Interventions in Committee
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Kathleen Cooper
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Kathleen Cooper
2015-06-18 15:48
First of all, to tell you about the Canadian Environmental Law Association, we're a non-profit public interest organization specializing in environmental law. We're also a legal aid clinic within Ontario. We provide legal representation to low-income individuals and vulnerable communities.
Then we have law reform priorities, and in setting our strategic priorities, one of those is environment and human health. In deciding within that large topic how to set priorities, we take a population health approach, the same as Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and public health agencies everywhere do. You set priorities by focusing on issues where large numbers of people are potentially or directly affected or where you have serious outcomes.
You can't get much more serious than a known carcinogen where there's strong science. Radon, as I'm sure you're going to hear later as well, is in a class by itself compared to most other environmental carcinogens. That's why we've focused on radon.
I'm going to speak today to a report we prepared last year, “Radon in Indoor Air: A Review of Policy and Law in Canada”. I believe you've been circulated the media release that was issued the day we released the report. That's all I was able to have translated given the time pressure of meeting with you today.
We canvassed policy and law across Canada at the federal and provincial levels and looked at jurisdictions and roles. We focused on public buildings and building codes, looked at other relevant provincial policy and law and the associated common law, and made a number of recommendations, but I'll focus today on just the recommendations we made with respect to the federal government.
Overall, our findings were that Canadians need better legal protection from radon. We found a patchwork of inconsistent and mostly unenforceable guidance.
For the federal government, we found that really important leadership has occurred, and Kelley Bush from Health Canada will provide some details on that for you today, although we definitely made recommendations for more that can be done. At the provincial and territorial level, where actually most jurisdiction lies, we found a wide range of laws that need to be updated or that contain gaps or ambiguities. There's very limited case law, which points to the need for improving a law or for law reform. I won't get into detail on what's been done at the federal level on radon, although the report does, because Kelley will be doing that for you later on.
Just in summary, under the national radon program there has been very valuable research, testing, and mapping of high -radon areas. The guideline for indoor radon was updated in 2007. The national building code was updated with respect to radon provisions, there's a certification program for radon mitigators, and there has been a national campaign to urge the testing by Canadians of their homes. It's recommended that every home in Canada be tested.
We recommended, to build on that important work, that there really is a logical next step here. Through the work of the Green Budget Coalition this past year, we recommended a tax credit for radon remediation. We recommended that the Income Tax Act add a tax credit for radon mitigation of up to $3,000 for individual Canadians, so long as it's done by a certified expert under the national program. That was not included in the budget, although we think it's still a very good idea. We had some very positive response from the federal officials we spoke to about it.
We also recommended that there be clearer messaging about radon, and that we use words like “radiation” and “radioactivity” because they are accurate and are what people understand more in terms of the risks of radiation and radon. We also recommended that there be better data sharing nationally between the federal government and the provinces and territories in terms of the testing that's done, along with the sharing of information that's paid for nationally, and that information be available publicly.
In terms of recommendations for federal action as well, we note that the David Suzuki Foundation report that came out just last month says the World Health Organization has recommended a lower level of 100 for indoor radon. Currently, our federal level is 200 becquerels per cubic metre. We definitely supported that recommendation and recommend that the federal government reduce the indoor radon guideline to 100.
The other two areas I want to touch on that are relevant to your investigation here have to do with the Canada Labour Code and the need to update it as well, and also the need for improving the uptake across Canada of the naturally occurring radioactive materials guidelines, the NORM guidelines. I'm going to speak to those two areas now.
Under the Canada Labour Code, there is the only legally enforceable limit for radon in Canada that's broadly applicable, but it's only for federally regulated workplaces and it remains at an outdated level of 800 becquerels per cubic metre. We think it should be brought down to the federal reference level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre to begin with, and we think that level should come down to 100 becquerels per cubic metre. On the updating of that level, apparently what was going to happen in 2015 now sounds like it's going to happen in 2016, so it would be great if your committee recommended speeding up that process.
In terms of the NORM guidelines, these are guidelines that were prepared by a federal-provincial-territorial committee. We interviewed occupational health and safety inspectors across Canada and found a lot of confusion and uncertainty about workplace radon rules or whether the NORM guidelines apply. In fact, they apply to every workplace in Canada. In any indoor space that is a workplace, including the room in which you are sitting, those guidelines apply.
However, it's a reactive, complaint-driven system. Inspectors get few or no complaints because there is a lack of awareness, so they don't take enforcement action. Also, some inspectors didn't think that radon was an occupational health and safety issue at all. They said that enforcement action was unlikely because the only agreed-upon levels for radiation are those for radiation-exposed workers. That is just not accurate, so we've made recommendations in response to that situation.
Turning to the recommendations we made with respect to the Canada Labour Code, as I've mentioned, it should be brought up to date swiftly. It's out of date by many years and still at that level of 800 becquerels per cubic metre.
With respect to radon, we recommended that the federal-provincial-territorial radiation protection committee, which deals with far more than radon—it deals with a whole manner of radiation exposure issues—convene a task force for occupational health and safety inspectors across the country so that there is clarity and there is a more generalized consistent application of those NORM guidelines to ensure worker health and safety. The consequences of that inconsistent application are that you're going to have uneven worker protection across the country and the possibility that people are overexposed, both in the workplace and in their homes, if they happen to be unlucky enough to have high radon levels in both of those indoor locations where they live and work. Related to that, we made a range of recommendations about provincial labour codes, which I won't get into.
In another area of occupational exposure, with respect to radon mitigators, we also recommended that CAREX Canada, who you're going to hear from later today, undertake, with the Canadian national radon proficiency program, research and dosimetry monitoring for radon mitigators so that we can make sure their workplaces are safe as well.
Just to recap on the findings in this report and to recommend to you to take up some of these recommendations in your deliberations on this topic, we found a need for greater legal requirements rather than guidance in this area for several reasons, including the need to underscore the seriousness of the problem and to support public outreach messages by the federal government and by other organizations who you're going to hear from today, including the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment.
Also, there's a need for legal requirements to require testing in public buildings and to ensure public access to that information. As well, there's the need to correct that inconsistent response among both the public health and the occupational health and safety inspectors and to provide them with tools to take action with respect to radon. As I mentioned, we found limited to no case law under either statutes or common law. We also found that improving the law or law reform is a better remedy than costly and situation-specific litigation to resolve radon problems.
Then, as I mentioned, there's a need for specific federal government action, including updating that federal guideline and putting in place a tax credit to help Canadians undertake radon mitigation when they have high levels, updating that Canada Labour Code, and ensuring the NORM guidelines are applied.
We've calculated the health care savings from prevented lung cancer deaths. If all homes in Canada were mitigated to the level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre, you'd see more than $17 million a year in savings through prevented lung cancer deaths. It likely would be double that if you were to reduce the level to 100 becquerels per cubic metre. Then, of course, anyone who works in cancer will tell you that the indirect costs are five times higher than the direct costs, so a lot of savings are possible there, along with the avoidance of the pain and suffering associated with lung cancer.
Tom Kosatsky
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Tom Kosatsky
2015-06-18 16:43
You know, anyway, that smoking causes lung cancer in smokers. You probably also know that to a degree it causes lung cancer in people who live with smokers. I won't really talk about either of those things, but if you can get to the slide that's marked “Lung Cancer in Lifelong Non-Smokers”, you'll see that there is a new thing that's been described only over the last, about, 10 years, which is lung cancer in lifelong non-smokers, something which, before this committee invited me to speak with you, I didn't know much about. It turns out that it's a whole other disease. It has some similarities to smokers' lung cancer but some very important differences.
The geography is different. It's a huge phenomenon in Asia and in Asians in Canada. It has a female predominance, so there are far more lung cancers in female non-smokers than in male non-smokers. The age distribution is different, so it tends to present itself at a much younger age than smokers' lung cancers do. The cell types, the cancer types are different. The typical small cell squamous lung cancer that you see in smokers, you don't get in non-smokers. You get a whole different cell type and cell shape. The genetics are different, so there is some family relationship. It's not very strong, but there's a very strong genetic relationship based on genetic analysis. You can almost predict who's going to get it, which is a really important thing. Further, it tends to be much more symptomatic at diagnosis than is lung cancer in smokers. The five-year survival, oddly, is better, even though it presents later, for non-smokers' lung cancer than for smokers' lung cancer. In many ways it's a different disease.
Radon-related lung cancer is somewhere intermediate, because, as I'm going to say, most radon-related lung cancers occur in smokers. The question of whether it is more cost-efficient to stop smoking was right on the mark.
The next one is called “Principal risk factors (excluding occupational exposure)”, only because you asked. There are a number of conditions, including radon exposure, that are associated with non-smokers' lung cancer, like the history in your family. It's associated with hormone use in women. It's associated with environmental tobacco smoke. It's associated, to a degree, with air pollution. It's associated with cooking-oil fumes, so indoor cooking over a long period of time. It's associated in Asia and Africa with domestic heating by wood and wood products in the home. Those are also associated with lung cancer. Something that I didn't know much about before is that it's associated with lung infections like tuberculosis and other lung infections over a long period of time. It's also, like so many of the other bad things in life, associated with being poor. Getting lung cancer is associated with being poor, even if you eliminate all the other stuff. To a degree it's mitigated or prevented by a diet high in fruits and vegetables, so eat your leafy greens, eat your fruit, and you're less likely to get lung cancer no matter what else you do.
The next one is an American slide. It has a little American flag, and it looks at the attributable percentage of lung cancer by cause. For active smoking, it's 90%. For radon exposure in the U.S., it is between 9% and 15%, and in Canada it's estimated at 15%. For workplace carcinogen exposure, it's 10%. For air pollution, it's 1% to 2%. That adds up to more than 100% because, as you'll see, some of those causes add to or multiply each other. If you're exposed to radon, don't smoke. If you smoke, don't be exposed to radon.
Non-smokers' lung cancer is a really important cause of lung cancer. It's about number six in terms of all the causes. Radon-related lung cancer—this is U.S. data but for Canada it would be the same—is number eight. How could that be? It could be because smoking and radon exposure are interactive, so one multiplies or adds to the effect of the other. That leads, in any case, to non-smokers' lung cancer being a very bad issue.
Any radon exposure is bad news, not just at over 200. An artificial limit, no matter what it is, is not very useful for lowering the whole population's exposure. It would be better if we were all exposed to less radon rather than picking one area, maybe for convenience, or one level. It may be good for convenience, but it's not a really useful population health measure. For the whole population, it would be better if we were all exposed to less radon. It's a linear relationship. The more radon you're exposed to and the longer you're exposed, the more likely you are to get lung cancer.
The other thing is that, as I was saying, the more you smoke the more it interacts. On the last slide, which I made up using Canadian data, most radon-associated lung cancers occur in smokers. If you've never smoked, as you get up to high levels, like interior B.C. levels, of radon about 36 people out of 1,000 exposed to those levels would get lung cancer. On the other hand if there was no radon exposure and you did smoke, about 100 people would get lung cancer. If you add the two together, you're exposed to a high level of radon and you smoke, 270 people exposed to those two for their whole lives, smoking and radon, will get lung cancer. It's 270 out of 1,000 people; that's tremendous.
How can you lower it? The number one way to lower it is to stop smoking or to never have smoked. The number two way to lower it is to lower your radon exposure, and you'll do that for everybody in the population. The less smoking there is, the less radon there is, the less lung cancer there will be, to the point that as we lower the level of smoking exposure, radon will become a more important cause of lung cancer. But there will be a lot less lung cancer. If we eliminate smoking, there will be less lung cancer in general, but all of these other causes other than smoking will increase in focus. The big issue is the interaction, the doubling, tripling, quadrupling, or really octupling effect, because it's an eight-time effect, of smoking and radon will go away.
What's been the Canadian public health stance on radon? Before the year 2007, it was pretty passive and largely seen as a private issue. Health Canada was helpful. They gave advice when people asked for it. That was at the time of the 800 becquerels per metre cubed, or 800 disintegrations per second per metre cubed level, which is what a becquerel is. Then when the level was lowered a more active stance was taken. Health Canada was involved with large-scale testing across the country to establish a radon profile across the country so that we knew what our levels were likely to be. They were much more active in terms of giving advice, and with this lower guideline, they promoted it and they encouraged “test and remediate”. Test and remediate to me is not the way to go. The way to go is to build it out in the first place.
If you look at this complicated Ontario slide, Ontario looked at levels of radon across the province and how many cases of lung cancer could be saved by doing something for those above 200 becquerels per metre cubed, by adopting 100 becquerels per metre cubed, by adopting 50 becquerels per metre cubed—all of which are attainable—or by going to as low a level possible and getting close to outdoor air levels, which are relatively benign. At 200 becquerels per metre cubed, if every Ontario resident got their house from that point down to outdoor levels, 2% of all the lung cancers in Ontario would be averted. If you got down from current levels above 200, if everybody tested and remediated and they successfully got their house down to background or no radon, it would avert 2% of all lung cancers. If all houses in Ontario with any level of radon in them could get down to outdoor levels, we'd get rid of 13% of all Ontario lung cancer deaths. If there were a way to do it, why not do that? Why not get it down lower?
The next slide looks at the change in levels of radon over time. This is Dutch data. Canada would be the same. Yes, as we've made our buildings tighter, radon levels have increased. This is even more reason to look at the joint effects of building changes on radon.
Robert Nuttall
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Robert Nuttall
2015-06-16 15:46
I'm Robert Nuttall. I'm the assistant director of cancer control policy. I'll be doing the presentation, but my colleague, Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst with the society, will also be here for the question period.
Chair and committee members, I want to thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today about lung cancer. We're here on behalf of the Canadian Cancer Society, a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is to eradicate cancer and enhance the quality of life of people living with cancer.
As you've already heard, lung cancer is a significant contributor to the overall burden of cancer in Canada. It's a major concern for our organization. Lung cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Canada. It is expected that 26,600 new cases will be diagnosed this year. As well, as we've heard, the five-year relative survival rate for lung cancer is among the lowest of all cancers at 17%, whereas the overall survival rate for all cancers combined is 63%. This year, we expect 20,900 Canadians to die from lung cancer. As we've heard, that's more than the number who will die from breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined.
While these numbers are substantial, we have been seeing progress in the fight against this disease. Incidence rates for lung cancer among males have been declining since the 1980s, and the incidence rates for females have finally stopped increasing. This is a reflection of the past trends we have seen in tobacco use. However, even though smoking rates are dropping, 19% of Canadians continue to smoke.
Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. It's responsible for more than 85% of all cases, but a number of other factors also cause lung cancer, and these factors can also increase the risk of cancer in people who are smokers.
One of the most significant is radon. It's a colourless, odourless, radioactive gas found naturally in our environment. It's estimated that about 16% of lung cancer deaths in Canada are due to radon. That's more than 3,000 deaths a year. The health concerns from radon are primarily around radon in indoor spaces, where radon can accumulate to high levels. Health Canada has recommended an indoor radon limit of 200 becquerels per cubic metre, although it should be noted that there is no known safe level for radon.
Awareness of radon among Canadians is low. Last fall we did a survey of Canadians and found that only 32% of Canadians were somewhat or very familiar with radon. Sixteen per cent of Canadian had not even heard of it. Testing one's home is the only way to know if a home has high levels of radon. Our survey found that 96% of Canadians have not tested their homes. When asked why, the main reason, most said, was that they had never thought about it. This shows the importance of raising awareness about radon.
The society appreciates the work that Health Canada is doing to raise awareness through their support of the national “Take Action on Radon” campaign, but there are a number of additional initiatives that can take place at the federal level to minimize people's exposure to radon. These can include financial incentives, such as support to homeowners to lower radon through mechanisms such as tax credits; reviewing the radon guidelines set by Health Canada to consider whether 100 becquerels per cubic metre would be appropriate; reviewing national building codes to consider new measures for new home builds; and ensuring that public buildings get tested for radon and mitigation is undertaken when levels are above the Health Canada guideline.
Another major cause of lung cancer is asbestos. Although we no longer have operating asbestos mines in Canada, many workers continue to be exposed to asbestos currently used in products and buildings or through imported raw asbestos and asbestos-containing products. There's still more work that can be done to further reduce exposure to asbestos. This could include developing and maintaining registries related to asbestos, such as building registries that provide a public record of buildings that contain asbestos, and disease registries, so that we know how many Canadians are exposed to asbestos through their workplaces. As well, we'd like to see a phase-out of new asbestos products to ensure that for Canadians future exposures to asbestos do not occur.
In addition, there are a number of other workplace chemicals that cause lung cancer. The sectors that tend to be most affected by these chemicals include the construction and manufacturing industries. The strategies needed to protect workers will vary depending on the specific substance. However, we need workplace policies in place that strive to reduce exposures or that completely eliminate exposures whenever possible.
Another risk factor that we're paying attention to is air pollution. In 2013 the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified outdoor air pollution and particulate matter within air pollution as known carcinogens. Air pollution is a difficult term to define precisely, as it comprises many different components and a wealth of independent factors like weather fluctuations and nearby industries. There are several components within air pollution that are known to cause cancer, such as diesel engine exhaust, benzine, some volatile organic compounds, and other compounds
Protecting Canadians from air pollution can be done through initiatives that monitor releases, reduce emissions, and track diseases in affected communities.
Our organization is also a major organization in research funding. Last year we provided $5.1 million to fund a broad range of lung cancer and smoking-related projects across the country. Some highlights of what we're funding include research to identify genes that might make people more susceptible to lung cancer, particularly among non-smokers; a model that will provide new insights into how lung cancer starts; research on cancers due to working in the mining industry; and a new type of immunotherapy that can target a tumour's microenvironment.
There are two other projects I want to highlight. One project we're funding on occupational cancer in Canada will identify the number of cancer cases due to workplace exposures as well as the economic costs associated with these workplace exposures. The second is more of a population-based approach, looking at the number of cancers in Canada due to lifestyle and environmental factors. Both studies will give us a much better understanding of how many lung cancers in Canada can be prevented.
Your group is also interested in emerging best practices around screening and early detection. As you'll probably hear over the next couple of days, a pivotal study from the U.S. shows a 20% reduction in lung cancer mortality among people who are screened using a low-dose chest CT. The study involved more than 53,000 people between the ages of 55 and 74 who had a history of smoking. Lung cancer screening has the potential to reduce the number of cancer deaths in Canada. It also has the potential to have an impact on the costs associated with treating cancer. This will need to be weighed against the costs of implementing and running programs. Unlike other screening programs that target an entire population within a certain age range, lung cancer screening is most effective when done in a high-risk population. That will make recruitment and participation difficult.
Lastly, we know that smoking cessation is very effective at reducing lung cancer deaths. Lung cancer screening programs should aim to integrate with smoking cessation programs.
A number of initiatives are currently taking place across the country to help planners and decision-makers understand lung cancer screening. The Canadian task force on preventive health care is currently developing recommendations for lung cancer screening. A pilot study on lung cancer screening is currently under way in Alberta. A network convened by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer brings together experts, including representatives from the society, to share information on the issue. This group was involved in developing a lung cancer screening framework for Canada, which is a tool used to support jurisdictions in their deliberations and/or planning for lung cancer screening. We want screening programs to exercise due diligence in assessing the impact of lung cancer screening to ensure that programs are developed in a responsible and evidence-based way.
Finally, as we've already heard, there is the stigma of lung cancer. The prevailing stigma is that lung cancer is a self-inflicted disease caused by smoking. This stigma is a common experience with lung cancer, and can result in psychological distress and lower quality of life for patients. A study of health care professionals, administrators, and not-for-profit organizations that was done in Ontario just last year found that lung cancer patients feel guilt and shame due to the stigma associated with their disease. Some participants reported that they felt lung cancer stigma resulted in reduced patient care and reduced funding for lung cancer compared with other cancers.
I want to end on something that somebody posted on our website. We have a website called, an online peer support community for people with cancer. One woman wrote the following:
I am a 58 year old woman who started smoking at 13 when everybody smoked and was only finally able to quit just before the lung biopsy that confirmed I had lung cancer in January 2014....I told only essential people at work because I was embarrassed and I am still grateful that I have not had to go back face the questions. In a relatively small company of less than 200 employees, in a 5-6 year period I had 5 former co-workers, all women, die from lung cancer—smokers, non-smokers, former smokers. It doesn't matter. Lung cancer is a very deadly disease....The stigma is HUGE! No one deserves cancer.
In conclusion, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer in Canada, responsible for more deaths than breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined. Smoking is the greatest risk factor for cancer, but other risk factors that have a significant impact include radon, asbestos, air pollution, and a number of occupational carcinogens. Awareness of radon is low, with only 30% of Canadians somewhat or very familiar with it.
People facing lung cancer often face serious stigma. Regardless of what caused someone's lung cancer, Canadians and their families facing this horrific disease should receive as much support as possible.
Thank you very much.
View Ron Cannan Profile
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
To you, Minister, and to your officials, thank you for being here.
I'm representing Kelowna—Lake Country, a riding that has a high percentage of seniors. Given the fact we're living longer and living a healthier lifestyle, and with the returns on investments being lower, I definitely know that the extension of the RRIF component was a welcome addition to the budget. As well, in the previous working income tax benefit program, we had over a million Canadians not having to pay taxes, with over 380,000 of those being seniors.
Investment in tourism is a big component in my riding, as are innovation and technology and the university, and a lot of other good initiatives.
There's one specifically. I think we can all reflect back on our first job, whether it was as a volunteer or working in some organization as an intern. I think it provided the sort of foundation for a work ethic and mentorship that helped us get to where we are today. I wondering, Mr. Minister, if you could elaborate on that and tell us what the government is doing to ensure that our youth have a safe experience while learning new skills in the internship program.
View Joe Oliver Profile
Bill C-59 amends the Canada Labour Code to ensure that interns under federal jurisdiction, regardless of pay, receive occupational health and safety protections. Our government knows that internships can provide important work experience and lead to jobs.
The proposed amendments will also establish two circumstances in which unpaid internships can be offered and provide a coherent set of labour standards to be set out in regulations that will apply to interns who meet either of these circumstance. The first circumstance would be if the internship is formally part of a program approved by a recognized secondary or post-secondary educational institution or vocational school. The second circumstance would be if the internship meets all six specific criteria.
It's important to note that these labour standards regulations will reflect the unique situation of unpaid internships and were developed in consultation with stakeholders. At a minimum, it's expected that they will ensure that unpaid interns receive maximum-hours-of-work protections, as well as unpaid bereavement leave and unpaid sick leave, and are protected from sexual harassment. Our budget focuses on protecting interns and ensuring that internships lead to jobs, which is another way that we're creating job growth and lowering taxes for hard-working Canadians.
Jonathan Champagne
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Jonathan Champagne
2015-06-02 9:16
Thank you.
Good morning, Mr. Chair, honourable committee members, fellow witnesses, and members of the gallery.
The educational landscape in Canada has changed significantly over the last number of years. Students and employers may differ in their expectations of post-secondary education, but both agree on employability as an increasingly important outcome.
In response to these changes, students and institutions are making work-integrated learning an integral part of their educational experience. The expansive sphere of co-ops, internships, job placements, and so forth are indicative of changes that are occurring in the post-secondary sector. Students and young people today want the opportunity to graduate not only with knowledge from the classroom, but also experience in the field. Both students and employers recognize the value in having this experience, as it eases the transition into the workforce.
The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations is an advocate for ensuring that students and young people are protected and treated fairly in the workplace. We have been active on this file for some time, but most recently with Ms. Laurin Liu's private member's bill, and we were vocal opponents of the ill-advised remarks by Bank of Canada Governor Poloz.
CASA has worked with both the government and the opposition to support the protection of young Canadians. That is why we are pleased to see the government take action in Budget 2015 with a proposal to amend the Canada Labour Code to better protect interns. This and the additional budgetary measure of eliminating income tax on money earned in-study as part of the Canada student loans assessment are steps that demonstrate that the government sees supporting young people in work and study as a priority.
Certainly we can all agree on the importance of ensuring that students and young people are protected from abuse and exploitation while in the workplace. They must be treated fairly and, in the case of interns, be able to gain necessary experience to use in a future career.
With that said, CASA believes that the proposed amendment to the Canada Labour Code being put forward lacks clarity and still leaves interns vulnerable to exploitation and possible abuse. Requiring that interns be protected with basic health and safety standards goes without question. These changes alone, though, do not go far enough, and further steps are required to ensure that all interns are sufficiently protected. The proposed amendments do not provide interns with the same rights and protections as other federally regulated employees. Recognizing that interns have unique needs that would require exceptions, we believe that the greatest level of protection would be achieved by classifying them in the Canada Labour Code as employees.
Looking through the lens of public policy, the proposed amendments fall short of achieving the comprehensive protection that interns require. If the goal is to protect interns, then we should give them the same rights as employees under the labour code while carefully recognizing the exceptions that are unique to these internships. Why create more ambiguity and confusion when a simple alternative is available?
Without additional provisions, there are a number of areas under the proposed legislation in which interns may be vulnerable to exploitation from employers.
There is potential for interns and federally regulated industries to be in the position of having their work not be recognized or compensated, whether in the form of pay, academic credit, or some sort of certification. Instead, interns may be left with nothing to show for their time.
Secondly, with no limits on the number of consecutive internships, there's a concern that students or young people may find themselves in cycles of internships of either unpaid or low-paid work.
Thirdly, while the number of hours per work period is limited, because interns are not employees there is no limit to the number of hours in a day or week that an intern may have to work, and no overtime compensation if they do work additional hours.
Claire Seaborn
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Claire Seaborn
2015-06-02 9:21
Good morning.
My name is Claire Seaborn and I'm the president of the Canadian Intern Association and a recent graduate of University of Ottawa law school. We're here to discuss the amendments to the Canada Labour Code proposed in division 7 of the budget bill.
First of all, I would like to congratulate the government on the amendment that would provide unpaid workers, including students, with occupational health and safety protections under part II of the code. This is an important advance for young and other vulnerable workers who currently do not receive these protections.
Today I will focus on two issues.
First, the proposed amendments do not cover unpaid workers under several Canada Labour Code provisions, including protections related to hours of work, work-related illness or injury, sexual harassment, and the filing of complaints. We recommend some very straightforward amendments to provide basic workplace protections for unpaid interns and students.
Second, the proposed amendments create an exception that allows federally regulated employers to take on workers for four to 12 months without pay, even where the position is not associated with a school program. We recommend that unpaid internships in the federal sector should be allowed only if they're associated with an accredited educational institution. I'll take the next few minutes to expand on these recommendations, and I'm also happy to elaborate during questions.
Division 7 of the budget bill seeks to regulate unpaid interns and students in the federal sector. The proposed amendments use selective exceptions that target Canada's most vulnerable, precarious, and marginalized workers. While the proposed amendments provide health and safety protections, they fail to include unpaid workers in protections under part 3 of the code, including those related to hours of work under division I, work-related illness and injury under division XIII, sexual harassment under division XV.1, and the filing of Canada labour program complaints under division XVI. A simple modification to the existing bill would extend these protections to unpaid interns and students. In particular, things like the tragic deaths of Andy Ferguson in Alberta and Aaron Murray in Ontario would be directly addressed by the hours-of-work protections.
Our second recommendation is that allowing four- to 12-month unpaid internships not associated with educational institutions is the wrong approach. The result is that a university student could work a summer job for a courier company without pay followed the next summer by working for a national news organization without pay only to graduate and find themselves working for one of Canada's banks or airlines, again, for several months without pay. This exemption creates an endless cycle of unpaid labour in which employers are able to extract work from young people while providing little training and no remuneration.
Further, interns are not just young Canadians; they're also immigrants, mothers re-entering the workforce, and workers trying to find a new career after an injury. Currently, interns are considered employees under the code, even if they are receiving some training. These exemptions would legalize unpaid work for the first time for Canada's largest and often most profitable employers and undermine the minimum wage. The exemption is also couched in a set of conditions that are vague and unenforceable, which will lead to inconsistent employer compliance.
Tim Gleason will be expanding on the common-law definition of employees and why interns are in fact considered to be employees.
Educational institutions such as high schools, colleges, universities, and professional programs are in the best position to ensure that interns and students receive beneficial training, to make sure they have avenues for complaints, to ensure that they will not replace entry-level employees, and to make sure they can access student loan programs.
We recommend that the exemption for four- to 12-month unpaid internships be removed and the exemption for internships associated with educational institutions be maintained.
Tim Gleason
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Tim Gleason
2015-06-02 9:26
Thank you.
This is a debate about who should and should not be paid for their work. It's in the context of a statute intended to protect the rights of employees, especially the most vulnerable workers in Canada. It's a debate that affects mostly young people and people who, for whatever reason, are compelled to offer their services free to employers. These are workers. That's not part of the debate.
The legal definition of employee is rooted in control. This is the justification for the protection of employees in law. Law always seeks to be justified and you must justify what you do with this statute. Because employers control the working lives of people, and because working people are dependent and vulnerable in that relationship, the law provides for the protection of basic rights of employees.
If the justification for protection is control and vulnerability, what are the justifications for being excluded from these protections? Independent contractors are the most common exclusion in law. The common law excludes them from the definition of employee because there is no control and no dependence. Therefore, in theory, there is no need for protection.
On the other hand, we accept that interns, for example, should be protected from unsafe work places in part 3 of the code. Why is that? It's because the employer controls the work place and because interns are dependent and vulnerable. These are the justifications for the legal protections of employees and the same justification is applied in part 3 of the code.
The statute you are considering today does two significant things for our group of young people. It expressly includes them as employees for purposes of health and safety protections, and it expressly excludes them for purposes of other basic protections. We need to ask ourselves why.
There's no argument that unpaid workers should be forced to tolerate unsafe workplaces. That would be an indefensible position. They're in the same relationship with employers as other workers, in that they are subject to control, vulnerable, and dependent. So what then are the justifications for excluding them from part 3 protections?
Part 3 protections can be grouped into four categories. The first three appear to be no brainers, and it's unclear why interns would be excluded from them, including protection against excessive hours of work, guarantees of certain time off, protection against unjust dismissal, and protection against sexual harassment. It would be indefensible to exclude interns from these protections. Yet this statute purports to do so, unless some regulation makes those protections apply to them.
That leaves minimum wages. This is the one that causes most of the problems for us. It's because interns, by contract, have bargained to provide free work, and free work is illegal. So these amendments to the code purport to carve out interns from all of the protections I just read to you, and from protection against free work.
What justification is there for this? We do not permit other employees to bargain below minimum standards and minimum wages. We determine that a just society cannot do that, at least since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Permitting employers to capitalize on the desperation of vulnerable workers is something we have rejected. When you stir into that mix unemployment, with youth unemployment at double the national average, in an economy where precarious work has become alarmingly normal, that desperation, which is the object of the code, is more ominous than ever. Our young people are more vulnerable than they've ever been. They're willing to go to work for free without basic protections of their human dignity for the slight prospect of gainful employment in the future. This is desperation, and this is what part 3 of the code exists for.
I ask you again to ask yourselves, what justification is there for excluding our young people from these protections?
If I have a moment, I would like to finish with a quote from the 2006 Arthurs Commission report titled “Fairness at Work”, which examined the Canada Labour Code. In particular, in one section Professor Arthurs examined studies and arguments against minimum wages, and found those arguments to be inadequate. He nevertheless concluded: In the end, however, the argument over a national minimum wage is not about politics or economics. It is about decency. Just as we reject most forms of child labour on ethical grounds, whatever their economic attractions, we recoil from the notion that in an affluent society like ours, good hardworking people should have to live in abject poverty.
I would say to you today, similarly, that decency should prevent us from excluding this group of vulnerable young workers from the protections we have long held to be necessary for all working people.
Thank you.
John Farrell
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John Farrell
2015-06-02 9:31
Thank you, Chair.
My name is John Farrell. I am the executive director of the Federally Regulated Employers—Transportation and Communications. FETCO represents most of the major federally regulated employers in Canada. A list of FETCO members is attached to appendix A of my written presentation, which I believe the clerk will be able to provide you with later.
We are pleased to provide our views on the provisions of the budget implementation act regarding the proposed revisions to the Canada Labour Code covering the engagement of interns by companies operating in the federal jurisdiction.
FETCO members believe internships are a very important way to improve employment prospects and outcomes for Canadians seeking employment. Internships add value by providing practical workplace experience to complement an individual's education or life and working experiences and preparedness for future employment. Internships will allow educators and companies to connect and create a better ongoing understanding of each others' requirements to improve employment prospects for Canadians. They assist persons seeking new opportunities to get valuable work experience.
FETCO members believe that interns should be treated fairly. The primary objective of engaging interns is to improve the development of the individual for the sake of the individual.
When FETCO was advised that the government was considering legislation regarding interns in January of this year, we decided to survey our members to better determine the extent to which interns are engaged by member companies.
We learned the following. About 80% of FETCO members have some form of internship programs. About 83% of FETCO members that engage interns do so through formal co-op arrangements with recognized educational institutions. About 42% of FETCO members also have ad hoc internship arrangements that are often shorter in duration and less structured than formal co-op programs. Some interns are paid and others are not. In the federal jurisdiction and the companies that participate in FETCO, most of the interns are paid.
So the arrangements that apply to interns vary from company to company, and we would agree that we don't believe there's enough data to understand the full extent to which interns are used across the country, which is why we undertook to do our own study of our own members.
Let's turn to the analysis of the proposed legislation.
The proposed amendments to part II of the Canada Labour Code provide interns with full occupational health and safety protection. FETCO fully supports this requirement. However, we believe that they already had protection, and employers already had an obligation under the general duty provisions of the code to protect the health and safety of all persons attending at the employers' premises or operations. Nevertheless, we have no objection to including specific coverage under part II of the code.
The proposed legislation also introduces provisions to clarify the circumstances when interns can be unpaid. The first case would be when the internship is part of a program provided by a recognized secondary or post-secondary educational institution or vocational school. We agree with this provision.
The second would be if the internship meets a certain set of six criteria. I won't recite the criteria—I think they're clear in the bill—but we believe these provisions make sense because they will provide an opportunity to determine with some clarity under what circumstances interns will be treated.
With respect to establishing a time limit that an internship cannot exceed, either four months of full-time employment or the equivalent over a 12-month period—
John Farrell
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John Farrell
2015-06-02 9:35
—we recommend that internships be permitted to last for a full 12 months. This will allow a greater opportunity for an intern to get more in-depth experience where it would be beneficial to do so.
The bill provides for regulations to be made for certain labour standards to apply to unpaid interns under part 3 of the Canada Labour Code. FETCO agrees that further consultation to better understand the arrangements for current interns is necessary so that appropriate employment standards provisions can be adopted.
We support consultation with stakeholders.
We caution that the provisions of part 3 that apply to interns should focus on basic workplace protections, such as hours of work and leave without pay for illness and bereavement.
Interns are not employees but they have the right to be treated fairly, and an appropriate balance is required. Overregulation of interns may lead to the unintended consequence of a reduction in existing internship programs.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
View Nathan Cullen Profile
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to all our witnesses today. I'll keep my questions as brief as I can.
Ms. Seaborn and Mr. Champagne, if I look at the last comment from Mr. Farrell, there's a bit of a suggestion that perhaps if we protect interns, under that third part of the labour code, against excessive hours of work, sexual harassment, and arbitrary dismissal, it may in fact reduce the internship opportunities available for young Canadians. Is this a concern for either of you?
Perhaps, Ms. Seaborn, you can start.
Claire Seaborn
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Claire Seaborn
2015-06-02 9:48
I'm not concerned that providing basic workplace protection would decrease the number of experiences for young Canadians in the workplace. I think it's employers' responsibility to be training young workers, and the interns themselves will find ways to make those positions available.
The kinds of amendments we're discussing today, including sexual harassment protections and hours of work, are basic workplace protections. These are not the sorts of protections that should deter employers from taking on interns.
Jonathan Champagne
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Jonathan Champagne
2015-06-02 9:48
If the proposed regulations or proposed amendments to put workplace safety standards in place with regard to hours, protections against unjust dismissal, or sexual harassment are too burdensome for an employer to have to protect its interns, then I think we have to look a little more broadly and organizations have to look at their business practices to figure out why those would be in place.
View Andrew Saxton Profile
Our government also recognizes the importance of internships, and that is the reason we believe that interns should receive basic benefits and protections in order not to be exploited. However, it's a balancing act, and I think everybody recognizes that if you are too strict on employers, they may cease the internship programs altogether, which Mr. Farrell has referred to earlier.
Would you agree with that as well, that it's a balancing act, Mr. Champagne?
Jonathan Champagne
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Jonathan Champagne
2015-06-02 9:54
I think we have to look at it to see exactly which regulations are supposedly too burdensome. If an employer can't hire an intern or someone without providing them protections against sexual harassment, or working a certain number of hours, or any of those provisions that are awarded to other employees, then I think organizations and federally regulated companies have to look at their business practices to see what exactly it is about these regulations that make it too burdensome to bring on an intern.
I don't think that is too much to ask.
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