House of Commons Hansard #123 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was religious.

Topics

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

I am in receipt of a notice of motion under Standing Order 52 from the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Thompson St. Croix—Belleisle, NB

Mr. Speaker, I seek an emergency debate on the use of chemical sprays, specifically defoliants, used at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown from 1956 to 1984.

Hundreds of civilians and military personnel were exposed to these deadly chemicals, chemicals like agent orange, agent purple and many others which are deadly dioxins.

The government has neglected these people and their communities and has not taken responsibility for this tragedy. The effects of these deadly chemical compounds have lingered and will continue to linger for decades.

As a result of this indiscriminate use of defoliants, there are cancer and cancer related diseases and deaths to prove the point that we are making. These chemicals are deadly. The devastation continues to this day. They simply linger in the ground and in the water supply for decades.

Only a public inquiry will bring out the complete story, all the facts and a level of transparency which so far has been missing. This is not about pointing fingers at government or punishing government. It is simply about righting a wrong.

Mr. Speaker, the only place where that debate can happen is in the House of Commons. I hope you will look favourably upon this request.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest for his very able submissions on this point. I know there have been a number of questions concerning the matter raised in the House in the last few weeks. Clearly it is a matter of some concern, but I do not believe it meets the exigencies of the Standing Order at this time. Accordingly I am not inclined to allow the debate at this time.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-38, An Act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes, as reported (with amendments) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Fundy, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise on behalf of my constituents to speak to Bill C-38 at report stage.

It is interesting that over the course of presenting petitions there were a number of petitions where constituents were calling on Parliament to recognize and to affirm marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. To put it another way they were calling on Parliament to affirm marriage in the traditional sense or in the sense that it is universally applied across countries, across cultures, across religions. When I attended various events in my riding, people asked, “Why are you going back next week? What is going on? Why the virtually unprecedented extension of the sitting of the House?” There is only one government bill on the projected order, Bill C-38, which in effect will change the legal definition of the word “marriage” in Canada”.

If Canadians are so concerned, so divided and so upset about changing a fundamental basic institution in our country, why is the Liberal government embarking on this approach? Why did it not look for alternatives that could have accomplished some of the concerns that were being raised?

This has not been the approach that other jurisdictions have taken. In France and Australia, for example, there has been a recognition of the rights of other couples but preservation of what the word “marriage” means.

It has been interesting to see over the last couple of years how the language has changed. This takes to me one of the amendments. In 1999 members across the way, including the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, and many members on that side and many members in this House, overwhelmingly assured Canadians that Parliament would not only affirm the traditional definition of marriage but would take all steps necessary to protect that definition of marriage in Canada. It was some time later, in 2000, when in the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act, a clause was inserted which stated:

For greater certainty, the amendments made by this Act do not affect the meaning of the word "marriage", that is, the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

The then justice minister and current Deputy Prime Minister spoke at length about the uniqueness of the institution of marriage and that how, as she said, Parliament and the Liberal government had no intention of changing what the word “marriage” meant in Canada.

The reason it is interesting to note that particular clause in the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act that was passed by this House 2000 is that in Bill C-38, clause 15 states:

Section 1.1 of the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act and the heading before it are repealed.

It is just that simple. Is it any wonder that there is cynicism out there? Those on the other side give assurances that religious freedoms are going to be protected, that freedom of expression is going to be protected, that changing what the word “marriage” means in our country is not going to have any impact on our country, is not going to have any impact on those that come after us. With a bit of revisionist history however, the Liberals in the year 2005, reach back to the year 2000 and pretend that Parliament at that time did not insert that declaratory clause on what the word “marriage” means. This brings me to one of the amendments. Remember, it states that for greater certainty the bill does not impact on the definition of marriage and then sets out what that definition is.

I sat on the legislative committee studying Bill C-38. I have heard the parliamentary secretary say a few things today that I would take issue with. One is that this issue has had a good hearing among Canadians. As members know, we on this side had to fight tooth and nail to get the number of witnesses we did. Theses were witnesses that the parliamentary secretary quoted, witnesses that he now acknowledges were good witnesses. The Liberals fought against including them on the witness list.

It is interesting that, through that committee, one of the amendments to Bill C-38, and this bill can only be described as smoke and mirrors, other than changing what the word “marriage” means in law in Canada, nothing else in the bill is of any legal effect. It does not offer any protection or is of any consequence to Canadians, other than the fact that it changes the definition of marriage.

I would like members to listen to the familiar words and see if this sounds familiar. Clause 3.1 says “For greater certainty”. Again, another assurance using the exact same language. The expression “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” comes to mind. Once again we have members on that side saying “Don't worry about it; this won't impact on you”.

It is just like a couple of years ago when the Liberals said to Canadians not to worry. They indicated that this would not impact on what the word “marriage” meant and that it would not have that effect. Anyone with any common sense would know that was the ultimate conclusion that they were leading to. Now with the same conviction, those on that side are saying “For greater certainty”. I would like to read this provision. It says:

For greater certainty, no person or organization shall be deprived of any benefit, or be subject to any obligation or sanction, under any law of the Parliament of Canada solely by reason of their exercise, in respect of marriage between persons of the same sex, of the freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the expression of their beliefs in respect of marriage as the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others based on that guaranteed freedom.

That sounds pretty good to me. To someone who is perhaps not a lawyer or to the average Canadian who might read this bill would say that sounds good. That sounds like the government has it covered. Canadians should know as well, as I do, that in law this is a declaratory provision that is not only unconstitutional but it does nothing to protect Canadians. That was the evidence we heard in committee.

We heard a justice department lawyer explain to us, and it is obvious if a person takes a close look at the provision, that this is simply restating that we have certain rights under the Canadian charter of rights. We heard where those rights can lead us. I heard witness after witness give testimony that their rights had been impacted because of the definition of marriage.

We heard at length about Bishop Fred Henry. We heard about marriage commissioners whose livelihood is being affected. We heard about the Knights of Columbus. Here is a real life example. The Knights of Columbus are a religious order of the Catholic church. They are being brought before a human rights tribunal in British Columbia because they will not sanction a same sex ceremony because it violates their religious beliefs. This is not some hypothetical down the road. This is happening right now. Bill C-38 does absolutely nothing to protect religious beliefs.

If we look at Bill C-38, the first clause says it is called the civil marriage act. I want to speak and support the amendment put forward by my colleague from Calgary Southeast that this clause be amended. The reason it should be amended is that there is no civil marriage in Canada. There is no distinction between civil marriage and marriage. There is only one definition of marriage. By even raising that concept that there is somehow two kinds of marriage in Canada is misleading to Canadians. It is creating more smoke and mirrors and clouding the issue. I support taking that out.

Motion No. 2 states that clause 2 be deleted. It says:

Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others.

I have heard sufficient testimony that leads me to the conclusion that if we change the definition of marriage, it will have an impact on other rights. I am also confident that there are ways to address equality concerns without changing the definition of marriage. That is the Canadian way. That is what Canadians support. They support equality, but they also support this basic institution.

Motion No. 3 would delete clause 3 which says:

It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.

We know that the Supreme Court of Canada considered this bill and came to two very ironic conclusions. First, it said it would not say the traditional definition of marriage was unconstitutional and did not rule it unconstitutional. Yet the Liberals will lead us to believe it did. Second, it said a provision like that is ultra vires, outside the jurisdiction of Parliament, and it cannot act to protect religious freedoms. I will be opposing this bill. I urge my colleagues to do so and look for a Canadian compromise.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know the member was on the legislative committee at which there were some 60 odd witnesses heard. One of the areas that concerns a number of Canadians and certainly myself is the whole question of the implications to the family, particularly children, with regard to the longer term consequences of changing the definition of marriage.

I would ask the member, did any witnesses that appeared before the committee on that matter provide examples or at least the experiences of other countries or jurisdictions that have moved in the direction of changing or polluting the definition of marriage?

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Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Fundy, NB

Mr. Speaker, the committee heard 60 some witnesses though we were not going to hear that many.

I heard the parliamentary secretary say we heard 400 and some witnesses. That was in another Parliament. As the hon. member knows, that committee was basically hijacked as it was hearing general testimony from coast to coast on whether the Canadian government should appeal the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling regarding the definition of marriage.

As we know, members who supported marriage were pulled off that committee and other Liberal members were inserted who opposed traditional marriage. We know the committee did not even render a report. That is of no benefit. We are in a new Parliament. This bill put before us changes what the word marriage means and we are not given ample time to study it.

The member has raised an important question. There are only two other countries in the world that have changed in law what the word marriage means, so we do not know yet the long term effects. We can hypothesize what the impact could be on changing an institution that predates Canada.

The committee heard testimony from many witnesses. On the protection of religious freedom, for example, I will read an excerpt:

The advance of social liberalism necessarily stirs anxieties about cultural and religious freedom. Bill C-38 promises that it won't break into the religious sanctuaries to coerce religious officials to solemnize marriages against their consciences. The fact that this legislation raises the spectre of such draconian action is telling.

I agree with that 100%. We do not know where this is going to lead when it comes to freedoms. We know, in the original B.C. decision on this issue, that Justice Pitfield ruled that marriage predates Canada. It predates Confederation. Not only is it not for a judge to change what the word “marriage” means, it is not for Parliament to change what the word “marriage” means.

It is interesting how this has been framed as an issue of fundamental human rights. A few years ago members on that side overwhelmingly voted to support the traditional definition of marriage and yet those same members come here and have the gall to suggest this is about fundamental human rights. If this is about fundamental human rights, why are those members not championing this cause? They are not because it is not a fundamental human right. It is a social policy decision and there has not been one court from any national or international body or tribunal that has suggested otherwise.

We do not know where this is going to lead, but it is virtually unprecedented. We know that Sweden, Norway, France and Australia are taking a reasonable approach. They recognize that there are equality rights and access issues raised by the issue of same sex couples, but they have not attempted to change what the word “marriage” means in their countries, nor should we.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Tom Wappel Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by apologizing to the Chair and the House for not being present at noon to formally move my Motion No. 3. It was a misunderstanding on my part and I apologize. I want to thank the hon. member for Mississauga South for being alert enough to move the motion on my behalf and for all hon. members for allowing the motion to proceed. Motion No. 3 proposes to remove clause 3 of the bill. Clause 3 reads:

It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Why am I moving to delete this clause? I know that my speech will not change members' minds on the bill. I know that very few members are even listening to report stage debates, much less considering the arguments. I do so in order to state my position for the record, for historians, future generations, and politicians from around the world, present and future, who may study our debates in order to help decide policies in their own countries. Most of all I do it for my children and their children, so they know their dad was there and contributed to the debate as best he could.

I accuse the Government of Canada, the cabinet, the Department of Justice, and the Minister of Justice himself, of legal and intellectual hypocrisy for including this clause. In the reference to the Supreme Court, the Government of Canada asked the Supreme Court of Canada certain questions. The relevant one for our purposes was question no. 1 which asked:

Is the annexed Proposal for an Act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes within the exclusive legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada? If not, in what particular or particulars, and to what extent?

Section 2 of that proposed act read as follows:

Nothing in this Act affects the freedom of officials of religious groups to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.

That is virtually the same wording as clause 3 of the bill we are debating. The words are not identical, but the intent is 100% the same. How did the Supreme Court of Canada answer the question? It said:

Section 2 of the Proposed Act relates to those who may (or must) perform marriages. Legislative competence over the performance or solemnization of marriage is exclusively allocated to the provinces under s. 92(12) of the Constitution Act, 1867.

The Attorney General of Canada suggests that section 2 of the proposed act was declaratory, merely making clear Parliament's intention that other provisions of the proposed act not be read in a manner that would trench on the provinces jurisdiction over the solemnization of marriage. The provision might be seen as an attempt to reassure the provinces and to assuage the concerns of religious officials who perform marriages.

However worthy of attention these concerns are, only the provinces may legislate exemptions to existing solemnization requirements, as any such exemption necessarily relates to the solemnization of marriage under s.92(12). Section 2 of the proposed act was therefore ultra vires Parliament.

While it is true that Parliament has exclusive jurisdiction to enact declaratory legislation relating to the interpretation of its own statutes, such declaratory provisions can have no bearing on the constitutional division of legislative authority. That is a matter to be determined by the courts should the need arise. It follows that a federal provision seeking to ensure that the act within which it is situated is not interpreted so as to trench on provincial powers can have no effect and is superfluous.

The court was asked in question no. 1 whether section 2 of the proposed act was within the exclusive legislative competence of Parliament. Because section 2 of the proposed act relates to a subject matter allocated to the provinces, it follows that it does not fall within the exclusive legislative competence of Parliament. The answer to the second part of the first question must therefore be no.

I repeat the critical lines from the judgment of the Supreme Court:

Section 2 of the Proposed Act is therefore ultra vires Parliament...It follows that a federal provision seeking to ensure that the Act within which it is situated is not interpreted so as to trench on provincial powers can have no effect and is superfluous.

Why would the Minister of Justice, who is required to certify to his cabinet colleagues that the legislation is in his opinion constitutional, insert clause 3 in the face of the clear and unambiguous language of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada?

I accuse the Government of Canada, the cabinet and the Minister of Justice of inserting clause 3 clearly against the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada for purely political reasons, namely, as a carrot to entice nervous members of Parliament into voting for this bill. There is only one thing more shameful and incredulous than this tactic and that is that a number of MPs have actually been convinced by it.

I accuse the Government of Canada, the cabinet and the Minister of Justice of disrespect for the very institutions they all call on everyone else to respect, namely, the courts. The Supreme Court of Canada has clearly stated that the words and intent embodied in clause 3 are beyond the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada and yet they appear in the bill. What a slap in the face to the very institution that we are told to revere.

Finally, I accuse the Bloc Québécois of not only legal and intellectual hypocrisy but also political hypocrisy. Those members pretend to be the champions for the rights of the province of Quebec, and here they have a clause which the Supreme Court of Canada has said is ultra vires Parliament, that is, beyond the scope of the powers of the federal Parliament. Why has the Bloc not insisted that clause 3 be removed, as it is an affront to provincial powers? Only the Bloc can answer the unanswerable.

This entire bill reeks of hypocrisy, political motivation and selective legal reasoning, but clause 3 is the prime example given the unambiguous wording of the Supreme Court of Canada. It should be removed because it does not fall within the exclusive legislative competence of Parliament, can have no effect and is superfluous.

Sadly, in this political environment where logic and the law are the first casualties, I will be surprised if anyone other than myself and a very few others will support my motion to remove the unarguably ultra vires clause 3 from this scandalous bill, a bill that will make Canada one of only three countries in the community of nations which grants marriage status to same sex persons. That fact alone should be reason enough for sensible people to vote against this bill.

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3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, as much as I would like to support the member's motion, the problem with the motion is this: if we stand and say we vote against that particular provision, the Liberal government will stand and say that we do not want to protect the rights of religious organizations to solemnize marriages. It is a clever trap, the kind of trap that the government has consistently performed.

As for the Bloc, I am not surprised. The Bloc has no long term interest in this country. Supporting this bill has absolutely nothing to do with the Bloc. The majority of federalist MPs in this House oppose this bill. The Bloc has no interest in this country. It does not want to see this country survive and for the Bloc to work together and make an agreement with the government is absolutely shameful.

My question is for the member. He had it in his hands on Thursday to vote with us against the government in order to stop this scandal from spreading, and those Liberals simply went with the government. What I find interesting is that when their votes are not necessary, then they can vote against the government. When the government wants their votes, then they have to vote with the government. That is what I find difficult about those Liberals who purport to support Bill C-38.

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3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Tom Wappel Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, that was a political speech, but let me say this. My advice to the Conservative Party is not to worry about what the Liberals are going to say but rather to do what is right. The Conservatives know it is right to defeat clause 3 because they know it is unconstitutional. They should defeat clause 3 and not worry about what the Liberal Party is going to say about it, because sensible people will know that they have done the right thing for the right reasons.

There is no excuse for the Bloc not to protect the provincial rights of the provinces and not to support my motion to delete clause 3. The Bloc constantly says it is there to protect the provinces. This is an attack on the rights of the provinces under the Constitution and yet the Bloc does not say a thing about it.

I do not need any lectures from the other side about what to do or what not to do. Six members of that party were not there. If he counts the numbers, he will figure it out himself.

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3:40 p.m.

Independent

David Kilgour Edmonton—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate very much what the member for Scarborough Southwest was saying.

I have to make a confession. I worked for the Department of Justice many years ago and in fact took part in a constitutional case in front of the Supreme Court of Canada. I share the view of my colleague. It is appalling that a Minister of Justice who purports to be a lawyer would sign off on clause 3 and it is appalling that the cabinet would sign off on this clause.

I would ask the member for Scarborough Southwest if there is anything he has not had time to add on his excellent legal argument just now and which he would like to add now.

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3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Tom Wappel Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the important thing on Motion No. 3 to delete clause 3 is that there is no emotion involved here. This is a purely legal fact. The Supreme Court has already ruled that clause 3 and its variants are ultra vires the Parliament of Canada. How in heaven's name can anyone put something into a bill that is already stated to be ultra vires? The reason has to be and can only be for political motivation.

There are many lawyers in the House. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice is a lawyer. The critic for the Bloc Québécois is a lawyer. I defy any of them to stand here and distinguish clause 3 from section 2 in the reference to the Supreme Court of Canada. It cannot be done.

This is simply political sleight of hand to try to trap people into believing that they are getting something that they are not getting. It is absolutely shameful that it is even in this bill.

Civil Marriage Act
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3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely surprised by the remarks of the member for Scarborough Southwest. I think this member is hypocrisy incarnate, if hypocrisy is to be found in this House.

Today, under the cover of shared jurisdictions, he invites us to reject the bill, when his opposition is based in reality on his continual rejection of any kind of recognition of the rights of gays and lesbians.

Mr. Speaker, I took part in all of the meetings of the committee you brilliantly chaired, I have to say. We know very well that the section of the bill causing the member concern is declaratory and that the essence of the bill is not the marriage ceremony, but the underlying conditions.

If the member is honest, let him rise and through you, Mr. Speaker, say he rejects the right of homosexual persons to enjoy loving relationships, because he does not like homosexuals. Each time he has had a chance in this House, he has said so. It has nothing to do with sharing jurisdictions. We know where the hypocrisy lies.