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

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

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, the member's comments were thoughtful. I am awfully glad we brought this motion forward today because it shows we are alone in the House, defending the charter. Bloc members cannot bring themselves to say that we need to defend the charter. The NDP justice critic said that the charter did not need defending.

With all due respect to my friend, various speakers have said that they believed in the charter. It is almost damnation by faint praise because they have been drawn into the debate to affirm they believe in the charter. However, they squirrel it by saying that it is really just something that was built on existing constitutional mores and customs and it did not create new rights, which the hon. member suggested. He might want to think of talking to language rights warriors like Michel Bastarache and Michel Doucet, who very much appreciate having the charter that enforces language rights in schools in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which did not exist before, despite provincial and federal official languages acts.

I appreciate the sincerity of my friend's comments, especially with respect to property. However, why did it take a Liberal motion to have Conservative members stand and say that they believed in the charter, that it was pretty good? There was a Bill of Rights and there was the common law. I want to hear him say loudly and proudly that he endorses the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that it should last in its current state forever.

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

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe. I know he is very passionate about this. I think I have been quite clear in my comments that I am in support of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We have heard from other speakers today who said that it was a living, breathing document and that there was the potential to make changes and additions to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I stand behind today's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I spoke at length about how it came about. It is something about which this Parliament and all Canadians need to think.

I commend the member for bringing forward the motion today so we could have this discussion. I am happy to have had the opportunity to rise today and speak to this very important issue.

Those who might be sitting at home, having listened to much of my presentation, will say that Canadians believe in this.

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

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, my comments can be taken as comments or as a question, if the member wants to respond.

The fact is in Saskatchewan, on April 1, 1947, the CCF government of Tommy Douglas introduced the Saskatchewan bill of rights act, which was Canada's first general law prohibiting discrimination. It affirms the fundamental freedoms that Canadians now take for granted. It prohibits discrimination on account of race, creed, religion, colour or ethnic or national origin. It prohibits discrimination with respect to accommodation, employment, occupation and education. It prohibits publications that are likely to deprive someone of his or her legal rights on account of race, creed, religion, colour or ethnic or national origin.

That was the legislation in Saskatchewan on April 1, 1947. The fact is John Diefenbaker was from Saskatchewan, and 13 years later, in 1960, as the Conservative prime minister, he introduced the Canadian Bill of Rights, the precursor of what is now the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I have much more to say about this subject, but could the member take that idea and move forward on it to demonstrate that human rights are just not the purview of the Liberal Party, that they go back a long way, starting with the CCF in Saskatchewan and then John George Diefenbaker as Conservative prime minister of Canada?

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

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona.

Many people believe that the Liberal Party thinks it has a monopoly on these issues, but I do not believe that. I think they see, and I know all members in the House see, that the House of Commons, the Senate, along with provincial governments, with many Canadians over the whole history of our country, have all contributed to what we have today, a country in which we are all very proud to live. We are all proud we have our rights and freedoms, which the charter very much enshrines for us.

We also heard a little earlier from the member for Prince Edward—Hastings who spoke about responsibilities. Responsibilities as well as rights and freedoms is something my constituents also wish were addressed.

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

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague spoke so eloquently to the evolution of human rights in Canada, some of the important documents along the way and the fact that the charter was very important. However, we should not stop there and think that we have reached perfection. We certainly are not there, and I would like him to have the opportunity to elaborate a bit more.

He talked about private property rights and a number of other things. Perhaps he could elaborate in terms of where we can go, as Canadians, to continue this evolution of what is very important to all of us in the House.

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

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think there is a feeling across the country that the charter and the Constitution are things we should not talk about because of some things that happened in attempts to amend the Constitution back in the late eighties and early nineties. However, these are discussions that Canadians should have in terms of improvement.

The hon. member said that there was always room for improvement. Maybe today's discussion will make Canadians think about that. We do have an excellent document. We have something that Canadians are proud of, that came together over many years through many processes.

Private property rights, as I spoke about in my presentation, are important to my constituents. These were not addressed in 1982. I know the constituents of many members understand the importance of enshrining private property rights. It is something of which I have been a champion. I know it is something that is not going to be easy to attain, but I am happy we are having this discussion.

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

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member, during his speech and in response to questions, referenced a living, breathing document and also the evolution of the charter.

Section 1 says:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

It is the shock absorber, as it were, to take into account certain circumstances that may occur, or were not anticipated or may become public interest items.

Would he agree that the section 1 override that is available, and has been used from time to time, does in fact represent substantially the living, breathing document that we have, that it is in the interpretation of those principles and not a problem of the individual principles of the charter?

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

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, if we all look back at our history, I happened to be in Ottawa when the whole constitutional issue was at its peak, and as I spoke earlier, I was here on Parliament Hill when the Charter of Rights was signed into force.

If we go back to that time, we all know that had the notwithstanding clause not been included in that, we may well have never had the repatriation of our Constitution and the signing of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was all part of that repatriation at the time.

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

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

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 Halifax, Health; the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, Infrastructure.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

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

December 9th, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, to start with I would like to let the House know that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member from Brossard—La Prairie.

I want to thank my colleagues for the debate thus far. I think it has been a good one and a productive one. I have listened intently to some of the concerns. At times we slipped back into the political rhetoric of the day, but at other times we learned a great deal about what it is to be living in this age of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms given to us from 1982.

Back in the 1970s, if we go back and peruse some of the articles, some people had great concerns about adopting this type of charter from a societal point of view. A lot of people wondered if this would be an effective tool for people in a minority position, whether that be through race, creed, colour, religion, or sex. They wondered if this would provide them a tool by which they could feel within this country that they had the freedom to be Canadian citizens and throughout their lives feel free to go about as they saw fit, within the confines of the law, of course.

I want to touch on the history of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It came into force April 17, 1982. Section 15 of the charter and the equality rights came into effect three years after the rest of the charter on April 17, 1985. That gave provincial governments time to bring their laws in line with section 15.

The charter is founded on the rule of law and entrenches in the Constitution of Canada the rights and freedoms that Canadians believe are necessary in a free and democratic society. It recognizes primary fundamental freedoms: the freedom of expression and of association, democratic rights, and the right to vote.

As well, there are mobility rights, the right to live anywhere in Canada. In Newfoundland and Labrador, at least in my riding, that certainly means a lot. There are a tremendous amount of people in my riding who have such great skills, especially in the oil and gas sector, that they are able to move across this country and around the world for that matter. This is proof of the fundamental right of mobility, and Newfoundland and Labrador stand as a great example of that.

The charter also protects official language and minority language education rights. In addition, the provisions of section 25 guarantee the rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada. It deals with the interactions within the society, between federal, provincial, and territorial governments, and individuals. In some respects it is Canada's most important law because it can render invalid or inoperative any laws that are inconsistent with its provisions.

We have had this debate throughout the day. Some people have said that there are sections within the charter that go too far on that level, too far in the expression of freedom, and that there is also an air of responsibility that should be exercised as well.

Section 1 deals with that adequately. That is why this charter is a beautiful piece of legislation and a beautiful part of the Constitution, because it does allow that to happen. The responsibility and the right of an individual goes so far as to protect the public interest.

The charter has had a major impact on the promotion and protection of human rights in Canada. With respect to language rights, it has reinforced the rights of official language minorities. With regard to equality rights, it has led to recognition and enforcement of the rights of a number of minority and disadvantaged groups. In penal matters, the charter has clarified to a considerable extent the state's powers with respect to offenders' rights as well.

With respect to other human rights laws, there are many other laws protecting human rights within this great country of ours.

The Canadian Bill of Rights was enacted in 1960, and this has come up quite often here. It applies to the legislation and policies of the federal government and guarantees rights and freedoms similar to those found in the charter such as the ones that I spoke of earlier. Those would be: equality rights, legal rights, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association. However, the bill is not part of the Constitution of Canada. It was on April 17, 1982, that we were brought to that new level where the charter has become so essential for us.

The federal, provincial and territorial governments have adopted legislation on human rights and the codifying of human rights, prohibiting discrimination on various grounds in relation to employment, which, as I said earlier, is certainly important for Newfoundland and Labrador, the provision of goods, services and facilities customarily available to the public and accommodation. The legislation differs in its application from the charter's section 15 on equality rights in that it provides protection against discrimination by individuals in the private sector as well as by governments. So there we have other government levels.

Let me expand a bit further by going outside of our own realm. I will quote something that was noted in a publication some time ago. Bruce Porter from the Social Rights Advocacy Centre in the late 1990s said:

The Supreme Court has also emphasized that broadly framed Charter rights must be interpreted consistently with Canada’s international human rights commitments to social and economic rights. While international human rights are not directly enforceable as law, the Court has emphasized that international human rights articulate the values and rights that are behind the Charter itself, and that the reasonable exercise of conferred decision-making authority must conform with these values.

There we have it. The values the world is now accepting as fundamental human rights are now being exercised around the world and there is a common thread that runs through all of them. I had that experience earlier when I was at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, something my colleague would be quite familiar with. At the Council of Europe members have adopted the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This is a fantastic convention agreed upon by over 100 states. It was the establishment, first of all, of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, but it sets forth a number of fundamental rights and freedoms: the right to life, the prohibition of torture, the prohibition of slavery and forced labour, the right to liberty and security, the right to a fair trial, no punishment without law, the right to respect for private and family life, to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, to freedom of expression. We see some of the common threads with our own charter, but at the same time it addresses others matters in volatile states where certain fundamental rights are stripped away from people: the right of mobility, the fundamental right of a person to defend themselves, and of course also protection for those forced into slavery situations.

The European Union sees human rights as universal and indivisible. It therefore actively promotes and defends them both within its borders, of the 27 nations of the European Union, and in relations with outside countries including this country, Canada. Although the EU has on the whole a good human rights record, it is not complacent. It is fighting racism, xenophobia and other types of discrimination based on religion, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation, and is particularly concerned about human rights in the area of asylum and migration, which has lately been a huge frontier as we become more mobile throughout the world and as we tackle issues such as one dear to my heart, human trafficking, or as some people call it, human smuggling.

In this particular context we see now that not only do we adopt some of these common threads, there are other countries that are adopting some of the measures that we have within our own charter. These countries, as mentioned earlier by my colleague from Leeds—Grenville include New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ireland and others. Anyone who believes his or her rights or freedoms under the charter have been infringed by any level of government can go to court to ask for a remedy. The person must show that a charter right or freedom has been violated. If the limit is one set out in the law the government will have an opportunity to show that the limit is reasonable under section 1 of the charter, which is what we talk about here when it comes to the right of responsibility.

As a final note, during the question and answer session I brought up the court challenges program. I fundamentally believe that we have missed a golden opportunity. Since the mid-seventies we had within our own government and within this country a program that helped people who were in dire need of exercising their human rights. For whatever reason they were the most vulnerable. They were not able to afford, whether it was through legal aid or other measures, to exercise their fundamental rights and as a result we have unfortunately gotten rid of a program that helped them greatly.

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

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I did want to follow up on my last question to the member for Leeds—Grenville, as well, but I know the member can answer any question that is thrown his way.

The fact of the matter is that Saskatchewan, under Premier Tommy Douglas, the CCF leader, on April 1, 1947, was the first jurisdiction in Canada to pass a bill of rights act, and we assume because John Diefenbaker, later to become prime minister of Canada, was from Saskatchewan he would be certainly aware of the application of this law in Saskatchewan.

However, interestingly enough, during that period there was a campaign brought on by the Jehovah's Witnesses in Canada. They popularized the idea of the Canadian Bill of Rights that John Diefenbaker eventually brought in because they established numerous libertarian precedents before Canada's highest courts. In 1949, the Jehovah's Witnesses launched a national campaign for the enactment of a bill of rights. On June 9, 1947, they presented a petition to Parliament with 625,510 signatures. And that is very interesting because that amount of people in those days, when people lived on farms, would be an amazing number. Anyway, I asked the--

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

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

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

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I did not get the last part, but I could certainly comment on what he talked about.

I want to thank him for that piece of knowledge, that little nugget of knowledge about what has happened, as Saskatchewan has been the genesis and certainly the beginning of many programs that we have in this country that we hold so dear. We are certainly proud to have Saskatchewan in this confederation, whether it be because of health care, certainly because of Tommy Douglas, and also, as he just mentioned, because of the idea of a bill of rights.

I was not aware that the Jehovah's Witnesses had done that at that time. Certainly when they show up at my door, as they do, I will be apt to thank them, because I was not aware of that and I did not know that they played such a crucial role in creating the bill of rights.

So congratulations to them and I thank my colleague for bringing that up.

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

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his wise words today and his passionate defence of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The charter of rights was brought in, in 1982. I was 15 at the time and of course did not really understand or recognize the impact the charter of rights would have on my life. However, if Trudeau had not done what he did when he did it, I probably would not be doing what I am doing here today.

I think it is important to recognize that leadership on these issues makes a real difference.

After being elected in 1997, I sat in this House and had an opportunity to vote for same-sex benefits, pension benefits, for federal government employees. That was a charter issue that forced the issue here on the floor of the House of Commons. I watched as the Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance, the predecessors to the Conservative Party, voted against it.

I then watched the same-sex marriage debate, again a charter issue brought to this House based on the charter of rights, and the Conservatives voted against it.

Then I saw the Conservatives, after the 2006 election, actually bring back to the House the same-sex marriage issue, once again a charter issue.

My question for my colleague is, does he find it a little odd that the Conservatives say they support the charter yet, in this House, every single time they have an opportunity--

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

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.