An Act to amend the Criminal Code (hate propaganda)

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.

This bill was previously introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session.


Svend Robinson  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill.


This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.


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

June 11th, 2003 / 6:35 p.m.
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Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

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.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 11th, 2003 / 6:25 p.m.
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Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am proud today to speak to Bill C-250.

I would like to recognize and compliment my NDP colleague, the member for Burnaby—Douglas, for his courageous and tireless life's work in seeking equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people in this country.

I am proud to stand with him today and support Bill C-250 as a significant step in what I see as perhaps one of the last great civil rights struggles of our time. I wish to thank him for giving us all the opportunity to end this parliamentary sitting on a positive note by voting for an issue that I can be proud to support. I believe all of us should be proud to support the bill.

Bill C-250 seeks to amend the Criminal Code to include sexual orientation under the categories of hate propaganda. I think it is useful to examine what we mean by hate propaganda. One legal definition states:

Hate propaganda, as an exercise of expression, seeks to incite and encourage hatred and tension between different social and cultural groups in society.

It is a disreputable passion. Its purpose is to inflame, intimidate, and marginalize the individuals and the community at which it is directed. Hate speech serves to vilify and to undermine the dignity and self-worth of members of the target group, and erodes Canada's constitutional commitment to equality and multiculturalism.

Having said that, it is all the more important and admirable that we deal with this issue today in Parliament, hopefully before we adjourn for the summer. Every day in Canada, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people are at risk of being verbally harassed, physically assaulted, and discriminated against because of their perceived sexual or gender orientation.

Sometimes this violence is extreme and culminates in murder. In November 2001 Aaron Webster was brutally murdered in Vancouver's Stanley Park and police believe the perpetrators beat Webster to death simply because he was gay. On December 4, 2002, the badly beaten body of Christopher Raynsford was discovered in his Ottawa apartment. It appears Raynsford was also murdered because he was a gay man.

Verbal abuse, whether it is taunts, epithets or threats often precede episodes of violence. In fact, verbal abuse is the best predictor of the physical violence that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people are subjected to based on their sexual orientation. This fact points to the urgency of Bill C-250 which would make illegal the promotion of hatred against these Canadians. In doing so, I predict this will save innocent lives.

Under current federal legislation it is illegal to incite hatred on the basis of race, religion, colour or ethnic origin, but not, incredibly, sexual orientation, even though the empirical evidence shows that over 62% of incidents of violence against identifiable groups in society are those incidents against the gay community.

In the absence of prohibitions under law, incitements to hatred against LGBT Canadians are able to flourish with few, if any, real consequences to the perpetrators. In fact, the absence of Canadian law that prohibits the promotion of LGBT hate propaganda lends license to the perpetrators of such abuse, both within and outside our borders.

I point to the tactics and the website of American Fred Phelps, the so-called reverend of the Westboro Baptist Church. Phelps and his followers routinely picket the funerals of LGBT people with signs that read “God hates fags” or “AIDS cures fags” or “No fags in heaven”. These are some of their popular slogans.

Phelps' website features a memorial to Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming youth who was savagely tortured and murdered in 1998 because he was gay. The website features a photograph of Shepard burning in the fires of hell and stating the number of days he has been supposedly in hell since his murder. This is incredible.

Canadian police have been unable to do anything to prevent Phelps or people like him from entering Canada and inciting hatred against LGBT Canadians because of the absence of this reference in the Criminal Code. In 1999 Phelps visited Ottawa and prompted this response from Sergeant Pat Callaghan of the Ottawa-Carleton Police Hate Crimes Unit. He stated:

If this was done against a Catholic, a Jew or a black person, charges could be laid. If we had that legislation, we wouldn't have to put up with his nonsense on Monday. We could have told him, “If you show up and start spreading this hate, we'll arrest you”.

A Criminal Code amendment would allow police the ability to charge and arrest people like Phelps, who incite hatred against LGBT people. One bystander at the Phelps demonstration in Ottawa said that in Canada we can be whatever we want and we do not like it when people come into our quiet community and spread their hatred.

The critics of Bill C-250 claim that religious teaching and expression would be severely curtailed by the Criminal Code if it were amended in this way. This argument is patently false. The fact is that religious freedom and expression are protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and, furthermore, the Supreme Court of Canada has established strict criteria for the prosecution of suspected hate crimes. For example, before a prosecution of offences can proceed, the Supreme Court requires the consent of the attorney general in the province in which the alleged hate crime has occurred. The Supreme Court criteria also ensure that prosecution of suspected hate crimes occurs only when the situation is serious enough to warrant such an intervention.

Further to that, even though we do not believe it was legally necessary, there is an amendment to Bill C-250 which would specifically, once and for all, state clearly that quoting from any scripture is not to be considered a hate crime for the purposes of this act. That should give comfort to those who have raised the concerns that their freedom of speech regarding religious matters may be somehow infringed upon by this bill. It is simply not true.

Protecting LGBT Canadians from hate propaganda has gained widespread support. In 2001 Canada's provincial and territorial attorneys general urged the federal government to implement legislation to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground under federal hate propaganda legislation. Alberta Attorney General Dave Hancock stated:

I support the hate crime legislation which prohibits people from spewinghate against anybody for any reason. There are appropriate ways to discuss issues in our country...and you don't need to put forward hateful literature. It doesn't matter what you believe about sexual orientation.

The current hate propaganda laws in Canada that ban the incitement of hatred should include sexual orientation because of the overwhelming evidence that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people are the object of what we already considered a hate crime and these crimes should be prosecuted under hate crimes legislation.

I believe it is a proud day for the House of Commons to add to the issue of equity and equal treatment for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. It is an honour for me to support Bill C-250 and I am proud to stand with my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas in his pursuit of equality for gay people in this country.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

June 11th, 2003 / 3:35 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Jim Abbott Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, the final petition is signed by 30 petitioners. The petitioners call upon Parliament to protect the right of Canadians to be free to share their religious beliefs without fear of prosecution. This has to do specifically with Bill C-250.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

June 11th, 2003 / 3:30 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Canadian Alliance Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by 26 individuals from my riding.

The petitioners are asking Parliament to use all possible legislative and administrative measures to preserve and protect the Criminal Code by opposing the proposed amendments on the basis of freedom of speech and freedom of religion concerning hate propaganda contained in Bill C-250.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

June 11th, 2003 / 3:30 p.m.
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John Maloney Liberal Erie—Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I am pleased to present a petition on behalf of my constituents of Erie--Lincoln.

The petition deals with former Bill C-15, now Bill C-250. The petitioners feel that passage of this legislation will lead to violations of freedom of speech and religious freedom in our nation. They call upon the House to strongly oppose the passage of Bill C-250 and not to allow it in any form to be passed into federal law.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

June 11th, 2003 / 3:25 p.m.
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Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, it may come as a bit of surprise that even though I support the positions that have been enunciated with respect to Bill C-250, I am actually going to present a petition on something else.

Pursuant to Standing Order 36 the petition is certified correct as to form and content. To illustrate the cooperative manner of members in the House, this petition relates to an initiative undertaken by a member of the opposition with respect to herbal care products.

The petitioners draw to the attention of the House that Canadians deserve freedom of choice in health care products, that herbs, dietary supplements and other traditional natural health products should be properly classified as food and not arbitrarily as drugs and that the weight of modern scientific evidence confirms the mitigation and prevention of many diseases and disorders through the judicious use of natural health products.

The petitioners are calling upon Parliament to support Bill C-420, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

June 11th, 2003 / 3:25 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Dick Harris Canadian Alliance Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to present three petitions to the House today signed by hundreds of people from my riding of Prince George--Bulkley Valley.

The first petition is signed by petitioners who are very concerned about Bill C-250. The petitioners call upon Parliament to protect the rights of Canadians to be free to share their religious beliefs, whatever their religion, without fear of prosecution.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2003 / 2:45 p.m.
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Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey Ontario


Murray Calder LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade

Mr. Speaker, in my 10 years as a member of Parliament, I have never seen an issue that has led to so many letters, e-mails and phone calls from across Canada. I have heard from hundreds of constituents and close to 10,000 Canadians from across the country, almost all opposed. Letters supporting this bill can be counted on one hand.

Public opinion should not be our only guide in making Canadian laws. As parliamentarians, we must skilfully balance the demands of our constituents and our own careful assessment of the issues. However when a bill provokes this much concern in a constituency and across Canada, I would be failing to represent the people if I did not reflect that here in the House. Therefore I will be voting against this bill.

My opposition is not just a response to public opinion. It is based upon a deep respect for the basic freedoms we value as a nation, those contained in section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms: freedom of conscience and religion; and freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.

Such freedoms are not, of course, absolute. The charter makes them subject “to such reasonable limits prescribed by the law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”.

Is Bill C-250 so necessary that it can justify an infringement on our most cherished democratic freedoms? That is the crux of this debate.

This bill would add “sexual orientation“ to the list of “identifiable groups” against which it is illegal to advocate genocide or to incite hatred.

If Bill C-250 only banned advocating genocide against homosexuals, I would have no hesitation in supporting it. Genocide is probably the worst and most serious crime against humanity, and no group should ever be subjected to genocide. To prohibit the advocacy of genocide against any group is a reasonable limit in a free society.

Likewise, I would support a bill that banned advocating violence against homosexuals or any other group.

My problem with this bill relate to the definitions of “sexual orientation“ as well as “inciting hatred”.

Is sexual orientation limited to homosexuals or does it include those who practise other forms of sexual deviance, such as pedophilia? Are those not also sexual orientations? Am I a criminal if I express hate for those adults who prey upon children?

Granted, section 319 requires the incitement of hatred to be “likely to lead to a breach of the peace”. The problem, of course, is how do we prove cause and effect. Is the mere expression of an opinion, even an extreme one, sufficient to cause a violent act?

Recently the member for Saint John expressed opinions in the House that were critical of the homosexual lifestyle. Many disagreed strongly with her opinions, while others agreed equally strongly. The right to agree or disagree is fundamental in a free society. We debate these issues and, over time, society reaches some kind of consensus or compromise and we move forward.

As my time is running out I want to say that free speech is not unlimited. Clearly there are good reasons for laws against death threats, fraud, libel and pornography, but this is different from banning honestly held opinions. Violence against homosexuals or anyone is already a crime, as it should be. Counselling someone to commit violence is also a crime, as it should be.

I would like to say again that because of what Bill C-250 would do, the infringements that I see with it right now, it is definitely a flawed piece of legislation and I cannot support it.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2003 / 2:40 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Carol Skelton Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in support of the amendments introduced by the member for Provencher to Bill C-250.

Over the course of the past several months, my office has been flooded with mail from Canadians who are concerned that Bill C-250 will have negative consequences on their right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

While the Canadian Alliance rejects hatred directed at any group in Canada, it has consistently expressed concern about Bill C-250 on the basis that it raises serious concerns for fundamental freedoms.

While the bill has good intentions, good intentions often have unintended consequences, and when those intentions form part of our laws, the impact can significantly interfere with the ability of people to communicate or to adhere to essential matters of personal belief, religious or otherwise.

There are many court cases that the hon. member for Provencher brought forward. He talked about the Keegstra case in the Supreme Court and the Harding case in the Ontario Court of Appeal. The judges ruled that these defences would not significantly narrow the application of section 319(2).

The Harding case ruling significantly lowered the mens rea requirements by changing the standard from wilful promotion of hatred to wilful blindness. If a person failed to think about the possibility that his or her statements could promote hatred and a court decided that the works or writings did in fact promote hatred, that person would face conviction under this section.

It is for these reasons that the amendment presented by the member for Scarborough--Rouge River would only slightly amend the religious freedom defence as it applied to subsection (2) and it would not alleviate our concerns in any significant way.

Rather than relying on the current defences, which have been significantly narrowed by judicial interpretation, religious freedom would be better protected by a clearer exemption for religious text and religious instruction. One of the rejected amendments from the member for Provencher had that exact intention. It reads:

Nothing in section 318, 319 or 320 prohibits or restricts:

(a) dissemination of religious scriptures or texts;

(b) religious instruction based on, or public or private expression concerning, religious scriptures or texts;

(c) providing professional advice, or expressing a professional opinion regarding sexual orientation, including advice or opinions on medical, psychological or other treatment; or

(d) anyone from expressing their opinion on teaching materials concerning sexual orientation.

It is unfortunate that this amendment was not deemed in order by the Speaker of the House, since many members, including myself, will not be able to support the bill without those protections and exemptions.

While the Canadian Alliance opposes advocating hatred directed against any group of people, an unamended Bill C-250 is clearly not an appropriate legislative response to prevent the expression of hatred. The constitutional rights and freedoms of one group of Canadians should not be bartered away through an ill-conceived proposal to advance the interests of another group. Without additional amendments to safeguard these freedoms, I cannot support the bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2003 / 2:30 p.m.
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Tom Wappel Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I realize that there are very passionate views about this issue. I intend to speak to this issue to the extent that I can on the basis of the law and of what I consider to be the legalities of the issue.

This amendment is a very short one. It is very direct, very to the point. I just want people who are watching to understand what it is. It seeks to add to subsection 318(4) of the Criminal Code the words “sexual orientation”. That is it. What it seeks to do is add in subsection (4) those words so that it would read:

In this section, “identifiable group” means any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.

That section deals solely with genocide, absolutely nothing else. It deals with attempting to incite killing the members of a group and inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in its entirety.

The difficulty from a legal point of view is that definition, which deals solely with genocide, is then brought into section 319 of the Criminal Code by the definition section, which is subsection (7), which says that “identifiable group” has the same meaning as in section 318. That is why we heard some hon. members talking about how this amendment, albeit it is only to section 318, also impacts on sections 319 and 320.

I only have 10 minutes so I am going to have to make my comments brief.

In my view there has been absolutely no justification whatsoever brought forward either at committee or here that requires this amendment to this particular section.

Tragic cases such as murder because someone was a homosexual, or gay bashing because someone was a homosexual are totally unacceptable in Canadian society. They are against the law. It is called murder. It is called assault. It is called whatever one wants to call it. The Criminal Code already punishes people who commit those crimes, as the Criminal Code should punish those people who commit those crimes. But it goes further.

Section 718.2 of the Criminal Code says “A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles: (a) a sentence should be increased” if there is evidence that the offence was motivated by bias or the person's sexual orientation. I am of course abbreviating the section.

The Criminal Code already provides that people can get an increased sentence if their motivation in beating someone up or killing them was because the person was a homosexual. In addition to the fact that the Criminal Code already provides penalties, it also provides increased penalties.

This particular amendment is not needed for any of the examples that the member for Burnaby—Douglas has given with respect to acts that pertain to criminal acts.

There are a lot of problems with this bill. The law of unintended consequences is what I would like to talk about.

People read things and I want to read an e-mail that I received, which is talking about Bill C-250:

If this legislation had been passed, we might have been able to throw Elsie Wayne in jail for promoting hatred against gays.

It's time to silence the gay bashers once and for all. Too many people hide behind religion and “family values” when all they are really doing is promoting hatred. It's not the gays that should “shut up,” but the hate mongers like Elsie. There must be limits on free speech when it is against gays and other identifiable groups.

It's time to put hate mongers like Elsie Wayne behind bars. Vote for Bill C-250!

Now, that is a fringe element, but it is out there. If we have private prosecutions for this kind of section, that is the kind of person who would lay a charge under the Criminal Code.

That is why the hon. member for Provencher has asked for an amendment so that only the attorney general of the appropriate province can authorize a prosecution. That amendment makes sense.

We cannot have people saying that we have to limit free speech if it is against gays or other identifiable minorities.

I want to close by saying there is no point reinventing the wheel. I want to read some of the comments of Lorne Gunter which appeared in the Edmonton Journal on June 5. He stated:

Technically, his bill amends only Section 318 of the Criminal Code, the clause which forbids anyone to advocate or promote genocide against “an identifiable group.” Pretty basic and non-controversial, it would seem.

But the danger from altering Section 318 comes via what it does to Section 319. By adding “sexual orientation” to the protected categories enumerated in 318, Robinson's bill has the effect of altering the definition of “identifiable groups” in 319. And while 318 deals only with genocide, 319 makes it a federal offence to “communicate statements in any public place” that would “wilfully promote hatred against any identifiable group.”

Covered in Section 319 are all forms of hatred, not just the promotion of genocide. All forms of communication are covered, too, except “private conversation.” Broadcasting, publishing and advertising are all covered; so are postings on the Internet. Indeed, speaking out against homosexuality would be forbidden in all “audible or visible means” of communication. One day, even sermons delivered by priests, rabbis and imams could conceivably be forbidden to refer to homosexuality as sinful. Talking on the telephone could be covered, too, since telecommunications are federally regulated.

It is true that Robinson's C-250 will not instantly ban all opinions and--

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2003 / 2:25 p.m.
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Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate the member for Burnaby—Douglas and other members of the House who worked so steadfastly with him to bring the bill forward and ensure that a principle which is fundamental to our Canadian society is enshrined and reflected in our law. This private member's bill has my strong support.

As on all private member's bills, individual members of my party will vote freely with their conscience. However, it is worth noting how deep is the tradition in my Progressive Conservative Party of protecting human rights. It has of course been expressed by my leader, the member of Parliament for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough. The bill would also bring the Criminal Code of Canada into line with the interpretation by the courts of the Canadian Bill of Rights which was introduced in Parliament more than 40 years ago by the government of the right hon. John Diefenbaker.

Canada's courts have held that discrimination based on sexual orientation is among the discriminations prohibited by Mr. Diefenbaker's Bill of Rights. This legislation would complete the protection against discrimination in the Criminal Code which was such a hallmark, such a life work of the late Mr. Diefenbaker.

As the House knows, sections 318 and 319 of the Criminal Code contain Canada's most powerful sanctions against hate propaganda. The provisions would prohibit the advocacy or promotion of genocide, the incitement of hatred against any identifiable group, and the wilful promotion of hatred against any identifiable group.

Until this bill becomes law, identifiable group is defined as applying to any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion or ethnic origin. The bill would extend that prohibition to apply to sexual orientation.

Let there be no doubt about the harm that is done now by hate propaganda targeted on the basis of sexual orientation. The member for Burnaby—Douglas and others have cited cases in the House. All of us who live in constituencies anywhere in the country and operate with our eyes open know that this kind of discrimination exists. It is always difficult; it is sometimes fatal. It is a threat to individuals and a blot on our society. The bill would extend protection to fellow citizens who are under attack.

The absence of legislation to protect minorities also sends signals to members of those minorities that they would become second class citizens and not entitled to equal protection from the law.

As the debate has shown, and as the volumes of correspondence coming to many members of Parliament have shown, there is an apparent concern about the impact on freedom of religion in this legislation. I believe, as other members who have taken part in the debate, that concern to be falsely based. I will not burden the House with all of the correspondence I received. However, yesterday I received a letter from the Anglican Bishop of Calgary, Rt. Rev. Barry Hollowell, who wrote:

I have been in receipt of material urging rejection of Bill C-250...which has included such comments as the following:

“ may result in parts of the Bible being criminalized.” This strikes me as...a smoke screen that is attempting to cloud an issue of justice.

He went on:

It goes without saying that the “freedom to express moral views” is a freedom which must not be undermined in a free society. But, the freedom to live without fear or presence of hate harassment targeting individuals and minorities is also a freedom that must not be compromised. I believe that hate propaganda targeting gay and lesbian people must be stopped. ...these individuals remain the target of many hate-motivated crimes--including the tragic murder of Aaron Webster. It is not fair or just to protect some minorities from hate propaganda, but to deny that same protection to gay and lesbian people.

Bishop Hollowell concluded:

I wish to add my voice to those in support of Bill C-250...It is a matter of justice.

The first amendment that has been proposed today, while not legally necessary, would go some distance to adding to that assurance. We would be supporting that amendment.

As the House knows, the Criminal Code expressly protects the freedom of religion on its own.

I could quote references by bar associations, police chief organizations and others. This comes down to a personal sense as to how we see our society and how we value the freedoms that we so celebrate in our society.

Freedom essentially means the right to be who we are and not to be faced with the kind of propaganda and pressures that unfortunately have blighted the lives of too many of our fellow citizens simply because of their sexual orientation. We have extended that protection to categories of Canadians who are also themselves subject to that kind of hatred, subject to that kind of attack.

It is right and just, and past time, that we now extend the prohibited grounds to include sexual orientation and I am pleased and proud to stand and support the initiative by the member for Burnaby--Douglas on that matter.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2003 / 2:15 p.m.
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Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-250 on this fine sunny Friday afternoon, and I would like to congratulate the member for Burnaby—Douglas on his admirable persistence.

I do not agree with the comments made by the previous speaker about the member for Burnaby—Douglas. We all know that the latter is an enlightened person who believes in freedom of expression and he has demonstrated this on numerous occasions.

When this bill was studied in committee, I was extremely surprised, as a Quebecker, to see a number of arguments raised by other members of the House that seemed in many respects far-fetched. However, I would like to agree with my colleague, the member for Provencher, on one point.

In order to understand the bill introduced by the member for Burnaby—Douglas, one has to have read the Supreme Court decision in the Keegstra case, which was rendered in 1990. It is interesting, because in reading this decision, it becomes clear just how sensitive the issue of hate propaganda really is, and also how deeply rooted this issue is in Quebec law.

Former minister Guy Favreau, whose name has become famous because of a building named after him near the Place des Arts in Montreal—but people may be surprised to learn that he was also a former Minister of Justice—established a working group that presented a report in 1966. This was the first group to consider the whole issue of hate propaganda. In fact, in the 1960s and 1970s, certain neo-Nazi groups or groups that had questionable views on freedom of expression posed a threat to national security.

When this working group was struck, it contained such well-known people as the Rev. Gérard Dion, professor Shane MacKay of the University of Toronto, the father of the current Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, and also the former Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. This working group released its report in 1966 in which it recommended that the Criminal Code be amended to make a clear reference to fomenting trouble to disrupt law and order and threaten public order. It also contained a recommendation regarding genocide.

The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas is putting before us today a bill to amend the Criminal Code by adding sexual orientation to subsection 381(4).

Just to make it clear, our colleague's bill concerns hate propaganda and amends section 318(4) of the Criminal Code to include sexual orientation in the definition of identifiable group.

At present, in the Criminal Code, identifiable group includes people who are distinguished—that is, groups that are currently part of Canadian society—by colour, race, religion or ethnic origin, and the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas is proposing to add sexual orientation.

The first question we must ask ourselves, as lawmakers, is: do we believe that, in Canadian society, there are individuals who might be subject to hate propaganda on the basis of distinguishing characteristics such as sexual orientation, colour, race, as I just mentioned? Anyone who answers yes to this question obviously has no reason not to support the bill introduced by the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

I was pretty amazed, however, when in committee, they would have had us believe—I must say this was a campaign led mainly by the Canadian Alliance with some of our Liberal colleagues—that if, as lawmakers, we voted in favour of this amendment to subsection 381(4) of the Criminal Code, thereby recognizing that there are groups in Canadian society who may be subject to hate propaganda because they can be distinguished by their race, colour or sexual orientation—if we agree to add it—this would somehow jeopardize freedom of religious expression.

I hope that there is not, in any of the religious writings one might have faith in, whether one is Catholic, Muslim or any other religious denomination, anything that would make us comfortable with the fact that it might be used for purposes of incitement to hate propaganda. I hope that no member of this House will put freedom of religion on the same footing as using that freedom for purposes of hate propaganda. Hate propaganda, whatever its motives, means or examples, is unacceptable.

What surprised me was the lack of rigour. I was even more surprised because the hon. member for Provencher is a former crown attorney. Thus, he is someone who knows the law, who has pleaded cases and who has given instructions for prosecutions.

Canada has no state religion. In the Canadian Constitution and the charter of 1982, there is no state religion. A person cannot say that because he or she is Christian, Muslim, Catholic or Hindu, it is right for his or her world view—since religion is a world view—or one of the many other religious beliefs to receive more weight in the legislative texts than any other.

Now, freedom of religious expression is a guidepost. A long time ago, the Supreme Court made several rulings to define freedom of religious expression. Obviously, no one can prevent people from quoting the Bible, the Koran or any other religious work. That is not the objective of the bill introduced by the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

I would like to quote from what is undoubtedly the most important Supreme Court ruling on religious freedom. I am speaking of Regina v. Big M Drugmart, a case all first-year law students study. This decision defines freedom of religion. The definition of freedom of religion therein does not withstand the Alliance's arguments. It says:

Freedom must surely be founded in respect for the inherent dignity and the inviolable rights of the human person.

It continues by defining the human person. It talks of freedom—and this is the most important part:

Freedom means that, subject to such limitations as are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, no one is to be forced to act in a way contrary to his beliefs or his conscience.

That is how the courts defined freedom of religion; in other words, no one is to be forced to act in a way contrary to his beliefs or his conscience.

Please explain the link between recognizing that people who are homosexual can be subject to hate propaganda and that they should be protected as a group under the Criminal Code, and the right to religion, as it was defined by the Supreme Court a decade ago.

That is where the Canadian Alliance gets completely carried away. They would have us believe that if members of this House granted additional protection to homosexuals by making them an identified group, as is the case in the Criminal Code, then people who quote the Bible, the Koran or any other religious text would feel that their rights have been eroded.

I respectfully submit that the member for Provencher's argument is intellectually dishonest. What he is trying to do is deny that there are people who are homosexual.

Canadian Alliance members have voted against conferring rights on homosexuals at every opportunity in this House. It would have been much more honest for the member of Provencher to stand up and call a spade a spade. That is his true intention.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2003 / 2:05 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly my honour to speak in respect of this bill and the amendments that have been raised, two of which I have brought forward.

I want to make it clear that the Canadian Alliance rejects hatred directed at any group in Canada. We have heard the kind of vitriolic statements made by the member for Burnaby—Douglas against certain groups in our society. Even if he does not share their religious beliefs, a little more respect toward those religious groups would be in order. Our party does not choose and pick favourites. We reject hatred directed at any group in Canada. In that context we have consistently expressed concern about Bill C-250 on the basis that it raises serious concerns for fundamental freedoms.

While this bill may be motivated by good intentions, and I give the member the benefit of that doubt because I have no reason to doubt his word as an hon. member, good intentions however often have unintended consequences. When those intentions and unintended consequences form a part of our laws, the impact can significantly interfere with the ability of people to communicate or to adhere to essential matters of personal belief, religious or otherwise.

Constituents have brought forward a number of examples throughout the court system, looking at the fear they have of where this legislation is going.

For example, back in 1997 Sylvia MacEachern, the editor of a Roman Catholic journal, was subjected to an investigation by the hate crimes unit of the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police for stating on an Ottawa radio station that she supported the teaching and the catechism of the Catholic church regarding homosexuality. The charges were not proceeded with because there was no provision for sexual orientation in the hate crimes section of the Criminal Code. Here we have a clear example of a Catholic expressing an essential element of her faith being subjected to a police investigation in our country.

Hugh Owens, a Christian, was taken to court by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission for placing an advertisement in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix that listed bible verses opposed to homosexual acts. In a ruling on December 11, 2002, the Court of Queen's Bench for Saskatchewan found that the advertisement exposed homosexuals to hatred and indeed classified the bible in that context as hate literature.

In his defence Owens cited the guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of religion in subsection 14(2) of the same human rights code and section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However the judge held that those guaranteed freedoms did not extend to expressions of hatred. Having classified those comments as exposing homosexuals to hatred, he then made the finding against Mr. Owens.

Clearly the bill, as currently worded, does not address the legitimate concerns of many Canadians about their continued right to freedom of expression and religion.

The first amendment that I brought forward would broaden the requirement of the Attorney General's consent to proceed with a hate propaganda prosecution. The member for Burnaby—Douglas has been stating in communications that no prosecutions can be undertaken without the consent of the Attorney General in these sections. He knows that is not correct. Currently, this requirement only applies to section 318 and subsection 319(2).

The amendment would broaden the application to all of section 319. The amendment does not solve all of our concerns with the bill, but it goes at least some way to expand the oversight of the provincial attorney general and to provide additional safeguards against frivolous prosecutions.

Having said that, I am very concerned about giving the attorney general, who ultimately is a political figure, the right to determine who will be and who will not be prosecuted for expressing religious views. That should not be the function of the police or of the attorney general, much less an elected politician. This is a dangerous section and additional safeguards need to be brought forward. Ultimately the amendment alone does not alleviate all of the concerns that my constituents and thousands of others have brought forward.

One of my colleagues indicates he has received 4,000 pieces of communication on this bill alone out of his riding. That is absolutely astounding. I have never heard, out of one constituency, those kinds of numbers. In my own constituency, I believe I am somewhere at around 1,000, but my constituents know where I stand on this bill and I have encouraged them to advise other members of Parliament about the dangers that they see in the bill.

The second amendment would explicitly protect religious texts under section 320, the criminal provisions specifically dealing with the seizure of hate propaganda. If we take for example the classification of the Human Rights Commission and the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench as certain sections of the Bible promoting hatred, the substantive legal definitions are the same. The onus of proof might be different in a human rights context as opposed to a Criminal Code context but the concepts are exactly the same. There needs to be protection to ensure that religious texts do not fall within the definition of hate propaganda.

It has long been the position of the Canadian Alliance that without such an explicit protection, the bill would be problematic for a number of common publications, since it would criminalize statements and texts that pertain to homosexuality. Such publications as the Catholics have indicated and as the Evangelicals have indicated to me in letters and presentations would include the Bible, the Koran and the Catholic Catechism. If texts such as the Bible or the Koran are used by someone to promote hatred or advocate genocide in that context, then of necessity those texts would be considered hate literature.

When the Department of Justice officials appeared on Bill C-250, they could not give a definitive answer to the question of whether religious publications would be subject to censorship or even prohibition. I simply refer the Speaker and the members of the House to their specific testimony. I do not think it is sufficient for the people of this country to simply have to rely on a hope and a prayer that their words and their scriptures will not be criminalized and will not be seized as hate propaganda. We have an obligation in dealing with the criminal law to ensure that those concerns are addressed.

I also commend to the members of the House the reading of the Keegstra decision. It was a four-three decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in which the court upheld the section under consideration, section 319, as constitutional under section 1, having breached the substantive freedoms and guarantees. It said that one of the reasons the majority upheld it was because it was narrow clearly drafted. We do not know the implications of this amendment and these terms. This House was deprived of the benefit of committee debating and discussing this in committee because of the filibuster of the sponsor.

It is a travesty that a bill would move in that--

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2003 / 1:50 p.m.
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Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it has indeed been a long journey to get to this point in the debate on this legislation. I want to thank those members of the House who have been supportive along this journey to amend the Criminal Code provisions on hate propaganda to include sexual orientation.

I first tabled this bill in the House almost 15 years ago. I want to acknowledge today the tireless work that has been done by many groups and individuals across the country to arrive at the point where the bill has now been deemed passed out of the justice committee and is before this House for the two final hours of debate.

I want to thank my colleagues from almost all sides of the House who have indicated their support for the legislation. The leader of my party, Jack Layton, and all of the members of my caucus have been tireless advocates of equality for gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, and for this bill in particular. I am pleased that my colleague from Winnipeg Centre is in the House today to show his solidarity and support for the legislation as well.

I would like to thank my honourable colleague and friend, the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, not only for his support of this bill, but also for the work he has done on behalf of equality for gays and lesbians for almost all his life. I would also like to thank his colleague, the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, who worked on this bill as well.

I am very pleased to see in the House today the right hon. member for Calgary Centre who has again spoken out strongly in support of this legislation. I tell him that support means a great deal, not only his support for the bill but the work that he has done over the years, and he knows where of I speak on equality for gay and lesbian people. I thank him for that support. Also if I may I will add his colleague from Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough, the newly elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party who has indicated his support for the legislation and I might add was subjected to a particularly vitriolic attack at the recent leadership convention for having shown that support. I also certainly want to thank a number of colleagues on the government side who have indicated their support for the legislation, in particular the member for Vancouver Centre who at the committee was there for every session of the committee. She did not walk away at critical points, but she was there to speak out and to vote in support of this very important bill.

There is support from people across the country, individuals, young people, people like Mark Hanlon who is a 19 year old student attending Memorial University of Newfoundland, a young gay man who single-handedly spearheaded an online petition campaign right across the country, which resulted in over 13,000 people signing a petition in support of this bill. There is support from labour activists and unions across the country, city councils, the council of the city of Vancouver, the city council in Ottawa, faith leaders, religious leaders and many others.

As well I want to underscore the contribution of Inspector Dave Jones of the Vancouver police department. He has worked so tirelessly for this legislation at the Vancouver level but also nationally together with the Canadian Association of Police Boards and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

EGALE particularly in recent days also has been active in supporting the legislation.

Finally I want to pay a particular tribute to one of my staff, a young woman who has done a tremendous job in working on this legislation day in and day out. I want to pay tribute to Corie Langdon from my office who, many members will know, has done a terrific job.

I am going to speak briefly because there are three amendments before the House now that deal with the issue of the impact of the bill on religious texts. I want to say very clearly that the major objective of the bill is to ensure that the current provisions of the Criminal Code which protect four particular groups, those who are distinguished on the basis of race, religion, colour or ethnic origin, that those provisions should be extended to include another group and that is gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

The evidence we heard in committee was compelling and powerful, that in fact it is this group which is subjected to the greatest proportion of attacks motivated by hatred, the greatest number of violent hate crimes in Canada. Yet it is this group which is excluded from the legislation now.

What kind of signal does that send out in Canada? Too many people have been victims of gay bashing and indeed in some cases of murder, whether it be a young law student, Robbie Peterson who was brutally beaten in New Brunswick, whether it be Aaron Webster who was beaten to death with a baseball bat in November 2001 because he was gay, or so many others across the country.

This bill I profoundly believe has the ability, the potential, to actually help to save lives. I think it is very important that we acknowledge that objective of the bill.

The bill would not in any way interfere with religious freedom. The member for Provencher has suggested and stated in one instance that the bill would in his words “classify parts of the Bible as hate literature and portions of the Catholic catechism as hate literature”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, the bill has significant support from a number of religious leaders in the country as well. I have a letter from a Catholic priest at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Dawson City, Yukon, Father Timothy Coonen, who wants to strongly support Bill C-250. He said:

I'm stunned to discover that gays and lesbians are not fully protected under the law. And I'm saddened to learn that much, if not most of the opposition to this bill is coming from the Christian community. As a member in good standing of the ordained clergy in Canada, I wish to let you know loud and clear that the conservative right wing of Christianity does not represent the majority of Christians in this country!

This is a Catholic priest and he says as well:

I believe that there is nothing in the Bible that permits the promotion of hatred against other human beings, including gays and lesbians.

I received a similar letter from the pastor of a Baptist church in New Brunswick, Pastor Thomas Adams of the Richibucto Baptist Church in New Brunswick, who said that he fully supports this legislation. He challenges those who have opposed it and have suggested in any way it might target religious texts. Nothing could be further from the truth.

My colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River has proposed an amendment that would explicitly make it clear that religious texts are not being targeted by this amendment. I can certainly say that I have no objection whatsoever to the member's amendment. If it clarifies the intent of the bill, certainly that is a positive thing. I frankly do not think it is legally necessary but certainly it is not something that I would in any way oppose.

In December 2001 the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice said on behalf of the Minister of Justice:

I am very pleased to be able to say tonight that the minister will be putting forward amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada to add sexual orientation to the definition of an identifiable group under the hate crime provisions.

Today, a year and a half later, it is an honour for me to be able to move ahead with this legislation, with the legislation that was promised after the murder of Aaron Webster. This legislation is long overdue.

I would point out as well in closing that to those who suggest that in any way this would target freedom of religious expression, the chief researcher of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, Philip Rosen, has prepared an excellent background document. I would commend it to all members. The conclusion to which he comes is that the bill fully respects freedom of religion in Canada.

For that reason I want to again indicate that I am prepared to support the amendment of my friend, my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River to the extent that it will help to clarify the purpose of this amendment to the Criminal Code. I would hope that members of the House on all sides with that amendment would support this long overdue amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2003 / 1:45 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB


That Bill C-250 be amended by adding after line 9 on page 1 the following new clause:

“2. Subsection 319(6) of the the Act is replaced by the following:

(6) No proceeding for an offence under subsection (1) or (2) shall be instituted without the consent of the Attorney General.”

That Bill C-250 be amended by adding after line 9 on page 1 the following new clause:

“3. The definition “hate propaganda” in subsection 320(8) of the Act is replaced by the following:

“hate propaganda” means any writing, sign or visible representation that advocates or promotes genocide or the communication of which by any person would constitute an offence under section 319 and does not include any religious text or part thereof;”