THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL AFFAIRS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

EVIDENCE


OTTAWA, Friday, June 11, 2021

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology met by videoconference this day, at 2:00 p.m. [ET], to give clause-by-clause consideration to Bill C-220, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (bereavement leave), to study Bill S-211, An Act to establish International Mother Language Day, and to study Bill C-237, An Act to establish a national framework for diabetes.

Senator Chantal Petitclerc (Chair) in the chair.

[Translation]

The Chair: Good afternoon, everyone.

I am Chantal Petitclerc, senator from Quebec. It is my pleasure and privilege to chair this meeting today.

We are conducting this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology via videoconference. As usual, before we begin, it is my duty to share several suggestions which we feel will assist you in having an efficient and productive meeting.

[English]

Please keep your microphones muted at all times, unless you are recognized by name. You are responsible for having your microphones on and off during the meetings. You will also be required to use the “raise hand” feature in order to be recognized.

[Translation]

Should any technical challenges arise, particularly in relation to interpretation, please signal this to the chair or the clerk. You also have a technical assistance number that you may call if required.

[English]

Please note that if we have some technological challenges, we may need to suspend this meeting, because, of course, we need to make sure that all members are able to participate fully in the language of their choice.

[Translation]

Finally, I would like to remind you that Zoom screens must not be copied, recorded or photographed. You may use and share official proceedings posted on the SenVu website for that purpose.

Without further delay, I would like to introduce the members of the committee participating in today’s meeting. We are pleased to have with us Senator Bovey, the Deputy Chair of the committee, Senator Frum, Senator R. Black, a member of the steering committee, Senator Forest-Niesing, Senator Kutcher, Senator Manning, Senator Moodie, Senator Mockler, Senator Pate and Senator Simons. Welcome all.

We start our meeting by continuing our review of Bill C-220, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (bereavement leave). We are now at the stage of clause-by-clause consideration of the bill.

Is it agreed, honourable senators, that the committee proceed to clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-220, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (bereavement leave).

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Agreed.

Shall the title stand postponed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

[English]

The Chair: Shall clause 1 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall 2 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the title carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the bill carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Does the committee wish to consider adding observations to this report?

Senator Frum: No.

The Chair: Is it agreed that I report this bill to the Senate?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Thank you, senators.

Senator Simons: Thank you very much, if I may say. I invested a lot of emotional energy in this, so I’m very pleased. Thank you very much.

[Translation]

The Chair: Thank you very much, Senator Simons, and congratulations! Let us move on right away. As always, this is a very busy day for this committee.

We now continue with our study of Bill S-211, An Act to establish International Mother Language Day,

[English]

For this bill, I will introduce our witnesses. We have the pleasure to have with us the Honourable Senator Mobina Jaffer, sponsor of the bill. Welcome. We also have with us from Pro-active Education for All Children’s Enrichment, Dr. Monjur Chowdhury, Founding Executive Director. Welcome. We also have with us from the National Association of Friendship Centres, Jocelyn W. Formsma, Executive Director.

I will begin by inviting our colleague Senator Jaffer to make her opening remarks. They will be followed by Dr. Chowdhury and then Ms. Formsma.

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer, Senator, Senate of Canada: Thank you to the committee for coming in on a Friday to work on this. I appreciate it. Thank you, Senator Petitclerc, for all your efforts in getting this bill heard today.

International Mother Language Day was established at the UN in 1999.

[Translation]

This is a way to celebrate, to honour and to recognize Canadians all across the country who proudly speak their mother tongue.

[English]

That amounts to about 200 languages, from Spanish to Punjabi to Tagalog. Being encouraged to engage with, learn from and openly communicate with mother-tongue languages is a valuable lesson for all people in Canada, young and old.

[Translation]

International Mother Language Day is a day for celebrating, but also for recognizing the value and importance of being able to communicate freely, openly and proudly in the mother tongue of one’s choice.

We know that bilingualism is the basis of our collective Canadian identity, past, present and future. Bill S-211 supports bilingualism. It establishes a more official recognition of multilingualism. It establishes that, together with French and English, all the mother tongues of Canadians are worthy of recognition, honour and celebration.

[English]

In the 2011 census, over 60 Indigenous languages were reported, but only 14.5% of First Nations members still had an Indigenous language as their mother tongue. In 2016, the number of Indigenous languages reported was more than 70. Over 33 of those languages were spoken by at least 500 individuals; some were spoken by as few as 6 people.

[Translation]

The number of Indigenous languages that have disappeared is really heartrending. Each time a language disappears, a part of our identity disappears with it.

[English]

Despite the commendable efforts of our government on Bill S-91, there are only four Indigenous languages that are safe from extinction.

Honourable senators, what I have done, because you have heard me speak many times about mother languages, is present to you the words of two young people who have sent you briefs. I’ll repeat part of their briefs here.

One is Anushua Nag, legislative assistant to Senator Dalphond and she says:

I am a child of immigrants from Bangladesh . . . .

It is difficult for me to limit my identity to only one language, even when I am asked on a form to confirm my “preferred” language. With my Partner at home, I speak English. With my brother, I speak French. Most dearly, with my parents, I speak Sylheti. I identify with all three of these languages, and each for very different reasons. While French and English are obviously big parts of my life, on International Mother Language Day, I intend to celebrate only one of those three identities. And that is my definition of being Canadian.

The other presentation is from Ayaan Jeraj who is a Grade 9 student at the Prince of Wales Public School. He is fluent in French and English, and he speaks Spanish and Gujarati. He said:

I feel so privileged that I was raised to be proud of and still feel empowered when I speak my mother tongue with my family. As a young man, I feel a deep responsibility to carry forth this fight for recognition of all mother tongue languages to ensure that all young people feel their mother tongues are powerful and worthy of respect.

For me, speaking a mother tongue language means having the ability to speak multiple languages. For some people, that means talking in both or one of Canada’s official languages, English and French, as well learning about and embracing the values so many other languages spoken across Canada.

By acknowledging the contribution mother languages, Multiculturalism and multilingualism make to a diverse and multicultural Canadian society, Bill S-211, is create a wide range of opportunities, especially for us young Canadians.

Finally, we continue to see the pain of an ongoing pandemic . . . . I feel the strength of my connection to my family, my friends and my country when I can speak from my heart. Bill S-211 will ensure all people, of all ages in Canada can speak from their heart.

Senators, that is my presentation. Thank you for listening.

Dr. Monjur Chowdhury, Founding Executive Director, Pro-active Education for All Children’s Enrichment: Good afternoon. Bon après-midi. [Another language spoken]

On behalf of Pro-active Education for All Children’s Enrichment, or PEACE and Bangla Caravan, it is my tremendous honour to share my commitment to and my understanding of international mother language day. I would like to thank you all for the kind invitation to join you this afternoon. I’m also thankful to Senator Jaffer for thinking of us.

I want to start by sharing my understanding of Bill S-211, An Act to establish International Mother Language Day from my experience of living and working in three continents and using the four languages I have been speaking and working in.

According to Professor Wade Davis, the mother language is a window to another universe. I found my window, one that the Nobel Laureate and poet Rabindranath Tagore designed and that can truly be felt in Bengali.

[Another language spoken]

I’m not a singer, but the translation in English would be:

The Sky is full of the Suns and the stars;

The World is full of Souls;

I find my place in the middle of all, in wonder.

What a beautiful connection to Professor Wade Davis. I believe that when I read or hear this song, I see the cosmology. Being an electrical engineer, I found tremendous joy in how we can connect the universe to my own language. It can only be understood through my own language, my mother language.

Let me tell you about a recent experience of mine. I have been working as a substitute teacher in Ottawa with the Catholic school board for a long time. A few years back, I went to an elementary school to teach, and one of the special education teachers came to me and asked me to work with a newly arrived young student. She spoke, or she speaks, Arabic. I do not speak Arabic, but because of my background, I have ways to communicate. The teacher asked me if I could try to make the new student smile because she had been upset for a long time.

I went over and said, “Assalamu alaikum—.” Right away, I saw a smile on her face. Bingo, I had completed my assignment. My colleague was very happy. This an experience that I believe demonstrates the essence of international mother language day. I’d like to share some words with you from one of our recent great human beings, a leader of this art, Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela once said:

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.

Therefore, I believe that our mother language is profoundly connected to our heart.

I want to talk about why establishing international mother language day through Bill S-211 could be a win for Canadian Indigenous languages, Canadian bilingualism and, of course, for multilingualism, and that is because our mother language can take us to the past to discover our heritage.

The recognition of International Mother Language Day will definitely be encouraging for our Canadian Indigenous people. It will be a turning point for the victims of residential schools, First Nations, Métis, Inuit and other unique communities who witness discrimination against their mother languages and cultures. This recognition will be more proof of the unique beauty of Canadian bilingualism.

I’m happy to inform you that in Ottawa, with the collaboration of Jim Watson, the mayor of the City of Ottawa, we have proclaimed International Mother Language Day for the city. When we did this, more than 25 community leaders from diverse backgrounds came with their members, and they could not be happier. I saw the smiles on their faces.

This is a celebration we have been doing every year in Ottawa, with more than 500 people joining us every year. It is not only for visible minorities or people from other cultures; it is a festival for all Canadians, regardless of colour. One of my friends, Richard Fransham, who is an educator, postponed his family commitment to attend our event.

The significance of “mother language” is in the word “mother.” Nothing can be more precious than the love of our mothers, and love can only be felt. Therefore, I would like to ask the honourable senators to feel the love of mother languages and please take effective action to enact international mother language day. Thank you very much. Namaskar.

The Chair: Thank you. Now let’s hear from Ms. Formsma.

Jocelyn W. Formsma, Executive Director, National Association of Friendship Centres: [Cree spoken] I thought it would be appropriate for me to open in my language, Moose Cree, especially in light of the bill that is being discussed today.

Good afternoon, honourable senators, and the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. I’m joining you from unceded Algonquin territory.

As you may be aware, the National Association of Friendship Centres is a national network of Indigenous-owned and -operated, civil society, not-for-profit and service delivery organizations across Canada. Collectively, we refer to our network of over 100-member local Friendship Centres and provincial territorial associations as the Friendship Centre Movement. We are the most significant urban Indigenous service delivery network and infrastructure in Canada.

For at least the last 50 years, Friendship Centres have been developed and advanced by and for Indigenous peoples living in urban environments. We’ve helped individuals access vital, culturally appropriate services they need to succeed in urban settings across Canada.

As you know, over half of the Indigenous population in Canada lives in urban environments. We work to ensure urban Indigenous people have access to culturally grounded programs and services that are not available anywhere else. We deliver approximately 1,300 programs annually to over 1 million people. For many Indigenous people, Friendship Centres are the first point of contact and main point to access culturally based socio-economic programs and services.

We view the creation of international mother language day as an acknowledgement of the importance of language preservation and revitalization. However, a day to memorialize mother languages does not go far enough in the commitment required for restitution and the forced loss and diminishment of Indigenous languages or to actively preserve and revitalize Indigenous languages.

There are considerable historic and systemic challenges to Indigenous language revitalization, particularly emphasized in urban settings across Canada. There is a critical need to record and capture language advancement knowledge wherever Indigenous peoples reside, but capacity and resources are scarce. There are not enough language resources, teachers or curricula for all the Indigenous languages that are in danger across the country, and in most cases there is not a critical mass of learners in each city to offer relevant language learning in all the dozens of languages spoken by urban Indigenous people.

Young people are especially frustrated and acutely aware of this. They experience shame because they are unable to speak their Indigenous language. They are eager and desperate to learn it, but there are few places and spaces where they can learn in a safe, immersive and holistic way.

If Indigenous languages in Canada are not advanced, they will disappear. There is nowhere else in the world we can go to revitalize these languages, and the situation is dire.

The NAFC has engaged with the federal government on consultation regarding Indigenous language legislation. Our message is short and clear: Languages need to be where our people are, and our people are everywhere.

Advancing Indigenous language upholds multiple rights, including the rights of the child and the rights of Indigenous peoples. Recognition of Indigenous languages on a mother language day is the bare minimum to acknowledge that these rights exist. I hope there will be corresponding and appropriate resource allocation to ensure these are languages that all Indigenous people are taught, first and foremost.

On a personal note, I do wish that Cree was my mother tongue. The reasons that is not the case have to do with the systemic undermining and disruption of our ways of knowing and being. It was not a choice to forget the language. Within two generations, I saw extreme diminishment of the language in my family.

I thank you for your time and consideration today, and I look forward to answering any questions you may have. Chi-meegwetch.

The Chair: To all three witnesses, thank you, meegwetch, for your heartfelt testimony.

We do have questions for you. We will begin with the deputy chairs of the committee, Senator Frum and Senator Bovey.

Senator Frum: First, let me say to my colleague Senator Jaffer that I wish you luck with this, and I congratulate you on this testimony today.

As one of the people on this panel whose mother tongue is English, clearly it’s easy when English is your mother tongue. My question to all the witnesses is this: Once this bill becomes law and we have the mother tongue day, how would you like to see native English speakers celebrate and commemorate the day?

Senator Jaffer: Senator Frum, that’s an extremely important question. As you know, I used to travel to different places on behalf of our country, as an envoy. One of the most amazing things for me to see was young English-speaking people who had learned other languages, like Arabic, and were now in charge of running the refugee camps. When I go to schools to speak, I tell young people to learn different languages, because that is their door to their neighbours and to the world. Obviously, here I’m promoting my mother language, but it doesn’t matter which language. I’m always promoting the idea of learning languages, because it opens up opportunities in one’s career but also in the world. I tell young people that it’s so important. It doesn’t matter which language, but learn another language, because it provides great opportunities.

When I went to these camps, it was amazing to see the young women and men speaking Arabic and the respect they had compared to other foreign people who were there. It doesn’t mean they had to be fluent, but they got to the heart of these people. So I think it opens up a whole world.

One of the advantages of the mother language bill is that it will encourage people to learn. Obviously, everybody needs to learn French and English, but the bill will encourage people to learn other languages.

Dr. Chowdhury: If I may, I will share my experience. I was born in Bangladesh. Of course, Bengali is our mother tongue, and English is our second official language. I still remember how excited I was to learn English. In fact, although I studied science, I always got good marks in English, which helped me. This has been the best thing. You see my emotion. When I talk, this is helpful. Therefore, I always encourage my children. I have two daughters who are in college and university, and I have been inspiring them.

When I went to Russia and the Soviet Union in my 20s, I did not speak one word. Eventually, I was able to write my dissertation in electrical engineering in the field of [Technical difficulties].

So this is where the language is. Language is the vehicle through which ideas and convictions are transmitted. Therefore, for all languages — Chinese, Japanese — this is the way, and especially in the 21st century. You bet. The 21st century is the time to enjoy multilingualism, but at the same time, the root, the connection — the root should be very strong. There is no doubt about that. So I believe that once I’m good at my own language, I will be excellent in any other language. That is what I have found in my life.

This is my answer. Of course, English and French.

[Translation]

I speak French too. I’m very happy that I can.

The Chair: Thank you.

[English]

Ms. Formsma: Yes. I have a couple of notes. English itself is a language made up of roots of other languages. I think the purpose of a day like this is to draw awareness, like we have with National Indigenous History Month and with days to commemorate certain events and things. It’s not necessarily to advance or to talk about what the majority is; it’s to draw attention to some of the specific things. Certainly, the reason why English is my mother tongue was not my choice. It was a forced assimilation of language. I think there should be a recognition, as an English speaker, of how English being the common world language has been effected around the world.

It’s not necessary for people to feel shame about being able to speak English or English being their mother tongue. I would recognize and celebrate the fact of there being a diversity of languages. Anyone who speaks multiple languages knows that embedded within a language is a world view, and certainly it’s the same with Indigenous languages.

I can’t obviously speak on behalf of all Indigenous peoples, but the way I would interpret [Cree spoken] is a day to recognize what could have been, had it not been for systemic disruptions in the ability for me and my family to speak Cree.

Senator Bovey: I want to thank all our speakers today. Senator Jaffer, thank you for this bill. To our special guests, I’m very moved by what you said. I think this is a very appropriate bill and one I support, especially as I am in Winnipeg where there are more than 100 languages spoken daily. So there will be great celebrations of many mother tongues when this bill is proclaimed.

Dr. Chowdhury, I have a question for you, and I have one for Ms. Formsma.

Dr. Chowdhury, you mentioned that you are a substitute teacher. Can you give a little bit of insight about the children you meet with who may be embarrassed about their mother tongues? I have watched children wanting to speak English, the second generation of immigrants, and the third generation doesn’t know their mother tongue. Could you talk about that a little bit?

Ms. Formsma, many years ago, I worked with Gloria Cranmer Webster on Vancouver Island. She was developing the textbook for Grade 4 for the teaching of Kwakwaka’wakw in British Columbia, and, of course, the Royal BC Museum has a stunning exhibition of the many Indigenous languages in B.C. Do you have any idea of how many Indigenous languages have a textbook or a special place in the province’s curriculum?

Dr. Chowdhury: Should I start?

The Chair: Absolutely. Go ahead, doctor.

Dr. Chowdhury: So to answer the honourable senator’s question, yes, you are right. When I’m teaching my students, I’m always talking about balance. Balance is so important. When I was teaching them about the greenhouse effect, I said, “We need greenhouse gases, but at the same time, we should be careful that it is not more than what we expected.”

The problem I found with our multicultural communities or children born outside of Canada — even with my children who were born here — is that they have an embarrassment that everybody is speaking English and if they speak in their language someone might not be happy or they will not be understood. You’re absolutely right. But here I think the important part that’s happening is from our side, as parents, it is our job to encourage them.

I can tell you some disappointing part here also. We should be careful about this. For example, the school board has funds, and they have international language courses and programs and Saturday and Sunday schools. I remember, when I was much younger, as a young father, I would bring other kids to the Bengali school in the morning, but the parents were not that excited about it.

So there is a problem and there are complexities there. They think this is an English-speaking country and when will they be using their mother language? But they forget about the root. When they become older, like myself — I’m not old — but I’m saying that I can understand when they’re younger and they don’t understand. There is more education needed for our parents so that we can encourage the use of mother languages.

I just gave you one example. I will give you another example. When teaching Grade 9 — I teach high school right now — I remember a student from Russia. When I spoke in Russian, he got so excited. As soon as I go to school, I start my announcement with my four languages: French, Bengali, Russian and English. I see the environment totally changes then. They love to hear their mother tongue, but they’re shy to talk about this.

So my answer would be that it is important for us to educate.

Senator Bovey: This day will help with that.

The Chair: Thank you.

Ms. Formsma, do you want to answer the question from Senator Bovey?

Ms. Formsma: I guess the short answer is I have no idea. I wouldn’t have a list or I don’t have a mechanism to have a list of that.

I do know from Moose Cree First Nation, my home community, that they just went through an extensive process to create a comprehensive dictionary of the Moose Cree language, which is the only dialect of its kind in the Cree family language. It took several resources and many years to come up with just that dictionary, and they created a corresponding booklet of how to use the language in conversation.

The textbook itself is great, but you need people to speak the language to keep it as a living language. I’ll go to the example of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver where the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network actually brought together language speakers from across the country, and they had to create new words because there was never a word for “slapshot” in Kwakwaka’wakw or a “double Salchow” or other figure skating terms in Cree or Michif. I think those are the kinds of resources that I would look to. Bring in people with active languages, mother tongue speakers, in their respective languages. These aren’t languages that need to reside in the past. They can be and very much should be a part of today’s language family and should not be on the decline. We should be trying to find ways to have these languages spoken on the incline, more and more, as many as possible.

The Chair: Thank you for this answer. We have Senator Black next, and then I have Senators Forest-Niesing, Moodie, Simons, Pate and Mockler. So you see we have a lot of questions. I will ask you to try to keep your questions short. This is so interesting, I want to make sure everybody gets a chance to ask their questions.

Senator R. Black: Senator Jaffer, it’s great to see you on a Friday afternoon. Thanks for joining us.

The benefits of encouraging Canadians to continue learning, teaching and speaking their mother languages is clear, and you’ve been very clear about that. As you know, I often approach the work I do in the Senate from a rural lens. In this regard, with respect to Bill S-211, I’m curious how those living in rural Canada, who often have less access to cultural services, among many other things, could be encouraged to participate in this day. Whose responsibility will it be to promote and coordinate this day: school boards, provincial or federal governments, cultural institutions, all of the above? Can you just speak to that, please?

Senator Jaffer: There is still a lot of work to be done on that. At this point, I see just the communities doing it. Then, maybe the excitement will take over, and the school boards will do it. Some school boards already do it, as in Ottawa. The mayor has declared it, and in Ottawa they do it. As for rural areas, from my experience, I have two grandchildren, and to learn our language, Gujarati, they have to do it on the internet. Even though we live in Vancouver, it’s very difficult to learn Gujarati.

One of the amazing resources, especially during the pandemic, that we have found is that through the internet, there are lots and lots of teachers available around the world. On the internet, for $7 an hour, you could get to learn another language. So I guess the best way is through the internet. That’s how I’m doing it with my grandchildren.

Even though I don’t live in a rural area, it’s not always easy because Gujarati is not so common a language as Punjabi, Tagalog or Mandarin, so the way to do it in rural areas is through the internet.

Senator R. Black: Just a comment. Obviously, internet access in rural areas is another issue we have to contend with. That adds to the dilemma.

I have another question for Ms. Formsma, but I’ll wait until the second round if we get there. It may be answered by other questions. So I’ll pass. Thanks very much.

[Translation]

Senator Forest-Niesing: I have two questions. Senator Jaffer, thank you very much for joining us on this Friday afternoon. My thanks also to our two guests, whose testimony is extremely interesting. I am very, very grateful to you.

The subjects of both my questions have been somewhat dealt with, but I am going to go a little further. My first question is for Ms. Formsma, and is about access to online courses. There is a danger and a fragility with languages, particularly Indigenous languages. Do you now see a dependence on technological means and, in those technological means, do you see a possible solution to the shortage of teachers and the lack of universal access to sources of teaching in the many Indigenous languages? I will end my first question there.

[English]

Ms. Formsma: Thank you for the question. What I have seen and witnessed is that a lot of friendship centres offer Indigenous language programming, and depending upon the community that they’re in, that’s the language they would go to. If a friendship centre is in northern Saskatchewan, the languages provided would be Michif, Cree, Dene. If it’s in Montreal, maybe different dialects of Inuktitut, as well as Mohawk and maybe other Haudenosaunee languages. It depends on the community that’s there and that’s present.

What we’ve seen overall is that people have been switching to that online format, utilizing online groups to connect and to provide resources and to have that online forum to be able to hear the language.

One of my other hats is a board member of APTN, and I think we cannot undercount the importance of media. If you think about wanting to engage in any new language, where is it that you go to? Maybe it’s an online app, but certainly when I’m visiting another country and I’m trying to learn at least a few words of the language, I rely on television and radio to hear the language, because if you don’t hear it, it’s really hard reading the words on a page.

In that respect, the online access does help facilitate that. I think there’s something in people gathering together. Obviously, we can’t do that at the moment.

I would say for me, yes, it’s important to have teachers, people who know how to speak the language well. But, if anything, it’s more important for people to be able to come together, hear the language and have access in that respect.

Teachers, definitely we could probably have a lot more of them. I think in terms of the languages that are being disappeared, I couldn’t really say for some of the ones that are smaller how to do that. Within Indigenous languages, Cree is one of the more prominent languages that still has mother-tongue speakers, even within the different dialects. But some of those smaller ones may not have the same access to resources and may not be able to draw upon other dialects to piece something together, which wouldn’t be perfect in your dialect, but at least you could piece something together. We could do this in Cree. We could draw from the y-dialect and the n-dialect. So if the resources don’t exist in our own dialect, we can look to other ones, which is not the same for other Indigenous languages.

[Translation]

Senator Forest-Niesing: Thank you very much. I don’t think I have any more time. I will wait for the second round.

[English]

Senator Moodie: Thanks to the speakers who are here today. Ms. Formsma, it’s great to see you again, Jocelyn, after having met you on the work I’ve done in the past on the child bill.

Having grown up on a post-colonial Caribbean island, at 12 years of age, I recall sitting in a classroom struggling to learn Latin and to perfect British-accented English, and I just keep puzzling about linguistic diversity. I want to ask Ms. Formsma a question about this.

There is no question that linguistic diversity is under threat globally and in Canada. I’m wondering what you see as the major forces that are threatening diversity, and what are the benefits of diversity that we should be quite deliberately seeking to establish here in Canada?

Ms. Formsma: Well, how far back do we go? There was a scenario in this country at one point where we could have been an entirely French-speaking country. It actually depended on the neutrality of the Haudenosaunee that we are an English-speaking and not a French-speaking country.

When I think about the major forces, I do not think we can under-count those early interactions and the eventual colonization of Canada. I’m just stating that as a fact; that is what happened in terms of the language component.

So the major forces, as we’ve seen early on in Canadian history, people were encouraged to learn the language. It was part of the early economies within the colonies in Canada and as they started doing the treaty processes. There was a time when people came and respected Indigenous ways of knowing and being and actually participated and understood the protocols of the nations with which they were engaging.

Over time, as the power shifted — forced residential schools, child welfare system, the Sixties Scoop — the relationships that Indigenous people had with their families, their communities, their cultures and their languages were specifically disrupted.

I think the benefits and the diversity really go to what I was mentioning before about ways of knowing. There is so much embedded in language. I know only the tiniest of the tiniest bit of an iceberg about what is contained within my language, based on the tiniest bit I know that I have been fortunate to learn.

The little bit of Cree that I do know I was taught in elementary school. When I was going to elementary school in Moosonee, it was part of our curriculum. At the time, going into high school in Moosonee, I had to make a choice as to whether I was going to continue to learn Cree or whether I was going to switch to a French curriculum. I was actively encouraged to choose French over Cree because it would serve me better in my future. I can only assume the thinking at the time was around success in business or whatever it was.

Looking back on that choice, I wish I would have had the opportunity to continue language education in Cree. By that point, I had moved to Timmins, which is still in my territory but is a larger centre that didn’t have that offering. Mind you, those language offerings were offered to all the kids in that school, not just the Indigenous children or the Cree children.

Again, with diversity, there is so much embedded within language. We learn about values, relationships and connection to each other through those languages. Even the fact that, in Cree, we do not identify things by gender; we identify things by whether they’re animate or inanimate, whether things are alive or whether we view them as still beings. I believe that’s the importance of the diversity of language.

The Chair: Thank you.

Senators, again, I need to ask you to try and be a little bit brief if you can.

Senator Simons: Last night in the Senate, I had the chance to speak to Bill C-8, which would amend the citizenship oath to include a pledge to honour treaty and constitutional rights. I used that as an opportunity to talk about the things that sometimes divide Indigenous and immigrant communities in our country.

This is a question that I will ask Senator Jaffer.

In the observation of this day, do you see this is a way that Indigenous and immigrant communities could connect with one other with common interests?

Senator Jaffer: In Vancouver, I see connections. I see a great desire for immigrant children to learn Indigenous languages. Where I live in Vancouver, there is a lot more integration, good and bad, between Indigenous and immigrant children.

This is a longer discussion for another day between you, Senator Omidvar and me, because I always say that “immigrant” is only for the first three years, and then they’re Canadian children. I have to be respectful here. I don’t agree with Senator Omidvar, from what she’s been saying, because one is an immigrant only for three years, and then we are Canadian. So then what are we, as Canadians, doing to integrate and to learn about Indigenous people?

Nowadays in school, children are taught a lot. Not as much as I would like, but it’s an ongoing process for all Canadian children, not just immigrant children.

Senator Simons, I hope I’m not being rude, but I don’t agree with Senator Omidvar’s stance on that, because we’re only immigrants for three years.

The Chair: Thank you. I see an interesting conversation in your future.

Senator Pate: Thank you, Senator Jaffer, for bringing forward this bill.

My question is for Ms. Formsma. Last year, we passed Bill C-91, talking in particular about trying to promote Indigenous language acquisition. Now, there’s the mother languages bill. The critique then from a number of groups was that this is wonderful to have, but how do we resource it if there aren’t supports in place to ensure these sorts of initiatives are fully implemented?

Do you have any comments on what more is needed? You’ve already made some very valuable comments about this, but if you wanted to add anything about the sorts of initiatives or approaches that would need to be put in place in order to ensure life is really breathed into this legislation as well as Bill C-91, that would be appreciated.

Ms. Formsma: Thank you very much, Senator Pate.

It’s so vastly important to do many of the things that we talked about. It’s important to have the resources for communities to be able to develop the textbooks and corresponding materials they would need to be able to have the language documented for those who wish to do it. Many languages are oral, but having them written down, at least for Moose Cree, was one way we could advance that work.

As I said, having it within the education curriculum assisted me and an entire generation of children to actually learn Cree.

As an aside, Cree culture classes were also part of our curriculum. We would do beading and traditional artwork. As we were doing those activities, we were learning the Cree words for everything we were doing: the hides, the beads and the styles that we were learning.

So curriculum development, having it within the education curriculum. Then focus on media, which allows people to hear it on television and radio. I know APTN does this, and many Northern broadcasters do, including Inuit broadcasters. They’re severely under-resourced to do what they do. They’re hiring some of the last language speakers and mother-tongue speakers in those communities.

Basically, anywhere and everywhere we can get language. I know there’s been discussion, and some municipalities have changed the place names in their cities and streets to Indigenous languages. Each one of those, are pieces of it, and as a whole, we need to be getting the languages to where the people are: in their mouths, in their ears — everywhere — to have the language as far and broad as possible.

Just, again, recognizing — I cannot emphasize it enough — if these languages disappear from Canada, there is nowhere else we can go to get them back. We cannot go back to a home country; this is our home country. This is our home territory, and to have languages on such a mass scale disappear from our country — and I mean that in terms of our traditional territories — would just be an extreme travesty. I think it contributes to what people have mentioned around the acts of cultural genocide — that we are really erasing cultures when we erase languages.

The Chair: Thank you for this, and thank you, Senator Pate, for your question.

Senator Mockler, welcome to SOCI. It’s a pleasure to have you on this committee. Please go ahead.

[Translation]

Senator Mockler: They always say that a picture is worth a thousand words.

[English]

I want to share with you that I’ve been doing this as a parliamentarian for many years. In our northwestern school system in New Brunswick, I give books to every young person that comes to my office. They are on different subject matters and in French and English and Maliseet because our Maliseet First Nation is in northwestern New Brunswick. Because of my experience in Mexico, we have the same authors doing French, English and Spanish. This is my introduction. In schools in northwestern New Brunswick, they encourage other languages, especially mother languages.

I personally welcome the spirit of Bill S-211. Senator Jaffer, thank you again for your leadership.

Witnesses, can you expand a bit more on the benefits — you have mentioned some — for the child, the community and society at large?

Dr. Chowdhury: Thank you very much. It’s a wonderful question.

I mentioned in my introduction that the benefit is clear. I believe that when we have a connection with our heart — I understand when we are talking about children, it is about the root connection they would make if we can offer them the opportunity to get connected with their roots.

Now, it is my understanding that when we talk about mother languages, it is not necessarily just exactly language. It is about many other things, including culture. Again, my understanding is when we give an opportunity to our children — and I will give an example. When my children were younger, we exposed them to our mother tongue. Imagine my 85-year-old mother, who does not speak English, and when we communicate with her and when I see our children able to communicate with her, I cannot explain to you what joy I find. This is the measured benefit. As I said, it does not [Technical difficulties] in any way to learn English, French or any other language.

In one sentence, I would say it is just connecting with our root. “Root” is the major word here. We are all coming from different roots. Therefore, it is a tremendous benefit. It is intangible. We probably cannot measure it right now, but in the long run, we will be able to. We don’t need a hundred years to say we are sorry we did not do the things we were supposed to do. That is my answer.

The Chair: I would like to hear Ms. Formsma and Senator Mockler answer that and also speak about the joy of rediscovering a lost language — not only the joy but the importance of it.

Ms. Formsma: Absolutely. I agree with everything Dr. Chowdhury mentioned. I’ll add that there is such a sense of pride when you hear a child speak their language, and a sense of pride in the parents to hear their child speak their language. By providing the opportunity for children to understand and learn their language, you are also affecting your whole family because it encourages and promotes those family members to also want to know more.

We have an urban Aboriginal Head Start here in Ottawa called Makonsag, and they do language programming as part of that. So the kids come home and they have created things and learned things, and now naturally, when they meet their friends or are saying goodbye, they’re saying [Cree spoken]. That’s a natural part of what they are saying. They are wishing you good health and good life. Those pride aspects go to strength and confidence that people have in themselves.

Obviously, I’m outside of my home territory. I try to stay as connected as possible. I was speaking to someone from my home territory about how in everything that they do as a leader of a community, whether they are regional, national or wherever they are, they will always, always insert the language into their work. This is advocacy for the people, because as a natural language speaker, you get so much from people recognizing where you’re coming from. It goes to place, it goes to where you are from, it goes to all of those things that Dr. Chowdhury mentioned, but also the pride.

For a lot of Indigenous peoples, reclaiming language and being able to speak the language is sort of the way we have been able to kick back at systemic oppressions.

Certainly, when I got that Moose Cree dictionary, I flipped through every single page. I wished my brain could absorb and remember every single word so I could recognize it when I’m being spoken to, and I could hopefully bring more of those words into my everyday life. It’s a beautiful gift that those people have provided to my community. I wish that every community had a similar gift of their language in this format.

The Chair: Thank you for this.

Senator Kutcher: Thank you to all our witnesses and a huge thank you to Senator Jaffer for this. My question is to Senator Jaffer.

What would be your top two specific suggestions as to how the federal government can encourage the use of and viability of mother tongues?

Senator Jaffer: My top two suggestions for the federal government — and I mean this very genuinely — is to promote Indigenous languages in schools and provide resources for Indigenous languages to be taught to all our children. I think that would be such a big gift. Second, put Indigenous languages on the internet so that our children can learn. There is such a historical wealth of information that Indigenous people have. Those would be my two things: invest in the internet on Indigenous languages and encourage provinces to teach Indigenous languages in schools.

Dr. Chowdhury: If I may, I will add to Senator Jaffer’s comment that the federal government has the opportunity to promote another thing, and that is how we as Canadians can learn more about multilingualism and other cultures. I will give you an example about the Nobel Laureate Poet Rabindranath Tagore. I asked my colleague, an English teacher, and I disappointingly found out — he is my great friend — that he does know about Rabindranath Tagore. So if my children did not understand that history — one of the greatest poets for his time and even now. I think the federal government has an enormous opportunity to make this country even better by doing this. This is the point I wish to make. Thank you.

The Chair: Colleagues, I believe we’re almost ready to go to clause by clause. Senator Forest-Niesing and Senator R. Black, were your questions answered?

Senator R. Black: I’m fine, chair. Thank you.

The Chair: I think, Senator Jaffer, you will not disagree that we are going to clause by clause with your bill.

Let me say thank you from my heart to our witnesses. It has been interesting, relevant and insightful. You really gave a voice to why such a bill could have an impact and be a very useful tool to protect and grow mother languages. Thank you for making this part of your Friday afternoon. We really appreciate it.

With that, is it agreed, honourable senators, that the committee proceed to clause-by-clause consideration of Bill S-211, An Act to establish International Mother Language Day?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the title stand postponed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the preamble stand postponed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 1, which contains the short title, stand postponed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 2 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 3 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 1, which contains the short title, carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the preamble carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the title carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the bill carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Does the committee wish to add observations to this report? I see none.

Honourable senators, is it agreed that I report this bill to the Senate?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Thank you, senators.

Bravo, Senator Jaffer. I believe our colleagues know that Sunday marks the twentieth year of your amazing work in the Senate. It is so fitting that your bill is coming through today. Thank you so much. As you can see, we are very happy for you.

Again, thank you to our witnesses. Meegwetch.

[Translation]

Honourable colleagues, I am pleased to say that we can now continue our study of Bill C-237, An Act to establish a national framework for diabetes.

My thanks to our witnesses for joining us on this Friday afternoon.

[English]

I would like to introduce our witnesses. Thank you again for being here. Ms. Sonia Sidhu, Member of Parliament for Brampton South, sponsor of the bill, welcome. We also have with us, from Diabetes Canada, Ms. Kimberley Hanson, Executive Director, Federal Affairs.

Without further ado, I will invite Ms. Sidhu to make her opening remarks, followed by Ms. Hanson.

Sonia Sidhu, Member of Parliament for Brampton South, sponsor of the bill: Thank you, Madam Chair and senators. It is my pleasure to speak today on my private member’s bill, Bill C-237, An Act to establish a national framework for diabetes.

I would like to thank you all for taking this bill under consideration and Senator Mégie for sponsoring this bill in the Senate. Thank you to all senators for your attention to this important issue.

Since I introduced this bill last year, the response from the diabetes community has been overwhelming. Just this morning I received a letter from a man in Montreal about his brother who was diagnosed at the age of 5 and led a healthy life until he developed retinopathy at the age of 30. However, he did not let blindness slow him down. He went on to obtain an MBA through night classes, while working, and he has a successful career. Meanwhile, his brother who wrote to me went on to become a medical researcher. He wrote, “Hopefully your act will succeed, as this is an important effort.”

Honourable senators, Canadians living with diabetes were thrilled that this bill passed in the House unanimously, by all parties, at every stage. I hope I can count on your support as well.

This year we commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of insulin by Sir Frederick Banting and his partners at the University of Toronto.

Eleven million Canadians are living with diabetes or prediabetes. The number of diagnoses has doubled in the last 20 years, and every three minutes another Canadian is added to the list.

In my 18-year career as a health care professional, I would often see patients with cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and amputation, and diabetes was frequently an underlying condition. In my own community of Brampton, almost every sixth resident lives with diabetes or prediabetes. That is why I have chosen to be an advocate for this issue and have fought at the federal and local levels for November to be recognized as diabetes awareness month.

When you consider the expense to the public health care system and to individuals living with diabetes, it represents a massive financial burden. Every dollar spent fighting and preventing diabetes means greater savings down the line. Diabetes is one of the most common chronic illnesses in Canada, and the rate is only growing.

Some Canadians are at increased risk of diabetes, such as South Asian, Black and Indigenous populations. We also know that diabetes disproportionately affects Canadians with low income and education. Diabetes rates are three to four times higher among First Nations than among the general Canadian population. Furthermore, Indigenous individuals are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at a younger age than other individuals.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Canadians with chronic diseases, including diabetes. For all these reasons, we need a cohesive, national plan to respond to diabetes, one that coordinates funding for awareness, prevention, research and treatment and ensures equal access to treatment across Canada.

Awareness is especially important. Recently, I met with a young woman named Laura, who had been living with diabetes since she was 7 years old. One early sign of her illness was that she was always thirsty and drinking water, a reaction to high glucose. If her parents and teachers had been able to recognize this as a potential symptom, she may have been able to access treatment sooner for Type 1 diabetes. In its earliest stages, Type 2 diabetes can actually be reversed with the proper interventions, but people need awareness so they can seek care.

Education is also key. The technologies and treatment for diabetes are always evolving, and it is important that health care professionals are up to date on best practices.

Madam Chair, we can learn from Canada’s past diabetes plans and programs and make sure that the framework called for in Bill C-237 is data-driven, accountable and engaged with stakeholders such as Diabetes Canada, JDRF and others. A national framework for diabetes would provide a common direction for all stakeholders to address diabetes and, by extension, other chronic diseases with the same common risk factors. It would enhance coordinated efforts across federal, Indigenous, provincial and territorial jurisdictions and provide a mechanism for tracking and reporting on progress. The framework would allow for the identification of gaps in present approaches and strengthen actions to address health inequities in diabetes. The bill calls for promoting research, data collection and treatment. It would make a difference in the lives of millions of Canadians.

Back in April 2019, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health conducted a study and released a report on this very issue. The number one recommendation in the report was that the Government of Canada, in partnership with the provinces and territories and in collaboration with the stakeholders, plan and implement an approach to the prevention and management of diabetes in Canada through a national diabetes strategy.

This past November, I went to the Banting House in London, Ontario, where the Flame of Hope, a perpetually burning torch that serves to honour all who have been affected by diabetes, is located. It is a reminder that we must still work for a real cure, and it will only be extinguished when one is discovered. The best thing we can do as a country to honour all these individuals is to recommit to helping everyone battling this chronic disease, whether they are patients, doctors, researchers or loved ones.

Madam Chair, senators, Canadians have always been leaders in the fight against diabetes. I want to again thank you all for the support and attention you have shown for this bill, which I hope will eventually lead to the day when we can extinguish that torch at the Banting House, once this bill passes from both chambers. Thank you.

Kimberley Hanson, Executive Director, Federal Affairs, Diabetes Canada: Thank you very much Madam Chair. It’s lovely to see you again.

Good afternoon senators. I’m grateful to be living and working on the traditional lands of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinabewaki and Algonquin peoples. I would like to begin today by thanking you for committing to the review of this important bill so quickly and for all that you do to protect the health of Canadians. Never have I been prouder to be a Canadian than during the past year. Witnessing our governments working together in challenging and dynamic circumstances to help Canadians weather the COVID-19 pandemic has really been inspiring.

I’d also like to thank you for the opportunity to discuss the burden of diabetes on Canadians and how Diabetes Canada strongly believes that Bill C-237 is important to implementing the recommendations of our Diabetes 360° nation-wide strategy, thereby reducing the toll of diabetes on our country.

Diabetes is a large and growing burden in Canada. As MP Sidhu mentioned, since 2000 the number of Canadians with diabetes has doubled — 11.5 million Canadians now live with prediabetes or diabetes, and both the prevalence and direct costs of treating the disease in Canada are rising at rate of approximately 40% per decade. They show no signs of slowing down without federal commitment to act. Diabetes or pre-diabetes affects one in three Canadians and yet 30% of those who have it — a whopping 7 million — don’t even know it.

The International Diabetes Federation lists Canada among the worst countries in the OECD, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, for diabetes prevalence and the cost of treating it. Beyond the immeasurable human costs of diabetes, if prevalence continues to grow by 40% in the next decade, health-care costs associated with treating people with diabetes and its complications in Canada will top $39 billion per year by 2028.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of Canadians with diabetes and the urgent need to address the diabetes epidemic. Many people with diabetes are at high risk for a serious case of COVID-19. As we are learning more about this virus, research is showing that while having diabetes doesn’t make someone more likely to catch COVID-19, it makes the consequences more serious if they do. People with diabetes are significantly more likely to require hospitalization and intensive care as those without and are about three times more likely to die of COVID-19.

During COVID-19, many people are delaying accessing health care and that appears to be increasing the risk of diabetes complications, such as blindness and lower-limb amputation. As Dr. Karen Cross, a surgeon and scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital, said at a recent meeting of the House of Commons All-Party Diabetes Caucus that if diabetes before COVID was the earthquake, COVID-19 is the tsunami. We must act now to minimize the impact of the tsunami on diabetes and diabetes complications that we are facing.

As someone who has lived with diabetes and several of its complications for 25 years and who has lost many loved ones to its consequences, it was powerful to see our government acknowledge that diabetes is a serious problem in Canada and one we must take bold and urgent action to address.

To reduce the burden of diabetes in Canada, we need a coordinated and comprehensive strategy. This is not only the belief of Diabetes Canada, but also of the Health and Finance Committees of Parliament, based on the recommendations of the World Health Organization. We know that countries with a national framework or strategy to address diabetes do better. Diabetes is less prevalent in those countries, and those with diabetes suffer less from its complications. In the eight years since Canada last had a national diabetes strategy in place, nearly 2 million Canadians have received a diagnosis of diabetes.

Diabetes 360° is the strategy that Canada needs. Developed by 120 stakeholders over more than a year of rigorous effort, Diabetes 360° contains evidence-based recommendations aimed at improving patient health outcomes. It will enhance the prevention, screening and management of diabetes to achieve better care for Canadians. Based on the successful 90-90-90 target adopted by the United Nations program on HIV/AIDS and informed by the successes of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, Diabetes 360° will reduce unnecessary health care spending by billions of dollars, improve the lives of millions of Canadians and protect Canada’s productivity and competitiveness.

Diabetes 360° has significant support from all major stakeholder groups. Provincially, three provinces — British Columbia, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island — have publicly committed to diabetes strategies based on Diabetes 360°, and other provinces, including Ontario, are in advanced discussions about doing so.

An Ipsos poll conducted in October 2019 showed that 87% of Canadians feel that the federal government needs to do more with the provinces and territories to address diabetes, and tens of thousands of Canadians sent letters to their members of Parliament in support of this important initiative.

Furthermore, Diabetes 360° can help our economy save billions of dollars in health care costs and costs to employers in a very short time — money our economy will need to recover from the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bill C-237 is strongly aligned with Diabetes Canada’s Diabetes 360° strategic framework. Bill C-237 will improve the prevention and treatment of diabetes, promote essential diabetes research, improve data collection and address health inequalities. It requires that the Minister of Health table a national diabetes framework in the House of Commons within one year.

Diabetes Canada encourages that when Bill C-237 becomes law, the minister refer closely to the Diabetes 360° strategy in preparing Canada’s new national diabetes framework. When Bill C-237 becomes law, Diabetes Canada will be pleased to collaborate with the government to define the national diabetes framework and to implement governance and evaluation mechanisms and supports for intergovernmental collaboration to ensure that it quickly benefits the maximum number of Canadians possible.

That is why Diabetes Canada strongly supports Bill C-237 and congratulates MP Sonia Sidhu for her leadership in tabling it and Senator Mégie for sponsoring it. We urge the Senate to pass this legislation quickly so we can begin as soon as possible, which is what Canadians want. An Ipsos poll conducted in November 2020 showed that 86% of total respondents and 91% of BIPOC respondents urged the federal government to urgently embrace a national diabetes strategy.

Diabetes Canada was extremely pleased to see that Budget 2021 includes a commitment of $35 million over five years for diabetes research and the development of a national diabetes framework. Diabetes Canada looks forward to collaborating with Health Canada and other stakeholders on this critical work.

We still consider the passage into law of Bill C-237 to be extremely important, as it will ensure that Canada will never again find itself in the vulnerable position of being without a national diabetes framework, and it will offer additional momentum to build upon the budget commitment.

This year —

The Chair: Ms. Hanson, I’m going to have to ask you to wrap up very quickly. I want to make sure we have time for questions.

Ms. Hanson: Apologies, senator. I was a few sentences away from being done.

I was just going to say that it’s the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin, and this is a key way to commemorate that. Thank you, senators.

The Chair: Thank you, everybody. As I just said, we are short on time. I know that we have questions, and we want to go through them. I do have one question myself to begin with before we go to a deputy chair.

MP Sidhu, I have noticed there was an amendment in the other place for this bill at clause 2. I want to know what it does and, as sponsor, how you feel about it.

Ms. Sidhu: Thank you to the honourable senator for the question.

This amendment was included because of the past decision by the CRA that led to people with diabetes being unable to access the credit which had been available to them previously. I supported the amendment to this bill relating to the Disability Tax Credit. Like many parliamentarians, I was happy to see the budget commitment to expand access to the Disability Tax Credit to ensure that the changes enable applicants to have a fair and proper assessment to their eligibility for their Disability Tax Credit. Using terms that make it more clinically relevant would make it better.

The Chair: Thank you. We’ll go to questions from the senators, beginning with a deputy chair, Senator Bovey.

Senator Bovey: In this centenary, I would like to thank you, Ms. Sidhu, for all the work you have done on this important piece of legislation. Ms. Hanson, I want to thank you for all the work you’ve done as well and the time you’ve given me.

As you know, this is a topic that is very dear to my heart. When this framework is in place, a year after proclamation, how long do you think it will take to ensure that funding, access, awareness, technologies and treatment across our country will be equal?

Ms. Sidhu: Thank you to the honourable senator for this question. Senator Bovey, thank you for your support. Thank you for sharing the story with me. I know this issue is very near and dear to many Canadians.

I would like to see the government create a diabetes strategy as quickly as possible. I would welcome it before the one-year deadline. However, I heard from experts and stakeholders that it will take some time to properly conduct the consultation. I know that many stakeholders are eager for this strategy and have their input ready to go.

I do believe that plans such as Diabetes 360° should be part of the national framework. There are experts across the country that will want to contribute, and the government needs to consider all the feedback. We want them to do it right, and I would prefer that they put the proper time into this so they can take all perspectives, including multicultural perspectives. We also need Indigenous populations’ voices included in regard to how we can serve them better.

So with all the stakeholders, it will take time to do this the right way.

Ms. Hanson: If I could add to that, senator, I would support everything that MP Sidhu said.

Also, there are things we can roll out and implement with a coordinated approach that can begin to make a difference in the lives of Canadians with diabetes right away. There are proven approaches to the prevention of Type 2 diabetes, to preventing diabetes complications, such as lower-limb amputation, that we can roll out across the country much more quickly with a framework and a forum for intergovernmental collaboration on this issue.

While we have to take the time to do it right, I am optimistic that we’ve laid a foundation to enable us to move quickly, and we know many things that will make differences rapidly.

Senator Bovey: Thank you.

Senator Frum: My question for the witnesses is this: Are you aware of other countries that have implemented frameworks or national strategies for diabetes, and can you tell us what impacts, if any, these have had on the burden of the disease? Thank you.

Ms. Sidhu: Thank you, honourable senator.

According to the WHO, the majority of countries have national diabetes policies, guidelines or standards for diabetes management.

The WHO recommends that every country have a diabetes policy. According to a 2016 report from the organization, 71 countries have a stand-alone diabetes policy, sometimes in addition to other broader policies or noncommunicable diseases. The research shows that countries with a national framework address diabetes better.

Canada is among the [Technical difficulties] for diabetes rate is OECD, which is low. That is why Canada needs to have one.

Ms. Hanson: Senator Frum, we know from examples such as the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland and New Zealand, that countries that have coordinated approaches or national frameworks do much better. Their citizens suffer less from extreme complications and have lower overall rates of diabetes. At the same time, it costs less for those countries to treat the disease.

So there are many benefits to accrue. There are many international examples that Diabetes 360° was developed in reference to.

Senator R. Black: I see three of my colleagues who are doctors have questions. I’ll cede my time. Thank you.

The Chair: It’s much appreciated, Senator Black. We will keep you, if you want, for second round.

Senator Moodie: Thank you to the witnesses today. You have all spoken about the fact that South Asian, Black and Chinese Canadians are more likely to develop diabetes. How does the framework address systemic racism and the underlying determinants that put certain communities at higher risk? Do you expect that the framework will address the needs of specific high-risk communities and how?

Ms. Hanson: I will start, Ms. Sidhu, and then I would encourage you to add. Your question is incredibly important, senator.

We know that social determinants of health and health inequities are key causes of the diabetes epidemic in Canada, as well as major factors in exacerbating complications for many communities that are either racialized or vulnerable for economic or social reasons.

Some of the first recommendations of Diabetes 360° are that we have to address health inequities. We have to address things like food security and income security, and we have to do that in partnership with many other organizations and sectors. That’s a large problem. Unless and until we tackle some of those fundamental underlying inequities, we will struggle to really deal with the diabetes epidemic.

I think that Diabetes 360°, our national diabetes framework, can support meeting the needs of those communities very well by, first of all, recognizing that there are differing needs among different communities and by engaging directly with those communities so that they can co-create solutions that meet their needs. This is the way we would intend to implement the Diabetes 360° framework, a common framework meant to be implemented locally, and by continuing to have that ongoing stakeholder consultation and co-development.

Ms. Sidhu: I just want to add. As Ms. Hanson said, for the Indigenous population and food insecurity, we need to work on that. South Asians, as I said in my opening remarks, one in six Bramptonians — I’m from Brampton — is affected with diabetes. Many socio-economic factors are there. We need to work collaboratively on those. That is what my bill addresses. We need to work with the stakeholders. Different communities have different barriers, so we need to break those barriers and address those issues. Thank you.

Senator Simons: I am from Edmonton, home of the Edmonton Protocol, and so I’m very keenly interested to know what this diabetes strategy would mean for cutting-edge research in diabetes treatment. I mean, you’ve talked primarily about what it means for patients and families and communities, but what would it mean for research and development?

Ms. Hanson: I love that question. My father is also from Edmonton, so it’s a place near to my heart.

Diabetes 360° would mean great support for research of all kinds, into all aspects of diabetes, including important research into treatments or approaches that can amount to cures for diabetes.

It can do that in a couple of ways. One is by helping us to really zero in on the key problems concerning diabetes care or treatment or understanding. We don’t have a common set of data around diabetes burden in Canada. We don’t have a common understanding of where we are, and that inhibits our ability to target research at the key areas that could be the most helpful. That’s one of the things that researchers who are stakeholders in the development of the framework told us they would benefit from.

I know that the focus on a national framework will also help to ensure that we remember when we consider various organizations — and Diabetes Canada is pleased to be one of them — who fund medical research, that diabetes research is very much still needed. Insulin was a wonderful discovery. It is by no means a cure, and we still need a lot more research into this disease.

Ms. Sidhu: I just want to add, I met Dr. Shapiro from the University of Alberta, and I’m so impressed. If we find a cure for diabetes, we will again be leaders. We gave insulin to the world. I am always saying, why can we not lead the way? Dr. Shapiro and his team are working very hard to find a cure. As Ms. Hanson said, my bill is addressing awareness, treatment and research funding. If we don’t fund the research, we cannot find a cure — and data. This is all included in the bill. Scientists from B.C., Toronto — Dr. Shapiro from the University of Alberta also has big research in that field. So I really want to say thank you to all the researchers as well.

[Translation]

The Chair: We now have a question from Senator Mégie, then from Senator Forest-Niesing and Senator Kutcher. Then, if the members of the committee agree, we will proceed to clause-by-clause consideration of the bill.

Senator Mégie: Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you for joining us, Ms. Sidhu and Ms. Hanson. After the national framework for diabetes is established, do you know whether there is another step or other steps — either legislative or regulatory — that the federal government has to go through to move the diabetes issue forward?

[English]

Ms. Sidhu: Thank you, Senator Mégie. First of all, I cannot thank you enough for sponsoring my bill. Eleven million Canadians are waiting eagerly for this bill to pass and then they can get help.

As Ms. Hanson said, as soon as this bill passes, we can start working with the stakeholders. As I said in my bill, the Minister of Health must, in consultation with the representatives of the provincial government —because health care delivery comes under provincial jurisdiction— we need to work with the provincial governments and all the stakeholders to develop a national framework. As soon as possible I would like to.

I was very happy to see the government has recognized the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin with the budget commitment of $35 million over five years to develop a national diabetes framework. When this bill passes, then we will start working towards taking concrete steps.

[Translation]

Senator Mégie: I have a quick question for Ms. Hanson. If this bill is passed, how do you — and, by you, I mean Diabetes Canada and the other organizations like yours — see your collaboration with the federal government to adopt your Diabetes 360o strategy?

Ms. Hanson: We hope to have a roundtable with each stakeholder present. I am confident that it will happen. Up until now, the government has taken a very consultative approach with us and with the other stakeholders, to begin taking action on the commitment in Budget 2021. I am confident that the network that we in Diabetes Canada have established can be used to develop Diabetes 360o. We can use that network to help and accelerate the process. We would like to be at that table to provide our support and our expertise. It would be our pleasure.

Senator Mégie: Thank you.

Senator Forest-Niesing: My thanks to our guests for joining us. Congratulations on this initiative. I am not going to ask a question but I will share an interesting tidbit: Dr. Charles Best’s son made a home in Sudbury. His name was Henry Best. I went to school with his young daughter, Mairi Best, and we have stayed friends. When this bill is carried — I am going to support it and I’m sure that a number of my colleagues will support it as well — I will be delighted to give her the good news.

Ms. Hanson: Dr. Best founded our committee, Diabetes Canada. We have a connection.

[English]

Senator Kutcher: I will definitely be supporting this bill. 2021 was actually a very good year for diabetes research around the world. For example, in Germany, the insulin-inhibiting receptor was discovered, which gives a drug target that could lead to remission. British Columbia Children’s Hospital developed a technology to grow beta cells, which could lead to transplantation. In Texas, gene transfer through viral vector technology was perfected, which actually can restore beta cell function, and that could lead to a cure.

Now, the bill talks about promoting research, but we recently heard from a witness on another topic that Canada’s basic science research has been grossly underfunded and continues to get worse — more grossly underfunded.

All those discoveries I talked about had one thing in common. They’re all basic science research. How can you as a diabetes community start to push our government to fund the kind of basic research that is needed to lead to remission, to lead to transplant technology and to lead to the cure?

Ms. Sidhu: Thank you, honourable senator. It’s a great question. As I said, without funding, it is hard to do research. Even with the study coming in from the House committee, I am always pushing for more research. In the budget, there is a commitment to doing more.

I got a chance to make an announcement on behalf of the Minister of Health in the last term and even some of the ones we made this term.

Research is important, and that’s excellent feedback. I hope it is something that the minister will take into consideration when we are developing the strategy. We are meeting with stakeholders, and it is important. Whenever I represent Canada on national and international stages, I’m always proud because we were the leaders. We gave insulin to the world. Now, we need to lead the way to find a cure.

Thank you for sharing the story of Dr. Best’s granddaughter. I really want to meet her too. I hope we’ll make her proud today.

The Chair: Well, dear colleagues, I see no other questions. Senator Black, I know you passed on your turn at the beginning, but did you get the answers you wanted?

Senator R. Black: I did get the answers. Thank you.

The Chair: Then, I will thank the witnesses. Thank you so much for being here today and for your precise, complete and relevant answers. It’s been efficient and helpful for us to continue our work on this bill.

[Translation]

Thank you very much for being here. If my colleagues agree, I would like the committee to proceed to clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-237, An Act to establish a national framework for diabetes.

[English]

Is it agreed that we will proceed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the title stand postponed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the preamble stand postponed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 1, which contains the short title, stand postponed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 2 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 3 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 4 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 1, which contains the short title, carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the preamble carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the title carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the bill carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Does the committee wish to consider some observations to the report?

Hon. Senators: No.

The Chair: Is it agreed, honourable senators, that I report this bill to the Senate?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Thank you, senators.

Congratulations Ms. Sidhu and Ms. Hanson. I’m sure it’s good for you and for people with diabetes that we were able to advance this bill.

[Translation]

We have had a wonderful day. Thank you. We worked very hard to get these two extra hours this Friday. Thank you for taking the time to be here with us. We all appreciate it very much. Thank you also to the entire team for your participation and your excellent work in organizing this meeting today.

[English]

We were able to deal with these important bills. On that, unless I see any other comments or questions, this meeting is adjourned.

(The committee adjourned.)