The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-313, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (non-corrective contact lenses), as reported (with amendment) from the committee.
Mrs. Patricia Davidson
moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
She said: Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand among my fellow parliamentarians today as I speak in support of my private member's legislation advancing to third reading.
Bill C-313, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (non-corrective contact lenses), has received unanimous all-party support at every level of debate since its introduction in the House. Even at the committee review stage, all parliamentarians from the various parties have expressed their full support.
In the few months since my legislation was first introduced, there have been millions of non-corrective contact lenses recalled across the North American marketplace for quality control issues. Such stories have become more common, and Canadians are just beginning to open their eyes to the importance of their eye health. As we shed more light on this issue, we will continue to hear about such product recalls in the news. That is why Bill C-313 is supported across party lines and by virtually all Canadian eye health professionals. Canadian policy-makers are keenly aware of the impact my legislation would have across Canada, just as many of my colleagues have followed my legislation's progress.
Organizations like the Canadian Association of Optometrists have been key players in helping to spread the word on this important consumer health issue. The Canadian Association of Optometrists, the Opticians Association of Canada and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society have all come out in support of this legislation, and many more provincial bodies and their representatives have voiced their support as well. I will share some of their opinions with the House in due course.
I would like to thank the individual optometrists and ophthalmologists who have taken time from their busy practices right across Canada to write to me to voice their support. I realize that many of these same professionals took the time to write to their own MPs, asking them to support this private member's business, and for this I am grateful.
As we discuss the bill now at third reading, I intend to share medical evidence with the House that will provide clear reasons why we need my legislation. However, before we discuss Bill C-313 further, I want to take members back to the autumn of 2007 in the 39th Parliament of Canada.
One of my first responsibilities as a new member of Parliament was to be a member of the Standing Committee on Health. Looking back at my time on that specific committee, I was particularly seized by the concerns that were brought to me by professional eye care organizations from across Canada about the lack of regulatory oversight of what were called cosmetic contact lenses.
It is easy to break down the main concern brought forward to me all those years ago. A cosmetic contact lens is identical to a corrective lens in its impact on the human eyeball, with the only difference being that it does not correct a sight imbalance. However, despite the fact they are identical to a corrective lens, these cosmetic lenses have been free of regulatory oversight similar to the provisions in place for corrective lenses. It was with this in mind that I began to work in 2007 to further understand the risks of cosmetic contact lenses.
After extensive study, liaising with health researchers and eye care professions and meeting with our own experts from Health Canada and engaging with the opposition health critics, I developed a strategy that would go further toward protecting the eye health of Canadians everywhere. The result was private member's Motion No. 409, which proposed that cosmetic lenses should be classified as medical devices and be regulated accordingly under the Food and Drugs Act. The actual text of Motion No. 409 read as follows:
|| That, in the opinion of the House, the Minister of Health should regulate non-corrective, cosmetic contact lenses as medical devices under the Hazardous Product Act or the Food and Drugs Act.
This motion passed unanimously on March 7, 2008, in a fractured minority Parliament no less, which I believe is testament to the fact we are discussing an important health matter that could impact many Canadians, especially our youth. When faced with the facts on non-corrective contact lenses in 2008, we as a Parliament did the right thing by supporting Motion No. 409 and we stand to do so again with Bill C-313.
I was pleased that the government acted upon the unanimously passed motion. It was 2008 when the Government of Canada, upon advice from Health Canada, introduced my motion as an amendment to former Bill C-51, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. That act was introduced in April 2008 but also died on the order paper upon the election in the fall of 2008.
That was unfortunate. Having already used my private member's spot in the 39th Parliament, I found myself near the bottom of a long private members' business list. It can be a long wait before MPs have the opportunity to again bring forward legislative items once they have used their spot on that list.
Moving ahead to late 2010, in the 40th Parliament it became evident that I would be able to bring forward private members' business. Knowing that Canadians still had concerns about the existing policies in Canada surrounding non-corrective cosmetic lenses, I directed my research staff to determine what types of legislative remedies could be brought forward. In short order, they developed opinions to deal with my previously unfinished private members' business as a stand-alone piece of legislation.
More time passed. Subsequently, we had another election and I was re-elected by the good people of Sarnia—Lambton. With the return of the 41st Parliament, my name was near the top of the list for private members' business, meaning that months of research and efforts by my office were about to be realized and we would finally be able to bridge the regulatory gaps that exist for decorative non-corrective lenses.
This legislative process has taken place across three different sessions of Parliament and now stands at third reading before the House of Commons.
With this background on my bill before the House, I would like to speak directly to Bill C-313, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (non-corrective contact lenses).
Eye health professionals have been saying for a long time what we now know to be fact: National distribution of these products without professional oversight, fitting and training significantly increases the risk of public harm. This is the main finding captured by independent research reports. It is what Canadian eye health organizations have found. Now we see peer-reviewed science from reputable academics and institutions across the globe now fully supporting these findings.
To speak to the potential medical issues than can arise from the use of non-corrective contact lenses, stating that a decorative lens is potentially a harmful product may seem to some to be an overstatement, yet medical researchers have shown otherwise.
A list of the complications that could occur due to unsafe handling and the wearing of an improperly fitted lens in one's eye includes the following: conjunctivitis; corneal abrasions; giant papillary conjunctivitis; microbial keratitis; and other forms of bacterial, allergic, and microbial infection, as specified by the eye care industry.
Already, we know that these complications all occur with prescribed corrective lenses, which is exactly why Health Canada regulates the use of these products through opticians and regulatory bodies. Furthermore, it has been proven through peer-reviewed studies that non-corrective lenses are much more likely to cause complications to users because of a combination of factors, including lack of oversight of the product for the consumer, in particular how to use the product and issues with the potential quality of the product.
The Internet market for these products has grown immensely, even since 2006. We are talking about a market share in the millions and tens of millions of dollars. Much of this revenue is taken offshore. We need to ensure that Canadian consumer are protected when it comes to such operations.
To date, we have now seen several studies on the issue of decorative lenses and the harm they can cause to consumers. Perhaps the most well-known study in Canada is the human health risk assessment of cosmetic contact lenses conducted by Dillon Consulting Limited. Also known as the Dillon report, the final assessment was submitted to Health Canada in September of 2003 and outlined the scientific evidence, which at that point was still being debated by public health officials, namely that the level of risk associated with the use of cosmetic contact lenses is comparable to that associated with corrective lenses, and may potentially be higher. The main issue here is that corrective lenses are subject to professional monitoring and proper regulatory oversight. Cosmetic lenses are not.
The Dillon report also called for the following risk management strategies: individual screening should take place before a cosmetic lens is sold to a customer; proper fitting should be ensured; adequate instruction on cleaning and sterilization should occur; and consumers should be made familiar with potential symptoms related to the condition of the eye; and regular aftercare is needed.
To date, not one of the suggested risk management strategies called for in this report has been adopted, while corrective lenses are strictly defined by Health Canada. My legislation would address this problem.
Whereas the long list of issues associated with non-corrective contact lens use was once viewed somewhat contentiously by policy-makers, such health concerns are now considered an accepted fact of non-corrective contact lens use, due to a recent study that appeared in Acta Ophthalmologica, the official medical journal for optometrists and ophthalmologists in Europe. In this study, research conducted by the department of opthalmology at Strasbourg University Hospital in France clearly indicated the following:
|| Patients who acquire CosCL [cosmetic contact lenses] are less likely to be instructed on appropriate lenses use and basic hygiene rules. Consequently, CosCL wearers are experiencing acute vision-threatening infections.
The study in question focused on a bacterial infection known as microbial keratitis, a common yet preventable infection that can occur in wearers of contact lenses, both the corrective and non-corrective, cosmetic varieties. This study showed that wearers of cosmetic lenses were indeed at higher risk, with 79% of the control group of cosmetic contact lens wearers suffering from corneal scraping. However, the study showed that only 51% of the corrective contact lens wearers suffered similar effects. Meanwhile, more than half of the cosmetic lens wearers who were shown to have suffered corneal scraping were also shown to have serious microbial infection in the eye.
The study concluded that the increasingly documented risks of easily accessible cosmetic contact lenses were a serious concern in the country of France, where the study took place. In this regard, there is no reason to believe that the situation is any different in Canada, and in fact the Dillon report of 2003, which in many ways served as a ground-breaker on this issue, also came to the same conclusions as the French study in 2011.
Considering the medical evidence that clearly shows the need for the provisions contained in Bill C-313, it is important to note that Canada is at least a decade behind other jurisdictions, such as the United States and Europe, in achieving proper regulations for non-corrective cosmetic lenses.
In 2008, M-409 was able to obtain the full support of all opposition parties and their health critics, in addition to the support of the government and the Minister of Health.
Today, with Bill C-313, I ask hon. members to stand with me once again as we deal with this important issue. Listen to what some of our leading eye care experts from across Canada have had to say about this piece of legislation.
An optometrist from Newfoundland has stated, “In my province there are novelty shops and drugstores that are selling these lenses without regard for the possible health implications to eyesight. All our opticians want to stop this activity of unregulated dispensing”. Moreover, Clearlycontacts.ca, a Canadian ebusiness provider of vision-care products, has also stated on the record that, “At Clearlycontacts, we support regulatory oversight in the sale of non-corrective contact lenses and fully support Bill C-313”.
Dana Cooper of the Canadian Association of Optometrists has said that:
|| Bill C-313 is a commonsense initiative that aligns all contact lenses in the same federal regulatory environment. Bill C-313 makes sense from a vision health perspective, a consumer protection perspective, and is justified based on the concerns and actions already taken and being pursued by governments around the world.
In addition, I have also received strong endorsements from the Opticians of Manitoba, the Saskatchewan College of Opticians and also the School of Optometry and Vision Science in Waterloo, Ontario.
Internationally, Bill C-313 has the support of esteemed groups, such as the Contact Lens Institute of Florida and the American Optometric Association of Virginia.
The need for this legislation has never been greater than it is today. The Internet marketplace has opened doors for international buyers and sellers of these products like never before, and as policy-makers we have a duty to ensure that the eye health of Canadian consumers is protected as much as possible.
I believe that Bill C-313 is the first step in this direction, and today I call on all esteemed members of this House to stand in support of my private member's legislation.
Ms. Christine Moore (Abitibi—Témiscamingue, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today to speak to this bill.
I would like to give a little introduction so that people really understand the impact this bill—which is in its final stages—will have.
At this time, there are several kinds of contact lenses. There are the corrective contact lenses one gets after consulting a vision specialist, and there are non-corrective lenses that are used for aesthetic purposes to change the colour of the eyes or to add designs.
Corrective lenses are regulated by Health Canada, and non-corrective lenses are not. The purpose of this bill is to standardize the regulation of all kinds of contact lenses in order to protect the health and safety of Canadians.
Under this bill, cosmetic contact lenses that do not correct vision would be regarded as medical devices. Accordingly, this type of contact lens would be subject to the requirements of the Food and Drugs Act and the Medical Devices Regulations.
We in the NDP support this bill, because it establishes safety requirements regarding the use of these lenses, as health specialists have been calling for several years now.
Health Canada has also been asking since 2003 for cosmetic contact lenses to be regulated. What is more, the first Health Canada warning about this was issued in 2000. I believe it is quite appropriate to act on the matter rather quickly, even immediately.
In 2003, Health Canada published the report, “Human Health Risk Assessment of Cosmetic Contact Lens ”, which found that there was no difference in the way cosmetic contact lenses and corrective contact lenses were inserted in the eye and interacted with the eye, and that all lenses should be subject to the same regulation. The risks and use of these products are quite similar.
Cosmetic contact lens sales have exploded in recent years.
Cosmetic contact lenses and corrective lenses are essentially similar products, except one corrects vision and the other does not. They interact with the eye and, accordingly, present similar risks.
Currently, the regulations and standards are not the same, but the risks are.
The non-corrective lenses are not even regulated by Health Canada. The legislation will have to change because cosmetic lenses are a growing industry and more and more problems are arising from this lack of regulation.
Furthermore, this type of contact lens is often used by young people, who are often less aware of the health risks associated with the use of these products.
Health Canada's website lists the many risks associated with wearing contact lenses. The risks for corrective lenses are listed, but they also apply to non-corrective lenses. The risks include tearing, itching, burning, sensitivity to light, dryness and also the risk of developing an eye infection. These conditions may be worsened by improper cleaning of contact lenses.
The extended use of contact lenses, particularly overnight, seriously increases the risk of developing corneal ulcers. An ulcer can perforate or scar the cornea in a day or two, leading to permanent scarring and, in the most serious cases, blindness.
It is estimated that complications and lesions caused by non-corrective lenses are more frequent than complications caused by corrective lenses.
A study conducted in France recently reported that such complications are 12 times more prevalent.
This is because of the lack of regulations. It may be because of the poor quality of the product, the poor fit, not meeting the buyer's needs, or the fact that the buyer is not told about the risks and precautions that must be taken.
We should realize that these lenses can be purchased in many unusual locations, if I may call them that.
You can find them at the Rideau Centre here in Ottawa. They can be purchased from several merchants that are not optometric clinics but clothing stores. They can be obtained very easily. These stores do not provide instructions on their use as an optometrist or ophthalmologist who prescribes corrective lenses would do. An optometrist or ophthalmologist would teach the person how to use the lenses safely. Such instruction is not available in a store.
Health Canada recommends that non-corrective contact lenses be used under the supervision of a vision specialist given the risks associated with their use.
Every year, health professionals treat patients with eye problems caused by the use of cosmetic contact lenses, problems that could have been avoided with proper regulation, which has been sought for almost 10 years.
Clearly, there is an urgent need to legislate and regulate this product to minimize risk. It is important that all contact lenses be regulated the same way to minimize health risks for Canadians.
One of the most serious risks is blindness or vision loss. According to Health Canada, 75% of vision loss is preventable. Clearly, all cases of vision loss do not result from the use of contact lenses; however, if the use of these lenses were regulated, it could truly help to lower this percentage.
Under this bill, non-corrective contact lenses would be licensed through Health Canada, and distributors would be required to have a licence to sell medical devices. Given the complications that can result from the use of contact lenses, this measure is entirely appropriate. It would decrease the incidence of complications and infections and even serious consequences, such as blindness, that could have been avoided. Eventually this bill will also relieve some of the burden on our health care system.
The prescription and distribution of cosmetic contact lenses fall under provincial jurisdiction. We therefore encourage the government to work with the provinces to ensure that regulations and measures are put in place to protect the health of Canadians. The government must demonstrate leadership in this area and encourage the provinces to do the same.
In closing, I would like to make one final point. Even though the bill itself is fine, I am disappointed that it has taken 10 years to come before us and that it did not come directly from the Minister of Health. It is a real shame that the minister did not consider it important enough to introduce as a government bill and that a member had to do all of the work herself.
I will certainly support this bill, but I think that the Minister of Health herself should have taken action on this front long before now.
Hon. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul's, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak, literally, as the voice of the member for Vancouver Centre, who seems to be suffering from body betrayal today.
I would also like to thank the member for Sarnia—Lambton for introducing Bill C-313.
The fact that this bill has received support from all parties in the House this evening is a rare occurrence in this place. Miraculously, the bill was also allowed to be improved upon in committee, which is also a little bit rare in this place these days.
Initially, the bill aimed to classify non-corrective contact lenses according to subrule 2(1) of part 1 of schedule I of the Medical Devices Regulations, which states:
|| Subject to subrules (2) to (4), all invasive devices that penetrate the body through a body orifice or that come into contact with the surface of the eye are classified as Class II.
A class II medical device is a low risk device, including contact lenses, pregnancy tests, ultrasound scanners, endoscopes, et cetera. Manufacturers require a Health Canada licence before selling or advertising Class II devices. Annual licence renewals are required.
Health Canada noted in committee that because these non-corrective contact lenses have no therapeutic benefits nor aim to correct vision, it would be best to classify this as a device under the Food and Drugs Act as opposed to a medical device. It is important to note that manufacturers of non-corrective contact lenses will not have evidence of nor will they be required to attest to the effectiveness of these products as they have no role in correcting vision. By making this change to a device, regulations under the FDA would apply and the committee, therefore, passed this amendment. By adding non-corrective contact lenses as a device under the Food and Drugs Act, we can ensure greater safety in the manufacturing and sales of these decorative contact lenses.
In November 2005, the United States declared all contact lenses, corrective and non-corrective, as medical devices requiring a prescription.
The United States food and drug administration states:
|| Without a valid prescription, fitting, supervision, or regular check-ups by a qualified eye care professional, decorative contact lenses, like all contact lenses, can cause a variety of serious injuries or conditions. For example, lens wear has been associated with corneal ulcer, which can lead rapidly to internal ocular infection if left untreated. Uncontrolled infection can cause corneal scarring, which can lead to vision impairment, and in extreme cases, blindness or the loss of an eye. Other risks include conjunctivitis; corneal edema (swelling); allergic reaction; abrasion from poor lens fit; reduction in visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, and other visual complications that can interfere with driving and other activities.
A motion calling for non-corrective contact lenses to be classified as a medical device was unanimously passed in the House of Commons, as the member has stated, in March 2008.
Non-corrective contact lenses designed to change the appearance or colour of one's eyes should be listed as a device in order to protect consumers. Placing a contact lens on the surface of the eye that does not fit properly or is poorly manufactured can lead to many health concerns as was identified by the U.S. FDA.
The Liberals support evidence-based policy and recognize that this measure has been advocated for in the U.S. by groups such as the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Optometric Association, the Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists, Prevent Blindness America and the Contact Lens Institute. It is also supported by the Canadian Association of Optometrists, which has called on parliamentarians to “enact it with haste”.
Bill C-313 was amended in committee to remove the word “cosmetic” as this is defined elsewhere in the Food and Drugs Act and should not be applied to a medical device. It was amended to remove “Class II medical device” because all class II devices have to show proof of effectiveness and non-corrective contact lenses are not meant to be effective.
It was further amended to provide for the coming into force on a date specified by the Governor in Council.
Bill C-313 was supported by all witnesses at the health committee and all members passed this bill.
We congratulate the member for Sarnia--Lambton for this important initiative. We, too, think it has taken a very long time and look forward to its passage in this place.
Mrs. Djaouida Sellah (Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, NDP):
Madam Speaker, this is not the first time I have had an opportunity to speak to this bill. I spoke at second reading and when it was referred to the Standing Committee on Health. As far as I know, every party in the House supports this bill.
Non-corrective contact lenses, as they are now known following amendments to the bill in committee, are used to change the eyes' colour or appearance. Over the past few years, the market for these contact lenses has grown considerably. There is no real difference between corrective lenses and cosmetic lenses in terms of how they interact with the eye.
Even though they present the same health risks, non-corrective contact lenses are not yet classified as devices under the Food and Drugs Act, nor are they regulated by Health Canada. There is plenty of evidence about the risks associated with using non-corrective contact lenses without professional supervision.
Problems occur when the contacts are not adapted to the specific needs of the buyer, when they are the wrong size and do not fit the eye properly, when the contacts are of questionable quality, or when they come from a truly unknown supplier. Problems often occur when consumers are not given the appropriate information and instructions on how to use the contacts properly and safely, for example, how to put them in, how to take them out and how to clean them.
Health Canada has warned the public and the government of the potential risks associated with non-corrective contact lenses. According to a 2003 Health Canada report, the rate of serious injury among people using corrective contact lenses every day is approximately 1% and the overall rate of complication is about 10%.
It is estimated that the rate of injury and complication—for example, infection, inflammation or ulceration—is much higher among non-corrective contact lens users than among those who use corrective lenses. In 2007, vision loss accounted for the Canadian health care system's highest direct cost, as compared to any other illness.
What is more, 75% of the cases of vision loss can be prevented. Bill C-313 seeks to amend the Food and Drugs Act to deem a non-corrective contact lens to be a device. This amendment would require all non-corrective contact lenses sold in Canada to be licensed by Health Canada and would require the product distributors to have a medical instrument sales licence.
As I said at the previous reading, I am surprised and disappointed that we are still talking about such a bill in 2012. In 2000, Health Canada issued a warning about non-corrective contact lenses and recommended that they be used only under the supervision of an eye care professional.
In 2003, Health Canada recommended that the federal government regulate the use of non-corrective contact lenses, but, 12 years later, the matter is still not resolved. Nevertheless, I want to express my appreciation to the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton for her bill and her perseverance.
I know that she has been working on this particular file since at least 2008, when she moved a motion that was adopted by the House of Commons. However, we are currently discussing the budget, and I hope it will be discussed for some time, even though it may not be in this House.
Budget cuts will affect Canadian families. They are talking about the cuts and will continue to do so. When I see measures such as these, which are essential, I wonder if they will have any real impact given the 2012 budget.
Regulatory measures such as this bill cannot be effective without some oversight. When I see the budget cuts made by this government, including those to Health Canada, I doubt that the department will be able to do the necessary follow-up with the manufacturers.
How can we protect public health and safety with minimal and limited monitoring?
I know that the government will say that Canadians' safety will not be compromised. However, I am not absolutely convinced of that. I do not have to look too far to realize why. I only have to read the Auditor General's report on the F-35 jets and compare his comments with the statements made by this government's members in this House.
Speaking of the Auditor General, I would like to point out that, yesterday, he blamed this government for the Canada Border Services Agency's performance. He said, and I quote:
|| In the small percentage of cases where goods that did not meet import requirements were allowed to enter the country, most were products for which there was no agreement in place between Health Canada and the CBSA. While the CBSA has formal arrangements with the three other organizations in our audit, as yet it has no formal agreement with Health Canada that documents respective roles, responsibilities, policies, and procedures for implementing controls on several products under Health Canada’s responsibility, such as medical devices [including the one we are talking about today] and pest control products. Until there is a formal agreement, border services officers do not have consistent instructions on procedures to follow for those products.
Non-corrective contact lenses are often ordered via the Internet. I hope that this government takes the Auditor General's recommendations in this regard seriously and gives the Canada Border Services Agency and Health Canada the means to protect the health and safety of Canadians. If not, this bill will serve no useful purpose.
Mr. Glenn Thibeault (Sudbury, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I am very happy to stand here today in support of this private member's bill in the name of the member for Sarnia—Lambton. Bill C-313 would amend the Food and Drugs Act in regard to cosmetic non-corrective contact lenses.
Cosmetic contact lenses do not have any effect in improving the eyesight of a wearer. Instead they alter the colour and appearance of the eyes. However, while the contact lenses do not alter the wearer's eyesight, they do interact with the eye in the same way that a corrective contact lens would. This means that cosmetic lenses have the same health risks as corrective contact lenses, but despite the risk of complications and injury, cosmetic lenses are not listed as class II medical devices under the Food and Drugs Act and are therefore not subject to regulation by Health Canada.
As the New Democrat consumer protection critic, this obvious gap in the consumer protection regime is worrying. There is a large amount of research detailing the problems that can occur from the improper use of cosmetic contact lenses, such as using lenses that are not suited for a particular individual, using lenses that are not the proper size for the wearer or not fitted correctly, or wearing contact lenses which are of a questionable quality from an unknown supplier.
It is also often the case with these cosmetic contact lenses that critical information and proper instructions. For example, on how to put the lenses in, remove them and clean them are not included with the contact lenses.
By amending the Food and Drugs Act to classify cosmetic contact lenses as class II medical devices, it would mean they would be regulated in the same way as regular corrective lenses. This would mean that all cosmetic lenses sold in Canada would need to be licensed through Health Canada and the distributors of cosmetic lenses would require a licence in order to supply them.
To understand the dangers that occur because of a lack of regulation, we only need look at the statistics related to contact lenses. A 2003 Health Canada report stated that the rate of severe injuries among users of daily corrective lenses was around 1%, while the overall rate of complication was approximately 10%. Report after report has estimated that rate of injury and complications due to infection, inflammation or ulceration is much greater for users of cosmetic contact lenses.
This is not just a public health problem, but an economic one. In 2007 vision loss carried the highest direct cost to Canada's health care system, more than any other disease. Given that 75% of vision loss is preventable, regulations to protect the users of cosmetic contact lenses would go a long way to saving people's eyesight and money, as well as public money.
That brings me to the great work that is done in my riding by the CNIB. I think of Paul Belair, executive director, who would over and over again tell people of the importance of what was talked about earlier: preventive regulations to protect users of cosmetic lenses and the eyesight of Canadians because eyesight is so crucial.
I applaud the member for Sarnia—Lambton for bringing forward this legislation, but it begs the question as to where the government was on this issue in the past. This is not an issue that the government was blindsided by. In 2000 Health Canada issued a health warning about cosmetic contact lenses and recommended they only be used under the supervision of an eye care professional. Then, in 2003, Health Canada recommended the federal government should regulate cosmetic contact lenses.
What does that mean? It means both the current government and the previous Liberal government simply failed to act on this issue against the recommendations of their own departments. When we think of all the opportunities that have occurred in the last 12 years for a government to introduce this simple change, it speaks volumes about how little interest those governments had in protecting consumers.
Once again, while I applaud the MP for Sarnia—Lambton for bringing forward the bill, but I am deeply troubled that we have to address this issue in private members' business in 2012. Put simply, it never should have come to this point.
It is important to realize that the bill is really only a first step, an important step, but still just a first step all the same. The prescribing and dispensing of cosmetic contact lenses is controlled by the provinces and territories. As such, if this change becomes law, the prescribing and dispensing of cosmetic contact lenses would fall to those provincial health departments. This means that any long-term plan to improve upon the quality and safety of cosmetic contact lenses must be designed in coordination between the different levels of government, as the only way to establish an effective regulatory regime is through the federal government working actively with the provinces.
However, this requirement also raises a more worrying question in the long run. As the government has failed to act appropriately in bringing forward the legislative changes needed to regulate cosmetic contact lenses, how can we expect it to work with the provinces and build a long-term regulatory plan for them? It makes me wonder.
Now, I am sure Health Canada will be on top of the issue, just as it was in its 2000 and 20003 reports, but will there be political leadership from the government to act, to work with the provinces to come up with comprehensive legislation that will protect Canadian consumers? Given its track record on this issue and many other consumer protection files, that scenario seems doubtful.
The list of consumer failures that the government has made is shocking. It has turned a blind eye to gouging at the gas pumps. It has let banks walk away from an independent and impartial ombudsman system, avoiding regulating credit cards by announcing a voluntary code of conduct which was designed behind closed doors with the credit card issuers. It wasted years before implementing all-in-one pricing for airlines. Then in last week's budget, it slashed $56.1 million in funding to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Trusting the government to act in a proactive manner to protect consumers using cosmetic contact lenses, as much as I would like to, just seems foolish given its past action, or more properly, its lack of action.
I am very happy to support the initiative of the member for Sarnia—Lambton in bringing forward this legislation. It is a low cost, high reward change in the current legislation. However, it is indicative of the government's lack of adequate consumer protection policies that we are dealing with this issue in this private members' business. We need to continue to push the government to be more proactive when it comes to protecting Canadians and protecting consumers.
Ms. Megan Leslie (Halifax, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the bill today, especially on the heels of my colleague, the member for Sudbury, who has done amazing work on consumer protection issues for Canadians. In fact, I would call him a true consumer advocate. Therefore, it is great to speak after his speech on the consumer protection issues involved in the bill.
I have learned a lot from the bill. I did not know that cosmetic contact lenses were not a class II medical device. In fact, I did not know what a class II medical device meant, despite the fact that I have worn coloured contacts. I am wearing contacts right now, although this is my natural eye colour. I did not know any of this because I was able to purchase my coloured contacts many years ago from my optometrist. That is not the situation that we have with this bill.
Because I needed corrective lenses, I had to see an optometrist. I have to meet with him regularly and get regular checkups. I was instructed on how to properly handle my contact lenses, how to insert them and how to clean them properly. In fact, he always advises me when there is a new type of contact lens that comes out, which allows more oxygen into my eye. It is not something I know anything about. I trust his expert advice, when he says there is a new contact that is be better for my eyes because it does allow more oxygen in. I learned all of this because they are corrective lenses. When I was in high school, I had a slight green tint to my contacts, but they were still corrective lenses, so I still received the proper training and proper monitoring.
Last year I had a regular checkup with my optometrist. When he took a picture of my eye, there was a dark spot on it. He said that it could have been a freckle or it could have been something quite serious, but that he would not know until time had passed to see if the size of it had changed. Immediately, I was so terrified that I did not want to go back to see him. I know that is not logical, but sometimes we are not logical. Sometimes we just react with our gut emotions. I did not want to know if this was something dangerous. It made no sense, but it was how I felt.
However, because I had to see him to get my prescription renewed to order new contacts, I was forced into the position where he had to do another checkup. That is a really positive thing.
Some people complain that we might be regulated to death. In the situation like this, we are trying to protect Canadians to ensure they are healthy and safe.
If someone like me, an informed and educated consumer, a consumer who is familiar with the product, is too scared to go back to get a photo taken of the back of my eye to see if there was something wrong, too scared that I wanted to avoid knowing the truth about the health of my eye, imagine, for example, young people, large consumers of non-corrective or cosmetic contact lenses, not knowing how to handle them properly or not knowing the risks involved, and there are incredible risks. They think it is just for Halloween so they will get fun lenses so they can look like a cat, or a vampire or whatever. It seems pretty harmless. People wear contacts all the time. However, they can have pretty serious eye injuries. They can have an allergic reaction. There could be a bacterial infection. They could have inflammation or swelling of the cornea, scratches on the cornea, even loss of sight. However, the one thing with the Halloween contacts is some of these reactions can happen in as little as 24 hours.
We think it is just this silly little costume thing, but this is very serious. It is eye health. We only have one shot at this. Imagine having some of those kinds of impacts happen in as little as 24 hours. Some of these things are very difficult to treat and sometimes they are permanent.
I watched a CBC piece about a woman who went to Panama to get permanent contact lenses. There is an operation where a hard disc is inserted in the eye to permanently change the colour.
This woman is now legally blind. She can only see shapes and colours. She has had to have numerous surgeries, one surgery to take these disks out and then numerous cornea surgeries. It was heartbreaking to see. This was a young beautiful woman. This is how desperate people are sometimes to alter themselves cosmetically, that they go to such lengths. This surgery cannot be done in Canada, thank goodness. However, people actually spend their savings to go down to Panama so they can have blue eyes. It is hard to imagine, but that is the reality.
If that is the reality, we need to be doing everything we can to make sure Canadians are safe. When it comes to corrective contact lenses, absolutely they should be a class II medical device. It only makes sense.
My colleague from Sudbury used the term “low cost, high reward change”. This is not going to cost us anything. It is something that has been demanded. It has been asked for. Health professionals have been warning Canadians for the last 10 years about these risks. They have been urging the government to actually come forward and make these changes.
One of the first responsibilities of government should be to protect the health and safety of Canadians from potentially dangerous products. That is a no-brainer. It does not matter if people believe in big government or small government. This is fundamentally about what government should be there for. It is there to help us, to protect us, to make sure we are safe.
One thing about the bill that I think we have heard some folks chat about is that this bill is only the first step because, by and large, contact lenses are regulated provincially. It is a good first step. It is a necessary first step. However, what we are going to have to see is the federal government taking on more of a leadership role and working with the provinces to make sure there is an effective regulatory regime established for cosmetic contact lenses.
On that point, I would note the leadership shown by the member for Sarnia—Lambton in bringing forward this bill. I commend her for what she has done. Effectively what she has done is stepped up to the plate where her minister has failed to. We have been hearing about this for years. In 2000, Health Canada issued a warning. Health Canada issued a warning about cosmetic lenses and recommends that people only use them under the supervision of an eye care professional. Where is the Minister of Health on this? She is utterly absent in all the mandates where she has been serving, utterly absent on stepping in to play a leadership role in protecting the health of Canadians.
I just wanted to add those who have actually been championing this in civil society, to say that this is the kind of leadership we need from our government: the Canadian Association of Optometrists, a huge champion of this; the Canadian Ophthalmological Society; and the Opticians Association of Canada. They have all been publicizing the risks that are associated with cosmetic contact lenses, and they have all been asking Health Canada to regulate them under the Food and Drugs Act.
They recognize the jurisdictional issues here, too. By and large, it is the provinces that would be regulating contact lenses. They are saying both federal and provincial regulations are needed to treat cosmetic contact lenses the same as corrective lenses.
Going back to the evidence, I talked about some of the groups that are actually bringing forward this idea and being champions. There really is an abundance of evidence and research—