House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was amendment.

Topics

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Order, please. I simply wanted to make sure hon. members understood we had an agreement to revert to petitions, but only if they related to the subject matter of the bill now before the House. Therefore we will get back to your petition some other day.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of constituents, 40 of whom live in Kitimat in my riding. They have presented the following petition: "We the undersigned citizens of Canada draw the attention of the House to the following: Whereas a majority of Canadians believe that the privileges which society accords to heterosexual couples should not be extended to same sex relationships; and whereas societal approval including the extension of societal privileges would be given to same sex relationships if any amendment to the human rights act were to include the undefined phrase of sexual orientation as a grounds of discrimination; therefore your petitioners pray and request that Parliament not amend the Canadian Human Rights Act or the charter of rights and freedoms in any way which would tend to indicate societal approval of same sex relationships or homosexuality, including amending the Canadian Human Rights Act to include in the prohibited grounds of discrimination the undefined phrase of sexual orientation".

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I know there has been an understanding to revert to petitions. I would ask for members' co-operation to get to the substance of the matter.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the House for the opportunity to present this petition. It has 127 names which can be added to over 100,000 names which are already on record with regard to this issue. I will condense the preamble. It states that the Holy Scriptures very clearly state that homosexual and alternative lifestyles are not acceptable and are wholly abhorrent to normal family life and it is clear that homosexual and alternative lifestyles have created a medical scourge in Canada. Therefore the petitioners humbly pray and call upon Parliament to totally reject any inclusion of the words "sexual orientation" in any act, code or bill.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-33, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act, be read the third time and passed; and of the amendment.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

May 9th, 1996 / 3:20 p.m.

Cape Breton Highlands—Canso
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Francis Leblanc Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I will pick up my remarks where I left off this morning. Before question period I was in the process of saying that Bill C-33 is not about homosexual unions. It is not about same sex benefits. It is not even about sex. It is about human rights.

Bill C-33 advances the moral proposition that it is a violation of fundamental human rights to deny a person access to services or to discriminate against someone in terms of employment purely on the basis of their sexual orientation. Indeed Bill C-33 does not even advance that proposition. It merely expresses in federal law what already is recognized by the courts and in most provincial human rights legislation.

The legislation does not confer special rights on gays and lesbians any more than including religion as a prohibited ground for discrimination confers special rights on Catholics for example.

It is merely in place to prevent discrimination on these grounds. If discrimination does not take place, then the law need not be applied. Unfortunately there is far too much evidence that discrimination against gays and lesbians does take place in our society.

Those who would oppose this bill for whatever purpose need to confront the moral question: Is it morally acceptable to discriminate against someone because he or she is a homosexual? If so, what is the acceptable form and extent of the discrimination? Is it putting employees in the back of the shop? Is it refusing services to them? Is it by a sign in the window that says no gays need apply? These are the questions that need to be asked.

Those are the same questions which might in another time and another place have been asked where the word "homosexual" was replaced by the words "Jew" or "black". If one follows the logic of those questions, one leads quickly down the dark road of intolerance. These questions will lead us down that road of intolerance if we are not prepared to confront them.

For example, yesterday a member from Manitoba referred to legislation in Canada taking us toward societies like Liberia or Zambia with violence and social disorder. He attributed that in some way to the provision to prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians.

In all sincerity I do not believe that Canadians in 1996 want their government and their Parliament to go down that road. This is the process of reflection which leads me to support this legislation.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, it has been very difficult to get up on this matter today. Time allocation has made it such that those members who wish to address this are having great difficulty in doing so. I would like to make two comments in regard to what the member and other members have said today.

This morning the Bloc member of Parliament for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve gave an example of a church in Quebec that refused a group which openly promoted homosexuality the use of its facilities. My understanding, at least through the translator, is that he felt churches should not be allowed to exercise this choice.

What rights do churches have? One of the points we as Reformers have been making is precisely that this amendment will infringe on the rights of other groups to speak out on ethical moral issues. Will they be able to choose whom they associate with? There is a moral element to this issue. Will churches be able to make these moral judgments after this legislation is passed? The fundamental question is: Where do we get our values from?

Does the government have an ulterior motive in all of this? The questions we have asked have revealed that we are not opposed to sexual orientation in the sense that it would prevent discrimination. We are opposed to all the other things this opens the door to.

Homosexuals are now given as much protection as everyone else. We do not want to discriminate. But because none of the amendments that we proposed were approved, we have to wonder if there is a hidden agenda. Are there ulterior motives?

At second reading we approved in principle that we are opposed to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. I would like all members to consider how they are going to vote at third reading stage. We really have a choice. In light of the fact that none of the amendments were accepted, I hope that all members will seriously consider what we are doing when we include this in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Many many people in this country are gravely concerned as to what this may do to churches, educational institutions or family life. If the member has any comments in regard to that I welcome them. Those are our basic concerns.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Leblanc Cape Breton Highlands—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, there are good sound legal reasons why each of the amendments was not accepted. The reasons differ with each amendment.

The problem with the member's question and the line of inquiry he is opening up and the attack which has been made on this legislation is that the member is not dealing with the legislation. The member is dealing with hypotheses, projections of what might occur in other legislation if this legislation is passed. He says, quite emphatically, that if the Canadian human rights law is changed by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, he is not opposed to that. That is what the Canadian human rights law that we are amending deals with in this instance.

The Criminal Code, the charter of rights and freedoms, all of the other laws that are hypothetically raised as spectres that will happen if this change is made are totally irrelevant to the legislation that we are debating today.

If there has to be a change made in the future to some other law to deal with concerns such as the one the member has raised, those laws will have to be debated in Parliament. If they are debated in Parliament then the views of all sides of the House will be raised in connection with those laws.

However, to raise all these hypothetical scenarios which have nothing to do with this law, as the member admits, is again the fear-mongering which has been taking place in order to confuse Canadians who are seriously considering the ethical and human rights questions which are directly related to this legislation. That

is a dangerous line of inquiry. The issue is too important to be dealt with in this very fuzzy fashion, if I might use that term.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jackson)

The hon. member for Yorkton-Melville. I want to remind the hon. member that there is another four minutes for questions so if he wants an answer he should make sure his question is short.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, the point that we have been trying to make all along in this debate is that these people are already protected under the law. We do not have to create another category for this.

If what the member is saying has any credibility, if this is an important issue, why is it being pushed through the House in eight or nine days? If all of these repercussions need to be addressed why is debate being limited? That flies in the face of what he is saying, which is that in a democratic institution all of these things should be fully examined to see what the repercussions are and to assure people that there is not a hidden agenda. Some documents have already been uncovered to show that there are other things that will take place. Probably 43 other acts will be amended because of this.

If people have concerns in this area why in the world is this bill being pushed through without debate? That really contradicts what the member is saying in regard to the concerns that people have.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Leblanc Cape Breton Highlands—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, the debate on this issue did not start with this legislation a couple of weeks ago. It has been going on for years. The same debate has gone on in the passage of provincial legislation which was put in place going back to the 1970s. It is a debate which has been taking place for a long time and is ongoing.

The member makes a point about us ramming this through the House and about the 43 other laws that will be changed. The bill is very simple and straightforward. If there are laws which need to be amended they will have to be brought before the House. Then members will have an opportunity to debate those changes.

However, this is a very simple and straightforward bill which amends one particular law in a very precise way.

Again, to extrapolate all of these hypothetical scenarios is not faithful to the legislative process the House is engaged in.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, this debate has stirred many emotions. Many people have said some pretty outrageous things throughout it in the Chamber and elsewhere.

All members have an obligation to remember that people are listening, that we have staff who support us who are affected by our words. Canadians have been hurt by some things that have been said in the House. Many apocalyptic predictions of what would occur if we passed this bill have been presented.

I suggest to members that in spite of our inflated views of ourselves and our power here, we cannot destroy families. Through wars, plagues, famines, through all of history, families have survived. It is important to think about what would occur if we do not pass this bill.

I want to point out what Bill C-33 is not. It does not deal with marriage or adoption. It does not apply to religious organizations and their teachings. They are not under federal jurisdiction. It does not deal with same sex benefits. It does not give heterosexuals the right to have sex with minors. It is not about special rights.

Human rights are inherent. They are an integral part of human beings. Our laws, our legal framework, the way we establish our country should reflect this. We recognize as Canadians that it is wrong to discriminate against women, that it is wrong to discriminate against Catholics. Yet we must also recognize that if people are gay or lesbian, problems exist for them in Canada. In the provision of goods and services and employment, discrimination is taking place.

In 1985 an all-party House of Commons committee unanimously passed a resolution that this amendment should be made. Eleven years later, we are still at this point. It is not in effect for people in Canada. I commend the minister for his courage in putting this on the table now.

Canadians say that discrimination should not occur, that gays and lesbians should not be denied promotions, that heterosexuals should not be denied jobs, that it is wrong to discriminate. They also say they know people who have been discriminated against: fathers, brothers, daughters.

We know, for instance, that some youths in Canada engage in an activity known as the game, an activity that causes them to seek out homosexuals and beat them up. Is that okay in Canada? Do members agree with that?

Police in Canada have hate crime units. In Ottawa in the last two years, 387 cases of hate based crime have occurred; 45 of them were sexually oriented. We can all stand up and say that it is wrong for the 215 assault cases that were race related. It is is even easier to say it was wrong for the 210 cases which were based on religion. It is very wrong and we do not accept it.

It is more challenging somehow for us to stand and be counted on the crimes related to hatred against gays and lesbians. In fact,

many MPs voted for Bill C-41. They stood up for people who were beaten up, but somehow they cannot support this bill. I believe that it is through intolerance in employment and other places that we communicate as a society that we accept violence against fellow citizens.

What will we say if we do not pass this bill, if we do not support the inclusion of sexual orientation? I would remind all colleagues that we all have a gender, we all have a race, we all have a religion, we all have a marital status and most importantly, we all have sexual orientation. Including sexual orientation in this provision is not encouraging a lifestyle. That is as absurd as suggesting that the inclusion of religion encourages people to become Greek Orthodox or that including gender would encourage men to suddenly want to become women.

If we do not pass this bill we would be saying that as a nation we accept that discrimination on certain grounds is okay. We would be saying that certain Canadians, citizens who pay their taxes, raise healthy families, go to places of worship, work for charities, are somehow not equal to the rest of us who are straight.

We would be saying to parents and grandparents that their kids are not equal, that their son or daughter does not deserve to be judged on skill, education, ability to fly a plane or to handle bank transactions. We would be saying that their son or daughter deserves to be judged solely on their perceived sexual orientation.

Do not all Canadians, no matter what region they live in, no matter which province, no matter how they vote in referendums, agree that they share a value of tolerance? Is there not a need to stand up and give an important message to Canadians on this front?

After listening to this debate I am sure there exists a need. People who should know a heck of a lot better. Elected officials from the third party, in particular, seem unaware that in seven provinces and one territory, over 90 per cent of the Canadian population, it is already illegal to send someone to the back of the shop and it is already illegal to fire them on the basis of colour, religion or sexual orientation.

The member for Nanaimo-Cowichan should know better. To the member for Lisgar-Marquette, my god, suggesting that we are inciting civil war like that in Liberia and Zambia, it is insane. It does not make any sense and frankly it is a disservice to the people in Liberia and Zambia for what they are going through.

After listening to this debate I am positive that amendment is necessary and is necessary now. We can waste no more time. It is a matter of basic human rights, rights that all of us have the minute we are born. All Canadians deserve this law today for their children and grandchildren.

Tolerance or values are not something of leisure or of convenience. We are all called on to stand up for people, to stand up for the people no one else seems willing to stand up for. It is a challenge I offer all members of this House.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to make a few remarks here and I thank my colleague for her remarks.

A few days ago the member for Halifax made this statement with respect to the amendments brought by members. She said those amendments "involved fearmongering, intolerant and un-Canadian sentiments".

The member for Cape Breton Highlands-Canso again used the word fearmongering in connection with the amendments that were brought by his colleagues a few days ago and defeated yesterday.

I was one of those members who brought an amendment forward and I wish my colleagues to know that it was not un-Canadian, it was not as a result of fearmongering. I brought the amendment forward because I believe that some Canadians are genuinely concerned about Bill C-33, not because they are against discrimination, but because Bill C-33 is vague and imprecise in its application.

Canadians do not know what the impact will be. The Minister of Justice has assured us the bill is designed to be limited to the workplace but there is a genuine concern among many Canadians that it may have impact in interpretations that pertain to the definition of family and marital status in the context of same sex relationships and same sex benefits.

The reason for my amendment, and the amendments of several other members on both sides, was to try to draw parameters around the bill in the precise manner that the Minister of Justice had proposed. He had said that the bill should apply to discrimination in the workplace. I think 90 per cent of all Canadians would agree with him that this is a very good thing.

I can assure the House that if I was confident the bill did apply only to discrimination in the workplace then I would support it with all my heart. I am afraid for some reason, and I do not know why there has been a reluctance on the part of the government to do what it so easily can do, that is to put in a few phrases which simply state that this bill is not to be taken in any context that pertains to the redefinition of family, marital status or anything to do with same sex relationships. This could have been done. This was in the amendments that were put forward and all were defeated in the House.

I would ask the member for Burlington who spoke very well and I would agree with her that we should deplore any form of discrimination in the workplace pertaining to sexual orientation.

Does she not feel that the government could have moved so much further forward, could have answered so many of the worries of Canadians if only it had defined a little bit more precisely what it means by family and to put it in the body of a statute rather than to leave it has it is.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, if we were to ask any person in this room to identify who their family is, they would have absolutely no problem in describing those people who make up their family.

All of us would have a different definition. All of us would know very well what we meant, who those people are. Yet every day I am told by people that I do not have a family because I do not have children and I do not have a spouse.

People want to define traditional family or family, that it is heterosexual, with two children or three children. I do not fit that description because I do not have a spouse and I do not have children.

I did not appear on earth all of a sudden. I have a family. I have parents. I have brothers and sisters. I have five nieces. I have friends. I have a family. I will continue to have those aunts, uncles and cousins who make up my family.

Should we get into this ridiculous game of trying to make some definition that fits everybody? One definition is that it must be heterosexual. If I had only my mother and my niece in my family, would we somehow not be a family because we were all female?

Is it our business who is sleeping in which rooms in a home? When it comes to children, yes. When it comes to illegal activity, yes. Issues of who are strong economic units, of who support each other in other ways, are not for the House to decide.

Canadians know what a family is. Everyone in this room could define family. I have a family.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate at third reading on Bill C-33, whose purpose is to add sexual orientation to the prohibited grounds of discrimination listed in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

I am reiterating the purpose of this bill because some of the speeches in this House would suggest a totally different purpose. In fact, this bill is aimed at including another reason not to discriminate. The Canadian Human Rights Act will now prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The truth is that Canada is way behind. That is the truth. What is outrageous in all this is that Canada is lagging behind. The rights and freedoms charter adopted by Quebec in 1977-when the Canadian Human Rights Act was passed-already prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. Since then, seven other provinces have included similar provisions in their legislation.

Were moral and family values in those provinces destroyed? Of course not. As the Canadian Human Rights Commission said, it is worthwhile and necessary to remind people year after year that sexual orientation should be included among the prohibited grounds of discrimination.

It must be kept in mind that, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born equal in rights. During an interview on "Morningside" on March 19, 1996, Max Yalden said this: "All I am saying is that it must be done". That was before the government made its decision. He added: "The courts have said that it must be done. In some countries to which we like to compare ourselves, it has already been done. The government now in office-he gave this interview before the bill wastabled-and its predecessors promised to do so. What we are saying is that the time has come to act".

It is worthwhile to go over the prohibited grounds of discrimination listed in the act. There is race. Yet, precisely because prejudices are so deeply ingrained, we must help society become more tolerant. A good way to help society become more tolerant is to pass legislation clearly prohibiting discrimination based on race.

Then there is national or ethnic origin. I could remind the House that French-Canadians have themselves experienced discrimination first hand. I could say they are still experiencing it but, to help Canadian society become more tolerant, we specified in the charter that this is a prohibited ground of discrimination.

I now move on to colour, religion, age and sex. Women know that the fight is not over, that the real conditions needed to achieve equality are not all there. But where would we be if the Canadian legislation did not prohibit discrimination based on sex? Yet, as we know, it is not because this provision exists that we have all the conditions needed to achieve economic equality. We see it in all kinds of areas.

I continue with marital status. I remember when being divorced used to arouse strong prejudices. It has now become a prohibited ground of discrimination. It is prohibited to discriminate against someone based on marital status, and that is a good thing. Does this mean that, in all families, the time when divorced people were treated differently is over? No, it is not over.

However, we as a society are saying it is prohibited to refuse to hire someone because he or she is divorced. The same goes for family status, conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted and, yes, disability, because some people may look

with contempt at those with disabilities. Does this mean that all disabilities will be overlooked, that those having to live with disabilities will enjoy the conditions needed to achieve equality? No.

The truth is that societies are very slow to learn tolerance and that, in some cases, a tolerance that had been taken for granted may not be so deeply entrenched.

In eight provinces-in Quebec since 1977-sexual orientation is listed among the prohibited grounds of discrimination. Again, the time has come for Canada to get in step with the provinces, with other countries, with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. That is the real issue.

I was disturbed to see that, until very recently, this government had not announced its intention to act on a bona fide promise.

I myself heard the Minister of Justice state in this House that the government had many priorities and that it was not sure that he could act on this commitment before the next election.

I wonder why the government rushed in as it did, unannounced, with this long awaited and hoped for bill, a bill which only brings federal legislation in line with that of the majority of provinces. Why did this bill appear all of a sudden, out of the blue, at a time when the government was in big trouble because of its own turpitude and about to lose face completely? It zoomed through second reading, report stage, third reading and time allocation.

I figure that the government extricated itself from of a difficult situation by turning the tables on us. But I do not want it to get off so lightly. I am pleased to speak on this motion. I think that Canada is catching up. I am saddened however by statements I have heard in this House, because I like to think of Canadian society as a tolerant society. But some of the statements made in this House, even from members opposite, do not exactly reflect tolerance.

I think that our friends on the government side, who do not take lightly-and neither do I-the statements made by our Reformer friends, should turn their guns on those members of their own party who often made much more devastating remarks than the Reformers, and that takes some doing. Take for example the hon. member for Central Nova, whom I have heard express the view that homosexuality was unnatural.

It is indeed urgent that this motion be agreed to. It is urgent that we pass this motion whose sole purpose is to help society develop the tolerance required. I have heard concerns expressed about the family. I failed to see the connection between these concerns and the bill itself, which explicitly prohibits discrimination.

Would the opposite view be to regard as legal discriminating against people in the workplace on the grounds that they are gays or lesbians? Because it is important to see in what context these provisions will actually and effectively be applied.

As I said earlier, never in the 20 years since 1977 that we, in Quebec, have been governed by such a provision have I noticed any erosion of the family, but I did see it restructure. The fact is that the family is changing. I for one think that the family has been changing to keep up with economic and social changes for centuries. It adjusted to evolving economic and social conditions and also-I guess I can fit religion in here-to emerging ideologies and behaviours. The family changed as required.

The industrial revolution drove many people away from the land and into the cities. Large rural families not only reflected a respect for religion but a need for a small workforce on the farm. When families moved into the cities, their structure underwent significant changes.

Women started going to work, not because of a sudden urge to work in a factory but, on the contrary, because the only work available to them was, in most cases, a hard and thankless job that slowly killed them.

The family structure changed along with economic and social conditions. It continues to change. I have a great deal of hope in the future, but I know one thing: it is very hard to classify the family right now. I went to the trouble of looking at the amendments made and I noticed that they overlooked what I think real families are, families whose members are responsible and support each other, families whose members love children, the sick and the elderly, and care for them.

Even in the catholic religion-I taught religion a long time ago-the marriage is a sacrament involving two people who willingly want to get married. The Church is only a witness to that union. More than the requirements of the state, what really matters in a family is the will of its members to assume a responsibility together.

It is too soon to put a label on a changing structure. Rather, we must look at the needs. As far as I am concerned, the needs of children must have priority. When these needs are met, even if it is not in a traditional family, it is great for children.

If we are to ensure tolerance in our society, Canada must urgently send a signal that it is not appropriate to discriminate against someone on the basis of his or her sexual orientation. This is not the place to analyze the roots of homosexuality or lesbianism. However, it is extremely important to understand that it is a reality, that we are talking about honest and respectable citizens who, like all other members of society, must abide by the same moral principles.

Sexual orientation is a fact of life. It has always existed and it has nothing to do with pedophilia. Nothing at all. Pedophilia is a deviation.

Sexual orientation is a fact that, when people become aware of it at a certain age, may be disturbing. They may decide, in some cases, to acknowledge it, and, in others, not. But it is a fact.

So is Canada, or is it not, going to continue to fail to recognize the rights of those who are faced with this fact, whatever their age?

I would have preferred to see the party in power introduce Bill C-33 deliberately and voluntarily as part of its legislative agenda, rather than in reaction to a crisis, in order to take the heat off, to move a problem to the back burner. But I am nonetheless pleased that Canada is finally moving with the times.

It remains only to say that all those who are worried should not be, because it does not follow that because we are going to add this category to the Canadian Human Rights Act that, any more than in the case of sex, for example, either mentalities or economic and social conditions are going to change immediately. No, it is a signal that the country is sending, and it must be an urgent one, it seems to me, and it must be clear.