House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was social.

Topics

Points Of Order

October 5th, 1998 / 11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to seek the unanimous consent of the House that the opposition motion tabled with the Journals Branch on Friday, October 2, 1998 by Mr. Brien, the hon. member for Témiscamingue, be debated today under Business of Supply, Government Orders.

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I understand that this motion is necessary because the motion was not in on time.

I would like to know from the House leader for the Bloc whether he understands by his request that the motion be debated that he is also asking that it be votable. Is that implied in the question? Because if it is, then there is not unanimous consent. If he is only requesting that it be debated, then there is.

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I was going to ask the same question.

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the request as I heard it, we have no objection. We think it is a small technical problem and we have no objection to this motion being debated.

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Perhaps the hon. member for Roberval can clarify the situation. Is the request that the motion be debated, or that it be debated and voted on?

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would have liked it to be votable, but my discussions, particularly those with the parliamentary leader of the New Democratic Party, implied that I could not obtain unanimous consent—unless there was a change—and I was told that unanimous consent by the House and the NDP would be forthcoming only if the motion were not votable.

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent of the House that the opposition motion tabled with the Journals Branch on Friday, October 2, 1998 by Mr. Brien, the hon. member for Témiscamingue, be debated today under Business of Supply, Government Orders?

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, with the understanding that it is not votable.

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion that I proposed to the House was only that it be debated, not that it be votable. Is that agreed?

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental Freedoms
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

moved that Bill C-304, an act to amend An Act for the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, once again I am disappointed that my bill has been given second class status in the House. For the second time since I have become a member of parliament this important issue has been denied enough time for a full debate and MPs have been denied a vote for or against strengthening property rights in federal law.

I think it is time to make all private members' business votable. All the private members' business that comes before the House should be made votable.

I want to use the little time I have to explain why a full debate and a vote on Bill C-304 in the House is so important.

I have received impressive public support for my property rights bill, considering that I have had so little time to promote this legislative initiative. I have received 491 pages of petitions, signed by 11,292 Canadians from all across Canada who support the bill. I have also received the support of the Canadian Real Estate Association which represents more than 200 real estate boards in every province of this country. That fact alone must surely cause the government to rethink its stand on property rights. It is obvious that this is a very important issue for many Canadians.

As members of this House are no doubt aware, this is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations declaration of human rights. Article 17 of the UN declaration of human rights reads: “Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property”. Despite the fact that Canada ratified the UN declaration of human rights 50 years ago, the fact is that Canadians are still being arbitrarily deprived of their property.

There are and have been so many examples. The example I am so familiar with is Bill C-68, the firearms act. Other examples are the Canadian Wheat Board Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Pearson Airport Agreements Act, the national energy program of a few years ago, as well as many others.

My colleagues and I will use our time to expose just a few examples of how the government has abused the property rights of millions of Canadians. We will explain why all Canadians should fear a government that is prepared to run roughshod over such a fundamental and natural right.

Professor Peter Hogg in his book Constitutional Law of Canada , third edition, wrote: “The omission of property rights from section 7 of the charter greatly reduces its scope. It means that section 7 affords no guarantee of compensation or even a fair procedure for the taking of property by the government. It means that section 7 affords no guarantee of fair treatment by courts, tribunals or officials with power over purely economic interests of individuals or corporations”. That was from citation 44.9 at page 1030.

Professor Hogg also wrote: “The product is a section 7 in which liberty must be interpreted as not including property, as not including freedom of contract, and, in short, as not including economic liberty”. That was from citation 44.7(b) at page 1028.

Those are powerful words. I ask the members of this House if their constituents are even aware of this lack of protection in the charter. Why are we here? It is our duty as parliamentarians to be sure that the foundation, the fundamentals, of our society are right. That is what Bill C-304 is all about.

Former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau argued long and hard for better protection of property rights, first in his 1968 paper titled “A Canadian Charter of Human Rights”, which was tabled when he was minister of justice; second in his 1969 paper “The Constitution of the People of Canada”; and once again in 1978 when he introduced Bill C-60, the constitutional amendment bill.

Mr. Trudeau tried to get property rights included in the charter in July 1980 and again in January 1981. Finally in April 1983 he said here in the House of Commons “I would say that if we can have the agreement of the Conservative Party to introduce an amendment on property rights and to pass it in 24 hours”.

Rather than try to amend the charter of rights and freedoms, my private member's bill, Bill C-304, proposes to provide adequate protection of property rights in federal law by strengthening the property rights provisions of the Canadian bill of rights, not the charter.

In the past the government has argued rather poorly that there is no need to strengthen property rights in federal law. The government has argued in the past that the Canadian bill of rights provides adequate protection of property rights. But I ask: If property rights are so adequately protected in federal law, how can the government keep violating article 17 of the UN declaration of human rights by arbitrarily taking the property of Canadian citizens?

The bill of rights only provides rather feeble protection of property rights. Even these can be overridden by just saying so in any piece of legislation passed by this House. My bill proposes to make it more difficult to override the property rights of Canadian citizens by requiring a two-thirds majority vote of this House.

We are not tying the government's hands to legislate, but we are saying that property rights are so important that an override clause should pass a higher test in the House.

Even if the government agrees to abide by the so-called guarantees in the Canadian bill of rights as it currently is worded, it protects only three things; the right to the enjoyment of property, the right not to be deprived of property except by due process, and finally the right to a fair hearing. Unfortunately the bill of rights does not, as I will explain later, prevent the arbitrary taking of property, and that is a very serious matter.

The bill of rights does not provide any protection of our right to be paid any compensation let alone fair compensation. The bill of rights does not provide any protection of our right to have compensation fixed impartially. The bill of rights does not provide any protection of our right to receive timely compensation. Finally, the bill of rights does not provide any protection of our right to apply to the courts to obtain justice.

Bill C-304 would amend the bill of rights to provide added protection for Canadian citizens from the arbitrary decisions made by the federal government to take their property.

Approval of my amendments to the bill of rights would allow Canadians to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, knowing that we have finally provided the protection of property rights in federal law that the UN declaration called for so many decades ago. Would that not be a wonderful way to celebrate the 50th anniversary?

I can see a few members on the government looking self-assured and confident that I am wrong and that the government is right. The Minister of Justice's little helpers will soon stand up and proclaim as much. I anticipate that, but I am not wrong. That is why we need a full debate in the House. Not just one hour. That is why we need a vote in the House on this issue.

Voters in the country have to know that the government by its own legislation, the legislation government members have supported, and by the actions of its own Minister of Justice condoned the arbitrary taking of property in direct contravention of article 17 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

The people of the country do not know that. They should hang their heads in shame rather than parade around the world claiming to be the defenders of fundamental human rights. Article 17(2) of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states:

No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

I have only time to cover one arbitrary taking of property by the federal government. I will use the example I know best. As members know I have been working on Bill C-68, the Firearms Act, very actively, in opposition of course. Section 84(1) of Bill C-68 passed by parliament in 1995 and now chapter 39 of the Statutes of Canada arbitrarily prohibited an estimated 553,000 registered handguns: 339,000 handguns that have a barrel equal to or less than 104 millimetres in length, about 4.14 inches, and 214,000 handguns that discharge 25 and 32 calibre bullets.

The government arbitrarily decided that these 553,000 handguns currently safely stored in the homes of law-abiding government registered owners were so dangerous that they had to be banned. The government ignored the fact and the evidence from Statistics Canada showing that unregistered handguns responsible for about 75% of all firearms crimes in the country were already illegal. Why does the government ignore these facts?

In 1994 the government estimated that these 553,000 handguns represented about half of all the firearms in the existing firearms registry. What proof did the government provide that these firearms were dangerous? None. The decision was completely arbitrary. I appreciate the show of concern that a few members are showing.

What was the extent of the government evidence to justify the prohibition? In the government's opinion these legally acquired properly registered firearms “are not considered to be suitable for organized target shooting and such handguns are produced primarily for use as weapons”. No evidence was ever presented showing how many crimes these 553,000 legally owned handguns had been involved in or how banning them would have prevented any crimes or prevent any crimes in the future. In fact neither the RCMP nor the Minister of Justice were able to produce any evidence in parliament that the 64 year old handgun registration system had been used to help solve even one crime.

The government even proved my point about the arbitrariness of its decision to ban hundreds of thousands of legally owned guns by deciding to leave most of the registered handguns it always refers to as Saturday night specials in the hands of registered owners until they die. That demonstrates clearly how arbitrary its decision is. It is then that most of these firearms will be seized because many of their heirs will not be able to comply with the onerous rules and regulations respecting ownership of firearms.

If these handguns are safe in the hands of registered owners, why did the government need to ban them? Not once have we had an answer to that. We do not have property rights in this country. The criminals are already breaking the law by using unregistered guns for their crimes. How did it improve public safety by banning guns in the hands of hundreds of thousands of good guys?

Surely, if this arbitrary ban were to do any good, the government would have to remove these so-called Saturday night specials from the hands of their registered owners. It did not, thereby proving the arbitrariness of its decision and providing all the proof anyone needs to demonstrate its breaking of article 17 of the 1948 UN Declaration on Human Rights.

With the announcement of this ban the government destroyed the value of these 553,000 registered handguns. The government did not have to physically take property to violate the fundamental property rights of these hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Canadians. The government's arbitrary ban destroyed the value of these handguns and took money out of citizen's pockets just as surely as a mugger takes money out of his victim's pockets on the streets of downtown Toronto.

Government is force and this is how it uses it. It uses this force to throw western farmers in jail just because they choose not to sell their wheat to the government. The government uses this force to stop Canadians from receiving television channels the government does not want them to watch.

Are we really free when this violation of one of our most fundamental rights goes on right before our eyes? Some people will say “what the government is doing is not affecting me”, but what will these people say when their government arbitrarily decides to take their property or destroy the value of their property?

Not only did the government arbitrarily ban this legally owned property but it is refusing to pay compensation for the loss in value suffered by this government enforced step. It is refusing to pay compensation for the legally owned firearms that people have and that it is going to confiscate.

At the time the government announced this arbitrary ban on private property approximately 20,000 to 30,000 of these firearms were held in the inventories of government licensed businesses.

Listen very carefully. On May 19, 1998 a firearm's dealer received a letter from the Canadian Firearms Centre in the Department of Justice which said:

Firearms in a dealer's inventory are not grandfathered and will therefore be subject to confiscation as of October 1. There is no compensation scheme planned at this time for dealers or individuals whose handguns become prohibited October 1, 1998 and are confiscated or turned in.

Those are words of our own bureaucrats, our own Department of Justice. On September 1, 1998 the Minister of Justice wrote a law-abiding gun owner in Ottawa. Her letter was commenting on a 1994 gun ban that paid them compensation if they surrendered their arbitrarily prohibited firearms to the government. The minister said:

The surrender initiative was unique. It should be considered an amnesty, rather than an expropriation. Firearms not identified under this initiative are not eligible for payment if surrendered or seized.

There we have it in black and white, confiscation without compensation. I am very familiar with this and I could continue to go on to describe how arbitrary it is.

Let me conclude by saying that in June the Canadian Police Association wrote to the Minister of Justice complaining about her plans to confiscate 20,000 to 30,000 banned handguns from government approved firearms dealers. Here is what the CPA letter said:

We were nothing short of amazed to hear questions of constitutionality concerning confiscation without compensation of property previously lawfully acquired swept aside as non-existent.

The CPA called the minister's actions “unwise in the extreme”.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental Freedoms
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am afraid the hon. member's time has expired.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental Freedoms
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Ahuntsic
Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, the bill seeks to elevate property rights protection in the Canadian bill of rights above that of any rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, let alone the bill of rights.

The government believes that property rights are important and deserving of protection, that they currently enjoy sufficient protection, and that there is no need for this private member's motion.

First I will address the protection already afforded to property rights and then why the proposals to codify further protections in the bill of rights and the Constitution are unnecessary and inappropriate.

Numerous statutes regulate and protect property in Canada. There are common law rules which govern the purchase and sale of land, for instance, or the taking of interest in mortgages or leases. Real and personal property laws govern the acquisition and sale of all property of this nature. There are also laws that protect the right to own various forms of property, from vehicles to copyright.

One of the fundamental rules of law respected by the drafters of bills in the Department of Justice is the principle that property may not be expropriated without compensation. This guiding principle is mentioned on the department's Internet site.

This right must be weighed against society's other values. For example, our thinking about property and the equitable protection to which people are entitled so that they are not deprived of their right to the enjoyment of property has evolved.

The federal Divorce Act and provincial and territorial family laws ensure that women are not deprived of their right to a fair share of matrimonial property, regardless of who has legal title.

Another source of protection of property rights is the direct declaration in the Canadian bill of rights. The Canadian bill of rights has quasi-constitutional status. A number of its provisions were repeated in specific provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Since the charter contains no specific clause on property rights, section 1 of the bill of rights would continue to protect property rights. It states:

It is hereby recognized and declared that in Canada there have existed and shall continue to exist without discrimination by reason of race, national origin, colour, religion or sex, the following human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely,

(a) the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law.

Thus this clause protects property rights in that a person cannot be deprived of his rights except by regular application of the law.

The bill of rights requires the Minister of Justice to examine every bill before the House to ensure that it is consistent with the bill of rights and to report any inconsistency to the House. It is then up to hon. members, in accordance with the democratic process, to determine whether nevertheless to pass the bill.

One of our main concerns about Bill C-304 is that it would give property rights precedence over all other rights protected in the Bill of Rights, as well as in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As things now stand, Parliament cannot pass bills inconsistent with the charter or the bill of rights without including a notwithstanding clause. Clauses 3 and 5 of Bill C-304, which propose the addition of new paragraphs 2.1 and 2.2, as well as new section 6 to the bill of rights, would require the votes of at least two-thirds of the members of the House of Commons for these provisions to be amended or a notwithstanding clause to be passed.

In principle, our government is opposed to any more protection of property rights than is already provided for in the charter, such as the protection of rights flowing from the act or prohibiting discrimination against disabled persons. This is particularly true when we examine the evolving concepts of property and discrimination.

In a complex society with many interests and competing rights, we must recognize that rights are not absolute. We have and need laws to govern the use of property in the public interest. There is a network of laws not only at the federal level but also at the provincial and municipal levels.

Earlier I mentioned the federal Divorce Act and provincial and territorial laws which ensure that matrimonial property is equitably divided upon the breakup of a marriage. In addition, environmental legislation establishes a whole body of regulations governing everything from the disposal of hazardous waste to cutting down trees. There are also laws that govern ownership of shares of limited companies, bankruptcy, ownership of land by non-Canadians, land use and zoning in residential or farming areas.

In each of these cases and laws there are limitations on property, ownership and use. Everyone recognizes the need for these restrictions. If the government were to consider amending the bill of rights, sight should not be lost of the important limitations on the enjoyment of property.

We should also bear in mind that many of the laws are in the provincial realm, something the opposition often forgets. Under section 92 of the Constitution Act 1867 each province has exclusive jurisdiction over property and civil rights in the province. A good example is the recent adaptation by the Ontario Harris government of children under 12 years of age having the right to firearms, something that the opposition has not mentioned. Hunting is under provincial jurisdiction.

Since the new property rights protection program would be enshrined in the bill of rights instead of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it would apply only to Parliament, and not to provincial legislatures.

This government feels that the ensuing imbalance would do a disservice to federal-provincial relations. It would also be unfair to Canadians to subject them to two property rights protection programs, one at the provincial level and one at the federal level.

Last but not least, Bill C-304 would amend the Constitution Act of 1867 to allow for the adoption of the new section 6 of the Canadian Bill of Rights which, as already mentioned, would have the effect of increasing to two-thirds the percentage of votes required in the future to adopt laws that could undermine the new protection afforded property rights. The procedure for amending the Constitution is, as we all know, quite complex and time consuming, and the result is far from being guaranteed.

There are many existing protections for property rights in Canada in the Canadian bill of rights and other statutes and through common law. Canadians currently enjoy important protection of property rights.

I would like to address the firearms legislation. The hon. member took most of his time to state to the Canadian public some falsities which have been repeated consistently in the House.

First of all the firearms legislation does not talk about confiscation. It talks about registration. I remind hon. members that the House adopted that piece of legislation and it is in contempt of the House to constantly bring up the issue in my opinion. An election was won on that piece of legislation and a court challenge was won recently on that piece of legislation. Parliament has the right and hon. members of Her Majesty's Official Opposition consistently forget that fact and are in contempt of this parliament to constantly bring up the same piece of legislation. We fought the election. We won the election. It is a law of the land at the moment.

The notion of property is much broader than real property. Given how broad the concept of real property can be, we must be careful if we succeed in altering the existing protection for property rights in a quasi-constitutional document such as the Bill of Rights.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental Freedoms
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-304, introduced by the Reform Party member for Yorkton—Melville and entitled an Act to amend an Act for the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and to amend the Constitution Act, 1867. In short, it is an act to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights.

At first glance, the subject appears appealing. The first clause proposes the following, and I quote:

Paragraph 1(a) of An Act for the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is replaced by the following:

(a) the right of the individual to life, liberty and security of the person, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law;

This amendment to the existing legislation removes from subsection 1(a) the freedom of enjoyment of one's property. Everyone agrees that the freedom to enjoy one's property is a democratic freedom. One question, however: Is this an unconditional, universal, freedom?

We see what the member is after in clause 3. It proposes:

The Act is amended by adding the following after section 2:

2.1 (1) Subject to subsections (2) and (3), every person has the right to the enjoyment of that person's property.

This is a fundamental statement of this bill: the right to private property. For most of us, private property refers immediately to our home, but it includes many other things, such as a house, car, land, bicycle, to name but a few.

I am no constitutional expert. However, I know that the provinces have jurisdiction over property and civil rights. It is therefore the responsibility of the provinces to legislate in areas involving personal property.

The member's bill therefore aims at establishing recognition of the right to property in federal legislation subject to the Canadian Bill of Rights, since it applies only to federal acts and institutions.

The right to enjoyment of property is found in subsection 1(a) of the Canadian Bill of Rights. So, we may well ask what the point of the bill is and what scope does the member intend for it. I think he is attempting to initiate a general debate on the right to private property based on the following assumption: the right to private property is a natural right and one that is outside of legislation.

But many ongoing situations show that personal rights, especially in connection to property, often have to be restricted for the common good. Take for example environmental issues. Environmental and public health protection require that legislation be passed that sometimes limits property rights by imposing strict regulations on companies.

Another example everyone, at least everyone in this place, knows about is the speed limit on roads and highways. Such rules limit my enjoyment of my car's performance. Yet, careless behaviour might see me lose the use of my car. Imagine how disastrous this would be.

The Firearms Registration Act is yet another example. I had no intention of ascribing motives to the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville. And I will not do so. But after hearing his remarks, it seems clear to me that, in his opinion, should the Canadian Bill of Rights be amended as proposed in his bill, the firearm registration legislation would be impossible to enforce and would entail prohibitive costs as anyone could demand a hearing before a court of law under clauses 2.1(1) and 2.1(4).

Last century, the era of dyed-in-the-wool economic liberalism, certain decisions prevented the various Parliaments in Canada from interfering with private property either by confiscating it or by destroying it without compensation. Times have changed.

In the 20th century, Parliament can establish laws, and the public has the right to judge their legitimacy and morality.

This is easily illustrated. In the case of the surplus in the employment insurance fund, the current government can try to legalize its use for purposes other than those established. Should it go so far, the public will decide on the legitimacy and morality of such misappropriation.

As you can see, we have no intention of supporting this bill, because we think that the freedom of some stops where the freedom of others starts. This is the price of living in a harmonious and responsible society.

Canadian and Quebec society will never opt for the law of the jungle.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental Freedoms
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have just a few comments on the private member's motion by the hon. member from the Reform Party.

I would like to address something that he brought up in his remarks with respect to the conduct of Private Members' Business in this House and the ongoing debate as to whether or not all motions and bills that emanate from Private Members' Business should be made votable.

Just on the history lesson side for a minute, some hon. members but perhaps not all may know that it is only recently speaking in the long term parliamentary history that we have been able to vote on anything having to do with Private Members' Business. Prior to 1985, Private Members' Business would come up for an hour, it would be debated, talked out and then would disappear forever to the bottom of the list.

As a result of the reforms that came out of what has come to be known as the McGrath committee, it was decided that this was an unsatisfactory way of doing things and that some bills and motions of private members ought to be able to come to a vote without unanimous consent. Prior to the McGrath committee reforms, it was possible to have a vote on a private member's motion or bill but there had to be unanimous consent and one can imagine just how rarely that took place.

There was this feeling that in order to give Private Members' Business the significance it was due that there should be some process for making sure some private members' motions and bills were made votable. The suggestion at that time was that we would proceed as usual with the lottery to determine which members would have their bills and motions deliberated upon to see whether or not—