Mr. Lynn Myers (Waterloo—Wellington, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to the issue of the criminal law power in prohibiting reproductive and genetic technology such as human cloning because it is very important.
Bill C-247 proposed by the hon. member from Drummond, Quebec proposes an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada to add after section 286 a section that would prohibit genetic manipulation leading to human cloning.
The two practices covered in proposed Bill C-247 were prohibited in Bill C-47 which was tabled in this House in June 1996 and which passed second reading in November 1996.
In March 1997 the subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Health approved the bill with minor technical amendments. Unfortunately the call for the federal election came on April 27 and Bill C-47 died on the order paper.
It is interesting to note that the wording used in Bill C-247 is exactly the same as that used in Bill C-47 pertaining to human cloning. One major difference is that the hon. member proposes Bill C-247 as an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada.
The 1996 proposal by the federal government was for health legislation which relied on the criminal law power to protect Canadians' health and safety and to uphold our common values. This government does not take the use of criminal law power lightly as its means of prohibiting certain uses of technology.
Our Constitution divides jurisdiction over health matters between federal and provincial governments. The federal government has the power to make laws when issues relating to public health and safety are at stake or to maintain peace, order, security and morality.
This legislation lies squarely within the Canadian tradition of using criminal law to protect Canadians' health, safety and values. Most federal health law is based on the use of this criminal law power and the courts have recognized this as a valid exercise of the federal government's authority.
In the case of human reproductive and genetic technologies legislative action by the federal government is not only valid, it is necessary. The federal government has a duty to establish the basic perimeters of public health, safety and morality on which Canadians may rely.
To ensure adequate protection for all Canadians in the area of reproductive and genetic technologies there must be uniformity across the country with respect to what practices are prohibited, what practices are allowed and what safeguards apply. As with all criminal legislation provinces would be free to take as active a role as they choose in prosecuting the offences which were set out in Bill C-47.
Parallel provincial legislation in the field of reproductive and genetic technologies is welcome. Even if several provinces were to enact such legislation this would not diminish the need for a federal law to ensure that no region of Canada becomes a haven for unregulated practice of these technologies. To date no province has comprehensive legislation dealing with reproductive and genetic technologies.
The courts have traditionally recognized the protection of public health and safety and the maintenance of peace, order, security and morality as valid exercises of Parliament's exclusive authority over substantive criminal law. Most federal health legislation relies on the criminal law to protect Canadians' health and safety and to uphold our common societal values, for example the Tobacco Products Control Act, the Narcotics Control Act, the Food and Drugs Act and the Hazardous Products Act.
It is a constitutionally valid exercise of the criminal law power to define a crime not only by defining what acts are prohibited but also by exempting from criminal sanction certain acts when they are not carried out under prescribed conditions.
The government has already recognized the need for some form of regulatory regime for reproductive and genetic technologies, to regulate those practices which are considered acceptable to Canadians. In one respect, the hon. member's bill is admirable. However, Bill C-247 covers only two specific procedures out of the 13 which Bill C-47 would have prohibited and does not address the need for regulation of acceptable practices.
While the hon. member's bill does address one of the major areas of concern with reproductive and genetic technologies, we would like to reiterate that human cloning is indeed only one of the issues. There are many other aspects of equal concern which must be addressed which include sex selection for non-medical purposes, the buying and selling of eggs, sperm and embryos, germ line and genetic alteration, maintaining an embryo in an artificial womb, the creation of animal-human hybrids, the retrieval of sperm or eggs from corpses or fetuses and commercial surrogacy arrangements.
The final report of the royal commission on new reproductive and genetic technologies in November 1993 recommended both prohibitions of certain practices and a regulatory component to the legislation to manage those reproductive and genetic technologies which are considered acceptable.
The hon. member's proposed amendment to the Criminal Code would deny the possibility of regulations which would make certain technologies available to Canadians under certain and carefully monitored standards.
Bill C-47 dealt exclusively with absolute prohibitions but it was always intended that the regulatory component or conditional prohibitions would be added. Indeed much of the support from key stakeholder groups was premised on the understanding that this would be so.
The Minister of Health is sensitive to the concerns of Canadians regarding the need for comprehensive legislation. The minister remains committed to introducing a bill which will accommodate the reasonable concerns that are and have been expressed. The overwhelming response to Bill C-47 from virtually all quarters was for the addition of a regulatory regime to absolute prohibitions to form comprehensive legislation. The proposed additional components outlined in the white paper include the establishment of a regulatory agency and its powers of operation, licensing to permit acceptable practices, information registry and equivalency agreements with the provinces.
These proposals would ensure that acceptable technologies and practices are delivered in an ethical and socially responsible fashion and in a way that solicits the input of all sectors of society concerned with the issues raised by reproductive and genetic technologies.
This government intends to introduce in the near future legislation which will enhance Canadians' well-being by permitting them to make choices about their involvement with reproductive and genetic technologies, secure in the knowledge that their choices do not include any that are unethical or harmful to their health or to that of the children they bear.
It will balance the need to protect the interests of vulnerable women and children with the aspirations of individuals to become parents and the need of the research that will help them attain that goal. It will set the boundaries within which reproductive and genetic technologies can be regulated for the good of all Canadians.
Bill C-247 proposed by the hon. member is likely to draw criticism from many quarters. Canadians have clearly shown us during the consultations following the royal commission's report that there are many issues involved in reproductive and genetic technologies which require control, and not just human cloning.
Health Canada's overriding goal is to protect the health and safety of Canadians. We also seek to ensure the appropriate treatment of human reproductive materials and to protect the dignity and security of all persons, especially women and children.
Canadians have told Health Canada, as they told the royal commission, they want the federal government to act to manage reproductive and genetic technologies in a way that protects those most affected and which reflects our collective values. Canadians want unethical practices prohibited by law, and so does this government.
In an environment such as this Canadians would criticize passage of an amendment to the Criminal Code which merely prohibits human cloning. They have a concern to be answered about the total spectrum of reproductive and genetic technologies, and this government is committed to such legislation.
I believe it is necessary to wait for the introduction of new legislation by this government to encompass all the aspects of reproductive and genetic technologies which we have seen through the consultation process. They are of great concern to all Canadians.
I also believe proposed Bill C-247, an amendment to the Criminal Code, is premature and would be viewed as being heavy handed and failing to address the greater part of concerns of Canadians on this matter.
Subtopic: Criminal Code