House of Commons Hansard #117 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was wheat.

Topics

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Supply
Government Orders

June 8th, 1998 / 3:15 p.m.

Vancouver Centre
B.C.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Secretary of State (Multiculturalism)(Status of Women)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to resume the debate on this issue.

I began by saying that I was particularly distressed by the motion on the floor because I think it offends both the principles of democracy and principles of equality that Canada has in fact espoused for so long.

In terms of democratic principles, we are hearing today that the opposition party wishes to state that parliament should have complete say and should have authority over the courts of this land. That is really what the basis of this motion is about.

I went on to say that one of the problems was that in many places where there was no democracy, that is exactly what happens with disastrous results. We only have to look at areas like South Africa and regimes where we know that judges are thrown into jail and people are not allowed to talk about equality or to talk about anything that the government or the parliament of that land does not wish them to speak about.

The danger of having this House tell judges what they should and should not do is it interferes with the fundamental principles of justice. There have been many gains in Canada that have given us a reputation that is enviable around the world in terms of our ability to promote human rights and to foster equality in this country.

Many of those changes have been made because of case law, because of recommendations and because of rulings brought about. The courts in fact have moved parliament to move the agenda forward to recognize the rights of individuals, the rights of groups and to bring about the issue of equality.

When the courts speak to justice, when they make the decisions, they inform parliament. They assist parliament. They hold a mirror to parliament so that we can continue to bring about the things we hold dear as espoused in our charter and as espoused in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Putting a lid on the courts of this land, deciding that the courts have absolutely no power to move the agenda of justice forward is an abuse of power. That is exactly what is being said today in this motion. It may be put in all kinds of a wonderful manner. It is very common for the party across the way to put this kind of discriminatory, anti-justice statement forward in such smooth and sophisticated language, but the truth is what I am speaking about.

The fundamental truth behind this is about the abuse of power of the House that is being espoused by that party. We have heard the saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When it first came into the House that party talked about justice. It talked about grassroots. It talked about the rights of the people and the rights of the individual. And as soon as it becomes the official opposition we see what power can do. Boy, can it can corrupt.

This is also about equality. The basic and fundamental principle of Canadian society is about equality. Equality is not about sameness. Equality is about recognizing the differences in our society. This is one of the most diverse societies in the world. It is not only diverse in terms of the race of its people, their colour, their religion and their abilities and disabilities. It is diverse in every sector we can imagine that the vibrancy of humanity brings about in its diversity. That diversity gives us strength.

One of the most important things we need to know is the differences that we all share as humans present for us many different barriers that we must overcome if we are to achieve equality. Good government and good justice are about recognizing those barriers and setting different strategies to achieve equality, knowing that when other groups are denied equality under the law we must do something. This is where the courts of our land have led. What that group is saying basically is that it is opposed to fundamental equality.

We also hear the term family values; let us not talk about anything that breaks down the traditional family. I remember what the traditional family used to be. If a young woman had a baby out of wedlock she was chased out of the town. She was a pariah. Nobody wanted to talk to her because she was not married and she had a child.

We also know in days gone by the public service would not hire a married woman because she was taking a job away from a man who was the breadwinner. We know about some of these kinds of things. We know about some of the divisions that have gone on.

People have been discriminated against because of their colour or because of all of their differences. We know that there was a time when the diversity of the House would never have occurred because people were not even allowed to vote in this country because of their differences.

These were all brought about by the parliaments of the day. It is our charter of rights and our legal system and the courts of the land that have moved the agenda forward so we are the people we are today.

To stand here and say that this is about denying the family and about breaking down the family is the same as when we used to say if we let people of a certain colour into a particular place it would change the tone of the place. Do we want them to live next to us when landlords and ownership of land was built so that everybody could not live next to each other? Women were not considered to be persons and could not sit in the Senate. These were the laws of the land. We are talking about suggesting that parliament knows all and sees all.

We talk about the new family of today being a group, a unit. The fundamental recognition is that they support each other financially, emotionally and bring about stable units in our society. How many of us are here and have been brought up by a single mother? How many of us are here because we have come out of a blended family? We now see from surveys of families that people are not necessarily getting married, that many structures are common law structures. Are we suggesting that there is no room in this fundamental understanding of what is a family of what is a bond of support between two people, that it must be so narrowly defined and be limited to the old ways?

One of the hon. members from the official opposition stood up in the House today and said that this has been going on for millennia. Precisely. All kinds of offensive acts have been going on for millennia. People have been denied justice in this world for millennia.

Now is a good time for parliaments of the land to consider how the issue of justice is served, that it is not only served by the parliaments of the land, that it is served in many ways by the courts of this land. Justice has to do with the recognition of difference and acknowledging and respecting difference, as well as looking at the stability of our communities and the things that make them stable.

People do not have to be of a particular colour, sex or sexual orientation in order to love, to support, to be caring and to uphold the structure of society. It is not limited to any one group in our society.

Mr. Speaker, I have to tell you I am very offended by this motion. You have no idea. I am getting rather incensed right now.

Civil society must be based on the premise of respect for differences. This is what our society is based on. Reform's failure to recognize this says how out of touch its members are with the reality of the lives of the people they say they are supposed to serve.

Everyone recognizes the things Canada has done. Canada for the fourth year running is the best country in the world in which to live in terms of human relationships. Three years ago Canada received a humanitarian award from the United Nations. It was the first time a country had been given this award. This award was given because Canada is the only, and I underline the word only, country in the world to have been able to give justice and equality to all its diverse people in a timely and equitable manner.

We are the only country that recognizes that equality is about difference and about recognizing difference. There is no room in Canada for diversity is what that party is saying. The narrow definition of families is what really offends me. It should offend everyone who lives in a non-traditional family in this country.

I want to conclude by saying that when we talk about how we bring about human rights in this country, it is not about looking back at what we used to do in the “good old days” because many of those good old days were very bad old days. We must look at ourselves as a country that has a role to play in the world. It is a country which I firmly believe in the next millennium is going to be asked to take up the mantle of leadership. It is not because we are the wealthiest country in the world because we are not. And it is certainly not because we have the mightiest army in the world.

The world is looking to Canada because we have defined the concept of democracy. We have defined the concept of human rights. We have defined the concept of equality in such a way that we have given life to the people of our country. It allows them to walk proud. It allows them to take their place under the laws of our land. They can all achieve whatever is their fundamental potential. And we can have a society where everyone regardless of their colour, their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their religion can feel that they really and truly belong, that they have a place in this society.

For us to believe that we as parliamentarians know it all and have all the answers and cannot listen to what the justices, the supreme court and other people in our land tell us is absolute arrogance which offends me as well.

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Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Reform

Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is quite shocking to listen to a minister of this government who sits in cabinet utter such responses to a motion brought forward in a democratic way for discussion on the floor of this House.

The hon. minister says that she is offended that the opposition would bring this motion forward for debate. I wonder what her vision of democracy is all about when she is offended by free and open debate in this place. It is rather shocking. I think it tells quite a bit about this government, its weaknesses and its inability to want to face questions and debate in an open way.

I would like to ask her a quick question. She mentioned family. She mentioned all sorts of things in her rambling discourse. I want to ask her about a comment made by her own colleague, the government House leader in a letter he wrote to a constituent in 1994.

The government House leader stated “I object to any suggestion that would have homosexual couples treated the same way as heterosexual couples. I do not believe homosexual couples should be treated as families. My wife Mary Ann and I do not claim we are homosexual. Why should homosexuals pretend they form a family”. This came quite shockingly from the government House leader.

I would like to know if she agrees with her colleague in cabinet.

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3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry if the hon. member thought that my rambling discourse was too difficult for him to follow. I am sure that the complex ideas I brought forward probably are too difficult for him to follow.

I am not offended at the debate. The fact the debate is going on in the House says that we indeed have a democratic society in which we can debate these issues. I am offended at the context of the motion, at what the motion proposes.

The important thing we have to talk about is that when we ask a question hopefully we want an answer and hopefully the answer will shed light and clarify the thinking. If we do not listen then we will always be stuck in our same little world.

I am not offended by the debate. I am offended at the principles put forward in the motion, as I said and which was difficult for the hon. member to follow, that were fundamentally undemocratic. They would suggest that the supreme court of the land does not have something to teach and to inform the House, or that equality was about sameness, old traditions, millennia of old rules and old ways that have completely offended the people of our country and left many people outside equality and without rights under the law.

The issue regarding families is not about being married, unmarried, single, gay, lesbian, heterosexual or not. It is about recognizing a fundamental structure in society that holds people together, supports them and binds them in emotional and financial relationships. All those structures, regardless of whatever form they take in this rapidly changing and diverse country of ours, must be honoured and must be given equality under the law.

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3:30 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a very basic question. Does the hon. member think that the Rosenberg case should be appealed?

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3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is not my place to make that decision or to even comment on that decision.

We are discussing a motion which basically says that the courts of our land do not have a right to interfere in what parliament does or does not do. That is what I am debating. Those decisions will be left up to the Government of Canada to discuss later.

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Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, in the answer to the question of my colleague the minister went on at some length directly contradicting what the House leader of the Liberal Party said.

I would like her to repeat after me: I disagree with my House leader.

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Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, this smacks of trying to put words into someone's mouth. I will not repeat what the hon. member has asked me to repeat. I am certainly not a trained seal like hon. members across where I bark when I am told and I reiterate whatever I am told by someone else.

The fundamental thing about a democracy is that everyone is free to make whatever statements they want, to decide what they want and to believe in whatever principles they want. They should not be judged based on those decisions.

I am here to speak for myself in this debate on the motion brought forward. Members have heard my position. I think it reflects that the Liberal Party and the government believe in democracy, the rule of law, order, understanding change and moving toward equality not being about sameness. That is what I am here to talk about.

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Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member indicated she is not a trained seal, but in fact in the vote on hepatitis C every Liberal member voted with the will of the Prime Minister.

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Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

An hon. member

On command.

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Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

On command they voted against compensating all victims who have hepatitis C. Quite frankly trained seal might be an overstatement, but I think the words trained and obey would apply in the circumstances.

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3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, while I would love to respond to the statement I have absolutely nothing to say because for me it does not mean anything.

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Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have a further question then. The minister, like the rest of us, has a lot of respect for the courts and for the judicial system. They are part and parcel of our system of justice and system of law.

The law clearly states that it is parliament that makes the law. One honourable esteemed judge explicitly said that these legislative changes were a role of parliament. That principle has been carried through many generations.

I would like to ask for a response as to whether the minister really believes that we should shut down this place and allow the courts of the land to create the law as well as to interpret and apply it.