Mr. Speaker, my colleague from St-Hubert introduced on February 17 a bill which is close to my heart. It is close to my heart because, as a lawyer, I have a great deal of difficulty in accepting that some people are treated differently. We call that discrimination, not only in law but also in the dictionary.
If bill C-218 introduced by my colleague is rejected by the House of commons, discrimination will continue, a large number of citizens will be treated inequitably.
Since the Unemployment Insurance Act was passed-it received Royal assent on October 23, 1990-our party has denounced, in the House and outside, the aberrations it contains. Normally, according to Canadian legislation, we are all innocent until proven guilty and the burden of the proof rests with the accuser, that is the minister or the Crown in criminal matters.
However, when an employee leaves his or her job, he or she must prove that it was not without compelling reasons, and the burden of the proof falls on the potential UI claimant. We are in a democracy and we are never guilty until proven so. This is what we call the presumption of innocence guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The new Unemployment Insurance Act changed the rules of the game in 1990, and it allows some employers to abuse their employees and to require of them more work, extended working hours and total submission, a wholly unacceptable situation in a democratic society like ours. It is nothing short of blackmail!
If an employee objects and leaves his or her job, that employee must prove that he or she had good reasons to do so. Worse, during the period of objection the former employee will find social assistance hard to get. Indeed, Quebec social assistance regulations do not permit the payment of any benefit as long as the official has not received an unqualified denial from unemployment insurance. So, Mr. Speaker, you can imagine that before quitting a job, employees may be abused by their employers for a very long period of time.
This is the reason why the Crown lost out under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The various courts which were asked to rule in this matter, namely the human rights tribunal of the appeal division, the Federal Court, the Tax Court of Canada and the Supreme Court of Canada, all declared null and void former sections 3(2)(c) and 4(3)(d) of the act. Canadians won.
It was to be expected since they were just as discriminatory, and that was the objective of Bill C-218 introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Saint-Hubert, as denying benefits to a spouse working for her husband or a family-owned business. Whom was this piece of legislation aimed at especially? Women working for their spouses. This is another example of the legal subordination of women to their spouses.
Under the circumstances, the previous Conservative government took steps to amend section 3.(2)(c) in accordance with these decisions. It had no other choice. From now on, not only spouses, but all workers not dealing at arm's length with their employers will be excluded. In this way, it may seem less discriminatory, legally speaking, as long as the courts have not ruled on the constitutionality of this amendment.
But in reality, what does it mean to not deal at arm's length? It means that in all cases the presumption of honesty is from now on replaced by a presumption of fraud. It is now up to the employee to satisfy the official in charge-who is vested with discretionary powers-that the work contract met the same requirements as if the job had been given to someone who was not related to the employer.
How many people will be left stranded without any income until a case is heard by the Supreme Court of Canada? This measure, I should say this injustice, concerns close to one million Canadians, 650,000 of whom are women. It is unacceptable.
On going through Hansard of April 21 of this year, I noticed that an hon. member on this side of the House, but not from the Bloc, opposed the bill proposed by my colleague from Saint-Hubert by arguing that her proposal would lead to the filing of at least 2,000 supposedly unfounded unemployment insurance claims which would entail the payment of $13 million dollars. This is absurd.
The unemployment insurance legislation was adopted-