Industry accused of blocking Senate’s genetic discrimination bill

by Nicolas Heffernan25 Feb 2015
Senator James Cowan blamed the industry as his bill aimed at preventing insurer’s access to genetic tests ran into issues in the Senate.

“No question. The major opposition to it was the insurance industry. There was no opposition from any province,” Cowan, who is spearheading the bill, said to the Nova Scotia Chronicle Herald.

The bill was severely watered down after the Conservative-dominated human rights committee in the Senate voted to remove eight of the 11 clauses in S-201. There was concern these impinged on provincial jurisdiction by trying to regulate the insurance industry, including sections about offences and punishments.

The main point left in the bill forbids employers from discriminating against an employee based on genetics.

Cowan, the Senate Liberal leader, said no province directly or indirectly raised concerns with him that the original bill interfered with their jurisdiction.

“A federal bill to regulate the insurance industry would be … unconstitutional because it’s provincial,” he said to the Ottawa Citizen. “But this is not a bill to regulate the insurance industry. This is a bill to prevent genetic discrimination.”

Conservative senators on the committee are “being selective in their views,” he said.

In the throne speech over a year ago, the Conservatives promised to bring in legislation to “prevent employers and insurance companies from discriminating against Canadians on the basis of genetic testing.” They haven’t done so yet and given the amendments now made at the Senate committee, the government will have to find a way to create its own bill that doesn’t tread on the same ground as Cowan’s rejected proposal.

But Cowan’s bill, even the amended version, if it were quickly approved by the Senate as a whole it is unlikely to make it through the House of Commons before June when Parliament is expected to rise. It will not return until after the October federal election.

Bill S-201 had been before the Senate for two years. Several groups want to see discrimination and privacy legislation catch up with technology.
Backers of the bill say they are disappointed but will continue to fight to raise awareness of the issue.

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