Yesterday, on International Women’s Day, I was proud to vote on behalf of the constituents in Parkdale–High Park in favour of Bill S-201 in the House of Commons. This Bill, which passed at 3rd reading, will ensure that insurance companies cannot require individuals to disclose genetic test results – a practice that results in the refusal of insurance and benefits. This Bill will remove the power of insurance companies to discriminate against potential claimants and ensure that these companies fulfill their intended purpose: to help people access affordable medical care and obtain the treatment they need.
Bill S-201 will allow patients and workers (1) to be free from discrimination, by creating an offence under the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act; (2) to file complaints in federally-regulated industries through an amendment to the Canada Labour Code; and (3) to have genetic discrimination formally entrenched under the Canadian Human Rights Act. All three parts of this Bill are crucial to establishing full legal protection for Canadians.
But Bill S-201 goes deeper than safeguarding against unfair corporate practices – this Bill will protect vulnerable communities and saves lives. In particular communities, the prevalence of certain genetic markers deter individuals from getting potentially life-saving testing done because they fear discrimination. Over 6,000 diseases are related to our genetic makeup. Members of the Jewish, French Canadian, First Nations and Black communities are genetically predisposed to certain diseases due to factors such as family history or ethnicity. I am proud, as the Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism, that by enacting Bill S-201, we are addressing the needs of these diverse communities and providing them the support they require.
Bill S-201 also has specific importance for women, which is why it is so significant that Parliament passed this legislation on International Women’s Day. Certain types of cancers, like ovarian and breast cancer, bear distinct genetic markers. These markers can be detected through early genetic testing, which helps improve women’s health and ultimately save lives. By enacting Bill S-201 we are ensuring that women can undergo genetic testing without fear of discrimination. As a government, we have been working to break down barriers to gender equality–by passing S-201 we move closer to that goal.
Medical experts want and need to have genetic testing as a tool to help patients. They know early detection saves lives. When patients are free to undergo genetic testing they have the power to monitor and manage their health, and take measures to prevent risks. This is a significant technological advance, but to date our anti-discrimination legislation has not kept pace with scientific developments. Bill S-201 will change this. It will modernize our legislation by protecting any person who seeks genetic testing, from discrimination. Canadians deserve no less.
Member of Parliament for Parkdale-High Park
Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism