House of Commons Hansard #87 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cfia.

Topics

Business of the House
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Susan Kadis Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among the parties and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That Motion No. 170, standing in the order of precedence in the name of the member for Thornhill, be amended to read as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government, in consultation with the provinces and territories, include Alzheimer's disease and related dementias as a significant integral component of the Chronic Disease Strategy.

Business of the House
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-38, an act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the motion that this question be now put.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gurmant Grewal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise again on behalf of the constituents of Newton--North Delta to participate in the debate on Bill C-38.

The so-called same sex marriage bill has generated considerable interest in my riding, with record numbers of people contacting my office to voice their concerns about the Liberal ploy to redefine marriage. To date, over 15,000 people have either written or called asking me to oppose Bill C-38. They want me to vote against this proposed legislation and do everything possible to maintain the traditional definition of marriage.

I happily tell each and every one of them that I listen to my constituents and that they can count on me to say no to same sex marriage.

The Liberals have attempted to frame the same sex marriage debate as a human rights issue. According to the Prime Minister, opposition to same sex unions is now, ipso facto, an example of hatred and intolerance. Public opinion surveys, however, show that a majority of Canadians are opposed to same sex marriage.

An Environics Research Group poll conducted for the CBC surveyed 1,203 Canadians between March 26 and March 30 and found that 52% of Canadians disagreed with the plan to change the definition of marriage to include couples of the same sex and that only 44% agreed with the Liberal plan. Interestingly, the disapproval jumped to 65% among Canadians born outside our borders.

Does the Prime Minister really want to suggest that the majority of Canadians are bigots?

One dictionary defines a “bigot” as a prejudiced person who is intolerant of any opinions differing from his own. I know who I think better exemplifies bigotry.

What about the rest of the world? In 2001, the Netherlands opened civil marriage to gay couples and, in 2003, Belgium followed suit. In both countries there are some areas related to adoption or marriage of non-nationals of those countries that still make them slightly different from opposite sex marriages.

By far, the vast majority of European jurisdictions have gone the route of recognizing civil unions, domestic partnerships or reciprocal beneficiaries rather than abolishing the opposite sex nature of marriage. In doing so, they are following the lead of Denmark, where such partnerships were introduced in 1989. Through 1995, less than 5% of Danish homosexuals got married.

As of February 2005, Massachusetts is the only U.S. state to recognize same sex marriages. The states of Vermont, California, Maine, Hawaii, New Jersey and even the District of Columbia, however all offer benefits to same sex couples that are similar to benefits received through marriage, such as civil union, reciprocal benefits or domestic partnership laws.

During the 2004 elections, all 11 states where the issue of same sex marriage was on the ballot, regardless of whether they were Democratic or Republican, voted overwhelmingly for constitutional amendments restricting marriage to a man and a woman.

If same sex marriage is a fundamental right, why have only two countries on Earth recognized it? Are the Liberals seriously suggesting that countries like Denmark and Sweden, which recognize civil unions for homosexuals but refuse to change the traditional definition of marriage, are bastions of bigotry and repressed sexual attitudes?

This House, including the current Prime Minister, voted to uphold that definition of marriage in 1999 and in the amendments to Bill C-23 in 2000, with the Deputy Prime Minister, who was then the justice minister, leading the defence of marriage from the government side.

This was what the Deputy Prime Minister said in 1999 in her eloquent defence of the traditional definition of marriage:

We on this side [of the House] agree that the institution of marriage is a central and important institution in the lives of many Canadians. It plays an important part in all societies worldwide, second only to the fundamental importance of family to all of us.

The definition of marriage, which has been consistently applied in Canada, comes from an 1866 British case which holds that marriage is “the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”. That case and that definition are considered clear law by ordinary Canadians, academics and the courts. The courts have upheld the constitutionality of that definition. The Ontario court, general division, in Layland and Beaulne, recently upheld the definition of marriage. In that decision, a majority of the court stated the following:

--unions of persons of the same sex are not “marriages”, because of the definition of marriage. The applicants are, in effect, seeking to use s. 15 of the Charter to bring about a change in the definition of marriage.

The then justice minister said:

I do not think the Charter has that effect...Let me state again for the record that the government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage or of legislating same sex marriages. Marriage has fundamental value and importance to Canadians and we do not believe on this side of the House that importance and value is in any way threatened or undermined by others seeking to have their long term relationships recognized....

I support the motion for maintaining the clear legal definition of marriage in Canada as the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.

That was the Deputy Prime Minister speaking as justice minister less than six years ago. Nothing she said then is out of date. All that has happened is that several provincial courts have overruled the longstanding common law definition of marriage, but the Supreme Court itself has still not addressed this issue despite a clear request to do so from the Liberal government.

We do not believe that on the basis of provincial court decisions, which the government refused to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, a fundamental, centuries old institution should be abolished or radically changed.

We believe that marriage should continue to be what it has always been, what the courts and the government accepted it to be until a very few years ago: an institution which is by nature heterosexual and has as one of its main purposes the procreation and nurturing of children in the care of a mother and a father.

In conclusion, marriage has been one of the fundamental organizing principles of human society since history began. It is important to the future of our society because it provides the best social structure within which to bear and raise children. There has never been a time in history when major civilizations or religions granted same sex relationships the same rights and status as they did heterosexual marriage.

We should not change these kinds of fundamental institutions lightly or easily, and I do not believe that the government has demonstrated that there are compelling reasons to alter this central social institution. I will therefore be following the wishes of my constituents and will vote against Bill C-38. I believe in the traditional, common law definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, again it is a pleasure to stand in the House in opposition to Bill C-38. It is a pleasure not just to speak against the bill but also to speak knowing that the majority of my constituents support me in this stand against this legislation.

It is worth repeating for the sake of my constituents that, for the record, I am opposed to changing the definition of marriage to include same sex couples. I firmly believe that marriage is exclusive to the union of one man and one woman. It is only through the coupling of the opposite sexes that children can be produced, children who are the past, present and future of this country, and no form of social engineering and no form of trying to change that can. It takes a man and a woman to have a child.

Furthermore, I strongly believe that marriage is fundamental. It is a fundamental social institution not only recognized by law but sanctified by faith throughout the world and throughout history. The requirement that marriage partners be of the opposite sex is one of the core universal features of marriage across cultures and religions around the world. In Canada and elsewhere, the identity of marriage has always been seen as a bond between man and woman.

This was the opinion expressed by Katherine Young, a University of McGill professor of comparative religious studies and ethics. As a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I had the benefit of hearing at first hand Professor Young's testimony. On February 20, 2003, Professor Young told the committee:

From our study of all world religions, such as Judaism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, and the world views of small scale societies, we conclude that this institution is a culturally approved, opposite-sex relationship intended to encourage the births and rearing of children at least to the extent necessary for the preservation and well-being of society.

In another submission to our committee, one witness defended marriage as the union of one man and one woman on the basis of procreation, as I have already pointed out earlier in my remarks.

Traditionally, marriage was defined as the union of one man with one woman with the expectation that they would procreate and guarantee the survival of society. The product of this union, children, creates or establishes a family. While there are many purposes to the family, that is, providing lifelong relationships, shelter and food to the members of the family, the main purpose is the means by which society maintains its existence.

Procreation in marriage has to be considered its most essential function. Civilizations of the world have come to embrace this fact in recognition of the benefits it brings to all those involved and to society as a whole. As a matter of fact, there are only two countries in the world that allow same sex marriage, and it is important to note that neither of these countries had the issue decided by the courts.

We continue to believe, as does the Supreme Court of Canada, much to the dismay of the Liberal government, that MPs, who are accountable to the citizens of the country--or I should say MPs who should be accountable to the citizens of this country--should have the final say on the matter of defining marriage.

We should not be limited in our debate. The government's attempt to shut down debate is an affront to the principles of democracy. That is exactly what the government is trying to do. It is trying to shut down debate on Bill C-38. As I said, it is an affront to the principles of democracy that should be governing the House. It is an affront to the members of the House, who have been sent here by their constituents to support or to oppose the legislation that we debate today.

I can tell the House that I am not surprised by the Liberal government's tactic. I have been a member of the House for close to five years now. As stated earlier, I was a member of the justice committee, which was tasked in 2003 to review the issue. We travelled across the country at great expense to the taxpayers of the nation.

We listened to those expressing views on both sides of the issue. We heard from church ministers. We heard from university professors. We heard from constitutional lawyers. We heard from the gay community. We heard from same sex couples. We heard from REAL Women. We heard from average Canadian citizens who expressed both opposition and support for changing the definition of marriage.

On June 17, 2003, while the House was in recess, the former prime minister stated that, despite all of our committee work, findings and recommendations, his government fully intended to make same sex marriage legal in this country. In the process, he completely negated the opinion of literally thousands of Canadians and rendered inadmissible the well reasoned and well researched findings of academics, clergy and those within the profession who made their presentations to our committee.

He did so despite the current Prime Minister and the current Deputy Prime Minister's support for the following motion that was passed in the House in 1999:

That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to state that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament will take all necessary steps to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada.

Further, as pointed out repeatedly in the last few weeks, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, our Deputy Prime Minister, stated on not only one occasion but a number of occasions that it was:

--not necessary to change well-understood concepts of spouse and marriage and deal with any fairness considerations the courts and tribunals may find.

Those were her words just a few short years ago. The Deputy Prime Minister, when justice minister, said:

--that the government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage or of legislating same sex marriages.

Those were her words. That was her promise. That was her pledge here in this House. We all know just how true to her word she is and how true to its word this government is: promise made, promise broken.

As I pointed out in this House late last month when I last stood to debate Bill C-38, the Conservative Party has brought forward proposed amendments to the legislation to provide full recognition of same sex relationships as possessing equivalent rights and privileges. We have also proposed amendments to protect religious freedoms in the recognition that currently Bill C-38 is not adequate.

In a discussion paper issued by the Department of Justice in November 2002, it was recognized that Parliament could choose to underscore the division of church and state in Canada by making a clearer distinction between the role of Parliament and that of religion in the area of marriage. I want to quote directly from that discussion paper. It states:

To accomplish this...all legal effect could be removed from marriage, leaving marriage exclusively to the religions.

For the record, I am not advocating this measure. I raise this point of discussion to demonstrate how narrow we have been in our debate on this issue. I raise it also to demonstrate how, if the government really wants to, it can better protect religious freedoms in regard to marriage.

I would refer all members of this House to the particular discussion paper that was issued by the Department of Justice two and a half years ago. I recommend that members read pages 19 and 20 regarding questions that need to be decided in Canada.

The committee did a lot of work. The committee came forward and it did a lot of work. We believed at that time that the government did everything it could to shut down the committee.

I see that my time is up, so I would implore all members on all sides of this House to listen to their constituents, and not only to the person who sits in the leader's chair, but to all their constituents.

If members would do this, and if party leaders would not force their members to vote party lines by making this a free vote as our leader of the Conservative Party has done, I am confident that the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others, would be retained.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the 12 years that I have had the privilege of representing the people of Kootenay—Columbia as their member of Parliament, I have never had the volume of mail, email, faxes or people simply contacting me on any issue as I have had on the issue of the Prime Minister's decision to redefine marriage.

As in every constituency in Canada, of course, there are many valuable opinions on this issue, but I can report that I have never had one side of an issue so predominantly and overwhelmingly represented. They agree with the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada who has unequivocally stated, “As Prime Minister, I will bring forward legislation that, while providing the same rights, benefits, and obligations to all couples, will maintain the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

My constituents see this as middle ground. This debate is not about equality or human rights. Those issues are settled. The debate is about the most closely held values of individual Canadians. It is about the essence of what makes them human: their beliefs, convictions, and things that motivate and shape their daily existence.

The Prime Minister claims that this legislation will protect professional practitioners of religion. These are the priests, rabbis, imams, ministers and others. What about the adherents to religious beliefs? Do persons of faith not have a right to hold the same convictions as their religious leaders? Not under this law.

The federal Liberals are saying that Canadians can believe what they want to believe, they can hold the values that they want to hold, but they are just going to be prohibited from acting on those values. This legislation is nothing less than a frontal attack on Canada's freedom of religion.

The false god of tolerance is well served by this legislation. Absolute values, black and white, right and wrong are wiped out. The federal Liberal government and the Prime Minister tell us that this proposed legislation will be the end of the problem. It is only the beginning of the end of the problem.

The clash between homosexual rights and religious rights is being fuelled. In typical dithering style, the Prime Minister has been completely unclear as to what he intends to do about the inevitable collision between gay rights and religious rights.

On April 10 of this year on the editorial page of the Calgary Herald I saw a headline that read: “A hard lesson in free speech: B.C. teacher taken to task for airing same-sex marriage views”.

The editorial said:

Quesnel B.C. teacher Chris Kempling shows by the asphyxiation of his freedom to speak how this fundamental right is undermined by what Justice Minister Irwin Cotler recently called the legal system's new “organizing principle of equality”.

In January Kempling wrote to his local paper criticizing federal same sex marriage plans. It was temperate in tone. He asked for a referendum. He did not mention his employer, the Quesnel school district, but identified himself as a Christian Heritage Party candidate. The board suspended him for three months anyway.

Superintendent Ed Napier said the board reviewed Kempling's letter and felt “he had violated a previous district directive. The issue essentially was...his expression of views in a negative and discriminatory context that the board felt was resulting in potential for a poisoned and unsafe environment for students and staff”.

I note the word “potential”. He was fined $25,000 for something that could have happened, but had not because no one had even complained. He had been told to shut up. When he would not, the board used what Bishop Fred Henry in Calgary called its “coercive power”. Interesting that this district board decides only people who favour the gay agenda may speak publicly. One wonders what it teaches its students about freedom of speech or even if it is on the curriculum. The editorial continued:

Kempling is no stranger to controversy, of course. The mild-mannered counsellor was handed a one-month suspension by the B.C. College of Teachers last year for “unprofessional conduct”--six letters he wrote to the Quesnel Cariboo Observer between 1997 and 2000.

Granted, an employee's spare-time activities may prejudice his job. In Abbotsford, for instance, two married teachers were fired in 1987 after nude photographs of the wife taken by her husband appeared in a men's magazine.

However, Kempling was just commenting on a matter of immediate public interest. Furthermore, he advanced a position overwhelmingly endorsed in the House of Commons just five years ago, and strongly held by millions of Canadians--that marriage was heterosexual.

Not that his rights would have been less violated had he advocated an unpopular perspective. However, by what twisted logic could the school district, and the college before, have persuaded themselves that pro-marriage writings were “unprofessional?”

It runs thus: First, the case of New Brunswick teacher Malcolm Ross established even off-duty teachers should represent their employer's values--

Kempling, of course, feels homosexual behaviour is immoral. His problem was the B.C. Court of Appeal, ruling on the issue of homosexualist textbooks in Surrey, said “highest morality” must include non-discrimination.

Thus, the equality argument. Never mind the religious teachings of the ages; the highest morality must include non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. That was certainly what the college thought, and the school district appears to have fallen into step.

Yet, in 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada disposed of the idea a person with one set of morals cannot treat someone with equality and dignity. In a relevant case involving Trinity Western University, it ruled that “freedom of religion is not accommodated if the consequence of its exercise is the denial of the right of full participation in society”. What about that does the Quesnel district not understand?

Kempling has filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Commission alleging religious discrimination.

Free speech advocates will wish him luck.

This is precisely why there must be a complete travelling public hearing of this bill. This is a public policy issue that goes far beyond any normal legislation. It is essential that Canadians be allowed to speak.

What are the federal Liberals doing? They are going to ensure that Canadians are not allowed to speak to legislation that has the potential to change human relationships. Quite the opposite. They are going to move this bill from second reading to a legislative committee. I would not blame Canadians if their eyes glazed over at this point. The question in their minds is, so what?

First, a legislative committee is restricted to technical legal consideration of the bill. There is no room for anything but legal. This would speed the bill back to the House of Commons for third and final reading.

It is in the government's interest to have this law move quickly. It believes that opponents would be able to mobilize more Canadians against the bill. The Prime Minister wants to subtly exclude Canadians from this process so he can see its speedy passage.

Second, opposition would be fuelled as Canadians start to consider the implications of the bill. This would occur as a committee hears witnesses across Canada. The publicity would cause Canadians to more deeply consider the implications of the bill. That is the last thing that the federal Liberals want. They want to bury it.

The member for London—Fanshawe has declared that the Prime Minister will encourage the committee to travel. This would require a change in the purpose of the legislative committee and an agreement among its members to travel.

He got the Prime Minister's assurance when the member was talking about leaving the Liberal caucus. The member received the Prime Minister's assurances under duress. I think the member got snookered by the Prime Minister because the justice minister claims no knowledge of the Prime Minister's commitment. Canada's justice minister is on the record distancing himself, and hence the government, from the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister's promises should never be taken to the bank. He changes his commitments faster than he changes his neckties.

As stated, the purpose of moving this bill to a legislative committee is to speed it up and bury debate. The Liberals have no interest in the opinions of Canadians nor do they want their legislative freight train to be derailed.

All in all, this is an intentionally deceptive process. The Liberals have tried to sell Canadians on the concept that this bill should not be in the justice and human rights committee because that committee is too busy. They intentionally forgot to mention the significant details that I have outlined.

Why did the Prime Minister force his cabinet ministers to forget their own personal commitments, personal beliefs and faith foundations?

Why is the government dunking this legislation through a legislative committee for a quick wash? I aggressively encourage all members of Parliament to do what is right and vote against the legislation.

Civil Marriage Act
Royal Assent

April 21st, 2005 / 4:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Rideau Hall

Ottawa

April 21, 2005

Mr. Speaker:

I have the honour to inform you that the Honourable Marie Deschamps, Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, in her capacity as Deputy of the Governor General, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bills listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 21st day of April, 2005 at 3:33 p.m.

Yours sincerely,

Curtis Barlow

Deputy Secretary

Policy, Program and Protocol

The schedule indicates that royal assent was given to Bill C-8, an act to amend the Financial Administration Act, the Canada School of Public Service Act and the Official Languages Act--Chapter No.15; and Bill C-30, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Salaries Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts--Chapter No.16.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-38, an act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes, be now read the second time and referred to a committee; as well as the previous question.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to speak Bill C-38 on same sex marriage.

This is my third time speaking on this subject, but only the first time in the debate on Bill C-38. I had the opportunity to speak on a motion introduced by former MP Svend Robinson. I spoke a second time against a motion introduced by a Conservative member. Today, I will reiterate my position for the third time because the Bloc Québécois and its leader have announced that there will be a free vote on Bill C-38. So I am expressing my own views now, although my position is shared by most of my colleagues. The Bloc Québécois does not really have any party line on this issue, but we have noted a number of things that I want to mention.

The debate concerns the protection of both equality rights and the right to freedom of religion. In fact, Bill C-38 successfully accommodates these two fundamental values enshrined in both the Quebec charter of rights and freedoms and the Canadian charter. Consequently, while we support legislating a definition of civil marriage that includes both heterosexual and homosexual couples, we also support the idea in the bill that religions not be obligated to perform same sex marriages, be they in churches, synagogues, temples or mosques. This is quite appropriate. In fact, we are referring here to two completely separate areas or levels of debate. The debate in the House must focus on the fundamental rights of all our citizens.

In a church, the debate is about values, and that is completely different. In my riding, a number of practising Catholics have come together around a priest, Raymond Gravel, who is well known because he is on television quite often. They are engaging in a debate within the church to make religious marriage available to same sex couples. They contacted me to get my support in this debate. I told them that it was not at all my place to participate in a debate within the Catholic church. This is something for Catholic officials and the people who practise this religion.

My role, as a parliamentarian and the member for Joliette, is limited to the civil level. Is the definition of marriage that currently exists in the legislation consistent with the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? In more than eight cases, the courts have decided that the traditional definition of marriage as between partners of the opposite sex is discriminatory under these charters. This is not a question that was asked by Bill C-38. This bill is aimed simply at complying with eight decisions that have already been handed down in eight courts in seven provinces and Yukon, including the Court of Appeal of Quebec.

If Bill C-38 did not exist, or even if the bill were eventually defeated, that would not change the fact that in seven provinces and Yukon, same-sex couples would be entitled to marry because the federal government has not appealed any of these cases.

In this situation, our only way to protect the traditional definition of marriage, if I can say it this way, would be to use the notwithstanding clause and, consequently, for all of us to realize that, in order to have a definition like that, a provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had to be violated.

In addition, the government asked the Supreme Court four questions in regard to this debate. These are the four questions. The first was: does the federal government have exclusive jurisdiction to define marriage?

The second question pertained to the charter. Does the charter allow religious groups not to perform marriages they feel go against their religious beliefs? Is the definition of same sex marriage constitutional? Is the traditional definition of marriage, in other words the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, constitutional?

I remind the House that the Supreme Court replied to this reference from the government. I might add a little aside that the fourth question was asked by the current Prime Minister a few weeks before the last election campaign. It was clearly just a manoeuvre for strictly electoral purposes to put off a decision that was should have been made by Parliament. It is interesting all the same to see that, despite all these delays, we are on the verge of an election we must make a parliamentary decision that cannot be ignored.

The Supreme Court confirmed the federal government's exclusive legislative authority with regard to the definition of marriage and, clearly, the provinces' exclusive legislative authority with regard to the celebration of marriage. To this end, although we agree in principle, we have a small problem with the fact that Bill C-38 already states that officials of religious groups will have the right to refuse to perform marriages between same sex partners. We agree in principle; it is a question of values. However, this falls under provincial jurisdiction. With Bill C-38, the government is treading on the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces in this regard.

The court's main decision was that same sex marriage was consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I also remind the House that, in answer to the question relating to religious groups, the Supreme Court determined that freedom of religion protects religious groups from having to perform same-sex marriages.

Finally, with regard to the fourth question, the court declined to comment, in order not to create confusion. It determined that there was without purpose, since the appeal courts had already ruled on the question. The Supreme Court determined that answering the fourth question would not further the issue. In fact, if the government had wanted to verify the validity of this question, it could simply have appealled previous decisions. As I mentioned earlier, eight courts were involved.

In short, the Supreme Court found that extending the definition of marriage is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Furthermore, the lower courts have already told us that the traditional definition of marriage, meaning the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, violated the charter. So it is quite appropriate for Bill C-38 to reinforce the decisions of the provincial courts of appeal.

Finally, Bill C-38 is in keeping with the overall spirit of the decisions by the Supreme Court and the lower courts. With a much broader definition—one more respectful of the rights all citizens now recognize—this bill now allows marriage not only between heterosexuals but also between homosexuals.

As the Supreme Court has reaffirmed, churches are not bound to perform certain marriages. This reconciles the right to equality for all citizens with the right to religious freedom, whether under the Canadian charter or the Quebec charter.

The idea in all of this is to reaffirm clearly that discrimination is not acceptable in Canada nor in Quebec. I am the father of three children, two still quite young, and I do not know their sexual orientation. Nevertheless, I would not want them to be victims of discrimination.

By passing Bill C-38, we would be sending a very clear message that in Canada, and in Quebec, discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or political or religious affiliation is not acceptable.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak against Bill C-38 on behalf of the constituents of Selkirk—Interlake.

Today I want to talk about how the Liberals have been misleading the House and Canadians on their commitment to the charter. They say that they want to defend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but then they sit on their hands when it is being threatened by provinces forcing marriage commissioners to resign or surrender their religious freedoms and freedom of conscience.

The Liberals say that they care about these rights, but they are unwilling to take action to correct this grievous violation. This is happening in Manitoba as we speak. It has also happened in Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

The province of Manitoba informed all marriage commissioners that they had to perform same sex marriages and if they refused, they would have their licences revoked. Right off the bat, 11 marriage commissioners resigned. Two more refused to quit and have taken this matter before the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.

I want to challenge the government to explain to the Canadian people why it is still failing to defend the individual religious rights and freedoms of conscience that it promised to defend.

Just last fall, on December 3, 2004, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada said in response to my question on marriage commissioners:

--clearly something like this is inappropriate as we would see it. That is why we went before the Supreme Court of Canada to ask what its interpretation would be on our reference and to see whether freedom of religion would be protected.

Clearly, that member has forgotten the statement because more recently he has not acted concerned about the inappropriateness of the firing of these commissioners at all. Instead, the parliamentary secretary said:

--if any additional specific protections for religious freedom are desired in the terms of civic marriage officials, commercial provision of services, hall rentals, et cetera, they must be made by the provinces and territories.

On the one hand the government wants to pretend it is defending the Charter of Rights of Freedoms and has shouted slogans at every opportunity. On the other hand it is unwilling to take action to ensure that a province is not trampling upon the individual's charter rights.

One day the charter is all important to the government, but then it turns around and wants to pick and choose which part it wishes to protect. That is the height of hypocrisy, even for this government, with perhaps the exception of the Prime Minister claiming to be the great crusader against government corruption after turning a blind eye for a decade to Liberal corruption as the finance minister.

Yes, these are provincial civil matters, but these are people who have their rights guaranteed to them under the charter, which is a federal responsibility. It is up to the federal government to stand up for these people and ensure that they have the opportunity to access their freedom of religion or freedom of conscience.

Not everyone has a particular religion, but they do have strong personal beliefs and do not agree with the approach being taken by the government. Therefore, I ask the government one more time to take a stand for individual rights and freedoms in response to these provinces. It has the responsibility to oversee what the provinces are doing and can ensure that they are enforcing what we have as a charter.

We have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada, yet the government has not stood up for these individual's rights. The freedom of religion and the freedom of conscience of these individuals are being lost because the government is failing to address decisions made by the Governments of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, decisions that have forced the resignation of marriage commissioners unwilling to perform same sex unions because of their religious beliefs and conscientious objections.

I want to ensure that the federal government will stand up for the rights of individuals. We cherish our charter in the country. We believe strongly in the freedoms that we enjoy as individuals. Yet the federal government has not come to the aid of those individuals. It should be standing side by side with them, defending their rights to freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of conscience and ensuring that their voices are heard by the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.

The government should tell the province of Manitoba and the other provinces that are doing this to take a solid step back and allow individual freedoms to reign.

One of the two people who are fighting this in Manitoba is a constituent of mine, Kevin Kisilowsky. He got his marriage commissioner licence from the province of Manitoba because he wished to sanction marriages outside of a church.

He is a Christian who has an outreach ministry for outlaw biker gangs as well as a youth ministry. He is trying to reach out. The people he is trying to help do not belong to a church. He is not affiliated with any particular religious organization, but is a Christian. In order to legally marry people who decide to accept his performance of Christian ceremonies outside of organized religion, he needs to have a licence.

When Kevin applied for his licence he informed the Government of Manitoba that he only wished to perform Christian ceremonies through his outreach ministry. He was told to go ahead with his application and that he would be put on a private list. Unfortunately, Kevin is now in a situation where he refuses to perform same sex marriages and therefore his entire licence is being revoked.

Essentially, I want the government to explain why it has not supported all the other commissioners in Manitoba. I want the government to make sure that they can still perform traditional marriages. This does not prevent the Province of Manitoba from hiring other marriage commissioners to perform same sex unions.

Let us defend the rights of individuals who are born and raised in Canada and also those individuals who came to Canada because we have such a great charter. Let us not trample on those rights.

I want the government to explain why it has not supported the individual rights and freedoms of religion and conscience, or is the claim by the Prime Minister and Minister of Justice that freedoms are protected just another Liberal promise made, Liberal promise broken?

Let us talk about what equality is. The Liberals have been saying that the compromise proposed on this side of the House would not satisfy equality requirements under the charter. This is just not true. There are many examples where we distinguish between genders and age groups for good reasons in our society because there are differences between them. It does not mean that all people are not equal but that society recognizes differences between people's situations.

An example of this is that young people have to wait to vote, drink, join the military, drive, form contracts, et cetera. Women and men are also treated differently although they are still equal within our society. When women received the vote and achieved greater equality with men they did not change the definition of woman or start calling women, men. They simply recognized women as persons and citizens entitled to equality with their male counterparts.

All that is really being asked is that the traditional definition of marriage be maintained in law. The equality of treatment for same sex partners can easily be achieved with another institution that recognizes their uniqueness within society. The law can deal with both the traditional definition of marriage and civil unions while recognizing the reality that they are innately a different type of relationship.

Canada decided in the past to be accommodating to religious and ethnic minorities. The RCMP has recognized the need to allow ethnic groups and religious groups to retain their symbols of faith while wearing the RCMP uniform. This kind of religious tolerance dates back to 19th century when Great Britain welcomed Sikh soldiers into its military and the Queen granted them the right to wear turbans because of their religious significance in their culture. This is an example of where our societies have grown to recognize that we can be different in beliefs and how the state respects those beliefs but still be equal as the laws are applied.

I cannot imagine anyone wanting the state to force them from their calling or chosen profession because of the state's narrow approach accommodating equality. The same would be true for an agnostic or atheist. The state should respect their opinions and not impose its will upon another.

However there is no reason that the state cannot recognize all of these diverse people through legislation, including those who want to retain the traditional definition of marriage at the state level out of respect for its origins. That would be the path in our law to a truly diverse and multicultural society, one that allows different viewpoints to be accepted within the law and recognizes cultural uniqueness.

I think all members of the House should take a good, hard look at the legislation for what it really is. It imposes upon all Canadians one kind of social institution and changes an institution that existed long before it was entrenched in our common law. This does not respect the differences in faith, cultures or multicultural society Canadians value.

The Liberals want to impose one value over all of us and ignore our differences. To me that sounds a lot like discrimination we are hoping to prevent by granting same sex couples equal treatment under the law.

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4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to say that earlier my colleague from Joliette made a rather thorough analysis of Bill C-38. I want to congratulate him and thank him. I want him to know that all of his speeches in this House are important and eagerly anticipated.

That said, as you know, the government has introduced a bill entitled the civil marriage act, which, while respecting religious freedom, gives same sex couples the right to civil marriage. Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the legislation also applies to everyone. Everyone has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.

According to the government, same sex couples must have equal access to marriage, otherwise they would be victims of discrimination. We cannot and must not choose to defend some rights and not others. If the basic rights of one minority group can be violated then those of other minority groups are at equal risk of being violated. This bill respects and defends the rights that the charter guarantees to all.

The courts of eight provinces and territories have recognized the right to equality without discrimination requires access to civil marriage for spouses of the same sex. There have been thousands of legal marriages involving same sex couples.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of conscience and of religion. There is nothing in this bill that is against those freedoms, particularly the right of religious groups to affirm their beliefs, and the right of religious authorities to refuse to perform marriages that are against their beliefs. This is why the bill refers only to civil marriages. Religious authorities will continue to make their own decisions on this.

A number of people, while in favour of the recognition of same sex marriage, want these unions to be designated by some other term, for instance civil union. A civil union is not a civil marriage. It does not respect the rights to equality without discrimination of the same sex spouses and contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Supreme Court of Canada decision has recognized that Parliament had jurisdiction over marriage, but did not have the jurisdiction to create an institution other than marriage for same sex spouses. The government's determination to uphold the right to equality without discrimination eliminates any possible application of the notwithstanding clause with a view to refusing same sex couples equal right of access to civil marriage.

Marriage is a fundamental institution of society and the Parliament of Canada has a responsibility to support that institution, which reinforces a commitment to a relationship and which, for many, constitutes the very basis of family life. While respecting religious freedom, the bill affords same sex couples wishing to marry the same civil legal recognition of their commitment as other married couples.

The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that it would be best for Parliament to establish legislative uniformity throughout the country. Federal legislation represents the best way to have clear direction. The bill acknowledges that freedom of religion is already fully protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as recently confirmed by the Supreme Court decision. This is why the bill refers to civil marriage in its title. Religious authorities will therefore continue to make their own decisions on this matter.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees equality. If there is one thing everyone agrees on, it is that everyone has the right to happiness and to pursue happiness. Often, marriage is the way to find happiness. We often hear people describe their wedding as the best day of their life.

Movies throughout the world, whether in India, the United States, or in France, often end with, “They got married and lived happily ever after”. Children's stories end that way too, with a happy ending. Happiness is found in marriage. Everyone is entitled to happiness.

Gays and lesbians are not inferior. They feel love like anyone else and that must be respected. They commit to one another. There are same sex couples that have been together for many years or have always been together. They commit to one another and live together because they are in love. They want to get married because they are in love. We have to respect that. I want to remind hon. members that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees equal access to happiness.

In conclusion, I want to remind the House that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees equal access to happiness.

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4:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saskatoon--Humboldt, Agriculture.

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4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today to represent the will of my constituents and speak in opposition to Bill C-38, the civil marriage act.

I will begin by summarizing my position, the position of someone who has lived all his life in the north, someone who has actually argued constitutional and charter arguments in front of the courts in Alberta and someone who has immediate family members who are both in the homosexual community and in the treaty and Métis communities.

This is why I will not support any legislation that infringes upon the rights of any Canadian. I believe strongly that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms must be respected and the rights of all minorities must be protected. This is why I support the traditional definition of marriage.

The institution of marriage was created for the purpose of procreation and the nurturing of the children of the union. Our children are our future and must be protected.

While we respect the rights of others, we must also look to the future and guard our future generations. A stable home with a mother and father is the foundation of our civilization and although it may not always be attainable, I would argue that we should work toward this environment as it is the best environment for our future generations.

My logic is this. All words have three parts: first, the word itself; second, the meaning that describes the word; and third, the rights and obligations that flow from the word. The word “marriage” is no exception to this. It is simply that; a word that describes and identifies a group of individuals within our society. In this case, the group it describes is a relationship between one man and one woman in a state recognized contract.

It is my position that the rights and obligations that flow from that word need to be extended to other words to protect rights of minority groups throughout Canada.

I would submit that these other groups should receive not only the rights of married couples but also the obligations of married couples.

As the Leader of the Opposition states, we must respect all Canadians regardless of sexual orientation or other differences and all couples who apply for solemnization of their relationship should receive the respect and the rights and obligations of married couples.

I also believe that we should send a clear message of protecting minority rights to Canadians and protect not only married and same sex couples but also common law couples after a certain period of cohabitation. Some provinces even recognize this period of cohabitation now and recognize common law rights but not all provinces do and each province is different.

Each of these three groups should be defined individually because, let us face it and admit the facts, the descriptions are different between a man and a man, a woman and a woman and a man and a woman. Yes, even common law couples who have not formally solemnized their relationship before the state should also be afforded the same protections. All of these groups should have the same rights and obligations under the law and should be respected equally in all aspects of the law that flow from our natural state.

In terms of protecting rights, it is also my belief that as members of the House we must protect the rights of those who entered into marriage on their expectation of what that term means. Protecting rights is a dual obligation. Just as with every right comes a corresponding obligation, receiving a right can sometimes infringe on others' rights and expectations. Rights and respect work both ways.

If we want our beliefs respected, then we must respect the beliefs of others. With mutual respect comes the end of bigotry, hate and prejudice. That is the Utopia that I seek for all Canadians.

The Conservative Party of Canada is allowing a free vote in Parliament on this matter. We respect the supremacy of Parliament. I believe that we should respect the will of Canadians while at the same time protecting the rights of all minorities.

In my constituency of Fort McMurray--Athabasca, located in northern Alberta, I received less than 10 responses in favour of same sex marriage and over 1,000 responses asking to maintain the traditional definition of marriage.

The Leader of the Opposition has taken what I believe to be a reasonable compromise position on this issue, which is in accord with the views of the majority of Canadians. We want to recognize the traditional definition of marriage without detracting from the rights and obligations of people in same sex relationships.

The Conservative Party wants to create the status of a civil union to recognize the identical rights of all peoples. Religious institutions would be explicitly protected. We would protect public officials from reprisal if for religious reasons, as we heard from my colleague earlier, they feel they must refuse to perform same sex marriages.

The Conservative Party represents the only middle ground position on the debate from any political party. Canada's law should reflect the priorities of Canadian society, while protecting the rights of minorities. The Conservative position does this. This compromise respects all sides of the debate.

This debate is about that. This debate is about mutual respect. This Conservative Party has proven that we respect both sides of the issue and we respect all Canadians equally.

Now it is time for other members of this House to do the same and to respect our position.

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Russ Powers Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the marriage bill before the House represents a balance between two important objectives that have driven the government's handling of this issue from day one.

The first is the extension of equal rights to a minority group, in this case, extending access to civil marriage to same sex couples who wish to make the same significant commitment to each other in a marital relationship as opposite sex couples.

The second is to ensure the equally fundamental and compelling guarantee to freedom of religion. In this context, that means the freedom of religious groups and officials to make up their own minds about this issue, to set their own requirements for marriage and to marry only those persons who meet those requirements.

Religious groups already have had this right for some time. Religious groups already refuse to marry people who would be able to marry civilly. For example, those who are divorced cannot marry in some religions and those who are first cousins, but they can marry in a civil ceremony.

The intent to balance these two compelling Charter of Rights and Freedoms can be seen in the structure of the bill. Its essence is contained in two simple provisions. The first states, “Marriage for civil purposes”, and I stress civil purposes, “is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others”. The second states, “It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs”.

The intent to balance these two principles can also be seen in the preambles to the bill. Two in particular speak of religious freedom:

WHEREAS everyone has the freedom of conscience and religion under section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;

WHEREAS nothing in this Act affects the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion and, in particular, the freedom of members of religious groups to hold and declare their religious beliefs and the freedom of officials of religious groups to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.

The intent to do so can also be seen in the government's decision to first refer the bill to the Supreme Court of Canada last year before the tabling the bill in the House. One of the government's main concerns in doing so was to ensure that religious officials had the necessary protection under the charter. In response to concerns by some religious groups and individuals, the government posed the question directly to the Supreme Court:

Does the freedom of religion guaranteed by paragraph 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protect religious officials from being compelled to perform a marriage between two persons of the same sex that is contrary to their religious beliefs?

The government is already firmly of the view that religious freedom would not be affected by the bill and now the Supreme Court of Canada has also provided that strong endorsement. In fact, it made some of the strongest statements ever on the nature of the charter's guarantee of freedom of religion. The court said:

It therefore seems clear that state compulsion on religious officials to perform same-sex marriages contrary to their religious beliefs would violate the guarantee of freedom of religion under s. 2(a) of the Charter.

The court went on to say that religious freedom was already protected by the charter and that religious officials would be protected from being compelled to perform both religious and civil marriages and religious institutions would be protected from being forced to provide their sacred spaces.

Earlier Supreme Court cases have upheld the right of religious institutions to compel observance of their religious tenets by officials and key employees, such as teachers. This would seem to be a very clear protection. However, if further more specific protections are desired, for example, for civil marriage officials, commercial provision of services to the general public, rentals, et cetera, the Supreme Court has indicated that they would have to be added in provincial and territorial laws as these matters are within its jurisdiction and not that of the federal government.

Some have used this fact as a basis to suggest that the federal government should not be moving ahead with the bill at all as it cannot guarantee religious freedom. In my view that is a deliberate misunderstanding of what the court said. The charter already provides that protection and so the court clearly has said that there is no need for further specific protections, which is also my understanding of where some of the provinces and territories are on this.

At a recent meeting with the provinces and territories held by the Minister of Justice, the attorneys general of two of the most populace provinces, namely Ontario and Quebec, both said that they had experienced no problems with religious freedom despite thousands of same sex marriage ceremonies.

However, many provinces and territories have provided additional protections by amending their laws to add specific protections for religious freedom. For example, Quebec has had specific protection for religious officials who refuse to marry a couple since the 1960s. Others already exempt religious organizations from their human rights codes.

The Minister of Justice has encouraged the provinces and territories to look again to ensure that religious freedom is protected in all their laws, as the federal government is doing. In reference to specific cases that may come before the human rights tribunals, he expressed the view that there could be some accommodation of religious freedom under most circumstances.

Indeed many of the cases brought forward by the members opposite to demonstrate that religious freedom is at risk have nothing to do with marriage. The cases are about protection from discrimination in the provision of services to the general public.

This is not a new issue. Provincial human rights codes add sexual orientation to their lists of prohibited grounds of discrimination, starting in 1976. Where a religious group has a clear policy about who it will rent out its space to, for example, parishioners or only organizations that are religious in nature, there has been no problem in the past. However, yes, where an organization of any kind offers its services to the general public, it must offer its services to all the general public and not discriminate on any basis, be it racial grounds or because of sexual orientation. This is a completely separate issue from whether the bill will affect the guarantee of religious freedom found in the charter.

Where a charter case has looked at the balance between equality rights and religious freedom, religious freedom has been protected. For example, in the recent Supreme Court of Canada case of Trinity Western, if a specific provincial human rights tribunal order does not respect freedom of religion, the charter can be used to challenge that order, as was the case, for example, in the Brockie case where the court amended the original tribunal order to protect religious freedom.

The Supreme Court of Canada specifically added in its recent decision in the marriage reference a reminder that provincial human rights codes should also be interpreted to protect the religious freedom. Previous court decisions at the lower levels on same sex marriage also indicated clearly their decisions could not have an impact on religious marriages, but only on civil marriage. Somehow this will not be enough for some people. They seem to fear that the Supreme Court could change its mind at some unspecified time in the future and religious freedom is slowly being eroded.

Yet after all these changes to the civil law of marriage, the different religious faiths have remained free to maintain their traditional religious practices and most have done so. Freedom of religion has a long history in Canada prior to the charter. That is one of the reasons it was added as a fundamental freedom to the charter.

Religious freedom has maintained and will continue to maintain its strength, as exhibited by the reference decision. The Prime Minister already has already that it is only where religious freedom would be threatened that he would consider using the notwithstanding clause. The government will uphold religious freedom and religious freedom of all major religious groups, meaning we have no more business telling the Catholic Church that it must marry persons of the same sex than we have telling the United Church that it cannot do so.

This act defines civil marriage. It does not change holy matrimony.