Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-51. The stated purpose of the bill is to streamline the Criminal Code of Canada by removing certain provisions that no longer have any relevance in contemporary society.
I agree with many of the revisions, such as the removal of clause 41 of section 365 of the Criminal Code, which states, “Every one who fraudulently (a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration”; and clause 4, the removal of section 71 pertaining to duelling in the streets, “Every one who (a) challenges or attempts by any means to provoke another person to fight a duel, (b) attempts to provoke a person to challenge another person to fight a duel, or (c) accepts a challenge to fight a duel”. These are a number of the provisions to be removed.
I suppose the government may argue that the provisions against duelling have worked, because it has disappeared from our streets. Therefore, people certainly got the message a long time ago. Witchcraft and neighbourhood duelling no longer have any bearing on our society today. That is one point on which we can agree.
The Conservative Party is also aligned with the strengthening of the provisions of the sexual assault legislation and, indeed, has led the way for supporting victims of sexual assaults by, among other things, the private member's bill introduced by former Conservative leader, Rona Ambrose, Bill C-337. The bill would make it mandatory for judges to participate in sexual assault training and ensure awareness in the judiciary in addition to education about the challenges sexual assault victims face. Her bill was designed to hold the Canadian judiciary responsible for the ongoing training of judges and the application of law in sexual assault trials.
Essentially, Bill C-337 would ensure the following. It would require that lawyers receive training in sexual assault as a criterion of eligibility for a federally appointed judicial position; that the Canadian Judicial Council provide an annual report to Parliament on the details of the type of sexual assault training offered and judicial attendance at the training, as well as the number of sexual assault cases heard by a judge before having received adequate sexual assault training; and that judges provide written reasons on decisions with regard to sexual assault.
As we will remember, this bill was passed in the House of Commons, and we were all very grateful to see it passed. It is now in the Senate and I hope the Senate will get the message and move forward on the bill, which has the support of this chamber and, I believe, Canadians across the country.
We are pleased the Liberals have followed our lead with regard to strengthening sexual assault provisions in the Criminal Code surrounding consent, legal representation, and expanding the rape shield provisions. The Conservative Party always stands up for the rights of victims of crime and have done so consistently, among other things, including the Canadian Victims Bills of Rights passed in 2015.
Bill C-51 would amend, among other things, section 273.1 to clarify that an unconscious person is incapable of consenting. Again, as my colleague pointed out, this is a reflection of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Regina v. J.A. It proposes to amend section 273.2 to clarify the defence of mistaken belief if consent is not available and if the mistake is based on a mistake of law, for example, if the accused believed that the complainant's failure to resist or protest meant the complainant consented. This, as was pointed out in the earlier speech of the parliamentary secretary, codifies a number of aspects of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R v. Ewanchuk from 1999.
As well, the bill would expand the rape shield provisions to include communications of a sexual nature or communications for a sexual purpose. These provisions provide that evidence of a complainant's prior sexual history cannot be used to support the inference that the complainant was more likely to have consented to the sexual activity in issue or that the complainant is less worthy of belief.
In addition, the bill would provide that a complainant would have a right to legal representation in rape shield cases, which I believe is very important. It would create a regime to determine whether an accused could introduce a complainant's private records at trial, which would be in his or her possession. This would complement the existing regime governing an accused's ability to obtain a complainant's private records when those records would be in the hands of a third party.
As I mentioned at the outset, some proposed changes we were adamantly against. As it turns out, thousands of Canadians were also adamantly against the removal of section 176 of the Criminal Code, the section of the Criminal Code that provides protection for religious services.
I would be hard-pressed in my career to know when I have received more emails, or more petitions or correspondence than on this section. When Bill C-51 was first introduced, the government interestingly enough made no mention whatsoever of the fact that it would remove the section that directly protected religious services and those who performed those services.
I was a little taken aback when I read legislation and I saw the removal of section 176. Even though I have practised some criminal law in my career, I had to check exactly what section we were talking about and, indeed, this was the section that said among other things:
(1) Every one who (a) by threats or force, unlawfully obstructs or prevents or endeavours to obstruct or prevent a clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service or performing any other function in connection with his calling, or (b) knowing that a clergyman or minister is about to perform, is on his way to perform or is returning from the performance of any of the duties or functions mentioned in paragraph (a) (i) assaults or offers any violence to him, or (ii) arrests him on a civil process, or under the pretence of executing a civil process, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. (2) Every one who wilfully disturbs or interrupts an assemblage of persons met for religious worship or for a moral, social or benevolent purpose is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction. (3) Every one who, at or near a meeting referred to in subsection (2), wilfully does anything that disturbs the order or solemnity of the meeting is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
When the government did not mention this was what it would remove, I remember very clearly saying to my colleagues, when this first came up for second reading debate in June, that they should talk to their constituents and ask them if they thought this was a good idea to remove the section of the Criminal Code that directly protected religious services and if they were aware of the fact that the government now wanted to remove the special protection that members of the clergy had. I asked them see what the response was.
I think my colleagues in the Liberal Party must have heard the message. They would have heard the same things I heard when we brought this to everyone's attention. Interrupting a religious service is not the same as a scuffle, or yelling at a hockey game, or disruption of a meeting. Even people who do not attend religious services would agree that this is more serious. This is the message I certainly hoped the Liberals would get, that this section was and remained critical and removing it would have eliminated the provision that completely protected the rights of individuals to freely practise their religion, whatever that religion may be.
Ironically enough during the very week the justice committee was reviewing the government's plans to remove this, the worst mass shooting in Texas history struck an otherwise quaint small town in that state. Gunman Devin Kelley stormed the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs and killed more than two dozen people. The following Sunday, a funeral service was held at the church. The original plan was to hold a small service, but so many people were outraged and moved by this horrible incident that hundreds and hundreds of people came out to show their support for the people of the community. It reiterates the fact that religious freedom is part of the constitution of the United States and it is contained in the First Amendment.
In Canada, our religious freedoms are protected and section 176 of the Criminal Code is part of that protection. Religious freedoms are fundamental to Canadians as well, and the Conservatives are proud to be among the first to stand and support religious freedoms for all faiths.
Faisal Mirza, the chair of the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association, made a point when he appeared before the committee. He said, “We cannot be blind that the current climate of increased incidents of hate, specifically at places of worship, supports that religious leaders may be in need of more, not less, focused protection.” He was referring to the deadly shooting at a Quebec mosque in January, when the lives of six people came to a violent end. Among the victims were parents, civil servants, academics, and people who had left their countries of war to seek a better life in Canada.
Religious crime knows no borders and has no respect of persons. This is why I am pleased to say that, after hearing testimony from faith communities across the country, justice committee members voted to keep section 176 of the Criminal Code in place.
I would like to thank those thousands of Canadians who wrote or emailed their respective members of Parliament. I indicated in my opening comments that I did not remember receiving as much feedback as did on this. I think all members have experienced the same kind of push-back on this, that the protections provided in section 176 are there for a particular purpose.
Again, I disagree with the comments made by my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, when he pointed out that the Minister of Justice said that these things were still offences under the Criminal Code. It is not the same thing. Disrupting a religious service is not the same as creating mischief somewhere and it is not the same as causing a disruption at a hockey game. Most Canadians would agree with us on this side of the House that this is more serious, and that it should continue to have protection within the Criminal Code.
Again, I find it ironic that when this bill was presented to the public, there was mention of duelling and witchcraft, but not one mention of the fact the government would remove the specific protection for religious services and religious officials.
There was one other section of the Criminal Code I did not agree with the Liberals removing. This is the section that has specific protection if someone attempts to attack the Queen. Some of my colleagues said that these sections were not used very often, or one of my colleagues said that the Queen would not be visiting here very much in the future. Again, I believed this was a bad idea.
When I was at the University of Windsor, I will always remember that one of my law professors pointed out the sections in the Criminal Code with respect to treason. He said that it was great this section was very seldom ever used in Canada, but it did not mean it should be removed. I do not go along with the thinking that if nobody commits treason, then we better get rid of that section in the Criminal Code. That is not how it works. This is still a very serious crime. Again, if anyone attempts to attack the Queen, as Canada's head of state, in my opinion it is not the same as getting into a fist fight at a bar some night. It is important; it has significant aspects.
I have to point out that the timing of this is terrible. This is the 65th anniversary of when the Queen took the throne. Nobody has a better record anywhere of public service in the world today than she has.
It has been consistently going on since before she assumed her reign in 1952 and in her service during World War II. That is what she has done, and again this is the year the Liberals decided they would remove this specific protection against someone who is attempting to attack her.
That being said, I am pleased that the government caved on section 176. I am very pleased with respect to the clarifications with respect to sexual consent. I am very pleased as well that a number of the sections that are taking up space in the Criminal Code that no longer have any particular relevance are being removed. However, one of the things that something like this has taught us on this side is we have to be very careful. This is the lawyer in me. We have to read the fine print, and the fine print removing the protection for religious services and religious officials is something that we have to be very aware of. I can assure my colleagues on the other side that we will look at all legislation to see if what are supposed to be unintended consequences are in fact consequences of a very serious nature. Again, my heartfelt thanks go out to all those religious institutions, all those Canadians, and all those individuals who spoke up in support of section 176.