that are concerned about these problems because some states have developed viruses, bacteria and human pathogens that can be very dangerous and that can reproduce very quickly.
Today, most of these viruses are in a Russian laboratory, where they are monitored. For a few years, there has been an oversight committee made up of people from Canada, the United States, Europe and even Quebec. These people have a responsibility to protect the viruses against terrorism and make sure that the viruses kept in this facility are not removed for any reason.
Responsibility for planning and for Canada's response to the threat of bioterrorism rests with Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada (PSEPC), the Departmental of National Defence (DND), the RCMP and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which are all part of the joint response team. The national readiness and response system of PSEPC coordinates all response activities. Internationally, Canada responds to biological threats by working with its international partners.
In 2002, to follow up on Canada's proposals at the Kananaskis summit, the G8 member countries adopted the global partnership against the spread of weapons and materials of mass destruction. This partnership has primarily focused on co-managing Russia's chemical and biological military complex, a legacy of the Communist era. Canada and the other G8 members want to prevent any terrorist group from acquiring or developing biological weapons.
These chemical weapons are not found in small hospital or research laboratories. Chemical weapons do exist, but it is governments of certain countries that have developed them to use them themselves or to scare their neighbours or other countries by threatening to produce and export them. Generally, researchers and lab technicians are not the most diabolical minds behind threats of bioterrorism.
In Quebec, we are fortunate to have a public health agency.
Canada's and Quebec's initiatives to combat the vectors of biological weapons and protect themselves against the effects of such weapons primarily take the form of cooperation on safety and public health and compliance with FDA requirements by agri-food companies in Quebec and MAPAQ regarding food traceability.
I am certain that my colleague from is well aware of this situation, because:
—September 11, 2001 and the anthrax incident resulted in major changes to civil security in Quebec. Not long after these events, the governments of Quebec and the state of New York decided to establish the Quebec-New York Committee, a working group to examine new measures to be adopted for communications and security in emergency situations... The work of the committee led to the establishment, within the Ministry of Public Safety, of the roundtable on management of nuclear, biological, radiological and chemical threats.
The Parti Québécois—a sovereignist party—was in power in Quebec at the time.
Representatives of Montreal, Quebec City and Gatineau were members of the roundtable. Each city was represented by a police officer, a firefighter and a municipal civil security officer. Other members of various ministries and organizations also participated, including the Quebec provincial police, the SQ, which was responsible, together with the Montreal police force, for examining nuclear, biological, radiological and chemical threats.
I only have one minute remaining. That is not long enough. It is not enough to make my colleagues understand, no matter whether they are Liberals, Conservatives or New Democrats, that they are not making the right decision by voting for this bill. This bill must be reviewed in its entirety. It must be studied and witnesses must come and explain what they need, in order to have a real policy to prevent bioterrorism.