House of Commons Hansard #83 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-23.

Topics

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

April 11th, 2000 / 3 p.m.

Reform

Eric C. Lowther Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the comments of the member for Wentworth—Burlington.

He commented that Bill C-23 inappropriately used the term conjugal. I agree with him. We have made the comment a number of times in the House that not only is it inappropriate to use it in a same sex relationship, it is also probably irresponsible not to define it in a bill, particularly one which uses it so frequently.

I was concerned when I understood him to say that the real problems with the bill were generated primarily from the bureaucracy in the justice department; that it really was not the justice minister who was responsible for bringing forward the bill in the manner that it is and structured as it is, with all its inherent weaknesses which we have itemized several times, but that the problem was really in the justice department. I find that shocking. Is he implying, by his own volition, that the justice minister does not have control of her department, that she cannot call the shots over the people who work in the ministry? Certainly that was the tone of his comments.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

3 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, what I said was that there is a certain lack of confidence that the justice department officials will deal with these issues impartially.

In fact, what I said was that this is a very fine bill in the sense that it does define marriage and that it does define same sex relationships outside marriage. The unfortunate thing is that there is a school of feeling on my own side that the lawyers, and particularly the justice department, will not defend this clause defining marriage when it comes up in other legislation.

What I was trying to point out was that I think we have a problem where we have a justice department that creates the laws, advises the minister and then defends the laws. I think it is fair to say that it is generally felt, there is a general feeling on all sides of the House, that the justice department is not always acting on behalf of parliament, but acting more on behalf of its interpretation of the charter rather than the interpretation of the charter as represented by the representatives of the people.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

3 p.m.

Reform

Eric C. Lowther Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that reply from the hon. member and I appreciate his candour. Certainly, it sounds to me like there are problems in that department and that the justice minister should be the one who is in charge. She is ultimately responsible for what comes out of her department and she should act on that.

I have noticed in Bill C-23 that the definition of common law partner, which includes two people of the same sex in a conjugal relationship, is repeated in every statute. In fact, it is repeated sometimes more than once in each of the statutes under Bill C-23. Yet the justice minister and the justice department have deemed it not appropriate to put the definition of marriage in every statute. It appears at the front of the bill, but it is not in the statutes.

We have a legal opinion which says it will have no legal weight when a court challenge comes. Therefore, is it not appropriate, in his mind, that our amendments which were voted down by the government yesterday should have been included? If we can include a definition of common law partner, why not a definition of marriage which we have been advocating all the way along?

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Wentworth—Burlington, ON

I repeat, Mr. Speaker, my view is that once you get the definition of marriage in law and once you get the definition of same sex couples as being outside marriage in law, that is enough.

The only reason the 19 on this side were not onside with the government and supported the member for Scarborough Southwest was because they are not confident that the lawyers and perhaps even the justice department will cite this clause in Bill C-23 when the issue of defining marriage or defining same sex partnerships comes up. It is sad. It is wrong. It is unfortunate because we should have confidence that the laws we pass will be applied and will be defended adequately in the courts.

I would argue that this is one of the problems we have with the supreme court interpreting the charter. It is not that the supreme court is not doing its job; the real question is whether the interests of parliament are being defended adequately before the supreme court. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, those who are defending the interests of parliament are the very people who wrote the laws in the first place and are the very ones who advised the justice minister in the first place.

What I am suggesting is that we have to re-examine the relationship of the justice department in the creation of the laws and the defence of the laws. I think we have to look at this whole issue and I suggest to members opposite that maybe it could be a motion for an opposition day. I cannot do it.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise today to speak to Bill C-23. I think it is very important in terms of the kinds of measures that the government is taking in this very important area.

I want to begin by congratulating the Minister of Justice for putting together what I believe is a very fine piece of legislation and one which I think Canadians, for the most part, wherever they live in our great country, will not only respect but also welcome. I want to indicate at the outset that I think it is a good move and that Canadians, ultimately and historically, will applaud the fact that we are moving in this all important area.

I have listened to the debate on Bill C-23 over the last little while and I have to say that some members opposite, the reformed CRAP alliance party members, have in fact gone repeatedly—

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Speaker ruled clearly several Mondays ago, and the ruling has been upheld repeatedly by the Speaker, that the name of our party is Canadian Alliance, and we should—

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, you will recall that I said the reformed CRAP party, the alliance people. Now, having said that—

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise again on a point of order.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

We are not going to get into this. The hon. member for Waterloo—Wellington will go to the text of his dissertation, and I will look after it.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, you are fair and even-handed, as always.

What I found not so long ago was that in listening to members opposite I was quite astonished, to put it frankly and bluntly, at some of the misconceptions that they seem to want to perpetuate, and the myths too. For example, I listened prior to question period to the member for Dewdney—Alouette. I listened to the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands who, when I was speaking, talked about a barroom brawl. Is that not interesting coming from members opposite, a barroom brawl. I would have thought that they could do better than to be hanging out in bars, never mind brawling.

The member for Nanaimo—Cowichan was quoted recently in the Vancouver Sun . He said “A gradual blurring of the sexes has occurred that gave young men growing up in many female dominated single parent homes an identity crisis”. This, according to him, has led to the rise in “militant homosexuality”.

He went on to state that he was unable, however, to explain why he believes that single mother families encouraged such homosexual militancy.

Compare that to the member for Yorkton—Melville, again one of those Alliance people with extremist views which are way out in left field, and other right wing nonsense. He was quoted as saying in a press release “In the 1950s buggery was a criminal offence. Now it is a requirement to receive benefits from the federal government”.

It was not so long ago that the party opposite made reference to gays and blacks, saying they should be relegated to the back of the bus. That is a direct quotation from those members. It is amazing that these people opposite keep perpetuating that kind of nonsense, that kind of hatred, discrimination and bigotry. I suppose we could say it is part and parcel of who they are and what they represent, but it is very sad that they would do that.

What I want to do, instead of focusing on the negative nonsense of the Alliance people, no matter what they call themselves, is to focus on the positive, which is that we on the government side defend tolerance, compassion and caring. Unlike those people who stand for and are representatives of the politics of extremism and bigotry, we represent the politics of hope and reconciliation.

That is what decent Canadians expect of their government: caring, compassion and tolerance. That is precisely what the Minister of Justice and the government have proceeded to do in this very important area.

I could go on in terms of the kinds of myths that members opposite are perpetuating. In fact, I want to do that right now.

I have listened for the last couple of days to some of the speeches. I want to point out that Bill C-23 is not about marriage. In fact, on this side of the House last year we supported the motion which indicated that was not the case. To have them rise time and time again to say that it is about marriage is really outrageous. I do not know what kind of political spin or cheap political shots members opposite want to make in this area, but it really is quite unacceptable. Canadians see through their shenanigans, duplicity and hypocrisy.

The bill is not about marriage. It is certainly not about relationships, dependent or otherwise. It is not about sending in the sex police, as some members have alluded to in their convoluted way, suggesting that would occur. Rather, we on the government side, in a positive, upbeat fashion, are saying that into the 21st century we will define ourselves in a manner consistent with the values of Canadians, which are tolerance and compassion. That is why we are proceeding with Bill C-23.

It was reaffirmed by a motion of parliament last year that marriage is the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. We have repeated that in the bill to underscore the point. If there are Canadians across this great country who do not feel the way I and other members of the government do, but rather agree with those on the opposite side, they can take comfort from knowing that there will not be a change in this very important area.

The proposed legislation is an omnibus bill. I know that is well known. It takes action on a number of fronts. Bill C-23 eliminates discrimination so that benefits and obligations that currently apply to common law, opposite sex couples will be extended to same sex couples as well.

The bill goes on to modernize obsolete language. It repeals provisions of obsolete laws that are no longer needed and, where necessary, makes the kinds of modifications necessary in keeping with the kind of required omnibus legislation that we have before us. I believe Canadians ultimately respect this. In the process we are putting it into a contemporary context in keeping with who we are as Canadians as we move confidently into the 21st century.

Let me go into some detail with respect to these changes. There are 68 laws and statutes that will be affected and over 20 departments and agencies of the federal government. Let me highlight some of the more important changes because I think for the record we should note them.

The term “common law partner” is a new term to law but is used and understood by Canadians who have used the concept over time. In the French language its equivalent is conjoint de fait. Every day in publications and in other media across Canada, we have heard these terms either in French or in English. I think Canadians understand them for what they are.

Bill C-23 would standardize the definition of the term “common law partner” as unmarried, conjugal relationships of at least one year. Similarly, the word “spouse” after passage of the legislation before us, would be referred consistently then to married persons only. It should be noted that the one year cohabitation period to qualify for benefits and subject to obligations is not new and is not changed by Bill C-23.

Similarly, the term “conjugal” has been used in federal legislation for 40 years to describe common law, opposite sex relationships. The factors in determining a conjugal relationship will be the same then for opposite sex and same sex partners.

What we are doing is making sure that it fits into context in a modern, contemporary sense. We are making sure that it makes sense in all kinds of areas. I could point those out but I will not take the time now other than to say that things as far ranging as the Agriculture Marketing Programs Act to the War Veterans Allowance Act will be affected in this very important area. It goes without saying that things like the Canada pension plan, bankruptcy and insolvency act and many other acts and statutes will be affected in this all important area.

Where there are rights and responsibilities, there are also obligations. It is important to note that we on the government side have recognized these all important concepts. We have put them into perspective. We have weighed them out and we have thought thoroughly and clearly, hard and long about what it means not only for us in the House, but Canadians wherever they live in this great country of ours.

At the end of the day, we have been able to come up with a very workable bill. This is a bill that makes a great deal of sense. It accomplishes what the supreme court asked us to do. It accomplishes, in my view, what Canadians expect the government to do in this important area. In Ontario, Mr. Harris did the very same thing within 48 hours. Why did he do that? He did it because it made sense and it was also the right thing to do. He did it because he knew that the supreme court judgment had to stand.

We in this great Parliament of Canada need to follow suit. We need to modernize and update the very legislation that is important in this area. That is precisely what we are doing. I believe that ultimately Canadian people will judge us as having done the right thing.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Reform

Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech and he did make some very interesting references. In fact, I would like to point out that he really showed his true colours at the beginning of his speech by not engaging in debate, but engaging in name calling, the lowest form of argument. When one has nothing better to say and no logical reasoned arguments to make, they can always resort to the lowest form of argument, name calling. That is exactly what this member has participated in here today and that is unfortunate.

I want to ask him two very specific questions. I will be brief.

The first one has to do with a comment made by his own House leader, the current House leader of the government, when he said “I object to any suggestion which would have homosexual couples treated in the same way as heterosexual couples” and he also went on to say “I do not believe homosexuals should be treated as families. My wife, MaryAnn, and I do not claim we are homosexual. Why should homosexuals pretend they form a family?” I would like to ask him if he agrees with that comment and I would also like to ask him why he was so opposed to including the definition of marriage in Bill C-23 which he voted against at report stage last night.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you very much for the allowing me the opportunity to respond.

I listen day after day in this great House of Commons to the kind of thrust and parry that take place across the aisle and to the new leader of the Canadian Alliance, the member for Edmonton North. This member speaks of name calling. I watch the Leader of the Opposition very carefully and how she mocks the ministers and the Prime Minister, how she mocks language and speech and how she mocks and name calls. That is just one example of how the people opposite behave in this great House of Commons. It is unbelievable how they behave. But Canadians see through that. They see through the duplicity of those people who say one thing and do another. They see through the duplicity of people with their holier than thou attitudes who say something one way and then, quite frankly, answer from the opposite side of their mouths.

Let me get to the question that the hon. member asked. We on the government side, in recognition of the sanctity of marriage, moved along expeditiously with supporting a motion last year that underlined what we believe, which is that marriage is the sole union between a man and a woman. I do not know what it is about that the hon. member does not understand. I do not know what cheap political points he wants to score, but Canadians see through that nonsense. They see through it every time.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Reform

Darrel Stinson Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member on the other side and I have to admit he is more than one ingredient short of the recipe.

I would like to ask the member this question. What some of us who are opposed to this bill find difficult is to accept the lecturing that seems to go on and that those who are opposed to the bill are somehow opposed to democracy. I finally have had it with being called a racist or a bigot because I cannot accept the fact that a spouse is a member of the same sex. That is my right and, indeed, my responsibility. I reject any attempt to try to muzzle people, to try to intimidate us and to paint this as some kind of human rights issue. I do not see it in that light. That was said by the hon. member for Mississauga West, a Liberal. I will stand up and call him a racist and bigot.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it really is hard to answer the member opposite when he gets up on his hind legs and behaves the way he does.

He talks about ingredients. What kind of ingredient does he have? Look, by the way, at his very thin skin and the fact that he raised issues like bigotry and racism. I did not do so, but he did. Methinks he doth protest too much.

It is really obvious who the people opposite are. Last night was a telling vote because they are the people who talk about grassroots participation. They are the people who talk about free votes. Yet if we look, to a person last night, they all voted, en masse, en bloc. Why? It was because they were all whipped into voting the way they did. They are the people who talk about grassroots. They are the people who talk about free votes. What duplicity. What hypocrisy.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Daniel Turp Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to follow my colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve in this final part of the debate on Bill C-23, the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act.

I will remind the House that this bill was introduced on February 11, 2000 and that it is basically designed, for reasons of equity, to modernize certain benefits and obligations in order to guarantee that partners in a common law relationship, whether of the same or opposite sex, are treated equally under the law.

The changes proposed in this bill must guarantee, in keeping with the supreme court decision of May 1999 in M v H, that same sex couples in a common law relationship have the same advantages and the same obligations as opposite sex couples in a common law relationship, and the same access as other couples in Canada or Quebec to the benefits to which they have contributed.

I would like to point out that I am sharing my time with the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, who will be speaking on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois after me.

I would also like to point out that this bill is the culmination of multiple and long-standing efforts by people who have been long engaged in the battle to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation. This is a battle in which Quebec has played a lead role, as it was the first to enact legislation incorporating sexual orientation among the illegal grounds for discrimination. It did so by amending its charter of rights and freedoms, back in 1977.

Bill C-23 is therefore the culmination of a lengthy battle by many members of society, regardless of their own opinions about sexual orientation or their personal choice of orientation. It is the culmination of numerous attempts to change federal or provincial legislation. It is also the culmination of successes at the provincial level, for several pieces of legislation have been passed to put an end to discrimination in various Canadian provinces where benefits were concerned.

I think that as the debate at third reading of Bill C-23 draws to a close it is important to remember how this legislative saga began and to put this bill into context. Like many members of my party, I hope it will be passed by the House of Commons.

I would remind the House that the Parliament of Canada had decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults more than 30 years ago, in 1969. Seven years later, in 1976, the Immigration Act removed homosexuals from the category of persons denied entry into Canada.

Until recently, there were hardly any other federal legislative initiatives with respect to the legal aspects of homosexuality. Numerous private member's bills to prohibit discrimination based on orientation were introduced in the House of Commons between 1980 and 1992, but none of them made it past first reading. Nor did the proposed amendments to other statutes with a view to eliminating certain forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation succeed either.

In December 1992, then Minister of Justice Kim Campbell introduced Bill C-108, which would have added sexual orientation to the prohibited grounds in the Canadian Human Rights Act and defined a married individual in strictly heterosexual terms.

The purpose of Bill S-15, introduced in the Senate by Senator Noel Kinsella, was to add sexual orientation to the prohibited grounds in the same Canadian Human Rights Act. This bill was passed in June 1993.

However, when parliament was dissolved in September 1993, after a general election was called, this bill, as well as Bill C-108, died on the order paper.

In 1995, parliament passed Bill C-41, an act to amend the criminal code. The bill provided that evidence establishing that a crime was motivated by hate or by bias based on a number of personal characteristics was an aggravating circumstance that should lead to the imposition of a harsher sentence.

The inclusion of sexual orientation in these personal characteristics generated a great deal of opposition. That was in part due to the opinion expressed by some that this would lead to the inclusion of the sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, or that it would otherwise lead to the erosion of traditional family values.

In spite of that opposition, Bill C-41 received royal assent in July 1995 and came into effect the following year, in September 1996.

In February of the same year, just a few months before the coming into effect of Bill C-41, Senator Noël Kinsella came back with Bill S-2, which was similar to Bill S-15 and which sought to add sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination under section 3 of the federal act, and under section 16, which deals with equal access or affirmative action. The bill was adopted by the Senate in April 1996.

I should also mention a private member's bill, Bill C-265, introduced by the member for Burnaby—Douglas, whom I salute for the personal fight that he has been leading on these issues— which did not go beyond first reading stage in this House.

On April 29, 1996, the Liberal government of the day, through the Minister of Justice at the time, introduced Bill C-33 to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act by adding sexual orientation to the list of illegal grounds of discrimination based on sexual orientation. This bill was finally passed by both the House of Commons and the Senate and received royal assent on June 20, 1996.

I must also not fail to mention the efforts of my colleague, the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, or party's critic for these matters. He too introduced bills in November 1994, May 1996 and again in February 1998 and March 1999 to end this discrimination in federal legislation. These bills, like many private members' bills, came to nought.

Today we reach the final stage of the passage of this bill. Its passage follows on the unanimous adoption by the National Assembly of Quebec of a bill with similar goals amending various legislative provisions pertaining to common law spouses and putting an end to the discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation found in the laws of Quebec. Ontario has done the same thing.

It is therefore high time that the Parliament of Canada, and this House of Commons in particular, followed the path taken by other lawmakers, that is the path of equality, and gave real meaning to the concept of equality contained in our charters.