Speech – 2018.09.25 – Bill C-316



Bill C-316 – Organ & Tissue Donation

September 25, 2018

  Mr. Len Webber (Calgary Confederation, CPC): moved that Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Canada Revenue Agency Act (organ donors), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

He said: Mr. Speaker, for those who may not already know, I have been a long-time advocate of organ and tissue donation in Canada. In fact, a few years ago I passed a bill in the Alberta legislature as an MLA, resulting in the creation of the Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Registry. It also put in place a strong and robust education and awareness program that included adding donor hearts to our Alberta driver’s licences.

However, the reality is 4,600 Canadians are still awaiting a life-saving transplant and we need to do more to find those critical matches to save more lives. This is an issue that transcends political lines and offers us, as parliamentarians, the opportunity to make a difference in every corner of this country.

The Humboldt Broncos tragedy last spring highlighted the issue across Canada when Logan Boulet signed up as an organ donor just weeks before his tragic death. This incredibly kind gesture prompted thousands more to register, but it is still not enough. While over 90% of Canadians say that they support organ donation, only 25% are registered. In the meantime, hundreds die every year waiting for a donor. Sadly, Canada has one of the lowest donation rates in the world. A single organ donor can save up to eight people and a single tissue donor can help up to 75 individuals.

My bill, Bill C-316, proposes a very simple, very effective method to increase the size of the organ donor base here in Canada. It would also help update existing databases, but most important it would save lives. I am proposing that we use the annual tax form to ask Canadians if they would like to become a registered organ donor and if they consent to have this information passed to their provincial government for addition to its existing organ donor registries.

Before I go further, I must thank the 20 members of Parliament from all parties in the House who have stepped forward to officially second my bill. I will just let that sink in. There are members from all political parties in this House who have signed on as official seconders to this bill. That is a rare occurrence indeed. This extraordinary non-partisan approach demonstrates how a sensible idea can bring us together as a House to improve the lives of all Canadians. This collaborative approach has extended to the health committee, the committee that I serve on along with nine other colleagues of mine who have been extremely supportive of improving the organ and tissue donation situation here in Canada, and I deeply appreciate the support on this issue and with this bill.

This is not a political issue; it is a human issue. Any one of us could be in need of donor organs or tissues at any time. Just asking this simple question could increase the number of donors. Just recently, donor registration jumped up 15% in British Columbia when drivers were asked directly at licensing locations across the province if they wanted to be donors. It jumped up 15%, so we can imagine what we can do on a national scale.

Tax forms, by law, are restricted to collecting data for the purposes of taxation only. This is why we need to amend the law to allow for this common-sense approach to a national problem. My bill is modelled on the successful inclusion on the tax form of the question asking Canadians if they want Elections Canada to be kept informed of their current information. My bill has been crafted in keeping with this successful precedent.

Other initiatives to improve organ donation have been voted down in the past here in this House of Commons, as some felt the proposals were an infringement on provincial jurisdiction. My bill would not infringe on the provincial responsibility of managing donor lists; it would just support their existing work. My proposal is so simple and could be implemented so quickly. The federal government, via the Canada Revenue Agency, already successfully shares data every day with all the provinces and territories via encrypted networks with strong and reliable privacy safeguards. In addition, the existing infrastructure would support this change at virtually no cost. The CRA already shares dozens of data fields of information on every taxpayer with the provinces and territories and this would simply be one more data exchange. The tax form is a way to update this information annually via a legally binding document. It would allow for provincial lists to remain current and relevant.

While some methods used by the provinces such as driver’s licences and health care cards help register donors, as they do, none has as far a reach as the tax form.

The existing voluntary online method of registering is neither proactive nor fully effective. For example, those who move from one province to another rarely update their information. The tax form approach overcomes these common problems.

As the federal government would simply be collecting the data and passing it to the provinces, we would not be opening the jurisdictional can of worms. The federal government would not be encroaching on provincial jurisdiction because we are not setting up a federal registry. We would provide the information to the province and it would use the information as it sees fit. The provinces would still maintain their own lists. We would just be supplying them with data for that purpose.

When someone dies, the tax department is often one of the first government agencies to be notified. This too would help update provincial registries and keep them current. This is a huge opportunity for the House to show leadership in organ and tissue donation efforts.

Stakeholders have been universally supportive of the bill, and the thousands of affected families with loved ones on waiting lists will welcome this additional help. One stakeholder, the Ontario Trillium Gift of Life Network, is the largest registry in Canada. Its CEO, Ronnie Gavsie, says:

…we would support creating an opportunity for Canadians, when filing their income tax returns, to register their consent for organ and tissue donation…. The online income tax return becomes a gateway and an annual reminder to drive Canadians to organ and tissue donor registration.We share with you the goal of substantially improving awareness of organ and tissue donation and improving health for Canadians by increasing the number of life-saving transplants.

The federal agency responsible for organ donation is Canadian Blood Services and its vice-president, Dr. Isra Levy, said:

     Just like our colleagues, we support a transactional touchpoint that will raise the awareness, especially if it leads to the conversation…. But for sure this is something to be welcomed.

Elizabeth Myles of the Kidney Foundation of Canada has written to the Prime Minister expressing the foundation’s support for this change. Dr. Amit Garg of the Canadian Society of Nephrology, a society of physicians and scientists specializing in the care of kidney disease, and Dr. West of the Canadian National Transplant Research Program also expressed their strong support for the bill. The list goes on. Support for this legislation reaches far and wide across the country, into every community.

The health committee just tabled a report on organ donation this very morning in the House, with a number of key recommendations. The committee wanted to know what role the federal government could play in strengthening Canada’s organ donor donation and transplantation system. One of the key recommendations in the report deals directly with the debate we are having right now. If this bill is passed, it would go a long way toward fulfilling that key recommendation. We have the opportunity to leverage the resources of the federal government to help our provincial and territorial partners improve their registries, and I hope we do.

I and, most importantly, 4,600 Canadians awaiting life-saving transplant hope we can count on all MPs to support the bill.

I want to deeply thank a particular individual, a friend, Mr. Robert Sallows of Calgary. Robert received a double lung transplant 13 and a half years ago, at the age of 17, which granted him a new lease on life. Since having the transplant he has been very active within Alberta and Canada, raising organ and tissue donation awareness. He helped me immensely with the passage of my bill in the Alberta legislature, which created the Alberta organ donor registry. Sadly, Robert has recently entered the palliative care process. I want him to know that his determination, his struggle and his advocacy for organ and tissue donation have provided me with so much inspiration and motivation to improve the lives of others in need of a transplant.

I dedicate this effort to my friend, Robert Sallows.