Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

3rd Session, 40th Parliament,
Volume 147, Issue 97

Wednesday, March 23, 2011
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Patent Act

Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Carstairs, P.C., seconded by the Honourable Senator Fairbairn, P.C., for the second reading of Bill C-393, An Act to amend the Patent Act (drugs for international humanitarian purposes) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act.

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak also on Bill C-393. Senator Carstairs has already spoken so articulately about why we need to pass this bill soon. I shed light on the difference it will make in the lives of so many Africans. To our voice has been added the voice of Senator Murray. Senator Carstairs and Senator Murray are two people who, most of us believe, are our leaders and mentors in the Senate. Senator Nancy Ruth and Senator Dallaire added their voices.

I agree with, and endorse, what my esteemed colleagues have said on this bill. Like most of you, I have been listening to the debate on Bill C-393, An Act to amend the Patent Act (drugs for international humanitarian purposes) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act.

At the moment, many of us are preoccupied with what is happening around us. We are working on 101 other bills and issues; we are not convinced this bill is a priority or we believe it is an issue of the marketplace that will not make much difference to Africans.

I have had the Canadian Grandmothers for Africa work from my office for a number of years. I have seen their absolute commitment to this issue. I have admired their dedication. I salute them for their work on behalf of the children of Africa.

I am a child of Africa. I have drunk water from the River Nile and swam in Lake Victoria. However, Canada is now my home. For over 40 years, the people, who now are my people, have put clothes on my family’s back and fed my family when we were hungry refugees. Today, Canadians have given me the amazing opportunity of being part of this great institution, the Senate of Canada.

Today, I, as a Canadian, have the opportunity to eat well and use the best health care system in the world. I have lived in one of the most peaceful countries. I truly believe that Canada is the best country in the world.

As a result of all these advantages we have, as a Canadian, I believe that we have to do more to ensure the neediest in the world are not overlooked by Canadians.

Let me share my experience. In November 2007, I had the privilege of accompanying Prime Minister Stephen Harper to my country of birth, Uganda, for the Commonwealth Conference. It is a cherished moment in my life. Senator Stewart Olsen was also present and she and I, from time to time, have compared notes of this special trip.

As part of this trip, the Canadian High Commissioner’s wife, Vanessa Hynes, was assigned to arrange my program in Uganda. She is a kind-hearted woman. On behalf of Canada, she has done amazing work to help the most unfortunate in Africa. During my time in Uganda, she took me to a hospital. We toured and then we proceeded to distribute dolls made by Canadians to the children in the pediatric ward.

As we distributed the dolls, we saw a young girl named Miriam slowly crawl towards us. She was 4 years old and had a large scar on the left side of her neck. I had to stop and speak to young Miriam. She had an enticing smile. As she reached for the doll, I reached down to play with her. Her father explained to me in Kiswahili that Miriam had a large cancerous tumour and had undergone a successful surgery to remove it.

I looked puzzled and asked why they were in the outpatient unit. He explained that Miriam had malaria and he could not afford the anti-malarial tablets. He had returned to the hospital to see if he could get the tablets for his daughter.

While we were arranging to have the tablets given to Miriam, she dropped the doll and fell into a coma. She was readmitted to the hospital.

On our way back from visiting the other wards, we saw Miriam’s parents sobbing. Miriam had died because they could not afford the anti-malarial tablets that cost only a few dollars to us. A child who had survived lifesaving cancer surgery died of malaria because her parents could not afford the tablets.

Passing Bill C-393 would save the lives of many Miriams.

A number of years later, I returned to the same hospital. I again headed for the pediatric ward. We saw John, a tall, handsome 13-year-old boy, brought into the hospital. He was very sick. He had a high fever. His father had walked him to the hospital in his outstretched arms.

Later, I found out that John died. Why? Because John’s parents could not afford the medicine he so desperately needed. Bill C-393 will save the lives of many boys just like John.

My assistant, Rahmat Kassam, and I were in East Africa last week. We went to a maternity ward as we have been working on finding ways to help prevent fistulae in pregnant woman. For those who are unaware, an obstetric fistula is a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged labour without prompt medical intervention, which is usually a Caesarean section. The woman is left with chronic problems and delivers a stillborn baby in most cases.

When we arrived at the hospital, we found that fistulae were not prevalent in this particular area as women had access to a clinic. However, since we were already at the maternity ward, we decided to take a tour. During our tour, we were informed that the clinic did not have access to the medicines they needed. There were no anti-malarial tablets for the mothers who had malaria, no antibiotics for the mothers who had fever, and no anti-viral drugs for mothers who had AIDS. They all delivered in the same small, overcrowded room that held three women to each bed.

Out of all the women in the ward, Rahmat and I could not take our eyes off Josephine. She had the most attractive face, but it was contorted with excruciating pain because the clinic had no painkillers or epidurals to give to her or any of the other woman.

Josephine was sitting in the corner all by herself. No relative was allowed to hold her hand as she battled contractions, since there was no room for relatives. We headed to her bedside to try to console her. One of the nurses, however, pointed out that another reason relatives were not allowed into the room was because they were susceptible to TB. In the event any patients or family members contracted this disease, they would have no medicine to treat them. Both Rahmat and I felt incredibly helpless.

We left hurriedly because the pain of the women around us was unbearable. We quickly returned to the hotel and started to pack to return to Ottawa. It was a very long evening. The next morning over breakfast, we were both quiet. We both decided that we should stop by the maternity ward before going home.

Upon arriving at the clinic, we ran into Josephine and her beautiful baby daughter. As soon as she saw us, she handed us her baby girl with great pride. We embraced her and we left the clinic that morning with warmth in our hearts having seen a smiling mother with her baby.

Honourable senators, today we can decide to continue the debate on Bill C-393. However, this bill has been debated before. We can wait to have the bill returned to us from committee. However, this bill has been studied in committee before.

Honourable senators, we have already studied, debated and reflected on this bill. On behalf of the Miriams, Johns and Josephines, whose lives can be saved, I stand before you and say that we, who have the power to make a difference in the lives of several African people, must take this opportunity and do so now.

Honourable senators, let us have the courage to pass Bill C-393 this week. We are here in the Senate to make a difference. Now we can truly make that difference. There are times when we, as parliamentarians, must disagree on certain issues. It is inevitable in a democracy. However, the very same ideology requires us to strive to work together whenever possible.

This bill is an example of one of those times when, regardless of which party we represent and what we think will not work, it is up to us. We are very fortunate people as Canadians. We are fortunate just because of our luck. Therefore, we have a special duty to look out for those who do not have our privileges.

Honourable senators, let us go forward with the simplest of intentions: that we, as human beings, do what we can to help fellow human beings. If it has taken me 15 minutes to deliver this speech, 30 children have died in Africa. Every 45 seconds, a child dies of malaria. Honourable senators, we truly can make a difference. The time to do so is now.