Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion brought forward by the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville.
The Minister of Justice feels strongly about the important role of property rights in our society. Property rights represent one of the fundamental pillars of the legal system and our democratic society. Indeed our legal system is replete with protection for property rights.
However, the Minister of Justice cannot support the motion because it raises some important concerns.
The motion is merely the latest in a series of efforts aimed at amending the Canadian bill of rights and the Constitution Act, 1867 to increase property rights protections. Most recently the issue was raised in this Chamber in 1999 by the same member in the form of Bill C-237 and was afforded considerable debate at that time.
It is very important that before the House assigns additional tasks to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the full schedule and heavy workload currently facing the committee ought to be considered.
As the idea of increasing protection for property rights has been debated on numerous occasions in the past and has repeatedly been rejected, there is no need to use the precious time, energy and resources of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to revisit the issue.
During the discussions and debates preceding the introduction of the charter, a significant amount of time and consideration was given to the idea of including protection for property rights. The idea again surfaced during the lead up to the Charlottetown accord. However, in both cases the notion of entrenching property rights in the charter was strenuously resisted by the provinces as an intrusion into provincial jurisdiction and as a restriction on their ability to legislate in areas involving property.
In this regard it should be remembered that section 92(13) of the Constitution Act assigns much of the responsibility for regulating property to the provinces. This is not to say that the federal government cannot legislate in ways that affect property, but its jurisdiction is limited in these respects.
At the federal level for example, we have environmental laws, land use laws, laws providing for the establishment and operation of corporations and the ownership and disposition of shares, laws on banking, laws on bankruptcy and copyright laws. Each of these laws touches in some way on the ownership and use of property. Each of these laws serves an important public purpose. Each of these laws also contains provisions to ensure that people are treated fairly.
Property rights are a fundamental part of our legal system and the law provides in many ways for their recognition. Canadian law contains innumerable protections for property rights, whether in the common law or by statute.
More specifically, the protection afforded to property rights contained in paragraph 1(a) of the Canadian bill of rights is one such expression. The section recognizes the right of an individual to the enjoyment of property and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law.
Further, numerous federal statutes contain provisions to ensure fair dealing when property rights are affected, by providing for fair procedures and for fair compensation, that is in shareholder laws, banking laws, criminal laws.
Our common law tradition as well offers significant protection for property rights by virtue of the common law presumption of compensation when someone is deprived of property. This notion forms a fundamental part of our legal system.
On the whole, people in Canada enjoy a very high degree of protection for their property rights under the statutes and common law applicable at the federal level, including the provisions of the Canadian bill of rights. Property rights are ingrained in our laws, whether legislated or judge made.
The ample protection afforded to property rights reflects the value that Canadians place on property rights. The right to own and dispose of property is a basic component to our way of life.
As important as property rights are, as Canadians, we have also recognized that these are not unlimited rights. We have many laws that regulate the ownership and use of property in Canadian society. Municipal laws, environmental laws, laws regulating incorporation and the operation of limited companies, laws regulating the division of family property, succession and estate planning laws and personal property security laws are just some of the myriad of laws that place socially necessary limits on either the ownership or the use of property.
It is difficult to think of laws that do not affect or touch on property in one way or another. When we realize this it becomes incumbent upon us to ensure that protection for property rights is kept in balance with the other values of our society that are reflected in our laws and socially important legislation.
Increasing property rights protections under the bill of rights or the charter would have serious implications for the federal government's ability to legislate and regulate in a wide variety of areas and would have untold implications for federal laws. For example, it could affect everything from federal laws dealing with pollution to shareholder rights to divorce laws making provision for the division of property.
One only has to look at the American experience with constitutional property rights to understand the implications of extending property rights. In the United States property rights have been extended in ways that no one could have anticipated. This has led to huge amounts of litigation and has complicated and burdened the process of law making.
Early on in the history of the United States, important social reforms were struck down by the courts in the name of property rights. I am not saying that this kind of unfortunate judicial intervention would necessarily happen here, but we should be conscious of that possibility.
The protection of property rights is of course an important principle in Canadian society. No one in this Chamber would dispute that. While agreeing with the principle of protecting property rights, we must be cognizant of the impact that an increase in property rights protection would have.
In any event, as I have already indicated, it is very important to remember that our legal system presently and appropriately acknowledges property rights. The concept of property rights is fundamental to our legal system. It is the basis of the operation of our economy. This is reflected in the legal framework that governs our economy. Every day property rights guide our actions in the way we do business.
Contract law, real property law, personal property law and so on are built on the concept of property rights. Indeed our legal system could not function without it. As such, our legal system provides, as a matter of common law that has been built over hundreds of years through court decisions, basic protections for property owners. Hundreds of years of jurisprudence must not be lightly disregarded.
The common law provides basic protections for individuals regarding state action that affects their property. Statute law is also filled with protections for property rights. Whether we are looking at shareholder laws, banking laws, criminal laws or otherwise, these laws contain a wide variety of provisions that are designed to ensure fair dealings with property.
The hon. member's motion would have the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights examine whether our current federal laws are in compliance with our international human rights obligations and in particular, whether they comply with article 17 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states:
- Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. 2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
In this regard, it is important to note that the protection for property rights already provided by section 1(a) of the Canadian bill of rights guarantees “the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of person and the enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law”.
We will continue to support property rights to promote respect for these and all rights of Canadians. However, we cannot support a motion that could result in reopening the question of increased property rights protections that would disrupt the current democratic balance of property rights and other rights, thereby putting into jeopardy social and economic laws and policies that are important to the people of Canada.