Madam Speaker, I am splitting my time with the member for Red Deer.
I am pleased tonight to be able to speak to the commemoration of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, both to reflect on its helpfulness in providing guidelines for national institutions and specific human rights issues as well as to call on the Canadian government to account for the steady erosion of these principles in public policy today.
Forty-eight years ago the world, having endured two world wars, one which threatened the global with the spectre of fascism, called on its leaders to commit to a fundamental standard of responsibility toward both their own citizens and to people around the world.
Forty-eight years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born to form the basis of many national human rights acts. In 1976 it was coupled with the international covenant of economic, social and cultural rights, the international covenant on civil and political rights and the optional protocol to the latter covenant, to become the international bill of human rights.
The declaration has much to commend it. It has been used to protect many vulnerable Canadians. It has been used not only to direct public policy but also to remind individual Canadians in their own private relationships about their responsibility to respect others. It has been used to frame policy which has made Canada a safe haven for those who have fled from oppression and almost certain death in their own country.
Unfortunately, as each day passes it becomes more and more evident that Canada has lost its commitment to the essence of the human rights debate, the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and unalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. With the loss of the vision it has also lost its commitment to our fundamental institutions.
In my brief time tonight I want to reflect on three issues, the lack of protection for existing basic human rights, the evolution of the broader interpretation of rights, with their infringement on existing rights and basic institutions, and the denial of the full equality of Canadians.
First I want to talk about the erosion of our protections. There have been many UN conferences in the past few years on a wide range of issues, from population to habitat, from women to the environment. It has become clear that special interests dictate the agenda, not those representing the main concerns of many countries.
The UN process is not democratic, in violation of the universal declaration's affirmation of the importance of democracy. Certainly in Canada there is no accountability to Parliament to ensure that delegates accurately reflect the views of our country.
My own experience at the Beijing conference on women showed me how developed countries, including and especially Canada, trampled the human rights of delegates from other countries as well as those of Canadians. When they are advancing narrow special interests, the commitment made to the most basic of human rights like the freedom of opinion, conscience and religion found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights do not matter.
I read into the record last week a statement from the official Canadian facilitating committee report. It specifically advised Canadians to criticize the opinions of Muslims, Catholics, pro-life groups and REAL Women. This kind of intolerance, which is condemned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, appears to have become standard policy among Canadian delegations to UN conferences over the past few years.
Even more disturbing is the way countries like Canada use the UN to lever legislative change in Canada as well as in the domestic policies of developing countries, contrary to the democratic process. An example of the influence of the UN policy is in the guise of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which seeks to broaden children's rights at the expense of family and parental autonomy.
The most significant institution recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as in the broader international bill of human rights is the family as the natural and fundamental group unit of society. Yet astonishingly this is one of the sections which is most ignored by the federal government today.
The international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights in article 10 states that the widest possible protection and assistance should be accorded to the family, which is the natural and fundamental group unit of society, particularly for its establishment and while it is responsible for the care and education of dependant children.
The international covenant on civil and political rights, in article 23, says that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state.
The framers of these documents recognized that the family was the key social institution for effectively realizing all other rights that are mentioned.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is being used to eliminate parental freedom and responsibility in child discipline through its demand that Canada repeal section 43 of the Criminal Code. Despite the strong majority view in Canada that the discipline of children should be the prerogative of parents, the UN has demanded that Canada repeal the protection for parents who choose to use responsible corporal punishment.
The fact that such a demand comes not through democratic process but by way of an international body does not seem to matter. The fact that it attacks the autonomy of parents and, therefore, the UN's human rights commitment to the family seems to be irrelevant. The fact that such a decision has ramifications for the freedoms of religion, opinion and conscience which are protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not appear to matter.
Canada's leading anti-corporal punishment group, the Repeal 43 Committee said that: "Freedom of religious belief does not include the freedom to engage in practices that threaten health and safety," yet there is no evidence to defend its link between responsible corporal punishment and health and safety.
Reform supports the original understanding of human rights as they apply to children, that is protection rights which obligate us to make the health and well-being of children a priority by combating abuse and seeking their best interests in situations such as family break-up.
But in the same Beijing document I cited earlier we can read the following: "Human rights activists applauded a Canadian breakthrough that recognizes children's evolving rights to make their own decisions even though the issue pits a child's right to learn about issues against the right of parents to prevent access to subjects in which they do not believe".
The new notion that legitimate protection rights should be expanded to include what could be termed choice rights for children denies the autonomy and importance of parenting and the family. Despite the problems associated with giving children the freedom to make choices they are not ready to make, and despite the opposition of most Canadian parents toward this idea, Canada has been advancing this ideology domestically and on the international stage.
Finally, another violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the system of special rights that has contaminated almost very sphere of public policy in this nation.
The Reform Party has told Canadians clearly in our fresh start election platform that we support the repeal of section 15(2) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which provides for the establishment of discriminatory treatment of Canadians based on sex, race, ethnic origin, family status and other irrelevant characteristics. Untold destructive policies have been introduced in Canada and justified by this mentality: employment equity, official bilingualism, official multiculturalism, the ongoing paternalism toward out native population and divisive immigration policies.
It is astounding that in 48 years, almost half a century, the Canadian government has lost its commitment to true equality and the dignity of every human being.
In conclusion, those who constructed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had noble intentions. They worked hard and produced a commendable document. Unfortunately, while bureaucrats and governments have been busy redefining and massaging the message to their own ends, here in Canada and elsewhere real human rights abuses still exist.
There are many around the world who face death each day as they take a stand for the most basic of human rights. The spirit and letter of the universal declaration supports their cause and calls on the world to respond. There is much to be done at home and abroad to honour our 1948 commitment. Let us never lose sight of its original intent.