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.