House of Commons Hansard #114 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was charter.

Topics

Question No. 521
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

With regard to Recreational Infrastructure projects in the riding of Mississauga—Erindale, what is the total number of jobs created or sustained by each project, according to reports submitted to the government pursuant to Schedule “H” of the Recreational Infrastructure Funding Agreement?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to be.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion--Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Business of Supply
Government Orders

December 9th, 2010 / 10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

moved:

That the House recognize the vital role played by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in ensuring justice, liberty, equality and fairness for all Canadians and call on the Government to reject the views expressed by several members of the Conservative Party of Canada that belittle and criticize the Charter’s impact on Canadian society.

Opposition Motion--Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Since today is the final allotted day for the supply period ending December 20, the House will go through the usual procedures to consider and dispose of the supply bill.

In view of recent practices, do hon. members agree that the bill be distributed now?

Opposition Motion--Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion--Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, on April 17, 1982, after years of lengthy debate and strenuous negotiation, our country adopted a charter that would bring transcendent change to Canadian life.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms enjoys a very high level of support in Canada today. Canadians do not only agree with their charter, they cherish the protections it offers, and for good reasons: they are morally sound, they are necessary and they are a reflection of who we are as a people.

The citizens of every country in the world hold their own constitution in high esteem. They are documents, traditions or customs embedded in history and tradition. Even every good Conservative Republican wraps himself or herself in the American constitution. It allowed William F. Buckley to express himself and for Sarah Palin to defend things like gun control or not.

Only in Canada do we hear politicians criticizing the constitutional documents that have founded a country and made it flourish.

Thirty years ago, we had an uneasy relationship with our constitutional past because Canada was in the process of superseding colonial links and affirming its own identity. It was time, more than ever, to part with some of our past links and bring the Constitution to our own country. We wanted to demonstrate to ourselves and to others that we had grown up and that we were a strong country. We wanted to assert our convictions, our principles, everything that distinguishes us as Canadians, and we wanted to declare those principles to the world.

We Canadians appreciate the charter because of its protections and the rights that it provides but Canadians also cherish the charter because it is a reflection of who we are as a people. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms embodies the character of the Canadian people. The charter inspires us and appeals to the best of us as Canadians.

Unfortunately, the government tends to discredit the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but this charter is so Canadian that one has to wonder whether the government is not too fond of Canada. The principles of democracy, equality, freedom and protection of minorities are not very important to the Conservatives. They perhaps want to find ways to avoid complying with this charter. During a trip to northern Canada, the Prime Minister said that he calls the shots, but I think it is time to remind him that he is not the king. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been around for 20 years before this government, and it will still be around 20 years after this government is gone.

In this country, there are rules that apply to everyone, even to those who disagree and even to the government.

When Pierre Elliott Trudeau spoke on the need to celebrate the renewal and repatriation of our Constitution in 1982, we were not witnessing the mere act of another government enacting another law; we were witnessing the birth of a document that was the product of broad political discussion across the country. The product is a reflection of ourselves as a country that we can be proud of. As Pierre Elliott Trudeau said:

I speak of a country where every person is free to fulfill himself or herself to the utmost, unhindered by the arbitrary actions of governments.

The Canadian ideal which we have tried to live, with varying degrees of success and failure for a hundred years, is really an act of defiance against the history of mankind. Had this country been founded upon a less noble vision, or had our forefathers surrendered to the difficulties of building this nation, Canada would have been torn apart long ago.

However, the Conservative Prime Minister has had a very hard time accepting a higher power for himself and sometimes seems to think he is king and not elected by the people of Canada and subject to our law, our Constitution, our founding principles. The Conservatives do not want to live in a world that was the vision of someone like Thomas Jefferson or Nelson Mandela. They want to live in a world without a charter to restrict their power and impose their every will on the public.

The world the government on the other side wants to live in is the world of Robert Bork, which is a world, to quote the late Senator Edward Kennedy:

...in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are at the heart of our democracy.

Senator Kennedy concluded with a comment for President Reagan that applies to this government today as well in that it should not be able to impose its “reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and on the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice”.

Let us remember the past, for in remembering the past we might prevent repeating it. In the early 1900s, women were not people in Canada. It took a decision by a court of law to declare that women are people in Canada and that they should have the right to vote. We only need to go back 50 years to the decision in Roncarelli v. Duplessis. We can be glad that Canadian courts had the power to overrule a premier who was using his powers on an arbitrary basis for a personal agenda against the rights of an individual.

Governments are sometimes wrong. Government has to follow a set of rules set out in a constitution and when it does not abide by those rules, modern democracies have given courts the law, the role to decide when the government crosses those lines of unconstitutional behaviour, that they should choose to protect the constitution as well as the citizens from abuse by the government. Every democracy is based on a desire to be, as any founding father or mother would say, a country of laws, not of men.

In our Constitution, we chose to include principles that represent the basis of the Canadian identity. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the right to equality for all Canadians, the right to freedom, the linguistic duality of this country and the civil rights that protect us against mistreatment by police forces. These protections have enabled us to build schools for minorities across the country, provided services to persons with a disability who needed them, prevented Canadians from being unjustly detained and protected minorities against discrimination. These are the principles that Canadians decided to impose on this government.

Because it is the people's government, they choose the rules that the government should live by. This government, however, has a hard time understanding that the people choose the laws.

This government does not see a problem with the arbitrary detention procedures in Bill C-49, for example. The detaining of an individual by an agent of the government or at the minister's will for 12 months is against the charter. The Supreme Court said so only three years ago. The government does not understand that, but the Canadian people do. They said so in their charter.

The government never saw a reason to protect Omar Khadr from the abuse he suffered abroad, but the Canadian people did because it is in their charter.

The government has cut the budget of groups that have advocated for minority rights, but the Canadian people understand that is wrong. It is in their charter.

This is a government with many members who feel that criminals reap the greatest benefit from the charter. This has to be balanced with the myriad court decisions that say, on the contrary, the Canadian people have a charter.

The immense powers of government over an individual have to be balanced with principles. Where these principles can sometimes impede the effectiveness of police forces, the charter has the override provision in section 1 to provide a reasonable limit to rights and freedoms, but we will not hear the Conservatives talk about the section 1 override provisions of the charter. We will not hear it because they do not want people to know. But the people know that they have a charter. They know that there are protections. It is in the charter.

Tom Flanagan, a well-known Conservative, wrote that courts of law in Canada are often an innovating force ahead of public opinion. Even the Prime Minister has expressed concern that a recent decision of the Supreme Court enforcing the protection of minorities should have been, rather, taken by Parliament.

That is also the view, to bring it full circle, of Robert Bork today. When he was bounced from his nomination from the Supreme Court of the United States, he decided to get some print in Canada. In 2002, he said that courts throughout the world, including Canada, are enacting an agenda.

Robert Bork and the Prime Minister of Canada: very similar.

On the contrary, modern democracies have mechanisms to protect minorities from being abused by the majority. In Canada, this mechanism is the charter, and there is nothing more democratic than a court of law that forces a government to respect a charter of rights and freedoms that was the result of a democratic process.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a constitutional document that can only be amended by consent of Parliament and of every province. It could never have been the intention to set inflexible rules and principles in stone, fixed in time, that could only be changed by constitutional amendment. Instead, Canadians created a document that would be adaptable and therefore remain relevant to the needs of a rapidly changing society.

The late Supreme Court Justice Antonio Lamer wrote in 1985, when the charter was new and being decided upon that it was a living tree planted by the Canadian people. Supreme Court Justice Dickson wrote the same thing in the case of R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd., worrying that “the living tree”, which is the charter, “will wither if planted in sterilized soil”.

The comments by the Conservative government do not represent the Canada that we know. The comments by Tom Flanagan do not represent the Canada that we know. They defy the values that Canadians chose to define as their own in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As two modern examples of how the charter lives, General Roméo Dallaire and General John de Chastelain were exporting democracy and the values of the charter to the world. Long before this debate here today, General de Chastelain in Ireland and General Dallaire in Rwanda, these military giants, walked among divided combatants, dressed as men of war but sounding like men of the charter. It is to Canada's credit that they did so. They exemplified charter values and gained respect around the world.

Today we are here to remind the government that it does not get to choose the world we live in. This is Canada, and Canadians have created a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that reflects their ideals. This charter binds every government to come with respect to these ideas, whether governments like it or not. The protections in this charter are cherished by Canadians for good reason. They are certainly morally sound, as I said at the beginning. They are a reflection of who we are as a people, and they are necessary.

Exercising the protection of a right for one person does not take away the right of another person. That is a very important comment to make. It seems that every distinction made by the government is that in the application of the charter for the protection of a right, someone else loses something. It is a fundamental principle that the protection of one right that is enshrined for one person does not take away the pile of rights that all of us have.

Every court decision grapples with the issue of the individual right and the collective right. This is never mentioned by the Conservative justice team or the Conservative government, ever, or any of their columnists who write daily on these issues. It is never mentioned that there is a collective right. The collective right is enforced by the fact that government does not invade the secure, the privileged and those in positions of power and comfort who do not need the charter to enforce their rights. That is the protection of the collective right. Within the charter is section 1, which provides for the collective right, the right of override. The protection of the single individual right might be overridden by the collective right for the protection of society.

The second point that is important to remember is that, in common sense terms, we could look at the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as insurance. Insurance is a great comfort to those who do not need to use it. It is illogical to say that we like to have insurance because we use it so often. We want to have insurance and never have to use it. Who wants to have a car accident? Who wants to have a fire? Who wants to lose his or her life or be dismembered and use insurance policies for protection?

Why is that not unlike having the charter as protection for everyone in this House and everyone outside this House who is a Canadian? We can have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which protects us, but we hope we never have to use it. We hope that we are not one of those litigants who has to go to court to ensure that a right is being protected. Who wants to go to court and use the charter?

The Conservatives, on the other hand, should know that we are a far less litigious society than our neighbours to the south. They should know that the charter is being used by people who have to use it, people who have to apply for the protection of their rights. Of course, the great stopgap in this free and democratic society is that our courts have the discretion to determine whether in fact a right has been abridged.

The concept is very simple. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is for everyone, not just for the people trying to use the charter to gain benefits that are secured for them. We hope, as individuals, that we never have to use these provisions in the charter, but they are there for our protection.

The other thing that I would like to say about the comments made by various individuals in the public is that it is an attack on Canada when they attack our constitutional documents, and it should not be permitted by a political party, let alone a party that is ruling.

It is one thing to have a political point of view that does not believe that the Constitution, as contemplated, protects these rights. That is one thing. But when they say that the whole baby with the bathwater syndrome should be thrown out because the Conservatives do not like how it is applied, the inference to be drawn is that they do not trust judges. That inference has been veiled in the last few years but was not very covered up in the first few years of the government's regime.

The government does not trust judicial discretion. It does not trust the good common sense of Canadian people who wanted this charter and will see to its enforcement. The government does not trust judges to take a common sense approach on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which Canadians believe in, to interpret rights appropriately.

The Conservative government should be ashamed that it lets elected officials, some of whom serve in this House, and unelected officials, who have undue influence on the Prime Minister's cabal, to make statements that denigrate our Constitution, denigrate the opposition, denigrate the points of view of members of Parliament and denigrate columnists. That is what we believe in. We will defend its right to say whatever it wants to say, but the government should not attack the very root of our community, the very basis of our civilization, which is the Constitution of Canada and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as it exists today. Shame on the Conservative government.

We call on the government to ask for formal retractions from its spokespersons, because this is egregious. It is an awful day in Canadian history when the governing party says that the hall in which we govern, the land that we govern, partially, is governed by a document that it does not believe in. How close is that to anarchy? It is too close.

We in the opposition call on the government to look into the recesses of its soul and say it is wrong, say that it is sorry and admit that it believes in Canada, that it believes in the Constitution, that it believes in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Opposition Motion--Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have many of the same opinions as the hon. member who just spoke. I would like to ask him whether he is prepared to acknowledge that the circumstances under which the charter was adopted are perceived far differently in Quebec. The charter is being used to keep Quebec from exercising its full authority when it comes to language. In the long term, this language is threatened by the vast anglophone ocean of North America that surrounds it.

In addition, why does his resolution not acknowledge the negative effect of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which I am sure is still a model worldwide, save for the provisions that were written specifically to break the language laws that Quebec was and will always be in need of?

Opposition Motion--Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have a lot of respect for my Bloc Québécois colleague. Perhaps he will propose an amendment to our motion concerning Quebec and its areas of jurisdiction, including its ability to protect the French language. I obviously have a lot of respect for that position.

However, it has to be said that during the time the charter has existed, many Supreme Court decisions have been very good for linguistic communities across the country. Take the R. v. Beaulac decision, for example. It was similar in that it clearly stated that language rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms need to be protected.

I am a francophile, married to a francophone from New Brunswick, so I believe it is very important to have the charter in order to protect language rights across the country, including in Quebec. In my opinion, Canada includes Quebec. That means that the charter applies in Quebec to protect language rights in Quebec and the rest of the country.

Opposition Motion--Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Halton
Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the comments from the hon. member. However, at the very end he seemed to go into an area that I found kind of surprising, and I just wanted to bring something to his attention.

In his remarks he indicated that he thought the government should be doing something to prevent other people from saying certain things, that we should limit one's freedom of speech.

I just want to bring this to the attention of the member and ask the following question: Given that section 2(b) of the charter itself says everyone has freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, which is only limited by section 1 of the charter that talks about whether there is a reasonable limit prescribed by law that can demonstrably justified, what justification could he possibly give for having a government tell an individual citizen not to say certain things?

Opposition Motion--Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, if it was not clear I will say it again. I certainly said in my speech that we defend to the death the right of an individual, an elected official or otherwise, to say what he or she wants to say, absolutely.

What we are decrying is the policy of the government. What we are saying, and this is why we are having the debate, is that the government allows its spokespersons, elected and non-elected, to say the charter is not being used properly, or it is not a good instrument. There are all kinds of quotes from elected, recently elected and unelected Conservative spokespeople, who have gone uncriticized by the government, as to the instability of the charter.

We need to remember that it is the government. The government, by being silent on the policy aspect, is saying to Canadians by inference that it does not really believe in the charter. That is the message. That is what I want to hear. I want to hear somebody from the other side get up and say, “We completely, unreservedly support the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We completely and unreservedly support our judges and their discretion to enforce the Charter of Rights”. I hope it is the Minister of Labour who says it, because she is a good east coast Canadian by roots and she understands fairness, so I look forward to that comment.

Opposition Motion--Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, the charter says very clearly in subsections 2(c) and (d) that people of Canada have the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association. Section 8 says, “Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure”. Section 9 says, “Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned”. Section 10 says, “Everyone has the right, on arrest or detention, to be informed properly of the reasons therefor”, et cetera.

I can actually cite many other sections, sections 11, 12, 14 and 15. All of these rights were violated during the G20 in Toronto, where protesters were supposed to be at the designated demonstration site at Queen's Park.

On Saturday, June 28, there was dispersal and arrest. Then there were massive arrests on the Esplanade on the night of Saturday, June 26, and there were police actions outside the Eastern Avenue detention centre on the morning of Sunday, June 27. In the evening of Sunday, June 27, there were mass arrests and kettling of people on Queen and Spadina, and lastly, the conditions of detention at the Eastern Avenue detention centre were terrible.

My question to the member is, given all the mass violation of people's rights given to them through the charter, does the member support calling for a full public inquiry by the government?

Opposition Motion--Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is a very interesting question and a very interesting topic. I certainly think, and this is where the member and I will agree, that the courts of this land can deal with cases such as this. The case she makes is compelling for a royal commission, a royal inquiry for sure. That is a governmental decision. That is not what I am here to argue about.

I am here to argue that she and I, the member for Trinity—Spadina and myself, can at least agree that the charter is a good thing, that it should be used properly, that it should continue to flourish and that judges have the discretion to properly implement it. That is what she and I can agree on.

What she and I probably do not agree on is perhaps whether today it had to be us bringing this motion to bring the government to heel when comments like this were made by the government. This is from the Prime Minister:

I agree that serious flaws exist in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that there is no meaningful review or accountability mechanisms for supreme court justices.

That is not a vote of confidence in the charter. Why is it that we are standing here finally bringing the government to account on its inability to stand up and say, “We believe in the charter. We believe in our judges”?