Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Issue 19 - Evidence - June 13, 2012

OTTAWA, Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, to which were referred Bill C-288, An Act respecting the National Flag of Canada; and Bill C-278, An Act respecting a day to increase public awareness about epilepsy, met this day at 4:19 p.m. to give consideration to the bills.

Senator Kelvin Kenneth Ogilvie (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: I welcome everyone to this meeting of Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.

Before I have senators introduce themselves, I want to briefly go over the procedures we are following today. We have two private members' bills to look at that have passed through the House of Commons and have come over to us to look at. In both case, the sponsors have been involved in the ongoing voting situation in the House of Commons, and that has disrupted their plans.

Mr. Carmichael, the sponsor of Bill C-288, the first one that we will look at, was here but had to go back for that vote. We understand that he will return in about 10 minutes to be available to us.

I would like your agreement, honourable senators, to proceed to Bill C-288. We have with us Joël Girouard, with the Department of Canadian Heritage. He is Acting Director, State Ceremonial and Protocol. He will not make a big statement but has opening remarks, and we can ask him questions with regard to protocol. We can also have some discussion among ourselves on the bill. Mr. Carmichael should arrive and we should be in a position to have him make a statement and to put questions directly to him.

The same would be the case, of course, with Mr. Regan and his bill, which is the subsequent one.

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to proceed in that manner? Is that a reasonable way to proceed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

I am Kelvin Ogilvie, a senator from Nova Scotia. I am chair of the committee. I will ask my colleagues, starting on my left, to introduce themselves.

Senator Eggleton: Art Eggleton, senator from Toronto.

Senator Merchant: Pana Merchant, Saskatchewan.

Senator Callbeck: Catherine Callbeck, Prince Edward Island.

Senator Dyck: Lillian Dyck, Saskatchewan.


Senator Verner: Josée Verner from Quebec.


Senator Wallace: John Wallace, New Brunswick.

Senator Seth: Asha Seth from Toronto, Ontario.

Senator Seidman: Judith Seidman from Montreal, Quebec.

The Chair: Mr. Girouard, you have the unique privilege of being our only witness at this time. We welcome you here to this proceeding. You heard how I intend to proceed. It would be wise to have you make your opening statement and then I will open the floor to my colleagues to see how they would like to proceed with regard to discussion among themselves and/or any direct questions to you. Would you like to make a comment or two?


Joël Girouard, Acting Director, State Ceremonial and Protocol, Canadian Heritage: Mr. Chair, allow me to begin by thanking the committee for its invitation.

Pursuant to the Department of Canadian Heritage Act, the Department of Canadian Heritage is responsible for Canadian symbols, including our national flag.


Consequently, the department administers the rules for flying the flag, as well as the rules for half-masting the national flag of Canada. The rules apply to flags flown at federal institutions but also serve as guidelines for all Canadians wishing to display the flag.


Thank you for all the time you have allowed me. I would be pleased to answer your questions.

The Chair: Thank you.


Nothing has changed since you were last here.

Senator Eggleton, you have the floor.

Senator Eggleton: I will not ask you what is behind this and why you want to do it because it is the MP that will eventually have to answer that.

If this comes into effect, do you enforce it? Who enforces it?

Mr. Girouard: I am not sure who would enforce it, but it would not be within our mandate to provide enforcement for bills.

Senator Eggleton: We will find out when Mr. Carmichael gets here, but I think this has something to do with displaying flags in apartment windows or on balconies. Is there anything in the protocol that deals with that kind of situation?

Mr. Girouard: Generally, flag protocol is about treating the flag with respect and ensuring that it has the position of honour. Specific situations may arise where the flag would be treated or displayed in a manner that is not quite respectful and those we can provide advice on, but as a general rule, no, there is nothing specific about apartments or other types of dwellings.

Senator Eggleton: Was your department consulted when this bill was drafted? Did it have any comments about the bill?

Mr. Girouard: Our department would only provide advice to the minister.

Senator Eggleton: It is a private member's bill.

Mr. Girouard: That is correct.

No, we were not consulted.

The Chair: If I can follow up on the senator's question, with regard to enforcement, this is not a situation of major law enforcement here. The bill states that they are to be encouraged and so on.

Mr. Girouard: That is correct.

The Chair: Is there anything in that language that is offensive to the flag in any way?

Mr. Girouard: No. In terms of flag protocol, it is more about the physical treatment of the flag.

Senator Dyck: I am not sure if I am asking the right person this question. Why do we need an act to encourage people to fly the flag?

Mr. Girouard: I think that would probably be better answered by the sponsor.

The Chair: He will be here shortly. We just had that confirmed.


Senator Verner: Obviously, Mr. Chair, if I may, I will have more questions about the bill once the member arrives.

The Chair: We will begin that discussion as soon as he arrives.

Senator Verner: From a more technical perspective, reference has been made to flag protocol. My understanding is that there is a flag protocol guide at Canadian Heritage. That guide sets out practices that are mandatory for the federal government but optional for Canadians.

Do you not think that there will be some confusion? Are you planning an awareness campaign to inform Canadians about flag protocol?

Mr. Girouard: Currently, all that information is on the department's website. We also have protocol officers who take calls from the public daily. We are not currently planning another campaign. We disseminate the information, which is also available in a publication we can send to people. Generally speaking, I think most Canadians use our website as a guide.

Senator Verner: I do not think Quebecers know that there is actually a protocol to follow for displaying the flag, and I was wondering whether there will be some sort of an awareness campaign. I will save the rest of my questions for when the member returns.


Senator Merchant: I wonder why we need this law. A law is a serious thing. Unless there is some way of enforcing it, it is meaningless. Does this bill apply to flags flown on federal and provincial buildings? How does this work? I am not sure what this law is all about. I imagine that those people know the protocol.

The Chair: The question is much better put to the bill's sponsor.

Mr. Carmichael, we understand this is a very interesting if not hectic day for those in the House of Commons. With colleagues' permission, we will recommence the speakers' list after we hear from Mr. Carmichael.

I invite Mr. Carmichael to make a presentation.

John Carmichael, M.P., sponsor of the bill: Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable senators. I appreciate your invitation today for the opportunity to present this bill.

It is an honour to appear before your committee and present my private member's bill, Bill C-288, An Act respecting the National Flag of Canada. As some of you may know, I was inspired to present this bill at the notice of my constituents. They reported a series of stories of restrictive housing regulations and strata boards that have prohibited them from flying our national flag. Many of you have heard me recount stories of Canadians, including Brian and Linda-Lee Cassidy and Mark Murray — all upstanding citizens, who have been penalized with harsh strata regulations barring them from flying the Canadian flag.

Bill C-288 serves to enshrine all citizens' right to fly our flag — a right that many have assumed was theirs but until this legislation is finalized, has been amiss from our constitution.

Today I will speak to the core of what our flag represents to me as a Canadian and to many of the constituents who have written to my office. Overarching have been common themes and an understanding of the immense significance of our flag. As I have said before, the flag's beauty and simplicity is very much what Canadians pride themselves in. It is understated yet bold and in its composite of red and white, represents the steadfast ideals on which Canada was formed.

Freedom to some individuals around the world is a call to action and to arms. It serves as a cry and an ideal for which they strive, but for which they continue to shed blood. This is known as an elusive ideal that they have not achieved. Our flag is a powerful reminder for all of us in this room and for all individuals from coast to coast to coast that freedom is a luxury that we exercise, from freedom to worship our own God to the freedom to speak and voice thoughts and opinions on any number of mediums ranging from the Internet to the airwaves to print.

As parliamentarians, we witness freedom of speech and an array of views presented by constituents and colleagues. Our flag, which crowns our House of Commons, is a powerful reminder of Canadians' right to exercise that freedom. The Canadian flag also serves to represent our democracy. Even the very history of how the flag was formed, a national campaign wherein proposals from citizens from across Canada were considered, embodies a core idea for which Canada stands, that of considering the views of many and doing our best to represent them.

On February 15, 1965, when our flag was first raised, the Honourable Maurice Bourget stated:

The flag is the symbol of the nation's unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion.

These words are a testament to Canada's incredible multiculturalism in action, not simply in name. Canada is an ongoing leader in its ability to nurture a cultural mosaic so diverse and vibrant.

In my riding of Don Valley West, I am proud to have a multitude of ethnicities and cultures ranging from third generation Jewish and Irish families to first generation families of India, Pakistan, south Korea and China, to name a few. It is an incredibly diverse riding and I am consistently reminded at citizenship ceremonies of the impact of our Canadian flag. To individuals who have come from places where freedom and democracy are absent, the Canadian flag represents all that they overcame to come here, often by way of tales that would even the stretch the minds of Hollywood directors. I have seen the immense pride in the faces of first generation immigrants at these ceremonies while individuals affirm their newly minted Canadian status and proudly wave their Canadian flags. I am reminded again of all that our flag represents.

Of the many stories I have heard from across Canada of individuals who have been barred from flying the flag or penalized, I have been most dismayed to hear that our veterans have been reprimanded and some have been fined for flying the flag. Of all citizens, our veterans know and understand all that our flag represents. To bar them from flying our flag seems unjust at least.

I was moved by one piece of correspondence in particular from an individual named Pierre Tassé. His email said: ``I am writing this email to show my support for the National Flag of Canada Act. As the son of a decorated World War II bomber pilot and the father of a serving member of our armed forces who was wounded while serving as a UN peacekeeper, I most strongly feel that flying the Canadian flag shows loyalty to the country.'' This letter evidences the support from not only our veterans but also the families and legacies, both past and present, of those who have served in our military.

Our Canadian flag and its embodiment of our core Canadian ideals is a universal symbol. I saw this during my work when I served for 6 years on the Canadian Olympic Committee and 14 years as the leader of Rowing Canada. It was truly incredible to see athletes dedicate their lives to perfecting the skills of their sport knowing that one hundredth of a second could be the difference between them and a podium finish. Having attended numerous world championships and Summer Olympic Games, I thought it was always a beautiful sight to see our athletes stand tall on these podiums as our Maple Leaf was raised. I do not know about you, but I have been watching the events leading up to the London games with tremendous interest. I look forward to seeing our flag raised for the world and the spectators to be reminded of these ideals for which our veterans fought and on which our country was formed.

My offices received countless emails and letters of support for this bill from coast to coast to coast. As Jeff Bayer, a resident from Don Valley West, put it, ``This kind of bill that protects the symbols of Canada and what we have in Canada are very important to me.'' His email was concise and clear and echoes my sentiments about the significance of the flag and Bill C-288.

I note that the bill has taken on different iterations in its lifetime. As it stands before us today, it serves as a facilitative piece of proposed legislation to encourage and enable citizens to demonstrate their pride for this incredible country of ours by flying the flag.

I would like to give special thanks to Senator Wallin, the bill's co-sponsor in the Senate. Senator Jaffer and Senator Mahovlich have also been kind in their support of this bill.

While not all parties have supported this bill, I would like to thank those members from across the floor who left blind partisanship at the door and together have seen incredible symbolism in our flag. There is a common, undeniable understanding of the deep meaning and significance that the Canadian flag has for all of us.

I thank you for taking time to listen to my brief review of this bill and this story. I am happy to answer your questions, and I hope that you will pass my private member's bill.

Senator Eggleton: Mr. Carmichael, I hope you are as energetic 24 hours from now as you are at the moment.

Mr. Carmichael: You and me both, senator.

Senator Eggleton: I share your respect and love for our flag. I happened to be on the Hill on February 15, 1965, as a young guy, when the momentous flag-raising occurred. I want to ask you, though, how this will really work? The operative word here is ``encourage,'' so it does not force anyone to do anything. There are a lot of condominiums in Toronto and in your constituency — I live in one in Toronto as well — and all of them have laws and regulations. You cannot put things on the door or on the outside of a particular unit. That would include balconies or windows, I guess. How is it possible for you to get that changed?

If I could back up a moment, I take it that all of the concerns that were raised by constituents are people living in multi-residential buildings. They are in apartments or condominiums.

Mr. Carmichael: Predominantly, but some are in ratepayers association groups residents or strata housing where you have a common governance model that can dictate the appearance of buildings.

Senator Eggleton: I see. These condominium corporations, building owners or whatever cannot be forced. They can be encouraged, though. How do you see this bill being effective in accomplishing what you want it to?

Mr. Carmichael: Thank you, senator. That question is fundamental to the bill itself.

Clearly, when we began this, a number of enforcement elements in the bill were just untenable. I do not think it is possible, literally, to legislate one's pride for the country. Through discussion, and tremendous support from the Liberal Party particularly, we wanted to find a way that we could put this on the books as a piece of legislation using the word ``encourage'' so we are not legislating; we are setting a different standard than the one that was there before, which is nothing at all. Although this bill has an aspirational tone to it as encouragement to Canadians, it is one that says every Canadian truly does have the right to fly the flag. With the establishment of this legislation, that becomes the law of the land. While it is only an encouragement, previously there was nothing at all to set a standard. To that end, that was the goal of finalizing the bill as we did.

The issue with regard to rental buildings and condominium buildings is where the biggest push back has been in terms of the discussion and consultation we have had with constituents in my riding, but I have heard from lots across the country. The issue is to encourage them to have a dialogue with their residents. Right now, by law, you can fly a flag on Canada Day and on February 15, which is Flag Day. Those are the only two days where it is truly legislated.

I heard from constituents across the country and from Canadians who had family members overseas representing our forces and country under the flag, whether they were in Afghanistan or on a peacekeeping mission somewhere else in the world. They wanted to put the flag up as a remembrance for a family member while that person was overseas. To me, that made a lot of sense. However, I had stories of people being put in bad standing by condominium boards. People on boards of directors or ratepayers' associations were being thrown off those boards, which seemed un- Canadian and unjust. It was not right.

By doing this, at least in creating a piece of legislation where we encourage all Canadians to have that right, there will be a dialogue. Like anything, you hope that with a dialogue you will arrive at common sense.

Senator Eggleton: Thank you.

The Chair: I want to remind colleagues that we started a little late, so can you focus your questions? We have another bill to do this afternoon as well.

Mr. Carmichael: Put the hammer down, senator, if I talk too long.

The Chair: You gave a good summary, but perhaps the others could be quicker.

Senator Dyck: My question is the same: Why do we need an act to encourage this? In your statement you talked about people being barred from flying the Canadian flag and you said that every Canadian has the right to fly the Canadian flag.

Mr. Carmichael: Should have.

Senator Dyck: Should have. However, when you read through the bill there is nothing in there which actually says that. In the preamble it does not actually say it; it talks a bit more in the abstract as to what the flag means as opposed to that every Canadian should have the right to display their flag. Then you are actually targeting the issue that is key to it.

Mr. Carmichael: I do not disagree with you, but as we ran through the process of establishing this bill, the wordsmithing became important to those that were prepared to work through establishing the bill. To me, it was more important to put the bill on the books to establish the right for Canadians and encourage the dialogue. We came to agreement with our colleagues on the other side, and that is how we got there. I would not argue with you on that.

Senator Dyck: I am not sure that you captured that idea within the bill itself, though. That will be my final comment.

Mr. Carmichael: Thank you.


Senator Verner: I am Senator Verner from Quebec, and I will speak to you in French. I would like to begin by saying that removing the criminal penalties included in the bill's original version was a very good move to avoid many political problems in Quebec.

I would first like to talk about areas of jurisdiction. Residential buildings and condominiums come under provincial jurisdiction — in Quebec's specific case, they come under civil law. The federal Parliament certainly has the jurisdiction to legislate in matters involving the Canadian flag. I agree with you that Canadians who wish to display the maple leaf flag can obviously do so.

How can your bill ensure to avoid — if we use Quebec as an example — this turning into a flag war before the courts, given the fact that, once again, residential buildings and condominiums come under provincial jurisdiction?

More clearly put, a resident may claim that this legislation does not apply to them. A condominium association could say that this comes under the civil code and not under federal jurisdiction.


Mr. Carmichael: Thank you for your question. I apologize for my lack of French. I will answer in English.

That question was discussed at a number of caucus meetings — particularly at the Quebec caucus in our case, on the Conservative side — and was an area of concern.

A couple of things: First, this is not intended to be something to get into a war of flags; it is strictly Canada's national symbol. By softening the words to the encouragement and taking the penalties out, I really believe we took the edge off any potential contention that might exist between jurisdictions by stressing that it is an encouragement. Let us take the provincial jurisdiction of Quebec. Not every resident of Quebec will want to fly the Canadian flag, and that is their privilege. However, for those who do, there should be a way for them to enter into the dialogue and have an opportunity to at least find their place in representing that point of view.

Clearly when we softened the bill to what you see before you today, I felt it took the contention or the edge off that type of debate and gave it something that was a lot more realistic and that people could live with in whatever jurisdiction.

Senator Merchant: Are you able to provide us with the research that you have done in regard to how this sort of legislation may have been introduced in another country? I am thinking that about 20 or 25 years ago this kind of thing was introduced in the United States and there was a lot of controversy. There were legal battles and court cases over it. Have you thought about the constitutionality of this kind of legislation?

Mr. Carmichael: Thank you, senator. That is a good question. Let me stress first that I am purely Canadian. One of our discussions early in debate was that this was a bill that had its genesis elsewhere. It absolutely did not. This is a made-in-Canada solution. By representing itself as more aspirational in nature, it is purely Canadian.

I do not have the detail, though, to your question with regard to what legal precedents or issues jumped up in the United States when they did that, but if that was something that this committee wanted, I would be happy to do some work on that.

The genesis of this bill was literally from hundreds of Canadians writing to me. It began in July a year ago. It was one that took a number of months to consolidate and, quite frankly, is one that came to me more as a surprise than anything else, just by the interest from people who knew where my first love was and started writing to me within my riding; and then I went outside and did my homework elsewhere within the country and found great support for it.

The Chair: Mr. Carmichael, you pointed out earlier that this is an aspirational bill and not one with legal consequences, which distinguishes it from the situation that was referred to. It cannot enter into a constitutional or legal battle because there is not a law to be violated, in a sense. It is the aspirational side that you have emphasized. I hope the senator has, overall, some sense of where you are on this.

Senator Callbeck: Certainly, I agree with what you say about the significance of the flag.

When I read the summary of this legislation, the purpose of this enactment is to ensure that all Canadians are encouraged to display the national flag of Canada.

How will this legislation encourage Canadians to display the national flag of Canada?

Mr. Carmichael: First, the assumption by hundreds and hundreds of Canadians that I have talked to — in fact, even on phone-in radio shows — is that we have that right to fly the flag any time we want to. Clearly, for those that I have documented in some of my work and preparation for this bill, that is not the case. There is no protection, rule of law or any other support for a Canadian who wants to fly the flag outside of those two days a year that I mentioned earlier.

From my understanding, this creates a precedent where it is now on the books, part of our Constitution, part of our right as a Canadian to, in fact, have that privilege.

Senator Callbeck: You say that there is no protection for Canadians to fly the flag other than on July 1 or February 15. I am trying to figure out how this legislation gives them some protection.

Mr. Carmichael: In fact, there is no protection. It just gives them the right. If you are in a condominium building and that board rules against you, that board trumps your right. I am hoping that this will, at its outset, create a dialogue where people will be more reasonable. I am thinking of veterans who have paid a heavier price, who wanted that privilege but did not have the right to do it in the past.

Senator Callbeck: You talk about encouraging a dialogue. I think that is a great idea, but how do you see this unfolding?

Mr. Carmichael: I think anyone who is challenged with either wanting to fly their flag or being told they could not will now be able to refer to a piece of legislation that says they are encouraged to fly the flag and it is part of their right within the country to do so.

Granted, there are no penalties. I am not naive enough to expect that there is a hammer somewhere that will fall on someone who blocks someone else from flying it. That clearly is where we intended to finish with this bill.

Senator Seth: I agree with you that our flag is about national pride. We are proud and it should be treated well and respected. I am curious about something. What will be the consequences for those who violate this law, who do not follow it? Is there anything?

Mr. Carmichael: Do you mean in terms of destroying the flag?

The Chair: I think the question is specifically this: Is there any consequence to those who do not, in the end, agree to allow the flag to be flown under this? I think you have given the answer.

Mr. Carmichael: Clearly not.

Senator Seth: There is no punishment or anything else. Nothing has been said; you are suggesting that we should follow and respect our flag.

Mr. Carmichael: It is strictly an encouragement that people will come to an agreement on it, but there is no consequence.

Senator Seth: That is very good. Thank you.

Senator Wallace: Your bill provides that those who control multi-unit buildings would be encouraged to allow the display of the flag in accordance with flag protocol. I am trying to get a better sense of what that means. What additional rights would those living in these multi-unit buildings have? As you pointed out, Canadians today have the right to fly the flag twice a year. I assume that that would be expanded by broadening it to this reference to flag protocol.

There may be many details; I am not expecting you to give all of those. However, what does this reference to flag protocol open it up to? Are there certain other days? Are there hours of each day that the flag could be flown that otherwise it would not? What does that mean? What does it open it up to?

Mr. Carmichael: Thank you for the question. I have a colleague from Department of Canadian Heritage here who can address in particular the issues around the actual protocol.

With regard to the question of dictating the time of day you can fly the flag, no, nothing like that exists that I am aware of. It is more from the perspective of how a flag should be hung according to appropriate protocol.

Mr. Girouard, can you add to that?

Mr. Girouard: I can add that there is nothing to dictate the hours that a flag should be flown. It can be flown 24 hours a day. There are some exceptions while at sea, but that does not apply in this situation.

Senator Wallace: I always thought flags were not meant to be flown at night. Maybe that is not part of the protocol. That is not a particularly big issue.

In terms of the number of days, for example, would this encourage owners of these multi-unit buildings to allow the flag to be flown 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? Would the protocol say that that is acceptable?

Mr. Carmichael: I would say it would be acceptable if there was agreement with the building owners and the board of directors or however it is governed. To me, the protocol issue relates more to flying the flag in a way that is disrespectful to the country or to the flag, if it is upside down or however you might consider it to be inappropriate.

My perspective on agreement in a building is that obviously flags can be hung from balconies and all sorts of things that might look untoward. People might agree that this should be on the back wall of a balcony and agree to the number of days and find ways to get to a place where it is appropriate.

Senator Wallace: In your research, did any single family owners approach you? For example, there are restrictions, as you point out, for condominiums, and there can be for apartment buildings. Similarly, for single family properties, there are municipal zoning requirements. I am wondering if it happened to come up in your study that single family owners found that they may have been unduly restricted. As Senator Verner points out, that is of provincial jurisdiction, of course, but was it ever raised as an issue by any of your constituents?

Mr. Carmichael: I am looking for the name of a couple who did. They are in my presentation. The general theme is that they have flown flags at a number of their different homes for 40 years. They moved into an area governed by a ratepayer's association and agreed to a set of architectural dynamics that were to be in place for all homes. When they put a pole on their garage, it stretched up in an angular way and hung over their driveway. It was determined that that did not meet the appropriate architectural guidelines, and they were fined and kicked off of the ratepayer's board. That was a shame. For 40 years, they had had a flag at every home they had owned without consequence. That was the only case of that nature.

The Chair: I have one question to put to you for clarification, but you have given us a very good sense of what you are intending here. It is an aspirational bill. It is something out there that will at least give Canadians the opportunity to hopefully open up a constructive dialogue on this issue. You have been very pragmatic in terms of recognition that some real limitations should exist as to where flags should fly. Yet, the dialogue should be open to some reasonable accommodation if that is at all possible.

The specific question that arises is: You have mentioned a couple of times that Canadians have the right to fly the flag on Canada Day and on February 15, Flag Day. How significant a right is that? Is that an absolute right, or are there limitations on that as well?

Mr. Carmichael: I am not sure that I can give you the absolute limitations on that. I do not know that answer.

The Chair: It just arose because you mentioned those two days in particular, and I wondered if there was any exemption there. That is fine.

Colleagues, are you ready to move to clause-by-clause consideration of this bill?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: You are welcome to stay, Mr. Carmichael.

Senator Eggleton: It will take 30 seconds.

Mr. Carmichael: Both clauses?

The Chair: I do not want to prejudge how the committee will be handling these. You had better stay in case you have to clarify anything.

Colleagues, I will proceed through.

Shall the title stand postponed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the preamble stand postponed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 1 stand postponed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 2 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: It is carried.

Shall clause 1 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Carried.

Shall the preamble carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Carried.

The Chair: Shall the title carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the bill carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Carried.

Does the committee wish to consider appending observations to the report to the Senate?

Hon. Senators: No.

The Chair: Thank you very much. Is it agreed that I report this bill to the Senate?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Carmichael, and congratulations for this. We have one more step on this road, but we will be reporting the bill as you have just heard.

Mr. Girouard, thank you very much for being here today and for the clarity of your answers in the first part of the meetings.

In the second session of today's meeting we are dealing with Bill C-278, An Act respecting a day to increase public awareness about epilepsy. The sponsor of the bill is the Honourable Geoff Regan, P.C., Member of Parliament for Halifax West.

Mr. Regan, welcome to the committee.

Hon. Geoff Regan, P.C., M.P., sponsor of the bill: It is a pleasure for me to talk about this bill with my esteemed Senate colleagues. I cannot say enough how grateful I am for all the support that the members of the Senate and of our place have shown for Bill C-278, and I particularly want to thank Senator Mercer, who was kind enough to sponsor the bill in the Senate. I think it is a great example of how we parliamentarians from all parties can come together, park our partisan interests from time to time and push for a bill that has an impact on a policeman in Ottawa, a dad in Edmonton or a little girl in Prospect, Nova Scotia. It is fair to say that we all know or have come into contact with someone who suffers from epilepsy.

In a recent national survey of Canadians living with epilepsy, participants reported that stigma, discrimination and a lack of awareness about epilepsy presented the second biggest challenge for them following restricted independence.

One survey respondent said: ``Until my epilepsy was controlled, I was afraid to go out anywhere because I was afraid of having a seizure. When that happens, people treat you like you are a freak.''

In the survey report, the Epilepsy Alliance of Canada states that despite its wide reach, there is currently a lack of awareness and knowledge about epilepsy, which often leads to social isolation, work barriers and relationship issues. The general public and all levels of government require a better understanding of the impact of epilepsy in order to ensure the correct and best care can be provided to those living with the disorder.

Even in the debate in the house, we heard a member talking about a daughter who had a seizure in school as a child, and suddenly the girls who had been her friends did not want to be her friends any more. That is the kind of social isolation they are talking about in this report. I think it is a real and serious issue.

That is what prompted Cassidy Megan, the girl in Prospect, Nova Scotia, in my riding, to come up with the idea of Purple Day. When she was 7, she had her first seizure. A couple of years later, when she was nine, she said to her teacher, ``There are lots of days for things, so why can there not be a day for epilepsy?'' The teacher went to the principal, who picked March 26. March is the month for epilepsy, but the principal picked March 26, and it is now recognized in over 60 countries. It is a remarkable story that started with little Cassidy Megan, who is now 13. She founded a Purple Day for epilepsy and started a global trend.

I am sure that Cassidy is following today's committee hearings as she has followed the process of this bill throughout.

Canada has been a leader in epilepsy awareness, and I am pleased to hear of other bills from other legislatures, like the State of New Hampshire, which is following with its own Purple Day bill.

We owe a great debt to Cassidy. This bill would not be here today without her vision and determination. I am certainly very proud of her, and I am sure you join me in that pride for this young Canadian with this idea.

It has been five years since the first Epilepsy Day was held. I think we have come a long way toward educating people about epilepsy, but we still have a long way to go.

I would like to mention the support of Deirdre Floyd, who has been a huge support to Cassidy, and who has been responsible for the national purple day committee along with her tremendous work as the President of the Epilepsy Association of Nova Scotia.

I encourage you to look at the video on, showing images of children, teens and adults around the world proudly wearing purple clothing in their schools and at work.

This private member's bill, Bill C-278, is a direct result of Cassidy's commitment to this cause. It is a simple bill with only four sections. I think it will help increase public awareness about epilepsy.


The legislation will officially establish March 26 as Purple Day in Canada and encourage Canadians to wear the colour purple. Purple Day would not be a legal holiday, but it would affect many lives.

Epilepsy strikes 300,000 Canadians and over 50 million people globally. That is more than all the people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson's disease put together. A better understanding of this disease will help people know more about what to do when someone has a seizure, thus helping those with the disease and guaranteeing their enhanced safety.


Mr. Chair, you might be interested in knowing we can get these for members if you like. It is a little card I carry in my pocket from the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance, and it sets out the things you should do in the case of a seizure, the key 10 steps. One of the most important ones is do not panic. If someone is having a seizure, do not restrain them; make sure they are on their side. If it lasts more than five minutes, call an ambulance because it can be deadly. If you are interested, I am sure we can arrange for copies of those to be provided to you.

This is an important issue for a young dad who recently wrote to me about his son who began having seizures at the age of five months, and his words were profound and powerful when he said, ``As a parent, a professional and a Canadian, I ask you to please pass Bill C-278 and make the world our son will grow up in a little more friendly and understanding of the condition that affects him and us in every moment.''

I also heard from Marcel Allen, an Ottawa policeman, who has developed a training program for front line officers on how to respond to someone with a seizure disorder.

We often think of a seizure being someone shaking on the ground violently. Petit mal seizures can be less obvious when someone is simply not moving; they are immobilized. They are not conscious, of course, but they look non- responsive. If you are a police officer who stops a car and the person seems to be ignoring you, your first reaction may not be, ``Oh, that is epilepsy,'' so that is why the training that this officer has proposed is important.

He has created a lesson plan focusing on training, recognition and response. It will be the most comprehensive training of law enforcement on this subject in North America. It is nice to see that is happening in Ottawa, and I think he is trying to have it happen across the country.

Let me wrap up by thanking Cassidy, the Epilepsy Association of Nova Scotia, who have been so helpful, the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance and many other organizations who work hard to promote Purple Day and increase awareness about epilepsy.

Dr. Hedy Fry brought forward a number of amendments in the other place, and I thank her for these improvements to my bill. For example, in French, we had the wrong word, using ``lavande'' instead of ``pourpre''. In Quebec, in fact, the accepted word is ``lavande'' and ``condition'' instead of ``maladie,'' which is a condition as opposed to an illness. I want to express my appreciation and say that I support those changes.

Bill C-278 will bring Cassidy's dream to fruition. I hope we can count on the support of all parliamentarians in the Senate and the house to make it happen.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Regan. With regard to those cards, could you get at least 105 of them to the clerk who will see that they will be distributed appropriately within the Senate?

Mr. Regan: We will get that done.

The Chair: I will open it up to questions from my colleagues, starting with Senator Eggleton.

Senator Eggleton: Good for you for doing this, and to Cassidy as well for initiating all this.

I have a couple of questions. First, why was purple selected?

Second, the purpose behind these designations is to raise awareness. Do you have plans on how to raise that awareness and take advantage of this legislation to create the day to move along the understanding about epilepsy?

Mr. Regan: In fact, it was Cassidy who chose purple, but she knew that the international colour for epilepsy is lavender. That begs the question: Why was lavender chosen internationally? I suppose it was an available colour. I am only guessing that she liked purple and chose it. It is a nice colour. There are various shades of purple and lavender that are more than acceptable that people are encouraged to wear on March 26.

As for creating awareness, for one thing, having debates and discussion of this bill in Parliament has helped to do that, but the epilepsy organizations are having a variety of events across the country, and I think that making it an official day adds a certain stamp and a certain official status to help drive those further.

Senator Callbeck: Thanks very much for your presentation. I think this is a great initiative, and I certainly congratulate you for bringing it forward, and, as well, I commend Cassidy for what she has been able to accomplish.

I think that specific days are certainly a way to create awareness, in this case, about epilepsy, and there is no question that that is needed.

I was going to ask you about purple, but that has already been asked. You mentioned it is recognized in 60 countries.

Mr. Regan: It is over 60.

Senator Callbeck: How many provinces?

Mr. Regan: As far as I know, all the provinces and territories in Canada have an event celebrating this. The national organization is certainly behind it, and I know there are events. In fact, Cassidy on March 26 was invited to go to Toronto where there were events, and she was at the CN tower, had a dinner and was being feted, which was cool for a 13-year-old girl.

Senator Callbeck: This day, then, March 26, is recognized now in all the provinces.

Mr. Regan: Yes. I am not aware of any legislation at the provincial level, but the organizations are recognizing it and doing it across the country. Nationally, they are delighted to see this spread around the world. I know it is over 60 countries. It only started five years ago. It is growing rapidly and that is nice to see.

Senator Callbeck: It is unbelievable that it has grown that fast. Thank you very much.


Senator Verner: Congratulations on this wonderful initiative that we unanimously agree on, and we all like that.

I understand that, in 60 other countries, March 26 and the colour purple — which I also like — have been adopted specifically for epilepsy. Have all those countries also adopted other measures to educate their citizens? Are there any awareness-raising campaigns?

I have an example for you. A member of my family, who is now deceased, had epilepsy. For me, an epileptic seizure would manifest itself through big jerks, with the person on the ground, on their side. I did not know that a complete lack of movement could also be a manifestation of the disease. I agree with you that most people probably do not know about that.

Do you see any other awareness measures, or is this initiative only up to epilepsy associations?

Mr. Regan: I am not at all an expert on what is happening elsewhere and even here in Canada. I have not worked either closely or directly with associations for a long time, but I do know that there are associations and organizations in those 60 countries in question trying to create events related to March 26, to make people more aware of that disease. They want to create media opportunities, among other things, and ensure that schools have programs for educating students about that medical condition.

Senator Verner: It is fairly certain that young people who suffer from epilepsy are more likely to be discriminated against, for instance, at school, if they suffer an epileptic seizure. For my personal information, percentage-wise, do you know whether young people are more affected by epilepsy or is it about 50/50?

Mr. Regan: We believe that it is a problem specific to young people. One of the reasons is that occasionally, a young person dies from epilepsy, unfortunately. However, the disease does not affect only young people. I have met adults in their 40s and 50s, and even older, who are epileptics. I think that young people may account for about 60 per cent of all sufferers, but I am not sure.

Senator Verner: Congratulations once again. All initiatives for bringing down the prejudices toward people with any kinds of diseases are good. Thank you.


Senator Merchant: I want to congratulate you also because I think this is very important, even though Cassidy stood up long before any of us did.

Once this bill is passed — and I hope it will be passed — how will you continue to be involved? Do you have some specific notion of something that you might want to do? Is there something that we can do because we are now aware of what you said?

Is this something that inflicts males and females in the same numbers? Is it also something that can be developed later on in life?

Mr. Regan: Those are good questions. I wish I had with me the witnesses that I had before the house committee. There was a physician, a medical student who had a great interest in this area, and someone from the Epilepsy Association of Ottawa. Maybe someone else here can answer that better than I.

As far as I know, there is no differentiation in terms of gender. In terms of my expectations, I am hopeful that the association in Nova Scotia, for example, will still invite me to their dinners and ask me to do some things. I will be making offers to them to do whatever I can to assist in promoting this, whether that means speaking to schools or something else, I do not know. At the moment my focus has been on getting this bill done. I am not the key here. I am not the star of the show. The star of the show ought to be Cassidy.

Senator Merchant: I congratulate her, of course, and I congratulate you.

Senator Martin: I echo the same sentiments and congratulate you and especially Cassidy.

As a teacher who was in the education system in B.C. for 21 years, I do not ever recall getting any special instruction about dealing with students with epilepsy. I never had a student with whom I had to deal with an emergency situation, but there were students in the school with epilepsy. We would hear about what happened and the episodes, so I think there is a lot of sensationalizing, stereotyping and stigmatizing that are important to address through this kind of awareness.

In regard to the educational initiatives in Nova Scotia or elsewhere, is the society working with the Department of Education or with school districts and using Cassidy as a great role model for what one student who, in her youth, has been able to achieve and the impact that it has had on the world? That could be an inspiring story for raising awareness.

Mr. Regan: There have been schools in which Purple Day is being celebrated beyond just the school she attends. This has spread and more are doing it. However, I am not sure that the education department itself has taken this on in Nova Scotia to say that we want to ensure this happens in every school. As far as I know it has been up to the association to promote it with schools and teachers.

I should ask that question of them and see if I can assist with ensuring that the provincial government is aware of this and looking for ways to promote it. If they are not already doing so, they should be.

Senator Martin: The card that we will each be getting would be useful to an educator. For instance, there is a Terry Fox Day in the schools in B.C., and across Canada schools engage in fundraising initiatives. That could support this fundraising, but I think this is a great starting point to continue building awareness. Congratulations.

Mr. Regan: I have heard of teachers expressing their appreciation at learning what to do and how to handle the situation because they did not start with any knowledge at all. It can make a big difference. More often it is when someone in the school has epilepsy.

The Chair: I can give examples of universities. When a student is enrolled, they make the university aware of their medical situation. I am aware of one specifically. I am familiar with professors being instructed as to what to look for and how to deal with it because it can be a potentially fatal situation. At least at that level there is a definite plan when students are identified in many of the post-secondary institutions. I am not sure it is in all of them, though.

Senator Seth: Thank you very much. This is an important topic and a great initiative that you have brought here. I congratulate you.

You have achieved a lot in marking March 26 as Purple Day, or epilepsy day. As a physician, I am not sure that I have seen this. People who suffer with allergies sometimes wear bracelets to indicate it. Perhaps a bracelet could be given to an epileptic patient, because there are quite a few types of epilepsy. For example, someone can fall to sleep and others may not know that it is really a seizure. They do not always have convulsions. It could be deceiving, and sometimes when they are sleeping they have attacks.

Is there some kind of bracelet to wear that would raise awareness so people would recognize that the person suffers from epilepsy? When people are out on the road, at school or at work, they could get medical help faster that way. Is there a way to include in the future awareness about how to recognize who is epileptic so that the treatment will be given faster than waiting until it goes too far? The longer you wait, the more brain damage they suffer.

Mr. Regan: I had not considered that, and I had not heard about this idea before. Would I be correct to think that people generally have one kind of epilepsy or the other?

Senator Seth: Yes, there are quite a few types of epilepsy.

Mr. Regan: The person for whom that would be most useful is the person with petit mal.

Senator Seth: Yes, it is a milder form. Grand mal is more serious and people fall unconscious for awhile. Some cases have to be sent to the hospital, and some are treated and can overcome it. However, there should be awareness among the public about how to treat this knowing that it is epilepsy.

Mr. Regan: The bracelet can alert someone to something. If you have a bracelet, it should be obvious to anyone who looks at it that you have epilepsy. As well, and this is really important, people should know what to do to help. They should be aware enough of the condition to know what to do. It is hard. As you said, how many of us would recognize it if someone appeared to be sleeping?

Senator Seth: It could be anything. Seizures do not mean you have epilepsy. It could be anything, such as high fever or head injury. We do not know.

Senator Wallace: Mr. Regan, you spoke about creating awareness through this bill. In particular, you talked about educating people about how to respond and assist someone who is in the midst of an epileptic seizure. When you said that, it brought back a personal situation. I see the experience now as clearly as I did when I was 18 years old.

I had just started university and I was preparing for a French lab with my professor. There were just the two of us in a small room. I heard a crash or something, turned around, and saw him on the floor in the midst of a convulsion. I did not know what it was at the time. I had no idea how to react and I was terrified. I tore out of the room and got help; and that was that. I felt completely helpless. I had no idea what to do to assist him if someone had not been there. It is so important to get the message out. We never know when something like that might occur and people need to have some ability to respond. It is important. I can picture that just as vividly today; and obviously it was not yesterday, as I was 18. It was traumatic. I commend you so much for what you are doing.

Another thing strikes me, and you are well aware of it. We talk about awareness and how to respond and help those with epilepsy, which is critically important for those of us in positions whereby we can influence how our medical dollars are spent. It is important for us to be aware of epilepsy and to be aware that research is needed. The treatments are available, but we are not there yet as completely as we should be. Awareness at our level is tremendously important.

All in all, I do not have a question for you, but I do have huge congratulations to pass along. It is a wonderful thing you are doing.

Mr. Regan: Thank you. I certainly would not have known how to respond. In fact, a couple of years ago when I was at one of the epilepsy dinners in Nova Scotia, the annual dinner for Purple Day, a young girl had an epileptic fit in front of me. Someone else was there and attended to her right away. It occurred to me at that moment that even though I had read the material and had seen before what the steps were, I did not remember that quickly. You ask: Okay, what do I do now? I did not have to respond — maybe it would have come to me if I really had to think about t it. Someone else was there, so I did not have to do anything.

Clearly, we have to create awareness and get people to understand the most important things. In terms of the bracelet idea, for example, if people know that someone is having an epilepsy attack and that if it lasts more than five minutes, you should call an ambulance because it can cause brain damage and death. I did not know about that until I was approached by the organization and started attending events.

As you point out, there are treatments and medicines. One of the difficulties when a patient is on a medicine is that they cannot abruptly stop from one to the other. There have been shortages when a company stops producing and people do not know about it in advance. That has been a challenge at times.

Senator Wallace: Congratulations.

Senator Seidman: I, too, would like to congratulate you on a fine initiative. There is no question that stigma, lack of awareness and misunderstanding apply very much in the case of epilepsy as they apply in mental illness, for example. It is also the case that just over 0.5 per cent of Canadians live with epilepsy. Indeed, it affects the young and the old disproportionately.

Mr. Regan: Thank you.

Senator Seidman: It is exceedingly important to raise public awareness of this — I was going to say ``disease,'' but it is not a disease; it is a disorder.

I would like to ask you about something specifically. The Canadian Epilepsy Association was working on this, in particular to have Purple Day endorsed by the WHO and the UN. Have you heard anything more about this?

Mr. Regan: I am afraid I have not heard but we can hope that that happens. I hope we will hear good news on that before long.

Senator Seidman: Thank you for the fine initiative.

Senator Mercer: Mr. Regan, I was not going to ask a question but this is a follow-up to Senator Seidman's question. Assuming that we pass this bill and it comes into effect, it might act as the catalyst to push the World Health Organization and the UN into acting on this. Perhaps we are helping you and epilepsy associations around the world to do that. I pass that on as a suggestion. Congratulations.

Mr. Regan: Thank you, senator. I would hope that as our alliance and associations in Canada and the international effort continue to expand this beyond 60 countries and to create more awareness and understanding throughout the world, if a particular country is trying to promote this and can say that Canada has declared this officially, it would add some weight. It is a good thing to do for that reason not only domestically but also internationally.

The Chair: Mr. Regan you are welcome to stay, and I hope you will stay, for the next phase of our meeting.

I will put the question to the committee: Are you ready to move to clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-278?

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 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 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 appending observations to the report?

Hon. Senators: No.

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

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Congratulations, Mr. Regan.

I thank colleagues on the committee for dealing with these two bills today.

(The committee adjourned.)