House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was amendment.


Canadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 1996 / 3:20 p.m.

Cape Breton Highlands—Canso Nova Scotia


Francis Leblanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I will pick up my remarks where I left off this morning. Before question period I was in the process of saying that Bill C-33 is not about homosexual unions. It is not about same sex benefits. It is not even about sex. It is about human rights.

Bill C-33 advances the moral proposition that it is a violation of fundamental human rights to deny a person access to services or to discriminate against someone in terms of employment purely on the basis of their sexual orientation. Indeed Bill C-33 does not even advance that proposition. It merely expresses in federal law what already is recognized by the courts and in most provincial human rights legislation.

The legislation does not confer special rights on gays and lesbians any more than including religion as a prohibited ground for discrimination confers special rights on Catholics for example.

It is merely in place to prevent discrimination on these grounds. If discrimination does not take place, then the law need not be applied. Unfortunately there is far too much evidence that discrimination against gays and lesbians does take place in our society.

Those who would oppose this bill for whatever purpose need to confront the moral question: Is it morally acceptable to discriminate against someone because he or she is a homosexual? If so, what is the acceptable form and extent of the discrimination? Is it putting employees in the back of the shop? Is it refusing services to them? Is it by a sign in the window that says no gays need apply? These are the questions that need to be asked.

Those are the same questions which might in another time and another place have been asked where the word "homosexual" was replaced by the words "Jew" or "black". If one follows the logic of those questions, one leads quickly down the dark road of intolerance. These questions will lead us down that road of intolerance if we are not prepared to confront them.

For example, yesterday a member from Manitoba referred to legislation in Canada taking us toward societies like Liberia or Zambia with violence and social disorder. He attributed that in some way to the provision to prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians.

In all sincerity I do not believe that Canadians in 1996 want their government and their Parliament to go down that road. This is the process of reflection which leads me to support this legislation.

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3:25 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, it has been very difficult to get up on this matter today. Time allocation has made it such that those members who wish to address this are having great difficulty in doing so. I would like to make two comments in regard to what the member and other members have said today.

This morning the Bloc member of Parliament for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve gave an example of a church in Quebec that refused a group which openly promoted homosexuality the use of its facilities. My understanding, at least through the translator, is that he felt churches should not be allowed to exercise this choice.

What rights do churches have? One of the points we as Reformers have been making is precisely that this amendment will infringe on the rights of other groups to speak out on ethical moral issues. Will they be able to choose whom they associate with? There is a moral element to this issue. Will churches be able to make these moral judgments after this legislation is passed? The fundamental question is: Where do we get our values from?

Does the government have an ulterior motive in all of this? The questions we have asked have revealed that we are not opposed to sexual orientation in the sense that it would prevent discrimination. We are opposed to all the other things this opens the door to.

Homosexuals are now given as much protection as everyone else. We do not want to discriminate. But because none of the amendments that we proposed were approved, we have to wonder if there is a hidden agenda. Are there ulterior motives?

At second reading we approved in principle that we are opposed to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. I would like all members to consider how they are going to vote at third reading stage. We really have a choice. In light of the fact that none of the amendments were accepted, I hope that all members will seriously consider what we are doing when we include this in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Many many people in this country are gravely concerned as to what this may do to churches, educational institutions or family life. If the member has any comments in regard to that I welcome them. Those are our basic concerns.

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3:25 p.m.


Francis Leblanc Liberal Cape Breton Highlands—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, there are good sound legal reasons why each of the amendments was not accepted. The reasons differ with each amendment.

The problem with the member's question and the line of inquiry he is opening up and the attack which has been made on this legislation is that the member is not dealing with the legislation. The member is dealing with hypotheses, projections of what might occur in other legislation if this legislation is passed. He says, quite emphatically, that if the Canadian human rights law is changed by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, he is not opposed to that. That is what the Canadian human rights law that we are amending deals with in this instance.

The Criminal Code, the charter of rights and freedoms, all of the other laws that are hypothetically raised as spectres that will happen if this change is made are totally irrelevant to the legislation that we are debating today.

If there has to be a change made in the future to some other law to deal with concerns such as the one the member has raised, those laws will have to be debated in Parliament. If they are debated in Parliament then the views of all sides of the House will be raised in connection with those laws.

However, to raise all these hypothetical scenarios which have nothing to do with this law, as the member admits, is again the fear-mongering which has been taking place in order to confuse Canadians who are seriously considering the ethical and human rights questions which are directly related to this legislation. That

is a dangerous line of inquiry. The issue is too important to be dealt with in this very fuzzy fashion, if I might use that term.

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3:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jackson)

The hon. member for Yorkton-Melville. I want to remind the hon. member that there is another four minutes for questions so if he wants an answer he should make sure his question is short.

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3:30 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, the point that we have been trying to make all along in this debate is that these people are already protected under the law. We do not have to create another category for this.

If what the member is saying has any credibility, if this is an important issue, why is it being pushed through the House in eight or nine days? If all of these repercussions need to be addressed why is debate being limited? That flies in the face of what he is saying, which is that in a democratic institution all of these things should be fully examined to see what the repercussions are and to assure people that there is not a hidden agenda. Some documents have already been uncovered to show that there are other things that will take place. Probably 43 other acts will be amended because of this.

If people have concerns in this area why in the world is this bill being pushed through without debate? That really contradicts what the member is saying in regard to the concerns that people have.

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3:30 p.m.


Francis Leblanc Liberal Cape Breton Highlands—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, the debate on this issue did not start with this legislation a couple of weeks ago. It has been going on for years. The same debate has gone on in the passage of provincial legislation which was put in place going back to the 1970s. It is a debate which has been taking place for a long time and is ongoing.

The member makes a point about us ramming this through the House and about the 43 other laws that will be changed. The bill is very simple and straightforward. If there are laws which need to be amended they will have to be brought before the House. Then members will have an opportunity to debate those changes.

However, this is a very simple and straightforward bill which amends one particular law in a very precise way.

Again, to extrapolate all of these hypothetical scenarios is not faithful to the legislative process the House is engaged in.

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3:30 p.m.


Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, this debate has stirred many emotions. Many people have said some pretty outrageous things throughout it in the Chamber and elsewhere.

All members have an obligation to remember that people are listening, that we have staff who support us who are affected by our words. Canadians have been hurt by some things that have been said in the House. Many apocalyptic predictions of what would occur if we passed this bill have been presented.

I suggest to members that in spite of our inflated views of ourselves and our power here, we cannot destroy families. Through wars, plagues, famines, through all of history, families have survived. It is important to think about what would occur if we do not pass this bill.

I want to point out what Bill C-33 is not. It does not deal with marriage or adoption. It does not apply to religious organizations and their teachings. They are not under federal jurisdiction. It does not deal with same sex benefits. It does not give heterosexuals the right to have sex with minors. It is not about special rights.

Human rights are inherent. They are an integral part of human beings. Our laws, our legal framework, the way we establish our country should reflect this. We recognize as Canadians that it is wrong to discriminate against women, that it is wrong to discriminate against Catholics. Yet we must also recognize that if people are gay or lesbian, problems exist for them in Canada. In the provision of goods and services and employment, discrimination is taking place.

In 1985 an all-party House of Commons committee unanimously passed a resolution that this amendment should be made. Eleven years later, we are still at this point. It is not in effect for people in Canada. I commend the minister for his courage in putting this on the table now.

Canadians say that discrimination should not occur, that gays and lesbians should not be denied promotions, that heterosexuals should not be denied jobs, that it is wrong to discriminate. They also say they know people who have been discriminated against: fathers, brothers, daughters.

We know, for instance, that some youths in Canada engage in an activity known as the game, an activity that causes them to seek out homosexuals and beat them up. Is that okay in Canada? Do members agree with that?

Police in Canada have hate crime units. In Ottawa in the last two years, 387 cases of hate based crime have occurred; 45 of them were sexually oriented. We can all stand up and say that it is wrong for the 215 assault cases that were race related. It is is even easier to say it was wrong for the 210 cases which were based on religion. It is very wrong and we do not accept it.

It is more challenging somehow for us to stand and be counted on the crimes related to hatred against gays and lesbians. In fact,

many MPs voted for Bill C-41. They stood up for people who were beaten up, but somehow they cannot support this bill. I believe that it is through intolerance in employment and other places that we communicate as a society that we accept violence against fellow citizens.

What will we say if we do not pass this bill, if we do not support the inclusion of sexual orientation? I would remind all colleagues that we all have a gender, we all have a race, we all have a religion, we all have a marital status and most importantly, we all have sexual orientation. Including sexual orientation in this provision is not encouraging a lifestyle. That is as absurd as suggesting that the inclusion of religion encourages people to become Greek Orthodox or that including gender would encourage men to suddenly want to become women.

If we do not pass this bill we would be saying that as a nation we accept that discrimination on certain grounds is okay. We would be saying that certain Canadians, citizens who pay their taxes, raise healthy families, go to places of worship, work for charities, are somehow not equal to the rest of us who are straight.

We would be saying to parents and grandparents that their kids are not equal, that their son or daughter does not deserve to be judged on skill, education, ability to fly a plane or to handle bank transactions. We would be saying that their son or daughter deserves to be judged solely on their perceived sexual orientation.

Do not all Canadians, no matter what region they live in, no matter which province, no matter how they vote in referendums, agree that they share a value of tolerance? Is there not a need to stand up and give an important message to Canadians on this front?

After listening to this debate I am sure there exists a need. People who should know a heck of a lot better. Elected officials from the third party, in particular, seem unaware that in seven provinces and one territory, over 90 per cent of the Canadian population, it is already illegal to send someone to the back of the shop and it is already illegal to fire them on the basis of colour, religion or sexual orientation.

The member for Nanaimo-Cowichan should know better. To the member for Lisgar-Marquette, my god, suggesting that we are inciting civil war like that in Liberia and Zambia, it is insane. It does not make any sense and frankly it is a disservice to the people in Liberia and Zambia for what they are going through.

After listening to this debate I am positive that amendment is necessary and is necessary now. We can waste no more time. It is a matter of basic human rights, rights that all of us have the minute we are born. All Canadians deserve this law today for their children and grandchildren.

Tolerance or values are not something of leisure or of convenience. We are all called on to stand up for people, to stand up for the people no one else seems willing to stand up for. It is a challenge I offer all members of this House.

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3:40 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to make a few remarks here and I thank my colleague for her remarks.

A few days ago the member for Halifax made this statement with respect to the amendments brought by members. She said those amendments "involved fearmongering, intolerant and un-Canadian sentiments".

The member for Cape Breton Highlands-Canso again used the word fearmongering in connection with the amendments that were brought by his colleagues a few days ago and defeated yesterday.

I was one of those members who brought an amendment forward and I wish my colleagues to know that it was not un-Canadian, it was not as a result of fearmongering. I brought the amendment forward because I believe that some Canadians are genuinely concerned about Bill C-33, not because they are against discrimination, but because Bill C-33 is vague and imprecise in its application.

Canadians do not know what the impact will be. The Minister of Justice has assured us the bill is designed to be limited to the workplace but there is a genuine concern among many Canadians that it may have impact in interpretations that pertain to the definition of family and marital status in the context of same sex relationships and same sex benefits.

The reason for my amendment, and the amendments of several other members on both sides, was to try to draw parameters around the bill in the precise manner that the Minister of Justice had proposed. He had said that the bill should apply to discrimination in the workplace. I think 90 per cent of all Canadians would agree with him that this is a very good thing.

I can assure the House that if I was confident the bill did apply only to discrimination in the workplace then I would support it with all my heart. I am afraid for some reason, and I do not know why there has been a reluctance on the part of the government to do what it so easily can do, that is to put in a few phrases which simply state that this bill is not to be taken in any context that pertains to the redefinition of family, marital status or anything to do with same sex relationships. This could have been done. This was in the amendments that were put forward and all were defeated in the House.

I would ask the member for Burlington who spoke very well and I would agree with her that we should deplore any form of discrimination in the workplace pertaining to sexual orientation.

Does she not feel that the government could have moved so much further forward, could have answered so many of the worries of Canadians if only it had defined a little bit more precisely what it means by family and to put it in the body of a statute rather than to leave it has it is.

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3:40 p.m.


Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, if we were to ask any person in this room to identify who their family is, they would have absolutely no problem in describing those people who make up their family.

All of us would have a different definition. All of us would know very well what we meant, who those people are. Yet every day I am told by people that I do not have a family because I do not have children and I do not have a spouse.

People want to define traditional family or family, that it is heterosexual, with two children or three children. I do not fit that description because I do not have a spouse and I do not have children.

I did not appear on earth all of a sudden. I have a family. I have parents. I have brothers and sisters. I have five nieces. I have friends. I have a family. I will continue to have those aunts, uncles and cousins who make up my family.

Should we get into this ridiculous game of trying to make some definition that fits everybody? One definition is that it must be heterosexual. If I had only my mother and my niece in my family, would we somehow not be a family because we were all female?

Is it our business who is sleeping in which rooms in a home? When it comes to children, yes. When it comes to illegal activity, yes. Issues of who are strong economic units, of who support each other in other ways, are not for the House to decide.

Canadians know what a family is. Everyone in this room could define family. I have a family.

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3:45 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate at third reading on Bill C-33, whose purpose is to add sexual orientation to the prohibited grounds of discrimination listed in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

I am reiterating the purpose of this bill because some of the speeches in this House would suggest a totally different purpose. In fact, this bill is aimed at including another reason not to discriminate. The Canadian Human Rights Act will now prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The truth is that Canada is way behind. That is the truth. What is outrageous in all this is that Canada is lagging behind. The rights and freedoms charter adopted by Quebec in 1977-when the Canadian Human Rights Act was passed-already prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. Since then, seven other provinces have included similar provisions in their legislation.

Were moral and family values in those provinces destroyed? Of course not. As the Canadian Human Rights Commission said, it is worthwhile and necessary to remind people year after year that sexual orientation should be included among the prohibited grounds of discrimination.

It must be kept in mind that, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born equal in rights. During an interview on "Morningside" on March 19, 1996, Max Yalden said this: "All I am saying is that it must be done". That was before the government made its decision. He added: "The courts have said that it must be done. In some countries to which we like to compare ourselves, it has already been done. The government now in office-he gave this interview before the bill wastabled-and its predecessors promised to do so. What we are saying is that the time has come to act".

It is worthwhile to go over the prohibited grounds of discrimination listed in the act. There is race. Yet, precisely because prejudices are so deeply ingrained, we must help society become more tolerant. A good way to help society become more tolerant is to pass legislation clearly prohibiting discrimination based on race.

Then there is national or ethnic origin. I could remind the House that French-Canadians have themselves experienced discrimination first hand. I could say they are still experiencing it but, to help Canadian society become more tolerant, we specified in the charter that this is a prohibited ground of discrimination.

I now move on to colour, religion, age and sex. Women know that the fight is not over, that the real conditions needed to achieve equality are not all there. But where would we be if the Canadian legislation did not prohibit discrimination based on sex? Yet, as we know, it is not because this provision exists that we have all the conditions needed to achieve economic equality. We see it in all kinds of areas.

I continue with marital status. I remember when being divorced used to arouse strong prejudices. It has now become a prohibited ground of discrimination. It is prohibited to discriminate against someone based on marital status, and that is a good thing. Does this mean that, in all families, the time when divorced people were treated differently is over? No, it is not over.

However, we as a society are saying it is prohibited to refuse to hire someone because he or she is divorced. The same goes for family status, conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted and, yes, disability, because some people may look

with contempt at those with disabilities. Does this mean that all disabilities will be overlooked, that those having to live with disabilities will enjoy the conditions needed to achieve equality? No.

The truth is that societies are very slow to learn tolerance and that, in some cases, a tolerance that had been taken for granted may not be so deeply entrenched.

In eight provinces-in Quebec since 1977-sexual orientation is listed among the prohibited grounds of discrimination. Again, the time has come for Canada to get in step with the provinces, with other countries, with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. That is the real issue.

I was disturbed to see that, until very recently, this government had not announced its intention to act on a bona fide promise.

I myself heard the Minister of Justice state in this House that the government had many priorities and that it was not sure that he could act on this commitment before the next election.

I wonder why the government rushed in as it did, unannounced, with this long awaited and hoped for bill, a bill which only brings federal legislation in line with that of the majority of provinces. Why did this bill appear all of a sudden, out of the blue, at a time when the government was in big trouble because of its own turpitude and about to lose face completely? It zoomed through second reading, report stage, third reading and time allocation.

I figure that the government extricated itself from of a difficult situation by turning the tables on us. But I do not want it to get off so lightly. I am pleased to speak on this motion. I think that Canada is catching up. I am saddened however by statements I have heard in this House, because I like to think of Canadian society as a tolerant society. But some of the statements made in this House, even from members opposite, do not exactly reflect tolerance.

I think that our friends on the government side, who do not take lightly-and neither do I-the statements made by our Reformer friends, should turn their guns on those members of their own party who often made much more devastating remarks than the Reformers, and that takes some doing. Take for example the hon. member for Central Nova, whom I have heard express the view that homosexuality was unnatural.

It is indeed urgent that this motion be agreed to. It is urgent that we pass this motion whose sole purpose is to help society develop the tolerance required. I have heard concerns expressed about the family. I failed to see the connection between these concerns and the bill itself, which explicitly prohibits discrimination.

Would the opposite view be to regard as legal discriminating against people in the workplace on the grounds that they are gays or lesbians? Because it is important to see in what context these provisions will actually and effectively be applied.

As I said earlier, never in the 20 years since 1977 that we, in Quebec, have been governed by such a provision have I noticed any erosion of the family, but I did see it restructure. The fact is that the family is changing. I for one think that the family has been changing to keep up with economic and social changes for centuries. It adjusted to evolving economic and social conditions and also-I guess I can fit religion in here-to emerging ideologies and behaviours. The family changed as required.

The industrial revolution drove many people away from the land and into the cities. Large rural families not only reflected a respect for religion but a need for a small workforce on the farm. When families moved into the cities, their structure underwent significant changes.

Women started going to work, not because of a sudden urge to work in a factory but, on the contrary, because the only work available to them was, in most cases, a hard and thankless job that slowly killed them.

The family structure changed along with economic and social conditions. It continues to change. I have a great deal of hope in the future, but I know one thing: it is very hard to classify the family right now. I went to the trouble of looking at the amendments made and I noticed that they overlooked what I think real families are, families whose members are responsible and support each other, families whose members love children, the sick and the elderly, and care for them.

Even in the catholic religion-I taught religion a long time ago-the marriage is a sacrament involving two people who willingly want to get married. The Church is only a witness to that union. More than the requirements of the state, what really matters in a family is the will of its members to assume a responsibility together.

It is too soon to put a label on a changing structure. Rather, we must look at the needs. As far as I am concerned, the needs of children must have priority. When these needs are met, even if it is not in a traditional family, it is great for children.

If we are to ensure tolerance in our society, Canada must urgently send a signal that it is not appropriate to discriminate against someone on the basis of his or her sexual orientation. This is not the place to analyze the roots of homosexuality or lesbianism. However, it is extremely important to understand that it is a reality, that we are talking about honest and respectable citizens who, like all other members of society, must abide by the same moral principles.

Sexual orientation is a fact of life. It has always existed and it has nothing to do with pedophilia. Nothing at all. Pedophilia is a deviation.

Sexual orientation is a fact that, when people become aware of it at a certain age, may be disturbing. They may decide, in some cases, to acknowledge it, and, in others, not. But it is a fact.

So is Canada, or is it not, going to continue to fail to recognize the rights of those who are faced with this fact, whatever their age?

I would have preferred to see the party in power introduce Bill C-33 deliberately and voluntarily as part of its legislative agenda, rather than in reaction to a crisis, in order to take the heat off, to move a problem to the back burner. But I am nonetheless pleased that Canada is finally moving with the times.

It remains only to say that all those who are worried should not be, because it does not follow that because we are going to add this category to the Canadian Human Rights Act that, any more than in the case of sex, for example, either mentalities or economic and social conditions are going to change immediately. No, it is a signal that the country is sending, and it must be an urgent one, it seems to me, and it must be clear.

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4:05 p.m.


Janko Peric Liberal Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of my colleague from Mercier. I agree with her that we are all born equally as humans. Would the hon. member agree with me that there should have one law to protect all humans equally regardless of what or who they are?

I believe that a great majority of Canadians are against discrimination, especially Canadians from my riding of Cambridge. They are against discrimination. I am against discrimination. I see a human being as a human being. In dividing Canadian society into small self-interest groups we are discriminating against somebody else.

I believe a great majority of Canadians have a right to be concerned. What is going to happen to this country? This country has been built by the traditional family. I believe that in the future Canada will be built even better and stronger with the same values without any discrimination.

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4:05 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, my answer will deal with two things. The first is that, if, since probably after the second world war, a growing movement, which began earlier, but a growing movement in favour of the explicit recognition in the laws of countries that discrimination against certain groups should be prohibited, won over governments, it was because this objective, this ideal of equality between all men is a difficult objective to attain. It is difficult to attain even between two people who love each other. So, it is a difficult objective to attain, and it is something that must be examined: systemic discrimination does exist.

There are groups that have been the target of discrimination over the years, and the fact that we talked about it, the fact that discrimination was prohibited in law helped. I am not saying that this completely ended discrimination, but, as I said earlier in my speech, I think it is a signal that each society sends. It is a signal of tolerance.

Sometimes this signal is expressed in a negative way, by saying that we must not discriminate. It must be admitted that it is easy, in a group, to make fun of someone else, but, as a society, we must tell ourselves: "No, we must not do that". Essentially, what you are seeing is the differences that have been expressed.

No, this is not enough. An objective is necessary, but we must recognize that there is systemic discrimination, and governments cannot allow themselves or the people they govern to discriminate against groups that are the target of systemic discrimination.

I would add something about fear. This prohibited ground of discrimination is to be found in eight provinces; I have not calculated the percentage of the Canadian population subject to provincial legislation prohibiting such discrimination. Just tell me this: Since it entered provincial legislation, have the churches collapsed? Of course not. Has it meant the end of discrimination within couples? No. But again, it is a signal we are sending, and I think that Canada, which, as a country, is lagging behind the provinces, must send this signal.

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4:10 p.m.


Roseanne Skoke Liberal Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member raised the issue of religion in her speech. Therefore, I would like to address that issue.

I draw to the attention of the hon. member that in Hansard on April 30 the Minister of Justice stated: This bill is fundamentally consistent with the most basic teachings of religion''. He went on to state that he was a Roman Catholic:I developed a deep respect for the tenets of the Catholic faith. I suggest this amendment and the action it constitutes is completely consistent with those tenets''.

It is my position that the Minister of Justice has exceeded his authority by speaking on behalf of the church. I would like to ask the hon. member, was the Minister of Justice speaking on behalf of the church in the province of Quebec?

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4:10 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will say to her that I do not think so, but there are a number of churches in Canada. Not all churches approach these questions the same way. There are churches that accept divorce, others, like the Catholic church have a hard time coming to terms with it, even if church members sometimes try to make the church change.

While I was professor of religion, I developed an interest in the meaning of words. The word for church in French, "église" can mean two things: ecclesia , in latin, which means hierarchy, but it can also mean the faithful. Over the years, often, the hierarchy has codified ethics and the means to getting to heaven. However, sometimes people in church, whatever they may have been, have tried to move things along, and Catholic church councils and the equivalent in other churches have changed that.

On this point, I will conclude with something the former premier of Quebec, Jacques Parizeau, said about free choice. He said that the religion of some must not become the law for others.

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4:10 p.m.


Tom Wappel Liberal Scarborough West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Mercier spoke about how opposed she is to discrimination, and how opposed we all are to discrimination.

One of the categories the hon. member mentioned in terms of discrimination and how bad it is, was age. She specifically indicated that there should be no discrimination on the basis of age. I hope she agrees with me.

I read recently that the province of Quebec was one of the first provinces to amend its human rights code to remove permission to discriminate on the basis of age, which is euphemistically known as the age of retirement.

Many provinces permit discrimination on the basis of age. In other words, that a person can be fired when they are 65 is discrimination on the basis of age. I have not heard many people say they are against that, but the province of Quebec eliminated that form of discrimination.

The new premier of the province of Quebec has decided that for economic reasons he may reintroduce age discrimination. Do the Bloc Quebecois and the hon. member for Mercier agree with the premier of Quebec that there should be discrimination on the basis of age?

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4:15 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I remember the amendment. People were stopped from continuing to work when they reached age 65, and it was under René Lévesque that this barrier was lifted.

Canadian law provides that a distinction on this basis is prohibited. You will understand as I do, however, that, in the case of employment, practical consideration must be given to the situations of young people and of people who are aging.

I am sure the situation of young people today, in 1996, is not what it was in 1985. The demographic situation, the economic situation and rapidly changing technology make the situation difficult today for young people-I have three children. I think the government is trying to create a balance in employment terms between the right of the young people to have a job and the right of the aging population, which includes me, to continue-

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4:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Unfortunately, the member's time has expired.

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4:15 p.m.


Dianne Brushett Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for London West.

There are two primary ways Canadians are protected from discrimination at the federal level, the charter of rights and freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act. Bill C-33 amends the human rights act by adding the words sexual orientation as well as a preamble to the act.

The purpose of this act is to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and the provision of goods and services in federally regulated businesses. The act lists grounds or characteristics of discrimination that are against the law.

For two weeks I have been struggling with this bill. I have listened to many debates and I have asked many questions. Since I have no legal background, I must trust the judgment of those who do.

I was quite satisfied last week when the Minister of Justice included the preamble which recognizes the importance of family. However, I have been advised that a preamble preceding the body of legislation carries no weight in a court judgment. Therefore the preamble does not provide the level of confidence in the legislation I had hoped for.

In no way do I endorse discrimination. It is my belief that the human dignity and respect of all people goes far beyond the level of debate we can bring to the House.

I also believe no one has the right to judge the beliefs or lifestyle of another. A Canadian is a Canadian regardless of race, religion, gender, language or sexual orientation. They should be treated with the dignity and respect that all people deserve.

Last Saturday I spoke at an event to promote racial unity held in Truro .In my constituency office in a very prominent place over my desk hangs an award presented by the local Baha'i community. It acknowledges my efforts to promote racial unity and the oneness of mankind. I value that plaque as the greatest recognition ever bestowed on me.

A modern multicultural country like Canada, the best country in the world in which to live, has no need for lists or categories that prohibit discrimination. It is my belief that Canada needs a new

human rights act, an act which states that discrimination will not be tolerated in Canada and that every person is equal under the law.

Lists are a thing of the past. They take us back to the 1960s and 1970s. Lists themselves inadvertently create discrimination.

Already I have constituents asking me to include more words in the list, words such as poverty. Is there anyone who would vote against discrimination because a child is poor? I think not. I have constituents who would feel more confident about the human rights act if we added the words HIV positive to the list as a prohibited ground for discrimination.

This country has progressed far beyond the need for lists. Lists are never ending. As most people assume, a human rights act must protect everyone. It must be all inclusive, something that a list or a category will never be. Categorizing Canadians and pitting one group against another will not protect citizens against discrimination but will instead promote divisiveness, anger and resentment.

We must work toward better legislation that encompasses all citizens equally and ensures individuals are judged on their merits and not by the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation.

My riding of Cumberland-Colchester is a large rural riding in northern Nova Scotia. Four Fathers of Confederation were from this area; some claim five because an extra one lived there sometime. The constituents in this riding have expressed their views on virtually every piece of legislation before the House, and Bill C-33 is no exception.

In their first breath, many constituents tell me there should be no discrimination against anyone for any reason. In their second breath, they tell me all legislation must protect traditional family values. I am the only voice these taxpayers have. There is no paid lobby group representing them and very few of them belong to a national organization with political influence.

I was elected by these people who have reservations that with the passage of Bill C-33 their traditional family values will be eroded. There is a fear that courts in the future may interpret Bill C-33 differently from what is intended today.

It is naive to believe this legislation will not be tested by the courts to define broader implications of the words sexual orientation. The fear is that sexual orientation, to be included in the act as a prohibited ground of discrimination, will be used by the courts to alter the traditional meaning of family.

A new human rights act which would clearly protect every person from discrimination yet leave no room for broad interpretation by the courts would be more appropriate legislation at this time.

I praise the Prime Minister for his wisdom, for his love of this country and for his immense capacity to care about people. He has given his team a free vote on this bill. He understands the diverse geography of Canada as well as the diversity of its people. Because he has great confidence in the future of the country and because of his great respect for the dignity of all people, he is deserving of the respect I give to him in the House today.

In the final hour of this debate, because this legislation is not constructed in a manner that serves society without creating mistrust and fear, I cannot endorse it.

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4:25 p.m.


Dan McTeague Liberal Ontario, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a few very short questions. I would like to congratulate the hon. member from Nova Scotia who just spoke.

I think that her comments and the way she came to the conclusion that she should not support this bill reflect very well the concerns most Canadians have.

The recognition that the bill has only had 10 days to be deliberated on, the recognition that there seems to be day in, day out new evidence which demonstrates the bill is more than simply an honourable question of removing discrimination begs the question that the legislation may at some point open the door to something which very few members of Parliament would support.

Would the hon. member agree with the position taken by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops? Its members are puzzled by the justice minister's presentation at second reading that somehow the Catholic church supports the bill.

Could she comment on the statement that they are generally concerned that a major redefinition of spouse and marital status may result from an otherwise worthy initiative aimed at protecting individuals who have historically suffered unjust discrimination?

If there is to be such a massive social reconfiguration and change in public policy, it should happen only after widespread and meaningful consultation.

Will the hon. member respond to what the bishops have had to say about this matter?

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4:25 p.m.


Dianne Brushett Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am here to consider legislation. The church has a role in society and we as members of Parliament have been elected to serve all people in the country as fairly and with as much human dignity as possible. I prefer not to comment on the question because it is not part of my decision.

My decision was to look at the legislation, to see its value to society, to all people. I have a deep sense in my heart. I want to vote for the bill because I do not want to see discrimination. At the same time, I do not want to be part of legislation which I feel is not

progressive, not part of what will take this great country into the 21st century.

I have been before young people in high schools. They are so wise, as most young people across the country are. They think this legislation is almost obsolete at a time when our country is moving forward. We are all people in this great multicultural country with race and language differences. This is Canada. Let us speak for all people.

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4:25 p.m.

London West Ontario


Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, it is with a sense of great responsibility that I speak at third reading of Bill C-33, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The bill amends the act to include sexual orientation among prohibited grounds of discrimination. Gay and lesbian Canadians will be protected from discrimination in the provision of goods and services by the federal government and by federally regulated businesses such as banks and airlines. Canadians working in all areas of federal jurisdiction will henceforth be protected from homophobia in the workplace.

Bill C-33 covers all sexual orientations, including heterosexuality and bisexuality. However, it is fair to say that discrimination in Canada is other than against heterosexuals.

I became actively involved in federal politics in the late 1970s and this issue has been part of my understanding of the protection of minorities throughout my entire political career.

In 1977 Quebec led Canadian provinces in being the first to prohibit discrimination the basis of sexual orientation. In 1978 the Liberal Party of Canada resolved to make the same amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act. In 1979 and every year since the Canadian Human Rights Commission has recommended that this amendment be passed.

In 1985 an all-party committee of the House unanimously endorsed the amendment which affirmed the will of Canadians to see justice done in this matter. One after the other, provinces were amending their own human rights laws to include sexual orientation. Now eight provinces and territories provide this protection to their citizens.

In 1995 a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the equality guarantees in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms extend to sexual orientation. Ontario's highest court had held in 1992 that the Canadian Human Rights Act was unconstitutional because it did not expressly include sexual orientation. Since then, the act has been deemed to include those words. And so the government is acting now to make the declared law explicit.

That is the legal and political history of an important period in the advancement of human rights in this country. But there is a parallel history, a social and deeply personal one for many Canadians which has accompanied this legislative progress. It is a history of increasing tolerance, founded in understanding, in humble recognition of our differences, in simple neighbourliness, decency and dignity.

As Canadians, we are blessed to live in one of the most tolerant and peaceful societies on earth. Who in Canada is not proud of the free, open and inclusive society we have built for ourselves? Still every day we witness bias, violence and prejudice. We read about it in the newspapers and view it on the television. Too many Canadians in all walks of life have suffered it firsthand, sometimes in subtle ways and other times in ways that are not subtle in the least, but coarse, insulting and demeaning.

As a parliamentarian I meet many people, many very good people so that when I suddenly hear bigoted words being voiced, I can only shake my head in sadness and wonder where they come from. My own view is that they are born of ignorance and that close cousin of ignorance, fear.

I find this view confirmed by the studies of Canadian attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. In a national Angus Reid poll conducted in 1993 fully two-thirds of Canadians supported amending the act to include sexual orientation. In 1994, Angus Reid examined Canadian public opinion regarding workplace discrimination. I was pleased to find evidence there of Canadians' profound understanding of the prejudice gay men and lesbians have to live with every day.

A couple of weeks ago another poll confirmed that 60 per cent of Canadians supported the amendment. There has never been a published poll showing that a majority of Canadians oppose such an amendment.

Let me put these numbers on the record because I think they are important. Eight out of 10 Canadians believe that gay men and lesbians encounter discrimination in the workplace and 4 out of 10 describe this discrimination as substantial. Typically, Canadians see this discrimination take the form of both personal hostility and damage to the victim's career. Happily one of two Canadians say that if they witnessed workplace discrimination of this kind they would speak out on behalf of the victim. In our personal relationships, every third Canadian has a gay or lesbian friend, one in four of us work with gay people, and one in ten enjoy their love and companionship as family members.

When we see these numbers we should remember that many gay men and lesbians often feel bound to conceal their sexual orientation in order to protect themselves from the very real possibility of insult and injury.

In summary, the Angus Reid report states that 57 per cent of Canadians have at least one gay or lesbian friend, family member or colleague. It concludes that the most supportive attitudes are exhibited by those segments of the population who are relatively more likely to have a homosexual friend, co-worker or family member.

In the second reading debate on this bill a member of the Reform Party asked whether Bill C-33 would express the wishes of a fully informed Canadian public. I submit that the Angus Reid report, which the bill's opponents have studiously ignored, answers the member's question. The report proves that Canadians are already well informed about the discrimination which gay men and lesbians experience every day. It is precisely those Canadians, those who have the best and most direct information possible, who are the most supportive of this amendment.

As I said last week in the House, we are speaking here of our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters, our neighbours and our friends. Will those members who oppose this bill stand between Canadians and the anxious concern they feel for their fellow Canadians? Will they discount the tolerance and understanding that follow from personal knowledge of the people whom this amendment will benefit?

I reiterate, nearly all Canadian provinces have already enacted such legislation as have Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, France, Germany, The Netherlands and South Africa. Can this bill's opponents point to the dire consequences that have followed? They cannot.

Furthermore, the European community passed formal resolutions in 1994 calling for its member states to end discrimination based on sexual orientation. The United Nations human rights committee, the foremost monitor of human rights in the world, supports the inclusion of sexual orientation as a prohibited ground. The world has always looked to and respected Canada for its leadership on and protection of human rights.

The homophobia that has marred societies for centuries is being recognized for what it is: a pointless and vicious injustice.

In my own province, Ontario, the provincial human rights law has contained this protection for over 10 years and the sky has not fallen.

Some of the bill's opponents advocate stripping the act of the characteristics which it presently lists: race, national or ethnic origin, gender, colour, religion and so forth. They claim that this enumeration creates specially privileged minorities. It is bad logic and it is bad law. I also find it extremely disrespectful of the tragic historic realities that inspired the creation of human rights legislation everywhere. Behind that list, which they disparage, there stand millions of human beings who had those characteristics and who suffered bitterly for them.

To the member of the third party who asks: "When will the additions to the list end?" I say: "When will discrimination and injustice end?"

The courts have already said that the act includes protection for sexual orientation. Why not just leave it alone? Because here lies our parliamentary responsibility and accountability. Fundamental principles of equality must be articulated and clarified. This is not simply a matter of jurists knowing the rules. At the level of fundamental principles it is a matter of declaring in our own statutes, easily accessible to all Canadians, the ethical basis on which we found our society.

In this debate we have been reminded of the high proportion of gay and lesbian youth among the homeless on the streets of our large cities. What contributes to this? Arguably the abuse and rejection within their own families, the alienation from their peers, the heightened rates of suicide and substance abuse. There are studies which relate up to one-third of all teen suicide to sexual orientation conflict, a shocking and tragic toll.

A great fuss has been made about the possibility of the extension of same sex benefits flowing from this amendment, but the fact is that these benefits are already extended without compulsion of law. With little fuss, hundreds of Canadian organizations, large and small, have extended same sex benefits to their employees. In my riding of London West I can cite the examples of the London Life Insurance Company, the University of Western Ontario, the London Health Sciences Centre, the Toronto-Dominion Bank, the Bank of Nova Scotia, the Royal Bank, the Bank of Montreal, Fanshawe College, Canada Trust and the list goes on. Across the nation, hospitals, universities, colleges, municipalities, public utilities, community and social service organizations, private business, newspapers, crown corporations and churches have taken the step.

The government promised to work to safeguard and advance the nation's prosperity and security. Putting an end to the prejudice and violence which gay men and lesbians have long suffered is integral to that design and it has acted. Any sexual orientation should not be grounds for discrimination.

There is more at stake than the need to curtail long established habits of fear and discrimination against our fellow citizens, although that must be our first goal. Make no mistake, a failure to pass this amendment will help to entrench intolerance.

By repudiating-

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4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry. The member's time has expired.

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4:35 p.m.


John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I always thought that Parliament was here to lead and manage the country and demonstrate how we should move forward. However, the tone of the member's speech was that this House is following the court of Ontario which thinks it has written into our laws that sexual orientation is part of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Then she

went on to say how it has been done in other countries and how we have to follow. That is hardly what I would call leadership.

I would like to bring one point out quite clearly. There is another court in this country which is the appeal court of the province of Alberta. It is the highest court in that province. It is equal in jurisdiction to the court in Ontario to which the hon. member referred. It is one step below the supreme court of this country. It quite clearly said in a well-reasoned 86-page judgment it brought down two months ago that it is not the role of the courts to make law. There is one line in that long and well reasoned judgement to which all courts of the land should take heed. It stated that if the judiciary wants to privateer in the parliamentary ceiling it does so at its own risk. From there it went on to explain and expound the fact that the courts have no right to add and write into the law.

I would like to point out to the member who has just spoken that if she thinks that she draws the strength of her arguments from the fact that a court in Ontario said it should be written into the law, may I tell her quite explicitly and categorically that there is another court in this land that holds an opposite opinion.

I would suggest that the judgment by that court be debated and discussed in this House and given the attention that it merits before the government thinks it should introduce and pass this law.

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4:40 p.m.


Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to this question. I respect the opinions of other people in this House, but I am a lawyer by profession and the Vriend decision in Alberta recently added ambiguity at a court of appeal level.

The Ontario Court of Appeal in the Haig case did lead this court and did change the law. It ostensibly changed this as of 1992. That is when the federal human rights commission changed.

In May of last year, the Egan and Nesbitt decision in the Supreme Court of Canada said that what we are talking about today is to be included at the federal level.

I am saying to this member, this is why we are here. A person should not have to look to the courts. What we are doing here is changing the basic nature. We are saying that discrimination in the workplace, discrimination in services is wrong.

This is a statute, anti-discrimination. It is necessary because there are elements in our society, as the third party well knows, that would not have us do this. They think that it is okay. It is not okay.

I want to finish my speech and I will use this question-

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4:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent for the member to finish her speech?