moved that Bill C-304, an act to amend An Act for the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, once again I am disappointed that my bill has been given second class status in the House. For the second time since I have become a member of parliament this important issue has been denied enough time for a full debate and MPs have been denied a vote for or against strengthening property rights in federal law.
I think it is time to make all private members' business votable. All the private members' business that comes before the House should be made votable.
I want to use the little time I have to explain why a full debate and a vote on Bill C-304 in the House is so important.
I have received impressive public support for my property rights bill, considering that I have had so little time to promote this legislative initiative. I have received 491 pages of petitions, signed by 11,292 Canadians from all across Canada who support the bill. I have also received the support of the Canadian Real Estate Association which represents more than 200 real estate boards in every province of this country. That fact alone must surely cause the government to rethink its stand on property rights. It is obvious that this is a very important issue for many Canadians.
As members of this House are no doubt aware, this is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations declaration of human rights. Article 17 of the UN declaration of human rights reads: “Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property”. Despite the fact that Canada ratified the UN declaration of human rights 50 years ago, the fact is that Canadians are still being arbitrarily deprived of their property.
There are and have been so many examples. The example I am so familiar with is Bill C-68, the firearms act. Other examples are the Canadian Wheat Board Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Pearson Airport Agreements Act, the national energy program of a few years ago, as well as many others.
My colleagues and I will use our time to expose just a few examples of how the government has abused the property rights of millions of Canadians. We will explain why all Canadians should fear a government that is prepared to run roughshod over such a fundamental and natural right.
Professor Peter Hogg in his book Constitutional Law of Canada , third edition, wrote: “The omission of property rights from section 7 of the charter greatly reduces its scope. It means that section 7 affords no guarantee of compensation or even a fair procedure for the taking of property by the government. It means that section 7 affords no guarantee of fair treatment by courts, tribunals or officials with power over purely economic interests of individuals or corporations”. That was from citation 44.9 at page 1030.
Professor Hogg also wrote: “The product is a section 7 in which liberty must be interpreted as not including property, as not including freedom of contract, and, in short, as not including economic liberty”. That was from citation 44.7(b) at page 1028.
Those are powerful words. I ask the members of this House if their constituents are even aware of this lack of protection in the charter. Why are we here? It is our duty as parliamentarians to be sure that the foundation, the fundamentals, of our society are right. That is what Bill C-304 is all about.
Former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau argued long and hard for better protection of property rights, first in his 1968 paper titled “A Canadian Charter of Human Rights”, which was tabled when he was minister of justice; second in his 1969 paper “The Constitution of the People of Canada”; and once again in 1978 when he introduced Bill C-60, the constitutional amendment bill.
Mr. Trudeau tried to get property rights included in the charter in July 1980 and again in January 1981. Finally in April 1983 he said here in the House of Commons “I would say that if we can have the agreement of the Conservative Party to introduce an amendment on property rights and to pass it in 24 hours”.
Rather than try to amend the charter of rights and freedoms, my private member's bill, Bill C-304, proposes to provide adequate protection of property rights in federal law by strengthening the property rights provisions of the Canadian bill of rights, not the charter.
In the past the government has argued rather poorly that there is no need to strengthen property rights in federal law. The government has argued in the past that the Canadian bill of rights provides adequate protection of property rights. But I ask: If property rights are so adequately protected in federal law, how can the government keep violating article 17 of the UN declaration of human rights by arbitrarily taking the property of Canadian citizens?
The bill of rights only provides rather feeble protection of property rights. Even these can be overridden by just saying so in any piece of legislation passed by this House. My bill proposes to make it more difficult to override the property rights of Canadian citizens by requiring a two-thirds majority vote of this House.
We are not tying the government's hands to legislate, but we are saying that property rights are so important that an override clause should pass a higher test in the House.
Even if the government agrees to abide by the so-called guarantees in the Canadian bill of rights as it currently is worded, it protects only three things; the right to the enjoyment of property, the right not to be deprived of property except by due process, and finally the right to a fair hearing. Unfortunately the bill of rights does not, as I will explain later, prevent the arbitrary taking of property, and that is a very serious matter.
The bill of rights does not provide any protection of our right to be paid any compensation let alone fair compensation. The bill of rights does not provide any protection of our right to have compensation fixed impartially. The bill of rights does not provide any protection of our right to receive timely compensation. Finally, the bill of rights does not provide any protection of our right to apply to the courts to obtain justice.
Bill C-304 would amend the bill of rights to provide added protection for Canadian citizens from the arbitrary decisions made by the federal government to take their property.
Approval of my amendments to the bill of rights would allow Canadians to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, knowing that we have finally provided the protection of property rights in federal law that the UN declaration called for so many decades ago. Would that not be a wonderful way to celebrate the 50th anniversary?
I can see a few members on the government looking self-assured and confident that I am wrong and that the government is right. The Minister of Justice's little helpers will soon stand up and proclaim as much. I anticipate that, but I am not wrong. That is why we need a full debate in the House. Not just one hour. That is why we need a vote in the House on this issue.
Voters in the country have to know that the government by its own legislation, the legislation government members have supported, and by the actions of its own Minister of Justice condoned the arbitrary taking of property in direct contravention of article 17 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
The people of the country do not know that. They should hang their heads in shame rather than parade around the world claiming to be the defenders of fundamental human rights. Article 17(2) of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states:
No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
I have only time to cover one arbitrary taking of property by the federal government. I will use the example I know best. As members know I have been working on Bill C-68, the Firearms Act, very actively, in opposition of course. Section 84(1) of Bill C-68 passed by parliament in 1995 and now chapter 39 of the Statutes of Canada arbitrarily prohibited an estimated 553,000 registered handguns: 339,000 handguns that have a barrel equal to or less than 104 millimetres in length, about 4.14 inches, and 214,000 handguns that discharge 25 and 32 calibre bullets.
The government arbitrarily decided that these 553,000 handguns currently safely stored in the homes of law-abiding government registered owners were so dangerous that they had to be banned. The government ignored the fact and the evidence from Statistics Canada showing that unregistered handguns responsible for about 75% of all firearms crimes in the country were already illegal. Why does the government ignore these facts?
In 1994 the government estimated that these 553,000 handguns represented about half of all the firearms in the existing firearms registry. What proof did the government provide that these firearms were dangerous? None. The decision was completely arbitrary. I appreciate the show of concern that a few members are showing.
What was the extent of the government evidence to justify the prohibition? In the government's opinion these legally acquired properly registered firearms “are not considered to be suitable for organized target shooting and such handguns are produced primarily for use as weapons”. No evidence was ever presented showing how many crimes these 553,000 legally owned handguns had been involved in or how banning them would have prevented any crimes or prevent any crimes in the future. In fact neither the RCMP nor the Minister of Justice were able to produce any evidence in parliament that the 64 year old handgun registration system had been used to help solve even one crime.
The government even proved my point about the arbitrariness of its decision to ban hundreds of thousands of legally owned guns by deciding to leave most of the registered handguns it always refers to as Saturday night specials in the hands of registered owners until they die. That demonstrates clearly how arbitrary its decision is. It is then that most of these firearms will be seized because many of their heirs will not be able to comply with the onerous rules and regulations respecting ownership of firearms.
If these handguns are safe in the hands of registered owners, why did the government need to ban them? Not once have we had an answer to that. We do not have property rights in this country. The criminals are already breaking the law by using unregistered guns for their crimes. How did it improve public safety by banning guns in the hands of hundreds of thousands of good guys?
Surely, if this arbitrary ban were to do any good, the government would have to remove these so-called Saturday night specials from the hands of their registered owners. It did not, thereby proving the arbitrariness of its decision and providing all the proof anyone needs to demonstrate its breaking of article 17 of the 1948 UN Declaration on Human Rights.
With the announcement of this ban the government destroyed the value of these 553,000 registered handguns. The government did not have to physically take property to violate the fundamental property rights of these hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Canadians. The government's arbitrary ban destroyed the value of these handguns and took money out of citizen's pockets just as surely as a mugger takes money out of his victim's pockets on the streets of downtown Toronto.
Government is force and this is how it uses it. It uses this force to throw western farmers in jail just because they choose not to sell their wheat to the government. The government uses this force to stop Canadians from receiving television channels the government does not want them to watch.
Are we really free when this violation of one of our most fundamental rights goes on right before our eyes? Some people will say “what the government is doing is not affecting me”, but what will these people say when their government arbitrarily decides to take their property or destroy the value of their property?
Not only did the government arbitrarily ban this legally owned property but it is refusing to pay compensation for the loss in value suffered by this government enforced step. It is refusing to pay compensation for the legally owned firearms that people have and that it is going to confiscate.
At the time the government announced this arbitrary ban on private property approximately 20,000 to 30,000 of these firearms were held in the inventories of government licensed businesses.
Listen very carefully. On May 19, 1998 a firearm's dealer received a letter from the Canadian Firearms Centre in the Department of Justice which said:
Firearms in a dealer's inventory are not grandfathered and will therefore be subject to confiscation as of October 1. There is no compensation scheme planned at this time for dealers or individuals whose handguns become prohibited October 1, 1998 and are confiscated or turned in.
Those are words of our own bureaucrats, our own Department of Justice. On September 1, 1998 the Minister of Justice wrote a law-abiding gun owner in Ottawa. Her letter was commenting on a 1994 gun ban that paid them compensation if they surrendered their arbitrarily prohibited firearms to the government. The minister said:
The surrender initiative was unique. It should be considered an amnesty, rather than an expropriation. Firearms not identified under this initiative are not eligible for payment if surrendered or seized.
There we have it in black and white, confiscation without compensation. I am very familiar with this and I could continue to go on to describe how arbitrary it is.
Let me conclude by saying that in June the Canadian Police Association wrote to the Minister of Justice complaining about her plans to confiscate 20,000 to 30,000 banned handguns from government approved firearms dealers. Here is what the CPA letter said:
We were nothing short of amazed to hear questions of constitutionality concerning confiscation without compensation of property previously lawfully acquired swept aside as non-existent.
The CPA called the minister's actions “unwise in the extreme”.