An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.

Sponsor

Mac Harb  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Nov. 2, 2001
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

February 6th, 2002 / 6 p.m.
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Kitchener Centre Ontario

Liberal

Karen Redman LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Madam Speaker, Bill C-408 addresses an important issue for many Canadians. It proposes to eliminate the term “illegitimate” in two federal statutes, the criminal code and the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act.

Before I turn to an examination of the bill, I would first like to commend the hon. member for his dedication and his commitment to the eradication of this antiquated concept and language from federal law. He has continued to bring this important issue before the House in a number of private member's bills over the passage of several years. His hard work and his personal commitment to the belief that all Canadian children deserve the same protection under law and to be treated with the same dignity by the law is very much appreciated by Canadians.

I know I share the view of many in the House in thanking him for his role and his contribution. Children should be included in and protected by our laws without regard to the relationship of their parents. It is the responsibility of government to ensure that the concept of illegitimacy no longer exists in any federal law.

The issue is not new to the House. The Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act, that was enacted by parliament in June 2000, accomplished several goals, one of which was removing the last remaining references to illegitimacy in seven federal statutes, including the second statute proposed for amendment in Bill C-408. These amendments specifically address the concerns of the hon. member and that he had previously brought before the House.

Let me point out that these amendments in the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act to remove references to illegitimacy do not actually change the substance of the law. The seven statutes included all children. The references to illegitimate children that have now been removed were actually the earlier attempts of the House to ensure that children born to unmarried parents were included in eligibility for benefits.

Until recently, if a specific statute referred to the child of a person, some doubt existed in law about whether this referred only to children born to married parents. In order to make it clear that the law was intended to include all children, the acts were amended many years ago to specify that a child meant both legitimate and illegitimate children but this was in an effort to be inclusive in providing benefits.

More recently, with new international commitments and changes in our law, these specific references are no longer legally necessary. It is now clear in law that a reference to a child of a person would include any child, whether the parents were married or unmarried. Clearly the goal of this government is similar to that of governments that passed those earlier amendments; that is, all children, regardless of the relationship of their parents, deserve the same protection and treatment under the law. I have no doubt that all members support this worthy goal.

With more modern law, we can now remove the references in our statutes to the concept of illegitimacy without risking some children being left out of legal protections. Removing these references will help in turn to eradicating any discrimination or differentiation in the treatment for children.

The Government of Canada continues to emphasize the importance of families and of supporting families as set out in the Speech from the Throne last year. The government means that all families with children are important--married couples, common law couples and lone parents--so that no Canadian children will be stigmatized by something so clearly not within their control.

Bill C-408 supports the work accomplished in the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act. The first provision of the bill proposes an amendment to the criminal code to change the definition of child to remove the reference to an illegitimate child. This amendment addresses a definition which was repealed by Bill C-15A and was passed by the House last fall.

The second provision of Bill C-408 would bring the amendment made in the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act to the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act into force as of December 31, 2001. The reference in the statute to legitimate and illegitimate descendants in the definition of the “Inuk of Fort George” or the “Inuit of Fort George” was removed.

It is true that it has not yet been brought into force. However this is for a good reason. The Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act is a federal statute based on negotiated agreements: the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement and the northeastern Quebec agreement. Therefore the amendments to this act must be discussed with the Cree, the Naskapi and the Inuit prior to being brought into force. These discussions were raised at both the House standing committee and the committee of the Senate during the passage of the modernization act.

I understand from officials of my colleague, the hon. Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, that consultations with the Inuit are underway. It is hoped that some agreement is possible through that process, following which the amendment would be brought into force. However it is clear I am sure to members of the House that bringing this provision into force at this time might jeopardize that ongoing process.

Although the reference to legitimate and illegitimate may unfortunately remain in one statute for a short while longer, the effect on the children covered by the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act would not change; that is, they would continue to be included.

In closing let me emphasize that the government believes that there is no longer any place in federal legislation for the use of language such as “illegitimate” or “children born out of wedlock”, with two small exceptions, one of which is currently under consideration by the Senate in Bill C-15A, federal law no longer distinguishes between children on that basis, and this last remaining stigma of another era will finally be gone.

The intention of this bill is laudable and the government will be acting to implement its intent.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

February 6th, 2002 / 5:55 p.m.
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NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I am very happy to rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill C-408 and to congratulate the hon. member who brought it forward. I apologize for not hearing the earlier debate, but unfortunately I was in a committee and could not get over here fast enough.

The bill is very remarkable in its simplicity. It is an issue that has a lot of history and a lot of weight. The principle being put forward here, which is very important, is to ensure that children are not being discriminated against by the use of really archaic language and labels.

While the implementation of something like this to ensure that the definition of child and the use of the words illegitimate child are removed from all legislation may be a fairly logistically complex thing to do, we should not lose sight of the principle contained in this private member's bill.

The New Democratic Party supports the bill and its principle. Being a signatory to the international convention on the rights of the child, it is very important that the Government of Canada upholds that convention and ensures that its legislation, public policies and program development do not discriminate against children.

From that point of view, I would say most strongly that it is very important that not only do we move forward in addressing programs and policies to uphold the rights of children in Canada, but we also look at our history and the legislation on the books. We have to recognize that sometimes we have to go back and update, change language and modernize.

There have been various instances where that has taken place in the House of Commons through government initiatives and maybe through private members’ initiatives. We have had that in legislation pertaining to same sex relationships and the modernization of benefits and responsibilities. We have had that in legislation that pertains to the equality of women and the use of more gender neutral language. All those things are very important.

When it comes to the rights of children and how we portray them, not only legally but in language that is used in the media or in our local communities, it is important to ensure that we use language and make references that are not judgmental and do not reinforce stereotypes that serve to harm the well-being of children in our society.

I wholeheartedly support this effort. I would hope that all members of the House would support it. It is something that is pretty straightforward. Even though logistically it may be very difficult to accomplish, in going through goodness knows how many hundreds of pieces of legislation to make changes, it should be done.

I hope there is a will in this place and a commitment from members on all sides of the House to ensure that we adopt the bill and encourage the government to begin the process of making these changes to ensure that the rights of children are upheld. It is important that we refer to children in a way that is appropriate, that reflects our modern day society and that is respectful of different kinds of relationships. Most important, we must be respectful of the rights of children.

I am very happy to support the bill and thank the hon. member for having the courage to bring it forward. I hope it will gain acceptance from all members and that we will be able to accomplish this.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

February 6th, 2002 / 5:55 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Val Meredith Canadian Alliance South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Madam Speaker, the coalition supports the amendments that the bill would bring to the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act. We feel it is important enough that it should be voted on. We should have more than just an hour of debate on a bill of this importance. It should be votable and it should be moved on.

We are against any form of discrimination. We find that words used in the act are discriminatory against children who were born outside of marriage. The legislation has very objectionable language in it and this private member's bill, Bill C-408, would deal with that.

Section 241 says that “child” includes an adopted child and an illegitimate child. Bill C-408 would change that wording, which is very important. From personal experience, I know children sometimes carry burdens because of things outside their control. The least we can do in the House is try to undo the damage that words can place on a child.

In today's modern society to treat children who through no fault of their own find themselves born in an unmarried relationship is just a sign of the times. We can lay judgment on whether it is right or wrong. We can lay judgment on whether or not the state should support it. However to lay judgment on children who have had no opportunity to change the circumstances is not fair and not right. Whether we like it or not, we have many different forms of families. Not all families have a father and not all families have a mother. That we in this House would discriminate against children who find themselves in a family that does not meet the tradition is not appropriate.

We will be supporting the bill and hope that it actually finds its way into changing legislation, albeit it will not be voted on in the House. Young people have a hard enough time in today's world without the stigma that words can impose upon them. We would just hope that this private member's bill does not stop at this point. The intent of the bill should carry the weight of government and the government should be sensitive.

There are many bills that in Canadian tradition have words that are inappropriate in today's modern society. This is one instance where we need to be considerate of the changes and ensure that the language in today's legislation is appropriate and reflects the changes we see around us.

The coalition is very supportive. We wish the member well in taking this through the system. We hope the government uncharacteristically takes note of the debate and the support this has and puts some meaningful change in.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

February 6th, 2002 / 5:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Madam Speaker, before I start I would like to say that we will obviously support this bill. We find it interesting because it would eliminate the adjective illegitimate when referring to a child.

I also want to congratulate my colleague from Ottawa Centre for his insight and for introducing Bill C-408.

I will not use up my ten minutes as it would appear that we will have to consider another bill later. We will debate this at a later date.

I would simply like to state a very definite opinion regarding the bill. In Quebec, theses words have been removed from the civil code since 1994. In recent history, being called illegitimate meant a lot of things for children in their daily life.

Recently, I was listening to a program coming from the United States. I listened to children who had been labelled illegitimate, children who had been put up for adoption or institutionalized. They were telling their story. Today, they are between 40 and 45 years old or even less. They were talking about how they were treated when they were young and how the fact that they were branded illegitimate marked them for life.

Right here, in Canada, we have had the same kind of problems, including the Duplessis orphans. We have seen the way orphans were treated in orphanages in Newfoundland and nearby in Ontario. We have just seen what it was like to be considered illegitimate in our societies that are supposed to be free and respectful of individual rights.

We had yet another example in the debate just concluded in Ireland. In case my colleagues did not know, this debate has lasted for years in Ireland, and it has just concluded now. Our societies change. It is important, at least that is what the Bloc Quebecois thinks, that we take that word out of the criminal code. A child cannot be illegitimate. A child is the son or daughter of a mother and father. Being born cannot be illegitimate. Legally, a child cannot be illegitimate.

That is the gist of my argument. I want to see us go a little further. I have not yet seen the new bill the government intends to introduce, but I hope it goes a little further still. I hope that the Canadian government will look at what has been done with the revision of the Quebec civil code, and that it will at the very least draw upon what has been done, and well done, therein.

Certain words have been taken out. As far as is possible, I would like to see the entire Criminal Code looked at, not just the parts relating to children, as have been proposed by my colleague for Ottawa Centre—whom I again congratulate and thank—but a complete review of the criminal code in order to seek out everything that, in my opinion, does not do justice to people and still hangs on to what I would call stuff from the past. We are still dragging along baggage from the past, tradition that is, to my way of thinking, unhealthy, and this is particularly the case with the matter of concern to us at present.

Since we shall have to get back to the debate raised by my colleague, as I have said, I merely wanted him to know that we were in agreement with his bill. We hope that the one to be introduced by the government will go a little further still.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

February 6th, 2002 / 5:40 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Carol Skelton Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today and speak to Bill C-408. The bill would remove the word illegitimate from the definition of child in two federal statutes and replace it with the phrase “child born of persons who were not married to each other at the time of the birth”.

This is not merely a cosmetic change to make people feel better. Words are important. They have profound meaning. Words are concepts that reflect our most deeply held beliefs. They guide the direction of public policy. The word legitimacy in this context lies at the heart of the difference between conservatism and liberalism.

The issue is the negative nature of the word illegitimate. There is an element of fairness to it. A child can be born and raised with a label that stigmatizes him or her as something less than a legitimate person because of the circumstances of his or her birth. The circumstances into which children are born are something over which they have no influence whatsoever, yet children are marked for life with the negative word illegitimate. This is truly unfair. A child should not be forced to suffer because of something his or her parents did.

There are many ways children can suffer because of the actions of their parents. Let us take the problem of fetal alcohol syndrome. A pregnant woman with a drinking problem may be condemning her child to a life of great personal difficulty. This too is unfair.

Parents with substance abuse problems, chronic gambling addictions and diseases brought on by their own actions pass them along to their children on a daily basis. Patterns of verbal and physical abuse are unconsciously transmitted to children by their parents. It is a rule of life that we all echo both the greatness and failings of our ancestors. This is reality but it is not fair.

For this reason I agree that the word illegitimate in referring to children should be removed. Every child is a legitimate person and the laws of Canada should reflect it.

Research literature universally attests to the fact that it is in the best interests of children to grow up in a stable home where the parents are married. A professor at the University of Chicago examined numerous statistical studies across America and had this to say in her recent book, The Case for Marriage :

Why does it matter to kids whether or not their parents are married? A short answer is this: Marriage shapes children's lives first and foremost by directing the time, energy and resources of two adults toward them...it is marriage that creates the conditions under which warm, affectionate, consistent parenting is most likely to take place.

There is much evidence from Canada as well. In its massive National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, Statistics Canada found that:

--children from single-mother families had higher rates of difficulties than children from two-parent families for all of the emotional and behavioural problems and academic and social difficulties examined, and the differences in these rates were all statistically significant...The average household income of a single-mother family was...less than half that of a two-parent family.

The value of marriage is confirmed by Canadian social commentators such as Professor John Richards, a former NDP member of the Saskatchewan legislature. He said “At this point, I want to be blunt: family structure matters, and two parents are preferable to one for successful child raising”.

The state of lawful union is designed to be a protection for children. The law recognizes that if a couple is committed to join their lives together and form a permanent home their union forms a stable, healthy cradle in which to grow a happy and healthy child. It would be ideal for every child to enjoy an environment like this. It is therefore less than ideal for a man and woman to have a child when they are not committed to each other, not committed to the child and without any intention of imparting to their child the benefits of their collective support.

If it is in the best interests of children to be born to parents who are lawfully wedded it is in the interests of the state, even the state's responsibility, to encourage that behaviour. John Richards says:

In general, two-parent families, comprising a mother and a father, raise children more successfully than do other family structures...Accordingly, social policy should discriminate fiscally on behalf of such families (and)...it makes sense to discriminate fiscally against divorce--

As a society we need to reaffirm that sex is not just a lark or a thrill. It is a serious act of tremendous gravity and importance. It is the most profound of any physical union and bears the potential to produce another human being worthy of dignity, respect and a lifetime of caring and love.

The recognition of the tremendous value of every child lies at the foundation of the institution of marriage. To reduce its position of privilege and honour by legitimizing arrangements that are not in the child's best interests is to reduce the protection we can afford the weakest members of our society: our children.

The state has the right and the responsibility to help single parents and their children in the difficult situations in which they find themselves, and to encourage marriage and dual parenting in the future by using the instruments of public policy and the institutions of government.

The question marks a great difference between the world view of the liberal and that of the conservative. The liberal believes in the granting of more individual freedom. Unfortunately this too often happens at the expense of others. The conservative believes the state should require more individual responsibility and cause its citizens to exercise more caution and care toward others.

While the dictionary definition of illegitimate is “not lawful”, the word has a more negative connotation. Children should be given every opportunity to enter the world as free of obstacles as possible. The psychological implications of labelling children illegitimate are a barrier to a healthy childhood.

In closing, I reiterate my belief that no child should be labelled with such a negative term as illegitimate. From birth every child is a legitimate being and should be validated as such.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

February 6th, 2002 / 5:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I was planning to go with a long speech on this important subject, but since the bill has been on the order paper I have been given every necessary assurance by the government to move forward with the content of the bill.

The government is known, not only here in North America but around the world, as a leader for its progressive agenda on the issue of children. As a signator to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child the government has taken a tremendous amount of action to fulfill its commitment.

Bill C-408 falls within the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. There is legislation before the other House, Bill C-15A, which will be dealt with tomorrow on a clause by clause basis. Under the leadership of the government the legislation would remove all references to the word illegitimate when it comes to children. This would be a victory not only for the House but for all children across the country.

A second component of the bill would affect native children. I have been given assurances that the government is in the process of negotiating with the native community. I am confident that at the end of negotiations the second part of the bill will be dealt with positively and expeditiously.

I am delighted with the government's leadership. It has not only listened but taken action. It cares about the children of Canada and of the world.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

February 6th, 2002 / 5:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

moved that Bill C-408, an act to amend the criminal code and the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the very capable member for Kitchener Centre.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

November 2nd, 2001 / 12:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-408, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act.

Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to introduce this bill, an act to amend the criminal code and the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act, seconded by my colleague from Hull--Aylmer.

The objective of the bill is to eliminate the adjective "legitimate" where used with reference to a child or a descendent in the laws of Canada.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)