Libby speaks out in support of breast cancer screening



House of Commons


May 8, 2012

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak at report stage, the first hour of debate, to Bill C-314. I would like to congratulate the member for Barrie for bringing forward this bill. I agree that when we bring forward private members’ business, whether it is a bill or a motion, it is an opportunity for each of us to show initiative, to bring forward an issue for greater awareness and, hopefully, get support in the House to make an advancement on that issue. There are women who live with dense breast tissue and may not be aware of their higher risk. There is still unfortunately too little known about the issue. So we very much appreciate this bill coming forward.

When we were at committee, we heard a number of fantastic witnesses. I agree with my colleague that the witnesses who shared their personal experience with us were very compelling. This tells us where things are and what it is that we need to do. I was struck by the witness who talked about innovation and new technologies. There is technology available that will assist women with dense breast tissue 100%. I am very concerned that even if women are aware of that, they may not be able to access the technology because of where they live. It may be very far to travel or they may not be able to afford the fees. It is a private service. It seems to run contrary to the fundamental principles of the Canada Health Act: universality, accessibility, public administration, comprehensiveness and so on.

I want to put on record here at report stage that the NDP supports the bill. However, after we heard from the witnesses, our concern in committee was that the bill was quite limited in its scope. It talks about information and information sharing, best practices and creating better awareness. All of those things are an absolute must, but they are sort of the bottom floor. For us in the NDP, when we heard the witnesses, we felt that we needed to go some extra distance with the bill.

We introduced a number of amendments. The most significant amendment said, “working in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments to establish national standards for systematic breast cancer screening”. Unfortunately, that amendment and all the other amendments were defeated. It was disheartening that all of the amendments put forward in good faith from the opposition parties at the committee were turned down. I do not think they were beyond the scope of the bill. While I concur that information and awareness are very important, we could be doing so much more.

We are now more aware of which women are at risk. I believe this bill will help get a message out, and that is very important. However, we in the NDP believe that there should be a nationwide systematic breast cancer screening program for all women. It should be free of charge and it should be by self-referral. It is quite alarming that, for example, there is no screening program in Nunavut. This seems to be a glaring omission and speaks strongly to the need for a nationwide systematic screening program with standards for screening.

We heard from practitioners at the committee that if a woman has gone beyond a mammogram and is going for an ultrasound, even that can be very problematic. It depends on how experienced the practitioner is doing the ultrasound. It is not about human error, but it is a very delicate procedure in terms of what one is looking for. It did surprise me to hear that even if a woman has an ultrasound, it may not identify the fact she is at risk or may have cancer present.

Similarly, we all think that MRIs are a real window into what is going on. However, we heard that for women with dense breast tissue, even an MRI may not pick up their particular situation. We heard from a witness about the newest technology that involves 360° imaging.

This speaks to a lack of available screening and a lack of national standards to ensure that wherever one is in the country, one can be assured of getting the highest quality screening and care. Under the Canada Health Act, that is very much a part of our health care system.

I do not want to be negative, but the bill is mostly about information and awareness. While it is important, I feel that we missed an opportunity to do a lot more with this bill. Although opportunities were put forward at the committee, unfortunately the government members decided not to vote for those amendments. Now here we are at report stage with a bill that is quite limited in its scope.

We will support the bill because it is a step to providing much better awareness about dense breast tissue. I was not aware of it before I heard about the bill. It is an eye opener for all of us. For that it is commendable.

However, I wish that we had been able to strengthen the bill in the way that we wanted, and that we could have responded to witnesses’ suggestions to the committee. Maybe at some point there will be another bill and we will get another opportunity.

When we hear from people at committee we should do our utmost to respond to what they say. We should listen in good faith to their suggestions. Where it is possible for us to incorporate those recommendations in a way that is realistic within a private member’s bill, then why on earth would we not do that?

That is my only regret. I certainly appreciate the member putting this bill forward and getting it this far. I am sure that the bill will be approved. Let us all make a commitment in this House today, not only to support this bill but also to advocate for a nationwide breast cancer screening program to ensure that women in Nunavut have access to even the most basic screening.

We need to address the issue of standards for screening to ensure that where there are these unique challenges of detecting cancer in women, particularly women with dense breast tissue, that they are getting the very best they can get so that their risk is lowered and not increased.