Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Before we begin, I thought it was important that I express some of my thoughts on the decision of this committee to move directly into clause-by-clause. In my three years as a member of Parliament—it's not that long—I don't recall any precedent of a bill moving directly to clause-by-clause when it has been referred to committee.
I respect all members of this committee, and I hope that each of you has felt that as we have worked together on various bills. We've always been able to work constructively and had good discussions and honest dialogue, even on issues that invoked a lot of passion on both sides of the table here. It's precisely because of my respect and appreciation for members of this committee that I'd like to make a few comments.
I believe that as a committee, we've failed to do what we need to do. I believe that Canadians expect us to conduct a thorough study every time a bill comes to committee, to examine it, and to improve it where possible, and then to send it back to the House for third reading before it moves to the Senate. And I think collectively, as a committee, we have failed to do that; we have failed to discharge our duties. Our job as a parliamentary committee is to give due consideration and thorough study to all bills that are referred to us. We don't do that just to fill the time allotted to us here by our caucus, but we do it because it's a responsibility and a trust that has been given to us by our caucus, by our fellow Canadians, and also by our constituents.
The mandate of our committee states that we will review proposed amendments to federal legislation relating to certain aspects of criminal law, family law, human rights law, and the administration of justice, with respect to—among other statutes—both the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
As you're all aware, both of these statutes are set for amendment in Bill C-16, but I could just as easily have been speaking about any legislation referred to this committee.
I believe we all support initiatives that protect individuals from hate speech. We all believe that individuals deserve equal treatment under the law. Every one of us here condemns bullying or violence of any kind, but it really comes down to this: how do we know what we don't know? There has been much discussion in the media lately concerning the matter of free speech and the state of free speech here in Canada. Do we really know if this bill will have an impact on free speech? No, we don't.
Concerns have been raised about the impact on our immigrant and religious groups who have some deeply held convictions with respect to human sexuality. Have we explored whether there's a need for explicit safeguards to protect these groups? No, we haven't. And can we assure them that the concerns they may have have been studied thoroughly and that they have nothing to worry about? I don't believe we can.
Can any of us answer the questions raised about whether there's room for abuse because of this legislation? For example, when it comes to something as simple as women's athletic scholarships, do we know if a male who identifies or expresses his gender as something other than male would insist on applying this new law so he could qualify for a scholarship expressly intended for a female athlete? No, we don't know that. Had we properly studied this bill, maybe there would have been some recognition that this bill needs to include certain safeguards. We're in no position to answer any of these questions because we just haven't done our job; we haven't had a chance to study and to get feedback from stakeholders.
I believe we have a duty and an obligation to listen to Canadians, not only informally as persons, or through messages by text or email, but formally before this committee, whether they are individuals who support the bill unequivocally, or those who want to see adjustments made, or those who see the bill as fundamentally flawed, we owe it to Canadians to listen, to make informed decisions based on the testimony we hear.
Mr. Chairman, I think that's what Canadians expect of us, and I'm sad to say that we've failed in this duty. For that reason, among others, I will be voting against the bill.
Those are my comments.