A bill targeting international organ trafficking that was first proposed a decade ago took a step closer to fruition this week after it passed a second reading in the House of Commons.
Bill S-240 would make it a criminal offence in Canada to receive an organ abroad without consent from the donor, and it would also make people involved in forced organ harvesting anywhere in the world inadmissible to Canada.
The bill unanimously passed in the Senate in October and was then introduced to the House of Commons by Conservative MP Garnett Genuis. It passed second reading on Dec. 10 and will now go to committee to be studied in-depth.
In Parliament on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, Genuis was one of several MPs who noted the importance of the bill and urged its swift passage.
“We have had four bills in 10 years, and now we have less than one year until the next election,” he said.
“When the next election is called, every bill will die and we will go back to the beginning. Four bills, 10 years, and fundamental human rights are at stake. If we do not proceed to a vote on this as soon as possible, I fear we will significantly reduce our chances of getting this done this Parliament.”
NDP MP Cheryl Hardcastle, the vice-chair of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, said her party “calls for cross-party co-operation to ensure the swift passage of Bill S-240 and for this issue to be finally taken seriously.”
“Canadians contribute to organ trafficking primarily through a phenomenon called transplant tourism. It is the most common way to trade organs across national borders. Recipients travel abroad to undergo organ transplants and there is currently no law in Canada against this practice,” she said.
“Several countries, including Taiwan, Spain, and Norway, have already passed similar legislation. It is time for our country to catch up with the rest of the world and we can begin doing so today by supporting this bill.”
The first iteration of the legislation was introduced in 2008 as a private member’s bill by Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj. After it didn’t go anywhere, former Liberal MP and justice minister Irwin Cotler introduced a similar bill. After Cotler retired, Genius tried, with no success. Then a similar bill crafted by Sen. Salma Ataullahjan finally received cross-party support in the Senate, and that’s the bill brought forward by Genuis now making its way through the House.
“These bills were written largely in response to credible and appalling reports concerning organ harvesting in China,” said Hardcastle.
“According to testimony that our subcommittee heard on November 3, 2016, China’s organ-harvesting industry developed in tandem with its systematic repression of Falun Gong,” she said, referring to the traditional Chinese spiritual practice that has been subjected to a brutal campaign of persecution by the Chinese regime since 1999.
“In our subcommittee, we heard that while China’s official central government’s statistics indicate that approximately 10,000 organ transplantations take place per year, the numbers may actually be as high as between 60,000 and 100,000 organ transplants per year. The one population that ultimately became the principal victims of China’s organ-harvesting industry was the country’s Falun Gong followers.”
The numbers Hardcastle cited were from a 2016 report by Winnipeg-based international human rights lawyer David Matas, former Liberal cabinet minister David Kilgour, and China expert Ethan Gutmann.
In 2006, Matas and Kilgour were the first to alert the world that Falun Gong prisoners of conscience incarcerated in China were being killed for their organs. In the years since, several books have been written and documentaries made that have shed more light on the atrocity, as well as the updated 2016 report.
There have also been testimonies before parliamentary committees in Canada and other countries. A February 2017 Freedom House report notes “credible evidence suggesting that beginning in the early 2000s, Falun Gong detainees were killed for their organs on a large scale.”
‘A Quintessential No-Brainer’
Cotler said in an interview he’s delighted that legislation similar to the private member’s bill he crafted 10 years ago finally has “an all-party consensus to go forward.”
“It’s not directed against any country in particular, but in fact, regrettably, China has been named recently by authorities in this regard as a country that has been engaged in not only in illegal organ harvesting but in the targeting of Falun Gong practitioners in that organ pillaging,” he said.
“[The bill] sends a message to perpetrator countries that in fact we will hold you to account, that you will not be able to continue with this policy and practice with impunity and that there now will be sanctions.”
Genuis also said he’s pleased Bill S-240 is making progress.
“This is the first time that any bill dealing with organ trafficking has passed second reading in the House of Commons, and so this bill has gotten a lot further than any others before it,” he said in an interview.
“I’m now hopeful the Foreign Affairs committee will study it effectively but quickly in a way that will allow it to become a law before the next election.”
In the first reading on Nov. 20, Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux said he has received petitions on the issue of forced organ harvesting in China urging Ottawa to act.
“The people who have signed these petitions are asking the Government of Canada to take action,” he said.
“We know that there is an obligation for the government to work with other stakeholders, in particular our provinces and territories, and to listen to what Canadians have to say. We will have to wait to see how this debate ultimately evolves.”
NDP MP Murray Rankin said on Dec. 10 that as far as he’s concerned, “I do not want to spend much time on this bill.
“To me, it is a quintessential no-brainer. I want to join the Europeans. I want to join others around the world who are recognizing the scourge of organ trafficking and, as a Canadian, stand proudly with them and deal with this very real problem.”
With files from Lucy Zhou in Ottawa.