Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to comment on Bill C-33, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act which will prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The proposals have generated deep, passionate and powerful discussion on both sides of the issue, and a maelstrom of notions of family, religion and entitlement to benefits. There are strongly held views among my colleagues in the House, among my constituents of Erie, among the citizens of this country.
I respect and have considered the views of all who have written letters, placed phone calls to my office and made personal presentations. I am most appreciative of their time, their concerns and their prayers. I listened intently to the differing opinions and approaches of each individual and organization that made presentations to the Standing Committee on Human Rights and the Status of Disabled Persons. I have thought long and hard on this issue, at times with confusion, at times with anxiety, at times with anguish and finally with resolve.
Now the time has come to take a stand, to cast a vote. In full knowledge of the free vote status of this decision, I have concluded that I will support Bill C-33 for a very good reason: It is simply the right thing to do. Let me explain.
This issue is one of human rights, of dignity, of equality, of the universal principle that no individual should be discriminated against because of who or what they are.
The federal government as well as every province and territory in Canada has human rights legislation. The current Canadian Human Rights Act contains a list of prohibited grounds of discrimination which includes race, colour, religion, age, sex, marital or family status and disability. Canadians are protected whether they are of Italian, Sri Lankan or English stock, black, yellow, brown or white, Jewish, Christian or Muslim, young or old, man or woman, married or single, parent or childless. The act does not create any special group or any special rights. This bill would add the term sexual orientation to that list, no special group, no special rights.
The application of the Canadian Human Rights Act is restricted to employment in and the provision of goods and services by the federal government and federally regulated businesses such as banks, airlines and telecommunications companies. These organizations employ about 10 per cent of the workforce which makes for a very limited application. Most employers such as schools, small businesses and religious and cultural organizations are regulated provincially and would not be affected by the proposed legislation.
There are four basic reasons why sexual orientation should be included in the Canadian Human Rights Act. First, as a matter of fundamental fairness, the amendment will ensure that Canadians cannot be discriminated against in the areas of federal employment, accommodation and access to goods and services solely because of their sexual orientation. This means, for example, Canadians cannot be fired for being homosexual or indeed heterosexual.
Some may say it is not necessary in this day and age. Let me remind the House of the recent intemperate, base and discriminating remarks made against blacks and homosexuals by two Reform members of the House, the highest court in the land. These inexcusable comments sickened me and Canadians everywhere. Some may say it is necessary, very much so.
Second, it is necessary to bring the text of the Canadian Human Rights Act into conformity with the charter. The Ontario Court of Appeal in Haig v. Canada held that the Canadian Human Rights Act would in future be read as though sexual orientation were already a prohibited ground of discrimination. It is already with us. The courts are already setting policy which should be a prerogative of Parliament. It is our responsibility, indeed our obligation, to codify this fundamental right and principle of equality. The courts are telling parliamentarians to do our jobs or they will do it for us.
Third, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously held in Egan and Nesbitt v. Canada that sexual orientation is a prohibited ground of discrimination under the equality provisions of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The problem is the charter does not apply to private companies and federally regulated industries. The Canadian Human Rights Act does. Accordingly the Canadian Human Rights Act is being amended to give protection on the basis of sexual orientation to gays and lesbians in the private sector workplace.
Fourth, the proposed amendment will bring the federal act into conformity with eight provinces and territories which have already amended their human rights legislation to include sexual orientation: Quebec in 1977, Ontario in 1986, Yukon in 1987, Nova Scotia in 1991, New Brunswick in 1992, British Columbia in 1992, and Saskatchewan in 1993. The nature of this legislation is not new or revolutionary. We are simply catching up to the provinces.
My constituents are surprised on being reminded that in 1986 the province of Ontario added sexual orientation as a prohibited ground in its human rights legislation. Did this open the floodgates? Not as a matter of course, not automatically. Indeed eight long years later the Ontario government introduced specific legislation, Bill 167, directed at enlarging the definition of spousal
relationships in Ontario, that same sex couples were entitled to the same rights as applied to common law heterosexual couples.
It is interesting to note that the bill was defeated. Let us not lose the logic of this event. Issues such as adoption by homosexuals were separate and distinct and did not automatically follow the adding of sexual orientation to the Ontario human rights legislation. No, we were not consumed by the flood waters.
Let me continue with a brief but most important consideration of what the Canadian Human Rights Act does not do. It does not negatively impact on the traditional family nor change the definition of marriage, family or spouse. This is explicitly reinforced in the preamble where it is stated "-the government recognizes and affirms the importance of family as the foundation of Canadian society and that nothing in this act alters its fundamental role in society".
In fact the Supreme Court of Canada in the Mossop case rejected claims that the term "family status" in the Canadian Human Rights Act includes couples of the same sex. This was the decision of the court then and remains the law now. It is good law that I agree with.
It does not condone nor condemn sexual orientation, neither homosexuality nor heterosexuality. It does not extend same sex benefits to partners of gays and lesbians. Again the Supreme Court of Canada in the Egan case refused to support the extension of pension benefits to same sex partners in its decision that the Old Age Security Act does not violate the charter by defining spouse to apply only to couples of the opposite sex.
It does not legitimize nor legalize pedophilia, which is a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada, whether the perpetrator is heterosexual or homosexual and is not a matter of sexual orientation.
As mentioned, I also took note of submissions by the witnesses before the human rights committee which coloured an overriding element of this debate, the human element. I listened to the opinions of psychiatrists who confirmed that a homosexual orientation was not learned or influenced behaviour but set in the womb by the mysteries of conception and fetal development. I listened to a young female who stood in the top five percentile of the officer rank only to be honourably discharged from the Canadian Armed Forces solely because she was a lesbian.
There was the love of mothers of gay and lesbian children all of whom struggled with their child's sexual orientation, fear, societal rejection and persecution and ultimately acceptance and peace, as well as the wasteful suicides of the many who did not. There were comments and support by the Ottawa-Carleton regional police chief and two officers from the bias crime units who denounced discrimination, intolerance and hate. There were the representations of various religious groups who came down forcefully and convincingly on both sides of the argument.
It is interesting that those who opposed the legislation for religious reasons adamantly affirmed their abhorrence for discrimination but feared the slippery slope which they felt the legislation could lead to. Am I to vote against the basic fundamental human right on fears that it may lead to something else? Is this correct, is this right, especially when one notes the familial interpretation of our courts to date?
I also wish to send a message to members of the homosexual community cautioning them not to chortle with glee on the passage of this legislation. I strongly support the traditional family and heterosexual spouses. I strongly oppose same sex marriages, adoption or measures that advocate a homosexual lifestyle and would vote against legislative initiatives in this regard. Bill C-33 does not fall in this category.
Bill C-33 is not a gay rights bill as its opponents and the media delight in its reference. It is a human rights bill, pure and simple.
Bill C-33 is not about special rights for anyone. It is about equal rights for everyone. All Canadians have a fundamental right to be free from discrimination. It is not enough to be against discrimination. We must act to prevent discrimination.
Let me bring this discussion to a personal level. What parent could argue that a son or daughter who is gay or lesbian should have less protection from workplace discrimination or less access to services than anyone else? Not this parent of five children.
It is often said that a society is judged by how the majority treats its minorities. Canada's world renowned and admirable human rights record speaks volumes of who we are as a people. Bigotry cannot be changed overnight. We must educate, we must learn. The objective of this legislation is to end discrimination, nothing more and nothing less. In all good conscience, who could not support this objective?