Keeping unsafe products off store shelves

June 11, 2009

OTTAWA – Globalization and new technologies have led to an influx of products in the Canadian market. In 2007, the U.S. recalled 34 million toys and other products made in China , due to lead paint and small, powerful magnets that children could easily swallow. Based on the U.S. numbers, there would have been over three million of these products in Canada . Most are likely still in use. Some will find their way into attics and garage sales, and eventually all will end up in landfill sites.

In her November 2006 report, Auditor General Sheila Fraser had raised concerns about the lack of enforcement to protect Canadians from dangerous products. She questioned whether there was enough funding and whether the government had even assessed the resources needed for effective enforcement.

Canadians should be able to assume that the massive U.S. recall, coming on the heels of the Auditor General’s warning, would prompt the government to take action. Yet a year later, an investigative reporter found high levels of lead in children’s products purchased in the Toronto area, and discovered that Health Canada had only 46 inspectors monitoring stores for all of Canada.

The Hazardous Products Act has been in place for over 40 years and has served Canadians extremely well, as long as it has been properly resourced and promoted. Now the government wants to replace it with a new Consumer Product Safety Act, Bill C-6. On June 2, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health starts hearings on that proposed new law.

One of the first presenters is the Canada Safety Council, which advocates for effective protection of consumers from dangerous products. Council representatives will tell the Standing Committee on Health that the new law is a not needed. Instead, the Hazardous Products Act must be amended on an urgent basis, and the government must put a serious commitment into enforcing that law.

“The import of dangerous products on a large scale, with impunity, and over a long period of time indicates a big part of the product safety problem is lack of enforcement,” says Canada Safety Council president Jack Smith. “Developing a new law is a costly process and will not solve this problem.” Smith maintains that to address safety concerns there is no need to start from scratch with a new law that may not be fully implemented for years. Moreover, new laws are notoriously subject to challenges, further slowing their implementation.

Laws are amended on a regular basis. Amendments enable measures to be put into place quickly. Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Transportation of Dangerous Act, 1992 was introduced on February 16 of this year, went through the House of Commons and the Senate, and received Royal Assent on May 14.

Everyone agrees the Hazardous Products Act is outdated. Necessary changes can be made expeditiously by amending the current legislation. However, the law itself is only part of the solution. Proper enforcement is essential if any law is to be effective.

– 30 – For more information, please contact: Emile Therien , Past President, Canada Safety Council 613-737-4965 Valerie Powell , Communications/Media Coordinator 613-739-1535 ext. 228 June 2, 2009