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Genetic testing bill, up for vote Wednesday, unconstitutional: Trudeau

OTTAWA — A proposed law that would bar health and life insurance companies from forcing clients to disclose the results of genetic testing is unconstitutional, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday as the House of Commons prepared to vote on the bill.

The federal government has to consider multiple factors when making decisions, Trudeau said, noting it needs to ensure it is defending the rights of Canadians and upholding their freedom from discrimination.

It also has to defend the Constitution and the balance between federal and provincial jurisdictions, he added.

"The government has taken a position that one of the elements in the proposed bill is unconstitutional," Trudeau told a news conference.

"That is the recommendation we had and the government position is to vote against that particular ... element in the bill."

Last week, in a letter to the head of the Council of the Federation, which comprises the country's premiers, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould made it clear that the government has fundamental problems with the bill as written.

The letter to Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, the council's current chair, appeared designed to solicit provincial and territorial support for the government's position.

"Given the important constitutional issues in play, we call on the Council of the Federation to communicate its views on the constitutionality of Bill S-201's proposal to regulate all contracts, agreements, and goods and services to prohibit genetic discrimination,” Wilson-Raybould wrote.

The insurance industry has fiercely opposed an aspect of the legislation that would make it illegal for anyone to require a person to undergo genetic testing, or disclose the results of previous tests, as a condition of signing or continuing an insurance policy or any other good, service, contract or agreement.

If passed, it would also prohibit anyone from sharing genetic testing results without written consent, although there are exceptions for physicians and researchers.

A breach of the proposed law would result in a fine of up to $1 million, or five years behind bars.

The Liberal government has proposed stripping the bill of everything except the power to make genetic characteristics a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The legislation is expected to come up for a final vote Wednesday in the Commons, where MPs will be allowed to vote with their conscience and won't be required to adhere to party lines.

—with files from Joanna Smith

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