House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liberal.

Topics

Points of Order

10 a.m.

Beauséjour
New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, perhaps you will allow me to put before you very briefly the government's position with respect to a discussion that took place concerning the member for Red Deer and the question of privilege that he raised.

In his presentation we believe he omitted a number of facts that are relevant for your contemplation of the matter. Therefore I will very briefly place them before you for you to consider when rendering your ruling.

The essence of the hon. member's complaint was that a debate and vote of the House of Commons was ignored by the government when it proceeded with the appointment of Mr. Glen Murray to the national round table on the environment and the economy. We believe the following facts were omitted.

On March 8, 2005, the clerk of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development wrote to the assistant clerk of the Privy Council for orders in council indicating that the committee had, on a recorded vote, called for the Prime Minister to withdraw this appointment. At that time the committee had made no report on the matter to the House and, indeed, the letter specifically stated:

The Chair advised members that even though the motion passed, the committee does not have the power to revoke an appointment. No further meetings have been scheduled on this appointment so the Chair feels that the matter is disposed of.

On March 18, 2005, the government chose to proceed with the appointment and pass the relevant order in council. The information provided to the government at this point by letter and not by report to the House was that the committee had completed its work on the matter in the full knowledge that it did not have the power to revoke the appointment.

Subsequently, on March 24, 2005, the committee reported its motion to the House and some time later the hon. member proposed a motion of concurrence that the House then adopt it. All of this took place after the appointment had been made and in the full knowledge that the committee did not have the power to revoke the said appointment.

The assertion that the government's action was a contempt of the House we believe, therefore, is completely unfounded. The government took its action in passing the order in council because of its apparently reliable official information that the committee had completed its consideration of the matter. It was only subsequent to the passing of the order in council that the committee decided to reopen the question. In other words, the hon. member is claiming that a contempt of the House can be constructed by some sort of retroactive decision, an assertion that we believe is contrary to every principle of parliamentary practice.

Points of Order

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on the same point of order. I would ask the member to table those documents so that we can have access to them before Hansard comes out.

Points of Order

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

By documents, is the hon. member referring to the parliamentary secretary's speaking notes?

Points of Order

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Exactly, Mr. Speaker.

Points of Order

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

That is an unusual request. If it were a letter or document that the hon. member was referring to I think I would be more sympathetic, but of course it is up to the parliamentary secretary if he wishes to table his remarks. They will be available to all hon. members in Hansard tomorrow.

Points of Order

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member is referring to the letter I mentioned in my comments, I would be happy to table that letter. The problem is that the letter, in our view, is a matter of record. It is part of the committee proceedings. It is a letter from the clerk of the committee to the Privy Council, which, as I say, was adopted at the committee.

The letter is only in one language. If the member wants to ask for unanimous consent, I would table that letter but, Mr. Speaker, this is entirely within your domain as it was a letter from a clerk of the committee to the Privy Council.

Points of Order

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was asking the parliamentary secretary to table his speaking notes so that the member for Red Deer can respond to them. I know the member for Red Deer will have some concerns with what was said. We will have to wait until tomorrow to read Hansard . I am asking the parliamentary secretary if he could present them today so that we have them sooner.

Points of Order

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

I am sure that if the member for Red Deer wants them he could ask the hon. member for a copy or get a copy of the blues when they are available within the next few hours. However there is no frantic rush about it because the Chair is not going to rush into making a decision. I will take the matter under advisement.

If the hon. member for Red Deer comes back to the House in a reasonable time with further submissions, I would of course hear him. I am always glad to hear submissions on these kinds of matters from hon. members.

Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Mount Royal
Québec

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, on April 17, 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms became the centrepiece of our Constitution and the cornerstone of our democracy, a transformative act that impacted not only on our laws but on our daily lives and where individuals and groups now enjoy a constitutionally protected panoply of rights and freedoms.

On that day Canadians affirmed that the values of respect, fairness and democracy reside at the very core of our shared national identity.

Unlike the rest of the charter, section 15, the equality provisions, did not come into force until 1985. For three years, Canada's jurisdictions—federal, provincial, and territorial—reviewed and revised their laws in order to ensure that they complied with the new equality rights.

And so, on April 17, 1985, the rights and freedoms cherished by Canadians, such as the fundamental freedoms of thought, belief, opinion and expression, the right to life, liberty and security of the person, the right to vote, were joined by the equality rights protection.

I therefore rise today to recognize the 20th anniversary of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Section 15 marked a milestone in Canada's evolution as a nation. Since April 17, 1985, it has enshrined our shared commitment that all Canadians are equal before and under the law, that every individual has the right to protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

Over the years, analogous grounds, such as sexual orientation, marital status and aboriginal place of residence, have been included reflecting our Constitution as a living tree and resonating with our evolving understanding and aspirations.

For 20 years this principle, that all Canadians are equal before and under the law, has guided legislators and judges in their work to ensure that our legislation and our laws respect and uphold the charter rights of all Canadians.

In fact, the inclusion of section 15 in the charter has been emulated by many countries around the world with Canada emerging as a world leader in the promotion and protection of human rights.

In many ways, section 15 of the charter has become a fundamental expression of Canada's commitment to a society in which the inherent dignity and worth of every individual and the equal worth and dignity of all persons are recognized and affirmed; where protecting and promoting equality are fundamental to the pursuit of justice; where discrimination against any individual or group diminishes us all; where equality is an organizing principle for the establishment of a just society in which every person is deserving of equal respect, recognition and consideration; and where equality is at the core and the heart of a society that is promotive and protective of human dignity.

I invite all Canadians to take a moment to mark this important anniversary and to learn more about the significance of section 15. It has shaped our very identity as a country. It embodies the values that lie at the heart of our Canadian identity. It is a moment worth celebrating.

Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join with others in the House today to mark the 20th anniversary of the coming into force of section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Beginning with Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker's Bill of Rights in 1960, and with the passing of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on April 17, 1982, there was a fundamental shift in the framework of our democracy. Instead of the federal Parliament and the provincial legislatures collectively having unlimited legislative power, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms restrained those legislative bodies from enacting legislation or taking action that would violate the principles set out in the charter.

In order to determine whether the activities of government contravene these principles, the charter assigned that responsibility to the judiciary. Section 15 of the charter, the equality provisions, provided the citizens of Canada with a constitutional mechanism that required governments to enact laws and carry out their activities in a way that promoted human rights and protected the people of Canada from unwarranted interference by government. Its purpose is to prevent governments from carrying out activities or making laws that make inappropriate distinctions in respect of the people it serves.

This provision came into force three years later than the rest of the charter in order to provide legislative bodies time to ensure that their practices and legislation complied with that provision. However, although the charter, and specifically section 15, has become a fundamental expression of Canadian values, it is important to note that constitutional documents are not a guarantee of ethical government.

And so it is that 23 years after the coming into force of the charter and 20 years after the coming into force of section 15, Canada is faced with an unprecedented example of our federal government abusing the trust of its people. Beginning with the findings of the Auditor General and the hearings of the public accounts committee last year, and continuing with the ongoing hearings of the Gomery commission, the Canadian people have seen the corrupt activities of its government, activities committed in a systemic and ongoing manner over the course of the decade, exposed for the entire world to see.

At the same time that our government was casting itself as a world leader in the promotion and protection of human rights, the sad truth is that its activities undermined the basic principles of a responsible democracy and the very principles set out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The actions of our government over this past decade are a shameful reminder that the mere expression of lofty constitutional principles is not sufficient to prevent corruption and abuse in our democratic institutions--

Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, as a parliamentarian, I understand, as all parliamentarians understand, that these are difficult times, that there are proceedings going on, but in the member's statement there have been references twice now to the corruption of the government. First of all, it is unparliamentary to even suggest that. Second, it is simply not the case. I would ask that the unparliamentary language being used by the member and all members in this regard cease, please.

Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I appreciate the comments from the hon. member for Mississauga South, but it is a question of debate. There is no accusation toward an individual member. It is just a comment; it could be debatable, but it is not unparliamentary. I would ask the hon. member for Provencher to continue.

Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, let me repeat that last paragraph. The actions of our government over this past decade are a shameful reminder that the mere expression of lofty constitutional principles is not sufficient to prevent the corruption and abuse of our democratic institutions.

I, too, would invite Canadians to take a moment to mark this important anniversary. However, I would invite them not only to learn about the significance of section 15, but also to ponder the irony of marking this anniversary at a time when corruption has never been as evident.

I believe this disgraceful state of affairs is a clear reminder that ultimately it is not the words found in a constitutional document or the power of the judiciary that will ensure the continued growth of our democracy. The growth of our democracy and the assurance that Canada will take its rightful place as a world leader can only be accomplished through the determined will and actions of each individual citizen to hold its government accountable.

Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are rising today to celebrate the 20th anniversary of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for which the Supreme Court decisions in Andrews and Law have set out the outline and analytical framework.

We in the Bloc Québécois are staunch defenders of the principle of equality for all before the law. The right to equality is a demand rooted in the history of Quebec, and is actually part of it.

Need I remind the House that the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, an ambitious, generous and progressive charter, is turning 30 this year? The right to equality is enshrined in its section 10, speaking volumes about the humanist and progressive values of Quebec's society.

But today we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of section 15, as well as the adherence of the courts to the principle of equality, the courts having adhered to it with openness and humanity, often going beyond the letter of the charter.

On this anniversary, the Bloc Québécois cannot, however, overlook the fact that the charter is an integral part of the Constitution Act of 1982, which was imposed upon Quebec and which every successive government in the Quebec National Assembly has refused to sign.

This 20th anniversary is also a time to look at equality between men and women. At a time when we are debating same sex marriage; when the federal government has yet to pass pay equity legislation; when Canada has still not signed the convention on child labour; when the government is voting against bills that would eliminate discrimination against EI recipients; when social condition has not yet been included in the Canadian Human Rights Act, is there really cause for celebration after 20 years?

Let us recognize that more remains to be done. The recent events that have disrupted democratic life in Canada and Quebec remind us of our duty to be vigilant, to ensure that the decisions made by this government are made with the collective interest in mind, and not the benefit of a few, to ensure that our decisions help better the living conditions of our fellow citizens, and not exclude, ostracize or sideline any of us.

The right to equality must not be taken lightly or casually. On this 20th anniversary of section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I take the opportunity to reaffirm that the Bloc Québécois intends to remain, as it has always been, its staunchest defender.

Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, like the other speakers today, I am proud to rise to speak with regard to the 20th anniversary of the coming into force of article 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I cannot help but think back and note that I was going through law school at the time it came through. Then, debate was on as to whether we were going to have a charter. One of the memories I have is of someone I think we can call one of the patrons of the concept of having a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, particularly the provision with regard to equality rights, a law professor by the name of Frank J. Scott, at McGill.

He was a proponent of rights for all people within this country, a concept which was very much shaped by the results of the Holocaust during the second world war, which influenced the need for a constitutional framework to protect and guarantee rights. For instance, he led the fight against the Province of Quebec in regard to its impact on the Jehovah's Witnesses during the 1950s. He was the main leader in that regard. More important, I think, he was a major influence on a subsequent prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, who ultimately was the author of the charter, the person who pressed forward to develop the charter and implement it.

Over the last 20 years, the effect of the charter has been to change our society. I believe that our judges and our judiciary generally have acted responsibly in using the charter, specifically section 15, to advance equality rights in the country.

It is clear that we are not done. This is an evolving process. Certainly there are any number of provisions in our statutes and our practices that need correction. Ultimately, the equality rights that are guaranteed in section 15 will move us forward, I believe, and will advance the cause of equality rights in the country and eradicate discrimination as far as it is humanly possible.

I salute the authors of this charter and, in particular, the role that Professor Scott played. I look forward over the coming generation of lawyers and the judiciary to seeing the charter used responsibly but effectively to guarantee rights for all Canadians.