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House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.

Topics

Points Of Order

October 5th, 1998 / 11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to seek the unanimous consent of the House that the opposition motion tabled with the Journals Branch on Friday, October 2, 1998 by Mr. Brien, the hon. member for Témiscamingue, be debated today under Business of Supply, Government Orders.

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I understand that this motion is necessary because the motion was not in on time.

I would like to know from the House leader for the Bloc whether he understands by his request that the motion be debated that he is also asking that it be votable. Is that implied in the question? Because if it is, then there is not unanimous consent. If he is only requesting that it be debated, then there is.

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I was going to ask the same question.

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the request as I heard it, we have no objection. We think it is a small technical problem and we have no objection to this motion being debated.

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Perhaps the hon. member for Roberval can clarify the situation. Is the request that the motion be debated, or that it be debated and voted on?

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would have liked it to be votable, but my discussions, particularly those with the parliamentary leader of the New Democratic Party, implied that I could not obtain unanimous consent—unless there was a change—and I was told that unanimous consent by the House and the NDP would be forthcoming only if the motion were not votable.

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent of the House that the opposition motion tabled with the Journals Branch on Friday, October 2, 1998 by Mr. Brien, the hon. member for Témiscamingue, be debated today under Business of Supply, Government Orders?

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, with the understanding that it is not votable.

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion that I proposed to the House was only that it be debated, not that it be votable. Is that agreed?

Points Of Order

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

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”.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am afraid the hon. member's time has expired.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Ahuntsic Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, the bill seeks to elevate property rights protection in the Canadian bill of rights above that of any rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, let alone the bill of rights.

The government believes that property rights are important and deserving of protection, that they currently enjoy sufficient protection, and that there is no need for this private member's motion.

First I will address the protection already afforded to property rights and then why the proposals to codify further protections in the bill of rights and the Constitution are unnecessary and inappropriate.

Numerous statutes regulate and protect property in Canada. There are common law rules which govern the purchase and sale of land, for instance, or the taking of interest in mortgages or leases. Real and personal property laws govern the acquisition and sale of all property of this nature. There are also laws that protect the right to own various forms of property, from vehicles to copyright.

One of the fundamental rules of law respected by the drafters of bills in the Department of Justice is the principle that property may not be expropriated without compensation. This guiding principle is mentioned on the department's Internet site.

This right must be weighed against society's other values. For example, our thinking about property and the equitable protection to which people are entitled so that they are not deprived of their right to the enjoyment of property has evolved.

The federal Divorce Act and provincial and territorial family laws ensure that women are not deprived of their right to a fair share of matrimonial property, regardless of who has legal title.

Another source of protection of property rights is the direct declaration in the Canadian bill of rights. The Canadian bill of rights has quasi-constitutional status. A number of its provisions were repeated in specific provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Since the charter contains no specific clause on property rights, section 1 of the bill of rights would continue to protect property rights. It states:

It is hereby recognized and declared that in Canada there have existed and shall continue to exist without discrimination by reason of race, national origin, colour, religion or sex, the following human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely,

(a) the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law.

Thus this clause protects property rights in that a person cannot be deprived of his rights except by regular application of the law.

The bill of rights requires the Minister of Justice to examine every bill before the House to ensure that it is consistent with the bill of rights and to report any inconsistency to the House. It is then up to hon. members, in accordance with the democratic process, to determine whether nevertheless to pass the bill.

One of our main concerns about Bill C-304 is that it would give property rights precedence over all other rights protected in the Bill of Rights, as well as in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As things now stand, Parliament cannot pass bills inconsistent with the charter or the bill of rights without including a notwithstanding clause. Clauses 3 and 5 of Bill C-304, which propose the addition of new paragraphs 2.1 and 2.2, as well as new section 6 to the bill of rights, would require the votes of at least two-thirds of the members of the House of Commons for these provisions to be amended or a notwithstanding clause to be passed.

In principle, our government is opposed to any more protection of property rights than is already provided for in the charter, such as the protection of rights flowing from the act or prohibiting discrimination against disabled persons. This is particularly true when we examine the evolving concepts of property and discrimination.

In a complex society with many interests and competing rights, we must recognize that rights are not absolute. We have and need laws to govern the use of property in the public interest. There is a network of laws not only at the federal level but also at the provincial and municipal levels.

Earlier I mentioned the federal Divorce Act and provincial and territorial laws which ensure that matrimonial property is equitably divided upon the breakup of a marriage. In addition, environmental legislation establishes a whole body of regulations governing everything from the disposal of hazardous waste to cutting down trees. There are also laws that govern ownership of shares of limited companies, bankruptcy, ownership of land by non-Canadians, land use and zoning in residential or farming areas.

In each of these cases and laws there are limitations on property, ownership and use. Everyone recognizes the need for these restrictions. If the government were to consider amending the bill of rights, sight should not be lost of the important limitations on the enjoyment of property.

We should also bear in mind that many of the laws are in the provincial realm, something the opposition often forgets. Under section 92 of the Constitution Act 1867 each province has exclusive jurisdiction over property and civil rights in the province. A good example is the recent adaptation by the Ontario Harris government of children under 12 years of age having the right to firearms, something that the opposition has not mentioned. Hunting is under provincial jurisdiction.

Since the new property rights protection program would be enshrined in the bill of rights instead of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it would apply only to Parliament, and not to provincial legislatures.

This government feels that the ensuing imbalance would do a disservice to federal-provincial relations. It would also be unfair to Canadians to subject them to two property rights protection programs, one at the provincial level and one at the federal level.

Last but not least, Bill C-304 would amend the Constitution Act of 1867 to allow for the adoption of the new section 6 of the Canadian Bill of Rights which, as already mentioned, would have the effect of increasing to two-thirds the percentage of votes required in the future to adopt laws that could undermine the new protection afforded property rights. The procedure for amending the Constitution is, as we all know, quite complex and time consuming, and the result is far from being guaranteed.

There are many existing protections for property rights in Canada in the Canadian bill of rights and other statutes and through common law. Canadians currently enjoy important protection of property rights.

I would like to address the firearms legislation. The hon. member took most of his time to state to the Canadian public some falsities which have been repeated consistently in the House.

First of all the firearms legislation does not talk about confiscation. It talks about registration. I remind hon. members that the House adopted that piece of legislation and it is in contempt of the House to constantly bring up the issue in my opinion. An election was won on that piece of legislation and a court challenge was won recently on that piece of legislation. Parliament has the right and hon. members of Her Majesty's Official Opposition consistently forget that fact and are in contempt of this parliament to constantly bring up the same piece of legislation. We fought the election. We won the election. It is a law of the land at the moment.

The notion of property is much broader than real property. Given how broad the concept of real property can be, we must be careful if we succeed in altering the existing protection for property rights in a quasi-constitutional document such as the Bill of Rights.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-304, introduced by the Reform Party member for Yorkton—Melville and entitled an Act to amend an Act for the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and to amend the Constitution Act, 1867. In short, it is an act to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights.

At first glance, the subject appears appealing. The first clause proposes the following, and I quote:

Paragraph 1(a) of An Act for the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is replaced by the following:

(a) the right of the individual to life, liberty and security of the person, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law;

This amendment to the existing legislation removes from subsection 1(a) the freedom of enjoyment of one's property. Everyone agrees that the freedom to enjoy one's property is a democratic freedom. One question, however: Is this an unconditional, universal, freedom?

We see what the member is after in clause 3. It proposes:

The Act is amended by adding the following after section 2:

2.1 (1) Subject to subsections (2) and (3), every person has the right to the enjoyment of that person's property.

This is a fundamental statement of this bill: the right to private property. For most of us, private property refers immediately to our home, but it includes many other things, such as a house, car, land, bicycle, to name but a few.

I am no constitutional expert. However, I know that the provinces have jurisdiction over property and civil rights. It is therefore the responsibility of the provinces to legislate in areas involving personal property.

The member's bill therefore aims at establishing recognition of the right to property in federal legislation subject to the Canadian Bill of Rights, since it applies only to federal acts and institutions.

The right to enjoyment of property is found in subsection 1(a) of the Canadian Bill of Rights. So, we may well ask what the point of the bill is and what scope does the member intend for it. I think he is attempting to initiate a general debate on the right to private property based on the following assumption: the right to private property is a natural right and one that is outside of legislation.

But many ongoing situations show that personal rights, especially in connection to property, often have to be restricted for the common good. Take for example environmental issues. Environmental and public health protection require that legislation be passed that sometimes limits property rights by imposing strict regulations on companies.

Another example everyone, at least everyone in this place, knows about is the speed limit on roads and highways. Such rules limit my enjoyment of my car's performance. Yet, careless behaviour might see me lose the use of my car. Imagine how disastrous this would be.

The Firearms Registration Act is yet another example. I had no intention of ascribing motives to the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville. And I will not do so. But after hearing his remarks, it seems clear to me that, in his opinion, should the Canadian Bill of Rights be amended as proposed in his bill, the firearm registration legislation would be impossible to enforce and would entail prohibitive costs as anyone could demand a hearing before a court of law under clauses 2.1(1) and 2.1(4).

Last century, the era of dyed-in-the-wool economic liberalism, certain decisions prevented the various Parliaments in Canada from interfering with private property either by confiscating it or by destroying it without compensation. Times have changed.

In the 20th century, Parliament can establish laws, and the public has the right to judge their legitimacy and morality.

This is easily illustrated. In the case of the surplus in the employment insurance fund, the current government can try to legalize its use for purposes other than those established. Should it go so far, the public will decide on the legitimacy and morality of such misappropriation.

As you can see, we have no intention of supporting this bill, because we think that the freedom of some stops where the freedom of others starts. This is the price of living in a harmonious and responsible society.

Canadian and Quebec society will never opt for the law of the jungle.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have just a few comments on the private member's motion by the hon. member from the Reform Party.

I would like to address something that he brought up in his remarks with respect to the conduct of Private Members' Business in this House and the ongoing debate as to whether or not all motions and bills that emanate from Private Members' Business should be made votable.

Just on the history lesson side for a minute, some hon. members but perhaps not all may know that it is only recently speaking in the long term parliamentary history that we have been able to vote on anything having to do with Private Members' Business. Prior to 1985, Private Members' Business would come up for an hour, it would be debated, talked out and then would disappear forever to the bottom of the list.

As a result of the reforms that came out of what has come to be known as the McGrath committee, it was decided that this was an unsatisfactory way of doing things and that some bills and motions of private members ought to be able to come to a vote without unanimous consent. Prior to the McGrath committee reforms, it was possible to have a vote on a private member's motion or bill but there had to be unanimous consent and one can imagine just how rarely that took place.

There was this feeling that in order to give Private Members' Business the significance it was due that there should be some process for making sure some private members' motions and bills were made votable. The suggestion at that time was that we would proceed as usual with the lottery to determine which members would have their bills and motions deliberated upon to see whether or not—

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

An hon. member

We are listening, Bill.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

I am sorry if the Liberals feel I am ignoring them but I am just not used to having anybody over there to talk to. I have grown accustomed to not having Liberals over there to talk to. I acknowledge that they are now making an effort to finally have people in the House, which is nice. I will try to direct some of my remarks their way as well so they do not feel so touchy.

As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, there was an attempt to make some Private Members' Business votable. There was a standing committee set up on Private Members' Business. This has now become a subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

I thought it would be safe to talk to you, Mr. Speaker. Could we have a little order?

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona knows it is always safe to speak to the Speaker, much safer than addressing anyone else in the House. I know hon. members want to hear the remarks of the member for Winnipeg—Transcona, so perhaps he could continue uninterrupted.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, in any event I think the debate continues as to whether or not this process is satisfactory. I must say to the hon. member that I am not convinced at this point that all private members' motions and all private members' bills should automatically become votable.

We now have a system whereby we make some determination at the end of the pipeline as to what will become votable. I would say to the hon. member that if it were to be the case that private members' motions and bills were automatically votable, I think he would find for that to be the case that there would have to be some kind of selection or some kind of weeding out or screening at the beginning of the pipeline.

I cannot see a situation in which, no matter what the motion, no matter what the bill, it would automatically be votable. I think there would be problems there. That continues to be.

The member for Wild Rose says that it would still have to meet the criteria. That is the point. Right now there are criteria. I hear the hon. member saying that there should not be any criteria; whatever people put forward as a bill or motion would automatically become votable. If that is not what he is advocating then there may be some room for discussion. I am trying to point out what I think some of the problems would be with the hon. member's suggestion with respect to Private Members' Business.

With respect to this bill I would say that I have heard the debate about property rights go on for some years in the House of Commons. It is always cast in the light of people who somehow do not have the same respect for property as those who do and therefore want it enhanced either by way of an amendment to the bill of rights or by enshrining it in the Canadian Constitution.

I remind the hon. member that is not the way the debate has played out when it has been on the floor of the House of Commons. When we debated whether or not we were to have property rights in the Canadian charter at the time of the patriation debate, the main opponents to having property rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were the provinces. It was the provincial governments, which he was no doubt supportive of at the time or may have been. Conservative governments, NDP governments, the provincial governments themselves were against having property rights put in the charter because they regarded that as a matter of provincial jurisdiction.

Coming from a party that generally is very supportive of provincial jurisdiction and any intrusion by the federal government into provincial jurisdiction, I find it something that perhaps the member should deal with at some point.

The bill we have before us applies only to federal legislation because it only deals with the bill of rights. When I listened to the member speak it was clear that his first preference would be to have property rights enshrined in the Constitution, if he could have it that way. This is really his second preference because he thinks this would be easier and could be done without constitutional amendment.

In terms of the member's own ideal case, the people that are lined up against him are not necessarily colleagues in the House of Commons but provincial governments he normally supports when they expound the rhetoric of protecting provincial jurisdictions. That is something to keep in mind when they get up on their high horse on property rights.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise following the remarks of the learned House leader for the New Democratic Party to take part in the debate concerning Bill C-304, an act to amend an act for recognition and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms with respect to property rights.

This legislation would afford greater protection in the Canadian bill of rights for the property rights of both individuals and corporations.

I congratulate the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville on bringing the issue of property rights to the floor of the House of Commons again. He has been a strong and consistent advocate of his position.

Ensuring the right of every Canadian to enjoy property ownership has been a long and sacred principle of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. The Canadian bill of rights enacted in 1960 by Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker extended protection in the following areas: the right to enjoy property, the right not to be deprived of property except by due process and the right to a fair hearing.

The Conservative Party of Canada has repeatedly supported and recognized the importance of property rights. In 1995 our party from across Canada improved a new party constitution which lists as its principles a belief that the best guarantees of prosperity and well-being for the people of Canada are as follows: the freedom of individual Canadians to pursue their enlightened and legitimate self-interest within a competitive economy, the freedom of the individual Canadian to enjoy the fruits of his or her labour to the greatest possible extent, and the right to own property.

The protection of property rights has long been a recognized and fundamental aspect of social and economic justice. In 1690 John Locke wrote:

The great and chief end of men—putting themselves under government, is the preservation of property.

A century later, Edmund Burke, one of the great conservative philosophers of the British tradition, wrote:

The power of perpetuating our property in our families is one of the most valuable and interesting circumstances belonging to it, and that which tends the most to the perpetuation of society itself. It makes our weakness subservient to our virtue; it grafts benevolence even upon avarice.

In 1948 the Government of Canada signed the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which included the protection of property rights. Appropriately John Humphrey, a Canadian law professor who was working as a director of human rights for the UN Secretariat, was a key drafter of the document.

Not only was the bill of rights passed in 1960 but the House of Commons, through a motion passed in 1988 with the support of all parties at that time, indicated its support for property rights.

Sadly the Liberal government saw fit in the last parliament to trample over the spirit of that UN declaration, Mr. Diefenbaker's legacy and his expressed will of the House through the Pearson airport fiasco.

In 1993 the Liberals cancelled the much needed agreement to privatize Pearson International Airport and nobody would dispute a new government's ability or right to reverse the decision of its predecessor. However, a new government has a mandate to take different policy directions. The Liberals decided in this instance that their decision would go one step further, that they would remove the rights of Canadian companies from seeking fair and just compensation from the government for cancelling the Pearson agreement.

Bill C-68 which has been referenced by the member for Yorkton-Melville is another example of where Canadian individual property rights have been trampled. The Liberals have even introduced legislation to do that. It is interesting to know, however, that the Reform and Bloc caucuses in the last parliament did very little to highlight what the Liberals were doing at that time with respect to the Pearson airport debacle.

Thankfully members in the upper chamber, Progressive Conservatives for the most part but with a few Liberals on side, rose to defeat Bill C-22. For all the abuse that the Reform Party inflicts upon the Senate it is paramount for Canadians to realize that those individuals concerned about property rights in the Senate did their job. They recognized that this was an opportunity for them to protect the property rights of Canadians where the Reform Party dropped the ball.

Perhaps the Reform Party in this instance should spend more time working on property rights and less time having its taxpayer funded staff engage in libelling and misrepresenting senators in political campaigns.

I am nonetheless pleased to discuss Bill C-304 and protecting property rights in this context. This is an appropriate forum for us to do so. To cite the Right Hon. John Diefenbaker:

Parliament is more than procedure. It is the custodian of the nation's freedom.

Bill C-304 would accord stronger protection for the freedom of Canadians to enjoy their property. As mentioned by the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville, it would amend the Canadian bill of rights to include protection for the following property rights: the right to be paid for fair compensation, the right to have that compensation fixed impartially, the right to have timely compensation, and the right to apply to courts to attain justice if they feel in any aspect that their property rights have been denied or infringed upon.

Members will forgive me for highlighting the inconsistency in the Reform member proposing that the courts already have the authority or may be given more authority, given the fact that we have seen in the House repeatedly Reform members stand to criticize the judiciary. Many Reformers have attacked our judges and our courts, have referred to them as greedy little parasitic fraternities and have proposed a U.S. style of justice as a remedy to Canadians' legal problems. It is therefore refreshing to see the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville break from the rhetoric of his caucus colleagues and propose that additional authority be granted to our courts in this important area of protecting property rights.

I express the support of the Progressive Conservative caucus for this piece of legislation. We need to protect the freedom of Canadians to enjoy their property to its full extent. We need to ensure the government respects the property rights of Canadians. We need to ensure there exists a due process through which property is not seized without fair and just compensation and that there is due process to make that determination.

Bill -304 meets those requirements. In light of that and in light of the recent firearms legislation protest on the Hill and other protests, we feel there is an existing trend with the Liberal government abusing its authority. For those reasons we feel there is a need for legislation such as that proposed by the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville and we will be supporting the bill.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Reform

Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the bill. I may be found in contempt if the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister has her way in the idea that I intend to raise some bills that have been passed previously. Bill C-4, the wheat board bill, comes to mind and whatnot.

The legislative rules on property rights do not necessarily protect the individual, which should surely be the intent of a bill of rights. The intent should be to protect individuals from legislative abuse by governments of the day. That is what property rights and a bill of rights are all about. Governments change from time to time and the protection of the individual is paramount.

We can see this with regard to Canadian farmers who are still being thrown in jail for selling their own grain. That is probably a breach of their property rights. It is certainly agreed upon out west where this is being done. The current rules in the legislation certainly did not protect the province's constitutional authority over property two weeks ago in Edmonton when four provinces and two territories argued that the Firearms Act infringed on their property rights and the rights of individuals. The bill of rights and the charter certainly do not protect the provinces. Here again it seems to be the government of the day.

I will point out specifically so that everyone is very clear what Bill C-304 is about. The member for Yorkton—Melville said it clearly before but I will reiterate. Property rights are natural, fundamental, and based on hundreds of years of common law.

The government intentionally left property rights out of the charter in 1982. This was to the detriment of each person's democratic rights and economic freedoms. The bill would put forward amendments that would specifically guarantee all people have the right to the enjoyment of their property; the right not to be deprived of their property unless they are given a fair hearing; the right to be paid fair, timely and impartial compensation; and the right to appeal to the courts if their property rights have been infringed upon or denied. Every person's property rights would be guaranteed in law in Canada unless it is expressly declared that the act shall operate notwithstanding the Canadian bill of rights. That should clarify precisely what Bill C-304 is about. Those are the words of the member who proposed the bill.

I am concerned about the inconsistency between the government's position on human rights outside Canada and its position at home. We recently saw an active demonstration of this at the APEC summit in Vancouver.

Also in Canada we continue to have a lack of accountability concerning basic human rights in our First Nations. This is related in part to the lack of a fully democratic institution that provides checks and balances between constituents and elected chiefs and councils. For example, there is no effective access to information legislation and labour legislation to protect a reserve employee from arbitrary dismissal from a position. These are basic democratic rights. They involve property rights. These are things that all Canadians should be entitled to in this country.

I speak in support of Bill C-304. This bill would begin to correct the inconsistencies between international human rights and practices at home.

Before we can ask for protection of property rights we must define property ownership rights. Quite simply, I would define property ownership as the right to transfer property, the right to control how a property is used, the responsibility for the benefits and the costs associated with the property, and the right to compensation when property is taken by governments.

This is not a long definition. The vast majority of people likely assume that when they own something they have these three simple rights. Sadly, this is not the case. I only have to look at grain farmers in western Canada, which is probably the biggest example at the current time, to see that all Canadians do not have these rights. Farmers produce wheat and barley, but they do not have the right to transfer their property. They are obligated by law to sell their produce to the Canadian Wheat Board. It gets down to the very basics of human existence when someone produces food and wants to trade with another person or another country and they are not allowed to do so.

Similarly, producers of wheat and barley in western Canada do not have control over their property. They must deliver their produce to the Canadian Wheat Board when the Canadian Wheat Board tells them to deliver. Most Canadians believe that they have the right to accept higher risk in exchange for the possibility of higher returns. This basic principle of a free democratic economy is practised every day on the nation's stock exchanges in commodities.

This bill is a move in the right direction toward protecting the property rights of individuals in this country, as well as supporting the very Constitution that protects the rights of provinces to the property which is under their control.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank all of those who have participated in this debate.

I have a couple of questions for the parliamentary secretary for justice. If what she was saying is true, why does the Canadian Real Estate Association support my property rights bill? Second, why did the Department of Justice say that there would be no compensation for confiscation?

The minister's argument that “we won the election so we have the right to run roughshod over the property rights of a certain group” smacks of a dictatorial attitude. It is most undemocratic and I object to the words that she used in this House.

The parliamentary secretary should read Bill C-68 where it says that, in the opinion of the governor in council, they can prohibit any firearm. The Canadian Police Association called the actions of this government unwise in the extreme. We ought to listen to what the police say about Bill C-68.

Finally, while a remote possibility exists for judicial review of a prohibition order, it would be virtually impossible for any court to substitute its opinion for the opinion of their governor in council, a few cabinet ministers. In fact, lawyers from the Library of Parliament confirmed this when they wrote “The courts would be loath to find that the governor in council acted in bad faith”.

Even the standing committee on justice proposed an amendment to section 117.15(2) of Bill C-68 to remove the words “in the opinion of” and to keep the wording the same as it has been for years, requiring an objective test of what constitutes firearms that are commonly used for hunting and sporting purposes.

I would like to emphasize this next statement. The justice minister ignored her own committee, dominated by government members, and rejected that amendment. Consequently, we have a completely arbitrary prohibition power for the cabinet entrenched in the Criminal Code of Canada; a power, I might add, that completely bypasses parliament and cannot be appealed or overturned by the courts.

I have a few more quotations. In 1903 Pope Pius X wrote to his bishops, saying “The right of private property, the fruit of labour or industry, or of concession or donation by others, is an incontrovertible natural right; and everybody can dispose reasonably of such property as he thinks fit”. That does not exist in this country and that is a pity.

This quotation is from a recent ruling of the Alberta Court of Appeal. Madam Justice Conrad said with regard to Bill C-68 “It establishes an administrative process, with broad discretion conferred on the administrative authority affecting property rights. The discretion and broad right to regulate enables the federal government to limit and control the property rights of law-abiding citizens. It does not prohibit existing potentially dangerous conduct, or conduct related to a serious risk of harm”. That the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister should claim this as a victory for the government rings very hollow when we read that decision.

I would like to cite one final quotation from Ayn Rand, who wrote in her book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal : “The concept of a right pertains only to action—specifically to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by others. The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has not right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave”. Let us listen to those words.

This is a very serious matter. I fear we are taking it much too lightly. My bill strengthens property rights in federal law. It does not tie the hands of government.

Because Bill C-304 on property rights meets all the criteria for making private members' bills votable, I would like to respectfully request the unanimous consent of the House to make this bill votable.

An Act For The Recognition And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the House give unanimous consent to make this bill votable?