National Newswatch

OTTAWA — When Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould turned to the provinces to help make the constitutional case against a bill on genetic testing, it is unlikely Ontario legislator Mike Colle was the one she hoped would view it as a call to action.

But it was indeed Colle, a Liberal first elected to the Ontario legislature in 1995, who took Wilson-Raybould's recent efforts to drum up opposition to the bill as a cue to ramp up his own efforts to support it.

Wilson-Raybould wrote to the premiers this week about whether they think Bill S-201, designed to prevent anyone from having to undergo genetic testing or disclose the results of such tests in order to get insurance, strays into provincial jurisdiction.

"I think it's really appalling that they're hiding behind this provincial jurisdictional, constitutional excuse for not ... ending discriminatory practices in provinces," said Colle, who is pushing similar legislation at the Ontario legislature.

"It's just mind-boggling to me."

The proposed federal legislation is back up for debate in the House of Commons next week. A final vote on the bill could come as early as March 8.

The federal Liberal government put forward amendments last month that supporters of the bill — including Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, who has been shepherding S-201 through the House — say would "gut" it.

The federal government is taking the position that it would be better to simply add genetic characteristics as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, which would keep it within the federal realm.

Three of the four constitutional experts who appeared recently at the justice committee, however, argued the bill would not go too far.

The insurance industry has come out strongly against other elements of the proposed legislation, which would make it illegal for anyone to require a person to undergo genetic testing, or disclose test results, as a condition of signing or continuing any other good, service, contract or agreement, such as an insurance policy.

Breaking the law could mean a fine of up to $1 million, or five years behind bars.

The Conservatives and the New Democrats are expected to vote against the Liberal amendments, while the Bloc Quebecois is supporting them.

Oliphant said many of his Liberal caucus colleagues have expressed their support for the private member's bill in its original form.

It is too early to tell whether enough Liberal MPs will reject the amendments and vote to pass S-201, but Wilson-Raybould's letter suggests the Liberal cabinet is gearing up for a showdown with the backbench on a significant piece of legislation.

Colle is leaving nothing to chance.

He has asked Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Attorney General Yasir Naqvi to express their support for Bill S-201, and is urging voters in the province to contact their MPs and tell them to vote for the bill next week.

"I hope our response to this is that we want the federal government to do something," said Colle, who has long argued that one of the reasons for his own private member's bill in Ontario is that federal legislation is coming anyway.

Writing to the premiers Wednesday, Wilson-Raybould said she had received letters of dissent from Quebec, Manitoba and B.C., but suggested there are still others who have not made their opposition public.

Her spokesman, David Taylor, confirmed those letters came after the federal government invited provinces to share their views.

Ontario would not reveal its position on the bill this week.

Clare Graham, a spokeswoman for Naqvi, said the provincial government reviewed S-201 when it was before the Senate committee on human rights in February 2016, but "declined to make a formal submission."

Jim Cowan, the retired senator who first introduced the private member's bill, said Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins was supportive when he met him last May.

"There was no indication of any jurisdictional concerns," said Cowan.

Maria Babbage, a spokeswoman for Hoskins, did not respond to a request for comment about the meeting.

— Follow @smithjoanna on Twitter

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press

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