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  • My Reflections on Bill C-36

    Over the summer, I spent a lot of time speaking with sex workers in my home province of BC. This was in anticipation of Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.

    As a result, I heard many stories over the past months, and was moved by a number of them. I thank all the women and men who trusted their experiences with me. I mentioned the story of one such woman in my speech yesterday. Taryn Onody sent me a letter with her story. I encourage you to read more of it in my speech, but here is a short excerpt:

    “I started ‎in the adult industry when I was 21 years of age. I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto. I’m a practicing Catholic. My parents are upper-middle class. My siblings are tax paying, working citizens. I come from a wonderful home, wonderful people, and a great upbringing. I was an over-achieving student with accelerated grades, and hold multiple post-secondary diplomas/degrees. I am the ‘girl next door’.

    I started looking into sex work when I became bored with my corporate job, which ‎I had held for 5 years. I felt bored, trapped, and craving something more in my life’s experience.”

    With this, she added:

    “We are all someone’s daughter or son. We all deserve rights, freedom, and safety.”

    She expressed concern for Bill C-36, which is why she wrote to me. C-36 is the government’s legislative response to the Bedford decision. Terri-Jean Bedford is a sex-worker, and she challenged the existing legislation criminalizing aspects of sex-work as unconstitutional because it violated her rights protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court of Canada agreed with her, and struck down the existing legislation as unconstitutional. This gave the government one year, until December 2014, to come up with new legislation before the old legislation is no longer in effect.

    On Tuesday November 4th, the Senate passed Bill C-36. Throughout all the hearings in the House of Commons, Senate pre-study, and Senate Legal committee, there have been many different views on this bill. While the conversation around this bill has been very controversial, and I hope we will continue to have a healthy conversation about how best we can protect all of our citizens. This is an important conversation that needs to be continued. Please send me your thoughts by tweeting @SenJaffer.

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  • Health Care

    Sickle Cell Disease

    According to the Sickle Cell Disease Association of Canada nearly 2000 Canadians live with the debilitating and sometimes life-threatening sickle cell disease and 1 in every 2500 children in Canada will be born with this condition.

    Sickle Cell Disease is caused by an abnormal form of Hemoglobin – the molecule in red blood cells which carries oxygen throughout the body. In patients with Sickle Cell disorder the red blood cells become stiff and sickle shaped.

    The deformed cell does not flow easily through the blood vessels and they can clog the vessels and break apart. Sickle cells also have a dramatically shorter life span than a healthy cell which can result in low red blood cell counts known as anemia.

    The one-two punch of clogged blood vessels and anemia impedes the body’s ability to deliver adequate oxygen to the organs. The continued starvation of oxygen to the body’s systems most commonly manifests itself as severe pain, especially in the bones. There is also the threat of organ failure, damage to the lungs, heart, kidney, liver and eyes or stroke, leg ulcers and infections.

    Because of the lack of oxygen travelling throughout the body, including to the brain, children with sickle cell disorders often struggle in school with fatigue, loss of concentration and memory lapses. Infections can also be a major complication of sickle cell anemia especially during childhood.

    Anybody can have sickle cell disease but for unknown reasons it is drastically more prevalent in people who have descended from Africa, the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Middle East, South East Asia, Western Pacific Region, South America, and Central America.

    Sickle cell disease is not contagious; you cannot “catch” it. You inherit it from your parents. To be born with sickle cell disease, a person must inherit two sickle cell genes; one from each parent.

    Because of the rarity of the condition, Sickle Cell Disease is woefully misunderstood by many medical professionals in Canada which leads to misdiagnosis and unnecessary suffering of patients. Early diagnosis is extremely important so that children can be closely monitored by family and by healthcare providers.

    Something as easy as a simple blood test at birth would help prevent misdiagnosis and would provide medical personnel with the information needed to properly manage the disease right from birth. Early diagnosis is the best way to avoid permanent organ damage and can save lives.

    Universal screening for sickle cell disorders would go a long way to assisting healthcare providers. Universal testing now occurs in every state in the United States and is something that only three provinces in Canada now practice; Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, which started the testing in April of this year .

    We need leadership from the federal level of government to coordinate early screening efforts and provide guidance on the issue for the provinces and territories.

    Ideally, Canada should be developing a comprehensive national strategy for patient care for those with sickle cell disorders. A good start would be for the federal government to work with the provinces and territories toward the creation of a national list of diseases to be screened at birth. Provinces and Territories can then draw up their own policies taking guidance from this national standard.

    Ensuring equal access to equal care is a fundamental right of every Canadian and setting national benchmarks and standards is a simple way to help meet this goal.

    Canada is a stronger nation when we work together and federal leadership is the mechanism through which we build a strong national union.

    It is important that the public and particularly healthcare providers become more knowledgeable about sickle cell disease. It is also important that there is collaboration with the government agencies, healthcare providers, researchers, community leaders and families affected by the disease.

    I am hopeful that the federal government will recognize the importance of their leadership to facilitate changes in pre-screening policies across the country.


    Please click here to read Senator Cordy’s speech on this topic

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  • Afghanistan

    Afghanistan Memorial Vigil Commemoration Ceremony

    Here are the remarks I delivered this morning at the Afghanistan Memorial Vigil Commemoration Ceremony at Memorial Hall, Confederation Centre of the Arts:

    Your Honour, Lieutenant Governor Lewis, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, the plaques we see before us are a tangible reminder of the sacrifice of those, military and civilian, who gave their lives as part of this country’s campaign in Afghanistan, and recognize all those who served.

    The peace and prosperity in Canada today is a direct result of our Canadian veterans. The troops of the First and Second World Wars, the Korean and Afghan Wars and our many peacekeeping missions have provided the rest of us with the safe and secure Canada we enjoy today.

    No one ever wants to go to war – all Canadians want peace – but we fully understand that if we are facing the evils of Nazi Germany or terrorism from the Middle East, we count on the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces to protect our country, our values and our way of life.

    We fought in Afghanistan because it was our duty as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The NATO treaty holds that an attack on one member is to be considered an attack on all. Our friend and ally, the United States of America proved that the attacks of September 11th, 2001 originated from the then Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Canada kept its word and joined the fight, as we would expect our allies to do if our country was attacked.

    For the most part, throughout our history we have sent our military off to war, rather than having war come to us. And that is why we owe a special debt to those who leave the safety of Canada to fight for it in other places.

    Members of the military speak of “unlimited liability” –  that when you join the Canadian Armed Forces you write a blank check to your country, which could mean you die in service to Canada. But the obligation goes both ways. Senator Romeo Dallaire, in one of his speeches in the Senate Chamber, said:

    “(T)he people of the country and the veterans have come to an agreement that if you commit yourself to unlimited liability, then the country will commit itself to doing the best it can to meet that same challenge of unlimited liability for you, and . . . your family.”

    At memorials like this one from one end of the country to the other, we honour the sacrifice of those who paid the full measure of that liability. But that is only part of our obligation, the other part is the obligation to those who were willing to die, and survived; particularly those who returned with wounds, seen or unseen. Our obligation to them is no less strong, and just as important.

    As a nation, we must remember our side of that agreement, and ensure that Canadian Forces members, veterans, and their families receive the respect and support they deserve – and have earned many times over – when they come home, and for the rest of their lives.

    Thank you.

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  • Bill S-201,the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act

    In October 2013, I re-tabled my private member’s bill, the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act (Bill S-201).  Genetic testing holds the promise of tremendous health benefits for Canadians, but fear of genetic discrimination – discrimination from insurance companies, employers or others because of one’s genes – is holding many Canadians back from genetic testing that may be medically beneficial. In Canada, unlike in many other countries around the world, once a person has a genetic test there is no specific law, at either the federal or provincial level, to protect against genetic discrimination.  This bill would change that.  There are many personal reasons why someone may decide not to have genetic testing, but concern about genetic discrimination should not be an issue.

    Bill S-201 is now before the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights. On October 2, 2014, we heard compelling testimony from Dr. Ronald Cohn with the Hospital for Sick Kids and Dr. Yvonne Bombard from St. Michael’s Hospital. Both witnesses described the human costs associated with delaying genetic testing out of fear, and the potential impact on one’s family and future. The complete testimony is available here:

    ParlVu (archived audio/video)









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  • Arctic Sovereignty: Part Six

    The summer of 2014 was busy for our Inuit leaders and I would like to thank them for their outstanding work. There are three events which I would like to highlight.

    First, I would like to bring your attention to the Kitigaaryuit Declaration (articles 28, 29) as agreed to by the Inuit of Alaska, Greenland, Canada and Chukotka at the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) General Assembly July 2014 in Inuvik, NWT.

    In this declaration, ICC made the formal commitment to:

     28. Mandate ICC leadership to urge Arctic member states submitting positions on the extent of their respective continental shelves to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf under UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to involve Inuit in those submissions so as to reflect the Inuit perspective and protect Inuit rights and interests;

     29. Instruct ICC leadership to engage in the UNCLOS processes to monitor developments to equip Inuit to promote and protect Inuit sovereignty and Inuit rights to the offshore, and take steps to participate in the decision-making of the bodies formed under the UNCLOS whose work has the potential to affect Inuit rights in the Arctic.

    The sessions are online. Although all of the presentations were excellent,  Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough in particular, made some comments specific to Canada’s UNCLOS submission, consent, international law, and land claims which may be of interest to you (Look for Day 2, part one (morning) and forward to the 44 minute mark).

    Second, in June, Mr. Peter Hutchins and Mrs. Robin Campbell presented their paper, “Canada’s submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and the Legal Protections for Inuit Rights to the Arctic Ocean” to the Canadian Bar Association Aboriginal Law Conference which was held in Iqaluit, NU. If you were unable to attend, the paper is available on the Senator’s website in English, French and Inuktitut: We also have copies in the office that we would be pleased to send you.

    The third event is the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (UNWCIP) which wrapped up last week. Our Aboriginal leaders across the globe have been preparing for these high level meetings for the last four years. Because this is the first conference of its kind, there were undoubtedly some extra hurdles for them to overcome.  Our delegates put a tremendous amount of energy and time into the process and it is good to know the people are working together.

    Canada’s response to the UNWCIP is attracting a lot of attention, so I am posting the UNWCIP resolution — — and Canada’s response —  — and the background document which is UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples —

    Canada’s position is not surprising, but is still a disappointment to us. We should continue to keep pushing forward because together we can move ahead.

    Again, I point you to an interview with Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough, our Inuk representative at the UN, for her comments on the proceedings:


    Senator Charlie Watt

    Click here to read Senator Watt’s first blog about Arctic Sovereignty

    Click here to read Part Two

    Click here to read Part Three

    Click here to read Part Four

    Click here to read Part Five

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