There has been a great deal of interest in Bill S-201, An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination which came to a vote in the House this past week. This is a very important issue to me and for many Canadians and I appreciate the opportunity to discuss it.
I am committed to protecting Canadians from discrimination on the basis of their genetics. People should not be afraid of unfair consequences when they make the good, and potentially necessary, health choice to get genetically tested to see if they are at risk for a disease such as cancer. To achieve this goal, S-201 attempts to make several legislative changes, some of which I supported and some of which I had concerns about. From the very beginning I have strongly supported the section of Bill S-201 that will enshrine protections against genetic discrimination into the Canada Human Right Act, which allows people to get redress when they are discriminated against in an area that is federally regulated.
During the discussions surrounding this bill, several concerns were raised that the other sections within S-201 – relating to contracts and insurance issues – infringe on areas of provincial jurisdiction. Indeed, four provinces have written to the Minister of Justice expressing this concern, which raises the worrying possibility that this legislation could be challenged in court.
The issue of protecting Canadians from discrimination is too important to not get right. The possibility of these protections being struck down in court because they were not within federal jurisdiction was more than some administrative concern. I was deeply worried about the possibility of this law being struck down after potentially thousands of individuals had been tested under the assumption that they would be protected. That was too serious a risk to not be considered by MPs during debate and that is why I brought forward amendments to ensure it was part of our discussion.
In the end, after a very informative and considered debate, my colleagues were confident that the sections would withstand a constitutional challenge and the amendments to remove the sections in question were defeated. This is how the legislative process should work. Ideas are put forward and discussed, concerns are weighed and considered, and in the end we decide whether the proposal is in the overall best interests of our country.
In the final vote, I supported Bill S-201 without amendment because I believe so strongly in fighting discrimination. As legislators we had a full discussion about the issues raised by the bill, including the jurisdictional concerns, and I am pleased that as legislators we have passed a bill that I hope will protect Canadians from genetic discrimination.