Public Health Agency of Canada

Public Health Agency of Canada

April 29, 2008 15:36 ET

PHAC: Health Minister Tony Clement Announces Proposed Legislation to Further Improve Lab Safety and Biosecurity in Canada

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - April 29, 2008) - Health Minister Tony Clement today tabled legislation (Bill C-54) that strengthens bio-security and biosafety in Canada by establishing consistent safety requirements for laboratories working with human pathogens and toxins.

"This proposed legislation will bring Canada into line with other developed nations," said Minister Clement. "It will also make Canada's laboratory environment safer for our scientists and lab workers, and improve security for all Canadians."

The proposed Bill establishes a mandatory licensing system that will ensure the Government of Canada can more easily track what human pathogens exist, where they are, and who possesses them. It will also provide inspection powers to help ensure compliance with the Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines (LBGs), and that the legislation is applied properly and consistently across Canada.

Human pathogens are micro-organisms capable of causing disease in humans, such as anthrax, salmonella and influenza. Toxins can be produced by or derived from such micro-organisms and these too are capable of causing disease in humans.

The laboratory work performed with human pathogens and toxins is very important for diagnosing the cause of diseases and for advancing science through research. It ultimately improves the health of Canadians and can help save lives.

The risk to Canadians posed by the presence of human pathogens and toxins in labs is low. Laboratory safety guidelines exist and the laboratory community is committed to the safe handling and management of human pathogens and toxins as a part of their regular work.

The proposed legislation builds on existing importation regulations and establishes legal prohibitions and authorities designed to ensure all work done with human pathogens and toxins is carried out in as safe a manner as possible, consistent with international standards. As well, the proposed legislation will help to guard Canadians against the low risk of an intentional release of these substances.

The proposed legislation mandates the application of existing Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines (LBGs) in all Canadian labs that possess human pathogens and toxins. The proposed legislation is the product of the Public Health Agency of Canada's extensive nationwide consultations with stakeholders, including scientists, lab workers, academics and bio-security experts.

Further to requiring adherence to the LBGs, the proposed legislation prohibits the following:

- possession of certain listed human pathogens and/or toxins (smallpox is currently the one pathogen on this list);

- the intentional misuse of human pathogens and/or toxins to cause risk of harm; and

- any use of human pathogens and/or toxins without a licence.

This proposed legislation will bring Canada's laboratory legislation more in line with our international partners, including Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries.

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INFORMATION

Human Pathogens Legislation

The laboratory work performed with human pathogens and toxins is vital for diagnosing the cause of diseases and for advancing science through research. Human pathogens are micro-organisms capable of causing disease in humans, such as salmonella and influenza. Toxins can be produced by or derived from such micro-organisms and these too are capable of causing disease in humans.

The risk to Canadians posed by the presence of human pathogens and toxins in labs is low. Safety guidelines exist and the laboratory community is committed to the safe handling and management of human pathogens and toxins as a part of their regular work. Nevertheless, we must be sure the appropriate legislation, protocols and practices are in place to protect Canadians from this risk.

The proposed legislation (Bill C-54) builds on existing law and establishes legal prohibitions and authorities to govern the use of human pathogens and toxins. It is designed to ensure the handling of human pathogens and toxins in Canadian laboratories is carried out in as safe a manner as possible and to guard against the intentional misuse of these substances.

This proposed legislation brings Canada's laboratory legislation in line with that of our international partners, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other countries.

Current law requires all labs that import human pathogens and toxins to adhere to the Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines, a tool developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada, in consultation with stakeholders, that promote safe laboratory practices and mitigate the risks of working with human pathogens and toxins. These guidelines are not currently mandatory for labs that acquire human pathogens and toxins from domestic sources, although they are applied widely in these labs on a voluntary basis as an industry standard.

The proposed Bill will establish consistency by requiring all labs in Canada, including federal, provincial and private facilities, to adhere to the guidelines.

Further to that, the proposed legislation prohibits the following:

- possession of certain listed human pathogens and/or toxins (smallpox is currently the one pathogen on this list);

- the intentional misuse of human pathogens and/or toxins to cause harm; and

- any use of human pathogens and/or toxins without a licence.

The proposed Bill establishes a mandatory licensing system that will ensure the Government of Canada can more easily track what human pathogens exist, where they are, and who possesses them.

The proposed Bill also provides inspection powers to help ensure both compliance with the guidelines, and proper and consistent application of the legislation across Canada.

Contact Information

  • Office of the Honourable Tony Clement
    Minister of Health Canada
    Laryssa Waler
    613-957-0200
    or
    Public Health Agency of Canada
    Jacinthe Perras
    Media Relations Officer
    613-941-8189