Thank you, colleagues.
At the outset, I'd like to start by recognizing the work of Senator Ataullahjan on this bill, as well as others who have proposed similar bills—Mr. Wrzesnewskyj who is here, and who got this ball rolling 10 years ago, as well as Irwin Cotler, for all of his work and support throughout this process.
This bill proposes to make it a criminal offence for a Canadian to go abroad to receive an organ without proper consent. It creates a mechanism by which someone can be deemed inadmissible to Canada if they have been involved in organ harvesting. This touches on a number of different situations. It seeks to respond to the situation in China, where the taking of vital organs from live, and often awake, political prisoners is state policy. It also responds to situations where organs are taken through coercion and exploitation, beyond the reach of even well-meaning local authorities.
In the 10 minutes I have, I don't see it as necessary to repeat in detail all aspects of this issue, which have already been part of the parliamentary record: that organ harvesting is a problem; that Parliament has a legitimate right, and indeed, moral obligation to respond to it; and that the application of extraterritorial jurisdiction, in this case, is appropriate. These are all points that have been well laid out, in the context of the parliamentary debate, but I would obviously be happy to revisit them during the question period.
I wanted to make a few particular points about the impact and timing of this legislation. First, on the issue of the impact, there has been some debate in the House about whether certain provisions of this bill are necessary, and whether certain provisions of the bill are onerous.
One member argued that the inadmissibility provision in the legislation might not be necessary, because those involved in organ harvesting could be deemed inadmissible on other grounds. Another member wondered if the criminal law aspects could be inferred into other statutes. Some members said that there are no known cases of this in Canada, and one member argued that prosecutions under this legislation could be onerous, because they would involve the requirement that prosecutors gather evidence in other jurisdictions.
I disagree with many of these arguments. I argued in response that extraterritorial prosecutions are easier in this case, because the recipient brings back some physical evidence with them, and there's aftercare involved. I pointed out that while any organ harvesting that took place in Canada would already be illegal, this legislation creates a new mechanism by which that crime could be prosecuted if it took place in another country. The presence or absence of documented cases of organ harvesting here in Canada is really beside the point.
I do not believe that any provision of this legislation is redundant or unnecessary. The extraterritoriality provisions are key, but other aspects of the criminal law provisions are substantive, new and important.
Suppose that I'm wrong. Suppose that the bill is, in fact, challenging to administer at points, and redundant in its impact. If that is the case, then it may not do that much good, but it also won't do any harm. Note that prosecutions can only proceed under this legislation if authorized by the Attorney General. If a prosecution is too onerous in a particular case, there simply isn't a need to authorize it in that particular case. The requirement for authorization is a strong check to ensure that these powers are not executed in an unreasonable way, or in a way that runs contrary to the public interest. If the immigration provisions are redundant—I don't think they are, but if they are, so what? Who's made worse off by the extra emphasis around inadmissibility?
One thing that nobody will deny about the passage of this bill is that it would send a strong message about Parliament's, and Canada's, commitment to fighting forced organ harvesting. My point, colleagues, would be that at worst, this is a bill that its most extreme critics would say has low impact. I don't agree with those critics, but even if they're right, we lose nothing by passing this legislation. At worst, it's a symbolic positive impact, but at best, it will save the lives of some of the most vulnerable women, men and children, by cutting off the demand for harvested organs. If we can get other countries to follow suit on this initiative, this will have orders of magnitude more impact on the lives of some of the world's most disadvantaged people.
Whether you believe the impact of passing this bill will be large or small, I hope you will support its swift passage.
On the issue of timing, members know that we are in an election year. This bill has been working its way through the process for the majority of this parliamentary session. Getting a substantive private member's bill across the finish line is not a quick or easy thing to do, and that explains why multiple great bills on this topic, over the last 10 years, did not make it all the way through. If we don't get this done, how much longer will victims have to wait—four more years, 10 more years?
Let's do everything we can to maximize the speed of passage of this bill, so that we can look our children in the eye and tell them that we didn't just talk about good ideas, we actually got good things done.
I am grateful to this committee, and to you, Mr. Chair, for the fact that we're proceeding quickly to clause-by-clause consideration. Clause-by-clause will provide members with the opportunity to propose amendments. I note that this bill was studied by the Senate committee, and substantially and constructively amended at that point. It builds on detailed legal work that includes the work of, as I mentioned, former minister of justice Irwin Cotler.
If members see a vital need to amend this bill before passing, then certainly they're in their rights to do so. I think there would still be a shot at getting the bill passed before the next election.
However, as colleagues know, if passed in its present form, this bill will go straight to royal assent and we will certainly have delivered to victims and their families. I think it will complicate the process if the bill is amended and goes back to the Senate with no guarantee that the Senate will like our new revisions.
The Senate's rules are different from ours. This close to the federal election, all it would take would be for one senator to choose to adjourn the debate in their name. That would, I think, prevent it from proceeding.
Under different circumstances, I would probably have proposed minor amendments myself today. However, we have to take stock of the circumstance we're in. The clock is ticking hard. My sincere recommendation is that we pass this bill in its present form and in so doing ensure it moves forward before the next election.
I hope members who want to propose amendments have been able to consult substantially with the Senate to ensure it will give quick passage to the amended version.
If we gut this bill, as some appear interested in doing, then we're obviously a lot worse off. Even if we marginally strengthen it, we will likely be worse off unless we can get it done before the next election. I would suggest we consider supporting this bill without amendment so that we can ensure we deliver the justice we want for victims.
In this case, we have a gaping hole in the law that allows Canadians to be complicit in a grievous violation of human rights. In this case, our human rights architecture is like a ship with a gaping hole in the side. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, I say that we need to ensure the hole is patched. If we subsequently need to make improvements to the patchwork, so be it.
If this committee agrees to pass this bill in its present form today or this week, our chances of getting it into law before the end of this Parliament are very good. There have been four bills on this over 10 years. This bill represents the culmination of work done by some of the best human rights minds in the world—people like Irwin Cotler, David Matas and David Kilgour.
Let me close on a personal note. Members know, I think, that my grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. She avoided capture. Despite her lack of privilege, she avoided the torture of the concentration camps because there were people in her community with more privilege who were willing to protect her and to speak out for justice, when and where possible.
As sitting members of Parliament, we all have a form of privilege. We can choose to use that privilege to speak for ourselves, our interests and the interests of our tribe, or we can use it to speak for those who do not have a voice. We can speak for the poor and suffering of the world, like my grandmother in her time, who could not speak to a Parliament or a committee about her situation.
We can be a voice for ourselves or we can be a voice for the voiceless.
I think of the fact that today, in the People's Republic of China, we have Uighur Muslims being put in concentration camps, churches being exploded with dynamite and many others being killed for their organs.
A couple of years ago, I was in Berlin and I spent time exploring the history and the memorials related to the Holocaust. It hit home for me, seeing the crowded urban areas from which Jews were shipped by train to concentration camps. It hit home for me that people saw what was going on. I visited Sachsenhausen, which is outside of Berlin, in the heart of one of the city's suburbs. Many of these atrocities were not well hidden. Ordinary people saw them, knew about them and did not do enough to stop them.
Why didn't they stop them?
Too often, people excuse themselves from doing what is necessary to stop injustice by using “whataboutisms”. That is, they get hung up on minor details or irrelevant facts that distract their attention from the bigger picture of injustice being done to the innocent. About the horrors of the slave trade, William Wilberforce said, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.”
I say to committee members: you know because you have read the stories and heard about the contemporary horrors of human rights abuses, organ harvesting, trafficking and the complicity of some Canadians. We must do all we can to put a stop to this.
Let's pass this bill to ensure it becomes law as soon as possible. Let's maximize our chances of success by recognizing the legislative process as it is. Just like William Wilberforce's audience, you and all of those watching at home may choose to look away but can never again say you did not know.
Let me begin by thanking Mr. Genuis for sponsoring this legislation. He's already mentioned the long journey that has brought us here. In fact, it's been 11 years. On February 5, 2008, in the 39th Parliament it was first introduced by me, so I'm feeling very expectant and anxious. I believe that we can get this through our committee this week, and this could be a great example in difficult circumstances in the House of parliamentarians doing what's right on a very important file. We have support of all parties. We have the support of both chambers within our Parliament. It's a rare occasion that we see this type of support, and it will be a demonstration of the legislature and legislators doing their vital work.
You mentioned the great work done by the two Davids: David Matas and David Kilgour. They really shone a light on perhaps the darkest of evils of our current times. Perhaps not in the same way as you see in cases of genocide, but there was something to what you said when you referenced your grandmother. Not since World War II have we seen human horrors on an industrial scale by a state, a government. China has, on an industrial scale, been taking the most vulnerable—people who have been incarcerated for their beliefs—and profiting from a systemic system put in place to literally cannibalize the bodies of those vulnerable individuals.
You're going to get some more tough questions, as you referenced. Mine won't be so much a question, but I want you to further provide context around why it's so important for us to do this. Ten or 12 years ago this first became an issue, and it's the confluence of a number of things that have happened globally. Medical technology wouldn't have allowed for these sorts of transplantations 20 or 30 years ago, so it was a change in medical technology. And then there is this global disparity. You have people of the wealthy west, and you have not just China but destitute farmers in India falling victim to this type of trafficking. You have 17-year-old orphans in Ukraine falling victim. The most vulnerable globally are the victims of this horrific trade in human organs. If people say, “Well, that's far away. It doesn't affect us”, it does, in ways that perhaps people need to be reminded of.
I think it was the week after I introduced the legislation—February 5, 2008—that the Toronto Star had headline stories about “Dr. Horror” from Brampton, who lived in a mansion, had a very good life here in Canada, and had a series of clinics in India that preyed upon the most vulnerable. Farmers who were destitute were promised significant amounts of money. They didn't always receive it. It wasn't necessarily explained to them that you can only donate one kidney and not two.
I would like to conclude my statement of support by saying this is a horrific trade. All of the trends that have led to this trade are increasing the income disparities and the number of vulnerable through medical technology.
We should be a leader. We can be an example for other countries by passing this legislation.
I have a minute and a half left if you'd like to comment on any of the statements I've made.
Thank you so much again, Mr. Wrzesnewskyj, for your comments and your work on this.
I want to make sure that people watching this don't get the impression that just because we've been agreeing so far, this is going to be easy. It's February, the parliamentary session goes until June and there are details that are part of the discussion. The continuing engagement of people at home in the decisions we make about how to move forward are critical. Sometimes, even if there's facial agreement, there's still a lot of hard work, and people shouldn't be complacent even though they're seeing agreement. But it's good to see that agreement, and I think we have an opportunity, as you say, for parties to work together. Yes, February 2008 was a long time ago, and it was a longer time ago for me, as I was in school at that time. Hopefully, my kids won't be in high school before we get this done, right?
In the remaining time, Borys, you raised the issue—and I think it's a critical one—of injustice in an interconnected world. In a more globalized interconnected world, there are opportunities for exploitation and injustice. There are a lot of great opportunities that come from interconnectedness, but there are opportunities for injustice and exploitation.
I believe that's why we need to be willing to use more extraterritorial provisions. We did this in child sex tourism. When it came to light that people were going overseas and engaging in this horrific practice of child rape, essentially, we said that in an interconnected world we need new legal tools that respond to new forms of injustice. That means prosecuting people for terrible things that they do overseas, prosecuting even if they're not doing those things within our country.
This is an extension of that principle. An important issue for this committee to explore in general is countering injustice in a more interconnected world where people aren't just exploiting others at home, but might be involved in exploiting others overseas. That will require creative ways of thinking and new legal tools. We can't just be complacent and think that the tools of yesteryear have kept up with the current trends in terms of travel and technology. They haven't. That's why we need to be adaptable as well.
I had some prior discussions about the bill with some of you. Three different issues have been raised: compulsory reporting, consideration for payment and body parts other than organs. Let me say a bit about each of those issues.
Compulsory reporting is an issue where there was a constitutional question raised, because the bill now says “reporting to a designated authority”. I looked at the definition of “Attorney General” in the Criminal Code because the bill says there has to be consent by the Attorney General. The term “Attorney General” in the Criminal Code is defined to mean the Attorney General or Solicitor General for the province in which proceedings are taken, and the Attorney General of Canada pertains only to Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
That issue of constitutionality, as I see it, can be answered in one of four ways. One is just to leave the bill as it is and to leave the issue of who the designated authority is to the Governor in Council, who could in theory, in consultation with the provinces, designate provincial authorities for each province where the Attorney General or the Solicitor General has the power to consent to prosecution. That would be one option.
A second option would be to change the bill to require the consent of the Attorney General of Canada, as opposed to just the Attorney General, so as to allow for the designated authority to be federal.
A third option would be to change the consent requirement as it exists in some parts of the Criminal Code to be either the Attorney General of Canada or the Attorney General or Solicitor General of the province, which would maximize flexibility in the designation of the relevant authority.
A fourth option is to change the bill so that instead of requiring “reporting by an authority designated by the Governor in Council”, it would require “reporting to the Attorney General”. That would mean the Attorney General as defined in the Criminal Code, which would mean reporting to the Attorney General or Solicitor General in each province where proceedings might be taken. I point out that this is a common form of reporting. There's a lot of reporting legislation right now in Canada for child abuse, for gunshot wounds, and a lot of this reporting goes straight to the prosecutorial authorities.
Those are the options that I saw for the first issue about reporting.
In terms of consideration, the issue that has arisen is whether the bill as it now stands would penalize compensation to the donor for expenses incurred or income lost. There are a couple of ways to deal with that. One is just to leave it to prosecutorial discretion and the consent of the Attorney General and not change the bill.
A second is to have specific wording, and instead of saying “consideration”, say “consideration for the purpose of exploitation”, which is the language used right now in the Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism. Exploitation is a well-known concept in the Criminal Code, where it's mentioned 36 times. In particular, it's part of the offence of trafficking of persons in the Criminal Code.
The third issue I heard raised was the issue of body parts—whether the reference to organs is too narrow, and whether the bill should also refer to “tissue”. If the bill were amended to refer to tissue, the question would arise whether that's too broad, and whether some forms of tissue would need to be exempted.
Again, there's more than one answer. One is to do nothing, because the fact that something more can be done that is worthwhile is another argument for doing something, which is in itself worthwhile, and which is in the bill right now. A second answer is to add “tissue”, but to rely on the concept of exploitation to avoid overbreadth. Presumably, consideration for those tissues, which the bill would not intend to capture, would not be consideration for the purpose of exploitation. The third answer is to add “tissue” but exempt specific tissue listed by regulation. I would think there would have to be medical consultation to determine which tissue would fall within the regulation.
Those are the various issues I heard discussed, and the various options I present for your consideration. I realize there's a strategic consideration involved because if there's an amendment then it has to go back to the Senate and in theory any one senator could delay the passage of the bill through the Senate with amendment.
I feel in terms of strategic considerations you're in a better place to deal with them then I am. I leave that to your wisdom.