Mr. Speaker, we would not want to foster disunity in the government benches so I will proceed.
I rise to participate in the closing debate on the government's Bill C-33. In preparation for this debate my reading has included most of the speeches made by members on both sides of the House. I want to commend members for the sincerity and quality of their contributions. I particularly want to thank the members for Port Moody-Coquitlam and Edmonton Southwest for co-ordinating Reform's analysis of the bill and for the amendments that they have put forward to address its defects.
As debate winds down there is little I or anyone else can add at this stage to the discussion of the details of the bill. Therefore, I would like to focus on the bigger picture starting with its intent.
Discrimination has its roots in prejudice, in the tendency of the human heart to prejudge others on the basis of appearances or unfair or unreasonable criteria. A prejudice becomes discrimination when it expresses itself verbally in particular decisions or acts, including hiring and firing and providing or withholding services on the basis of prejudgment or unfair or unreasonable criteria.
I therefore wish to make clear at the outset that Reform supports the noble intention of this bill. We fervently desire, as do all members, a society free from prejudice and discrimination. Our commitment to this intention comes from two sources, from the Canadian people whom we endeavour to represent in this Chamber and from the principles of our party itself.
The foremost among the attributes that Canadians want reflected in our political leaders and institutions are integrity, accountability, freedom, equality and tolerance of differences. These are fundamental to the aspirations of Canadians to be one of the world's most democratic, just and pluralistic societies.
The principles of the Reform Party are equally clear on this subject. Our party affirms the equality of all Canadians in law, the fundamental importance of the individual and the right of individuals to be different from one another. Our party affirms the right of Canadians to be free from discrimination, hate mongering and intolerance on any basis.
It is because statements by several of our own members this week cast doubt on these commitments that I have had to take some extraordinary steps to reassure Canadians of our commitment. It is not all right for employers to fire an employee simply because an intolerant customer complains about their colour or lifestyle. It is not all right to justify and explain away discrimination or to imply that some Canadians have invited discrimination against themselves. These views are not consistent with the broad values of Canadians, with the broad values of Reformers or with the principles of the Reform Party, and I want that on record.
That being the case, why do the majority of Reformers oppose this bill in principle? It is first and foremost because we believe that its approach to attacking discrimination is wrong headed and ineffective.
The basic approach to preventing discrimination incorporated in the Canadian Human Rights Act, the act which this bill amends, is to define prohibited grounds of discrimination.
By section 16 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, what started out as categorizations of Canadians simply for the purpose of defining prohibited grounds of discrimination have become special entitlements for groups of disadvantaged individuals defined essentially in terms of their race, ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, et cetera, and if this bill were passed, sexual orientation.
I define this approach to dealing with discrimination and affirmative action as a special status approach. My basic objection to it is that it has not worked well and has some very negative consequences.
For 30 years Liberal governments in particular have taken this approach to combating discrimination. However, there is still all kinds of discrimination in this country, including systemic discrimination practised by the state under statutes like the Indian Act. One of the unfortunate side effects of this approach is that it requires and fosters this divisive categorization of Canadians to which I have referred.
Reformers want to explore. We do not profess to have all the answers but we want the justice department, the courts and this Parliament to explore whether or not there is a better approach to protecting minorities from discrimination and to providing special help to disadvantaged Canadians.
The approach we want explored is one that would base the entitlement to special help and protection not on personal characteristics or membership in a special group, but simply on the naked fact that those people are Canadians period, entitled to equality before the law. This is an equality approach to affirming rights and preventing discrimination. Its chief advocate in the federal field is the Reform Party of Canada. In my judgment it will lead to higher ground and better results than the tired old Liberal approach to dealing with discrimination, aboriginal policy, multicultural policy and national unity on the basis of special status.
Hon. members should ask: How do you protect someone from discrimination, let us say, in housing and accommodation, on the basis of equality rather than special status? This is the question Parliament should have been addressing in reference to this bill and has not. I would be pleased to enlarge on our answer to that question in questions and comments if someone would like to put
it. How do you protect someone from discrimination? My time is short so I will come back to that in questions and comments.
There is a second fundamental reason for having grave reservations about this bill and its implications. It is a reason that has been expressed by many on both sides of the House and that is its potential impact on the traditional family. Reform is committed by its founding principles to strengthening and protecting the family unit as essential to the well-being of individuals and society.
If Reformers and Canadians believed that this bill was a simple amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act with no future implications for the family, that is, if we could believe that it provides no grounds for the courts or the government to change the definition of the family, or to provide state sanction of same sex marriages, or the extension of spousal benefits to same sex couples, we would still oppose the bill but mainly on the grounds I have previously outlined. If however this bill is the first step toward these other changes in the status of the family or entitlement to benefits, then we and I believe the vast majority of Canadians do not want to start down that slippery slope.
I am well aware the minister has tried to assure the House that this is a stand alone amendment with no future implications for the family. However his assurances and arguments have failed to convince us that this is the case.
Government members defeated every amendment which would affirm that the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Canadian Human Rights Act would not redefine the terms of marriage, family or spouse in any act of Parliament. Government members defeated every amendment that would prevent follow up to this bill to extend spousal benefits to same sex couples or to include sexual orientation as a ground for affirmative action. The government opposed these amendments even when they were put forward by Liberal members.
The justice department's policy agenda dated March 8, which the justice minister was questioned on in the House yesterday, listed a series of initiatives the department is pursuing. At the top of the list was this amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act, but right next to it on the list, despite the minister's assurances that there was no connection or progression here, were references to family status, same sex couples and dependent benefits.
The Liberal member for Mississauga South rightly quotes the chairman of the Human Rights Commission, Max Yalden, as saying in his March 1996 report that if we give a benefit to a heterosexual couple and deny it to a same sex couple that is discrimination. This is a statement by the head of the commission that will implement the bill we are discussing today.
The Liberal member for Huron-Bruce rightly quoted Justice Lamer in the 1993 Mossop case speaking for the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada saying that if the Canadian Human Rights Act included sexual orientation he might well conclude that family status includes homosexual couples. This is from the head of the institution that will interpret the bill we are dealing with today.
Representatives of gay rights lobby groups such as EGALE, as pointed out by the member for Medicine Hat, have made it quite clear they regard this amendment simply as the first step toward the building of a whole new set of rights and privileges for their group across the country. There are many members of this House, and I would argue a majority of Canadians, who might view this bill differently if they honestly believed it was simply a stand alone amendment. If they have any grounds for really believing it is the first step down the slippery slope that I have described, they cannot support it.
The bureaucrats who will implement the amendment, the court that will interpret it and the interest groups to whom it will give standing are all out there greasing the slippery slope and making it abundantly clear they intend to send Canada down that slope. When the minister and the government oppose and defeat every amendment designed to prevent that from happening, the minister has given family oriented members of this House a substantive reason to vote against the bill.
Finally, I am pleased that a number of members, including the minister, have seen fit to comment on the inappropriateness of this bill from a religious perspective. We in this House are too inhibited by the current doctrines of political correctness and the dangers of media misinterpretation from speaking frankly on public issues from the perspective of our spiritual values and spiritual experience.
We should remind ourselves that the principle of the separation of church and state, which is essentially an American constitutional principle but one with which most of us would agree, ought not to mean the separation of public people from religious conviction or the separation of religious and spiritual values from considerations of public policy.
I was therefore pleased to hear the justice minister refer openly to his Roman Catholic faith and upbringing, to hear him read from the catechism of his church entitled "Life in Christ" and hear him try to link the principle of this bill to the teachings of Christ. The Minister of Justice perhaps better than anyone in this House knows that any extension of freedom, including freedom from discrimination, is subject, as our Constitution says, to such reasonable limits
prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
The reasonable limit to any freedom, including freedom from discrimination, is the point at which that freedom impinges upon other freedoms guaranteed by the charter. Those of us who in addition to believing in freedom from discrimination also believe in freedom of conscience and religion want to be assured that the enactment of this bill will not infringe upon the freedom of any religious group to express or teach their beliefs the morality or immorality of any sexual activity or relationship, heterosexual or homosexual. That is the function of religion in society. If there is error in religious teaching that should be subject to correction, but subject to the great corrective action of freedom of speech.
The fact that the minister and the majority of his colleagues voted down amendments affirming that including sexual orientation will not affect freedom of religion, expression and association as guaranteed by the charter of rights and freedoms gives members who take these religious freedoms and values seriously another substantive reason for voting against the bill.
In the final analysis I do not believe that the root cause of prejudice in the human heart can be exorcized through legislation, caucus rules or admonitions by leaders. That requires a change of heart which is beyond the reach of this Parliament.
As the justice minister saw fit to conclude his remarks by quoting from his church's catechism and the "Life of Christ", perhaps I could close by quoting from another great authority on the life of Christ, the Apostle Paul, a man who first practised and then worked against the bitter racial and systemic prejudices of his day.
He stated the ideal in these terms: In the Kingdom of Christ there would be neither Greek nor Hebrew, neither racial distinction nor discrimination based on race or religion, neither male nor female, neither bond nor free, but all would be one. The Christian ideal is not only the complete eradication of prejudice and discrimination but the elimination of the very conceptualizations and categorizations, the end of categories, upon which prejudice feeds.
This of course is an ideal which cannot be fully achieved in this world but we can decide whether we press toward it or go in the other direction. This bill in my judgment does not press in that direction and provides another substantive reason for voting against it.
I therefore advise members of the House to defeat this bill on the grounds that it is based on the special status approach to reducing discrimination which does not work well, that it provides inadequate support for the family and freedom of religion and does not further the vision of genuine equality to which the vast majority of Canadians aspire.