Mr. Speaker, I rise to give support to the amendment moved by the member for Scarborough—Rouge River which would add to paragraph 319(3)(b) of the Criminal Code the words:
...or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text;
I believe it addresses concerns raised by religious communities that presented to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights regarding Bill C-250. They were concerned that Bill C-250 would cause negative consequences for those who base their beliefs or opinions on religious texts.
However let there be no doubt whatsoever about my wholehearted support for Bill C-250, the private member's bill put forward by the MP for Burnaby—Douglas.
The bill would provide for the inclusion of “sexual orientation” within the already existing definition of an identifiable group found in subsection 318(4) of the Criminal Code. Subsection 318(4) reads as follows:
...“identifiable group” means any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion or ethnic origin.
All that Bill C-250 would do is add “sexual orientation” to that list.
I support the bill for many reasons. First, because of the hundreds of letters I have received from Canadians and organizations across Canada urging me to support the bill. Public health officers have written identifying gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities, especially youth, as priority groups that are specifically vulnerable, especially to suicide and depression.
A 2001 Ottawa wellness project found that 36% of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth had seriously contemplated suicide compared with 26% of other high risk teens. A 1995 University of Calgary study found that over 30% of gay male adolescents had attempted suicide. This is three times higher than the average for adolescents who are not gay.
Health status is as much dependent on social justice and mental well-being as it is on clean water and smog free air. I have had letters from jurists from across Canada. I will quote one such group, the Canadian Bar Association which represents 38,000 jurists. It feels that the bill, and I quote:
--would provide...complementary components of an effective legislated response to violence based on sexual orientation and to the fomentation of hatred which breeds that violence.
The bill is about equal protection under the law for all vulnerable groups and, as a member of a vulnerable group, I understand that need.
At present, the specifically homophobic nature of violence and harassment experienced by this community is unaddressed in Canadian law. I say specifically because many of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms advocates cite the Canadian Human Rights Act as being sufficient protection. However there is a provision in the Criminal Code that refers to hate crimes and hate propaganda in which specifically it lists historically vulnerable groups but it does not name sexual orientation as one such group, yet.
As the Vancouver police department, which also advocates support for the bill, states:
In fact, the situation faced by members of the LGBT community causes great concern to police.
According to a two year study conducted on hate and bias type crimes over the period of 2001 and 2002 in Vancouver, it showed that “sexual orientation represents 38% of reported incidents, which range from homicide through assault, harassment, robbery, threats, theft and arson”.
The Vancouver police cites that “in Vancouver sexual orientation forms the basis for 62% of the assaults and robberies against the groups protected under s 718.1”.
The Vancouver police go on to say:
The simple truth is that a person identified on the basis of their sexual orientation is more likely to be the victim of an assault than any other group and is more likely to sustain an injury.
The risk to persons on the basis of sexual orientation extends to others and is entrenched through a pervasive stigma that could be corrected by government action to support Bill C-250.
Those are not my words. They are quoted verbatim from a brief presented by the Vancouver police department to the justice committee.
Resolution 02-15 of the Canadian Association of Police Boards specifically urged the passage of the bill.
However I have also heard from family service organizations in Canada, such as the Family Service Association of Toronto, which states:
From our daily work with a wide range of individuals and families, we know first-hand that [this group] are routinely the target of hatred by uninformed people. ...there is currently no legal protection against incitements to hatred and harm.
In case I am accused of only listening to the advice and arguments made by special interest groups, I want to say that I have also heard from St. Mary's Catholic Church in Yukon. Father Timothy Coonen states:
--I believe that there is nothing in the Bible that permits the promotion of hatred against other human beings, including gays and lesbians. They deserve the full protection of the law.
I urge you in the strongest terms to support this bill.
From the United Church, I quote Minister Warren McDougall who states:
Violence and other expressions of hatred directed toward people because of their sexual orientation is absolutely unacceptable.
Yet, as a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, it would be unfair of me not to mention that we also heard from many religious bodies that were concerned that the addition of sexual orientation to identifiable groups in section 318(4) would have severe and negative consequences on their beliefs and opinions of homosexuality as it is derives from religious text.
I believe that section 319(3)(b) of the code addresses that concern adequately. However the amendment by the member for Scarborough--Rouge River does specify belief based on a religious text, which some have argued is not fully covered in the clause as it currently exists.
I am sensitive to these concerns and I therefore support the member's motion but I want to return to the principle of Bill C-250. I fully support it based, not only on the reasons given earlier but also because as a physician for 23 years I have seen firsthand and counselled many gay, lesbian and transgender patients, mostly youth who have suffered as a result of the discrimination, the name calling, the shunning, and especially the many of whom were depressed and often contemplated suicide. As I mentioned earlier, statistics show this to be true.
Finally, Canada is a signatory to the United Nations convention on human rights. Like all signatory states, Canada has an obligation under international law to exercise due diligence in preventing homophobic acts, investigating them and ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
Due diligence describes a threshold of efforts which a state must undertake to fulfill its responsibility to protect individuals from abuses of their rights. Canada has consistently shown due diligence in protecting most minority rights. The time has come for this extremely susceptible group to become part of that group and to be under the umbrella of Canada's protection.
I wish to end by quoting Gary Reid who is a survivor of a nail bomb explosion at a gay pub in London in 1997. He says:
The fear, loathing, hatred and ignorance culminating in these bombings is a warning to society and the world as a whole that racism, prejudice, homophobia and a fear of difference is out there and we should all challenge it at every opportunity.