I call this meeting to order.
Welcome, everyone, to meeting number 12 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health.
Pursuant to the orders of reference of Tuesday, March 24 and Saturday, April 11, the committee is meeting for the purpose of receiving evidence concerning matters relating to the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today's meeting is taking place entirely by video conference and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. As at the last meeting, the webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entire committee.
In order to facilitate our work here today and that of the interpreters and to ensure an orderly meeting, I will outline a few rules to follow.
Firstly, interpretation in this video conference will work very much as in a regular committee meeting. You have a choice at the bottom of your screen of either the floor, or English or French. Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, you can either click on the microphone icon to activate your mike or you can hold down the space bar while you are speaking. When you release the bar, your mike will mute itself just like a walkie-talkie.
Also, as a reminder, all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair. Should members need to request the floor outside their designated time for questions, they should activate their mike and state that they have a point of order.
If a member wishes to intervene in response to a point of order raised by another member, they should use the “raise hand” function. This will signal to the chair your interest in speaking. In order to do so, you should click on “participants” at the bottom of the screen. When the list pops up, you will see next to your name that you can click “raise hand”. Speak slowly and clearly, and when you're not speaking, please ensure that your mike is muted.
The use of headsets is strongly encouraged. If you have a microphone on your headset that hangs down, please make sure it is not rubbing on your shirt during your questioning time.
Should any technical challenges arise, such as with interpretation or if you are accidentally disconnected, please advise the chair or clerk immediately and the technical team will work to resolve it. Please note that we might need to suspend during these times to ensure that all members are able to participate fully.
Before we get started, could everyone click on the top right-hand corner of their screen if you're on a PC and ensure that it is on gallery view. With this view you should be able to see all of the participants in a grid view. It will ensure that all video participants can see one another.
During this meeting we will follow the same rules that usually apply to opening statements and the questioning of witnesses during our regular meetings. Each witness will have 10 minutes for an opening statement, followed by the usual rounds of questions from members. We have an agreement among all parties that we will do three rounds of questions.
We will start with Dr. Attaran, as an individual. He is a professor in the faculty of law at the University of Ottawa.
Dr. Attaran, I note that you have sent in a brief. Unfortunately, we cannot distribute it until it is translated. The brief has gone to translation and will be distributed to the committee once that is done.
If you would like to make your presentation, you have 10 minutes, please.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
I am honoured to have received your invitation. Thank you.
Like you, I am a Canadian who wishes to get our country out from under COVID-19. I come at this as a professor of both public health and law at the University of Ottawa. I learned my science—latterly immunology—at Berkeley, Caltech and Oxford, and my law at UBC. After that I taught public health and government at both Harvard and Yale, and worked on global health projects with various NGOs, the World Health Organization, governments and corporations. As a science communicator, I've been part of the editorial team of the Canadian Medical Association Journal and The Lancet.
Today, however, I'm testifying as an individual. Unlike some of your other witnesses, nobody except the university pays my salary, so I have no conflict of interest to declare.
I am here today because I want to explain, scientifically, how to get Canada out of the dark tunnel we are in. There is light at the end of this tunnel, but whether we get there quickly or slowly, safely or dangerously, depends on the choices of government and the oversight of Parliament. Since much of what I'm saying was published in Maclean’s three weeks ago—you have a copy of my article—there's no need to take notes on this boring little lecture of mine.
Let's break it down into two parts. First, let's discuss what government can do right to save lives and rescue our families and businesses; and later, let's talk about what governments did horribly wrong leading to this pandemic.
As we are talking, right now, most provinces are at or nearing the crest of the first wave of infections. Thankfully, it is not a tidal wave, because self-isolation, quarantine and “social distancing” all worked and broke the chain of infection temporarily.
However, I must emphasize that surviving that first wave is not a victory. Social distancing bought us time, but it does not solve the problem. There's an endgame that lies ahead, which will take over a year. Why is this? It's because most of us still haven't met SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus behind COVID-19, so we haven't fought off the virus and developed immunity to the virus.
If you think back to a month ago, Canadians went into self-isolation because most didn't have immunity, and isolation was the only way to avoid getting crushed in a catastrophe. Since then, isolated Canadians have been through a lot of beer and TV, but sitting on our bums, as we have, has not magically made us immune. Netflix does not a vaccine make, and we are just as immunologically susceptible as before, meaning that if isolation ends for everyone at the same time, we will immediately return to the same hellish spot that we just dodged.
The endgame must not relax self-isolation for everyone at once; instead, it has to be in careful, scientifically tailored stages. There is no other way—none—to reopen Canada. What I'm saying is that instead of “flattening the curve”, which is a misleading, scientifically wrong metaphor that really shouldn't be used, really the endgame is about stretching and slicing the single giant curve of infections into a timed series of a number of scientifically planned, measured curvelets. To use an analogy, imagine a giant wildfire that rips through a whole forest. Now instead of that, imagine asking the fire chief to light smaller, controlled burns over time. The forest still burns, but the harm is less. Stretching and slicing the epidemiological curve into managed curvelets is like that controlled burn.
In the hands of a well-informed public health chief, staging these disease curvelets does not stop people from getting sick with COVID. It does, though, make it manageable, and it reduces the number of people dying of COVID. Short of a vaccine, which is absolutely out of reach in 2020, staged curvelets are not just the best we can do. They are the only thing we can do.
This brings me now to my dissatisfaction, and a plea for Parliament’s help.
As we sit here, we have federal and provincial governments that are botching this endgame. To date, neither the nor Dr. Tam has presented a concrete plan for staging the curvelets, and we need one now. Worse, they are concealing data and interfering with outside scientists solving the problem.
I emphasize this to you: It is impossible for scientists inside or outside government to do the best job of planning these curvelets without excellent disease surveillance, data sharing and epidemiological modelling. The next steps to reopening Canadian society, which we all want, by curvelets, must be planned exquisitely or we will accidentally kill people. Then once each curvelet is launched, local public health officers everywhere need more and faster COVID testing than they have, so as to detect and stamp out little outbreaks before they explode.
However, in all these areas—the testing, epidemiological data and modelling—Canada’s performance is pretty dreadful, compared with leaders such as Hong Kong, Norway, South Korea or Switzerland.
Let me explain. Scientists need transparent data on the disease from every province to make mathematically and medically accurate disease models and forecasts. We're not there, because the provinces hold the data, and sharing it with the Public Health Agency of Canada is optional. They have no legal obligation to share. Then, even more foolishly, the Public Health Agency of Canada censors the data before it's disclosed to scientists, probably to avoid embarrassing certain provinces.
The result is that scientists inside and outside government only have an incomplete data picture to work with, and with one eye gouged out, they can’t churn out the best possible epidemiological forecasts, meaning that we as Canada bumble into this end game unfit and unready. Just like farmers need accurate weather forecasts for planting, we need accurate epidemiological forecasts in this business too, or people will needlessly die and the economy will needlessly suffer.
Probably because of these data sharing failures, PHAC is struggling to model the epidemic. Last week Dr. Tam presented a tiny bit of the PHAC model, but frankly it was incomplete, it contained errors and it was largely unscientific. This drove some of us from universities in Berkeley, London, San Francisco and Ottawa to release our own model this morning. I wish it had been shared with you. Apparently it cannot be; otherwise, I'd be able to present you some of the results, some of the key findings. It is the first epidemiological model of all of Canada over the coming year.
At the end of the day, it is a real problem that these data-sharing gaps exist. Parliament heard from the Auditor General in 1999, 2002 and 2008 about the government’s failure to prepare for disease emergencies. The Auditor General put her finger on data sharing as a problem three times. Then in 2003 Canada was hit by SARS severely, and the federal government did a “lessons learned” study, which recommended that Parliament legislate data sharing between the federal and provincial levels. It wasn’t done. Five years later, the unanimous editors of the Canadian Medical Association Journal again howled at Parliament to legislate open data sharing. We were ignored.
Now, members, I implore you. Legislate rules for data sharing immediately, or we can't build the best models and give you the best forecasts and you will lose lives. While you are at it, set minimum national standards for how Ottawa and the provinces plan, prepare and act during pandemics. Constitutionally, health is a shared jurisdiction, whether it's emergency legislation, or using the federal government’s quarantine power in subsection 91(11) of the Constitution Act.
Take this on as a private member's bill. Override the Standing Orders if you have to. Just don't wait for the government to do it. The won't do it. Look at the mandate letters he gave his health ministers, , and now . None of his three mandate letters even mentions pandemics.
I'm not pleased with Mr. for, despite warning upon warning, pandemic preparation was never even the lowest of his priorities for his ministers. If you wonder why even simple things, like stockpiling N95 masks for our nurses and doctors didn't happen, it's because pandemic preparation was never a Canadian priority, and so now it falls on the House to do better.
I stand ready to help the House in any way that you ask in the climb toward the light at the end of the tunnel, but let me be clear. Canada is in a predicament because Canada prepared poorly. The virus is the biological agent of the pandemic, but government failure is the cause of our plight. To me, this is not a scientist's pandemic, but a bureaucrat's pandemic brought on by ignored warnings and quite miserable laws.
Now the end game is upon us. The efforts of this Parliament will leave historians to decide whether Canada did all it could to fight the pandemic and to prepare for the next pandemic—and, yes, there will be a next pandemic. Scientists can give you quite decent guesses about it. Let's just say that COVID-19 isn't especially bad and we've anticipated much worse.
Thank you for bearing with me. I apologize for these extraordinarily blunt messages.
I'm very pleased to take your questions or maybe your fire.
Thank you very much.
I appreciate this opportunity. Thank you very much for inviting me to speak about the importance of research and the pivotal role of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in Canada's response to COVID-19.
Before we begin, I want to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude to all the health care professionals, front-line and essential workers who are tirelessly working to support the health, safety and well-being of Canadians. This includes many employees who work with my federal colleagues present with me today. I also wish to commend the incredible efforts to date of the Canadian research community.
I am proud to say that our researchers are among the very best in the world and they've played a key role so far in coordinating both the global and domestic research response to COVID-19. I am pleased to be with you today to provide the committee with more details on COVID-19 research currently under way in the country and abroad, as well as outline the research initiatives that CIHR has been able to rapidly implement in response to the pandemic.
Before I do so, and recognizing that a collective and collaborative approach has been a key element of success in the current circumstances, I wish to emphasize that CIHR's efforts to address the COVID-19 outbreak continue to be undertaken in close collaboration with our federal partners, including the Public Health Agency of Canada; Health Canada; Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada; and the National Research Council, among many others.
CIHR is also working hand in hand with international partners such as the World Health Organization, and the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness, otherwise known as GloPID-R. This is a coalition of 29 countries to establish a global research and innovation road map and determine how Canadian researchers could help in the global research efforts. It's important to highlight that one of CIHR's scientific directors is currently vice-chair of GloPID-R, and as such, our scientific leadership played a key role from the outset and continues to be a key hub in facilitating this fast-moving collaboration that is needed across a multiplicity of players domestically and internationally.
Furthermore, to ensure that research evidence is shared rapidly and openly to inform the public health response and to help save lives, CIHR has joined 67 international research-funding organizations in signing a joint statement to share research data and findings relevant to the COVID-19 outbreak. We also support the calls made by chief science advisers around the world to ensure that research outputs such as data and publications are publicly available to support the ongoing global emergency response efforts. As such, in early February, our organization moved rapidly to mobilize the research community to coordinate a rapid response to COVID-19.
In just a few weeks, CIHR was able to select, through a rigorous peer review process, the most scientifically excellent research projects that will help us to better understand the biology of the virus, its spread, and identify strategies to fight it. With federal partners and some provincial support, we were able to invest $54.2 million to support 99 COVID-19 research projects. This investment is part of Canada's plan to mobilize science to fight COVID-19, as announced by the on March 23, and will greatly contribute to the Government of Canada's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With this funding, researchers at 36 institutions across the country are working with the utmost urgency to develop and evaluate new vaccines, therapies and diagnostics, as well as public health strategies to tackle misinformation, stigma and anxiety.
It is important to point out that many of these projects have international collaborations and partnerships with government departments as well as industry, and many are equipped for real-time data sharing. This positions the research to be more quickly translated to effective prevention, detection, clinical management and policy measures for addressing the COVID-19 outbreak within and across jurisdictions in Canada and internationally.
Perhaps you'll let me give a few examples of some of the important projects that were funded through this. The first one relates to the identification of vaccines, which we heard a bit about a moment ago. Dr. Darryl Falzarano of the University of Saskatchewan is working with animal models to understand how the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the actual virus that gives rise to this, causes the disease, whether vaccines can be developed to protect from the disease and how the virus might actually be transmitted. These are really critical questions that need to be addressed when a new pathogen such as this emerges. Given concerns that less-than-optimal vaccines or previous exposure to related pathogens could actually worsen the disease, this project is also investigating whether these animal models can be used for testing to ensure the vaccines are safe, prior to testing in human clinical trials.
Through work led by Dr. Srinivas Murthy at the University of British Columbia, Canada is also currently participating in the WHO solidarity trial. This randomized clinical trial led by Dr. Murthy involves over 50 hospitals across Canada and is investigating the efficacy of existing combination drugs on patients hospitalized for COVID-19, thereby contributing to the global efforts to study the effectiveness of potential therapies for this disease.
We are also supporting research on point-of-care diagnostics. For instance, Dr. Denis Boudreau at Université Laval is working on developing a portable rapid point-of-care test for COVID-19 to enable front-line workers to be rapidly tested for the virus. This device will be developed with an easy to use platform that can be operated by untrained personnel so it can be deployed locally, within quarantined regions, at temporary health centres and neighbourhood clinics, thus reducing the flow of people in urban centres.
Critically, we are also supporting research related to social behaviour, public health messaging and clinical management studies. For example, Dr. Patrick Neumann at Ryerson University will study the impact of infection control routines on nurses to determine how to implement these measures while delivering the highest quality of care and maintaining the safety of both patients and nurses.
Finally, Dr. Tim Caulfield at the University of Alberta is working to understand the spread of COVID-19 misinformation from multiple angles to develop evidence-based communication and education tools to strategically counter misinformation, stigma and fear related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This project will provide policy recommendations for public health planning, decision-making and response for both COVID-19 as well as future outbreaks.
These examples and many others will provide the scientific evidence needed to help us fully understand the novel coronavirus and develop tools to fight it.
As I mentioned earlier, new research evidence will be useful only if it can be rapidly translated into effective tools and treatments.
We recognize that in the coming weeks and months it will be critical not only to generate but also to coordinate the sharing and translation of ideas, data, innovative solutions, novel treatments, diagnostics and vaccine technologies across all levels of government to enhance timely and effective responses.
As I reflect on the tremendous work to date that has taken place across government to address this pandemic, I am truly proud to say that CIHR's research response to COVID-19 has really brought the transformative nature of our mandate to life.
Through a single efficient funding call for proposals we were able to fund outstanding research. Our mandate has always enabled us to support not just knowledge generation, but also the translation of research evidence into improved health for Canadians.
On that front, CIHR is leading the development of a series of knowledge mobilization events that strengthen connections between researchers funded through the COVID-19 rapid response competition and Government of Canada departments and agencies in order to accelerate this knowledge translation.
We are also strongly encouraging our funded researchers to participate in the recently launched CanCOVID platform. This online platform promotes collaboration, communication and coordination between Canadian and international researchers working on COVID-19, health care practitioners, funding agencies and government policy-makers.
As you can see, the balanced medical, social and policy research approach that CIHR has taken is critical to ensuring that Canadian scientists are seeking to understand this virus, its spread and how to mitigate the impact from a variety of pathways. I am confident that this approach will help us to quickly develop new evidence-based tools to address the crisis.
In the meantime, we continue to work daily with our national and international partners to address the need for additional research and trials. We know where the gaps are, and looking at ways to further support the scientific community in addressing these gaps as soon as possible is a priority. I would be pleased to report back to your committee on any developments in this regard.
Again, thank you for inviting me here to speak about the COVID-19 research under way and the role that research plays in Canada's response to this public health crisis. I'll be very happy to answer any questions the committee may have.
We go now to a joint presentation by three departments. We have, from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, Mr. Matt de Vlieger, director general, immigration.
We have, from the Department of Employment and Social Development, Philippe Massé, director general, temporary foreign workers program, skills and employment branch.
With us is Tara Cosgrove, executive director, temporary foreign worker program, and international mobility program, integrity services branch of Service Canada.
With the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, we have Steven Jurgutus, director general, policy, planning and integration directorate.
I don't know who will start, but I'm going to assume it's Mr. de Vlieger.
Please go ahead for 10 minutes..
Sure, I'll just back up to the French section here.
Temporary foreign workers are a significant portion of Canada's labour supply.
For the most part, it is a demand-driven area in that employer demand to hire workers on temporary work permits fluctuates and drives the numbers. Last year, 405,000 temporary work permits were issued, across a broad range of occupations.
There are two broad streams of temporary worker programs. One is the international mobility program, which is administered by IRCC, and the other is the temporary foreign worker program, administered by Employment and Social Development Canada, and that one involves a labour market test. The seasonal agricultural workers the committee has signalled an interest in are the ones in this latter category.
As members of the committee are aware, travel restrictions on persons seeking to enter Canada from overseas were put in place on March 18. On March 26, temporary foreign workers—that is, those holding a valid work permit or those who had been issued an approval letter—were added to the list of persons exempted from the travel ban. These bans and exemptions are pursuant to orders issued under the authorities of the Quarantine Act and the Aeronautics Act.
These temporary workers, as all others entering Canada from overseas, are subject to another order under the Quarantine Act, which requires all persons to isolate for 14 days from the day upon which they enter Canada. There are some limited exceptions to this requirement—for example, emergency workers and medical personnel—but seasonal agricultural workers will all need to abide by this 14-day quarantine period.
Temporary workers entering Canada are subjected to a broad statutory and regulatory regime under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that governs selection, admissibility, and compliance, both in respect of the workers themselves and their employers.
I will say just a word on the new draft regulations. In the context of the new orders under the Quarantine Act and with a view to managing the health and safety of workers and Canadians alike, new draft regulations were tabled in Parliament this past Saturday to provide some specific additional tools.
For the workers themselves, these draft regulations import the requirements of complying with the Quarantine Act and public health orders, including that they quarantine or isolate themselves upon entry into the country for the 14 days. Failure to comply could result in a finding of inadmissibility and an issuance of a removal order.
For employers of temporary foreign workers, the proposed rules will require that they not do anything that prevents the worker from complying with the order to quarantine or isolate themselves as workers for 14 days upon entering Canada.
They will also require that employers provide wages and benefits during the 14-day period—that is, that the quarantine period forms part of the period of employment.
Additionally, for employers under the temporary foreign worker program who are required to provide accommodations—not all are, but if we're talking about seasonal agricultural workers, they are—there are additional specific requirements in the proposed rules. I will leave it to my colleagues from Employment and Social Development Canada to describe these new rules and the guidance related to them and to the seasonal agricultural workers. I will, however, just add for now that employers found not to be complying with these new requirements will be subject to the compliance regime and system of administrative monetary penalties already built into the immigration and refugee protection regulations.
I will now turn it over to Philippe Massé, but I will look forward to your questions after our presentations.
Thank you very much.
This is Steven Jurgutis from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. I can go ahead, if you so choose.
Thank you to the committee for inviting me here today. I appreciate the opportunity to provide some context on the critical role that temporary foreign workers play in maintaining Canada's food supply.
Canada's agriculture and agri-food sector is heavily reliant on temporary foreign workers due to ongoing labour shortages within the sector. Last year, for example, the sector employed approximately 60,000 temporary foreign workers. The vast majority of these workers come from Mexico, Guatemala and Jamaica to work on about 3,000 farms and agricultural facilities across Canada each year. Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia are the main employers of these workers due to the large number of fruit and vegetable operations in these provinces.
While temporary foreign workers work in all agriculture sectors, they play an especially critical role in the vegetable and fruit sector, where they account for over 35% of the labour force. The labour-intensive nature of these operations generally starts in the spring when seeding and/or pruning take place. That is why each April we see such a significant increase in the number of temporary foreign workers arriving in Canada. For example, last spring, over 20,000 workers were granted permits to work in the agriculture sector, and similar numbers were expected this year. Seasonal fish and seafood processing workers also normally arrive by April to coincide with the start of the lobster fishing season.
The travel bans in Canada, as well other source countries, like Mexico and Guatemala, have both limited and delayed the arrival of many temporary foreign workers. We are, however, encouraged to see that temporary foreign workers are starting arrive.
We also realize there are many Canadians without work right now and we are encouraging the sector to use new and existing programs, like Canada summer jobs, to help fill labour shortages with Canadians. Provinces like Quebec and Ontario are also actively encouraging domestic workers to seek jobs in the agriculture sector.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada will continue to work closely with the sector, as well as with our federal, provincial and territorial partners, some of whom are here with us today, to bring workers to Canada as quickly and as safely as possible and to ensure the appropriate health and safety protocols are being followed after the workers arrive.
In fact, yesterday announced $50 million to help farmers, fish harvesters, and food and seafood processing employers put in place the measures necessary to follow the mandatory 14-day isolation period required of all workers arriving from abroad.
Thank you. I look forward to your questions.
Mr. Chair, committee members, good afternoon.
I will keep these remarks short, preserving time for your questions.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.
The COVID-19 outbreak continues to evolve rapidly. In the battle against this virus, Canada’s scientists, innovators and industry are working on multiple fronts to fight the pandemic.
On March 20, the announced Canada’s plan to mobilize industry to fight COVID-19. This plan introduced measures to directly support businesses to rapidly scale up production or retool their manufacturing capacity to develop products made in Canada to help meet the needs of the front lines of the health care system. Since that time, our department has received over 5,000 offers to help from businesses across Canada.
We are reaching out to each of these businesses to explore their offers and have moved many forward into new partnerships. As a result, Canada is securing the capacity to produce necessary medical equipment and supplies.
For example, we are purchasing critical made-in-Canada ventilators, securing new supply chains to produce medical gowns, producing large volumes of disinfectants, and producing and procuring surgical and N95 masks. At the same time, we have issued challenges to innovative companies to support research and development on new technologies and products.
We are also working with the life sciences industry on treatments that will help Canadians who become infected and on vaccine research to provide population-level immunity for all Canadians. In all of these efforts, Canadian researchers and businesses are stepping up to meet this challenge, and we will continue to support them.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Yes, please. Thank you.
Mr. Chair, I want to take my time to highlight how disappointing it is that Bruce Aylward, a Canadian adviser to the WHO, has at the last minute decided not to appear and has not offered to be rescheduled at a later date. This is unacceptable.
Since December, the WHO has been updating citizens around the globe on the impact of COVID-19. First, Dr. Tam did make herself available to take questions, and now the WHO is pulling out. This committee has the explicit mandate to “meet for the sole purpose of receiving evidence concerning matters related to the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic”.
I want to take this time to point out some facts that I was hoping Mr. Aylward would be able to address, but seeing that he has decided not to come and to hide from any accountability, I will simply read this into the record.
There is absolutely no doubt that the WHO has been slow to recommend concrete measures, which has negatively affected Canada's response to the virus. In fact, the WHO has gone above and beyond to congratulate and thank China for its response, which has been to mislead the world on the gravity of the virus. Taiwan, a country that effectively flattened the curve and contained the virus by proactively implementing enhanced border screening measures before China even admitted to having a new disease, is being completely ignored and disregarded by the WHO and Mr. Aylward particularly.
I want to highlight some of the evidence that proves the need to have the WHO attend as witnesses and answer questions, because the WHO's response has affected Canada's response.
First, the WHO stated that there was no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission. That statement was used to develop Canada's response in January. Fewer than 10 days later, the WHO announced that the virus was in fact spreading through humans, and yet it still kept the risk assessment for the world as moderate. In fact, Dr. Tam used Canada's legal obligation to the WHO as an excuse not to implement travel bans. She said that due to the fact that the WHO was not recommending travel bans, we could not do so for fear of being called out. Our government was more fearful of being called out by the WHO than protecting Canadians. This deserves clarification from both the WHO and Dr. Tam.
As the WHO continues to praise China's approach after announcing over 8,000 deaths, Taiwan is producing four million masks a day and providing them to front-line workers and consumers for their safety. Again, I remind Canadians that the WHO refuses to include or acknowledge Taiwan's approach. Why was China being listened to and Taiwan being ignored?
In late February, as cases continued to mount and the WHO continued to discourage travel restrictions, and as our government continued to listen only to the WHO, a group of Chinese Canadian doctors urged mandatory quarantine of Chinese travellers in order to contain the virus and not overwhelm Canada's health system. The government refused to listen and instead continued to fear being called out by the WHO.
It took until March 11 for the WHO to declare a global pandemic. Numerous countries across the world were already seeing a significant rise in cases and the death rate was growing. There was no doubt that the virus didn't respect borders, that it was spreading fast and that there was no cure.
In March, after Canadians were being told to stay home, after day cares and schools were shutting down across the country, and after millions of people started losing their jobs, the government admitted that it was now closing borders and implementing mandatory self-quarantine of travellers. Our government started going against the advice of the WHO, even though Dr. Tam had earlier suggested our legal duties to the WHO.
However, this is about Mr. Aylward and the WHO's refusal to attend our committee today. I'm sure there will be opportunity in the future and at the right time to investigate why this decision was suddenly made, but that's for another time. There is no doubt there are mounting questions about including Taiwan in the WHO, a subject that Mr. Aylward clearly does not want to discuss. There is no doubt there are mounting questions about the continued praise of China as evidence grows regarding China's transparency. There is no doubt there are mounting questions about the WHO's refusal to recommend enhanced border measures and the use of masks. There is no doubt there are mounting questions about what the WHO will recommend in the future. For example, just a few weeks ago, it mentioned the removal of people and families from their homes and quarantining them as a possible scenario.
That is why I strongly urge you and the clerk to ensure that Mr. Aylward make himself available and that, as a Canadian adviser to the WHO and a senior adviser to the director general of the WHO, he appear before our committee. We are studying the impacts of COVID-19 on Canada and the government's approach, and he should have answers to Canadians' questions. We have serious questions about the WHO's data and who is really making these decisions that are impacting Canadians. This committee is an opportunity to ask questions that are on the minds of Canadians, and we need to hear from relevant witnesses in order to do just that.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I will cede the rest of my time.
Good afternoon, everyone. I am pleased to meet you.
I would like to thank the witnesses who are here to enlighten us, especially Mr. Attaran, who brings a different vision and information that speaks to the concerns of many people.
As the agriculture and agri-food critic, I want to talk about temporary foreign workers and particularly about how the quarantine was planned by the federal government. This responsibility was offloaded onto the backs of the provinces and Quebec. I consider quarantines to be a matter of public safety. They involve people coming into the country, so it is a federal responsibility. We can all agree that these workers are very important, that they are welcome and that they are essential to our food security.
I will direct my question to the officials from the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration and, if Mr. Massé has not returned, to Ms. Cosgrove of the Department of Employment and Social Development.
Do you really believe that the way it was decided this week to manage quarantines and to delegate all this responsibility to the provinces and to Quebec, as well as to the private organizations that have been organizing the arrival of the temporary foreign workers for a very long time, is the best way? These entities have experience in recruiting workers, not in quarantines. Many housing and transportation issues will vary greatly from one place to another, as will the temptation to work in certain communities. We MPs are connected to those communities, and people call us and tell us their concerns.
Do you think that is the best way to do it? Why did you not decide to centralize quarantines as a service to the farmers? They have enough on their shoulders.
As I was saying, I'm joined by my colleague Tara Cosgrove, from the integrity services branch at Service Canada.
As mentioned earlier, when it comes to food security, the government recognizes that the agriculture, food and fish processing sectors play a vital role. That is one of the reasons that the government exempted these workers from the travel ban that was enacted in response to the pandemic.
Approximately 50,000 to 60,000 foreign workers come to Canada each year to support these sectors, accounting for more than 60% of all the foreign workers entering Canada under the program.
We have also taken steps to reduce the administrative burden for these employers and we are processing their applications on a priority basis.
I think folks have already talked about some of the measures that are being put in place to ensure the health and safety of Canadians, as well as the safety of the workers, and to prevent the virus. I won't go over some of the requirements around accommodations. I think the member previously outlined some of those.
I've noted some of the questions regarding the approach that's been taken to date.
Currently, we're following the advice of public health officials. We certainly have actively sought guidance from them, and we're continuing to communicate with employers and other stakeholders to provide them with information and assistance. We’ve developed and shared guidance to employers to make clear their roles and responsibilities. The and the have sent correspondence to employers to outline expectations, and we have posted a series of FAQs online, which will be updated on a regular basis.
As outlined by my colleague Matt earlier on, these measures would be complemented by a strengthened regulatory compliance regime for employers, including monetary penalties for non-compliance. A non-compliant employer could be banned from hiring workers in the future, depending on the circumstance. We will look to enforce compliance and ensure that employers respect new requirements through timely inspections. In addition, individuals who observe suspected non-compliance will be able to report through an online portal or a confidential tip line. The department is finalizing its approach to these inspections and will communicate it in the coming days.
We're going to continue to have proactive communications and engagement with all stakeholders. It's expected that most employers will understand and comply with the requirements related to the spread of COVID. Through these discussions, it's been evident that everyone shares a common objective: to keep everyone in Canada, including foreign workers, safe and healthy. Through our collective efforts, we continue to ensure that the sector has access to labour, to ensure food security for Canadians.
This is a rapidly moving situation. We're adjusting, according to the advice of the Public Health Agency, as it goes along. If new requirements are felt to be needed to be put in place, then we would continue to adjust and work proactively with stakeholders to best address the emerging issues.
Sure. My comments are in the context of the strategy I presented, which is that the only way to go forward from here is to carve one giant wave that will just bury us into a number of wavelets that are much smaller. That's what we're going to have to do as a country.
What Dr. Tam's model, the PHAC model, got fatally wrong was to present that this would not necessarily be the case, that there would be no deliberate carving up like this.
By the way, in the model she presented, she was very secretive, because she didn't disclose the methodology, she didn't disclose the data that went into the model and she didn't disclose the mathematical assumptions behind the model. All she presented was the results. That's not how real scientists work.
The models she presented portrayed that if we managed a high degree of social isolation, no more than 10% of the Canadian population would ever become infected with the virus, and then the epidemic would peter away on its own by the fall. This is absolutely, positively wrong, and it's wrong for the reasons that I explained in my opening: Nearly all of us, probably 99% or something like that, have not met the virus and have not developed immunity to it, so if you open up, a very large percentage of us are going to get the virus, not just the 10% of PHAC's estimation.
There is a mathematical model that I wish to share with you—and by the way, the final version of it has gone on the website while we've been talking. That mathematical model comes from scientists at the University of California, Berkeley; the University of California, San Francisco; Imperial College London; the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and me at the University of Ottawa. What that model says is that, when you release social distancing, when you release the isolation, you will get another big climb that you must manage so it doesn't explode. That's what I mean by having a little curvelet, and you'll have subsequent curvelets after that.
This is something that has to play out until not just 10% of Canada's population has been exposed. It doesn't peter away automatically like that, as PHAC seems to suggest. It's going to be somewhere around half the population that has to be exposed, perhaps more.
I have a couple of things in response to Matt Jeneroux's point about the WHO not showing up. I too share the disappointment that it didn't happen, although perhaps for different reasons, and I hope maybe we can reschedule.
As to Dr. Attaran's comments and his urging us to enact urgent legislation requiring the province and the federal government to share data information and make that information transparent, I think it was well said and a point well taken. I hope we can get your modelling as soon as possible, and perhaps we can ask you at a later date to appear again before the committee after we look at that modelling.
My questions are really to Dr. Strong and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.
You did admirably well in making this contest and opening it to academics across the country in order to come up with proposals for projects related to COVID-19. I think they were given eight days. It was phenomenal that you were able to get that done so quickly, and now all these proposals have come in.
I see they concentrate on certain themes. I think there are some 13 different projects looking at rapid diagnostic kits and there are a whole bunch looking at protease inhibitors as a form of treatment. There are a whole bunch of groups, each taking a different approach, so it's like you're funding a bunch of horses in a horse race. It seems to me that's the way that science is generally done. It's a kind of competition, and the first horse getting across the line wins. Obviously, here it would be advantageous for the different groups to co-operate. We don't care which horse wins; we just want one of the horses to get across the line first—again that might require some co-operation—and speed up the process of science, because I think the process of science is, by its nature, a little slow. You do studies and you have those studies published and the information is disseminated to the scientific community. They go to conferences, and this generates more studies. It all takes time, and again, we don't have a lot of time.
For example, with the rapid diagnostic test kits, I would imagine there are a bunch of hurdles that are required for any group trying to come up with such kits. One group may be able to get over that first hurdle rather easily but stall on the second and third hurdle, whereas another group may stall on the first hurdle but be able to get over the second and third hurdles fairly quickly, so it would be useful to require those different groups to share the information.
There was some mention of real-time sharing among some of the organizations. Maybe you could tell us a bit more about how you're trying to get those different groups to coordinate and share their knowledge to try to get us to the end point as soon as possible.