OTTAWA — The Conservative government is hoping that the third time’s the charm for its consumer-product-safety bill, tabled Wednesday with tweaks to blunt criticism that helped derail the legislation in the Senate last December on the eve of becoming law.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq tabled the government’s “tough” new legislation in the House of Commons with a handful of amendments after deriding Liberal senators last December for making changes to the previous bill. That legislation, which passed the House of Commons unanimously last June to replace a 40-year-old law universally seen as outdated, was on course to becoming law before the new year.
The Senate instead sent the amended bill back to the House of Commons, where it died when the Conservative government moved to prorogue Parliament.
The broad strokes of the newly introduced bill are the same, giving the government the power to recall unsafe products and other powers in line with the United States and European Union.
“Canadians want to know that the products on store shelves are safe to take home, and they want better protection for their families. They should expect nothing less,” Aglukkaq told reporters.
If passed, manufacturers or importers will also be required to hand over product test results if asked and quickly inform Health Canada when they discover their product is linked to a serious incident or death. Health Canada will also be permitted to share this information with other governments as part of joint safety investigations into a potentially
dangerous product, such as a crib or bassinet linked to suffocation deaths.
Currently, a distributor or manufacturer in Canada is not required to report to Health Canada serious safety incidents involving their products, so the government usually learns about them from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. And today, Health Canada can only ask a company to recall a product, but it’s up to the company to decide whether to issue a voluntary recall.
Flanked by representatives from Safe Kids Canada and the Quebec-based consumer group Options Consommateurs, Aglukkaq said it’s time to replace Canada’s out-of-date product-safety law because “the current legislation simply can’t provide the protection against unsafe products that Canadians need to help ensure the safety of their families.” Unlike previous versions of the bill, the government is proposing to entrench in law its ban on polycarbonate baby bottles. Health Canada announced its intention in April 2008 to label Bisphenol A toxic as a precursor to banning polycarbonate baby bottles, which use the hormone-disrupting chemical as a building block. The ban was enacted in regulation a few months ago.
And some of the language in a few sections has been tweaked in response to concerns raised by Liberal senators, who last year complained the bill granted Health Canada inspectors too much power to trample on the civil liberties of business owners.
The newly tabled legislation removes the power of recall from Health Canada inspectors and puts that power exclusively into the hands of the minister. The bill also makes clear that while Health Canada inspectors have the power to enter a place of business, even if the operation is being run from a home, to inspect suspicious items, the legislation makes
it explicit that inspectors can only sift through items stored for sale, not items stored for personal use.
The new bill also sets a 30-day timeline for Health Canada to respond when a company requests a review of a government order to recall their product.
“I want to stress that this new bill maintains all the strong, essential elements of (last year’s bill) but has some important amendments, which go a long way in addressing the concerns we heard,” Aglukkaq said.
The Conservatives first attempted to update the Hazardous Products Act in April 2008, but that product-safety bill died when they called a federal election that fall.
The new bill on Wednesday brought together a consumer and business group often at odds over the use of chemicals in certain consumer products. The Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association (CCSPA) and Environmental Defence issued a joint release calling for its quick passage.
“This is great news for anyone who cares about product safety and protecting the health and welfare of Canadians. It’s high time Canada caught up with places like the United States and Europe in protecting its citizens,” said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence.
“The health and safety of Canadians is the priority for all CCSPA members and we support the swift passage of this legislation,” added association president Shannon Coombs.
“Canada needs the tools to be able to rapidly respond to dangerous consumer products in the marketplace and this legislation will allow that to happen.”