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PIAC opposes amendments to consumer product safety bill (C-6)

December 7, 2009

VIA E-Mail and Mail
The Honourable Art Eggleton
Chair, Standing Committee on Social Affairs,
Science and Technology
Room 804, Victoria Bldg.
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A4

Dear Senator Eggleton:

RE: Bill C-6 – The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology Twelfth Report

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre is a non-profit organization, established in 1976, whose mandate is to enable the representation of ordinary and vulnerable consumers when decisions are made concerning the important products and services they obtain. We were unable to appear before the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, but made submissions, a copy of which is attached, concerning the similarities between the powers of enforcement provided in Bill C-6 and those in existence in other legislation.

We very much regret the decision of your Committee to approve amendments that severely hamper the ability of the government to pursue the public interest in relation to matters of health and public safety. The net effect of the amendments is to potentially frustrate the efforts of Health Canada to swiftly deal with the imminent danger posed by consumer products that may be untested, misrepresented, and released into the marketplace with minimal warning.

It is particularly disheartening to find the oppositional posture to this Bill presented as a matter of protection of the civil rights of business and property owners engaged in the sale and distribution of the consumer products that are the subject matter of the Bill. Such individuals are amply protected by the provisions of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights, and possible civil remedies for government behaviour that exceeds the ambit of its protective statutory mandate. Monetary loss, embarrassment and hurt feelings are regrettable, but nonetheless compensable in the event of improper government conduct.

On the other hand, harm caused to public health and citizen livelihood may only be imperfectly remedied. What will be the explanation given to a parent grieving the loss or permanent injury of a child caused by the use of a product irresponsibly brought to market, when the reason is the lack of, or delay in application, of proper enforcement tools by the responsible authority caused by these amendments? There is no guarantee that even an inadequate remedy of compensation may be available in the event of a breach of health and safety requirements that is of such widespread effect that it is ultimately financially ruinous of the supplier.

The rights of defendants in circumstances where criminal and/or quasi-criminal related behaviour may be involved are important, particularly in relation to the consequences that may be visited upon a defendant. But it is decidedly inappropriate to expose innocent Canadian consumers to potentially negligent market behaviour because of the fear that government inspectors may lack either the appropriate motive, or the skills of enforcement. It is a grievous misallocation of the Senate’s legislative superintendence to cater to the misplaced fears of a few over the real health and safety concerns of the many potentially at risk. PIAC urges the Senate reject the amendments of the Committee and adopt Bill C-6 without change.

Thank you.

Yours truly,

Michael Janigan
Executive Director/General Counsel

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