Aglukkaq

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, addressing reporters in the House of Commons foyer on Parliament Hill, ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))

Liberal senators have put industry interest ahead of consumer safety with changes to a proposed product recall bill, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Thursday.

"The Department of Agriculture has more effective tools to protect animals than Health Canada would have to protect the health and safety of Canadians," said Aglukkaq.

The Senate amendments to Bill C-6 would not allow government inspectors the power to unilaterally order a recall of consumer items such as toys, baby cribs and food products without first consulting the manufacturer or distributor.

"As things stand now, upon determining a product is unsafe, and I'm talking about household items such as toys and cribs, our hands are tied," said Aglukkaq.

"In Canada we're stuck having to negotiate and gain co-operation from companies before pulling products from the store shelves."

The amendments, which must still be voted on by the full Senate next week and may not pass, would force inspectors to get a search warrant in some circumstances before doing a spot inspection of a business.

Aglukkak used the recent record recall of 2.1 million Canadian-made Stork Craft cribs as an example of how things work differently in the U.S., saying American regulators can get information about Canadian injury incidences before Canadian authorities can.

In the U.S., companies are bound by law to report injuries related to their products.

Legislation gets all-party support

Aglukkaq said the Conservative government's proposed legislation is only giving inspectors of consumer goods the same powers already held by agriculture and building inspectors.

The health minister argued the Senate changes would "considerably weaken the bill," and she asked whose concerns the senators were responding to.

The legislation passed the House of Commons with all-party support.

Liberal Senator Joe Day, who leads the Senate committee that voted in favour of the amendments, said the changes simply "rebalance" what he argued is a piece of legislation that "over-reaches."

"There has to be a check on this new power," Day said.

He said one of the amendments would prevent what he called "a fishing expedition" by inspectors on private property, and another would get rid of wording that would absolve the government of any responsibility for property damaged in the course of an inspection.

"We have to find the balance between the 99.9 per cent of honest business people — that's the goose that lays the golden egg for this country — and the public that buys their product," the Liberal senator said.

Some Liberal senators have expressed unease with the proposed amendments, and given the close standings in the chamber following recent Conservative appointments, it is not assured that the changes will pass in a vote of the full Senate. Liberals currently occupy 51 of the Senate's 105 seats, the Conservatives have 46 and the rest are either vacant or held by senators of various independent designations. 

With files from The Canadian Press