Speech on Purple Day / Epilepsy Awareness (C-278)

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to talk about epilepsy and to speak in support of Bill C-278. I also want to acknowledge the good work of my colleague, the member for Sudbury, in raising awareness about epilepsy.

Indeed, it is an honour for me to speak in the House today on this important issue. We have to bring epilepsy out into the open due to the stigma that surrounds it and the prejudice with which society has historically treated people with epilepsy. Many with this disorder are reluctant to admit it or to seek treatment.

Epilepsy is a serious neurological disorder that affects the brain and causes sudden changes in how the brain works. It presents itself in the form of seizures.

We are all touched by epilepsy, whether of a family member, a co-worker, a friend or a neighbour. Epilepsy is a condition that affects thousands of Canadians. Every year in Canada an average of 15,500 people learn they have epilepsy. That is about 42 people each and every day who are diagnosed with epilepsy. About 60% of new patients are young children and senior citizens.

Those with loved ones suffering from epilepsy are all too familiar with the fear that surrounds this disease. They fear for their loved ones and the powerlessness that accompanies a seizure. They fear that they will be in the wrong place when a seizure occurs, that it will happen in the shower or when they are home alone.

There are so many variables to this condition that we have no power to control. However, we are not powerless. The government has a role to play and the public has a role to play too. The government must do a better job of adequately funding medical research and ensuring that medication is readily available and affordable.

The public can also play a part by educating itself about epilepsy and how to identify a seizure. Each one of us can commit to helping someone in distress and taking action so that seizure-sufferers are cared for appropriately when they experience an episode and to notifying emergency services if necessary.

Unfortunately, even today, the general public does not know how to react to a person having a seizure. There are so many misconceptions about how to help a person who is having a seizure. For example, restraining a person during a seizure is the wrong action to take, yet many people do not know that. Also, nothing should be placed in the mouth of the person having a seizure. However, old myths persist and the public needs to made aware of the facts. It should be basic first aid.

With so many Canadians living with epilepsy, awareness is the key. In my home province of British Columbia, the B.C. Epilepsy Society works to increase awareness of epilepsy and seizures by offering seizure awareness workshops, and distributing information materials for employers, community organizations, including school staff and students, child care providers, recreational leaders and community support workers.

I encourage all Canadians, and in particular the constituents of my riding of New Westminster—Coquitlam and Port Moody, to educate themselves about what to do when someone is having a seizure. It is as easy as contacting the B.C. Epilepsy Society to request their seizure first aid postcards, posters or wallet cards. This commitment to education and action will literally save lives.

March is Epilepsy Awareness Month, a time for Canadians to be reminded of the prevalence of this disease, how it affects those who live with it and their families, and what work remains to be done to support those who live with it and to support efforts to find a cure. March is also when Purple Day occurs. It is March 26.

I would like to acknowledge a brave young woman named Cassidy Megan, who had the idea for the Purple Day for epilepsy campaign. She joined with the Epilepsy Association of Nova Scotia in 2009. The Purple Day for epilepsy campaign was launched internationally.

The Purple Day for epilepsy campaign has been so important in raising awareness about epilepsy. It has involved countless organizations, schools and celebrities from around the world. It has also engaged politicians, like us in this House.

Cassidy wrote about her diagnosis in an open letter. She said:

Educating people about epilepsy is so important because people need to know what to do if they see someone having a seizure and they need to know that there are different types of seizures and that they don’t have to be afraid of epilepsy or the people who have it. Education also helps people with epilepsy know they aren’t alone.

The intent of the legislation before us in the House today is to increase public awareness about epilepsy. It proposes designating March 26 as Purple Day and it would encourage all Canadians to show their support for people with epilepsy by wearing the colour purple.

I would like to reiterate my support for the bill and its commendable goal of increasing awareness of epilepsy. However, I would like to challenge my colleagues on both sides of the House to consider what we can do as parliamentarians to go beyond simply raising awareness. We know the importance of raising awareness of epilepsy among Canadians. It saves lives, breaks through stigmas and enables us to better understand the challenges faced by those living with this disorder. As parliamentarians, I believe we owe it to Canadians to consider what additional actions the federal government can take to improve the current and future situation of those living with epilepsy beyond encouraging Canadians to wear purple.

As parliamentarians, we know there is a drug shortage in Canada, which also includes a shortage of medication to treat epilepsy. This past October, the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance warned that this drug shortage endangered the lives of those living with epilepsy. It is clear that the federal government can and must do more to address the critical issue of drug shortages in our country.

It is the job of pharmaceutical companies to develop and market effective products that best serve the interests of their bottom lines, but it is not their job to ensure that all Canadians have access to the drugs prescribed by their health professionals, nor should it be. That is the responsibility of government, representatives democratically elected to serve the higher interests of the public good. Canadians are waiting for the Conservative government to step up to the plate.

Today we are considering a bill to designate March 26 as a day to raise awareness of epilepsy. I fully support the bill. I imagine all my colleagues will do the same, but let us not be afraid to roll up our sleeves and get the hard work done of ensuring that Canadians have access to the drugs they need toward eradicating epilepsy.